This past spring I had an epiphany that Christians tend to divide ourselves primarily because of our emphasis on one of three things:
- Word of God/solid doctrine (some might call “fundamentalist”)
- Movement and gifts of the Holy Spirit (some might call “charismatic”)
- Social action (some might call “social gospel”)
However, when all three of these elements come together, powerful change starts to occur! For example, soon after having this epiphany I realized that the first group of Christians manifested all three of these components, as described in Acts 2.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching (v.42) means they were emphasizing sound doctrine. The apostles were performing signs and wonders (v.43), manifestations of God’s Spirit. And they sold their possessions to care for those who had need (v.45) describes taking care of practical needs, or social action.
It seems pretty rare to find all three of these present in one place. Yet this summer I encountered a few examples of what combining these three elements can look like in real life today. First, I read stories from the most recent decade of God providing healing to blind people, raising the dead and feeding hundreds of hungry orphans with a single pot of pasta in Heidi Baker’s Compelled by Love, a book based on the Beatitudes from Matthew 5. Following that I read Unlikely, the story of evangelical churches in Portland uniting to show love to their city in practical, ongoing ways. I finished reading Unlikely while in Los Angeles, attending the national Christian Community Development Association Conference. If CCDA doesn’t bring together all three of these elements, I don’t know what does! Each day began with an hour-long Bible study by the founder and the final day our plenary speaker was Enid Almanzar from the American Bible society who spoke on the importance of the Word of God in our lives. Of course, those of us involved in Christian community development have been challenging ourselves and our churches to live out our faith in social-action sort of ways.
Then this past weekend while camping in the Cascade mountains, I began reading A New Christian Manifesto: Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom of God by Bob Ekblad. Bob and his wife Gracie have lived and worked in a variety of places, yet mostly Honduras and the Skagit Valley of Northwestern Washington where he began a ministry among inmates and migrant workers called Tierra Nueva. In reading his book, I was delighted to learn that his faith journey has followed a course similar to my own-albeit starting a couple decades earlier-and he too has come to recognize the value of these various elements of Christianity. In Bob’s own words:
It is God’s pleasure to see the sanctuary and the street, the monastery and the academy, the charismatic renewal movement and the progressive social activists, environmentalists and evangelists, traditional liturgists and contemporary worshipers come together. I am sure that as people respond to Jesus’ invitation to join him in preaching good news to the poor, we will all come to recognize our need for all the riches of our inheritance, which are currently scattered among God’s people in different denominations and countries. As people see the urgent need for the kingdom of God to come in force on behalf of those who suffer, they will be increasingly willing to give up national, ethnic, partisan, and denominational allegiances in favor of ‘on earth as in heaven.’ (p.31)
Shoving the idea into my backpack while preparing to leave the campground, I felt a shot of inspiration.
“I have a spontaneous idea,” I told my friend.
“Tierra Nueva is on our way back to Seattle. Today is Sunday. We could stop there tonight for the worship service.”
I had visited the farm and small fellowship there twice before. This time I really wanted to see Bob in-person and tell him how much I appreciated his faith journey. My friend agreed to stop so we made our way to a small town’s corner storefront that shows years of wear with minimal repairs. A few Latino men and one family hung in the doorway. Inside people were beginning to set out the faded chairs for worship.
“What brings you here?” an acquaintance asked me. I described how I’d been reading A New Christian Manifesto and realized stopping was on the way back from where we were camping.
“Bob will be here tonight.” He said and told us that Bob and his wife Gracie were just returning from the UK and Canada.
The service began with Mike, who had prayed for my neck’s healing when I visited this past spring, strumming his guitar and leading us in the song “Beautiful Things“. It continued with Gracie preaching the Word, followed by healing prayer, communion and sharing soup and bread together at one long table. Afterwards, I introduced myself to Bob and told him how I was impacted by his writing. He invited me and my friend to join in a prayer training upstairs afterwards. I slipped outside to grab my hoodie from my car since the evening was becoming chilly and a strung out woman approached me. She motioned towards a boy across the street and said he was hungry and asked if we had any food. I invited her in for bread and soup and once inside she ate the soup and asked for a Bible which another of my acquaintances rounded up for her.
Upstairs, we gathered with 10 others for the prayer training. Bob and a man with tattoos covering his face immediately began talking about catching people when they fall down, filled with the Holy Spirit. They also shared stories of healing and “treasure hunting” in which God had lead them to pray for people by giving specific words and images. A delightful story was when God prompted them to approach a group of police officers, one of whom had arrested this guy several years ago, and pray a blessing over them.
Places like Tierra Nueva demonstrate that the Word of God and Spirit of God can come together in practical faith that meets people with power. When that happens, the Church becomes a strong spiritual braid!