- The purpose of the charismata, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, is to restore integrated, healed on holistic community.
- His purpose is to transform us into the image of Christ, who humbled himself, rather than sought bigness, to restore the world.
- Our worship meeting is to reflect Christ’s humility, so the weak are honoured, restored and contribute to our true knowledge of God.
- Our church then is to reflect this care for the weak into the wider society, bringing healing to the down trodden communities and creation.
- Pulling down the walls: Ephesians and Colossians.
Moving from Christ’s humility on the cross to new creation. This is the trajectory of the Spirit in the church community.
The Spirit Restores Broken Community
This study shows that our view of God’s program in the world leads us to our style of worship in our meetings. If we see a God of war, then we will tend to worship in the popular styles of the world, exulting a Christ of power and strength, in a way similar to how the world sees success and esteem. But if we see God overcoming the world by his cross, that the laying down of his life is his secret, then our worship will emulate him in meekness and service towards the weak of the world. The end of the matter is that the world is restored by service, rather than destroyed by violence. It seems foolish to man, but this is the program of God.
Corinthians was one of our favourites in my early days as a Pentecostal believer. The church “came behind in no gift (of the Holy Spirit).” Corinthians was a great source book, like the Gospels and the book of Acts, for charismatic worship and evangelism. But the church was also a mess. It was filled with people of all kinds of backgrounds and agendas. You don’t envy Paul, bringing the gospel into such a pagan area, with its fervour of philosophies and religious beliefs.
I like what Paul said on the charismatic gifts, “Let all things be done, decently and in order.” First, “let all things be done.” In most churches in my early days, the charismatic gifts were a definite “No.” They were too embarrassing. They were too divisive. Too confronting. And they didn’t go down well with our academic, wealthy society. So, we loved Paul’s stance, “Let all things be done!” Paul was “Pentecostal!”
Studies on the birth of modern Pentecostalism in America, coming to a large extent out of Methodist revivalism, show its significance in the poorer parts of society. Wesleyanism, Booth’s work in the Salvation Army, were like Paul’s focus, who was “keen to remember the poor.” The charismata, the power of the Spirit, gives the disenfranchised a sense of acceptance with the true authority (God), and hope, in a world that offers them little or none. Charismata has always affiliated with such people in the scriptures, right from the days of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, who brought release to those marginalised from political and economic resources. It is very wrong to mock it, like the religious world of the connected and comfortable has often done, and like the empowered religious leaders of Jerusalem, who tried to stamp it out.
Charismata is far too confronting to those who hold positions of power. It bypasses the normal channels of authority. “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” Sinners, foreigners, others not in our club, women! It means God doesn’t have to ask us first, about whom he accepts and uses. This disrupts the whole process of our privileged arrangements. This is God’s purpose. God gives charismata to break down the walls, to disrupt the normal relationships that forbid the distribution of fellowship, to force (dunamis) healing in our societies. It’s funny that we say God isn’t economic, that the gospel isn’t social. God cares for his people and if we don’t care then he takes us out of the way. You can’t be more biblical than this.
And this “prophesying” doesn’t necessarily mean in the way we envision it happening in the Corinthian church. You know, someone gives “a tongue” and then someone calls out a “message” to the church. It may happen like this, but to categorise prophesy this way is far too restricting. “Our sons and our daughters” may bring words we aren’t used to. This is the normal way of prophesy, something to say about justice, some challenge about the poor, like the Prophets of the Old Testament brought in their day. It we separate “prophesy” from its Old Testament counterpart we introduce a discontinuity into God’s program. Our “sons and daughters” can see things we don’t see. But it might be God. Such “prophesying” can come at any time, in any conversation, in any activity and we need to listen to whether it is the God of the scripture, who showed us himself in Christ.
You see Methodism associated with early trade union movements in the West and with the birth of the Labour party. These were later accused of Communist affiliation, mostly as a kind of propaganda against them. However, we should be grateful, that such an influence of Christianity at the grassroots level, and its challenge to the aristocracy in a Christlike manner, saved some of our nations from the horrors of revolution. This is a major purpose of God in the gospel. It’s either his way, or the way of unbalanced power and wealth, which leads to the destruction of our communities. Despite the messiness the poor bring to our world, if we align ourselves against the Spirit who is working to include them, we can’t really call ourselves Christians. The work of Jesus in the Gospels, of the church in Acts, was to bring in those the society rejects. This is a large part of what it meant to be “in the Spirit.”
But then Paul added “decently and in order.” This was getting to the matter on how charismata were used in the Corinthian church. What did Paul mean by this? We have looked in the immediate context on chapters 12-14 and we see things like not too many people speaking in tongues at once, or about people taking turns. This seems orderly. But the underlying issue Paul was addressing was about whether what we are doing “in the Spirit” is truly aimed at helping others, or at lifting our own image among the people. The power of the Spirit in Jesus’s life was always about serving others, bringing in those in need. It was never about a name for himself. I think this is the kind of order Paul was getting at. If the gifts are about me, then I am exercising the same kind of selfish power and showing the same kind of fallen human nature that the world shows. This isn’t “in the Spirit.”
