01 November 2008
Communicating true spirituality
Newly appointed Alliance Council Chair Roger T Forster urges us to draw on the Holy Spirit as we work to transform society...
God has been good to the Alliance. Of course, God is good all the time, but over the years I have been involved with the Alliance, God has given us leaders to meet the challenges and needs of both the Alliance and the society in which we are placed. Whether called general secretaries or general directors, there was nothing about these men that was just general - or ordinary or mediocre. Rather they were generals in the Spirit leading us forward.
This succession of Alliance leaders comprises distinct individuals with key differences that enabled them to accomplish diverse objectives within the Alliance and also to have an impact outside. Over the past 50 years, the scene has been filled with theological debate, division and bureaucratic readjustment, and also of course evangelism, growth and social-political engagement. These issues and many others have needed the right hand on the tiller to guide the Alliance through the stormy stretches.
Over the past 10 years, Joel Edwards has steered us into the 21st century. He leaves us with a huge hole to fill and a legacy we must not squander. Joel has had to encounter many of the above named issues, and it is the challenge of Christian citizenship and its transforming impact on our secular society which stand out in Joel's contribution to the Alliance.
Joel's book An Agenda for Change is an essential read for those who wish to know where we are at in our journey with God. In this short and readable book, Joel suggests four key things we must do if we want to transform our society: prayer for revival, evangelising the four UK nations, active engagement and involvement, and acting strategically.
I think Joel is right. Such an agenda for our Alliance at this time is crucial if we are relevantly to serve our members, the churches and society at large.
Inspired by the Spirit
Into these four items, I believe Joel expects us to read the phrase "in the Spirit", which the apostle John writes four times in the book of Revelation.
First, prayer for revival is an obvious necessity. Whatever the plethora of meanings the word revival is given, it is the Spirit who gives life and revives. We need Him in greater measure, intensity and presence in order to pray for Him (Luke 11.13) and by Him (Romans 8.26). Fervent Spirit-inspired prayer has great power, as James indicates in his example of Elijah, who "prayed with prayer" (James 5.17, literal translation).
What can we do in the Alliance to stimulate such prayer? We need this kind of praying at the heart of the Alliance and in every member church, organisation and beyond. Not just prayer, but Spirit-inspired prayer.
Second, evangelism is crucial, and I would qualify that as Spirit-led evangelism. The Gospel is not known now as it was in these islands. The Spirit's words, not dead letters, are what are needed to increase its communication. Jesus said, "My words are spirit and life" (John 6.63).
There is good news that sounds like bad news: evangelism that is easily mistaken for fund-raising, celebrity promotion or entertainment. It is the Holy Spirit who comes to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment because it does not believe in Jesus. We need Spirit-led personal and public evangelism.
Third, activism in society is helpfully summed up by Joel as Christian citizenship. There appear now to be more Christians consciously engaged in the secular scene. This means more people who see their involvement as a mission for change. To be salt and light, as Jesus challenges us, is to enlighten and disinfect some of the dark, corrupt areas of our nation's life. This too needs the Holy Spirit's involvement.
The mission of Jesus began 4,000 years ago with Abraham. His mandate was to bless all the families, or nations, of the earth. Paul explains this blessing as God's presence by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3.14). Transformation will only be effected in our culture by the Spirit's presence, carried into it by believers.
And finally, we strategise, as Joel exhorts us to in An Agenda for Change, by agreeing together in the Spirit to oppose the unrighteous agreements of the enemy. The enemy hates and therefore attacks all Holy Spirit agreements. Unity is not achieved by human effort; it is God-given. But as Paul says, we must guard it (Ephesians 4.3).
When Jesus prayed in the upper room for unity, He prayed to God not to us. Within hours, the Father answered through the crucifixion, where all selfish and demonic divisions were executed in Jesus, and the result of His prayer - oneness - was given to us. The Son of God has not waited 2,000 years for His prayer to be answered; this gift is to be received and prized. It is only in this Spirit-given unity that agreements will be effective and God's presence manifested through whatever signs and wonders He chooses.
So what can the Alliance do to fulfill the platform for action we have inherited from Joel? We must somehow show our society - a society increasingly interested in spirituality - that we have true spirituality. And this is God's spirituality in the Holy Spirit.
- Roger T Forster is the leader of Ichthus Christian Fellowship, London, and author of God's Strategy in Human History (Wipf & Stock, 2001).