For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
"Experiencing Church" Now...
As It Was In The Beginning
By Rodrigo Abarca
The Work of the Spirit
After His death and resurrection, the Lord gathered His disciples and ordered them to wait together for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Just as we have seen, the grain of wheat had been truly buried, crushed and an unlimited life had flourished from within. The Bread had been broken and delivered to them. What was lacking then? One word defines it: Pentecost.
Historically, it was a Jewish feast. Its meaning was rather obscure. The reason? All the Hebrew feasts had been instituted to commemorate some important past event. Not so Pentecost.
Its meaning according to the Old Testament was to give thanks for the first fruits. It was celebrated 50 days after Passover. Following tradition, during that day, the priest would come down to the wheat fields and harvest the first ripe sprigs full of golden grain. After carefully removing the grains from the sprigs, he would grind them until they would become soft flour with which he kneaded a flat loaf. Immediately, he put the loaf in a hot oven and baked it. When at last it was ready, he would remove the fresh bread from the oven and, lifting it up with both hands, he would place it on the altar of God as a thanks offering.
The work of God always has an objective dimension and also an experiential or subjective dimension. Objectively, Christ in His death and resurrection fully consummated God's purpose. In Him, the church, eternal in Heaven, was constituted, sanctified, perfected and glorified. In this sense, we have to accept that the work of the Lord is perfect and absolute; nothing more can be added to it. Our faith has to lean on the truth, the unchangeable reality of what God did in Christ. Then, starting from that objective fact, the experience will follow. And, even though our experience can change, the very reality stays unchangeable in Heaven. Although the tangible expression of the church may now be found in evident decadence, nevertheless the fact remains that our Lord and His work never decay nor change. What was true yesterday about the church, is still true today and will continue being true tomorrow. That is why, even today, whatever our circumstances may be, we can always return to the eternal foundation to find the same richness, power and glory that our brethren experienced in the past. The Lord is the same yesterday, today, and for ever!
But He wants His church be a palpable reality among men. That's why, if we lift up our eyes, abandoning any other hope or strength, to gaze at Him on His throne of glory, acknowledging Him as absolute Lord and sovereign, it is still possible that the glory of the beginning be restored to us.
That historical beginning was Pentecost. The objective aspect of the divine work was consummated, although even more was to be fulfilled in time. It is, therefore, the hour of the Holy Spirit, when the obscure feast of the first fruits will become reality.
The wheat had been ground into flour and kneaded. But an essential element was still missing for it to become bread. To attain that, the lump required a transforming element: the fire to work within to convert it into true bread.
To do this, the Lord commanded His disciples to wait. During three years they had been broken, crushed and kneaded under His constant care. While Christ was with them, they were carried to a higher dimension of life; but as soon as He was absent, they returned to their old natural life. The proof is that, after the resurrection and having been left alone, they soon returned to Galilee to practice their old trade as fishermen.
There was certainly a great limitation in that. Nevertheless, Christ had told them about the Spirit of Truth that was to come on them to abide in them forever. He told them: "It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you" (John 16:7). Why did the Lord make such a strange statement? The reason is simple: although Christ was present in the midst of His disciples, in their innermost they continued to be merely human, without divine life. Their relationship with Him was still of an external nature and, in reality, they were not yet constituted the church of Christ. No, not until they had the very life of Christ.
But the vessel had been prepared. In an upper room, 120 people were praying without ceasing, waiting for a promise from their Lord to be fulfilled. What was that promise about? They did not even know. They were simply waiting, their expectant hearts turned toward God. "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them" (Acts 2:1-3). What did all this mean? Simply this: that the Holy Spirit descended from Heaven, and with His coming, the church of Jesus Christ, the heavenly New Man was born in time and history!
The Lord is the Spirit
Thus we are enabled to understand the extraordinary event that happened in Jerusalem in the year 33 A.D. Since all eternity past, Heaven had been waiting for this moment. The same creation which was subjected to vanity by sin, was waiting for it (Romans 8:19-20). And if we have understood God's purpose, we cannot do less than praise Him for what happened on that day.
But, what really happened at Pentecost? Why is it so important? Simply because, on that day, God took His very own life, the life of His Son liberated by the cross and the resurrection, and planted it inside those people that were waiting for His return. What's more, He poured it upon them and within them until they were filled and running over.
In an instant, those men and women were saturated, submerged, burnt, reborn and enlivened with the heavenly life. The resurrected Lord of Glory Himself came within them, in a more intimate and real way than ever before. And now each and every one of them could experience Him in the depth of their being. A river of unutterable love flowed among them, causing each to look upon one another as one of inestimable value.
Oh, glory to God! Those men had actually been grafted into the very heart of life, into that eternal river that flows from Father God to His Son, and from His Son toward the Father, because the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, came into them. Suddenly, that life that they had previously only seen in Christ, in His fellowship with the Father, in His love, in His obedience, in His authority, in His power (and even much more) was also within them now, and flooding over.
In only one brief moment, the Holy Spirit had converted that group of people into the church, called to manifest the very life and the authority of Christ on earth in the multifaceted expression and relationship of its members. And now, let us try to understand the extraordinary meaning of this event more fully.
If we backtrack a little, we will remember that in the beginning, before man's creation, there had been a council inside Deity: "And God said, Let us make man..." (Genesis 1:26). We have already seen that the expression "Let us" established that in the creation of man, the totality of God was to be involved, meaning the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have already understood that the aforementioned man is certainly not a specific individual, but a corporate man, who has Christ as his Head. Up to that moment, we have seen, furthermore, how the Father is the beginning of all the Divine plan. We also saw that the Son was the One in whom the Divine plan was fulfilled. What therefore is the distinctive work of the Holy Spirit? Before answering that important question, it is necessary to make an important clarification.
The work of God is one and indivisible, which means that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are doing one and the same work. In eternity past the Father designed a plan, a purpose that the Son consummated in time and history. Following that, the specific work of the Holy Spirit consists in taking the perfect work of Christ and applying it in the dispensation of the fulfillment of times, for the purpose of giving concrete form and reality to the church, which is His Body. In this way, the work of the Son is equal and equivalent to that of the Father; and the work of the Spirit is equal and equivalent to the work of the Son. And just as the work of Christ completely proceeds from the Father, likewise the work of the Spirit completely proceeds from Christ. His present mission consists in taking everything which is of Christ and transferring it to the church, in order to dress her, perfect her and, finally, take her to glory as a holy bride for Christ, without spot or wrinkle.
Therefore, only by means of the Holy Spirit can the authority, direction, life and power of the Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, be made present and real in all the body of Christ.
Let us now see the words of the Lord about this:
"Howbeit when he, the Spirit of Truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13).
"He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you" (John 16:14-15).
"(The Spirit) shall not speak of himself; but whatever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come" (John 16:13b).
"...the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things" (John14:26).
"The Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees Him not, neither knows Him: but ye know Him; for He dwells with you, and shall be in you" (John 14:17).
"Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you." (John 14:28).
"At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you" (John 14:20).
"Because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14:19).
Herein you have the meaning of Pentecost. Christ fully poured Himself upon and in those men through the Holy Spirit. And so the church, which is His body, was born.
From that supreme moment on, His words and works, His death, resurrection and ascension acquired a new power in the life of those believers. A veil fell from their eyes, their heart was made clear and the glory of the Lord shone within, in the deepest part of their being, because the Holy Spirit was in action. Until that moment, their knowledge of Christ was partial and limited. But from that moment on, they would know Him as He really is: the resurrected Christ, Lord and life of the church, sovereign king of the universe, beginning and end of everything created. And always present in the midst of His own.
For this reason, each time we think of the Holy Spirit, consider this: The totality of what Christ is, abides with His Divine person within us.
At present, much is said about the Holy Spirit and His relationship with the believers. Almost always He is shown as a kind of friend, cooperator and companion in service and ministry. However, the Holy Spirit is someone totally different, because truly, He is God.
The apostle Paul tells us the following in 2 Corinthians 3:17: "Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty". This means that the Spirit is in the church to express the authority and lordship of Jesus Christ over the church. He descended from Heaven to direct, enliven and build the body of Christ. By His divine mediation, Christ is present, governing and building His church all the days until the end of all things.
