Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – National Renewal Conference, Toowoomba – Date: 28 October 2017

For more sermons and other writings, please check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org

 

Community Anointing

 

In late September 2002, John Alley – the Senior Leader of the Peace Christian Church in Rockhampton (a friend of Living Grace) had a dream and when he sought understanding of the dream, God seemed to tell him: “There is an anointing by which community is built.” There is a grace, an empowerment from God, by which community is built.

 

John Alley, The Apostolic Revelation (Rockhampton: Peace Publishing, 2002), 17. | For readers not familiar with this term, an anointing is the impartation to a believer of the power, the presence and the favour of God to do a particular work, or attend to a specific calling. The anointings of God bring spiritual gifts, impart understanding and abilities, and open doors of opportunity. An anointing gives specific power to prayer, and qualifies the believer for ministry, but only according to God’s call. Work done for God without an anointing is done in the flesh, and not acceptable.

This is a biblical term, as in 1 John 2:20, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.” Jesus is the anointed one (the ‘Messiah’, or ‘Christ’), and “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and … he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

Often the scriptures use the terms ‘spirit’ or ‘power’ instead of the word anointing, as in Luke 1:17, “he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah.” Every believer has the basic anointings, but should pray for the greater anointings and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

 

And John Alley understood that their church was lacking this anointing even though the stated goal of the church had been to find the secret of community and they had made some decent efforts and decent progress:

 

John Alley, Holy Community. Experiencing the Grace and Purpose of Pentecost (Rockhampton: Peace Publishing, 2010), 39–41. | Our stated goal had been to find the secret of community. For years we taught on this theme, seeking to bring our people into an experience of deeper relationships. We taught often on the need for intimacy and faithfulness in relationships, of a covenant understanding of our relationships in Christ, of serving one another, of being open and transparent and devoted to one another.

We formed cells, thinking that as they prayed and shared with one another in small groups their hearts would be knit more closely. We studied cell structure, went to cell conferences, and instituted cell procedures, in pursuit of our goal of building community. This still did not bring the desired experience of community, and though we re-organised the cells in various ways, we could not seem to make them fruitful as we wanted. For seven years we continued teaching cell life and community values, but still felt we were no closer to our goal, for the things taught did not of themselves seem to produce community in the hearts of the people.

To all intents and purposes, ours was a sound and genuine church. But somehow deep down in our hearts, David Hood and I, amongst others, knew that this was not yet what God wanted for us. We would often sit at my desk, me on one side and he on the other, and ponder together the mystery. We knew by our training and background how to build an institutional church, an organisational form of Christianity, but we had never been taught how to build a church on relationships.

Anyone could gather people and say they have a church. But unless there is some dynamic that has knit those people together into oneness, is it really a church? And we used to discuss how to move from program to community. How do we stop building institutionally and start building relationally? This for us was the big question of church life.

It was not as if the church was not doing well in other ways. No, in truth there were great things happening all the time, with powerful manifestations of the Holy Spirit, converts and baptisms, and a good mission programme. Our worship services were wonderful, the people were generous givers, and we had great nights of prayer. We saw wonderful healings and answers to prayer. We would stand as one on Sunday mornings and pray united prayer for people in various parts of the world, who were often instantly healed of very serious conditions. We had a great property too, on twenty-five acres in town with many facilities. Any observer would say we had a wonderful church, with good people serving Christ. But it was not yet exactly what we were looking for.

And it’s not that we didn’t have a basic, decent unity – we had a co-operative, worshipping, generous, prayerful, and hard-working people – but admittedly, looking back, all that was mixed in with too much prideful independence and hidden denominational assumptions in ‘Christian’ mindsets. We didn’t understand the difference, but knew enough to be looking for something deeper in terms of intimacy of relationship. We had a Bible College, a High School and Primary School. There was money flowing in, we sent teams overseas –the point I am making is that outwardly we had what one usually judges by to say a church is effective.

One night in prayer, walking around the church building, I heard the Lord say, “I am going to bring you into a deep unity of the Spirit. When your teams go out they will minister with great power, but the power will come because of the unity at home.” I thought we had a great unity already and the Lord was simply going to improve on it. I hadn’t heard that theory of community which says we start with pseudo-community, then go through chaos to find true community.

We had enjoyed good times from 1988 through to 1996, with the church growing and an atmosphere of progress. It all felt good.