Worship and the Corinthian Meeting
Corinthians, possibly more than Paul’s other letters, gives us a window into the early church “meeting.” In Acts we see the believers met in houses, sharing fellowship, teaching, prayer and food. They also shared their material goods with each other, so that none had any need. We see this in the Roman house churches as well. But not much else is known about early church meetings. The question arises, why do we have the kind of meetings we have today? The early church didn’t sit in rows. Their meetings seemed to be much more about sharing their lives together, serving the people in society who needed support.
Maybe we can reconstruct the kind of meeting the Corinthian believers had. Paul spoke about some of the things they did at this meeting, which we call our worship together. We don’t know how many people met in one place, or how many meeting places, in different homes, they had in one city or regional centres.
They seemed to have leaders among them, as part of the charismata Paul spoke of, like the “Paul, Peter and Apollos” he mentioned. These would likely have brought some sermon or teaching to the community. Paul spoke of the conduct of women in the meetings and how they would also “prophesy” and pray and be involved, just as the men. There is a lot of dispute about these passages, but they are essentially about women having full rights of participation, equal to the men, in a way that serves others rather than lifts themselves. Paul treats the women the same way he treats us all in this matter.
There is a kind of “democracy” in the meetings, in the sense that all believers were honoured as vessels of the Spirit, as contributors and participants in all levels of worship. This was supposed to be lived out in “submission to one another in love, in the unity of the Spirit” (as Paul said to the Ephesians), rather than personal struggles for position.
When the believers came together, they had a meal, which today we call communion. This meal was very unlike anything you would see in the Jewish and Roman world of that day. Jews and gentiles, rich and poor, females and males, would all eat together. The idea of this meal was clearly about the call to serve each other and help restore each other’s lives, something the established separate groupings in society refused to do.
This is something Paul showed a lot of passion about. If they ate before the poor arrived and failed to build the proper bridges of restoration between the different ethnicities, then their fellowship was a failure as a church. Their meeting was not at “the table of the Lord.” I don’t know how the communion was changed into a sacrament of an individualised ritual nature. It is supposed to be a shared sacrament/ sign of love, meaning the sharing of our food, substance and whole lives together. This puts their charismata/ meeting/ worship wholly within the context and spirit of the Old Testament Prophets: social justice, covenantal faithfulness to one other and to the outside stranger. This is the meaning of the cross, of the gospel. This is supposed to be the sign of our meeting/ worship to the powers, to the society God wants to renew through us.
We sometimes ask, “If God is so powerful, why doesn’t he help the poor?” He formed us to do that. If that isn’t happening, it is because we aren’t doing it. We are the ones who build cultures that shut the poor and helpless out. This is why God gave the world the church. He showed us himself in Christ. If we don’t do what God expects, what he has given us his Spirit to do, and if we change all he has shown us and set up in the church, back into our own selfish way, then how can we point the finger at God? He came and died to show us the way. We have to listen to his “prophesying” and not excuse ourselves from its message.
This coming together to share our lives with each other, to mutually rebuild the fallen in love, is the Spirit restoring his image to humanity. As Paul said in Ephesians 1-2, this breaking down of the walls, making us one in care, is the new temple of God in the world, meaning this is to be God’s home of love, God’s cooperative action in us towards the needy, heaven coming into and renewing this world.
The Weak at Corinth
On a deeper level something much more transforming is going on in Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians. The subject is about power and weakness. This is what I want to address regarding our manner of worship.
There was a kind of worship of power, of strength, going on in the Corinthian church. The charismata had been co-opted into this fallen human agenda. There was a personal pride and personal upliftment that was at the centre of their wordship.
Paul started dealing with this straight away in the opening of his first letter. The church had been chosen by God to bring to nought the powers of the world. By its own power and wisdom, the world had not known God. God is revealed, so unexpectantly, as a rejected slave, dying on the cross. This is the world and how it acts, casting out others in its wisdom. The execution of a slave reveals both the world and God (his powerlessness, weakness, humility) at the same time. It we don’t get this, we don’t get worship.
This is how worship of the true God is supposed to transform us. If we don’t worship the God who humbled himself, we will never accept the humble. If we don’t accept the humble, we will never restore the community and the creation. The creation groans, waiting for the children of God to become the image of their Lord.
Next Paul spoke of the believers’ attitude towards their leaders, about which one they preferred, “Paul, Apollos or Peter.” This revealed their sense of the super-human, or in this case the super-charismatic. This was totally opposite to what Paul’s mission was about. It betrayed the very essence of the gospel, which is honouring the weak. In such a community there is no hero. Rather, as Paul pointed out in his second letter to Corinth, the apostles are set forth as the lowest, the offscouring of the planet. The greater in God’s kingdom God makes you, the lower he makes you.
