Each year as Pentecost rolls around on the church calendar I try to ensure that we do our best in worship to embrace the day. The account of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church is a powerful story about how the Spirit worked in the past as well as today. In more docile traditions of Christianity, of which Presbyterians are part of, the Holy Spirit has not always been given the attention it deserves.
For many the Holy Spirit may even be something that they have a fear of. One popular conception of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit is the “Holy Roller” on the ground, shaking with convulsions, having been seized by the Holy Spirit. Even a peripheral experience of this type of experience can strike fear into the most firm of a believer. Fear also comes from the fact that when we read Scripture, we continually read of Holy Spirit experiences that cause trouble for the one interacting with the Spirit. People who are in the midst of a Holy Spirit experience have their lives changed and often are given a new mission from God.
I believe that we need to work against this fear and begin to more fully embrace the Holy Spirit. One way we can do this is by recognizing what the Holy Spirit does at Pentecost. What happens at the Pentecost is noting short of a miracle. The wonderful thing about this miracle is that it is the very hoped for miracle of our day. In the midst of the assembly, God’s Holy Spirit creates a community that begins to experience a heavenly unity. The Holy Spirit falls upon the people and the division caused by language begins to fall away. Sin caused the people to be unable to clearly communicate, and in the Pentecost experience the Holy Spirit gives them a unity.
The struggle for unity in diversity is one of the greatest struggles the church has had throughout history. How is it that we become one in Christ while recognizing that we aren’t a homogeneous people? Just like those believers that had gathered on Pentecost, today Christians reflect the divine diversity of creation. I think it is safe to say that Christ Presbyterian Church is not filled with people who are all alike. In fact when people ask me about our congregation, I will often highlight the fact that we have a group that shares many common beliefs, yet also have varied viewpoints as well.
This diversity at times causes conflict. If we are truly engaged with one another, there are going to be times when our varied understandings, and even personal preferences, will cause us to have discord. One of the blessings we have experienced in the Holy Spirit is that overall we have grown positive ways of addressing and honoring our differences. This isn’t to say that Christ Presbyterian is a utopia of blissful unity where no one gets upset. Rather I hope we have been building a community that is dependent on the Holy Spirit to act upon us like the Spirit did on the believers at Pentecost. The Spirit didn’t make them all the same. They weren’t given a common language. Rather, they were able to understand each other. Understanding is perhaps the most blessed gift the Spirit can give us. To actually be able to not just hear the other person, but understand.
When I work with pre-marital couples we talk about communication and our need to break from worldly ways. Far too often we speak to persuade and listen to respond. We talk in the counseling sessions about our need to be able to be assertive in speaking and active in our listening. Assertive in this case is not loud or forceful. To be assertive is to own ones thoughts and feelings and communicate them in such a way that they are expressed with ownership. On the other side of the communication is our need to be active listeners. Classical argumentative communication is based on winning. To be an active listener means we first listen to ensure we are not just hearing the words, but that we understand the feelings, needs and beliefs behind what is being said.
I can teach lots of fine skills to be better assertive speakers and active listeners. Frankly, the problem most of us have is that we forget that the best way to understand is to ask God to help bridge the gap between one another. Our life together is not very much different than those of the Pentecost people. We have varied language and belief. We don’t understand each other. The first place we should start looking for that understanding is by asking God to transform us by the power of the Holy Spirit into a community of unity in the Spirit.
This is a piece that strikes the heart so I respond with “thank you, Geoff.”
But comes the question: If the Holy Spirit is undivided why are not all church matters–especially those under the purview of session for any particular congregation–resolved by consensus or consent? What does the need to take a vote reveal about the Holy Spirit’s work in us individually and corporately especially when the vote is divided or the majority prevails by one vote? Why not continue to pray and talk until one mind is reached, that of the Holy Spirit’s divine counsel?