A series of essays exploring what the church, considering its ongoing reformation begun 500 years ago, will look like in the next decade and beyond: A futurist’s snapshot of the Christian Church.
Shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection, we read in the Acts of the Apostles an amazing story of the founding of the church (Acts 2). The disciples Jesus called (all 11 of them) were gathered together in one place. Then, something happened that set them off with what seemed to be a frenetic, uncontrollable energy and a single focus. The disciples were observed acting in a bewildering way confusing an assembling crowd of Jews from all over Asia Minor. It happened to be the time the Jewish Pentecost was observed.
Initially, the confusion seemed to be a matter of language. But even the interpretations that attempted to bridge the language barriers did not help. Then in a flash of inspiration Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, began to preach interpreting what had happened to the disciples. Beginning, with the Hebrew scriptures, and recounting the story of Jesus’ ministry and his untimely and unjust death and resurrection he outlined the events that had occurred up until that very moment when he described what had been observed as the coming and giving of the promised Holy Spirit. The disciples were only the vanguard of that experience. Peter called the assembly to “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (NRSV Acts of the Apostles 2:38b-39). On that day, it is reported in the Acts of the Apostles that more than 3,000 were baptized.
Where is that energy in the church today? I can imagine that so much energy was confusing, and very early emerged structures and authority to bring order out of the chaos. As I interpret the early history of the church, the effort was to reign in the confusion and energy and focus it in an orthodox system of belief and practice. Eventually, baptism was not enough to authorize Followers of the Way to serve. Additional rites were added limiting service to only those in authority – an ordained priesthood. As I see it, the rise of the priesthood served to limit the practice of faith to an “ordained” few.
The 16th Century Reformation can be seen, in part, as a restoration of the practice of faithful service to all baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. “The priesthood of all believers” was one of the clarion calls of the Reformation. And it is the legacy given to the Reforming Church seeking to be relevant not just in every new day but in every new context.
The challenge before every congregation in the Reforming Church is to call Followers of the Way of Jesus Christ to release the energy that the Holy Spirit has given them. When the Apostle Paul mentions gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12) he identifies the means whereby the Holy Spirit is at work in the world. It becomes the responsibility of every member to discern those gifts in themselves and in other Followers and to prepare and equip themselves as the gifts themselves suggests. It is then the duty of the leaders of every congregation to encourage the Followers of the Way in the matter of the releasing of the energy given to them. And not only that but to provide structures that make it happen: the mentoring, the studying, the training, the calling, the sending. . . .
The baptism of the Followers of the Way recognizes their participation in a Pentecostal experience gong all the way back to Peter’s first sermon that establishes that all are called, all are gifted to serve, and all are sent. Ministry and service in the Reforming Church are not the responsibility of an order of “clergy” or “evangelist” or “missionaries” rather it is the responsibility of every Follower of the Way of Jesus Christ.
While the immediate question that arises is how are these gifts discerned in the Followers of the Way. I will come back to that, but next week I will write about “ordained” offices in the Reforming Church, those who have been called, prepared, sent and deployed.