The Holy Spirit and the Church
Ernest E Holloway, Exmouth
One indispensable Text Book for this subject is The Acts of the Apostles which, Dr. A. T. Pierson somewhere remarks, might aptly be named "The Acts of the Holy Ghost." This book, besides informing us of the activities of the Holy Spirit, introduces a new community— The Church. These two- -The Holy Spirit and The Church—are indissolubly linked and, as will be apparent, the Church came into being by the operation of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is invisible, but the manifestations of The Spirit are patent to those with spiritual discernment, and such manifestations are observable in the life and activities of the Church in a number of ways. A word or so must then first be said about this body.
One gains an impression from Scripture that in the creation of man God sought thereby for communion and fellowship, but for such fellowship in its highest form there must be like-mindedness. (Note an illustration of the converse when James and John would have called down fire from heaven upon the Samaritans, a spirit which met with severe rebuke, Luke 9. 55). So God formed man in His Own image and likeness, breathing into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen. 1. 26; 2. 7), and the record in Gen. 3. 8 of the Lord seeking man in the garden in the cool of the day is suggestive of the fellowship which God desired. Alas, sin dissolved that intimacy and Cod chose a nation—Israel—for His peculiar treasure (Psa. 135. 4). Of this nation it is declared by God, " I will walk among you . . . and ye shall be My people," and " My Spirit abideth among you " (Lev. 26. 12 ; Hag. 2. 5). This time the nation failed, and Paul shows (Rom. chs. 9 to 11) how for the time being Israel has been set aside in favour of a new community knowing no racial barriers. This new body—the Church—is composed of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, " a holy nation, a people for God's own possession " (1 Pet. 2. 9). How came this body (in which the Spirit of God would dwell, and through which He would manifest Himself) into being ?
1. The Holy Spirit was Active in the Birth of the Church. Just as the Spirit of God was instrumental in the creation of Adam, in the conception of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the new birth of the individual believer, so He was instrumental in the birth of the Church. The story is given in Acts 2. The circumstances of the time were grim. The authorities and people generally were hostile or indifferent to Jesus Christ, who in their eyes had been discredited by His death upon the cross. The material for the Church was meagre. The disciples and their company seemed ill-fitted to launch a campaign that proclaimed Jesus alive, and still the Head of His followers. But whatever the weaknesses of this company, there were certain things to the good :—
(a) " They continued steadfastly in prayer" (Acts 1. 14), and it may be reasonably conjectured that they were praying for the Power promised by the Lord (Acts 1. 8).
(b) They recognized that, whatever the future held out for them, their witness must be of the Resurrection (Acts 1. 22).
(c) They were a united body—" all together in one place " (Acts 2. 1).
It was upon that company the Holy Spirit came, and the Church was born. The members at once went into action inspired by this new Power, so that many of the crowd hearing their message were convicted, convinced and converted, to the tune of about 3000 (Acts 2. 41). This mixed gathering of believers was fused into a vital body and continued in the fellowship and practices of the Apostles (Acts 2. 42). This body having been created, it must not be expected that there should be a continual and exact repetition of the phenomena accompanying the initial outpouring of the Spirit, but wherever a true Christian church is formed it is because of the operation of the Hoi}' Spirit. So the church of the Thessalonians came into being through the message of the gospel in the power of the Holy Ghost (1 Thess. 1. 5,-6).
The story in Acts 2 continues and day by day other believers were added, who were " sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise " (Eph. 1. 13). From this beginning in Jerusalem the Church spread and believers were gathered in from the Jews, and Samaritans, and Gentiles. God's desire to have a dwelling-place among men had been achieved in the formation of His Church, for—
2. The Holy Spirit Dwells Within the Church.
An old-time writer has said, " the presence of the Holy Ghost (in the Church) is a fact, not merely a doctrine," and it is simple faith that is needed to appreciate the fact. Paul, writing largely to a Gentile church, or churches, shows how Jew and Gentile through a common faith in our Lord Jesus Christ are " builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit" (Eph. 2. 22). This " habitation " is described in the previous verse as a " holy sanctuary in the Lord " (R.V. marg.). Jewish members would be reminded of that most holy place wherein dwelt the Ark of God, symbol of His Presence. The approach thereto demanded the strictest care. Holiness was essential. It is well to be reminded that the Holy Spirit dwells within the Church and, therefore, holiness is required of us as individual members of that body. (See 1 Cor. 3. 16, 17 ; 2 Cor. 6. 16.) The figure of the body (1 Cor. 12. 27) emphasizes how that the ill-being of one member can affect the whole. There is a tragic example of failure in the early days, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira. By their action they thought only to hoodwink the church, but the words of Peter's condemnation are noteworthy— "... why hath Satan filled thy heart to lie to the Holy Ghost ... to tempt the Spirit of the Lord " (Acts 5. 3, 9). Deceiving the church is lying to the Holy Ghost who dwells therein.
