Here’s the question I’m pushing. What environment would have to exist for there to be an Acts 15:28 moment, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” Let me first say that this is not an environment created by human actors. It is an environment created when the church’s life is tuned to pursuing the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is less that the church builds a cage for the Holy Spirit, and more that the Spirit pulls us into a certain kind of life through our attentiveness.
As I said in my last post, I have several of these. But let’s begin where all good Church of Christ folk do, with Pentecost. But let’s look way ahead of 2:38 and hear Peter’s explanation for the commotion that has grabbed everyone’s attention: the falling of the Spirit on those gathered with fiery tongues that allows what is said to be heard in the language of each one gathered there. This is not, Peter makes clear, a little hair of the dog. Too early for that. This is, instead, the promised pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh. On all flesh. Young and old, male and female, and as Acts will make clear, Jew and Gentile.
So, an environment of attentiveness to the Spirit begins with this Spirit given reality. The Spirit is not the province of some and not others. The Spirit is not just with leaders or with men or with prophets. The Spirit is poured out on all flesh. And the promise of the gospel is similarly for you, for your children, for all who are far off, all who the Lord God calls to him. So, when baptism is offered to the crowd in 2:38, it comes with the promise of the Holy Spirit. All are empowered and ordained for participation in God’s mission.
I think this core conviction of Luke’s understanding of the church is reflected in two very important texts. The first is Acts 6, the choosing of the seven to serve the Hellenistic widows. The second, the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15 when the decision about the mission to the Gentiles is determined. These two stories have several features in common. Both feature decisions that bear upon the spreading of the mission of God. Both involve food. Both involve issues related to Hebrew/Hellenist, Jew/Gentile.
Notably, both occur with the whole assembly gathered. And the decisions reached pleased the whole group. This is what it looks like to make the big decisions when you take seriously the belief that the “Spirit is poured out on all flesh.”
Functionally speaking, I don’t think most congregations organize themselves or make decisions in ways that demonstrate such a conviction. Put another way, I seriously doubt that you can have an “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to US” moment without an “us” that includes all those who have received the Spirit.
Well, that would be chaos, you say. That’s what leadership is for, to make the big decisions and ask us to follow them. I agree that taking this seriously will slow you down and make you less efficient, especially at first. And I’m not suggesting that everything be subjected to congregation wide discernment or that everything be put to a vote. After all, in Acts 15, James, on behalf of the elders and apostles, announces the decision. But what he announces there is not the result of a study done by the elders or staff. What he announces is the shared sense of what the Spirit is up to given all the stories that have bubbled up from “below.”
I recently heard about a meeting between two groups of elders occasioned by one group’s concern that the other was allowing congregational discussion on a controversial topic. The concerned elder group had already come to a conclusion on the matter and didn’t see the value in stirring matters up. “That’s the difference between our way of being elders,” said one of the elders from the other congregation. “You discern for your people. We discern with our people.” Ah, the Spirit poured out on all flesh.
Everything else we will notice in Acts proceeds from this basic conviction. Got some 15:28?
Come, Holy Spirit.