Paul proceeds to the man in the church who slept with his mother in law and then boasted about it before the church. It’s part of the whole boasting climate the church was building. In such a world, the weak of our society can’t be restored. The weak are despised. Next, it’s the man who took his brother to court because he was defrauded. Again, it’s about power, taking from one another what you think you have a right to. It’s our self-importance.
“Is there no one in the church who can decide this case for you?” Some commentators say that the sense of Paul here is “no one,” meaning the least, a worthless, useless or weak person. “Is there no worthless or useless person among you?” The weakest member of the community is sufficient to see the pride and lust for power the two men were locked into. Let the weakest decide the case. I think this is one of the strongest themes of Paul to the Corinthians: it is the weak ones in the world’s eyes among them who can teach them the most about the new creation. This is the important thing to see when we think of the culture of worship in our churches.
Paul speaks about their refraining from eating if it helps the weaker brother, rather than boasting of their supposed wisdom of freedom. He then spoke of his own refraining from privileges, if it helps him serve the weaker ones better. The whole focus is on what helps the weak, not on what makes me look good before others. This is to be the heart of worship in our churches. Not the self-vaunting in “ministry,” but the hiding of one’s self, to lift others into growth and service.
Probably chapter 11 gets to the heart of Paul’s message. They eat without waiting for the poor. It’s a total act of despising the poor, the ones that Christ died for. It breaks the very centre of the rational of the gospel, which is to heal our hearts and heal the creation, by lifting and restoring the lowest. Without this attitude of heart and action in our lives, the creation goes on being trodden under foot by the strongest and proud. Our witness at these meals is supposed to be our trumpet call to the world. The Corinthians have virtually destroyed their whole witness as God’s new creation people.
The point of the body and the cup of the Lord is to show that Christ gave himself for the world. In following Christ, in giving ourselves for one another, we are showing “we remember him.” It was the same with Israel, when they came out of Egypt. They were to remember they were redeemed from slavery by serving the poor. We are to remember Christ till he comes by doing the same. Doing this, this kind of self-giving fellowship between us all, especially to lift the weakest, is the “Table of the Lord,” the true celebration of the sufferings and family of God. Many are sick and die among us because we don’t care for them, while we eat. The point of our meetings, of our worship, is to reverse this behaviour.
That is, the Lord’s table, or the Passover, is where the Lord stood between us and the Destroyer. The Lord passed over us with his wings, like a hen covers its chicks, and shielded us from our destruction. This is how we are to passover/ cover one another. In standing between the weak and their destruction, we are celebrating the Lord’s table.
In Paul’s talk on the spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14, he paints the picture of a body, where every part works with the whole, and there is no exalted member. There is no one who can say, “You need me.” On the contrary, Paul says it is the weakest member that is most honoured amongst us. Why? Because they teach us the most. They reveal our need to be transformed and to love. They reveal to us the simple things of God, which are the most powerful and the most needed in new creation. It’s in caring for the weak, that we learn our weaknesses and learn the character and faithfulness of God. We can’t do without the weak. They should be in the front of our congregations.
The strong lead us astray in the worship of God. The weak lead us correctly. We are honouring the wrong people if we honour the strong and not the weak. If we honour leaders, it is because they live as the weak, giving themselves for the weakest among us. This is what we honour.
In chapter 13 it’s the “gifts” that exalt our self that are nothing, but the charisma that lifts others comes from God’s love. When we walk in love we aren’t easily angered, we don’t look for our own benefit, we don’t look for people to notice us, our pride isn’t offended by others and we don’t do anything to dishonour others. “Love never fails.” Worship like this will gain fruit that is real.
In chapter 15 the body is sown in weakness and raised in glory. That which is sown in weakness, our service of others, is honoured by God. In Paul’s second letter, Paul is made strong in his weakness. In weakness, God’s grace is completed in him. The “super-apostles” of Corinth despised Paul because he didn’t fast to gain powers, to become “spiritual,” to exalt himself over others. They said he was weak. They said he was in the flesh. They tried to steal God’s people from him, from their true father, who gave himself for the people, rather than made them his subjects. Paul had to win them again, to the simplicity of Christ. Contrary to the teaching of the “super-apostles,” God’s power is by grace, not by our own sacrifices. Charismata means gifts of grace, not wages for personal spirituality.
Corinthians teaches us to turn away from the false worship of power, in seeking our own upliftment, and instead to seek the simplicity and humility of Christ. This builds true reconciling relationships within the church community and between the church and the world in need of a truer vision of worship. It teaches us not to be deceived by false spirituality, which seeks to use and rob God’s people. It teaches us to honour what is genuine in our churches and look carefully for what is false and not to give it place in our hearts. It teaches us that we will find truth in caring for the weak, not in looking for false honour for ourselves from the strong.
When Paul spoke of worship in the Corinthian meetings, he meant overcoming the culture of the worship of power and strength, by looking to and learning from their weakest members in their meetings of worship. By honouring the weak, a right culture develops in our lives. We forget about the honour of men, and instead look to restore the despised, people of other ethnic groups, other genders, other economic brackets, the disabled, slaves, farmers, foreigners. We develop a culture of compassion. The church begins to turn towards the people the world turns away from, and this begins to portray before the world the cross of Christ. He gave himself for all.
It isn’t our preaching that “preaches” the gospel, but the way we live, pulling down walls to heal the despised. This is peace-making. A world on the path of healing is on the path of reconciliation in relationships and this is what brings the peace of God to our lives.
To show that Paul was saying this for the purpose of new creation, 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 explains it in detail. He said the God who said “let there be light” in the first creation, has shone in our hearts through the gospel of Christ. The Jewish hearer knew Paul was speaking about a second creation, specifically about the shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Leviticus 19:18), the creation of a new heart that would “love God and love neighbour as our self.” This is the heart that Jeremiah said the gospel would give to us. In chapter 5, Paul said this is “new creation.” It’s beautiful: “He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
In Paul’s day, the “righteousness of God” meant the new family, displaying to the world his promise to renew our hearts and communities. It meant that God has been righteous, faithful to his covenant promises, and the new family of love in a broken world was evidence of God’s promises coming to pass. We are his evidence that Christ is risen, to renew the whole of creation.
“For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honoured, we are dishonoured! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world, right up to this moment.” (1 Corinthians 4:9-13)
“In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honourable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honourable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honour and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honoured, all the parts are glad.” (1 Corinthians 12:22-26)
“Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength.” (1 Corinthians 15:43)
“For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Corinthians 4:5)
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)
“Would to God you could bear with me a little in my folly (weakness)… For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I fear, that as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds might be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ… Have I committed an offence in lowering myself that you might be lifted…? I will continue in this way, so I may cut off … false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.” (2 Cor 11:1-13)
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Worship and the New World
Now to get to what I really wish to address in this study. A church that is focused on popularism will not fulfil its commission to restore society. That is, when we emulate what is popular in the world, in our styles of worship, or preaching, and focus on what has esteem in the world, then we are not focused on the weak. It we are not focused on the weak, we are not restoring our community. We are not bringing down the powers of this world and replacing them with the powers of care. This is the essence of what Paul teaches us in his letters to the Corinthians.
If we focus on the strong preacher, the “leading man of God,” the one that can carry the crowd, and not on the weak person, who the crowd may not show interest towards, we are inculcating the culture of the world into our worship. In such a case we are joining with the word that says the weak person is not of equal value, and we join the world to cast the weak person to one side.
This is why we don’t see many weak in on our congregations, not many cripples, disabled, drug addicts and other helpless cases. The ones who aren’t strong, who don’t have “something to give” to our churches, aren’t as encouraged to be a part. But if we valued the wisdom these people have to give, and not just their money, or their popularity, we would want to have them.
My point is this. If we don’t lift the weak in our congregations and bring them into our focus as a church in our meetings, then our church will not have an interest in restoring the weak in our societies. Our church will not care for the weak of the world. Divisions in our world will get worse, rather than become healed. The church will then not be fulfilling its redemptive and reconciling commission of healing in the world. It will not be building peace in its community.
If we cultivate a culture of the popular, holding out to the church the song leaders and preachers that will carry the crowd’s acceptance, then we are teaching the people that the things that the world values are the important things, and what the world doesn’t value, that is, the weak, are not worth our attention or time.
And this is what we generally see as the result of popularism, that to a large extent has taken over our meetings. The song leader becomes an entertainer, where the ego is at the front, and any sign of weakness in his person is hidden, lest it embarrasses the performance. When our worship becomes a performance of the culturally acceptable, our hearts are not ready for the Lord to bring his humility and service to us. Our egos are at the forefront. You cannot preach a Christlike message to a crowd that has been played to by an entertainer. Our ears aren’t ready to hear it.
Worship means that there is no boasting in his presence. Grace precludes all boasting. When we elevate the popular it is a kind of boasting in the flesh before the Lord. That is not worship. Worship is honouring God in simplicity, not boasting in man. Boasting can be subtle. Nothing needs to be said. It is just the culture, the image, we present. “Let no flesh boast before the Lord.” Why, because God is angry? He isn’t angry for himself, but for the harm this does to the weak. Boasting cannot build community, because it boasts in the strong. Let our worship be simple, God exalting, not man exalting. Let no person be seen (promoted, highlighted) when God is being worshipped. Why? Because God loves the weak, whom the people don’t see when men boast. God is humble, so he wants worship to be humble, restorative of the weak.
