The opening lines in the book of Genesis reveal how the physical universal came into existence:
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said..." [Gen 1:1,2b]
Pay close attention to the two operative agents in the Creation narrative; God's Word and God's Spirit.
In the opening pages of the NT, we find the same pattern in the New Creation narrative:
"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." [John 1:1, 14a; 3:5b]
Here it is again; Word and Spirit. God the Father has a long history of operatively working in His Creation through His Word and by His Spirit.
The fifth aspect to our discipleship process at Soma Asheville is Word and Spirit. It's hard to overstate the gravity of these two authoritative pillars. They are weighty in nature and deserve much more time and attention than a singular blog entry. I write on begrudgingly. The following will serve as an introduction to these two pillars on which SA's culture rests.
Word and Spirit form the two book ends that frame up the entire discipleship process beginning to end. In our foundational document we stated the following about the Word of God:
"The supremacy, sufficiency, and authority of the Word of God is foundational to all ministry activity. The Word of God is our ultimate authority and guide; the very voice of God to His Church, for all times, peoples, places, and cultures. It is to be interpreted, preached and treasured as such."
Likewise, we stated this about the Spirit of God:
"There is also an equal dependence on the Holy Spirit for all ministry activity. It is the Spirit of God that reveals, regenerates, convicts, saves, empowers, gifts, teaches, comforts, etc… He is the operative agent the Church is called to walk-in and be led-by. The Church is a sent people called to be Spirit-led, Spirit-dependent, Spirit-controlled, and Spirit-filled."
A few brief comments on the backstory may be helpful here. We quickly realized there were not many Churches to culturally draft from on this one. The vast majority of Churches functionally were either a "Word-Church" or "Spirit-Church." But a "Word-and-Spirit Church?" Good luck. It is an unfortunate dichotomy that still exists in far too many Churches today.
There also seemed to be a strong aversion of each culture from the other and abuses that warranted the chasm. There were theological, cultural, and emotional hangovers from previous generations that made the chasm concrete. If I become a "Word-Church" does that mean I'll have to believe that way! If I become a "Spirit-Church" does that mean I'll have to behave that way! Without descending into all the particulars (and there are many), SA believed we would not press into full Biblical maturity if either one of these book ends were missing.
Analogous to a single-parent home, as healthy and as committed as one parent can be, there is still a net deficit in the home when either parent is missing. If you grew up in a single-parent home, you get the deficiency. Is it possible many of us grew up in a spiritual single-parent home where only one authority was operative?
Word of God Cultures
When SA talks about the Word of God, we like to talk about the word, disciple. The Greek word for disciple translates as learner. Being a disciple means becoming a life-long learner of Jesus. The Word of God becomes the primary authority and reference point for this new orientation of the soul. A lifetime of learning awaits the disciple.
Verses like 1 Timothy 1:3-7, 2 Timothy 2:15, and 3:16-17 come into view. Paul charges young Timothy in His ministry as Pastor of the Ephesian Church. The Word of God could be compromised and corrupted either from the outside or the inside. Part of Timothy's job was to secure the Word of God to its proper place among His people.
Cultivating the spiritual appetites through a steady diet of preaching from God's Word is one of the staples of a disciple's long-term health. "Every text whispers His name" says, Sally Lloyd-Jones.
Preaching every text, Christ-o-centrically, and getting to the Incarnate Word from the Written Word will be one of the surest ways to nurture disciples into full maturity.
Spirit of God Cultures
When SA talks about the Spirit of God, we like to talk about the word, child. A child by default is desperately dependent upon their parents for every need. To become a Christian, one must become a child and re-learn what a life of dependence looks like (Matt 18). Growth up into adulthood means more and more dependence, not more independence. Nurturing this life of utmost dependence requires great humility and a shedding of those things our culture tells us to place our confidence.
Chapters like Romans 8, Galatians 5, 1 Corinthians 12-14, and John 14-16 are key chapters that detail out the Spirit-led life and the central place of the Spirit in the life of a believer.
As it relates to mission, a Missional Ecclesiology (see last post) will be next to impossible to implement apart from a robust view of the Spirit's activity. The book of Acts (also called the Acts of the Spirit) records the Spirit birthing the NT Church, then leading that Church forward into the heart of the power structures in 1st century pagan culture.
If you track closely with the strategies the Spirit employs, none of these ever seem to make our modern spreadsheets and whiteboards. Only the Spirit knows. The good news is that we don't have to manufacture mission. It is the Spirit's job to glorify the Son. Our job is simply to become like little children willing to obey the Spirit whenever, wherever, and however He leads (1 John).
Word and Spirit is a dynamic tension to be stewarded well over time. In our next blog post, we'll look at yet another dynamic tension that is to be stewarded well over time.