Upside Down Church
Crises Signal a Missional Calling and Acts 1:8 & 8:1 Reveal the Holy Spirit’s Pivotal Role
My elderly aunt said that in her 90+ years she had never seen a time like we are experiencing now. Many have lost their lives due to COVID-19 and many more are bereaved. Life has been disrupted in unprecedented, often difficult, ways. The church, a collection of people from every nation, language, and tribe, is now presented with new challenges—and opportunities—for ministry and mission. For Salvation Army soldiers, the prayer in Charles Wesley’s well-known eighteenth-century hymn is as apt as ever (SASB 946):
This is not a time for fear, resignation, or complacency. We do not live in an interim between missions. This is mission time. Yet, we have never needed the guidance, strength, and courage of the Holy Spirit more. We can affirm that to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-20) continues to be our general calling, but we must be responsive to what such mission entails day-by-day. We cannot arrogantly claim that we have the solution for tomorrow, for God is giving us a trail of manna-crumbs to follow day-by-day (Deuteronomy 8:3).
The Salvation Army has always taught that the Holy Spirit is pivotal to life and mission (see Doctrine Seven). In chapter six of When the Holy Ghost is Come, Samuel Logan Brengle likens the difference the Spirit makes to a Christian to the difference electricity makes to an ordinary strand of copper wire. Without changing the personality and individuality, the Spirit enters and empowers. Ever since the first Pentecost, the church’s true source of power and light has been the Holy Spirit. Whatever we do without the Spirit is feeble and dismal. For Salvation Army soldiers, the discipline of praying for and waiting upon the Holy Spirit is not superfluous or frivolous but essential. Good news: Jesus promised that the Father would give the Holy Spirit to any who ask (Luke 11:13).
In the New Testament book of Acts (the church’s first history), Jesus described the pivotal role of the Spirit as follows: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This verse is recognized as a framework for the early church’s movement. It outlined the geography of disciple-making mission.
The church did not move on that mission until it was disrupted. In Acts 8:1, after a great and deadly persecution arose, we finally read about reaching “Judea and Samaria” again. The Bible’s chapter and verse divisions were not a part of the original writing but were added in the mid-sixteenth century to help locate passages. Coincidentally, this reference reverses the number order of the paradigmatic Acts 1:8. This numeric quirk underscores the idea that the Lord had to turn the church upside down before the church could turn “the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
Throughout the church’s early history—indeed its entire history—the Spirit came and transformed Jesus’ followers into creative missionaries. The mission in Samaria (Acts 8:4–17), the first mission to Gentiles (10:44–48; 11:11–18), Paul and the Ephesian church (19:1–7), and other records show that the infilling of the Spirit was a necessary condition for mission and ministry. Do we realize that without the Spirit, we are just spinning our wheels?
During the present crisis, Salvationists—officers and soldiers—are working as hard as ever, and with added stressors. We are serving people in unprecedented need. Now, more than ever, we need the light and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Having now passed through the season of Lent (February 26–April 11, 2020) and entered the season of Easter (April 12–May 31, 2020), let us anticipate the final moment of the Easter season—the Day of Pentecost (May 31, 2020). The church lives most of its year in an ordinary season often referred to as “after Pentecost.” How appropriate! What a space to dwell in—after first fruits and the coming of the Holy Spirit! As the church did that first Pentecost, let us, though not all in one place (Acts 2:1), at least with one accord pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit to prepare and empower us for this new era and mode of mission and ministry in the world.
by Isaiah Allen