Have you ever seen an aerial display by the Red Arrows? Their nine aircraft are the pride of the Royal Air Force, based at Scampton near Lincoln. The pilots receive special training to fly in close formation and perform amazing feats.
The Red Arrows are renowned throughout the world as ambassadors for both the Royal Air Force and the United Kingdom. Since the Team was officially formed in 1965, the Red Arrows have completed over 4,000 displays in 52 countries.
When watching a display one is inclined to think that they are one, not nine, because they operate as though there was just one person controlling the flight. In essence this is so, because the Flight Commander is in charge of the whole exercise. This is just one of the wonders of modern technology, whereby mankind can display its ability to create and to operate.
Have you ever been to an Orchestral Concert? Have you been amazed at how each member of the Orchestra has learned to play in concert with all the others, with the Conductor acting as the “Mind” to control the progress of the music? Here again, human beings have been able to work together as one and produce something that is beautiful.
Have you ever watched an Autumn display of starlings? Once summer is over, and all the fledglings have grown into adulthood, they begin their aerial displays. We are privileged, living in the country, to observe this each year. Standing outside our house we might suddenly hear a strange noise, as ten thousand starlings fly low over the rooftop and land in the field, where they proceed to peck into the ground to find wireworms. The field seems to be alive with a dense mass of black, and you can hear them chattering as they move about. Hence the group name is a “murmuration” of starlings. Then, just as suddenly, they are off, flying as a cloud, wheeling about as though they had but one mind. Watching carefully, one is able to see that the whole flock suddenly stops flapping wings to glide, and then starts up again. If the Red Arrows, and Orchestras, represent something of the ultimate in human ability, the starlings certainly take one’s breath away.
Sometimes as many as a million starlings have been observed in formation. The group often breaks up to form several groups, and then re-combines to form a cloud so dense that some have called it the “black sun.” One has to ask the obvious question. How did these birds learn to fly so perfectly in dense formation and perform aerobatics that make you gasp in wonder? Remember, most of them were inside an egg only a few months before! How can so many birds behave as though they had one mind?
Have you watched any of the “Life on Earth” films made by David Attenborough? We remember the one that showed underwater events in the world of sea creatures. The particular shot that remains so clearly in mind was of a huge shoal of small fish swimming in formation, rotating around a central point, and behaving in similar fashion to the starlings. At the time I tried to get some estimate of the numbers involved, but it was almost impossible. Perhaps there were ten thousands, like the birds.
Have you ever lived in Equatorial Africa? Have you ever watched the safari ants? When we lived in Kenya for a few years we learned about the life of these ants. When a colony gets too large, it breaks up, and a major portion moves away to find new ground. The manner in which the ants march is a wonder to behold. There are two varieties of safari ants, the ordinary small ones, and the larger warriors. These warriors form the two sides of a roadway in which all the other ants march relentlessly to their new home. If a house gets in the way, they don’t change direction but climb the wall, cross the roof, down the other side, and then onwards. If a rabbit gets in the way, the unfortunate creature is eaten alive by the warriors, as we observed one morning when our pet rabbit lay dead in its run.
Now these ants are blind! Who taught them to behave as they do? As many as twenty million ants can be on the move at one time. We have watched them cross a stream. The warriors cling to each other, gradually making a bridge to the other side, and then the whole army crosses. When complete, the “bridge ants” pull up on the other side and continue their journey. It is important not to stand in the path of safari ants!!
I could mention other wild life marvels, like the Wildebeest migration on the Masai Mara plains, in the foothills ofMount Kilimanjaro, where upwards of half a million animals travel relentlessly on their trek each year. Or the lemmings, who migrate for the same reason as the safari ants. The Walt Disney film “White Wilderness” did them a great dis-service by fabricating a mass suicide, which in fact never happens.
Enough has been said to create the necessary backcloth to the main thrust of this number. Our theme is that of One Mind. Remembering the wildlife stories, let us turn to Ephesians 4, and see what Paul had to say about the Body of Christ.
“He (Christ) gave some Apostles, some Prophets, some Evangelists, some Pastors and Teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of ministry, to build up the Body of Christ until we all arrive at the unity of the faith, and the full-knowledge of the Son of God, an adult man, at the measure of the stature of thefulness of Christ.” (Eph.4:11-13)
The parabolic figure of a full-grown man gives us the impression of One Mind, (the Mind of Christ) controlling the movements and actions of every part of the Body. This must be the goal that God has set, and to which He has been, and still is, constantly at work. No church on earth is able to fulfil these verses in Ephesians, because we are all operating “in part” just now. Paul spoke about this “partial” state in 1st Corinthians. “We know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect (lit. full-grown, adult) is come, that which is in part shall be abolished. . . . At present we see as in a mirror and are perplexed, but then face to face. Just now I know in part, but then I shall fully-know, even as I was fully-known.” (1 Cor,13:9-10, 12)
A day will come when the Body of Christ, in resurrection, will be able to operate like the starlings. However, there is no possibility of such miraculous activity before resurrection. Whatever we achieve now, will always be “in part.” But when I speak of resurrection I am looking towards that day when the dead in Christ shall arise, and those of us who are alive and remain shall be changed into His likeness. It could happen at any time now, but we don’t know the day or the hour because we cannot know who is going to be the last human being to be part of the Body of Christ. God has a chosen number in mind, and He alone knows those who are His.
What therefore can be achieved “in part” now, in our earthly pilgrimage? Let’s have a look at a few examples.