 

It all felt good. Yet, something was missing and without it the church’s community life would fall short and so would be the effectiveness and fruitfulness of the church. God spoke about something else that only the Spirit of God could provide: “There is an anointing by which community is built.”

This was new revelation. John and the Peace Christian Church were familiar with anointings for healing, worship, prophecy, and other spiritual gifts, and they knew that the Holy Spirit was foundational for everything in the Christian life, but they had no clear understanding of a specific anointing for community and consequently had no faith for such a thing and never really prayed for it.

John Alley became excited, did his research and put this new revelation into practice with life-changing outcomes for Peace Christian Church:

 

Ibid., 51–60. | “There is an anointing,” He had said, “by which community is built.” These were exciting words to me, as was His second statement: “There is another anointing, by which leaders perceive community.” To perceive means to be able to apprehend, to have a heart for, and be able to look into, to longingly take hold of, to have a big heart to grasp it, and to have a vision to build it.

As I pondered this anointing by which community is built, it occurred to me that I had never noticed this in the Bible. I had seen all kinds of other anointings there, such as the power to heal the sick, and the grace given for some to be apostles or pastors. But the idea of this being an anointing I had not seen anywhere in Scripture, I thought. However, if it was true, and if I was to believe what I had heard, then it had to be found in the Bible.

When I went in search of that anointing, it didn’t take long to find Pentecost all over again – and find it with new eyes. When God poured out the Holy Spirit, he poured out many anointings – in fact, in the coming of the Holy Spirit, He came with every grace and gift that are in Christ – and these are all available. There was anointing for tongues and healing and prophecy and walking with God and guidance and all. But the central anointing, the core anointing, around which all these other things are attached, is the anointing by which all the believers became a people – which is why they became of one heart and one mind. Once we realise this, we see the bigger picture of Pentecost. Pentecost always had as its primary purpose the forming of holy community.

And with this light, I discovered my eyes were open to see, from Acts 2 through to Acts 12 and beyond, the community anointing clearly at work among the people. Much of the way the church operated in the Acts of the Apostles could only be because of that anointing.

For example, in Chapter 12 it is recorded that the apostle James was arrested and Herod put him to death by the sword. Herod then arrested Peter and was going to kill him too. Then this telling line is written; “but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”

They had not offered much prayer for James. Presumably there was an assumption that apostles would be OK, for they had been arrested before. But in fact, the church must pray: even apostles are not necessarily safe if the church does not pray for them. The church needs apostles, and apostles also need the church.

And when the church offered much prayer for Peter, there occurred a tremendous series of miracles. Peter’s chains fell off, the angel had to wake him up, and even though he was chained to soldiers, they did not notice the chains fall off him. They did not even see Peter getting up and walking to the door, which opened of its own accord. He then walked past more guards, who were all wide awake, but saw nothing. In front of him were the big prison gates, with more guards. Again, the gates opened and the guards saw nothing. Is this a series of many miracles, or just one event? Where did the church get such power? From the account, it came from a prayer meeting in a house.

I have been in many prayer meetings where we have offered much prayer, and received answers to prayer too. We’ve all seen miracles, but not the likes of that one. There is a reason why those people saw, I believe, that kind of miracle; they were in community. They were of one heart and one mind, and when that grace is present, the church has much more power.

Now we at Peace were not without anointings. We had many anointings – for worship, for finance, for healing, for teaching, for mission, for leadership, for prayer, for pastoral care, for preaching the gospel, and so on. But we did not have what was described to me as “the anointing by which community is built.” That one was missing.

In defense against this argument that you also might not have this anointing, you might point to signs of love. You can say, “We have got people who love each other,” and of course you do. We had people who loved each other too. We had lots of them. They were people who loved the Lord, and would worship and pray. Intercession was very strong with us. We had all these things, but still there was something more that was needed.

Could I say it is probably the same with most churches: God is with them, there is a lot of blessing, but there is still a missing anointing.

And God was with us. We were still seeing people saved, and the power of the Holy Spirit would come into our meetings and move upon the people. Sometimes people would fall off their chairs drunk with the Holy Spirit, others would be glued to the floor under the power of the Holy Spirit, being dealt with by a gracious God. The Holy Spirit was at work, and yet there was something we still did not have the power to do.

But now that I had this word from the Lord, I knew what I needed to do; it was simple enough. And I have discovered that if there is any need or any lack, what we then must find is an impartation of grace into that area. For everything that we are called to do, there is an anointing.

