Copyright © 2003 Ron Schwartz
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The Operation Of the Holy Spirit In The Church

Structure and the voice of the Holy Spirit


February 28, 2007

Ron Schwartz  


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The Voice Of The Spirit


Revelation 2:26-29 KJV

26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:

27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.

28 And I will give him the morning star.

29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.


I am convinced that most Christians and churches do NOT know how to hear the voice of the Spirit.  Gleaning truths divined from the scripture is NOT the voice of the Spirit.  Basing your decision on biblical truths is not hearing the voice of the Spirit.  Coming to a consensus through the counsel of others is not listening to the Spirit of God.  Instead of hearing the voice of the Spirit, most Christians have come to accept presumption, cultural values, and our intellectual knowledge of the scripture to dictate direction and answers.  Though truth can sometimes be found here, it is a poor replacement to hearing what the Spirit has to say.





Most Christians and their respective churches have self-imposed and men-imposed barriers that prevent them from hearing the voice of the Spirit.  Many times these barriers are based on biblically-founded truth or just good practical common sense.


Let’s examine a few examples of barriers:


Let your women keep silence


Many seek to decipher direction for their lives and the church by reading the scripture and attempting to follow it like a step-by-step direction manual, but this can sometimes prove a faulty method, especially when trying to understand scriptures that seem to be contradictory to others.  When this happens, it is important to understand the biblical theme behind it.


When you consider the scriptures as a whole, you begin to see certain themes occurring.  I believe “biblical themes” are certain inalienable truths that the apostles embraced and that were reflected in their writing.  For instance, Western civilization embraces justice and freedom.  As a result, someone who embraces these values will unknowingly communicate these virtues in their writing and speech even though they may not directly address the subject.  This is because these values are a part of the way he thinks and are therefore reflected in that which he communicates.  This is also true in the writings of the New Testament.  There are certain ideological truths like love, grace, and faith that were embraced by the authors of the New Testament.  These values were at times subtly communicated in their writing.  They appear as themes in their writing.   Therefore, when we read a statement that seems to be in conflict with other New Testament passages, we must look beyond the words and the Greek meaning and seek to understand its theme as it is expressed in the whole of the New Testament.


1 Corinthians 14:33-35 KJV

33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.


We have all read this passage, and many of us have wrestled with how this scripture can coexist with the scripture that says to let “everyone of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:26).”  Or the scripture that says, “every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head (1 Corinthians 11:5).” How can these scriptures not be in conflict with the one forbidding women to speak?  These are but two, though there are many other scriptures that suggest women can and do speak in the church.  When considering all the scripture, it becomes obvious that women would NOT be silent in the church.


Then there are the practical questions that arise.  For instance, if the primary churches of that era were “house churches,” then weren’t women already at home?  So how do we reconcile these scriptures and the practical issues to 1 Corinthians 14:33-35?


Here’s what I see.  It comes back to themes.  The theme that best explains this is that the writers of the New Testament knew they didn’t have all the answers.  So at times they implemented temporary structure to address a certain problem with the intention that eventually that structure would be replaced by the “operation of the Holy Spirit.”





Structure is anything we impose to replace a function of the Holy Spirit.  Paul and the other apostles at times imposed structure in the absence of structure supplied by the Holy Spirit.  The apostles found that, at times, spiritual structure was lacking because of the lack of spiritual maturity of the church.  We find it with the church at Corinth.  They were not spiritually mature enough to operate under the unified orderly manner of the Holy Spirit.  So Paul imposed temporary rules for them, and especially their women, to follow.  The apostles found that, at times, temporary structure was necessary to bring discipline and order until the church matured spiritually to the point where such structure was no longer necessary.  Structure is never meant or intended to be a permanent condition of either the Church or us as individual Christians.


Take, for example, the law:


Galatians 3:23-25 KJV

23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.

24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.


The law was not meant to be a permanent structure for God’s people but a temporary rule to provide guidance until God’s people matured into justification by faith.  Essentially, God provided the “law (as a structure)” until His law could be written in the hearts of His people (the operation of the Holy Spirit).  It was not meant to be a permanent structure.  Or you could say, it was not meant to last forever.  The problem is that mankind likes structure.  It provides a certain security.  Therefore, even when the Spirit moved to bring about justification by faith, many of God’s people clung to the old ways and refused to mature.  Even today, the orthodox Jews still cling to the law.