That is why the Holy Spirit does not act on His own initiative, neither does He speak about Himself. Instead, He reveals Christ and does the will of Christ in the midst of His own. For us to subject ourselves to His doings, is to subject ourselves to the Lord. That is why our greatest need at the present time is to experience His working within our being, because He and only He can introduce us into the life of the resurrected Lord.
Can we see the importance of this matter? We are not facing something optional. The Holy Spirit came from Heaven at Pentecost to take command of operations. From that moment on, the evangelization, multiplication, expansion and the establishment of the church, are all in His hands.
He Himself has taken over the whole matter, because as we have said before, only what is born of His hands can be called the church of Jesus Christ, just like Eve could only be formed from the flesh and bone of Adam by the hands of God.
Nothing that we can do on our own has any right to be called by that name. Because no matter how much talent, imagination, effort and capacity that we put into our work, the best that we could ever produce will always be hay, wood and stubble. We must not make a mistake at this point: the Holy Spirit is not our cooperator, nor much less our "partner" to build our vast empires, or that important personal ministry dreamt by our carnal mind, nor anything else that might proceed from ourselves. Oh, no! He is here with a mission infinitely greater than our small peculiarities. His mission is to reveal and glorify Jesus Christ in the midst of His church. His objective is to take us to walk in an intimate fellowship with the Lord and to participate in the totality of His Life and His work. This is what claims all His attention during this timeframe.
A historical example
The church can only be edified in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the Bible we find a notable example about the vital importance in building the house of God. It was the time of the post-captivity restoration. On that occasion, God's words addressed to Zerubbabel express the same truth.
The Scriptures tell us that a prince of the House of Judah had returned with a small remnant of Jews to rebuild the destroyed temple of Jerusalem, beginning with a decree given by Cyrus, king of the Persians. But, when they arrived to their ancient homeland, the panorama could not have been more discouraging.
Only ruins and desolation remained of the once beautiful Jerusalem. Furthermore, after such a long absence, other people had set up home in the region and, obviously, were absolutely unwilling to allow a minuscule group of Jewish returnees to evict them out of there.
The situation was not very favorable for those men and women. Very soon they became discouraged and for several years they abandoned their work. However, in spite of everything, it was God Himself who had called them to rebuild His holy temple.
Surely we can get a glimpse of the anguish and fear that had crowded into their hearts. Let us imagine for a moment Zerubbabel and the leaders of the people gathered to discuss the matter during a threatening night in their makeshift headquarters. All alternatives were evaluated and all seemed quite bad. They were a very small group, badly armed, while not far away, a powerful army of warriors was getting ready to march upon their camp and completely destroy them. Their threatening letters were spread on the table before their eyes under the flickering light of an oil lamp.
What would they do in that terrible hour? God had brought them there. Or, perhaps He hadn't? Nothing seemed sure during that hour of testing. Then, one of them, maybe the same Zerubbabel rehearsed to them the central point of their problem: "We are weak and we do not have enough strength to finish the mission that brought us here. If we could count on a sufficiently large and well equipped army, all our problems would be solved. Discouragement has gripped our people and many of them have already deserted. The solution is to join some of our powerful neighboring nations, or to resign ourselves to never finishing our mission. We have run out of options. Our families are in danger and we cannot keep them exposed for much longer".
But, precisely at that desperate moment another man entered the scene. They all knew him well; it was Zechariah, God's prophet. The men stepped aside and Zechariah slowly walked toward the prince. He stopped in front of him and with a strange glint in his eyes, he looked straight into the prince's innermost and said: "Zerubbabel, not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6).
Can we understand the words of the Lord? Their meaning can be paraphrased thus: "Zerubbabel, my House is not built by the strength or talent of any man; nor does it need the methods and abilities that the world can lend. All of that is abomination to Me. You cannot fulfill your mission in that way. Only one thing is required to build my House: My Spirit. He is worthier than all the strength and all the armies that you could muster. It is true, you are weak and have little strength, but if you and my people will exclusively lean on God, rejecting any other power, under His powerful anointing and direction, your hands will lay the foundation of My House and your hands will finish building it."
The history that followed tells us that those few men dared to believe the words of the Lord. It was then that God's House, against all human hope, was rebuilt in the midst of Jerusalem, to the glory of God and the confusion of all their enemies. To achieve this, no army was required; only the Spirit of Him that can overcome all our limitations.
There is a profound lesson for us in this portion of history. The House of God is a figure of the church, which really is the true temple of God, while Zerubbabel represents the workers that edified God's House.
As we know, God's highest purpose is the building of His church. However, His workers have to learn how to build according to His eternal purpose. This does not mean that we are to go out and do the work in the way that each feels is best. God told Moses: "See to it that you make them according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain" (Exodus 25:40). But it would also be just as big an error that, having seen "the model" God's servants would try to do the work entrusted to them according to their own strength and initiative. What perhaps might result fully valid in the natural realm, is completely inadequate in the spiritual context, simply because spiritual servants are required to do spiritual work.
God does not build His House on the basis of our qualities, talents, good ideas or projects, but only on the basis of that which proceeds from Christ through His Spirit. On the one hand, it is absolutely essential that His servants possess an objective revelation of the Divine purpose. But on the other hand, it is equally necessary that they also have a subjective and experiential knowledge of the "power of His strength". Watchman Nee once wrote that in the work of God nothing has been left to mere human initiative or improvisation. 1. In other words, any true and real work done here on earth has to have this divine seal of manufacture. Just as certain factory products show a label with their place of origin, God's work has to have the trademark of Christ through the Holy Spirit.
The service of God's servants has to be birthed out of a profound revelation in the heart (Only the Holy Spirit can reveal Christ to us) and from an experiential knowledge of His strength and direction. Thus it happened after Pentecost in the primitive church and so it has to happen today, because God's principles never change. This is the important lesson of our book.
Therefore, when reading the story of what happened after Pentecost in the book of Acts, we shall undoubtedly see how Christ, through His Spirit, directs everything that happens. No man has that right. There is no such thing as a visible head here, no world evangelization program, nothing of hierarchical organizations or structures, because all the directives proceed straight from the Head toward the Body.
An organic development
That was precisely the essential quality of the primitive church. An organic nature birthed by its daily and constant walk in the Spirit. Born of Christ, its development is only comparable to that of a living organism. This is something very different from a mere human organization or structure, because a fundamental difference exists between these two: Life.
Most certainly, organizations are constructed on the basis of guidelines and objectives within timeframes, a prospectus, an organizational chart, a diagram of operations, a chain of command, a budget and an enormous amount of slogans, norms and rules. Basically, all human institutions function in that way, from a multinational enterprise to a neighborly sporting club.
In that sense, the organization is an entity independent of the persons that constitute it. The positions are pre-defined, as well as the duties that are expected to be performed by each person within the organizational chart. For example, in any given business, the position of Finance Manager exists independently of Mr. Julian Smith, who at present is performing that function. If Julian quits his job to work elsewhere, the position does not go away with him, because in his new job he will be functioning as Production Manager. Another person will be hired to perform his old job, because the organization exists independently of the persons that constitute it at any given moment. The organization needs to feed on those persons, but it is never those specific persons. It merely remains as an external entity, above those that constitute the organization.
In contrast, let us consider the church which is a body, in other words, a living organism. We also find different functions in mutual interaction within it, but with an important difference: these functions are inseparable from the members that perform them. They are not united by independent and external rules or an organizational chart, but by an internal life which they share together.
Whether a member belongs or does not belong to the body is not determined by a specific position, but by its inner relationship with the life that sustains the whole body. From that life the function, the structure or order, and the mutual dependence existing between its members spontaneously emerges.
The church itself does not exist independently of those that constitute it, because its body is one and the same as the members that form it. She has a living and organic unity. Where the children of God are, there the Church is also. They alone have the right of carrying that name. No other thing has it, because nothing else possesses the life that has been granted to them.
The Holy Spirit descended from Heaven to indwell people with flesh and blood, and does not have organizational charts, institutions, rules, norms, buildings and hierarchies. The tragedy of a great part of our Christian history is precisely at this point, because these are the kind of things which, as time goes on, have taken upon themselves the name of church. The root of the problem is that they are not, nor ever could become the church of Jesus Christ on the earth. To attain that, they lack the essential element: Life.
