The Spirit-Led Church Is the Only Real Church


In his book Reimagining Church, Frank Viola poses a few questions that should unnerve us. I’ve asked similar questions here, but I think revisiting at least one is worthwhile:

If the Holy Spirit were to depart, what aspects of our Sunday church meeting would be changed by His absence?

Unfortunately, I suspect the answer for most churches would be Not a darned thing. Our worship, prayers, liturgies, sermons, and even our greetings could go on and on without anyone noticing the Holy Spirit had left the building.

Why? Because almost nothing of the way we practice the faith in our meetings relies on the presence of the Holy Spirit.

We can sing songs without the Holy Spirit.

We can recite lines of liturgy without the Holy Spirit.

We can talk with others about life without the Holy Spirit.

We can prepare sermons without the Holy Spirit.

We can listen to those Spirit-less sermons without the Holy Spirit.

We can offer prayers without the Holy Spirit.

We can partake of a thimble of grape juice and a tiny cracker without the Holy Spirit.

We can run through our optimized order of service without the Holy Spirit.

We can perform dozens of church-related rituals without the Holy Spirit. Truth is, every Sunday in America, thousands of churches go through these motions and could keep going through them without noticing any difference if the Holy Spirit departed.

We are on auto-pilot in our churches. We have them programmed and timed down to the smallest letter and to the last minute. We don’t need the Holy Spirit at all.

Problem is, that’s not the Church of the Bible.

The church assembly of the Bible was led by the Spirit from beginning to end. It depended in the Spirit for everything. Without the Holy Spirit, the charismatic gifts would cease to function. Pentecost - DoréThere would be no prophetic words possible. No words of knowledge or wisdom. No healing. None of the functions of a normal assembly of Christian people filled by the Spirit coming together to share their individual giftings in a public setting.

The order of the church would vanish without the Holy Spirit. What would those assembled do next? No one would have a psalm or spiritual song to bring because the Holy Spirit would not be there to inspire its singing or bringing. What inspired-in-the-moment message would be possible? Who would lead?

The people in the church assembly, those equipped by the Spirit to use their gifts, would have nothing to do, their reliance on the Spirit shattered by His absence. They would sit passively, lost.

A real church without the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide, equip, use, and mobilize would cease completely to be what it is supposed to be as depicted in the Bible.

From all this, the only conclusion that we can make is that most churches in America, because they would not cease to function  the moment the Spirit departed, are simply not real churches. They have become a sort of theatrical performance with a bit of group participation thrown in—and a tiny fraction of participation at that.

This should alarm us, shouldn’t it?

I have written previously that the one key aspect of the Christian Church that separates it from all other religious bodies is the Holy Spirit indwelling believers in the assembly, the infinite God of the Universe making Himself at home within the faithful follower. Other religions have sacred books, theologies, and practices, some of which mirror those of Christianity, but none can be said to include the Holy Spirit of God indwelling. That indwelling makes the Christian unique and gives the Church its raison d’être. No wonder that most pseudo-Christian cults mangle or do away with a theology of the Holy Spirit.

If your church could continue to do what it does each Sunday morning should the Spirit depart, then it is not a genuine church.

Something to consider the next time you sit in the pew on Sunday and wonder what is missing.

25 thoughts on “The Spirit-Led Church Is the Only Real Church

  1. Diane R

    This has been the chief thing on my mind. In the past 7 years I’ve visited 9 churches, most of which have been Pentecostal (4) or Charismatic (1), but not all (4). In only one did I sense the presence of God. The Pentestal/Charismatic ones I’ve visited we’re all dead as a door nail. The Baby Boomer pastors had descended into psychobabble/seeker-sensitive watered down gospel. The young pastors were busy being hip, cool and funny and dwelling incessantly on the social gospel to the exclusion of the gospel of substitutionary atonement (actually we should be preaching both). So where did I sense the presence of God so much that I could hardly stand up (I don’t get overly emotional as I am analytical so this wasn’t some kind of false emotional thing)? I visited this particular church 3 times in the past 4 years. It is probably the most anti-Pentecostal/Charismatic church in America—-John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church. Interesting huh?