The whole progress of the Church depends upon the Holy Spirit, so that, when following the conversion of Saul there was a temporary cessation of active persecution, Luke writes, " So the church . . . had peace, being edified ; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost was multiplied " (Acts 9. 31). Now in the life of this new body it was obvious that a difficulty would arise. Jew, Samaritan and Gentile had largely held aloof one from the. other. Now, they were gathered into one company. Could the old disagreements be resolved so that these one-time irreconcilables would henceforth live together in harmony and unity ? The answer is that—
3. The Indwelling Holy Spirit is the Bond of Unity in the Church. In this connection the following Scriptures should be noted—1 Cor. 12. 12, 13 (" by one Spirit baptized into one body ") ; Eph. 2. 18 (" both have access by one Spirit ") ; 4. 2-4 (" one body and one Spirit "). There is emphasized the " one Spirit " and it has been remarked by a certain writer that the common bond in the Church was " not only an allegiance to Christ but common participation in His Spirit." How do these truths work out in the life of the Church ? The book of Acts provides illustrations which may be supplemented by information in the Epistles. Hence to maintain this unity
(a) The Holy Spirit directs the policy of the Church. This is clear from the record of the expansion of the Church from Antioch (Acts 13. 1-4). The Holy Ghost instructs the church as to the choice of Barnabas and Saul for special work, and sends them forth. The church concurs. Further, the very important matter of the reception of the Gentiles arose. What should be the course of action ? The decision was with the Holy Ghost, so that James wrote " it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us . . ." (Acts 15. 28, 29). But for the carrying out of a policy executives are needed, so
(b) The Holy Spirit filled men for particular tasks. This is clear from Paul's words to the elders of the church at Ephesus (" the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers," Acts 20. 28-32) ; and earlier in the history of the church seven men are chosen and fitted to deal with an especial financial problem—Stephen, one of the seven, is " a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit " (Acts 6. 3, 5). It is the Spirit who prompts Philip to speak to the eunuch of Ethiopia (Acts 8. 29) and informs Peter concerning the three men from Cornelius (Acts 10. 19). But executives— personnel—without supplies would be a poor business, so
(c) The Holy Spirit makes full provision for the Church. The great need was power, for the Church was faced with mighty foes. In the pronouncement of the Lord concerning the Church, Peter and those with him had been assured that " the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16. 18). Peter therefore refuses to be intimidated (Acts 4. 19) and saw in the persecution they were suffering a fulfilment of Psalm 2. The oppression of the authorities led them to prayer, and again there was a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, so that " they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the Word of God with boldness" (Acts 4. 31). This power was so evident in the activities of Paul and Silas at Thessalonica, that the critics declared that they had turned the world upside down (Acts 17. 6). That was power, but, more than that, the Holy Spirit provided gifts to the Church and so enabled its members to use the power to advantage. Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church gives a clear statement concerning the provision and use of gifts (1 Cor. 12. 4-11), "diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit . . . all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as He will " ; and there arc somewhat similar passages in Rom. 12. 6-8 (" gifts differing according to grace given ") and Eph. 4. 4-12 (unity in body ; diversity of gifts). The Holy Spirit has dispensed the different gifts, and it is the responsibility of the recipients to use these gifts for the edification of the Church.
(d) The Holy Spirit inspires the worship of the Church. Eph. 5. 18-20 (" be filled with the Spirit ") is in the first place addressed to the individual, but if the individual is " filled with the Spirit " he will be able to contribute to the praises and worship of the Church. Paul expands this thought in 1 Cor. 11. 17 to chs.12,13 and 14, explaining how the various gifts help in the corporate worship. Perhaps the climax can be seen in 1 Cor. 14. 25, where there is visualized an unbeliever, coining into the church and being so impressed with the Spirit operating in and through the members hat, " he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is among you indeed."
Thus the subject comes round again to the opening thought—God dwelling among His people—and if the Church would experience such a consummation there is a word, oft repeated in The Revelation, " He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches."