"So the church...enjoyed peace, being built up, and going on in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase." Acts 9:31
After a season of persecution erupted, at the launch of the church, a season of peace took its place, in the life of the church. Perhaps no greater words of wisdom have ever been strung together than, "This too will pass."
This peace was not so much an end to hostility, but a season of relief. It was a lull before the storm. Jerusalem would fall, and The Temple would be destroyed. By 70 A.D. the population of the city would be scattered to the four winds, by the Roman Legions of Titus. This peace preceded a persecution of the church that would reach new levels of depravity, throughout the Roman world.
This season of peace was marked by a building program that should never end, in the local church. People were being built up in "the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit."
The church was described as the "ekklesia" or the "called out ones." There is no church without First Responders. People responding to a call from God, have a passion to gather together. There are all kinds of gatherings or assemblies or groupings. Birds of a feather may flock together, but they don't form a church.
Erwin McManus wrote a book that described several different kinds of gatherings. A group of owls is referred to as a scholar. A group of rhinos is called a crash. A group of buzzards is called a committee. I am not making this up.
It is possible to draw a crowd, by attracting people who want their needs to be met. It doesn't make it a church. Just because people congregate, and even propagate a message, doesn't mean it is a church. There is a big difference between Lifeway and Amway.
Just because something grows doesn't mean there is life in it. Something that is death defying, is not always life-giving. Just because a body grows larger, does not mean it is getting healthier. A physical body can experience the growth of gangrene. This kind of growth will lead to amputation of limbs or there will be an expiration of life. See what I mean?
People who hear the voice of God calling them to come out of the world and into His Presence, form an assembly of responsive followers, with others who have heard His call. The church that continues to seek God's direction, protection and correction continues in the direction of their first step, walking down a long road of obedience. This is what is called "going on in the fear of the Lord." The way believers come on, is the way they go on. They hear and they obey.
Short-sighted church growth strategies focus on increasing in number, without increasing in "the comfort of the Holy Spirit." The early church grew in number, but never outgrew their dependence upon the ministry of The Holy Spirit. When a church loses this dependence, they declare their independence, and the man-made fireworks begin. Between all the duds that have misfired, and the destruction caused by the implosion of wild-fire, the church can be on fire, but give off more heat than light. When it does, it gives Holy Smoke a bad name.
Following the Jesus Revolution of the late Sixties and early Seventies of the 20th Century, there was a natural by-product called "The Deeper Life Movement." People who had experienced, a deepening of the appreciation of the work of the Holy Spirit, sought to sustain it, on a personal level and in a corporate setting. It is easier said than done.
Another wing of the church looked at the invasion of the Spirit of God, caused by the Jesus Revolution, and sought to perpetuate it through "The Church Growth Movement." Taking business models, leadership principles, advertising techniques, waves of high-tech communication systems, pop psychology, pop music, and the emerging social media, the leaders of this movement baptized them all, under a banner of "Whatever It Takes." The results are mixed. The churches grew larger, but their influence on the culture diminished. They turned the keys of the kingdom over to the inmates of the asylum. Now that's just crazy.
The comfort of the Holy Spirit refers to a robust relationship with Jesus, and a consistent companionship, with the Spirit of Christ. Both wings of Spiritual Awakening have their strengths and their weaknesses. Too often advocates of either one of these wings, try to put a feather in their cap, by plucking the other wing bear, and exposing it to ridicule. This pious plucking often leaves image of The Dove of the Spirit, appearing as a plucked chicken, in the eyes of those who need The Spirit of God the most.
To be sure, focusing on "Deeper Life", to the exclusion of "Church Growth", turns the church into a saints only country club. Focusing on "Church Growth" without equipping people, to be filled with the Spirit, leaves them full of themselves. This doesn't reflect the New Testament church found in Acts.
The early church showed signs of health. The people who indicated they had a relationship with Christ grew in number. Those who gathered together, with the church, also increased in their capacity to draw comfort from The Spirit of Christ. Their relationship with Christ led them to fellowship with His Spirit. There is no substitute for either one. The Dove has two wings, not one.
Comfort is one of those potent words that has undergone a transformation, down through the years. It has been diluted, and left out in the heat, until it has become a victim of etymological evaporation. What was once understood to mean a blood transfusion for courageous living has come to resemble a patronizing pat on the back. There is little comfort in the phrase, "There. There!"
When Bishop Odo rallied the troops of William the Conqueror, at the Battle of Hastings, he shouted "Con Fortis." The translation of the Latin refers to Odo comforting his boys. He was calling for the Norman soldiers to take courage, put an end to their retreat, and return to the battle. When they did, they won the battle. The rest, as they say, is history. Comfort, indeed.
Contemporary comfort bears little resemblance to courage. It settles for the removal of stress, the end of responsibility, and being conformed to the image of the couch. Big difference.
For the contemporary church, too often, its comfort is drawn from a satisfaction with life in a demilitarized zone. It is maintained by short sermons, preferred music, and a padded pew. No fuss. No muss. No fear. No tears. 'Tis The Season. Pick up The Wings. Cowboys kick off at Noon.
Spiritual Awakening always brings about a disruption of The Comfort Zone and a commission of the church, to enter The Fire Zone. When the next Great Awakening comes, don't be surprised if a Genesis of The Comforter is not followed, by an Exodus of the comfortable.
Dana and I served as fire-fighters, and first responders for several years, on a Volunteer Fire Department. We kept an instrument by our bed, that was connected with the 911 dispatcher of our area. It would go off at all times of the day and night. It would awaken us from a deep sleep and launch us out the door, in the middle of the night to "only God knows where." Spiritual Awakening will do the same thing.
Our experiences, as a first responders, ranged from house fires to wild-fires. Life and death situations took us from the birth of a child, to the death of an elderly person. We sometimes crawled under cars to pry people out of wrecks or carried people down stairwells in body bags. It was impossible to know what was coming next, but what we knew was this. We would not be alone. When we got to the station, we would be met by brothers and sisters who heard the call, and would go with us, to meet the crisis.
The church should do no less. There are seasons of life that prepare us for what is coming down the road. The church is experiencing an off-season of monumental importance. Every church member should prepare themselves, during this off-season, to defeat the opponents that have grown over-confident, with their winning streak over the church. There is much on the line. Prepare yourself for the next Great Awakening.
TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!