Huw Lewis is one of the apostolic leaders of Jesus Fellowship Church, or Jesus Army, in the UK. A charismatic church founded in the late 1960’s, it has practiced intentional Christian community with a complete sharing of possessions for over 40 years. Pax Pneuma interviewed Lewis about what community is like:
Please briefly describe how the outpouring of the Spirit led you to practice community!
The main consequence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was a very real and deep love for God and one another. This meant that we wanted to be together, to share meals, to meet and gather, worship, pray and open up our hearts to each other. Each night we would spontaneously just gather at the chapel and stay around until late.
It became something of a disturbance at the end of an evening to have to go back to our own houses/ flats so it was a natural progression to start experiments of living together. It began small but grew to larger community houses in time. I believe ”God’s love shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5) will lead to a changed lifestyle of sharing, openness, justice and equality as hall marks of God’s character. We just didn’t want to be away from the very tangible presence of God that we found when we gathered together.
Why do you think many Pentecostal and charismatic movements have not practiced community?
It is a costly challenge! I remember when I first encountered Christians who had been filled with the Holy Spirit there were several community experiments that took place. But most of these withered in time becase of the need for an embracing of the cross life, dealing with our own fears, reactions and fleshly selfishness. Only by going through the pain of deepening relationships can community work and only through the unifying power of the cross can people truly love one another in a shared lifestyle.
Community needs strong leadership as well as a shared vision and great sensitivity in the Holy Spirit. I also believe that our cultural atmosphere is one of greed and selfishness in the west and this has been a toxic influence in church life as well. True radicalism, which is the soil of community life, must break with the cultural norms or else be smothered by them. Community for us, especially in the early days of the movement of God, was a source of opposition and persecution from both society and the church – we were linked with the cults as community living will often be.
I also wouldn’t underestimate the spiritual power of mammon which opposes generosity, sharing and sacrificial love. Many people hated the challenges that the life of Jesus demonstrated – He constantly exposed self-centredness, power seeking and possessiveness.
What’s the greatest benefit with community?
There are many but if I was to focus on one it woud be truly godly relationships which break barriers and cultural norms, enabling genuine, deep brotherhood of love, commitment, reality, vulnerability and trust. For me it is the best place to show love for God and my brethren – if there was any better way to demonstrate these I would want to find it out! Depth and holiness are centrally important as we forge these friendships that are the living stones of the building knitted together in servant hearted love.
Especially after living this way for many years, there is a need to keep the vision fresh and not institutionalised, ensuring there is a mission focus and a constant renewal of the reasons why we choose this path. Community is not an end in itself but a means to an end, showing the glory of God and His kingdom expressed in a new creation society.
We can settle for second best and exist in a ”comfortably numb” way with routines and mediocrity. We often need God and the working of His word and the Holy Spirit movement to plough up our fallow ground, bringing renewal and change!