Let’s take our eye off the popular culture. We see it in the way a song leader dresses, with an eye to current fashion, looking much like entertainers. This is telling us that if you can’t get these clothes, these watches, these hair designs, this kind of appearance and voice, these shoes, this applause and excitement from the congregation, these cool image portraits on Facebook, then you are not valued. It won’t be directly said that such people are not valued, but that is the case. This is going to take our church right away from God’s plans for us. Paul said we should value the weak most of all, for this is where we see Jesus, not in the strong, not in what the crowd loves.
Any church is filled with the gifts of the Lord, as Corinthians tells us. Every member has a charisma. It may not be the popular kind of charisma. The Holy Spirit doesn’t have to present his gifts the way we expect, the way that generates popularity in our meetings. Gifts can often be something we don’t even recognize, because we are expecting the wrong thing, having our hearts trained in the wrong way. God gave his greatest gift in a baby in a manger, completely missed by the strong. If we cast aside that which isn’t popular, we are casting aside the Holy Spirit.
When we focus on the popular, we generate competition in our members. People begin to imitate the popular, so they can be accepted. The popular becomes a dominate culture and it is based on non-Christlike values. It is a sure way to lead a congregation and its meetings away from the Lord. Our meetings become an entertainment club, not a church. We just become places of imitation, not imitating the Lord and his cross, but the person who has popularity in the fashion of the day.
We have done this because we have thought it will give us access to the wider community. “More people will come to our churches if we copy the styles of the day.” But it hasn’t worked. It hasn’t produced the kind of church Paul was looking for, one that takes its stance in the simplicity of Christ, to generate genuine fellowship of change in our lives.
Popularism has developed churches that uphold selfish “political solutions” to the violence and challenges of our current world; churches that don’t call for imprisoned or drowning refugees to be restored, or care for these people themselves; churches that stand against their enemies, rather than love them into newness.
They have called for strong popularist political leaders to deal with our enemies, to exclude the ones we fear, rather than seek their healing, and all this shows that there hasn’t been a transformation of our lives into the image of Christ. Political leaders know how to build their personal success on this culture of fear, that comes from us seeing strength, not the cross, not reconciling healing, as our victory. It is the worship of the strong. If we go for popularism then the popular idea is that we shouldn’t suffer, we should protect ourselves and our interests. If this is our message in our churches, we have missed the cross and the kingdom of God. Christ took up his cross for his enemies.
We might give aid, but popularism in our churches will not transform our lives into a genuine healing community, where we bring in the weak of our society, the stranger, the foreigner, the refugee, the despised person, and restore holistic community among us all. We will still be primarily focused on our careers, our advancement in life, our prosperity as “the will of God,” our own family, education, nurturing and opportunities as paramount. This is the popular message. It is tempered by Christianity, so it looks meek, but the values of Christ don’t fully take hold in our lives to completely redirect us towards the need of others.
We uphold segregated global communities, if not verbally at least by our actions, especially between the rich and poor, between ethnicities. This is contrary to our mission of oneness in Christ, for the healing of us all. All the scriptures teach us to seek security by healing outsiders, not in our strength of arms. This takes a lot more than aid. It takes a whole new church.
The “gifts of the Spirit” can sometimes be co-opted into this popularist culture. They often are. Here, “gifts” serve the desires of the congregation. They don’t transform us. It’s like those who followed Jesus, wanting a gift. They eventually left him. Many times, “gifts” are geared towards popularist meetings. “Prophets” tell people what they want to hear and the message they share is often completely against what Christ would have for us. People come for healing, but not for the kind of life God wants for his church. This kind of “leadership” generates large attendance and large offerings.
We get this with false charismata. People will “fight the devil,” pray loud aggressive prayers, and hold themselves out as “spiritual people.” These are the super-spirituals we see in Corinthians, “the strong and powerful.” The real aim is to present ourselves as important, as needed, so we can use the people for our own name. The church has become known for this falsehood throughout many parts of the world, for these kinds of false ministers. It’s a mockery of God’s true church. It is one of our greatest problems to overcome today.
But many still follow this kind of charismata-popularism and intimidate the people. Those watching think they won’t get any advancement in their “ministry” unless they follow the “strong.” So they copy the one with the loudest image. This culture then takes over the congregation in a “spiritual” coup. It is not genuine. It is not the Holy Spirit. It is human false charisma. It is very common today. We don’t want that. We want the real presence of the Holy Spirit among us, restoring the weak, not calling people to follow the self-made strong, making a name for themselves.
We know when the Spirit is present among us, because enemies are reconciled, egos are humbled, the strong become simple and the weak are brought to the front in notice and care. Communities become peaceful and politicians can’t divide us, because we are committed to loving others. This, not strength, not political victory, is our hope and way of life.
