Saturday, December 10, 2005

Whence comes our 'leaders'? Part III


With the companion works of Luke – His Gospel and Acts – a theme is developed that is only indirectly hinted at in our first two gospels: The Spirit as the empowering element to Jesus’ profoundly subversive vision of the Church and the subsequent elevation of society's unknowns - the "poor." [1]

The Spirit as the Difference

Of all the Gospel writers, Luke is the one most at pains to attribute the work of Jesus and the subsequent Jesus-movement to the radical descent of the Spirit. For example:

  • After Jesus’ baptism by John, Luke alone points out Jesus is "full of the Spirit" and "led by the Spirit in the wilderness" (4:1).
  • Only in Luke does He return to Galilee "in the power of the Spirit" (4:14).
  • It is the Spirit that Jesus credits for His power in declaring the Gospel (4:18).
  • He casts out demons with "authority and power" (4:36). And this same "power" was present to heal (5:17) and amaze the multitude (6:19). This "new wine" will be uncontainable in the old skins - surely an indication that the system (any system?!) is about to perish.
  • Only Luke takes the liberty to switch 'Holy Spirit' for 'stone' in asserting the liberty with which God gives the greatest of gifts to his children (11:13). With this change, Luke realizes for his reader what is the real human need.
  • Luke co-joins the 'blasphemy of the Spirit' and the fact that it will be the Spirit who is determinative for the believers ability to defend the truth (12:10-13).
This flavor runs from the beginning to the end of his Gospel. [2] Recognizing a strain of this, today’s Pentecostals and Charismatics have exploited this narrative feature in Acts and systematized it as the foundation of their newfound faith. Even mainline theologians are slowly coming to admit the ‘charismatic’ nature of Luke’s theology [3]. The former group is right to recognize this, even if their awareness appears tragically limited to miraculous phenomenon. The latter, having recognized it, sadly live within church structures that are unable to accommodate this truth in any authentic form. Thus we have their eagerness to relegate it to the 1st century or to dismiss it as Lukan myth.

While it is wonderful that these groups have recognized this aspect to Luke’s narrative, the critical point is not the discovery of Luke’s so-called ‘Pentecostalism’, but his masterful arrangement of the text for the purpose of demonstrating that Jesus’ radical message, teaching and ability are wholly dependant on the coming of the promised Spirit for their wisdom and strength. So much so, in fact, that it is time we admitted that there really is no speaking of Jesus’ teaching as something admirable and practical in itself, for in itself it is an other-worldly ethic and quite unable to bring about the life it describes. There is no living by the Sermon on the Mount without the advent of the Spirit. It is the Spirit that makes Jesus’ teaching a reality. As Jesus said, "My words are Spirit" and "it is the Spirit that gives life." To use language from Paul, Jesus taught a life of the Spirit, not of the Letter.

Still, whether Evangelical, Liberal, Catholic, or Charismatic, all are amiss for overlooking the over-arching creational function of the Spirit with regard to the Church’s form, specifically as it pertains to the selection and education of its leadership. Judging from their requirements for ministry, we can safely conclude that none sincerely believe the Spirit is sufficient for the equipping of the Christian ministry. The prospective Christian leader must be turned over to the specialists if he/she is to serve in the approved manner – they must be "professionalized."

In the case of all the above, this fated process can be directly demonstrated to be instrumental to the cause of their multitudinous problems. First and foremost, that a significant majority of the protestant clergy are interminable bores who know not the Word of God. This may be even more true for the Catholic clergy with all their painfully public sins and the horrors produced by forced celibacy.

The Grand Spirit-Driven Reversal

Important to our study is Luke's conjunction of the empowering of the Spirit with an emphasis on the reversal of fortune for the 'unrecognized' over the privileged.

