What Does a Spirit-Filled Evangelical Anglican Church Look Like?
Because the Telos Collective relies on the work of the Spirit to enable everything we do, we were curious what that work looks like in the different churches and dioceses in our midst. We asked the Rev. Michael Swanson to share about the Spirit’s presence and activity in his evangelical Anglican Church in Fullerton, California. In the days to come, other writers will reveal the shape of the Holy Spirit’s work in their context—a Spirit-filled traditional Anglican church, an Anglo-Catholic church, and more.
by Michael W. Swanson
I’d like to start off by saying that hopefully, the person and work of the Spirit will suffuse every facet of a Christian church, evangelical Anglican or otherwise. However, if we leave it at that, that’s not very helpful. So, I wish to make one basic point, and offer three applications. The main point I want to argue for is that we should seek the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and not just assume it. That’s what we do at The Vine Church, the church I lead in Fullerton.
Several years ago, when I was first exploring Anglicanism, I had a helpful conversation with an Anglican pastor who is now a bishop in the ACNA. I asked him why it was that, to my surprise, I literally experienced Christ’s presence (somehow) when I partook of Communion at John Stott’s church in London, but I never had that experience in the non-sacramental churches I’d been a part of. He made this helpful observation: There are some things the Holy Spirit wants to do, but which he is waiting to do until we ask him.
As I reflected on it, that made perfect sense. In the churches I’d been a part of up to that point, the Holy Spirit was never invoked over the bread and grape juice we consumed during Communion. Nor, so far as I could tell, was there any intention to invite God to be especially present in or through the Lord’s Supper. Often, there were no prayers prayed whatsoever. So, not surprisingly, I never experienced a special sense of God’s presence in that setting.
This conversation illustrates a broader point that has applicability beyond the practice and theology of Communion: There are many things that the Spirit of God wants to do, but which he waits to do, until we ask. Until we seek. “You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2). Of course, that is not to negate the Spirit’s sovereignty. “The wind blows where it wills,” as Jesus said. However, as a Person with specific intentions, this is how the Spirit tends to operate.
In his chapter in the book Indelible Ink, Dallas Willard talks about how the form of Christianity he grew up in placed all its emphasis on doctrinal correctness. (In the sacramental world, sometimes all the emphasis is placed on liturgical correctness.) Willard points out, however, that this view tends to lead one to a life of non-seeking, and to viewing oneself as “having arrived,” assuming one has correct doctrine (or liturgy). In contrast to that, he observes that the Christians who have had a great impact on this world throughout history are people who lived lives of constant seeking of God. And this is the approach to life portrayed in the Bible (e.g., Psalm 27:4; Philippians 3:7-15).[i]
Reflecting upon the lives of particular “famous Christians” throughout history, Willard observes:
…it became clear to me that the path of constant seeking, as portrayed in the Bible … was the life of faith intended for us by God. Salvation by grace through faith was a life, not just an outcome; and the earnest and unrelenting pursuit of God was not ‘works salvation’ but the natural expression of the faith in Christ which saves. Constant discipleship, with its constant seeking for more grace and life [and more of the person and work of the Spirit, I would add], was the only sensible response to confidence in Jesus as the Messiah. And the natural (supernatural) accompaniment of that response would of course be intermittent but not infrequent experiences of God, some deeper and some not so deep.
How We Seek the Spirit at My Church
In light of these considerations, I want to briefly share three ways that we seek the Holy Spirit in the congregation that I pastor.
1. We seek the Spirit’s manifest presence in our worship services. We do this, not only through the Collect for Purity and the epiclesis, but by praying, “Come, Holy Spirit,” or otherwise asking the Lord to make his presence manifest. We always do this before the service, and sometimes during the service. Do we do this because Christ is not already present by his Spirit when we gather in his name? No. We do this because the Bible exhorts us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). In other words, we are not to content ourselves with the mere objective fact of the Spirit’s presence. As Gordon Fee puts it, “We must not merely cite the creed, but believe and experience the presence of God in the person of the Spirit.” And we seek this, not only because it is biblical, but also because “the nearness of God is my good” (Psalm 73:28).
We also do this because it is evangelistic. Paul remarks that, when the Spirit’s operation is manifest among the worshipping community, it can lead non-believers to proclaim, “God is truly here among you” (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). Jack Hayford, whose church was at one time the fastest-growing church in America, once shared with me that the most evangelistic thing about his ministry was the manifest presence of God. So, he encouraged my colleagues and I to pray for it.
I once thought that John Wimber, the original leader of the Vineyard movement, came up with the prayer, “Come, Holy Spirit.” But I’ve since learned that it is an ancient Christian prayer, perhaps the most ancient. It is preserved in the Roman Catholic liturgy for Pentecost, and variations on it can be found in our Anglican patrimony. So, in our congregation, we enthusiastically pray for God’s presence to be manifest in our midst. And I believe that is partly explanatory for why I have had so many people tell me throughout the years that they’ve felt “knocked back by the presence of the Spirit” when they walked into our sanctuary, or words to that effect. A seeker recently asked my why she sensed God’s presence so strongly at our church relative to others that she has visited. I suspect part of the answer is that we actively welcome the Holy Spirit among us, and invite the Triune God to have his way in our church and in our lives.
2. Related to the first point, we seek the Holy Spirit for revival. God has given our church a vision to see our city transformed with the love of Jesus Christ. But, quite obviously, this is not something we can pull off on our own. We need God to show up in power. In the book of Acts, we see the Spirit came in power, not only in Acts 2 at Pentecost, but also through subsequent “mini-Pentecosts.” For example, in Acts 4, after the persecution began, the disciples gathered and prayed: “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30). And in response, we read: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31).
Notice, however, that this move of God came about as a response to prayer. God in his sovereignty has foreordained that certain things will only happen as a response to prayer. Revival appears to be one of them. A.T. Pierson has observed that, “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.”[ii] So, as a church, we pray for revival in our city.
When I was an undergrad at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, I experienced revival. The year before I began at Cal Poly, there were two dozen students in the Cru ministry on campus. And they prayed fervently for God to move on the campus. The year I arrived, revival broke out, and it was in that context that God radically transformed my life. By the time I graduated, there were roughly 1,500 students gathering each week who, like me, had either come to faith or come back to faith through this move of God. So what I experienced as an undergrad leads me to believe that what we see in the pages of scripture, God can do again. So I seek that for the city in which I minister.
3. We seek the Spirit for healing. The ministry of healing was central, not peripheral, to Jesus’ ministry. So, we seek to carry on Jesus’ healing ministry, by the Spirit’s power. As a church, we offer regular opportunities for people to receive prayer, including prayer for healing. First, we offer prayer ministry during Communion every Sunday. Second, we periodically host mid-week healing prayer services. Finally, we also pray for people on the streets as God gives us opportunity.
We do this not only because scripture tells us to (James 5:14), but also because it is an expression of the love of God and one of the ways that God’s kingdom goes forward. Throughout the years I have seen many people supernaturally healed. For example, one of our congregants was completely healed of prostate cancer a couple years ago, and this was medically verified. His doctor stated, “I have no explanation for his.” I’ve also seen people come to faith as a result of seeing friends of theirs healed.
Again, there are many, many ways we seek the Spirit in our congregation. But I hope this post gives you a renewed sense that our God is alive and well and at work in the world. And I pray that you are given a renewed vision for seeking the Spirit’s work in your life, in your congregation, and in the city in which God has called you to minister.
Let us pray together, “Come, Holy Spirit.”
- How do you seek the Holy Spirit in your church?
- What role does the Holy Spirit play in your efforts to reach your community?
- Is there something you don’t have because you have not asked?
[ii] Cited in Gary Mayes, DNA of a Revolution, p. 203.
Michael Swanson is the founding Pastor of The Vine Church in Fullerton, CA. Michael is a native of California, and has many interests, including guitar playing, hanging out in local coffee shops, and eating spicy food. But his greatest passion is helping people connect with Jesus and experience his life-transforming power. He and his wife Ansley live in Fullerton with their daughters whom they adore.