One of the relics of the 1980’s I intend to pass down to my children through the wonders of YouTube is “Where’s the Beef?” In the commercials, Wendy’s tapped into a common disappointment at fast food restaurants–hungry customers unwrapping their meal to find a lot of bread and little meat. Putting the “Where’s the beef?!” reaction in the indignant voice of a little old woman connected with customers in a way that was both entertaining and memorable.
There is a similar question we should be asking of the church today, perhaps with the same tone of no-nonsense indignation: where’s the power? When we take off the wrapping and look honestly the church, are we more bread than meat, more fluff than substance? Can we draw a direct line from the authoritative ministry of Jesus through the power of the early church to the way our church functions in the present day?
Asking these questions risks more than sounding crotchety. Many camps within the church have made spiritual authority a key focus of their attention and ministries. Sit down with someone who has been hurt at one of these churches and you will quickly discover where the excesses can lead–attributing every sin to demons, placing more emphasis on human proclamations than the Scriptures, ignoring a theology of weakness and suffering, and blaming sickness or trials on a person’s lack of faith.
Yet the excesses of some must not cause us to ignore the unavoidable: the ministry of Jesus and the apostles was characterized by authority and power. Jesus’ teaching was astonishing because of its authority (Matthew 7:28–29). His mighty acts of healing revealed that he was “a man under authority” (Matthew 8:8–10). His authority extended not only to the physical realm but also to the spiritual–“the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matthew 9:5–8). Even Jesus’ decision to die and rise again was under his complete authority (John 10:17–18).
Jesus gave this authority to his disciples. “He called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:1–2). After his resurrection he told them to wait in Jerusalem before launching out into ministry. Why wait? They were not yet empowered. Jesus told them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:6–8). The power they did receive transformed Peter from an overzealous screw-up to a mighty preacher. The apostles cast out demons, healed the sick, withstood threats, and were set free from prison. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles was characterized “by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” (Romans 15:17–19).
So I ask: where’s the power? Where is the modern display of God’s authority over the physical and spiritual creation? How is the Spirit empowering the church to declare and display the kingdom of God? Are we living out our calling to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” and “to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10–11)?
God’s word has much to say on this topic and we will explore that next week. For now, allow this question to unsettle you. Be bothered by any discrepancy between the way the church should function and the way the church does function. And join me in praying that God’s power would be on full display through his people.
All for his glory,