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The Spirit and the Prophetic Church, Part 2, by Antipas L. Harris

While the rationale for ministry coalitions seems to rest in common sense, doing ministry together is more than an appeal to human logic. The communion of the Holy Trinity beckons for greater unity among professing Christians. In the name of Christ, an ecumenical approach to ministry becomes a theological issue more than a humanistic discussion. In other words, Christ calls us to be one with each other to form His Body. As the Body of Christ, we participate in the unity of the Godhead. As God cares for human beings in the human condition, the Church must express care as God’s incarnational presence in communities. Proverbs 31:8-9 expresses the essence of incarnational ministry. Incarnational ministry is pragmatic, being with and advocating for people who cannot help themselves (ref. Prov. 31:8-9).

… they had an encounter with God that changed their lives.

Evangelical urban scholar, Raymond Bakke’s A Theology As Big as the City is one of the leading contemporary evangelical biblical theologies that expresses God’s attitude about the city. Hailing from the countryside, Bakke’s journey to Chicago was also a theological journey. The hustle and bustle of urban life impacted his perceptions of God and Jesus. His childhood formation within the framework of a meek and lowly Jesus who comes with a soft cozy gospel of affirmation was altered by his new urban formation as an adult. The urban context within which he now found himself profoundly challenged his perceptions of the gospel. His new experiences with people from the urban context of Chicago reshaped the hermeneutical lenses through which he interpreted scripture. A gospel of affirmation and advice became a gospel that changes everything for the better. As in first century Greco-Roman Jewish oppression, the gospel for the urban community is God’s “Good news” of hope for liberation amidst existential mayhem.45

Throughout Scripture—Old Testament and New Testament, there is evidence that God cares about the city and its complexities. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah commands, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7, nrsv). God sends help for the city’s problems. In fact, the divine commission that is expressed in this passage promises self-fulfillment for those who serve as God’s agents in the city. Another example of God’s expressed love for the people of the city is expressed through the story of Jonah. The God of the Hebrews is compassionate towards a non-Hebrew nation of city-dwellers. God sends Jonah to them to minister to them for the purpose of urban transformation. God’s merciful kindness expressed through God’s emissary Jonah brought heaven on earth and transformed the city of Nineveh.

In scripture, the Holy Spirit moves as God’s power to transform. Genesis 1 explains that the world was in chaos with darkness everywhere. It was within this chaotic framework that the Spirit of God moved. Church history bears record that whenever the Holy Spirit moves, there is a shaking in material reality. In other words, the Spirit is not an esoteric enterprise that is distanced from material reality. The pragmatic nature of the Spirit breathes life and renewal in the face of death and dilapidation. Other biblical examples are Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Isaiah 61. In both accounts, the Spirit moves and things on earth change.

Dry bones in Ezekiel 37 typify both the spiritual and an existential situation of Israel. Ezekiel prophesied to “the whole house of Israel” while they were held captive. In many ways, Israel had “died.” They were not physically dead as such but they were spiritually dead because they were not in good standing with God, and they were existentially dead because they suffered from social depravation and desolation. Reviving the dead bones speaks to the power of the exclusive knowledge of God to bring life back to a spiritually depleted nation. Only the power of God can restore a nation and the spirit of a nation. The breath of new life in the dead corpses symbolized the work of the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:24-28). But God chooses a person to address the bones. God’s own hand brings Ezekiel and sets him in the middle of death and dilapidation. But God does not bring the prophet and priest into this place to be desecrated by the decadence. Rather, God brings him among the dead bones to penetrate the profligacy; God lays God’s own hand on the prophet to speak life to the lifeless and to prophecy hope to the hopeless.

Similarly to the situation in Ezekiel, Isaiah 61 depicts a period of desolation and demise for the Hebrew People. Only, this time, it was during the Post-exilic period. During this period the Hebrew people had much to be discouraged about in the one hundred years following the return from Babylonian captivity. The people were barely surviving. Very few had actually returned from Babylon. For generations, poverty was a spell that they just could not seem to break. Their cities lay desolate. Like in many urban settings today, the people were ashamed of where they lived. It was in this context that God raises up a prophet once again to bring a Word of hope—a Word that gives perspective for vision and leadership within the discombobulated realities of post-exilic Jerusalem. God extends love and service through the prophet. The people and their lived realities were of focused priority in the prophet’s ministry. Equipping the people to rebuild waste places and regain beauty for ashes were more important to the prophet than building his own ministry.

The beautiful mystery of the Trinity calls us to greater unity.

Isaiah 61 is a microcosm for the type of ministry that Jesus Christ later expanded to the world. It is, moreover, a prototype for the Church of Jesus Christ. In Luke 4:18-23, Jesus begins his ministry on the premise set in Isaiah 61. There are two important points that are relevant to the discussion at hand: 1) The Spirit of the Lord descends on Jesus to anoint Him for Word and service among the distressed of society; 2) In Jesus, the Holy Spirit and Christ (the anointed one) achieve the mission of God to become incarnational for the purpose of addressing the human condition. Avis highlights God’s pragmatic mission for the Church as expressed through the incarnation of Christ: “There was no moment in the life of the Church when its Christological, evangelical existence was not ‘incarnated’, embodied and inculturated in concrete structures.”46

Urban theologians, Harvie M. Conn and Manuel Ortiz, correctly note that the synoptic Gospels (especially Luke) underline a unique view of Jesus and the cities:

The coming of the divine King to reclaim, redirect, and redeem is the coming of Jesus. The new age of righteousness and grace, God’s jubilee year for the cities (Is 61:1-2) has dawned: “Today,” announces Christ of his preaching, “this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21). To the cities he sends his Twelve with a message: The Kingdom of heaven is near” (Mt 10:7; cf. Lk 10:1, 11). Because Jesus is in their midst, the kingdom of God is in their midst (Lk 17:21). He is the incarnate form of the saving rule of God, the kingdom present in the King, the agent of urban restoration through his life, death and resurrection.47

In other words, the Gospels explain that the Christological and the pneumatological extensions of the Godhead work together to transform the depraved human condition into a redeemed state. Hence, the Church born in Christ’s blood and bearing His name must maintain the same connection to continue the ministry that “Christ began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1).

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Category: Ministry, Pneuma Review, Summer 2013

About the Author: Antipas L. Harris, D.Min. (Boston University), S.T.M. (Yale University Divinity School), M.Div. (Emory University), was appointed as the founding dean of the Urban Renewal Center in Norfolk, Virginia in the Spring of 2017. He is the Criminal Justice System Director for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), president of the Global Institute for Empowerment & Leadership Development, known as GIELD, and he serves as the Director of TheUrbanCircle.Net, a relational network of urban ministries and churches. He has additional experience as an educator, academic lecturer, itinerant preacher, pastor, youth director, motivational speaker, and Christian musician. He is the author of Holy Spirit, Holy Living: A Practical Theology of Holiness for Twenty-first Century Churches (Wipf & Stock, 2013) and Unstoppable Success: 7 Ways to Flourish in Your Boundless Potential (High Bridge Books, 2014). AntipasHarris.com | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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