The more I’ve thought about the process of sanctification, the more I’ve come to realize that my understanding of it was shaped in some very problematic ways. That’s resulted in more and more reading in recent years about the journey of becoming more like Jesus. And of course that means more learning about the work of the Holy Spirit of Jesus the Christ. Recently I was encouraged to read Growing the Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit, a book I probably would not have picked up on my own. The title set off my warning bells. Exactly why that is, I’m not even sure I know myself. Somehow I feared gimmickry or formula or an unspiritual pragmatism. But I read it, and I want to recommend it.
This is a “how to” book – it aims to help leaders and members of congregations think about how to be open and receptive to the work of the Spirit as he leads the church.
One of the many things I liked is the metaphor of the dance (Gal 5:25). The authors stress throughout the book the importance of the highly relational, strongly interactive and reciprocal and even interdependent dynamic that needs to exist between the Spirit and Christ’s people.
You won’t get much systematic theology here, though there is a strong message about the dismal absence of coursework on the Holy Spirit in seminaries. There is also plenty of practical discussion about the work of the Spirit that presupposes vibrant Spirit theology. These authors are affiliated with the Dunamis movement. They are focused on helping the church to rediscover and connect with the active work of the Spirit in the life of members and of the body through the members.
There were moments when I was uneasy with the suggestion that a second baptism is the norm. I’m still not sure if this is what the authors mean to teach, but I do find it helpful to think about very intentional and specific moments of (re)decision in which I again renew my confession and my submission, and await a fresh experience of the Spirit’s presence and equipping.
The authors first stress the importance – the essential importance – of having the leadership fully on board and involved in the dance with the Holy Spirit; “…because the role of leaders is to shape the culture and ethos of the church so that it becomes a context in which the dynamic of cooperation with the Holy Spirit of God may take place.” (p. 41)
The rest of the book looks in some depth at seven steps or dynamics involved in growing the church in the power of the Holy Spirit. The authors identify first the need for us to respond to the initiating love of God; then prayer which invites God’s engagement with us; the need for an obedient response when the Holy Spirit leads; being open to divine guidance for cooperating with the Spirit; the need to learn to discern in a safe environment; how to welcome the gifts and manifestations; discerning and responding to “kairos moments.”
If we as a community of Reformed believers could have a loving and safe dialog about how to be more discerning about and more responsive to the Spirit, wouldn’t that be exciting – and renewing? Yes, that’s naïve no doubt. I remember all too well the pain of the 70s in the CRC when some of us were trying to be more open to the Spirit’s leading. We didn’t always do it well. The authors end with a discussion of the typical obstacles to a renewed response to the Spirit. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. This book does have much to offer us that is biblical, insightful, practical, and challenging; they push us in some helpful ways to create a congregational culture that is more open and responsive to the Spirit of Jesus Christ.