Let’s consider another example:


Church Structure


2 Corinthians 3:17 KJV

Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.


Let’s be clear about this.  The Holy Spirit working in the Church does not produce structure.  Structure may be a by-product of the Spirit moving on the Church, but structure is something created by men not the Holy Spirit.  It can be a by-product in the sense that structure is sometimes imposed due to people operating in spiritual gifts in a spiritually immature manner.


Acts 6:1-4 KJV

1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.

2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.

3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.


Even though both the apostles and Jesus taught that it was an imperial mandate to feed and care for the poor, that no person or group was above another, it was not being practiced here.  Certain groups seemed to be receiving preferential treatment.  Consequently, the apostles implemented a structure to address what was obviously an area of spiritual immaturity in the Church.


When we consider the solution the apostles used to address this problem, you get an idea of how they used structure.  Consider the qualities required of the men.  They were to be “full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.  It is clear that structure should be intended to mimic as closely as possible the work and leadership of the Holy Spirit that it temporarily replaces.   Consequently, church structure and the hierarchy that developed was never meant to be a permanent condition in the Church, but rather to fill a need only until the Church can reach that maturity level where it is no longer necessary.


No?  Disagree?  Then consider this next example:


Until We All Come…


Ephesians 4:11-13 KJV

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:


Notice the word “till.”  Ministry itself is a form of structure and is therefore intended to be temporary.  The scripture here explains that it is a temporary imitation of the operation of the Holy Spirit.  According to this scripture, ministries are imposed upon the Church “till” the body of Christ grows into spiritual maturity, at which time it becomes no longer necessary.


There are two uncontroversial facts that define whether ministry is operating in accordance with the design established by the apostles.  First, does it mimic the operation of the Holy Spirit?  Second, is it bringing the Church closer to spiritual maturity and thus its own obsolescence?   Even the gifts of the Spirit are a temporary structure of the Church.  Both they and ministries must eventually go away if the “operation of the Spirit” is to completely mature.


Consider the following:


1 Corinthians 13:8-10 KJV

8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.


Do I believe that the Church has reached such a level of spiritual maturity (perfection) that it no longer needs the structure of spiritual gifts or ministry?  Absolutely not!  Nor I can imagine what it would be like to have every believer functioning at a level of spiritual maturity that made them no longer necessary, but it certainly must be our goal.  The point is this: we must not universally impose onto all Christians a structure that was meant to address a certain issue in a single church or culture.




Galatians 4:1-3 KJV

1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;

2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.

3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world


We raise our children with Christian values, imposing a Christian structure in their lives.  This structure becomes no longer necessary when they choose to serve the Lord on their own.  The structure is then discarded in favor of a real relationship with God.  This Christian structure we teach our children is nothing more than the same temporary replacement of the Holy Spirit that is used in the church.  When people impose structure in the church, they are treating the congregation as children.   And just as structure stands in the way of the maturation of children, so it also does in a church.



The “Good And Bad” Value Of Structure


So, structure can be a good thing.  It can bring order to chaos.  This why teachings such as Bill Gothard’s “Institute in Basic Life Principals” can be so valuable to some Christians.  It is good when it is used with 1) the proper teaching about why it is imposed and how the body of Christ must mature so that the need for that structure is no longer necessary, and 2) a clear understanding with all those involved that such guidelines are temporary, and finally, 3) the clear understanding of what it is: structure, not a spiritual ordinance.   Also, when considering structure and its usefulness in the Church, it is important to understand that there must be a plan for structure to go away.  Call it an “exit strategy.”


For instance, if a structure is put in place to address a problem like the following:


1 Corinthians 14:23 KJV

If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?


Structure might be imposed as follows:


1 Corinthians 14:27-28 KJV

27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.

28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.


Then as people grow spiritually and come to understand that spiritual gifts are subject to the individual and spiritual order is achieved (spiritual maturity), this form of structure may be no longer necessary.  But structure can also have the opposite effect: it can become a barrier. 


