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A Missionary Spirit2 months ago
Pentecost is fast approaching, and this week John Dunnett, General Director of CPAS, reminds us that the most important resource the church has for its mission today is the indwelling and empowering Holy Spirit who turns us outwards to reach the lost. John reminds us that Pentecost was never meant to be a once a year phenomenon in the church’s calendar, but part of the very DNA of the church.
The church's calendar is fast approaching the season of Pentecost – the time of year when we remember the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And as such it’s worth being reminded of what Luke writes at the end of his gospel and then repeats (in so many words) at the start of his second book – the Acts of the Apostles (or perhaps more correctly – the acts/ministry of the Holy Spirit).
At the end of his gospel – and in chapter 24, Luke describes several post-resurrection appearances of Jesus – the last one being in (possibly) the room where Jesus had previously celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples. In this appearance he proves his bodily resurrection (taking fish to eat) and invites them to see the holes in his hands and feet. Then he points to the centrality of the cross as part of the gospel narrative (v44 spoken about in the prophets that he would suffer and be resurrected) and then commissions his followers to be ‘’witnesses’’.
Wait for power from on high
However, Luke doesn't leave it there. He goes on to report Jesus's instruction (v49) to wait in the city until they have received power from on high. This is obviously a reference to the first Pentecost – the story which we read in Acts chapter 2.
Let me offer you 2 reflections on this commission of Jesus.
Firstly, it reminds me of Jesus's words in John 20 where he breathes on the disciples and says ‘’as the Father sent me so I send you’’. This is not just an injunction to be about the same business (the missio dei) in which Jesus is engaged. This is also a promise that they will be empowered by the same Spirit that empowered Jesus in his Ministry.
Secondly, this correlation between an infilling of the Holy Spirit and a commission for mission is something seen throughout church history.
My godmother was a Moravian missionary – so I learned a bit over the years about the history of this Spirit-filled community. Settling on the lands of Count Zinzendorf in response to persecution in today's Eastern Europe, they subsequently experienced a Pentecost of their own – something which propelled them as missionaries literally around the known world.
Coming nearer to home, stories from the Hebridean revival, Welsh revival and smaller outbreaks of revival such as a Lowestoft in the 1920s all underline the relationship between the blessing of the Holy spirit and the missionary effectiveness of the church.
The Holy Spirit and the church’s mission
It is of course true to say that the Holy Spirit is not just given to enable us in witnessing. He brings healing to the church – he helps transform us into the likeness of Christ and releases spiritual gifts for her empowering. But it is noticeable that Jesus’ promise of the Spirit was integrally connected to the church’s commission to be witnesses to His death and resurrection.
For those of us who are members of the Church of England, we are aware that the restrictions of finance weigh heavy upon us and we feel that we might do better in mission if we had more money.
For those of us who are aware of the increasingly secularised nature of post Christian society it sometimes feels like we would do better in mission if we had more presence or visibility.
But in the plan of God – the only resource we need for mission - is to be a Spirit-filled church.
Be filled with the Spirit
Without wishing to push the point too far – I think it's also worth underlining that in Acts chapter 1 Luke speaks about being “baptised” or immersed in the Holy Spirit, and Paul writes later about being “filled with the Holy Spirit”. These injunctions are not to be coated with, hinting of, like some kind of emulsion paint. Pentecost was never meant to be a once a year phenomenon, or something we pray for only when running seeker courses or a special invitation service. No, it is meant to be part of the very DNA of the church.
So as we celebrate Pentecost this year, let's hold onto the missionary birth of the church – let's pray for the witness of local churches up and down the UK. And as we seek a fresh impartation of the Spirit this Pentecost, lets be ready to be re-commissioned as witnesses – for the sake of the lost and to the glory of God.