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Corporate Guidance

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But the knowledge of the direct, active, immediate leading of the Spirit is not sufficient. Individual guidance must yield to corporate guidance. There must also come a knowledge of the direct, active, immediate leading of the Spirit together. Corporate Guidance
I do not mean “corporate guidance” in an organizational sense, but in an organic and functional sense. Church councils and denominational decrees are simply not of this reality. We have received excellent instruction on how God leads us through Scripture and through reason and through circumstances and through the promptings of the Spirit upon the individual heart. There has also been teaching—good teaching—on the exceptional means of guidance: angels, visions, dreams, signs, and more. But we have heard little about how God leads through his people, the body of Christ.
Perhaps the preoccupation with private guidance in Western cultures is the product of our emphasis upon individualism. The people of God have not always been so.
God led the children of Israel out of bondage as a people. Everyone saw the cloud and fiery pillar. They were not a gathering of individuals who happened to be going in the same direction; they were a people under the theocratic rule of God. His brooding presence covered them with an amazing immediacy. The people, however, soon found God’s unmediated presence too awful, too glorious and begged, “Let not God speak to us, lest we die” (). So, Moses became their mediator.
Thus began the great ministry of the prophets whose function was to hear God’s word and bring it to the people. Although it was a step away from the corporate leading of the Holy Spirit, there remained a sense of being a people together under the rule of God. But a day came when Israel rejected even the prophet in favor of a king. From that point on the prophet was the outsider. He was a lonely voice crying in the wilderness; sometimes obeyed, sometimes killed, but almost always on the outside.
Patiently God prepared a people and in the fullness of time Jesus came. And with him dawned a new day. Once again, a people were gathered who lived under the immediate rule of the Spirit. With quiet persistence Jesus showed them what it meant to live in response to the voice of the Father. He taught them that they, too, could hear the heaven-sent voice and most clearly when together. “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (, ).
Acts Church
Acts 4:32 NASB95
And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.
Acts 4:33 NASB95
And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.
Acts 4:32 NASB95
And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.
Acts 4:33 NASB95
And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.
They became a band of witnesses, declaring everywhere that Christ’s voice could be heard and his will obeyed.Perhaps the most astonishing feature of that incendiary fellowship was their sense of corporate guidance. It was beautifully illustrated in the calling forth of Paul and Barnabas to tramp the length and breadth of the Roman empire with the good news of the kingdom of God ().
Acts 4:32 NASB95
32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.
Acts 4:33 NASB95
And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.
Acts 13:1–3 NASB95
Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
Perhaps the most astonishing feature of that incendiary fellowship was their sense of corporate guidance. It was beautifully illustrated in the calling forth of Paul and Barnabas to tramp the length and breadth of the Roman empire with the good news of the kingdom of God ().
Their call came when a number of people had been together over an extended period of time. It included the use of the Disciplines of prayer, fasting, and worship. Having become a prepared people, the call of God arose out of their corporate worship: “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” ().
Under corporate guidance the early Church faced and resolved its most explosive issue (). Some free-lance Christians had gone up to Antioch and had begun preaching the necessity of circumcision for all Christians. The issue was far from trivial. Paul saw at once that it was tantamount to the Jewish cultural captivity of the Church.
Appointed elders and apostles gathered in the power of the Lord not to jockey for position or to play one side against another, but to hear the mind of the Spirit. It was no small task. There was intense debate. Then in a beautiful example of how individual guidance impinges upon corporate guidance, Peter told about his experience with the Italian centurion Cornelius. As he spoke, the ever-brooding Spirit of God did a wonderful work. When Peter finished, the entire assembly fell into silence ().
Finally, the gathered group came into what must be called a glorious, heaven-sent, unified commitment to reject cultural religion and to hold to the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ. They concluded, “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” ().
They had faced the toughest issue of their day and had discerned the voice from on high. This is the high watermark in the book of Acts.
It was more than a victory regarding an issue; it was a victory of the method used in resolving all issues. As a people they had decided to live under the direct rulership of the Spirit. They had rejected human totalitarianism. They had rejected democracy, that is, majority rule. They had dared to live on the basis of Spirit-rule; no fifty-one percent vote, no compromises, but Spirit-directed unity. And it worked.
It is possible for business decisions to be made under a sense of the corporate leading of the Holy Spirit. Quakers have done so for years and have demonstrated the feasibility of such an approach. Business meetings should be viewed as worship services. Available facts can be presented and discussed, all with a view to listening to the voice of Christ. Facts are only one aspect of the decision-making process and in themselves are not conclusive. The Spirit can lead contrary to or in accord with the available facts. God will implant a spirit of unity when the right path has been chosen and trouble us with restlessness when we have not heard correctly. Unity rather than majority rule is the principle of corporate guidance. Spirit-given unity goes beyond mere agreement. It is the perception that we have heard the Kol Yahweh, the voice of God.
A classic and dramatic illustration occurred in 1758. John Woolman and others had pricked the conscience of the Society of Friends over their involvement in the demonic institution of slavery. As Philadelphia Yearly Meeting gathered for its business meetings that year, the slavery issue was a major agenda item. A great deal was at stake and the issue was hotly debated. John Woolman, with head bowed and tears in his eyes, sat through the various sessions in complete silence. Finally, after hours of agonizing prayer he rose and spoke. “My mind is led to consider the purity of the Divine Being and the justice of His judgment, and herein my soul is covered with awfulness…. Many slaves on this continent are oppressed and their cries have entered into the ears of the Most High…. It is not a time for delay.” Firmly and tenderly Woolman dealt with the problems of the “private interests of some persons” and the “friendships which do not stand upon an immutable foundation.” With prophetic boldness he warned the Yearly Meeting that if it failed to do its “duty in firmness and constancy” then “God may by terrible things in righteousness answer us in this matter.”2
The entire Yearly Meeting melted into a spirit of unity as a result of this compassionate witness. They responded as one voice to remove slavery from their midst. John Greenleaf Whittier states that those sessions “must ever be regarded as one of the most important religious convocations in the history of the Christian Church.”3
That united decision is particularly impressive when we realize that the Society of Friends was the only body that asked slaveholding members to reimburse their slaves for their time in bondage.* It is also striking to realize that under the prompting of the Spirit, Quakers had voluntarily done something that not one of the antislavery revolutionary leaders—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry—was willing to do. So influential was the united decision of 1758 that by the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Quakers had completely freed themselves from the institution of slavery.
Dallas Willard states, “The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with Himself included in that community as its prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.”10
Such a community lives under the immediate and total rulership of the Holy Spirit. They are a people blinded to all other loyalties by the splendor of God, a compassionate community embodying the law of love as seen in Jesus Christ. They are an obedient army of the Lamb of God living under the Spiritual Disciplines, a community in the process of total transformation from the inside out, a people determined to live out the demands of the gospel in a secular world. They are tenderly aggressive, meekly powerful, suffering, and overcoming
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