The following Sunday morning I preached about what the Lord had said, and showed the church the things I had found in Acts 2-12. Then I prayed over the congregation, and with a simple prayer, by faith brought that anointing down from the throne of grace, and released it into the hearts of the believers. This is a straightforward work of grace in leadership authority, and I was very fortunate that over the previous ten years I had learned how to receive anointings and how to release anointings in ministry. I had also learned that in a meeting there is always a group anointing present, and it is possible to release an anointing to a whole group of people in an instant. And because I had that experience, I also had faith, which put me in a good position for what needed to be done. And thus I prayed, although there was no immediate effect to be seen – and I wasn’t necessarily expecting one. The service closed, we had coffee, and all went home. The next Sunday there was nothing different to see, nor the next week nor the next.

But after six weeks, at the weekly leaders’ fellowship at my house, one of the pastors on the staff, Tony, came in with a story. He dropped into a lounge chair, and very casually remarked that for many years he had tried his best, in every way he knew, to get our cells to work, but no matter what he did, he could not seem to make them work. So he gave up trying. “But a very strange thing has happened,” he remarked. “About six weeks ago, all those cells started working all on their own.” The mention of six weeks caused me to sit up and take notice; I knew it had been six weeks since I had released that anointing. He said the cells had started working all on their own. This meant that grace, ‘the anointing by which community is built,’ was at work in the hearts of the people.

That anointing made an astounding difference in our church. Without fanfare, and without change being obvious at the time, everything did change after I released that anointing with a simple prayer. What resulted was a quiet but completely sovereign work of the Holy Spirit which changed the hearts of our people.

Two primary things changed in our hearts. The first is that our people seemed to see each other with a different set of eyes. Of course, the truth is, they saw each other with a different heart.
One sister testified, sometime later, that there was another woman in the church that she couldn’t stand, didn’t want to sit anywhere near, and always felt rubbed up the wrong way by her. She found it very uncomfortable to be around her and used to avoid her. But she found her heart had completely changed. She no longer felt uncomfortable, but instead appreciated her very much. Since the time the grace was released, she felt great love, admiration, and acceptance of that person. It was a total change of feeling and outlook, with no human explanation.

This is what I mean by saying that our people now saw each other through different eyes.
The other wonderful change was that inter-personal striving was removed from church life, along with selfish agendas. There was no more competition, or people trying to get their own way. Talk about a peaceful life!

There were practical outcomes too. For one, people stopped leaving the church. Previously we would work hard to keep everybody together, yet even so from time to time people would leave for no good reason. We had had a series of unfortunate ‘losses’ even in the years after the nasty time of division was over and calm had returned. But from the time the community grace was received, virtually all abnormal movement out ceased.

Tony tells me (and it has now been almost eight years) that the amount of counseling or serious pastoral care required by our own people dropped to a fraction of what it was before.

As a people, we have come to the place where we simply belong to each other. The atmosphere within the church changed, and this has made a big difference to me. Up until that time I had needed to work hard as the pastor, but when that grace came in, I relaxed completely. Previously, I would set the alarm to get up extra early on Sunday morning to pray at length, before preparing carefully, dressing well, and arriving at the church early. I would make sure I said hello to everybody before the service started. I would work hard, and feel under pressure, to make sure we had a great programme, great worship, great announcements, great preaching and great ministry times, and then when finished I would go around and try to greet everybody again.

Why was it so important to operate like that? Because we had to keep our ‘customers’ happy. If we didn’t keep them happy, they might go down the road and shop in another pastor’s shopping centre. Much of the church is like this; striving, competitive, and performance-oriented.

But the coming of the grace for community changed all that. It made us feel that we belonged to each other. Something shifted in the hearts of the people, and things felt different because they were different. Now when I turn up on Sunday, I have come home. I walk into that building and I am with family who love me. I walk in and relax like the rest of the people. I belong, not just organisationally, but in their hearts. By the way people greet me it is obvious they feel they belong to me, and I belong to them. We have all come home. There is no more sense of threat or dread in the house. When I get up to speak, God begins to speak and there is no more need to ‘perform’, and no more spirit of competition. There is rest in the hearts of the people. And I don’t even set the alarm anymore.