Increasing the volume in our meetings dulls our spiritual hearing. Unless there is noise, we don’t listen to God. We become a people who don’t “hear.” This noise also becomes equated with “strength,” a noise pollution in our meetings, a false view of the God we come to worship. The true “noise” we come to hear is meant to be our fellowship together. This is the “volume” we are to turn up. There is nothing wrong with a loud noise, so long as it doesn’t become a routine way of distracting us from God. Like Paul said about the two men going to court, “why not get the weakest member among you to settle the dispute.” We can see God better if we tune down some of the things our culture takes for “strength.” We find they aren’t true strength. Best get the “weakest members” to lead worship and preach.
Many today are afraid of aligning with the weak. You hear people saying it often. “If we don’t present ourselves as strong, no one will regard us. People will not respect us. We will be ignored.” The world worships strength, so we must be strong, we think, or we will not get the acceptance we desire. This was exactly the culture Paul was dealing with in Corinthians. This is the false culture we must be brave enough to stamp out in our hearts and service. This bravery is true strength, not following the crowd. True strength is the simplicity of Christ. Are you brave enough to adopt Christ and his heart for the world? Are you really a Christian, Christ-like?
We shouldn’t play with the Holy Spirit. We saw earlier that the purpose of the Holy Spirit, and of his charismata, is to draw in the weak, the marginalised, the poor, the ones rejected by society and restore them to fellowship and mutual care, to genuine community. In a popularist culture this will never be done. We could say then that the charismata of popularism is not biblical charisma. Charismata must be following the reconciling, restoring, integrating community, especially for the weaker member, the one normally despised, or it is not charismata. This is charismata in line with the Old Testament Prophets, with Jesus, with the book of Acts and with Paul’s example.
A biblical theology of the Holy Spirit is a theology of a church on the mission of integrative wholeness for the community. A biblical theology of the charismata is one that draws people of all backgrounds into healing community, where enemies are loved, where the sick are nurtured and where sinners are restored. The biblical theology of charismata is “one-table of the Lord,” bringing down the rich and lifting the poor from their dunghill. “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” (Luke 1:52) This isn’t by revolution, but by heart transformation.
Pentecostal theology means the Spirit is following the cross, pulling down the powers of division between Jew and gentile, making us one. For example, in Romans 10, Paul quotes Joel’s Pentecostal declaration, “all (ethnicities) who call on the Lord shall be saved.” This unity, Paul said, quoting Isaiah, was Israel’s true “return from exile,” what it means to call Jesus Lord. This was the Spirit’s work on the Day of Pentecost, when people of all languages became one. Having relationships restored we serve and restore one another: new creation. We need to develop a Pentecostal theology today along these lines.
What does this mean for our meetings as God’s people? It means, when we come together, we want to lift the weaker members among us. We don’t want to focus on the one who has been able to get enough money (who knows how) to get the right clothes, haircut, or jewellery. Let’s hear from the children, from the women, from the non-professional, even from those who “don’t have a ministry” in the popular sense. These are the ones, according to Paul, who have wisdom to share with us. Let’s lift the weaker ones to development and fulfilment. We could go a whole year in our church and only hear from each person once, so much is the value we have in every member.
We have taught weaker people that they are not needed. They eventually stop coming to our meetings. Then the people who do come pretend they are doing church. But church without the weak is not church. It’s the weaker people among us that focus our hearts correctly. They teach us to be restoring people and to act out the real church in the wider community. The church then becomes peace-making, a community restoring agent in the world, bringing to pass God’s new creation process as he intended.
We have a wonderful mission in the world. It is greater than anything we have ever thought, so much greater than what the “strong” have told us. “Eye has not seen, nor has ear heard…” The strong give us a vision of popularity, Christ gives us a vision of new relationships, a joyful community, of real abundant life. Abundant life is shared life, especially with the weaker members among us. This is where we meet God together and come to know his genuine love for us all. Let’s nurture this culture in our churches and meetings.
Let’s focus on the new world, the new creation, in which the people and communities are restored, not on the old world, in which the mighty are honoured. This is the church.
Jesus Resisted Bigness
The idea of seeking bigness is entirely opposite to the nature of God. It is the human tendency that breaks down our communities. While we seek bigness, as individuals, or as churches, or as nations, we are treading on the collective wellbeing of diverse community. Life is to be shared. We are to grow together.
Peter rebuked Jesus when going to the cross. Peter had larger visions for Christ than that. But Jesus didn’t seek those larger visions. His vision was to die, to simply do what was right, to serve others. Jesus consistently did not look for bigness for himself or for his mission.
He died with only 12 disciples, and those disciples also weren’t very promising from the natural viewpoint. That looked like a failure. But Jesus knew that restoration happens in the small things. I feel we are very easily deceived by the “big picture,” like Adam and Eve were drawn away towards such a view.
When Satan offered Jesus all the political help Jesus would need to support his mission, Jesus refused it. Again, he said no to bigness. When we agree to bigness, we forsake the very vison and heart of the church, which is to restore the humble. This can only be done through humility. A big vision can’t do it. Maybe this is why the early church met in small homes. In fellowship we need to genuinely meet together.
