Home > Brian's Blogs, Missional Church, Theology > What the Church Really Needs

What the Church Really Needs

There is no question that North American churches are concerned about the status of Christianity in America today. This concern has given rise to any number of proposals for how to influence our culture for Christ: seeker-sensitive movement, purpose-driven church, emerging church movement, missional church movement. However, it seems that many of these proposals are severely lacking in the one (and only) thing that has the power to influence our culture for Christ…

…the Holy Spirit.

This is not to say that participants in these movements ignore or deny the Holy Spirit. That would be incorrect. But it does seem that most of these movements spend so much time emphasizing what Christians can do to impact the world that they overlook the one who empowers Christians to impact the world: the Holy Spirit. I’ve been reminded of the power of the Holy Spirit through my week at Maranatha with Jim Cymbala and his book Fresh Power.

The church, according to Cymbala, needs to recover the Holy Spirit. He states, “the key to all of this is the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Christianity is hopeless without him. The church cannot be the church without the Holy Spirit abiding and empowering it” (p. 24).

Cymbala points to two tendencies in the church today. The first tendency is to focus so much on the Bible that the Holy Spirit is practically forgotten. (This was a problem for Jesus’ opponents as evidenced in John 5:39). Notice that the problem is not the Bible itself. Cymbala makes this clear: “We have no right to go beyond the book that the Holy Spirit inspired. It is the circumference of our spiritual circle. The Spirit of God will never contradict himself. When we test everything by the Word of God, we are doing nothing more or less than honoring again the Holy Spirit who authored it” (p. 29). But, even with an emphasis on the Bible, there is a problem. Why is it that so many churches are faithfully teaching the Bible as the Word of God but are having absolutely no impact on the Christians or non-Christians in their community? What is the disconnect? Cymbala proposes that the disconnect is that we are missing the power of the Holy Spirit, working through the Word and the community, to empower our lives. I find this quote challenging and to the point:

“If preaching alone were the answer, we would have seen a different America long ago. If good gospel music and radio programs and plush sanctuaries were the key, we would know it by now.” (p. 127)

The second tendency is to abuse the Holy Spirit. Some churches focus so much on the emotionalism and fanaticism. Cymbala calls this “an unbiblical travesty and insult to the Spirit of God” (p. 27).

What is needed, according to Cymbala, is “the power potential we have available to us through God’s Word anointed by the Holy Spirit. Not just the Word only, nor an emphasis solely on the Spirit – we must have the Word and the Spirit together bringing blessing and salvation” (p. 75). As Charles Spurgeon said, “Without the Spirit of God we can do nothing. We are as ships without winds or chariots without steeds. Like branches without sap, we are withered. Like coals without fire, we are useless” (P. 38).

So what does this have to do with all of the movements we see in the North American church today? Cymbala puts it well: “We have too many mere technicians who are only stressing methodology, and they are increasingly invading the church. The answer is not in any human methodology. The answer is in the power of the Holy Spirit. The answer is in the grace of God” (p. 14).

Rather than methodology, the church needs the Holy Spirit: “In other words, if a church is only methodology and organizational technique and clever advertising, it is departing from what God planned it to be. There should always be the element of supernatural assistance that is unexplainable to the natural mind” (p. 55).

This supernatural assistance is seen all throughout the book of Acts. As Cymbala observes, “The Holy Spirit didn’t need a special service for Generation X or a toning down of the message for older traditionalists…[Peter] obviously was ignorant of the crowd-pleasing insights that are now blindly followed in so many churches. No, God brings conviction of sin when the Word of God is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit.

What the church really needs is not a new method or technique. What the church relly needs is a new emphasis on the Holy Spirit.

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  1. July 30, 2008 at 8:33 am

    Amen!

  2. July 30, 2008 at 9:11 am

    Amen and amen! EXACTLY right. When the Holy Spirit arrives, our best efforts to build God’s church become irrelevant.

  3. July 30, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    Why is it that so many churches are faithfully teaching the Bible as the Word of God but are having absolutely no impact on the Christians or non-Christians in their community?

    I question the truth of that statement. If the Word of God is faithfully taught, it will bear fruit. If there is no fruit, then I question whether the Word is indeed being faithfully taught.

    Don’t misunderstand. Pastors … and bloggers … can pull passages from Scripture and teach about whatever topic is central, but that’s not the same as faithfully preaching the Word of God.

    By definition, faithfully preaching the Word of God means the Holy Spirit will hold His rightful place in the lives of the believers and in the worship and service of the church.

    Could it be that too much is being written about “fixing” churches that are in fact just playing at church?

    Becky

  4. Brian McLaughlin
    July 30, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    Rebecca,

    Good thoughts. I guess it is possible that some churches are just “playing” church, but I don’t want to make a judgment on “real” or “false” churches, which is where you seem to be heading.

    Let me clarify this point from personal experience: I am a pastor, I have 2 theological degrees, working on a third, and I regularly teach the Word of God. I know it, I love it, I want it to guide my life. Why is it, then, that I’m not having a greater impact on my non-Christian neighbors? Why is it that I’m not serving my community as I should? Why is it that I don’t see the power of the Spirit in my ministry that we see in Acts (and I’m talking about impact, not tongues, etc)?

    One answer is that I’m playing Christianity. I really don’t think that is the case as the Spirit testifies with my Spirit (Rom. 8:16) and I do see fruit in my life (Gal. 5). I think the answer is not in my Bible knowledge, the answer is in my failure to allow the Spirit to work on me through the Word, my failure to not be filled with the Spirit, and my failure to not cry out for the Spirit’s empowerment.

    Churches are similar. Many are dying all around us and it isn’t because they don’t know or teach the Word of God.

    In my next post on this subject I’ll discuss how we can grieve and quench the Spirit, even if we know our Bibles.

  5. March 9, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    No Holy Spirit in churches because most of us are not pursuing Him ,we are no longer willing to live a costly life for Christ ,we are not willing to flee from sin ,we are not pursuing the things of God ,desiring to live the way God wants us to.
    So instead of life in our churches , we have decay leading to death…

    It would be so easy for God to send the Holy Spirit , but in which vessels?

  1. July 30, 2008 at 2:01 pm
  2. July 30, 2008 at 4:09 pm
  3. July 30, 2008 at 11:26 pm
  4. August 1, 2008 at 7:59 am

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