May/June 2011 - Vol. 50.

Families and singles gather for a European Communities Retreat

What Is the Sword of the Spirit?
Some Questions and Answers

By Jerry Munk

What is the Sword of the Spirit?
Simply put, the Sword of the Spirit is an association of self-governing communities that have agreed to do some things the same way and to do some things together. The Sword of the Spirit is governed by an international assembly, composed of the senior leader of each member community. In addition, the Sword of the Spirit is divided into a number of regions: the North American Region, the Ibero-Americana Region (Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula); the European Region, the Asian Region, and the South Pacific Region. Each region is governed by a regional council, on which sit the senior leaders of member communities in that region.

Why the name, Sword of the Spirit?
“Sword of the Spirit” is a term one finds in the Bible. The term is a reference to the Bible itself (Ephesians 6:17) and, more generally, “sword” is sometimes used in Scripture to refer to an instrument wielded by God for his purposes. When leaders of the communities met to pray for direction, they were led to take this name as a statement of the call God had given to us. Therefore, the Sword of the Spirit is a name signifying our role as a missionary body of Christian disciples, witnessing to and proclaiming the word of God in this age of spiritual warfare – a people who can be used by the Lord to accomplish His purposes.

What is the purpose of the Sword of the Spirit?
The Sword of the Spirit stands and works for a number goals:

  1. To help people commit their lives fully to Jesus Christ and become mature Christians.
  2. To help people experience the presence and power of the Holy Spirit so they may live and serve in a spiritually effective way.
  3. To foster love and worship of God and a life that is lived for His glory.
  4. To form loving, personal relationships that support an ongoing Christian life.
  5. To develop a way of life where the Gospel can be lived fully.
  6. To do the work of evangelization—to help other people come to know Jesus Christ.
  7. To proclaim and defend the Gospel.
  8. To foster Christian unity through collaboration and cooperation among Christians from different traditions.
In addition, the Sword of the Spirit understands that it is called to be a bulwark. The dictionary defines a bulwark as a solid, wall-like structure built for protection and support. By building an international community of communities linked together in a common way of life and engaging a common mission, the Sword of the Spirit is a bulwark: a structure that provides protection, support, and defense in the face of modern challenges to the Christian way of life. By being part of a bulwark, members can better respond to those challenges in unified and life-giving ways. 

Is the Sword of the Spirit a church? 
Sword of the Spirit communities are not churches. Members of Sword of the Spirit communities belong to many different Christian churches. They remain active in their local parish or congregation. They live a common life in community that is complementary to and supportive of church membership. Some Sword of the Spirit communities are ecumenical: members attend churches from different Christian communions. Some Sword of the Spirit communities represent a single church communion. There are a number of Catholic communities in the Sword of the Spirit. There is also an Orthodox community in The Sword of the Spirit. 

Is it necessary for all Christians to live in community?
The New Testament describes the Christian life in ways that are clearly corporate and communal. Christians are called to relate to one another as “brothers and sisters.” They are to be knit together as “members of one body.” They are “members of the household and family of God.” In this sense, all Christians are called to live in community. Relatively few Christians will live in a Sword of the Spirit community. By its existence, however, The Sword of the Spirit hopes to be a witness to the communal dimension of the Christian faith, a dimension that is weak or missing in the lives of many believers. We hope that our life together encourages individuals and groups of Christians to examine the New Testament call to a corporate life and take tangible steps to grow in it.

Why form community alongside, but still separate from, church life?
Christian communities are formed with those people who hear the Lord’s call and are willing to embrace it freely. In some circumstances those who hear this call and respond to it are scattered among several Christian traditions. In other circumstances those who hear this call and respond to it are from a single church communion and believe that the Lord would have them build community with people from that communion. We have come together in communities because God can act in specific communities to accomplish things that can then be made available to the wider church. Members of Sword of the Spirit communities love the churches of which they are members. Many serve their local congregation and work for renewal within it. Members see their involvement in The Sword of the Spirit as complementary to and part of their commitment to their church – and to the larger body of Christ.

Why is the Sword of the Spirit ecumenical?
The word “ecumenical” is a Greek word meaning the whole of creation or the whole family. It is a word that implies all of the Christian people, regardless of the church communion to which they belong. We believe the Lord has called The Sword of the Spirit to be a special witness to ecumenical cooperation. Division and bad relating among Christians has been common for most of the last 2000 years. The issues that divide us are important, but so is the fact that we are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. Members of The Sword of the Spirit, even members of single-communion communities, work to give witness to the unity that we already share in Jesus Christ. We actively follow the guidelines given by our respective churches for how we can and should cooperate as brothers and sisters in Christ – while we wait and pray for greater Christian unity. We seek to live our Christian life in a way that will further the unity of God’s people, seeking to find a convergent way of expressing our Christian life in harmony with our church identity. It is encouraging that many leaders of our respective churches have been involved in an ongoing ecumenical dialogue, and have made progress towards greater unity and understanding. 

