Rethinking Church #5: The Holy Spirit and the Divine Dimension of the Church

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a third essential feature of the church. In the New Testament, especially as seen in Acts and the letters of Paul, the Holy Spirit acts to make God present and effective within the human sphere. The Spirit empowers, leads, purifies, renews, and encourages believers. He gathers, creates, unites, and enlightens the church. He gives life, transforms, liberates, bestows love, and perfects those God has chosen. The Spirit is God’s real personal presence elevating human beings above mere human possibility, uniting them with Christ, and making them into God’s children. He is the active presence of the future resurrection, the guarantee of the future inheritance. Apart from the Holy Spirit there is no church.

The Divine Dimension

A gathering of people is the “church” only as it is united to God through Christ and the Spirit. Only as it exists in Christ as the body of Christ empowered by God’s own Spirit is a “people” the people of God. The church is a divine/human reality. The divine dimension is not a separable aspect, located in heaven, acting only intermittently. The divine permeates the human aspect and draws the human into the divine life. God’s presence and activity in the church is not only essential, it is primary. The church exists because of the divine presence, it acts in divine power, and it moves as directed by divine wisdom. Christ is the head, the Spirit leads, and God is all in all.

The Human Dimension

I want to issue caution at this point. The church indeed has a divine dimension as the foundation of its constitution, but this truth should never be used—as it has been too often—by some to bolster their claims to have coercive authority over others. Christ and the Spirit are fully capable of governing and leading God’s church, and they do not delegate their divine authority to anyone. Human beings have “authority” only in so far as their lives embody the cross-shaped life of Jesus, and only through their faithful persuasion and obedient wisdom do they have a right to instruct others. A “church” that claims to be a divine institution but does not actually seek God’s will and submit to God’s authority is not acting as the church.

Next Time: The presence and working of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are essential to the church. Apart from this working there can be no church. Next we ask about the essential human features that constitute the church. The church consists of human beings who have responded to the divine call and working with faith in Jesus and baptism.

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