The church was good before, and the people were good people. But this was a remarkable miracle we received, and it took place in the heart of all the people as a whole at the same time. I am not saying that we don’t have those who, as in all churches, dwell on the fringes of the church, and haven’t fully received of this grace, but I am talking about the spirit of the whole. And I am not saying that it is a perfect work, or that the process is complete. We have yet to complete our journey together. And there will always be those who, whether newcomers, or those lukewarm who have never surrendered, are in a place where they still need to receive the word of God and let it transform them. Neither can the church be judged as deficient if occasionally some false brethren try to enter, or some independent ones attempt to come in with their own agendas – at least there will always be an opportunity to minister truth and correction to the unruly. But these do not really belong, although they have the opportunity to stay and be healed and find a home with us.

We are ordinary people, with our share of faults and weaknesses, but we are really happy in appreciating and giving grace to each other. We didn’t fully realise how this works with us, until recently a couple with such an unruly spirit came to join us. Of course, these kinds of folk are usually bright and cheerful on the outside, presenting as victorious Christians, and excited about how great is the church they’ve come to join. But within a matter of a few weeks they quickly became super critical and condemning of some of the families in the church.

I will spare you the tale of their background, but in visiting some of the families in the church for meals, and being welcomed amongst us with great love, they could only see fault in people. After a few short weeks, these people would openly criticise and condemn the family life of good people. Their views were harsh and judgmental in the extreme, and some of their claims were delusional. They spoke to us about families that they considered dysfunctional, and referred to various people as ‘no good’. I had not seen such wickedness in people for a long time.

One Sunday morning I was sitting in church as they walked in, silhouetted in the doorway. I heard the Lord say, “The spirit of community is not in them.” It was such a pity. They had read the books, heard the CDs, loved and agreed with the teaching – but did not have the grace.

We confronted them over their sin, and they left town as quickly as they had come. However, at the following Tuesday afternoon weekly leaders’ relational meeting, I suggested that we not assume we had no fault, and that it would be best to see this as an opportunity to examine our own hearts. Was God allowing this for our good, and should we correct ourselves in some way? So around the dining table in our house we went to prayer to consider before God if there was any truth in their claims they made about us or our people.

My eldest son David was present, and spoke to the question with a greatly helpful insight. He said something to this effect: “The reason the people of Peace love each other so much, and there is such grace in the house, is because they do not have expectations of each other. If there is no expectation of performance, then there will be no criticism and condemnation when people do not perform.”

To have expectations of a person is to expect some kind of outward conformity, but when expectations are not present, we are free to love the person for who they are. Without realising it, this was a big part of our secret. Human beings cannot change themselves. When a person is born again, they do not change themselves. Neither do they change themselves when they receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

I thank God for what we have received at Peace, but I know there’s more. There is a still greater measure of this grace available. I know that on the day I released the anointing by which community is built, it changed our people forever. In particular, striving and disjointedness were removed. But I do hasten to add, I have never believed we have yet obtained all of this particular grace. I often remark at home that we received a down payment, and we are to look for a larger portion. Nevertheless, it markedly changed the hearts of our people and brought in greater oneness and the bonds of love. Since then, our whole church has been redefined, and we now send teams all over Australia and the world, something we never did before.

I perceive that this anointing by which community is built is probably the same grace that the Lord referred to in speaking with me in 1998 as the spirit of understanding, which was one of the seven primary anointings resting upon the Lord Jesus Christ. We shall yet discuss this further.

We have come to the place where we simply belong to each other. We have made some progress in the journey to find community, and it has a great deal to do with how we feel about each other; we belong.

And if we have nothing else to offer the body of Christ, we do have this: that we love each other.

 

This anointing for community was in the Bible – far more centrally than they had ever suspected (and I will expand on this later) – and he then knew what to do. It was simple enough. He preached the Bible truth and prayed over the congregation with faith:

 

The following Sunday morning I preached about what the Lord had said, and showed the church the things I had found in Acts 2-12. Then I prayed over the congregation, and with a simple prayer, by faith brought that anointing down from the throne of grace, and released it into the hearts of the believers. This is a straightforward work of grace in leadership authority, and I was very fortunate that over the previous ten years I had learned how to receive anointings and how to release anointings in ministry. I had also learned that in a meeting there is always a group anointing present, and it is possible to release an anointing to a whole group of people in an instant. And because I had that experience, I also had faith, which put me in a good position for what needed to be done. And thus, I prayed, although there was no immediate effect to be seen – and I wasn’t necessarily expecting one. The service closed, we had coffee, and all went home. The next Sunday there was nothing different to see, nor the next week nor the next.

