May/June 2011 - Vol. 50

Empowered to Live in Community

By Bob Tedesco

This article is addressed primarily to members and leaders of the Sword of the Spirit, an ecumenical international network of communities. The practical wisdom and principles addressed here can be helpful for any group of Christians who seek to grow in the fruit of unity. 
One of the first recorded results of Pentecost was the new church, the new community. Pentecost is seen as the birthday of the church, and the church was from its beginnings a community. I use that word because of the way it is described in Acts: its hallmarks are community-like, and it is not simply a worshiping congregation.

Some hallmarks of the early church:

  1. It was different. It would be called “the Way” by outsiders. Outsiders would comment, “See how they love one another.” They shared (Acts 2:44-45).
  2. Their contact and times together were frequent. “…Day after day they met together as a group...” (Acts 2:44 Today’s English Version).
  3. It had a family look to it. They called each other brothers and sisters.
  4. A rarely used word (agape) would be needed to describe their love of one another as followers of Christ.
  5. A strong word (koinonia) would be needed to describe their relationships.
  6. They shared meals together.
  7. Their families were centered in the people/family of God.
The number one grace of Pentecost
I believe that this early community was the number one grace of Pentecost...this is your sign, this is your wonder, and this is your miracle: people loving one another in Christ and centering their lives in him, in a common way of life.

To support this conclusion, I ask you to consider this: in 1 Corinthians 12:4-10, the various gifts are discussed, and we have the “more excellent” way of love described in chapter 13. Various gifts are ranked and compared; prophesy is given a high place. These gifting, or gifted persons, are compared to being parts of a body: less noble parts, more beautiful parts, etc.

But, this whole discussion of “parts” presupposes the body and it insists that we build up the body with our gifts. Therefore, the number one grace or result of Pentecost is the body. All of the gifts and roles are in support of and for the upbuilding of the body. Gifts such as healing or prophecy should never be “stand alone” phenomena, but are a part of and an expression of the body. To wander the countryside prophesying misses the main intent of Pentecost: the body itself.
Koinonia: spiritually bonded community
Many years ago, the great Christian teacher, Bob Mumford, tackled the topic of koinonia. After five or six tapes with a number of quotes from Greek scholars, he still seemed at a loss to define the word, which weakly translates as “fellowship” in Acts 2:42. There seems to be a spiritual bond that happens among those who are baptized in the Spirit. It seems mysterious and beyond our understanding...a bond of unity. We often notice a certain inner celebration when we are together. It can be noticed at retreats, summer camp, and Lord’s Day celebrations. Children “catch” it at retreats, and we do our children and ourselves a disservice to miss these yearly events. It seems that the more the event is focused on the Lord, the more noticeable the inner celebration and bonding is.

This inner magnetism or grace can even have a regional or international expression as we gather with other members of the Sword of the Spirit at summer conferences or international leaders’ events. Our children experience that bond at regional youth events, and, in a very real way, they understand our “vision and call” more by this experience of koinonia.

A personal example: I have two friends, Jim and Connie, who live over 30 miles from me. We are in the People of God Community together in Coraopolis and Pittsburgh area of Pennsylvania, but we are from different locations, somewhat different geography, different families, different parishes, different social circles, and have different hobbies. Yet, when we are together something inside of me resonates, celebrates, and rejoices with Jim and Connie. My covenant with them acknowledges what is already there: a spiritual bonding in the Spirit: koinonia.

Our response
Over the years, I think, it has been a mistake of the charismatic renewal to overly focus on the gifts and to miss this koinonia unity. It is a magnetic, but the attraction can be broken or weakened by inattention. I believe the writer of Hebrews 10:25 warned about this when he said, “... Do not neglect to meet together as is the habit of some.”

We should nourish, stir to life, and protect the unity (Ephesians 4:3). We should anticipate the purposes of the Holy Spirit and we should adjust our decisions accordingly. (See Joseph’s responses in Matthew 1:19,24; 2:14, and 2:19-23.)

We are first and foremost empowered to live in a local, worshiping, and directable people who will love God and one another in a common way of life. By doing so, we both participate in and anticipate the purposes of the Holy Spirit.

[This article is excerpted from  Essays on Christian Community, copyright  © Bob Tedesco 2010, published by Tabor House. Used with permission.]
Bob Tedesco is former President of the North American Region of the Sword of the Spirit, a founder of the People of God community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, and has been one of its key leaders for the past 38 years. 
(c) copyright 2011  The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom