The Holy Spirit is central to our existence as believers – and he’s certainly involved in mission, writes theologian Keith Warrington.
The Spirit is involved in salvation
The Holy Spirit was active even before we became Christians. John 16:8-9 reveals that the Spirit convicts us of our sin before we become believers, releases us from the power of sin and death (Romans 8:2) and enables us to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:7) and participate in eternal life (John 4:14).
The Spirit is involved in church planting It is the Spirit who also establishes new communities of believers. The Day of Pentecost provided the basis for an undivided community, demonstrated by the expansion of the Christian community to include Samaritans and even Gentiles; those outside had now been included.
The Spirit affirmed those whom others were wishing to exclude. Such racial unity was also present in the earliest days of Pentecostalism as reflected in the Azusa Street revival when Pentecostals were criticised for their racial inclusivity. The work of the Spirit is to create a community in which he dwells. He may also be the Spirit associated with charismatic gifts and cleansing, but he is centrally the Spirit of mission.
The Spirit enables believers to join him Luke, in particular, also identifies the Spirit enabling believers to be able to proclaim the gospel. This started in the mission of Jesus (Luke 4:18-19) and continued with the disciples (Luke 24:44- 49, Acts 1:8), Philip (Acts 8:4-12, 26-40) and Paul (Acts 20:22-28). The Spirit is the leader of church growth, demonstrated by his being the missional force in Acts (1:8, 10:19-20, 11:12, 13:2, 16:6-10).
The Spirit provides supernatural support In the past, evangelical missionaries often condemned animistic practices but failed to offer people an alternative way of dealing with their problems and to fill the vacuum left after animistic practices had been abandoned. Pentecostals, however, because of their awareness of the presence of the empowering Spirit within them, exhibited a confidence sometimes lacking in others, which was effective in overcoming any sense of inadequacy and powerlessness in the face of alien supernatural forces; they realised that they did not function on their own but did so as a result of and in the power of the Spirit.
Miracles are anticipated by Pentecostals in mission, enabling them to powerfully engage in the task of presenting the supremacy of Christ and of authenticating the gospel.
In particular, healing and exorcism are important catalysts in evangelism, resulting in significant numbers of people coming to faith as they witness the reality of God in their midst. Pentecostals are aware of the dynamic nature of the Spirit which results in them being able to interact with unbelievers who have previously experienced supernatural phenomena. At the same time, they are able to counteract those ungodly powers and offer an authentic alternative in the person of the Spirit.
Opoku Onyinah, chairman of The Church of Pentecost, based in Ghana, notes that early non-Pentecostal missionaries to Africa taught that beliefs in spirit forces were superstitions while, at the same time, identified the devil and demons as being behind such phenomena. This had the effect of strengthening the beliefs of the people in the potency of these evil forces but did not offer an alternative that would offer protection from such spirit forces.
The Spirit is dynamically present in mission A theology without the presence of the dynamic Spirit can become rationalistic and not expectant of the miraculous. Pentecostals, who combine a biblically-based framework of belief with an appreciation of the role of the Spirit, can provide a more appropriate context for discerning and analysing extant supernatural phenomena whilst also anticipating divinely inspired manifestations of the Spirit.
‘The Spirit who supervised the mission of Paul and the growth of the church is also the one who is dedicated to helping us’
The Spirit ensures fruitful mission In Acts 20:24, Luke provides an example of this desire of the Spirit to be involved in ensuring that we achieve our missional potential. Paul had been commissioned to ‘bear witness at Rome’. The question implicitly posed by Luke to his readers related to whether Paul would be able to fulfil his mission successfully. If he did, it would indicate that his mission was supported by supreme authority.
From this point in the narrative, Luke records the problems encountered by Paul, including a plot to kill him, which not only failed but resulted in Paul being protected in Herod’s Praetorium and conducted to the home of Felix, the Governor, where he had liberty to receive friends and the opportunity to speak of Jesus to Felix, Festus (the Governor who succeeded Felix) and King Agrippa. Then, when 40 men were prepared by the Jewish religious leaders to ambush Paul and kill him, a Roman guard of nearly 500 soldiers protected him.
Thereafter, Luke records the journey of Paul to Rome by sea. It is a voyage dogged by difficulties caused by the wind, the indecision and unwise action of the captain, a fierce storm and darkness, the danger of starvation, the potential of the crew abandoning the ship, shipwreck, the possibility of the prisoners being killed by the soldiers and Paul being bitten by a snake.
These were all obstacles, but none of them was sufficient to stop Paul from achieving his objective. It is clear that Paul is not on his own; someone is on his side, although he is invisible – the Spirit.
The Spirit who supervised the mission of Paul and the growth of the church is also the one who is dedicated to helping us in our missions for God.