 

No one fell to the floor or showed any other outward demonstations of being touched by the Holy Spirit but the church was changed. The people had received an anointing – a grace from God – that built community among them.

 

Two primary things changed in our hearts. The first is that our people seemed to see each other with a different set of eyes. Of course, the truth is, they saw each other with a different heart.

One sister testified, sometime later, that there was another woman in the church that she couldn’t stand, didn’t want to sit anywhere near, and always felt rubbed up the wrong way by her. She found it very uncomfortable to be around her and used to avoid her. But she found her heart had completely changed. She no longer felt uncomfortable, but instead appreciated her very much. Since the time the grace was released, she felt great love, admiration, and acceptance of that person. It was a total change of feeling and outlook, with no human explanation.

This is what I mean by saying that our people now saw each other through different eyes.
The other wonderful change was that inter-personal striving was removed from church life, along with selfish agendas. There was no more competition, or people trying to get their own way. Talk about a peaceful life!

There were practical outcomes too. For one, people stopped leaving the church. Previously we would work hard to keep everybody together, yet even so from time to time people would leave for no good reason. We had had a series of unfortunate ‘losses’ even in the years after the nasty time of division was over and calm had returned. But from the time the community grace was received, virtually all abnormal movement out ceased.

Tony tells me (and it has now been almost eight years) that the amount of counseling or serious pastoral care required by our own people dropped to a fraction of what it was before.

As a people, we have come to the place where we simply belong to each other. The atmosphere within the church changed, and this has made a big difference to me. Up until that time I had needed to work hard as the pastor, but when that grace came in, I relaxed completely. Previously, I would set the alarm to get up extra early on Sunday morning to pray at length, before preparing carefully, dressing well, and arriving at the church early. I would make sure I said hello to everybody before the service started. I would work hard, and feel under pressure, to make sure we had a great programme, great worship, great announcements, great preaching and great ministry times, and then when finished I would go around and try to greet everybody again.

Why was it so important to operate like that? Because we had to keep our ‘customers’ happy. If we didn’t keep them happy, they might go down the road and shop in another pastor’s shopping centre. Much of the church is like this; striving, competitive, and performance-oriented.

But the coming of the grace for community changed all that. It made us feel that we belonged to each other. Something shifted in the hearts of the people, and things felt different because they were different. Now when I turn up on Sunday, I have come home. I walk into that building and I am with family who love me. I walk in and relax like the rest of the people. I belong, not just organisationally, but in their hearts. By the way people greet me it is obvious they feel they belong to me, and I belong to them. We have all come home. There is no more sense of threat or dread in the house. When I get up to speak, God begins to speak and there is no more need to ‘perform’, and no more spirit of competition. There is rest in the hearts of the people. And I don’t even set the alarm anymore.

 

John Alley believes that there is still more to come – as there is always more to be had from God’s unsearchable riches – but they did receive some of this special anointing by which community is built and how great is it simply to belong to one another and be home with one another – seeing each other through eyes of love, without any competitive striving? With this kind of unity, a church can do anything – 2 Chronicles 30:12: “…in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the Lord.” God gives grace to enjoy one another and achieve together what he wants.

Before I ground this anointing or the understanding of this anointing more solidly in the Scriptures, I want to expand on John Alley’s experience and what happened to Peace Christian Church in Rockhampton. If there is an anointing by which community is being built, then this is not only true for a local congregation but the entire local community of Christians (all the Christians in all the churches) in any given town or city and even the nation and the world. In God’s eyes (and this is not controversial), we are all his children and belong together. We are family (this is our identity) and if there is an anointing by which community is being built, then this grace given to us by the Holy Spirit is what ties us together with bonds of love and being home with one another (what makes our community work). Do we have that grace?

I think that I – and not only I but our congregation (Living Grace) and many others in Toowoomba have tasted it. My own church background is Lutheran and the demanded practice in Lutheran congregations was to remain separate from other Christians and in this way guard our pure understanding of the Bible without beingcontaminatedby others. There was to be no one preaching to us but a Lutheran minister and there was to be no one sharing Holy Communion with us but fellow Lutherans. (This has been softened over the years but the principles still stand.)

However, then – over the years and many wonderful experiences later – these barriers of pride came down and God was doing something in our hearts, and other Christians not only became our brothers and sisters in Christ, whom we loved and appreciated, they even became our trusted teachers and mentors and acted like fathers who wanted us to thrive.