The work of the Holy Spirit is to draw our eyes down from the big, to our neighbour, to our simple relationships in everyday life. When we aspire to something else, something greater, we lose sight and touch with the reality and the true vison of the kingdom of God.
Not even Christ’s disciples understood this. They wanted to be great. Jesus told them they had to become the least. They had to lower themselves to the child. He who receives a child receives the kingdom of God. They had to wash each other’s feet. This is the nature, the direction of God’s kingdom.
The direction of the kingdom of God is opposite to the direction we want. We want up, God comes down in the incarnation to our level. Then he goes down to wash feet, to the cross. This is our direction, where we will find life and restoration for our world. Jesus was always going in the opposite direction to the mighty.
And this is the great difference, why our kingdoms destroy and why God’s kingdom restores. If we go against this, even in the name of God, even to do great things for God, we are going against the DNA of our true kingdom, and we will have the same results as the world does. We don’t change this message because people at a popular level don’t want to hear it. It we do change it, we aren’t the church of Christ any longer.
The kingdom of God is built by the process, not by the goal or end big project. It’s the process that matters, our personal relationships along the way. The process, the journey, is the goal. If we get the journey right, then we have reached our goal, our communities will be new. Resorted relationships are the kingdom of God. Our love for one another is the ministry. We don’t seek to the restore the marginalised as a “side order” to the “real ministry of church.” Restoring the separated to mutual love is the image of God, is the ministry.
We don’t save a nation by violence against others, to save the kingdom of God. Our nation is not God’s kingdom. This is a denial of the process, which is the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom is the way we live with others, including with our enemies. It is restoring the divisions of our world with peace, with the cross, not with dominance.
In our worship we are seeking these healing relationships with the simple among us and with those next-door to us. This is our witness to the world. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to come on this journey with us, to work with us in healing love between us. This is the true nature of his charisma.
The Meeting in the New Testament
In Ephesians the main issue with Paul is that God is pulling down walls between us.
In Ephesians 2, these are the walls between Jew and gentile. Today that means all of our nations and ethnic groups.
In Ephesians 1, God’s plan is to bring all things together in Christ.
In Colossians the religious distinctions that divide us are brought down. This included, in that generation, things like circumcision and even water baptism in the church. If differences in areas like this divide us, they are called “principalities and powers,” because they do the enemy’s work, in breaking up the circle of mutual care we are supposed to have for each other.
In Galatians, Philippians, Romans and Corinthians, Paul shows how we meet together with a meal. This means caring for each other as family. Paul said our differences are not to break this family apart. The differences that divide our churches and denominations are false and love needs to replace this falsehood.
A main symbol of the meeting is the table, because it means we take time to know and serve each other. The main theme of Paul’s letters is this fellowship. His main theme is not our personal salvation. It is the fellowship that shows Jesus is Lord, by our love for each other.
Paul’s theme is about creation. The powers divide the world and spoil the creation. When we love each other our communities around us come into the harmony and goodness that was shown by the original creation event in Genesis. Our fellowship as the church, in mutual care, is our witness to the world that God is healing the tribes that destroy the creation.
Are we pulling down walls in our meetings of fellowship?
We sit in rows and look at the back of the other person, and often don’t relate with others in a meaningful way. We expect “the church” to do it for us. We have ushers and in “professional” churches, they hand out cards to people, taking their personal information to see what needs they have. We look more like a corporation than a fellowship.
The early church did not sit in rows and their communion was a whole meal together, meaning they took care of each other. This was their meeting. They came together to copy the death and resurrection of Christ. They died to themselves in their service of each other. Their community had new life as a result. We are to live the cross/ resurrection every time we come together. This is what the meetings are for.
A lot of the time the “fellowship” we have with other people, like friends, isn’t cross-shaped. It’s just that we have mutual interests, like food, or entertainment, or recreation. The church isn’t meant to copy this kind of relationship model. We are supposed to be different, selfless, and our meetings are to model this to a world that is bereft of real care for the ones most in need.
Professionalism is building walls between us as the church. It isn’t the usher’s job to systemise our “care” for people who come to the meeting, because the meetings aren’t such that we come together to care for one another. A pastor recently noted that when a person goes to sleep sitting next to us, the usher must wake them up, because we don’t know they are asleep. Humorous, but it shows the point a bit. And we call this “fellowship.” Fellowship with who? Not with God, because he calls us to our neighbour.
How can we break down these walls we have built to make it comfortable for us in our “meetings?” Meetings should not be called meetings if we don’t “meet” with each other. The primary witness of the church is that walls have come down and we care for each other when we meet together. This is what “meeting” means.
Many times, meetings are filled with performances. Some are musical, others are the preacher. Some are “spiritual” exhibitions. These people often say they are the true spirituals, but they are really drawing attention to themselves because they expect the people lo lift them up.
