All Flesh: A Paradigm of Inclusion (for Charismatic Church Ministry)
What’s the first word that pops into your mind when you read the phrase “I WILL POUR OUT MY SPIRIT UPON ALL PEOPLE”? For me, I think of power. Spirit-baptism means power: empowerment, not for our own benefit or prestige, but for the effectiveness of our witness. As Pentecostals, the idea of power has influenced our culture. We call someone who walks closely with God a “powerful man of God” or a “powerful woman of God”. And, if you’re a true Pentecostal, you take a “Pentecostal power nap” in the afternoon between morning and evening services.
The correlation between the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit and the idea of power (i.e., effectual witness) is a very biblical notion. Luke records the words of Christ in Acts 1:8: “You will receive POWER when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my WITNESSES telling people about me everywhere” (NLT). It’s clear to see a direct connection between these two ideas: power and witness.
When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), those present were empowered with a new efficiency as witnesses. And, as we read through the book of Acts, just as Christ prophesied, the fullness of His gospel was preached not only in Jerusalem, but also throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
The bible explicitly says that when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will receive power. This is a fundamental truth that we hold on to as Pentecostal believers. Yet, we limit the implications of the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon all flesh if our understanding focuses only on the empowerment that is received.
There is another important element that I’d like to discuss in the lines that follow: the Spirit’s outpouring is just as much about justice and community as it is about power.
Let’s define our terms:
It’s not hard to see the connection between this scientific definition and how it plays out in our Christian context. Let me read it to you again, but this time I’ll substitute a few key words:
“A group of Christian believers or local churches living and interacting with one another in a particular environment. The Christians in a community affect each other’s abundance, distribution, and spiritual maturity. Depending on how broadly one views the interaction between Christians, a community can be small and local, as in a call group or a local church, or regional or global, as in the Church Universal.”
So, back to the premise of this discussion, The Spirit’s outpouring is just as much about justice and community as it is about power.
I don’t expect you to be convinced just be a few simple definitions. Let me show you what I mean using a familiar passage of Scripture. In Joel 2:28-29 we read the following prophecy…
“Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants – men and women alike (Joel 2:28-29 NLT).
When I read this passage of Scripture, I’m struck by Joel’s definition of “all people”. He goes into a great deal of detail outlining whom the Spirit will pour out upon.
Let’s list them:
It’s easy to glance at this Scripture and rush past the weight of significance that the prophet Joel was trying to convey to his readers. Note how no exclusion is made on the basis of gender, age, social status, or economic situation. The Spirit is poured out on ALL PEOPLE.
At the time this prophecy was written, probably in the ninth century B.C., much like they are today, the barriers created around the issues of gender, age, social status, and economic class are clearly defined. Even in the 21st century, many women are mistreated in the workplace, our elderly all too often face financial insecurity, in many parts of the world our young are robbed of their childhood and forced into labour, those who stray from the norm are pushed farther and father into the fringes of our society, and the poor are oppressed.
Gender, age, social status, and economic class: perhaps the four most difficult hurdles to overcome. Yet, God’s Word teaches us that the pouring out of God’s Spirit looks past these barriers. “I will pour out my Spirit upon all people”.
As I look at this list, it becomes so clear to me that theologian and historian Luke understood not only the power of the outpouring of God’s Spirit, but also the ideas of justice and community.
In the first two chapters of Luke’s gospel he reports an outburst of prophetic activity among sons and daughters, young men and old men, and even upon bondslaves, both male and female (Dr. Roger Stronstad).
Keep in mind that Joel’s prophecy was received in the ninth century before Christ, and now, in the first century A.D., we begin to see the fulfillment.
Sons - Luke 1:13-15 – John (male)
Daughters - Luke 1:39-40 – Elizabeth (female)
Old men - Lk. 1:67 – Zechariah is an old man
Young men - Lk. 1:76, 80 – John as a young adult
Male servants - Lk. 2:25-29 – Simeon, the Lord’s servant
Female servants - Lk. 1:38 – Mary, the Lord’s servant
This outburst of prophetic activity is significant because in the time that elapsed between the Old Testament and the New Testament, there was a period of prophetic silence. Luke’s report of these sons, daughters, old men, young men, and servants and their experience with the Holy Spirit was setting the stage for his report of the Spirit’s outpouring on the Day of Pentecost. In the century that followed the Spirit’s outpouring at Pentecost, the book of Acts shows us the birth of a church that was characterized by power, justice, and community.
In Galatians 3:28, the Apostle Paul summarizes the nature of this early church – “There is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit “readies the people for a new era of oneness, when superficial distinctions are set aside and even outcasts become core members of God’s new fellowship” (David Allen Hubbard).
As the Church we are in this era of oneness – SO LET’S START LIVING LIKE WE ARE!
As Pentecostals we place a special emphasis on the Holy Spirit and the involvement of Spirit-baptism in the life lived out in the fullness of the Gospel. With that in mind, we need to approach our understanding of the Holy Spirit in a holistic manner, that is, not only focusing on the power that comes as a result of Spirit-baptism, but also on the justice and community that should characterize any church full of charismatic believers.
That means taking a step back and evaluating: have we created any barriers in our church community that centers out, excludes, or in any way misrepresents the love of Christ toward men, women, the elderly, the young, the poor, or those pushed toward the fringes of society (e.g., homosexuals, addicts, single parents, ex-convicts, etc.)
The Spirit of God - that same Spirit that was hovering over the surface of the waters at Creation, the same Spirit that empowered Samson, the same Spirit that was transferred from Moses to the seventy-two elders, the same Spirit that David was terrified to live without – the Spirit of God has been poured out on all people.
I believe it is this all flesh paradigm of inclusion that will serve as the momentum that thrusts our local assemblies into many more years of practical and relevant ministry in the nation of Canada.