For instance, one local congregation (not Lutheran) ended up guaranteeing our bank loan for the purchase of our first church plant. We didn’t even ask for this favour. They just overheard our need. You don’t do that unless God has bonded hearts together. Others survived burn-out because neighbouring pastors stepped in, helped with preaching and overseeing the congregation. I remember that when Rangeville Community Church had sold their church building and – for a few years – had nowhere to go, Christian Outreach Centre made room for them and shared their building with them (despite some conveniences).

Without really knowing or being aware of the Spirit and the anointing which worked among us, God made us one (cancelling denominational boundaries and separatist pride) and this kind of unity came with so many blessings, as promised in the Bible:

 

Our congregation took about ten years to transition from being a traditional Lutheran church to becoming more contemporary, and finally embracing the Holy Spirit. None of this journey can be understood apart from the life-giving ministry which we received from Christians and churches that were not Lutherans.

 

A Scripture Mandate

 

Without a doubt, faith renewal came to us through those who did not belong to the Lutheran church. This was not always easy to accept because it dented our pride. How could others know more about God than us Lutherans? Was it safe to mix and mingle with them, Christians from across the denominational spectrum?

Early on, many of our church members, including my wife and me, had a fresh encounter with the love of God at the retreat ministry of the Emmaus Walk, which was run by Christians from many churches. However, a good number of us – at first – had a problem with the whole idea of going to such a retreat. Five clergy and ten more church members, all of them coming from diverse backgrounds, would give talks over the weekend. Who would guarantee that all of these speakers were preaching sound doctrine? And to make matters worse, when I was invited to the retreat, I knew that we would celebrate Holy Communion together, not just once but three times. Would it be acceptable if a Presbyterian or Anglican or someone else presided over the holy meal? I struggled, and I made sure that someone gave me the liturgy (the worship order) of the weekend. Analyzing every phrase, I double-checked that it was safe to come out of my Lutheran shell and share Holy Communion in this daring setting. It turned out to be wonderful. Holy Communion had never been more powerful. Many of us Lutherans encountered God at these weekends and actually experienced his presence. Something moved from the head to the heart.

Right when we were venturing out to be a different kind of church and to go beyond the traditional church programs, I had the chance to purchase a large pile of second-hand books, one of which happened to be The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren. This helped tremendously in thinking about people, their needs and various commitment levels, and shaping the structures and programs of a church accordingly. The whole congregation purchased copies of the book, and we were learning together.

Then, a local Presbyterian minister recommended a Baptist resource to me – Experiencing God. Knowing and Doing the Will of God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King – which proved life-changing. My Presbyterian friend shared that his own congregation had been changed by doing this course and now it was our turn. First, our Board of Elders took a year to work through the material and it changed how we thought about our role as leaders. Instead of negotiating and finding majorities for our own ideas, we were all becoming united in discovering the plans which God had for our church. Then, the whole congregation studied the course book – all twelve units – for six months and more. I was also preaching the course content and this really opened up our life with God.

As Lutherans, at least in the Lutheran Church of Australia, we had been struggling with talking about obedience and discipleship. How could we do this without falling back into a kind of legalism and relying on our own strength, good works of our own doing, rather than relying on the grace of God? The course material showed us a way of understanding and talking about discipleship that kept God and his initiative at the centre at all times and, at the same time, put into perspective the necessity of our obedient response…

It is hard to put into words how much we owe to Christians outside our own circle. Another key resource was the Alpha Course which originated from an Anglican church in London. We had planned to use it as a tool for outreach. Instead, many in our own congregation who attended the course, discovered the Christian faith and what it meant to be a Christian – not just going to church but following Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

I had joined the local Christian Leaders’ Network, and one morning, in prayer with about forty other pastors and leaders, I received the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. Our regular meetings had not featured this spiritual gift, because not everyone would have been comfortable with “charismatic” tendencies, but unnoticed by others, the gift of tongues came to me in united prayer, and I paid attention to the circumstances. In my view, I received this according to the Bible promise of unity commanding a blessing: “…unity… there the Lord commanded the blessing” (Psalm 133:3) …

It was exciting, inspiring, and so much fun to step into the wider community of Christians across the churches. There was much to learn and the vision of reaching out together was great but – suppressed within us – nagging feelings of guilt remained that tampered with our excitement. Was it really okay to embrace a wide cross-section of other churches? Other Lutherans did not cheer us on. Were we compromising our beliefs, and taking unnecessary risks of getting mixed up with the wrong crowd?