Sword of the Spirit communities are “lay communities.” What does that mean?
Christians use the term “laity” to distinguish church members from the ordained clergy: priests, ministers, those in monastic life, and, in some traditions, missionaries. Ordained clergy do participate actively in some of our communities, but the focus of our communities is on living a day-to-day Christian way of life, a way of life that is helpful and supportive regardless of one’s vocation: male or female, married or single, lay or clerical. All Christians, not just clergy, are called to live fully for Jesus Christ and His kingdom.

The Sword of the Spirit is “charismatic.” What does that mean?
You may notice some different things about our prayer meetings and gatherings: people raise their hands, pray out loud, pray in a language that you (and they) do not understand, and every so often someone will read a Bible passage or say something he or she believes comes from the Lord. All of these things have been part of Christian worship since the Church was established, but they had, for the most part, fallen into disuse. In recent decades, the Charismatic Renewal has changed this for millions of Christians. Through this renewal, people have come to a more personal and tangible experience of the person, the power, the guiding, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (For a partial list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit see 1 Corinthians 12:7-9.)

This experience is similar to what happened to the early Christian believers, as we read in Acts 2:1-13: All the believers were gathered in one place...they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak. The Apostle Peter explained what was happening by quoting an Old Testament prophet: “This is what I will do, says the Lord. I will pour out my Spirit on everyone. Your sons and your daughters will proclaim my message; your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. On My servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit and they will proclaim my message” (Acts 2:17-18). 

[This article is excerpted from, The Sword of the Spirit: Communities of Disciples on Mission, by Jerry Munk. Used with permission. The booklet can be purchased from Tabor House.]

Some communities worldwide 

When the People of God community in Beirut, Lebanon, began, its members did not know that they were about to be plunged into a 15 year civil war that would decimate their country and threaten their lives. The encouragement they received from other communities in The Sword of the Spirit made it possible for members of the community to remain in Lebanon, survive the war, and maintain hope for the future. Today the People of God is playing an important role in the revitalization of local Catholic and Orthodox churches. It also has an active outreach to university students and sponsors a large movement of Christians from the many traditions represented in Beirut.

Members of Jerusalem Community in Belgium welcome the recent visit of Archbishop Leonard from Brussels.
The Word of Life Community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, is a transgenerational community of married couples, families, and singles, where children, parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents live for and serve the Lord together. One family in the Word of Life (the Vandagriff family, pictured below) spans four generations and has been active in the community for most of its history. The community comprises more than 400 members from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and Christian traditions. The Word of Life is engaged in evangelism among university students, has an outreach to youth at risk in Detroit, and helps with the development of newer communities in North America.

The Joy of the Lord community in Manila, Philippines, has seen steady growth and fruitfulness in service and mission for more than 30 years. Their seven distinct movements reach out to more than 20,000 people throughout the Philippines. Outreach efforts include support and care for married couples and families, university students and young professionals, widows and single mothers, and serving the very poor. They also provide teaching and training for Christian leaders,  and serve many developing Christian communities throughout Asia. Photo above: A mission team went to the Island of Tingloy to give a leadership seminar for high school students there.

Last summer some 90 students and staff leaders from University Christian Outreaches in North America gathered for 10 days of teaching, training, prayer, and fellowship.

young people from the Lamb of God community in New Zealand gather for a weekend retreat

Children are an important part of life in Christian community. Member communities offer many programs that reach out to children, and children actively participate in many aspects of community life. In the photo above, children from the Work of Christ Community in Lansing, Michigan, enjoy a week-long summer camp. The camp recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.

The Servants of the Word is an international, ecumenical brotherhood of men living single for the Lord within The Sword of the Spirit. Formed in the 1970s, the Servants of the Word has about 50 life-long members serving in several different countries. By choosing not to marry, brothers in The Servants of the Word are free to devote the time, energy, and commitment typically invested in family life to other services and mission needed to spread the Gospel. The brotherhood is especially committed to evangelistic work among high-school and college-age youth, building Christian community, and formative Christian teaching. Servants of the Word households can be found in the United States (Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids, Michigan), the United Kingdom (London, England, and Belfast, Northern Ireland), in Manila, Philippines, and Monterrey, Mexico. 

S/W brothers from Michigan on Winter Reteat - 2011

The Sword of the Spirit: Communities of Disciples on Mission

new booklet by Jerry Munk, 26 pages
available from Tabor House

When people first encounter the Sword of the Spirit, they often have a number of questions. This booklet provides a good overview of the New Testament call for all Christians to live in a new society and one response to that call, the Sword of the Spirit. Especially helpful for guests and newcomers.

 (c) copyright 2011  The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom