As I thought about how to begin this talk, I asked myself what "pneumatology"--theology of the Holy Spirit--I grew up hearing as a young Wesleyan. I suppose most of the sermons I grew up with about the Spirit had to do with entire sanctification and were thus very individual in nature. Another image I remember is praying for guidance from the Spirit, also oriented around me as an individual.
So then I asked myself what I might have heard growing up about the Spirit that applied to more than just individuals. I came up with two images. One is again the idea of guidance. Perhaps the church was seeking God's guidance on whether to enter a building program. Perhaps the church board was praying to know the "mind of the Spirit" on whether to hire a certain pastor or not.
Or more commonly, a preacher might ask for the Spirit's guidance in relation to a sermon he or she was about to preach. While this prayer clearly had to do with the individual preaching, it was a prayer for the Spirit's guidance in the context of a gathered group of Christians (perhaps including some non-believers). This was a prayer that the Spirit would give the speaker the right words to say to the congregation assembled there.
A special kind of corporate prayer for the Holy Spirit's help was a prayer for God to send a revival. Prayer for a revival would include individual conviction and recommitment on a mass scale. Revival would be contagious and would be expected to spread beyond the walls of those gathered. Sinners would come to repentance. Lives would be rededicated. A new power over sin and urge to witness would accompany.
None of these images from my childhood seem incorrect to me, although I do think that they are not quite the priorities or way the early church processed these things. For one thing, we tend to see the corporate dimensions of the Spirit as the sum of all the individual ones. We tend to see the individual experiences of the Spirit adding up to make the experience of the church as a whole. By contrast, I think the New Testament assumed that almost all individual experiences of the Holy Spirit would take place in the context of a group of believers, with "two or three" as a quorum (Matt. 18:20).
In the recent volume we Wesleyans put out on The Church That Jesus Builds, I mentioned three intersections between the Spirit and the church: 1) the Spirit defines the Church, 2) the Spirit empowers the Church, and 3) the Spirit directs the Church. But rather than simply repeat what I wrote there, I want to reflect a little more deeply, particularly in relation to some of the current trends and issues in our church today.