Re-wilding the church
Chris Cartwright asks "whether it's time for us to release the pioneering Spirit in some fresh wild faith?"
It is said that the ancient Celtic Christians liked to describe the Holy Spirit as ‘The Wild Goose’.
This startling symbol seems to stem from their understanding from Scripture that, as well as describing the Holy Spirit as being as gentle as a dove, reveals him to be powerful, untameable and unstoppable.
The same Spirit that Jesus promises will be our ‘helper’ and guide is also the Spirit that came in power at Pentecost, and moved the church through the disruption of waves of persecution to be a bold and courageous force to turn the world upside down.
One of the Celtic prayers for Pentecost began: “Most powerful Holy Spirit – come down upon us – and subdue us.”
As we look in the rear-view mirror of our own history as a Pentecostal movement, we see that the first wave of Elim pioneers were thought to be a bit wild. Certainly, their critics and detractors found their message and their methods at times unsettling, even shocking.
They carried a message that broke the defaults of the accepted message and methodology of the established churches at the time. They proclaimed that Jesus was and is the Saviour.
Nothing too controversial in that. But they went on to declare that he was and is the Healer.
What’s more, they dared to believe that gifts of healing and miracles had not died out with the apostles or with the completion of Scripture as many were teaching, but were gifts God was bestowing again upon those who would surrender to him and follow him in fulfilling the great commission.
They also believed that the baptism of the Spirit chronicled through the opening chapters of Acts was also being restored to the church and that the Spirit would come again on all who receive Christ as he did in the first wave of the church’s life and mission.
They were convinced that there was a clear prophetic invitation to every generation of Christ-followers in Peter’s response to the crowd at Pentecost: “This promise is for you, your children, your children’s children, for all who are far off and for all whom the Lord will call.”
And so, the wild adventures of the early Pentecostals were based not on recklessness, but on a deeply rooted faith that Almighty God was pouring out his Spirit on all people and that nothing could hold back or constrain what he was doing.
As they pioneered new ways of sharing the gospel in cities, towns and regions, as they planted new contemporary churches, as they sang and prayed and witnessed out in the streets and the marketplace as well as in the best-known halls in the land, these pioneer Pentecostals displayed extraordinary courage and creativity.
In the decades that followed, historians point out that as the Pentecostal movement grew, built buildings, organised structurally and responded to next generation change and challenge, there came an understandable drift into the more stable and comfortable rhythms of worship, fellowship and local church life and witness.
Whilst Elim retained a passion for evangelism and church planting continued steadily, the pioneering passion and push was replaced to a large degree by a maintenance of the local churches.
Some have suggested this impacted our experience of the gifts of the Spirit. The early revival campaigns saw many remarkable healings and miracles, the new churches gathered with evident expectancy that prophecy, tongues and other gifts of the Spirit would be regular parts of the meetings.
Though there might be evidence of some excess, their enthusiasm was tempered by the Bible’s clear teaching that the Holy Spirit is a spirit of order and his gifts are also to be exercised with biblical guidance and control.
It’s maybe not surprising that the sons and daughters of the wild pioneers moved to what has been called ‘Pentecost with Dignity’.
As I think and pray for the future church, I can’t help but think of that Wild Goose – the image of the unrestrained Spirit.
As a latecomer to gardening, I have been struck by the growing trend for re-wilding. As we move into Spring, we will see more and more examples of areas of meadow and open countryside given over to re-wilding.
The simple premise is, rather than planning, landscaping and cultivating a garden or an area of land, we let it grow wild.
The trend is championed as more environmentally friendly and hugely beneficial for increasing biodiversity, wildlife and plant species. Instead of our neat and manicured versions, new wild meadows and vistas are emerging all over the nation.
I wonder whether it is time for us to start re-wilding the church?
Whether in the purposes of God it is time for us to release the pioneering Spirit in some fresh wild faith?
I believe that we are entering a time where a fresh wave of wild Holy Spirit mission and ministry will be released in Elim and the wider church. He longs to pour out his gifts and power, not just for our gatherings but so that we pour out into our communities with the unrestrained power and presence.
It may feel a bit scary, but it’s time to re-wild the church.
This article first appeared in the March 2022 edition of Direction Magazine. For further details please click here.
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