Emerging Church and the Holy Spirit [4]

The language of the Spirit has been hijacked by the charismatic/pentecostal movement, which is probably why people in Emerging circles have been shy of using it. What some of them appear to have seen from their side of the fence is that this shyness amounts to a rejection of the Spirit, and what they interpret that to mean is a lack of ‘power manifestations.’ What I have been arguing in these posts is that:

  1. We need to reclaim the language of the Spirit and not be afraid to use it and
  2. We need to think much more widely about what spiritual gifts are.

On the second point, using some of Lewis Hyde’s work on gift, I’ve argued that gift-exchange is actually the very fuel that runs the church, the inter-connect that is the fabric of our relationships. We don’t relate on a market-exchange plane, where the scales are balanced, but on a gift-exchange plane, where things are left unbalanced, and the relational potential is heightened in every transaction.

Furthermore, true gifts always operate in a circle of 3 or more, meaning that the relational cycle is never bi-polar but involves ‘the other’. In such a system I don’t necessarily receive from the person I gave to, leading to multiplex relational networks that operate on multiple levels. The circle of 3 of course hints at the trinity, which is the ultimate model of generous exchange and relationship.

So how does this work out in some practical ways?

Firstly, in terms of ‘worship’, or what we do when we gather, ideally this ought to be a space where gifts are exchanged. This was the original spirit of Vaux – though we rarely got it right. One of my key concerns about church is that when we look at worship we see only a couple of bland gifts at work. Unless you are an orator, can play guitar or sing, you’ve really got little chance of taking part. But worse than this, worship is far too often seen as consumption: I come to get, not I come to give. ‘That was a great time of worship, I really got a lot out of it.’

Who the hell are we to expect to get anything from worship?

Our attitude should be ‘what gift can I bring to worship?’ So, connectedly, our gatherings need to become places where people can exchange gifts – song, video, theatre, graphics, design, music, installation, dance… I’ve often wondered whether the reason God rejected Cain’s offering and accepted Abel’s was because Cain gave something that didn’t have integrity – wasn’t integral to him, wasn’t  a true gift. As we used to say at Vaux, it’s like he popped into the petrol station to grab some cheap flowers to give on the way. Costing him… nothing. And when we stand their singing stuff over and over and over, the same old songs… I just wonder if God is saying “come on, where’s something from you!” It’s in this area that I really think that the alt.worship movement has been really strong.

Secondly, it may be that some people simply don’t feel they have a creative gift to bring to a gathering. Well, first of all we need to make sure people are aware of what gifts they do have, and tools that I described in this post might be a help in doing that. But we also need to make sure that we are giving encouragement and credence to a much wider variety of gifts than simply the obvious creative ones. Indeed, it might be said that they are more important as they more clearly focus on ‘the other’, which is central to the whole idea anyway.

As I said in a previous post, I’m pretty certain that it’s not through a lack of power manifestations that people are not attracted to church. Far more likely to be because people don’t feel loved. Well what is love if it is not about caring for ‘the other’? Stepping outside of one’s own comfort and giving something of yourself to them, without receiving in return? Thinking along these definitions it’s not hard to see that the idea of grace and gift and love are completely connected. Which is why it should come as no surprise to see Paul putting his ‘ode to love’ smack bang in the middle of the chapters in 1 Cor about spiritual gifts and the body. Here’s my precis:

Chapter 12

“Don’t be ignorant about spiritual gifts. There are all sorts of different kinds.”

“The church is like a body: interconnected, emerging, growing. Gift exchange is the fabric of those interconnections. No one has got everything sorted. There is always an ‘other’ who needs our gift. And always an ‘other’ who has what we need.”

Chapter 13

“So love for ‘the other’ must be at the centre of all we do. Have faith, great. Keep hoping, nice. But for God’s sake love one another.”

Chapter 14

“And don’t let it degenerate into anarchy.”

Importantly, this concept of ‘the other’ must mean that the church opens its boundaries much more fully to the surrounding communities it serves. There must be real gift exchange into communities. Many churches are incredibly resource-rich: buildings, IT facilities, play-group stuff, spires to place wi-fi aerials… and these resources ought to be used generously, rather than as ways to subsidize the coffers so we can keep doing our own little thing without interruption. The relational potential left by generous acts will be ‘preaching the gospel, rendering words unnecessary.’

And finally, this concept of ‘the other’ must stretch globally. Church communities must take their ethical and environmental responsibilities seriously. Because creation is a gift, loaded with relational potential. And it’s our duty to pass it on.


10 responses to “Emerging Church and the Holy Spirit [4]”

  1. I agree with much of what you say. And though I agree with you when you say “Who the hell are we to expect to get anything from worship?”, I’d have to say that we do in fact ‘get’ when we worship. It’s true that our intention and goal in worship should not be ‘getting’, but I believe that any true encounter with God, individually or corporately will result in us ‘getting’ something as a byproduct.
    As a comment about ‘power manifestations and people being attracted to church’ vs. ‘love’, I agree 100%. I spoke with a man yesterday morning who was ‘church shopping’ and had attended several of the local pentacostal/charismatic churches, and there was one in particular of which he said “In the four weeks that I attended I could tell that God was at work in that place, but never once did the pastor or any of the people welcome me”, and so he’s not going back. That’s a tragedy. An overbearing, loud, ‘showy’ pastor and his flock turned the guy off from worshipping with them.

  2. My only observation here is that since my church went “unchurched” in order to church it with the non-church, I’m now relating to others as an individual who is part of a network rathr than as part of an institution.
    So, I wonder which has more resources to serve others? Cos although I’m far more able to help individuals than I ever was before, I sometimes feel less able to help larger problems simply because we no longer have a context where 100s of people gather to be able to convey the problem and offer solutions corporately.