We can take the example of a seed. In spite of being small and almost insignificant, it can carry in its interior, a whole tree, complete with its branches, flowers and fruit. And that is the marvel of the life that dwells inside a seed; if you give it an opportunity, it will spontaneously expand to give shape to its original vocation. Firstly, it will sprout a timid stem, then a tiny leaf, then another leaf, a thin branch here, another there, until finally, a robust tree extends its foliage under heaven. Where did this tree come from? Simply from the life enclosed in the small seed. That life, once liberated, grew and developed until it fulfilled its intimate purpose.
That is the secret power of the seed and that, also, is the exclusive secret of the church. Nothing in this world is like it, because nothing else possesses its supernatural character.
In Jerusalem, when the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost, the life liberated by Christ on the cross also descended to form a church with a supernatural nature, that is, a spiritual nature. That same day, apostleship was born, then the gatherings in the homes, the fellowship between the brethren, the selling of everything to have all things in common, the persecution and the martyrdom, the expansion towards the non-Jews, the prophets and the teachers, the elders, the diverse gifts and all that glorious experience that is chronicled in the book of Acts and the epistles. And that was not the product of any human preplanning. Nor was it produced by the mind of a skillful organizer, nor by the visionary capacity of a "great man of God", because--let us understand this well--everything, and we mean absolutely everything, actually came from Christ through the Holy Spirit.
But, were the apostles not in charge from the beginning? Was there not a Paul and a Barnabas who founded and established churches?
Certainly, but the apostles were prepared by the Lord to walk in the Spirit. During three years, under His constant care, they were pruned, washed, purified from all their personal projects, hidden motives, good ideas, ambitions, desires for power, individualism and self sufficiency. The men that received the Holy Spirit in the upper room were docile vessels, broken and conscious of their own weakness and failure. They had been formed to walk in the Spirit and to allow Him to take control of every situation. Without a doubt, they were the men charged to establish the foundation of the church. The mission of giving it visible and concrete expression was in their hands. But to attain that, they did not exhibit any further credentials than knowing Christ in a profound and experiential way and to be docile men, under the direction of His Spirit. They were men that moved when He moved, but they also were quiet when He was quiet. They became workers absolutely conscious of their own incompetence and fully conscious of God's competence.
Only these kind of men were capable of exercising the apostleship and bearing the responsibility of establishing the house of God on the earth.
The men that came after them, elders, prophets and teachers, who became leaders in the churches established by the apostles, were forged with the same model of experience. The Holy Spirit prepared them in the context of the church life. It was there where they learned to walk with Him, in full confidence and dependence together with all of their brethren. Thus, they experienced how life acts and expresses itself through all the body according to the different functions of every member. They learned to recognize that life. They subjected themselves to that life in the different circumstances. They fully gave themselves to its directives, just as they had learned from Christ and the apostles. And that is the way they taught in all the churches they established.
In conclusion, the church, both in its nature, as well as in its practical expression, cannot contain anything that has a merely earthly origin. To fulfill such a huge task, only One is capable and sufficient, the Holy Spirit of God. But, we have also seen that to perform His task, the Spirit requires the joint participation of the whole body of Christ. Furthermore, with a view to establishing such a body, firstly the ministry of the apostles of the Lord is required. This has priority over anything else, since, as it has been said, any work born of God has to have a distinctive sign of its spiritual origin.
What can certify that origin? What are its distinctive features? The answer to these questions is extremely important, because it brings us directly to one of the essential matters of His work. We must therefore look in greater depth at the singular task of those who are the specific instruments that God has designated for the establishment of His church on earth. We are referring, certainly, to the apostles or workers of the Lord.
(1) "God has not left anything to human imagination or will. It is not our place, therefore, to suggest how we think that the Divine work should be performed, but to ask in everything: What is the will of the Lord?". The Normal Church, Watchman Nee.
1 An Eternal Purpose
2 Divine Life Before Time
3 The Work of the Holy Spirit
4. Who is Sufficient?
5 The Foundation of the Apostles
6 The Meaning of Ekklesia
7 The Community of the Kingdom
8 A Chapter on What is Most Essential