    • Diane,

      Though I’m sure most people just sat passively and let a very limited number of others “minister,” their own gifts locked away and unused.

      So much for the mutuality of the Gospel.

      You really should read Reimagining Church. Many good points.

  2. JFJ

    You’ve taken aim at most Churches, and repeated to a large degree what A.W Tozer has said, perhaps you could now expand on what a Spirit led Church does look like ? One problem when trying to describe such a Church is that unlike a Baptist Church, where you pretty much know what you are going to be getting where ever you go in the USA (to a degree), a Church led by the Holy Spirit isn’t going to look exactly the same from one Church to another.

    • Deborah

      Perhaps not, but the message would always be about the same thing: Jesus, the Son of God’s love, our Redeemer and Lord, Saviour, the Son of God’s love, the Lamb of God (THE Passover) who takes away the sins of the world, the Sun of Righteousness, the light of the world, the way the truth and the life, the Messiah.

      Thus we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, entering into deeper intimacy along the way (of grace and truth) to life (and life more abundantly)! And as we, new creations in Christ, behold our Lord Jesus, we are transformed … from glory to glory, i.e. back to where we were created to be: in the Presence of our Father (Abba/Daddy): love itself.

  3. Dan,

    This is another great post. I agree with what you’ve said. Often, the Holy Spirit leads people to do certain activities that can also be done without or apart from him. How can we tell the difference between doing certain activities WITHOUT the Holy Spirit and doing them WITH the Holy Spirit?


    • Deborah

      Those in Christ can tell whether or not the Holy Spirit is present or absent in their activity by the presence or absence of three things:
      godly (not human) power
      godly (not human) love
      godly (not human) mind

      PS None of these are things that can be reasoned into or out of; they just are – and there is no question in your mind that your power/love/wisdom had any part in its manifestation.

  4. Yinka

    So how does a body ‘retain’ the Holy Spirit ?

    When does a healthy respect for Gods’ presence become an unhealthy, paranoid obsession with ‘feeling’ His presence ?

    What about those of us not necessarily given to ‘sensing’ God’s presence( I grew up charismatic btw ).

    How long before we entrench tiered levels of christian spirituality ? The ‘sensers’ in front and the…others…at the back.

    What else is the gospel if its not social ? And when did Jesus’ sole obsession: The Kingdom of God, become reduced to medieval soteriological formulas ? (for Diane 🙂

    Blessings Dan, from a longtime reader.

    • Yinka, are we sometimes asking the wrong questions? Questions that would be malformed to the answers? If I may question the questions…
      Who among us is unfamiliar with the spiritual counterfeit commonly referred as “emotionalism”? How could “sensing God’s presence” ever compare with be led & indwelt by His Spirit?
      Do we so much regard body parts to be “tiered”? Is the liver more important than a kidney? An arm, for a leg?
      What is it we might regard as “social” about the Man who requires we give up everything for His sake and the Gospel’s?

    • Deborah

      A body IS a very social being in a sense, made in our Father God’s image, after all – and He is not the author of confusion that comes from disorganization or despair that comes from isolation.

      We are designed to be with others; indeed, the love of God (which IS perfect to begin with) is made perfect by and in our coming together! How gracious is our Father God (to give us the credit for what He has already done)!

      But “social” in terms of this world is a dead thing – as we were also once – but in Christ, we have now been made alive with the same resurrection power that raised Him to life abundant and everlasting!

      Worldly constructs have no relation to church, as it is the very Body of Christ. Subsequently, “church” is not a social club or a version of a PBS educational channel. It is not even a social services agency: it is the very Body of Christ in which we now live and breathe and move and have our being.

      We are not of the world, though chosen/predestined to be in it at this particular time and place, all toward the fulfilment of God’s purposes/plan.

