Are We Sacramentalists? The Assembly and the Spirit

BaptismNot only is Jesus himself present in our assemblies, but so is the Spirit. Consider these verses–

(1 Cor 3:16-17) Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you [all]? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you [all] are that temple.

(Eph 2:21-22) In [Jesus] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

In the first passage, Paul is speaking to the congregation (“you” is plural in the Greek), and he declares the congregation a “temple” of God, dwelling through his Spirit. The second passage is to a similar effect.

Now, the congregation is a temple whether or not assembled. But, of course, the significance of the congregation’s being a temple is most evident in the assembly.

The significance of the Spirit is most plainly taught in 1 Cor 12 – 14. We like to read 1 Cor 13 at weddings, because agape spoken of there is so intense that it’s a great lesson for newlyweds. But Paul was actually speaking about how Christians should live with one another in a congregation!

Love, you see, is the “greatest gift” because it’s most necessary for healthy congregational living and for the worship of the congregation. And it’s a gift because the Spirit himself pours God’s love into our hearts (Rom 5:5). We like to take credit for it, but God gives his people this love.

And this is thus the thought that forms chapter 14. Repeatedly, Paul considers how the assembly should be conducted, and he answers in terms of the impact of the proposed practice on those present. The gifts given by the Spirit are to be used to edify, strengthen, comfort, and encourage the members — and to bring visiting unbelievers into a state of amazement at God (not the church, the song leading, or the preaching — God!).

But here’s the deal: God empowers us in the assembly. The assembly consists of members using gifts given them by God to edify one another and to so draw one another to God that even unbelievers declare “God is really among you!”

Because of our perverse insistence on denying the work of the Spirit, we’ve lost the vision of the assembly as a place where the Spirit works through us, giving us gifts to glorify God. Rather, we see the assembly as a work, as an endlessly repeated obedience to an ancient command. But it’s better seen as a sharing of gifts — it’s letting the Spirit dwell in the temple God built for it.

We’re scared to death of being called Pentecostal, and so even in churches that understand the working of the Spirit, the Spirit is rarely mentioned, especially in the service! Someone might get the wrong idea! Ironic, isn’t it?

Moreover, we are reluctant to give the Spirit free reign. We want to tell the Spirit what forms of worship are acceptable and which are not. But, of course, if we truly understood 1 Cor 12 -14, we’d realize that the same Spirit which inspired the scriptures has authority — on behalf of the Son — to work within the body to bring about acts of worship.

Consider —

(1 Cor 14:26) What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.

Paul doesn’t condemn the members for coming to church ready to share gifts from God. Rather, he condemns their doing it incorrectly, so that the church isn’t strengthened.

Some smaller congregations have responded to this passage with spontaneous worship — with members having permission to lead a song or share a thought from the scriptures as they feel moved. I’ve participated in such worship, and it can be quite powerful.

On the other hand, in a larger church, such spontaneity could be chaotic. But it would seem that the leadership should make a point of bringing as many God-given talents to the worship as possible over the course of the weeks. After all, the goal is to let the Spirit himself bring glory to God, and the Spirit himself decides to whom gifts are given.

If we were to see worship as less man-given and more Spirit-given, we’d be on the look out for whatever gifts might be out there that would edify the church: poetry, dramatic readings, original songs, solos, duets, instrumental pieces, paintings, sculpture … Would we not surround ourselves and fill our spaces with whatever gifts God has chosen that we have?

Now, the last thing anyone should do is interpret these thoughts as creating new rules for how to worship! The point is to get away from rules and let the Spirit lead, which is really just as simple as seeking out the gifts he’s given and letting those gifts be used in ways that edify the body.

You see, using the gifts we’ve been given is, in a very real way, to let the Spirit bring glory to and testify about Jesus — the Spirit’s very purpose on earth. And this makes our worship sacramental, as our cooperation with the Spirit brings us into sympathetic resonance with God himself.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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