In 1 Cor.14:15 Paul said that he had experienced “singing in the spirit.” Over the years since 1960 there have been many occasions when a company of believers has waited upon the Lord for direction, or for worship, and someone began singing, usually in an unknown language. Then a few others would find themselves joining the song, completely unknown to the congregation, and it would spread as the Holy Spirit brought a unified activity to the group. Those who have witnessed this phenomenon have said how wonderful it was, with its harmonies, its swell and its hush, until everyone stopped at the same moment. Surely this must be an example of “starling behaviour”, given by the Spirit of the Lord, as a token of what is to come. The 24 elders of Revelation 5:8, who sing a new song, will surely all be singing together, not individually, creating a cacophony, but a beautiful harmony and melody.
Another example which comes to mind is taken from H.A.Baker’s book, “Visions beyond the veil.” Baker ministered inChina before the 2nd World War, taking in orphan children and caring for them, and talking to them about the Lord Jesus. Many of these youngsters were soundly converted, and also baptised in the holy spirit. Baker records how, on many occasions, a company of them would be “snatched away” in a vision. Now many people have recorded visions they have received, but I have never read any other account of where a company of people were all witnessing the same vision at the same time, as were these children. Baker sat and watched incredulously as he saw them behave as though they were all together in another land . On one occasion, as it turned out, they were picking fruits from trees in the New Jerusalem, and he saw them putting some in their pockets, “to bring back for Pastor and his wife to enjoy.” When the vision was over, they were dismayed to find nothing in their pockets! Here then is another example of a token given by the Lord to show us a glimpse of the wonders of the age to come.
Church life can be very rewarding, especially when it is organised in the best possible Scriptural manner. However, because we are all human, and subject to natural tendencies, Pastors, Ministers, and Clergy have a tendency to place limitations on their flocks which prevent some of these token glimpses from occurring. Whenever we join a church, we are usually required to subscribe to a certain form of teaching, dogma, or tradition, which is not found in other churches, and sometimes not even found in the Bible! This constitutes the “blinkering” of God’s people, preventing them from walking freely as the Holy Spirit leads. If someone joins the congregation who maintains the freedom of the Spirit, it often causes problems, because the rest of the people are not used to that freedom, and feel unsafe.
Jesus’ words to the woman at the well may help us here. “Woman, believe me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . True worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father seeks such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:21-24) Are we seeing here a directive away from organised religion into a freedom where the Holy Spirit conducts God’s people in small companies, in families, and sometimes even alone? This may be an unpopular suggestion, but I’ll leave it with you to think over.
There is one other passage in John where the same sentiment is expressed, though almost lost in translation. Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus. “Do not marvel because I said to you, you must be born again. The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you know not whence it comes or whither it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:7-8) Without wanting to split hairs, I find myself saying that I usuallycan tell where the wind is coming from, and where it’s going, so what did the Lord mean here? Could it be that another form of translation is needed? First of all, we find that the Greek word for wind is PNEUMA. But it is also the word for Spirit. Can we say, “The Spirit blows where it wills”? But the Spirit doesn’t “blow”. However, the Greek word here is PNEO, from which PNEUMA is derived. Strictly speaking it mean “breathes”, not blows. So we get “The Spirit breathes where He wills.” That makes more sense. What about “hearing the sound”? The word for “sound” is PHONEE, usually used of VOICE. Now we have the rest of the verse as follows – “You hear His voice, but you know not whence He comes, or whither He goes.” I think that is very helpful. We have no idea “where” the Holy Spirit is working, but when He speaks to us, we know He is near.
“So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Doesn’t this suggest that members of the Body of Christ are meant to be free of any religious shackles? I am reminded of the words given by the Holy Spirit to Edgar Parkyns at the Exeter Conference in December 1967. The ministry of the Crucified is a ministry of healing and of giving sight to the blind, and yet each one of you must come as that one alone, not as a crowd but as one, and the favour of the Lord God shall be placed upon your spirit, and you shall discover where you have failed your God, and where was the controversy between you and the Spirit of the Lord.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating that Christians should leave their churches. I am saying that Pastors and Ministers should be teaching their flocks how to be free in the spirit, and how to walk obediently to the heavenly vision, rather than to look to human leadership for all their directions. As Paul said, “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Rom.8:1)
Many tens of thousands of Christians are leaving their churches today, not because they are backsliding, or because they are giving up their faith, but because they find no possibility to learn more of the Lord, and be led by His Holy Spirit where they have been attending. This is called a sad decline by many Church leaders, but could it be that the Holy Spirit is making known to them the necessity of “walking in the spirit”, and if church life stifles that, there is only one other choice, and that is to leave, however painful a wrench it may be. We have read the testimonies of very many of those who have had to take this step, and quite the preponderance of them are finding new freedom and deeper commitment, whereby the Holy Spirit is guiding them in a manner never before experienced. Is this a relatively new move of the Spirit, preparing His people for the coming day of resurrection?
In that Day, when faith is turned to sight, we shall indeed be as the Starlings, acting with One Mind, the Mind of Christ, and God will have a new work for us to do, a corporate work to declare the majesty of God to the rest of the world, and bring about that blessed condition where there will be “multitudes in the valley of decision.” (Joel 3:14) May the Lord fulfil His good pleasure, “to sum up all in the Christ, those in heaven and those upon the earth, in Him,” (Eph.1:10), and cause “every knee to bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.” (Phil.2:11) “The earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)