After a few years, I addressed these feelings of guilt by presenting to the Christian Leaders’ Network (Toowoomba) the city-wide campaign 40 Days of Church Unity & City Transformation. Twenty churches committed to the program, with additional Christians from other churches joining in, and over forty days – forty daily devotions, six small group studies and Sunday preaching – we unpacked the teaching that church unity was not an optional extra for Christians, but was mandated by God in the Bible. Feelings of guilt over church unity were misplaced. We are one and must be one.

 

[As an aside, it was also our growing unity with the wider body of Christ, including Pentecostals, which led us to step outside of the Lutheran Church of Australia and into fully embracing the wider church.]

 

There is an anointing by which community is being built, and I think that a good number of us have already experienced some of this particular anointing even for the wider church community in a city. There is a kind of unity across all of the local congregations which comes about not by our strategizing or programming but by the Spirit of God. It can take us by surprise but it is wonderful and powerful.

John Alley’s dream had the right revelation. Whether it is about the local congregation or the wider church community, there is an anointing – a work of grace – by which community is being built (and we want more of this anointing – this particular empowerment by the Holy Spirit.)

Now I want to ground this anointing for community more solidly in the Scriptures before we pray for and release this anointing here today – (we need more) especially this weekend which marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation which did result in the deep wound of Protestants becoming separated from Catholics and then Protestants splintering further into thousands of denominations and separate entities. Moreover, we live in a time where a large percentage of Christians (thousands in Toowoomba alone) have given up on church and community. But we want to go the opposite way and believe God for something that only he can do and which we have already tasted.

Before Jesus left his disciples (after he died for them and all people, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven), he prayed for them. And the prayer is in the Bible, and it is highly instructive what was foremost on Jesus’ mind. What would be most important for his disciples after his departure? They were to be one and it would be a glorious work of God:

 

John 17:1-26: After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

 

According to Jesus’ prayer, he gave us the glory that he received from the Father so that we would be one as he was one with the Father – he in us and the Father in him – so that we would be brought to complete unity. Jesus has given us glory through the Holy Spirit to be one with one another, and this would result in our 1) protection and 2) mission success: 1) “Protect them from the evil one. Protect them by the power of your name… they may be one as we are one.” The devil was not to find any point of attack through rival factions in the church, unforgiveness, gossip and envy. 2) “May they be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” The world will marvel at at community that is truly one because it is a miracle pointing to God – the greatest evidence for the truth about Jesus – and it gives hope for any nation and tribe.

Jesus prayed and was this prayer ever being answered, or – judging by our many church divisions – is this one of his prayers that has failed so far? Have a look at what happened at the very first outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples – at Pentecost. The anointing for community is right in the centre – the heart – of the very first outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church on the day of Pentecost:

 

Acts 2:1-4: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

 

When the disciples were all together in one place – already in some sort of community like many churches – suddenly the whole house was filled with the sound like the blowing of a violent wind and the Holy Spirit came in the form of tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them so that they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak on other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Most of us know the story and most of us are familiar with this phenomenon of speaking in tongues – speech and languages that come out of the mouth by the Spirit of God. It has been part of the church ever since but why did this particular phenomenon come at all? Jesus never announced that this would happen. He promised an immersion in the Holy Spirit and power but not this particular gift of tongues. Why did it come?

The Bible explains that when the disciples spoke in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them, other people heard them speaking in their native languages which the disciples did not know, andeveryone was excited and confusedby this strange phenomenon. What did this all mean? Could the disciples not have used translators for preaching or simply use the language that everyone knew: Greek, which was spoken everywhere (like English today). Why did the Holy Spirit come with the gift of tongues for proclamation? What did God signal at this time – the very first and foundational outpouring of the Holy Spirit – because we never hear of the gift of tongues in the same way again (being used for mission preaching) in the Bible (even though the phenomenon can still occur)?

 

Acts 2:5-12: Many religious Jews from every country in the world were living in Jerusalem. And when they heard this noise, a crowd gathered. But they were surprised, because they were hearing everything in their own languages. They were excited and amazed, and said:

Don’t all these who are speaking come from Galilee? Then why do we hear them speaking our very own languages? Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya near Cyrene, Rome, Crete, and Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the wonderful things God has done.

Everyone was excited and confused. Some of them even kept asking each other, “What does all this mean?”