Structure meant to aid the Church during its immaturity can become a barrier if not discarded as the body grows in maturity.  We see this with the Old Testament.  It was given as a temporary structure to provide us with examples of spiritual things, but it has now become a barrier to the Orthodox Jews.  They refuse to discard it, so now it serves to prevent them from coming into the knowledge of the truth.  The same thing is true in children.  The control and structure we impose on the lives of our children must diminish as they mature.  Otherwise, there will eventually be a clash of wills.


There are some denominations that are composed of nothing more than flesh-imposed structure.  They mandate rules of structure for many, if not all, parts of a person’s life.  With these denominations, there exists very little potential of spiritual growth.  In fact, with these denominations, spiritual growth usually means people must abandon them.  


And then there is the opposite extreme, where a church allows chaos to reign.  There is no structure.   Imagine children being raised with no structure in their lives.  These children never really mature unless they learn to bring structure into their lives all on their own.  Structure is necessary for any type of immaturity, physical or spiritual.


There is no doubt that there is a danger in structure.  If used improperly, it will suppress and even choke out spiritual growth.  That is why having a single pastor over a church (in a hierarchical fashion) can have devastating results.   Unless that man is extremely mature, he will use structure to control the church rather than to build it up and turn it over to the Holy Spirit.





Revelation 3:14-17 KJV

14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:


Jesus had a message for seven churches.  Each time I read these letters, I am amazed at how far off they each were from how they saw themselves compared with how Jesus saw them.  Probably the most extreme example is that of the church at Laodicea.  This church thought they were “rich, and increased with goods, and [had] need of nothing.  But Jesus said they were “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.  How could there exist such a disparity?  Come to think of it, I do not know of a single church that believes it is wrong.  Just like the seven churches mentioned in Revelation, every church I know believes that they have the truth and are approved of God.  They all seems to be saying, “I am rich” spiritually.  Had it not been for this letter being sent to these churches, would they have ever known how Jesus felt about them?  Could they not hear the voice of the Spirit as it spoke to them?


All of our church programs, agendas, and even the most ambitious goals we set for the church are but different forms of structure, and care must be taken so as not to detract the church from hearing from the Spirit of God.  If we are not careful, we can inadvertently set a direction for the church that is contrary to the Holy Spirit, in direct opposition to what He is saying.  One thing is certain, the churches in Revelation thought they were obedient to the Spirit, but they were not.  Not only had they had missed it, but many were in opposition to the direction of the Spirit.  How is it that Christians and churches can be virtually in opposition to God and not know it?  The answer is simpler than it may seem: it is called structure.


How did these churches get so far away from the will of God?  Could structure have played a part?  When a church uses any form of structure, they face the danger of becoming “out of sync” like the seven churches Jesus addressed in the Book of Revelation.  Nothing.  Nothing!  Nothing can replace the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Church.  If structure must be imposed to address an issue, then it must be only temporary until the Body of Christ matures enough so that control can be turned over to the Holy Spirit as quickly as possible.  Remember, structure is at best a crutch: it can never work as well as the Holy Spirit, nor should it be implemented with that intention.


I believe that today’s Church is just like the churches of two thousand years ago.  It isn’t listening!  As I said in the beginning, I am convinced that most Christians and churches do NOT know how to hear the voice of the Spirit.  Instead, we have allowed presumption, our cultural values, and our intellectual knowledge of scripture dictate our direction rather than actually hearing what the Spirit is saying.   If the structures of spiritual gifts and ministry are to fulfill any function, it should be to get us to hear the voice of the Spirit.  Instead, I fear that the only thing most ministers are doing is to convolute things by creating so much noise it is impossible to hear the voice of the Spirit today.  Instead of getting us to hear from God, they have succeeded in replacing the voice of the Spirit in the Church.


So where do we start, and how do we know if we are hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit?  To begin with, look for barriers, structure, programs, and agendas.  Can we see a way to phase these out and allow the Spirit to have its rightful place of control?  Structure must never become sacred.  Barriers will always block the voice of the Holy Spirit.  Make sure that you have given this structure up in your own lives first.  That is when you start hearing the voice of the Spirit.


He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.




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