Archive: Power for the Church in Crisis

Archive: Power for the Church in Crisis

Archive: Power for the Church in Crisis

Condensed from an address by Dr. Frank Batemann Stanger
President, Asbury Theological Seminary

God’s power comes to men through the activity of the Holy Spirit.

The text for this address was Acts 1:4-8; 2:1-4; Luke 11:11-13. Because of space limitations, the text is not printed.  – Charles W. Keysor, Editor

As Jesus was leaving this earth, He told His first disciples what was to be the source of power for the early Church. He said to them, “Wait for the promise of the Father. You will receive power when you are filled with the Holy Spirit.” When we follow those early Christians in the events of the Book of the Acts, we discover that the Holy Spirit was their source of power. Because they were Spirit-filled, Spirit-guided, Spirit-empowered individuals, the Church was built and the Gospel was taken into the then-known world.

Now march across the Christian centuries. Look at those periods in the life of the Church when it was most effective in doing what the Church was divinely commissioned to do. It is easily discernible that they were the periods when the Church was Spirit-oriented, Spirit-dependent, Spirit-filled, Spirit-guided, Spirit-energized, Spirit-abounding. Why should we think that there is any difference in the source of power for the contemporary situation? Jesus said the early Church must have the power of the Holy Spirit. The Christian centuries eloquently enforce the truth that the Holy Spirit made possible the redemptive ministries and the phenomenal expansion of the Church.

Why should we think differently today? We know there is no difference. As we stand at the beginning of the decade of the seventies, as we face a Church in crisis, we know the source of power is the same. It is to be found in the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit gives the Church power to be aware of the crisis. It takes spiritually sensitive people to be alert to crucial spiritual issues. The natural man does not understand what we are now discussing. He does not comprehend what we mean when we say “the Church in crisis,” or “the renewal of the Church,” or “the need of a spiritual revival. ” The natural man does not understand this kind of talk. He is not capable of reacting to such specific insights relating to the Kingdom of God. Even the nominal Christian may not be alert to what is going on in the Church and in the world. Recall that God’s Spirit spoke to the Laodicean Church in the first century and reminded the members that they did not even know that they were wretched and miserable and blind and naked, spiritually speaking.

It takes Christians under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to be spiritually alert, to be sensitive, to realize what is going on in the Church. I think this is where the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church begins to operate in this age of crisis. The Spirit helps us to be aware of the crisis.

But it is more than a mere awareness. The Spirit also creates a deep concern within us. This concern is the result of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We are asking sincerely, “Which way is United Methodism going?” There has been a “separating” process, as to objectives, as to the nature of ministry, as to the ultimate destiny of the Church. In the crisis every one who belongs to the Church will make a selection of an alternative. We will make it as individual Christians, as annual conferences, as general boards, as a denomination.

In the second place, the Holy Spirit gives the Church the power to identify the nature of the crisis. Already we have heard a lot from this platform about the crisis. May I summarize very generally what I believe to be involved in the crisis. In the world, it is a crisis of faith. The world has lost its sense of God, its source of moral authority.

In the individual, it is a crisis of identity. Such a crisis of identity has many manifestations. It is a crisis of meaning – “who am I?” It is a crisis of relationship – “am I related to Another, or to others?” It is a crisis of conduct – “does it make any difference to anybody except myself how I live?”

There is also a crisis in the Church itself, which I believe to be a crisis of direction. Why has the Church been called into being? What is the Church supposed to be doing? Which way is the Church going? How is the Church to minister in our day?

We can understand better the crisis of direction in the Church when we realize that this is in part a crisis of comprehension. There is much confusion in the Church about basic meanings. For instance, what does it mean to be an evangelical? We are going to have to answer that question accurately and in the light of the Holy Scriptures. Or take another illustration, does Methodism have a confessional background? Did Methodism begin with some basic theological certainties? Or is Methodism primarily a religion of subjective experience, with any theological concepts it has growing out of such experience? Or take the matter of the meaning of evangelism. Is everything the Church does to be considered evangelism? Or is evangelism a specific activity of the Church in which sinful men and women are confronted both by the law of God and the Gospel of Christ, and, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are exhorted to confess their sins, surrender to God, and follow Christ?