They want to be on a different level to the rest of the people. They tell people directly, or allow people to believe, that if they serve them specially, God will bless them. They build walls of “holiness” between themselves and the “weaker people.” When you see “ministers” behave in this falsehood, making the people to serve them, you feel like overturning the “holy tables” like Jesus did.
False spirituality tries to take over in people’s minds and it is a poison because it stops us being the true church. It makes heroes of men, robbing the church of its badge of humility. This is a cancer in the church that must be taken out. False spirituality needs to be stood up to. We should not give it place in the meeting.
Especially young men who want to follow “big people.” They are following the wrong people. They boast themselves against their true parents who care for them and pay their bills and instead follow fame. They need to be following true apostles, servants of the people. They need to sit down and learn from their elders, before they stand up to talk.
True spirituality is our service and love for each other that is genuine. This is what our meetings should exhibit in abundance. The performance builds walls, because it focuses our attention at the front of the meeting and on the “hero,” not on knowing and caring for each other.
This is a big problem today, in as much as our style of meeting is preventing us from becoming the church. We need bold steps in breaking down the wall of professionalism and the wall of performance, the wall of sitting in rows and instead getting us to face each other as one family.
Our meetings need to be reoriented. And we can’t mind what people may say about us because we are being different and shutting off their own opportunities to become big. It’s about rescuing the true meaning of being spiritual.
Let the gifts of the Spirit operate naturally in all our lives as we meet and serve each other, not in a performance from the front. Let all the smaller members of the church see miracles as we serve each other as our focus. It’s having the right focus. These performance “miracles” are false. Our nation is filled with false miracles. They are designed to fill our pockets, not build the real church.
If we have gifts of evangelism and the miracles for it, let us go out to regions that haven’t been reached, to where people can’t pay us for the ministry, rather than use gifts to gain members in the town. And when we go to these places, let it be with the gospel of care, not to gain a name. There is competition between churches to get the members of a town and churches will spend large amounts of money on the most comfortable chairs, while other people have nothing. Making members comfortable to compete is not what we are about.
It’s time for radical change, to build the family of God, instead our building our own false ministries. The world is tired of the deception. It wants to see the real disciples of Jesus. True miracles are good but that which causes division in the name of miracles is not God.
Competition raises walls between us. It sows mistrust. It doesn’t help the gospel but hinders the gospel. Its no good saying, “We grow grass, that’s why the sheep come to us.” If other churches need encouragement to be better, help them, don’t grow fake grass to take their sheep.
For quite many years now the meeting has changed into a place where we try to attract others. We speak nice things, use popular styles or promise people that all their needs will be met. People who “minister” in meetings like this are not servants of God, but of themselves.
A meeting is supposed to a place where we come together to find out what God wants for us and obey him. It isn’t pleasing people’s ears but building us into a people who hear the true world of God and are willing to obey it in our love for each other. This is not entertainment.
Today we often honour those who spend large amounts of money on themselves while people around them have acute need. Doing this builds walls between the rich and poor. Jesus didn’t honour such a way of life. There are people in our community who could be helping orphans and widows. The church should be encouraging this kind of life style among us all.
When we have a large difference between the rich and poor and we do nothing to bridge that, to bring healing to us both, then we are not meeting. This article is about the Christian meeting. The purpose of God is that we truly meet each other, not “have a meeting.”
To a large extent we have separated into social, economic, professional, ethic and denominational groups and do not meet together. To this extent our Sunday meetings lack significance and many people don’t see the point of the “meeting,” where we don’t truly meet. Vertical worship needs to be horizontally expressed.
When we meet together, we learn to serve and then we go out to serve the world. This is how we are healed in our real heart, how our true needs are met and how the world is healed. The world needs to see the church that has put off its corruption and is true in its love and care for others.
This is what Paul said about the meeting and the use of spiritual gifts. “Love does not put itself on display.” (1 Corinthians 13) Human display in the name of charisma doesn’t help the gospel but hinders the gospel. Anything fake hinders what it true from being our proper focus. Love doesn’t seek to put itself at the front but seeks to serve instead.
The biggest issue in Corinth was its false “spirituals,” its “false ministers.” There are more of these than the true ministers, many more. They even believed they were greater than Paul, because he lowered himself. Paul could not allow this to continue. Our meetings are to be about serving the weakest amongst us, just as see Christ did on the cross. We are his followers, not the followers of “great men.”
We cannot take down our walls and become one in service if we are lifting up ourselves. “He that shall be the greatest among, shall be the servant of the least among you.”
Paul’s letters show us that walls go up when we put ourselves ahead of others. This could be about arguments on our traditions, which separate us. It could happen because we try to put ourselves at the front. When we break down unity, we do it because we are seeking something for our self. Paul wants us to be people who meet together to pull down walls and build tables of mutual care. He wants us to heal the creation by denying ourselves and thinking of what is best for all.