  • Beginning with Jesus - as the greatest example - this truth is brought to bear whenever He is confronted by religious authorities. In all cases, Jesus - as a Spirit-man full of wisdom and power - is consistently presented as their superior despite not having their education or training. The Spirit alone was able to gift and inspire Him beyond that of all His contemporaries - for all ages. It was this Spirit that antiquated all earthly systems of religious education and heirarchy by the unmediated application of the power of God - the New Wine.
  • But this reversal applies in some severe ways. Woes await "the rich," who have "recieved their comfort in full"- along with the "well-fed", those who "laugh", and those of whom "all speak well" (6:24-26).
  • Again, Jesus is adamant that John the Baptist be recognized not as one of the excepted and privileged, for "those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are in royal palaces" (7:25).
  • Yes, even with John the Baptist the grand reversal had begun to take place. How the religious elite responded to him - an anti-social chap if there ever was one! - would determine their final fate. Identifying with this reversal is arguably the true meaning of John's use of 'repentance' (7:29-30).
  • Even forgiveness aids in the reversal as "those who are forgiven much love much"; those who "love much" will populate the Kingdom (7:47-48). This inevitably places those who have been marginalized - made to think that they are far from God based on position, means, or sin - into a place of recognition. This is foreseen in the Magnificat.
  • The call to deny oneself and follow Jesus has the same effect as it demands that the follower deny what the world offers (9:23-26). Thus, they are called to marginalize themselves!
But it is easy to overlook the key to this reversal: The divinely inspired revelation and empowerment of the Spirit. This source is uniquely connected when Luke points out that it is the Spirit that causes Jesus to say that the Father, "has hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to babes" (10:21). No earthly means can prepare, provide or account for this coming age.

To participate in the new Kingdom one must simply be susceptible to the Spirit's call. But this is the catch: The ability to hear the Spirit is directly dulled by possessing the things of the world: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. This is the point that the social-gospelers miss everytime. The poor are not inherently virtuous or worthy of the kingdom by virtue of a material shortage. It is simply because having nothing in a material world can often make one receptive to the world beyond this one - not always, but often enough for Jesus to point this out. "Let he who has ears to hear..."


This understanding has serious implications for how the Church's composition and form. The co-joining of the empowering by the Spirit with the radical reversal of fortune undermines all human institutions, especially those designated to be in service to God. Our modern Churches - while giving lip-service to Jesus' ethical teaching - have failed to acknowledge what Jesus and Paul assumed as the norm, that this truth extends to more than just the Christian ethical life, but to the Church’s very structure and existence. Circumventing the world’s way of producing its leaders, the Spirit, in a most direct fashion, produces pastors, teachers, and prophets in a heirarchy of servitude. Taking liberty with a familiar text: "It is not by Seminary education, professorships or priesthood, but by My Spirit, says the Lord." This subversion of the Cultus is encapsulated in Jesus’ damning phrase, "as a testimony against them (9:5)," – a descriptive meant to drive home the idea of the totally sufficient power of the Spirit. People are being healed, but not through the Cultus; people are being taught, but not by way of the rabbinate.

With the advent of the Spirit in Jesus, the Cultus and the Rabbinate are dead. Would one know this by observing the visible church? Is it not true that its most obvious feature is its transformation into the likeness of its predessesor? Unfortunately, today’s clergy refuse to implement in practice what many of them will acknowledge in exegesis.

One last word. This New Testament revelation takes its final form in the redemptive work of Christ. The irony and contradiction of a crucified Lord exemplify all that is implied by the coming of the Spirit and the reversal of fortune. In the proclamation of the Cross, the message matches the method: "Not by power nor by might but by My Spirit, says the Lord."

We bow in homage to a King who rules from a cross.

Something only the willingly marginalized would do. Right?




[1] Originally I had hoped to deal with this topic under a separate series, but my persuasion - that the reductionism inherent in the practice of ‘Systematic Theology’ is the death of true Biblical theology - has convinced me of the need to connect these two issues here rather than make an unnatural separation that might lean toward gnosticism i.e., the idea that Christian theology is the mere outworking of ideas held in the mind rather than a supernatural encounter with the living God, whereby the world is introduced to a person and power seemingly from outside it.

[2] For verses unique to Luke, see: 1:15; 1:17; 1:41; 1:67; 2:25-27; 4:1; 4:14; 10:21; 11:13. And, of course, almost anything in Acts.

[3] J. D. G. Dunn is a good example. Still, while Dunn is rare among non-Pentecostal theologians in his recognition of the charismatic quality of Luke’ theology, he is all too quick to dismiss its vocational function as inadequate for our modern church. I believe this type of dismissal tells us more about Dunn’s institutional parochialism than about the adequacy of Luke’s vision for the body of Christ. I would hazard to guess that what really lies behind this unwillingness to allow for a true vocational understanding of Luke is the harsh reality that if Luke’s theology were to be heeded, all our theologians would be short a paycheck. The Church, of course, would be thriving!


Anonymous Jaime said...

I was out for awhile, and just started reading to catch up. Good stuff. I'm putting it together into a nice looking PDF file that you might be interested in. I'll send it your way, so you can say what you think. Grace and Peace

4:58 PM  

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