      Thank you for writing on this, Dan. Now, (I echo Diane R’s sentiments here), to find such a church as this. Thank God we are, in these end times, being made one – coming together in the unity of the grace and truth that is Jesus the Christ. Keep looking up!

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  6. Yinka

    Thanks for your feedback, Marshal.
    If i may question the assumptions: being familiar with emotionalism does not negate the occurence of some of these shananigans in our gatherings. ( hence my focus on ‘sensers’). Most ‘spirit-filled’ ventures start out with the kind of yearning Dan expresses;but they usually end up… in a radically different place. I’m just trying to get at some practical (not perfect) safe-guards. Maybe im just too cynical for my own good.
    Alan Knox, above, asked a pertinent question that still hasn’t been answered.

    Ah, if the billion + chsitians the word over gave up everything for THE MAN, we’d have nothing else but one-another. Sounds social to me.

    • logic can fail us, so then let us look again…
      When we together give everything over to THE MAN Christ, we have nothing else left but Him (as our Source & Life).
      Incarnation. Do you understand?

        • The Son is saying, “That They all may be one; as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that They also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that You have sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me, I have given Them; that They may be one, even as We are one: I in Them, and You in Me, that They may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved Them, as You have loved Me.”

  7. This page provoked my Fb status:

    Adrian Warnock writes on his blog “Terry Virgo should need no introduction to readers of this blog, but he is the founder of Newfrontiers, a network of reformed and charismatic churches, which now numbers close to 1000 churches worldwide. ” andTerry says of Eddy Leo “he is unique in that he enthusiastically embraces the full weight of Ephesians 4 ministries not only theoretically but in a pragmatic and effective way in his church. He is Spirit filled and strongly word based with a Reformed emphasis.” Anybody know what a Reformed emphasis is? Is that the leftbrain counterfeit of “mature” Christian? With serious sounding legitimacy concerning the fear of God, and fighting the flesh, the Old Man?
    St Paul used to write about highsounding Corinthian stuff with words like “Would that you were all kings!” He used phrases like superapostles. And also elsewhere “when I come among you I look for Christ crucified”. In the evangelical and now “serious” charismatic setups which have perceived legitimacy, instead of checking out things like ” Is the revelation of Jesus Christ taught here?” “Is the death and resurrection of the believer taught and experientially known here?” ” Is the consciousness of Galations 2:20 reproduced quickly here and then others sent out to reproduce the life of Christ in other places?” Legitimacy is something totally different. In fact that which is genuine in the Bible, the connection with the Living Lord Jesus in the Melchizedek Order, as described in very precise phrases by St Paul when disciplining the incestuous family relationship, this would all now be regarded as “flaky” in Terry Virgo’s elaborate setups.
    As many of us mature in the Living Lord Jesus, for the sake of increasingly bound saints in the setups we grew up in, we will be required to call these people to account for what they are doing to the Body of Christ in our days.

    • Deborah

      Chris, who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies (and did so perfectly and completely – once and for all – by the blood of Jesus at the cross). The One who has the right to condemn you or I, chose instead to die for you and I and is risen at the Father’s right hand to be our righteousness!

      His blood is efficacious for those in leadership positions, too – and especially so, as they are held to greater account. This is why we are to pray for them: Mercy, mercy! Grace, grace! … and pray for each other, that our Lord leads us in the Way everlasting, i.e. to Mount Zion (where His grace is) not Mount Sinai (where His judgment was) and shows us His salvation (Yeshuah/Jesus)!

      It’s all in the Word of God. He vindicates our cause. Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord! Wait on Him – He hears our prayers as soon as we are sending them but retains the right to act/manifest His answer according to His perfect timing … so as to give us the greatest blessing/benefit and Himself the greatest glory! Our God is so good!

      If this keeps up, soon all the earth will be filled with His glory! 🙂

  8. Dear Dan,

    I woke up at 4 am this morning because God said He wanted to show me something. I really identify with what you said about a Holy Spirit led Church being the only real church. My personal motto is “Listen, Hear, and Obey on Time.” Perhaps we should talk.

    God bless,

    Michael King

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