"A Spirit for Us," Acts 1:4-5

John of Leiden declared himself king of Munster in 1534.
4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
Acts 1

In 1534, John of Leiden assumed control of a German town named Münster.  His rise to power was aided by his insistence that God’s Spirit was moving through him in a special way.  Once he assumed power he became a tyrant, legalized polygamy, abused his patrons, and murdered a woman in the town square, because she refused to become his umpteenth wife.  All this violence he justified by his sense of the Holy Spirit in his life.[1] 

Like John of Leiden, I was taught that a good Christian should listen to the Holy Spirit for guidance.  And like John, though to a much less violent degree, I have used my own sense of the Spirit to justify selfishness.  I was on the leadership team at my high school for Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  For the most part, my time in FCA was incredible.  In the midst of my fellow Christian athletes I had a lot of opportunities to sharpen my skills as a minister.  However, on one occasion the rest of the leadership team decided that our fellowship should cut back on the amount of time we spent discussing scripture and spend a significant amount of time playing games.  The logic was that if we spent more time playing games then more students would come to our meetings.[2]  We tried that for a month or so, and sure enough, a lot more students started to attend.  However, the tone of our meetings completely changed.  We started running out of time for any discussion at all.  It really grated against my principles.  I remember pretty clearly saying to other leaders, “I don’t think you’ve prayed about this enough.  The Spirit is telling me that we need to go back to our old format.” 

It’s one of those sentences I’ve forever wished I could take back.  I bolstered my own opinion by diminishing the personal piety of my friends.  I made my own sense of the Spirit more important than my relationship with others.  I sought Christ’s Spirit on my own, decided on my own, and acted on my own.
But in Acts, the Spirit is communally oriented.   We miss it in English, but that “you” in 1:5 is literally, “all of you.”  All of you together will be immersed in the Spirit.[3]  To be sure, there are occasions in Acts where the Spirit leans into one individual, but most of the time the Spirit is the life sustaining force of the Jesus community. 

So what?

How about we choose to seek God’s Spirit together?  Let’s choose to listen together, converse together, hope together, learn together, minister together, and discern together.  Maybe we immerse ourselves into the community.  Maybe we toss aside the I’ll-do-it-all-by-myself-spirituality.  Even if we did that really well, I’m not sure we could ever completely eliminate the church’s John of Leidens.  But I think we’d be more aware of attempts to use the Spirit as a crutch for selfish ambition.  And perhaps, by God’s grace, less inclined to wander into that trap ourselves. [4]

[1] You can read more about John and the Münster Rebellion here.
[2] Those that know me well will notice that this is a view of ministry I’ve consistently pushed against.  It is still my conviction that people should not be “lured” to church by anything other than Jesus.  I think it is nothing more than an adventure in missing the point to think that good music should get people to come to church.  It’s been my experience that the love of Jesus embodied in his people is lastingly effective and faithful to our mission.  Alas, I digress.
[3] I find it really helpful in the book of Acts to use the word “immersed” whenever I come across the word “baptism.” That is, after all, the literal meaning of the word.  I don’t prefer that word to make a statement about how one ought to be baptized.  My preference lies more in the image of immersion—immersion is an encapsulating experience that saturates our being.  When we read “baptism” we tend to only think about the sacred ritual.
[4] I know this sort of lacks a lot of concrete advice.  Since the Spirit will be a main character in Acts, there will be many occasions to think in detail about what it means to live by the Spirit. 


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