 

God was undoing a curse. According to the Bible, a world where people speak thousands of different languages (about 6,500) is cursed because we simply cannot communicate with one another – just try to understand where you need to go in an airport when the announcement is in Chinese, or just try to understand Eloum when he is preaching Arabic without a translator – and therefore we cannot do anything together – at least not anything much. (This is not to say that language study is not rewarding and there is beauty in every language.)

The Bible tells the following story:

 

Genesis 11:1-9: Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So, the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

 

God cursed humanity with language confusion – changing the one common language into a multitude of languages – because there was power in having a common speech and people abused the power of their language unity to rebel against God and build a city and sky-high tower to establish their own name instead of honouring God’s name. God said: “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.One people in unity – speaking the same language – can do anything even in rebellion against God. This is why the curse of language confusion came.

But, on the day of Pentecost, Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit from heaven and he made his disciples undo this particular curse. When the disciples preached under the power of the Holy Spirit – speaking in tongues – everyone could understand them in their own language. On the day of Pentecost, God demonstrated that the Spirit of God was to undo the scattering of people and unite them in the formation of people that would hear together about the good news of Jesus Christ. In a highly symbolic way God restored a common language to the disciples and crowd on the day of Pentecost. And by this miracle, God signalled that the scattering would come to an end, and we could become one – truly one with each other by the Spirit of God – not to build and make a name for ourselves but to proclaim Jesus’ name.

 And this is what happened. Before the disciples were always arguing with one another about who was the greatest but after they received the baptism with the Holy Spirit – an immersion in his power – they lived out an astonishing display of unity and community. Only God could change people into doing that.

 

Acts 2:41-47: Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 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, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

 

When the one message of Jesus Christ was being accepted, people were being added to the church community by the Lord (not any human initiative), and there they devoted themselves to fellowship and radically gave up their possessions for one another: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.You are truly one with a community when your money is no longer your money. Every day they met and had meals together. Every day!

There is an anointing by which community is built. And we want to have it. If the empowerment of unity came right at the beginning on the day of Pentecost, we also need it right at the beginning of this new beginning for Living Grace Church. Everything else flows from that.

There are other anointings but without community – love that unites us – none of the other anointings will be as fruitful as they can be. We will always fall short. The apostle Paul teaches in the Bible – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Without love that unites us – without community – everything that we do at Living Grace will be nothing more than a clanging cymbal – hurting the ear and being unattractive to anyone. (To the ear a clanging cymbal, to the eye ugly, and to the nose it stinks.)

The apostle Paul continues with an expansion of love. How great it is.

 

1 Corinthians 13:4-7: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

 

Great words but impossible to live out without the Holy Spirit, just like the following instructions:

 

Philippians 2:1-11: … make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross…

 

Do we need a community anointing? Who can have the same mind as Jesus Christ without God?

 

Romans 5:5: … God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

 

There is another description of the church after Pentecost, and please note how a description of unity – being “one in heart and mind” – leads togreat powerin ministry andmuch graceupon everyone.

 

Acts 4:32-33: All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power, the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And much grace was upon them all.

 

I add one last Bible reference which highlights the God-given nature of our unity – it is a “unity of the Spirit – which we cannot manufacture ourselves but, far from being passive, we are to “make every effort” to uphold the gift of unity for the purpose of coming into the whole measure of the fullness of Christ among us. Without unity – without the community of other Christians – we will not enjoy the fullness of God’s work and presence among us. (You cannot have everything that you want from Jesus on your own.) (And notice how unity in faith and understanding [agreeing on every teaching point] is not a condition for being together in one church family but is a result of staying together and learning together and from one another.)

 

Ephesians 4:1-19: As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) So, Christ himself gave [leaders in the church] the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

 

There is an anointing by which community is built – a “unity of the Spirit”. This was Jesus’ foremost concern when he prayed for the disciples before he left them, and this is what the disciples immediately received at the very first outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The gift of tongues, which was overcoming language barriers, signalled the undoing of a curse that had scattered humanity across the earth and, accordingly, the Spirit made the disciples devote themselves to the fellowship” and “have everything in common, giving to anyone in need”. Andmuch grace was upon them all”.

Are we ready to reach out for this anointing today? Do we recognize our need (for protection and mission fruitfulness)? Are you ready to be changed? Will you allow God to plant you in a community (even the wider church community in your city), putting down deep roots of love? We pray for it now, exercising faith together in the praying and receiving the prayer. Amen.