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.

Ending the Descriptive-Prescriptive Battle Once and For All


Bible with crossNothing infuriates me more than trying to use the Book of Acts to teach people how to live, only to run into some footsoldier of the descriptive-prescriptive battle. These folks love to put the kibosh on one mention after another of how the early Church functioned, particularly when someone asks why today’s Church isn’t functioning that way.

Their mantra goes like this: “Yes, the early Church did ___________, but the Book of Acts is descriptive, not prescriptive. Just because we see ___________ described in Acts doesn’t mean we have to make it a practice for us today.”


I tend to hear from those same people how God is not the author of confusion, but honestly, their position on this battle is one of the most confusing, illogical, anti-intellectual streams of thought that exists in contemporary theology and Bible exegesis.

Consider this:

1. The unconverted did not do ___________.

2. The Holy Spirit comes into the lives of the unconverted and converts them.

3. The converted now do ___________.

I don’t know about you, but if someone goes from NOT doing something to doing it after the Holy Spirit has changed him or her, it would seem to me that ___________ is near and dear to the heart of God.

How, then, is it irrational to think that we should be doing ___________ today? Yet that is what the descriptive-prescriptive battler wants to make into an issue.

Here are two classic examples of descriptive actions in Acts that these folks can’t abide for us to emulate:

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
—Acts 2:44-45

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts…
—Acts 2:46

Christians who wage war on the descriptions above do so because they can’t stand to consider the implications of meeting together daily in each other’s homes for meals and fellowship, while also giving up their hard-earned stuff so that a brother or sister can have a need met. Where I come from, there is a description for that: hardheartedness.

Doesn’t it seem obvious that a group of people who once did neither of those things suddenly started doing them once they were touched by the Spirit of God? Doesn’t that have any implications for us?

John Piper recently lamented how some Christians seem more pumped up about the latest film in theaters than they do about Jesus. Given the circles I run in, you can substitute electronic gadget for film in theaters, but you get the point. Jesus doesn’t seem to excite people as much as the inconsequential does, even when those people are Christians.

I would contend that the unholy mindset that seeks to diminish the implications of the descriptive portions of the New Testament is partially responsible for the situation Piper decries. Wielded as a club, that mentality beats down the very heart of what Acts is saying to us about what is good, pure, noble, and true. Acts depicts what is normative in the Christian life, and the reason it is so (and should be) is because the Holy Spirit of God is at the heart of the changes we see in the lives of people who once didn’t give a damn about the guy next door, then suddenly they’re meeting in that guy’s house and sharing Jesus together daily. And when they’re doing so, the world’s junk seems far less attractive and Jesus a whole lot more.

Instead, most of us sit passively in church for at most 90 minutes one day a week, listening to a select few people telling us how we’re doing life wrong, and here are some Bible verse pills to make it all better, and you better down them right now or else.  But folks, that dead way of living is the fruit of taking the vitality of Acts and wringing the life out of it because we’ve listened far too long to the voices that tell us, “Well, ___________ is descriptive and not prescriptive.”

It’s the sour grapes we now eat and explains why we love Jack and Jill more than Jesus.

(If you truly want to be grieved by this descriptive-prescriptive fruit, see “God-Connections in Church Are Rare, Study Says.”)

Is Church for Believers Only?


Reading an intriguing post about Ted Haggard and his return to the role of pastor triggered a long-held belief of mine:

Church is meant for believers only.

When I consider the state of the American Church, I’ve got to think that our emphasis on encouragingSainte-Chapelle church stained glass lost people to come to our church meetings has only succeeded in diluting our ultimate effectiveness. As it is said: The good is often the enemy of the best.

The early Church model was to send believers out, beyond the doors of the assembly. They shared Christ out in the streets. When the lost outside responded to the message and became believers, they were brought into the church assembly proper.

Today, though, we have believers bringing the lost into the church assembly with the hopes that the church leaders will convert them.

I believe this is a grave error for the following reasons:

1. All teaching and preaching within the church ends up dumbed down. Whether intentional or not, the tendency is to preach and teach to the lowest common denominator—which in this case are the lost. This robs the believers of their opportunity to “go to the next level.”

2. The church remains in justification mode and never moves into sanctification mode, so long-term discipleship suffers. Momentum for mission is lost when unbelievers in the seats cause problems within the church assembly, especially if they have been attending a long time and remain steadfast in their unwillingness to repent and come to Christ. They drain resources that may best be spent elsewhere.

3. The believers in the seats can punt their need to understand the salvation process and how to present the Gospel to others, instead relying on their leaders to do that work through the Sunday meeting. This robs everyone of growth and aborts one of the major bedrock gains of the Protestant Reformation: the priesthood of all believers.

I see this time and again, yet the modern model remains.

What if we made it known that our church was meant for believers only ? How would it change the way we function, grow, and meet the needs of the lost?