Our bearing witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and all that follows, in what we participate in, is completely dependent on God’s grace: without the utterly loving and benevolent attitude and initiatives of our Heavenly Father, expressed through His Son and by the Holy Spirit, faith would not be possible for us (Ephesians 2.5-8).
Where this fountain of saving grace breaks out, into our lives, through the Person and works of Jesus Christ, our ability to take part in all that God desires for us is dependent on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit actively engaging our lives, in that intensified and empowered manner that comes because Jesus Christ, the Risen King, is our Lord.
John the Baptist realised that this enabling, by the Holy Spirit, would come from the Messiah (Luke 3.16). It was an empowerment that the Resurrected Jesus Christ instructed His disciples to wait for, prior to taking part in any further mission activity (Luke 24.49). The Apostle Peter, in witnessing the outpouring of the Spirit that came upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost, recognised that this was made possible by the ascension and exulted place now occupied by our Jesus Christ, given to Him by our Father in Heaven (Acts 2.33).
Throughout the accounts of the emergent church, in the book of Acts, we see the critical role of the Holy Spirit in enabling the disciples to take part in a ministry that replicated that of Jesus Christ, carrying Good News into the World. It is this dependency on the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit that punctuates the life of the early church and that must punctuate our life, if we are to be effective witnesses to our Lord Jesus Christ. Prayer, seeking the enabling of the Holy Spirit, marked the life of the early church. Prayer has also marked the life of Christians, throughout the intervening centuries, who have longed, lingered and cried out to God for His intervention, in a manner that has led to a reviving impulse being experienced in the heart of vibrant churches today. Wherever we witness effective mission in the world, leading to the salvation of people through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, it is born out of a prayerful dependency on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into Christian lives.
Taking part in Christ’s mission involves our participation in the Body of Christ, the church, for it is to the church that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given (1 Corinthians 12.12-14). The New Testament witness is that the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the gathered church, as it seeks after the pleasure of God (Acts 2.1). This action, of taking part, requires our involvement with fellow disciples, seeking harmony with them, that the presence of Jesus may be found and expressed among us (Matthew 18.19-20). It follows that the life of discipleship is not an isolated, solitary occupation. Taking part means acknowledging that God calls us to collective collaboration with others.
This life of interdependency, expressed through collective collaboration in seeking after and implementing God’s plans and purposes, lies at the heart of our Union’s life. It is not an easy path for any of us to follow. In our contemporary context and culture, many of us find ourselves predisposed towards isolationism and a fragmentation of social responsibility and accountability: it all too easy for any of us to pursue the path of atomised, privatised existence. What God calls us into is a life of participation, both with Him and with others called to be disciples, parts of the Body of Christ. We acknowledge that this life of collective collaboration finds expression primarily in the life of the local church; but we also acknowledge that each church is part of the larger body of Christ, which finds expression through what is held in common with other local congregations. Interdependency and mutual accountability are part of the currency of love that brings fabric to the life of churches within our Union, as parts of the Body of Christ. The challenge of cultivating and implementing a culture that we believe is pleasing to God, one of interdependence and collective collaboration, is one that we need to constantly apply ourselves to.
For church to operate effectively, there is the need to equip and train people for effective leadership. Leadership is important to us, as Baptists: so it is that we recognise, across our Union, those who are called and equipped to be accredited ministers: those among us who, recognised by our Board of Ministry as suited to positions of leadership, are committed to pursuing and promoting our Baptist way. Our accredited ministers are people who willingly make themselves accountable to our wider Union in pursuing this path. It may happen, at times, that people desire to affirm both their own, personal independence and also call for strong leadership to be exercised in their local church. Leadership, however, that absolves us from the responsibility of communally discerning what God wants for us, is not our Baptist way. We are all required to remind ourselves that our lives now belong to Jesus Christ, not to ourselves (1 Corinthians 6.19-20). At the same time, we need to remember that the only Leader that we have is Jesus Christ Himself.
It follows that a ministry of leadership in church life should be entrusted to those proven to be humble, exhibiting maturity, demonstrating effective allegiance and submission to the rule of Christ Himself. The ministry of leadership, within the local church, is for those who are committed in seeking to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit through active collaboration, in interdependency and mutual accountability, with other members of the church.
This path of ministry, expressed through integration with others, taking part in the mission of Jesus Christ, is not an easy one. It can, however, be learnt. This is the way of discipleship. The act of learning and developing skills of enabling both leadership and effective submission to Christ alone is what distinguishes us as people who belong to the Messiah. It is through taking part in this process that we can take part in Christ’s mission and ministry. Together, we develop our witness to Jesus Christ and are exhibited by God as His Royal Priesthood and Holy Nation (1 Peter 2.9-10). This is what gives credibility to our witness to the New Creation that God brings about in human lives, the springboard for our taking part in the evangelisation of the world.
Questions for reflection:
· In what ways have you become conscious of the Holy Spirit’s enabling in your own life?
· Does being interdependent on others scare or excite you? Why?
· When have you experienced ‘communal discernment’ in a personally affirming way?