The Holy Spirit gives the Church power to redeem the crisis. This is the “Good News for a Church in Crisis.” The Church in our day is offered the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit, just as He has been offered to the Church in every generation. Truly this is Good News!

When we talk about the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, certainly there is no spiritual idea more congenial to traditional Methodism. From its beginning, and certainly in its genius, Methodism has been a Church of the Spirit. The history of Methodism cannot be understood or appreciated apart from the relationship of the Holy Spirit to it. Methodism is a movement of the Spirit. John Wesley, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, sought “a religion of the Spirit.” Aldersgate was a spiritual experience. Shortly after Aldersgate, there began to emerge Wesley’s doctrine of the Witness of the Spirit. Then Wesley soon projected both the idea and possibility of Christian perfection.

When John Wesley was asked how he would describe the Christian life in a sentence, he replied that the Christian life is “life-in-the-Spirit.” Follow his long ministry. Observe those who ministered so faithfully with him on two continents and since then into all the world.

The Holy Spirit was the source of power for early Methodism. The Holy Spirit is the secret of the continuance of Methodism. Certainly true sons of Wesley in the present generation understand this kind of talk about the Holy Spirit as the only source of power for the Church in crisis.

God is calling us to a Spirit-filled Spirit-empowered life. God is offering us a baptism with the Holy Spirit. This call and offer come to us as Christians. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not something that is automatically received when a man first becomes a Christian disciple. This is a separate gift of God. It is called “the Promise of the Father.” This is what Jesus Christ offers to a Church in crisis.

What does it mean to receive such a baptism of the Spirit? For one thing it means a rejection of the sovereignty of all unholy spirits. I believe in a spirit-world. There are both good and evil spirits. People can be misguided into thinking they are under the influence of the Holy Spirit when actually they may be under the influence of an unholy spirit. A continuing responsibility of the Christian is to “try the spirits” to see whether they be of God.

But it means more than this. It also means a refutation of the supposed sufficiency of the human spirit. Here is a crucial area for most of us, whether we are clergy or laity, preachers or teachers or officials. We are good people. We have good motivations. We plan good things. But we have a tendency to substitute the sufficiency of the human spirit for the mighty power of the Holy Spirit. We need to hear again the Word of God spoken through the ancient prophet, which is as true this morning in Dallas as when it was first uttered: “Not by might.” (however legitimate that might is;) “not by power.” (however necessary certain power structures may be;) “but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.”

This is God’s call to us – to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Two things will inevitably happen when you and I and the Church receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. First, there will be an inner cleansing. The baptism of the Holy Spirit does something within the individual. Call it “cleansing.” Call it “purity.” Or call it “wholeness.” Something happens within the individual that makes possible what the Apostle Paul called the growth of the fruit of the Spirit. When you and I receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit then the seed of the Spirit is planted within us and this is cultivated through the continuing ministry of the Spirit and the disciplined responses of our love. The harvest of the Spirit becomes increasingly evident: love, peace, joy, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control.

Something else also happens when we receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you.” Do not be confused about what it means to have spiritual power. Unfortunately in our day, and perhaps it is because of our culture pattern, too many have the idea that nobody has power unless he can do something sensational or spectacular. This is not the New Testament concept of spiritual power. The meaning of power is adequacy, the ability to achieve purpose. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for a Christian to be and to do what God intends. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for the Church to do what God purposes.

Now let us return to the nature of the crisis as it was identified earlier and see how the Holy Spirit is our source of power to meet and redeem the crisis. The Holy Spirit is the only answer to the crisis of faith in our world. Men have lost their sense of God. Men no longer live with a sense of the holy. Godly reverence has departed and holy symbols have lost their meanings. Man has built his own world and placed himself at the center of it. This is an age of secularism which has produced a generation of secular men who believe that the ultimate authority is in things. How are we going to get through to secular man and lead him to a discovery of and dedication to spiritual values? There is only one way that I know. Jesus said: “When He, the Holy Spirit, is come, He will convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” The Scripture context is clear that the reference is to the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Christian in order to carry on this “convincing ministry.” Jesus is actually saying: “When He is come to you He will convince the world.” The Holy Spirit does not come as something vague or as something that can exist in a vacuum. He comes as a Person to persons and then works through these persons in relation to other persons. It could be that one of the reasons that secular man has not yet been “convinced” is that there are not enough truly Spirit-filled persons through whom the Spirit can work. This crisis of faith in the world can be solved only as Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Moreover, the Holy Spirit is the only answer to the crisis of identity in the individual. The Holy Spirit interprets the meaning of human existence. Under the illumination of the Spirit man can see himself as God’s child, loved by God, capable of sanctity, called to ministry, compelled by eternity.

Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is the answer to the crisis of direction in the Church. I am convinced that the only thing that will get the Church back on the track of a totally redemptive ministry is a new out pouring of the Holy Spirit upon the life of the Church. And I am thinking, first of all, of our own Church. If United Methodism is to fulfil its responsibility for its redemptive ministry in this age of unusual opportunity, it will do so only when our vision has been cleared, our dedication is total, our passion has become inflamed, and when the Holy Spirit has come upon us in renewing and sanctifying power. Then the Church will be moving in response to divine direction.

There is “Power for the Church in Crisis.” This is Good News. The Holy Spirit is available to the Church in this time of crisis. Not only power to be aware of the crisis, not only power to identify the nature of the crisis, but the Holy Spirit offers power to redeem the crisis.

It seems to me that the most important thing during these days is not what resolutions this convocation may adopt, or what strategies we may take away with us, but for each of us to receive this baptism of the Holy Spirit. If every one of us leaves here with the Spirit’s baptism of cleansing and power, think what this would mean for the spiritual influence of this convocation upon the life of the Church. So let each of us in the closing moments of this service face honestly the question: Am I in possession of the Holy Spirit who is the source of power for the Church in crisis? And, does He possess me?

Have we received the Holy Spirit? I am talking now to Christians. How do Christians receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit? You and I receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit in exactly the same way the early Christians did. There are four steps. First, we must believe both the imperatives and the promises of Jesus Christ in relation to the Spirit. Jesus said, “Don’t try to do My work until you have received the baptism of the Spirit.” Do we believe that imperative, or are we trying to bypass it? But there is more than the imperative. With every imperative of Jesus there is also His promise. Remember His words: “If you then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give you the Holy Spirit if you ask Him.” We begin by believing the imperative and accepting the promise.

Secondly, to receive the Holy Spirit there must be a sense of need. We confess our inability to go on merely in our own strength. This Church of ours cannot go on relying merely on material resources and human sufficiency. Both the Christian individual and the corporate Christian community must have something that transcends their own limited abilities and powers. As we confess our need we must also ask God to forgive us that we have tried so long to get along without what He offers us in the Holy Spirit.

The third step in receiving the Holy Spirit is a total surrender that makes receptivity possible. The Holy Spirit cannot come in His fullness unless our surrender is complete. In one of his books, E. Stanley Jones has given us a tremendous description of Pentecost. Speaking of the 10 days the disciples tarried at Pentecost before the Holy Spirit came in His fullness, he commented, “The reason for this is that it took 10 days for the disciples to surrender.”

You and I must come to the place of full surrender. We must realize that surrender is more than giving up this thing or that thing or some other thing. Surrender is basically a total dedication of one’s self. George Muller testified: “There was a day when I died – utterly died – died to George Muller, his opinions, his preferences, his will, died to the world, its approval or censure.” The secret of George Muller’s life of personal sanctity and fruitful ministry was his saying “No” to himself and saying “Yes” to God. This kind of surrender makes spiritual receptivity possible.

Finally, to receive the Holy Spirit we must also enter into a covenant of continuous obedience to our Lord. Receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit begins with a crisis-experience but it continues as a daily experience. With the Holy Spirit living within us we love and obey our Lord in every circumstance and experience of life. We are His in every assignment, every opportunity, every relationship. Such a relationship of love and obedience issues in a developing spiritual maturity and an increasing spiritual fruitfulness.

Let no one of us leave the Dallas Convocation without receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit which God offers to His children and which is the only power for the Church in crisis. Take the steps right now:

  1. Believe Christ’s imperative and Christ’s promise about the Spirit.
  2. Confess your need of spiritual power.
  3. Make a total surrender of yourself.
  4. Enter into an abiding covenant of obedience to your Lord.