  3. I like this series a lot. I think it’s because of the practicalities of facing the issue. You go into love and how to love. You go into service, and what that looks like. You go into gifts; what are they and how do we use them. I also like your breakdown of 1 Cor. I agree with you that we should encourage people to give gifts that aren’t creative ones. Sadly there are churches that don’t even encourage the creative ones.

  4. “The Spirit has been hijacked by the charismatic/Pentecostal churches” – we need to pay a little bit more attention to our recnt history. The word “hijacked” presupposes that the word “Spirit” was in common usage in churches and meant something quite specific until Pentecostals/Renewal came along. Aside from excptional theological works (Moltmann’s “The Church in the Power of the Spirit” would be the classic example and focussed on the Spirit’s role as the relational giver and receiver in the Trinity – a concept you emphasise in your thoughts Kester), the word “Spirit” had little currency 40 years ago.
    Pentecostals/charismatics have not hijacked the word but given a fresh impetus to “the Forgotton Father” (Tom Smail). The downside is the onesidedness of this Spirit focus (the experiential, the miraculous, the “blessedness”).
    By all means present the relational dynamic of the Spirit but it sounds like another one-sided corrective to rebalance the church as opposed to a genuine embrace of all that the Spirit can and should be in our midst.
    My brethren in-laws are fond of remarking that “we are a very charismatic church: the preaching and teaching is so blessed”. Well, yes (maybe) and well, no….could you be saying “a church full of artists is very spirit-filled”? Well, yes (maybe) and well, no.
    The question for post-charismatics is how can we retain the gifts of the Spirit that have distinguished the renewal movement whilst incorporating lessons learned about the weaknesses of this movement and the demands of culture and society to shape church today? The more fundamental question is how can the Spirit that is fundamentally giving in relationship and therefore in essence missional dictate the shape of church? That has a whole load more in it than just artists doing there thing (which I crave, applaud and seek) and represents an encounter with the “dirt” (as you term it) of society ie the poor, the old, the marginalised.

  5. Thanks Robbie.
    And point taken Richard – you’re quite right about the hijack. And also about the fundamental questions.
    I’m not familiar with Tom Small. I’d agree that fresh impetus was given to the Spirit, but not sure what I think about the ‘forgotten Father’ term. The re-balance of the trinity was obviously massively needed. And perhaps everything we do ought to be about simply trying to get that balance right.
    In terms of ‘God is love’ and to love is to give, perhaps the trinity might be understood as the Giver, the Gift and the Means of giving… In missiological terms: it matters what you give, who gives it, and how it’s given.

  6. I like what you say Richard- yeah- a church full of artists is a spirit fulled church. What if we see it as the Ruach Breath of God, his spirit deep within each of us that is creative, artistic, expressive, intuitive (hence some of the knowledge *gifts*).
    And yes to your comment about how we encounter with the lost and marginalised of society. Maybe we need to become more broad in our understanding of what counts as a ‘contribution’ in a worship service- what can the marginalised who aren’t usually appreciated for who they are contribute? Where do we see the spirit in them? Let’s not forget about the widow in the temple who had very little to contribute but gave it all and Jesus honoured her gift above others.

  7. This post really helped heal my wounded soul. Thank you for reminding me that worship is a place I go to give.
    A church full of artists!??? Dare I hope?

  8. Kathy Whitaker

    Wondering how an encounter with the living God (worship) can leave you unchanged (“I didn’t get much out of that worship”). I would think “getting something” whether it’s an experience of paradise or an almighty kick up the backside to be an authentication of worship………..I can see that this could lead down dangerous paths, but never the less I believe it’s true. And yes, I believe in perserverance and evolution, and waiting and waiting, but if there is no sense of God in that waiting maybe he’s got bored and is waiting for us somewhere else? I believe God waits to give us gifts as fuel to the gift economy you describe so inspiringly.
    Power manifestations? Yes, sure there are places where that’s all there is to it. However, God is power, and when He shows up, aren’t power manifestations likely? If the emergent church is breathed into being by the Holy Spirit, I imagine incomprehensible, inexplicable stuff will happen, I challenge you to embrace it; be carried away by it, mess up a little (have power manifestations become dirt??! If so, are they nothing to do with the Holy Spirit?)

  9. An encounter with the living God doesn’t leave you unchanged. But too often, ‘worship’ isn’t that sort of encounter, and we need to be brave enough to admit that. And yes, God is often waiting somewhere else… ‘waiting to give us gifts to fuel the gift economy’ – I like that a lot! God is the source of all gift.
    And I like the challenge to embrace the incomprehensible, the inexplicable, to get carried away and messed up. Do I think that happens enough in EC contexts? No way near enough. You’re right – power manifestations have become dirty through narrow use, and need renewing. But I still think plain love is better than a hundred cures.

  10. Kester,
    Just came across your blog – sweet.
    I consider myself a blend of conservative, charismatic, and contemplative and have been looking for articles on Emergent and “The Spirit”.
    Good stuff – agree with your views on troublesome terminology. Semantics and personal definitions (tainted by bad experiences) get in the way of meaningful dialogue and cooperation.
    As a Vineyard pastor in Canada I was dissappointed to see the article you mention was written by a Vineyard pastor. I think he does a disservice to those of us who embrace elements of the different streams.
    I thought Richard Sudworth’s earlier comment was right on,
    “By all means present the relational dynamic of the Spirit but it sounds like another one-sided corrective to rebalance the church as opposed to a genuine embrace of all that the Spirit can and should be in our midst.”
    Yes, balance! Generosity, not narrow-minded protection of a single perspective. Definitely we need to graciously purge the extreme, but there is so much to enjoy from various traditions. I want it all!
    Good stuff, Kester! See you again.