Thursday, September 15, 2016

Ecclesiology: Chapter 12


Chapter 12: The Outpouring of the Spirit, the Kingdom of God, and the Church


 

Pannenberg begins Chapter 12 with a discussion of the consummating of the plan of God for salvation by the Spirit. Pannenberg will stress the special nature of the soteriological work of the Spirit relative to creation. The Son and Spirit are active in creation, and they are active in the creation of the church. Their activity has the purpose of actualizing the saving work of God in the world. For that reason, we might say that “grieving the Holy Spirit” is of a personal sort, since the Spirit is so close to the church and to the individual. As Pannenberg will discuss, we might grieve the Spirit when we resist the formation of faith, hope, and love or resist the moral exhortations of the apostles.[1] The Spirit is a gift that glorifies creation. Augustine emphasized that the Spirit is the gift in which the fellowship of the Father and Son finds fulfillment in mutual love finds its depth when we also see this gift to believers as the strengthening of the fellowship of the believer with the Son. He stresses that the outpouring of the Spirit as gift is not just for individuals but aims at the building p of the fellowship of believers. While Christ is the foundation of the church in Paul, in Luke, the power of the Spirit seems to be the foundation of the church. While he will discuss various theological concepts of the church, they must integrate both emphases. Through the work of the Spirit, Christ is the foundation of the church. After all, the Spirit has the purpose of glorifying the Son so that we know the Father through the Son. Christology and pneumatology belong together when we properly discuss the constitution of the church. The Spirit is at work in calling us beyond ourselves and to the origin of all life. The church is the creation of the Spirit and the risen Lord through the gospel. The work of the Spirit is eschatological. It anticipates the future fellowship of humanity in the reign of God. This anticipation forms the context for an understanding of the church as the fellowship of believers grounded on the participation of each in Jesus Christ.

            Second, Pannenberg discusses the rule of God, the church, and society. He begins with a discussion of the church and the rule of God. The formation of the early fellowship of believers is a partial aspect of the dawning of the rule of God. We can think of it as a provisional gathering awaiting the future of God. The future of God is realization of a fellowship of human beings in the consummating rule of God. Jesus did not establish the church in the formation of his disciples. The church is an anticipatory sign of the rule of God. Therefore, we are never to identify the church with that rule. If the church does so, its arrogance will always meet the poverty and all too human character of is actual life. It will make the Christian hope incredible to its members and to the world.

In a discussion of the church as the mystery of salvation in Christ, he again focuses on the church as a sign of future fellowship in the rule of God. The church is an “instrument” only in the sense of advancing that rule. The church will not transform the world into the rule of God. Rather, the rule of God comes from God.

In a discussion of the church and the political order in the light of the Lordship of God, he will stress that no existing constitutional or judicial order does full justice to the task of establishing social justice and peace. The distinction between the spiritual and secular order has its origin in such eschatological reflections. Modernity replaced the ancient founding of the political order in religion with ideology. From the Christian perspective, the ordering of human social life politically is always provisional, a distant reflection of the actualizing of the rule of God. The church acts counter to the legal order of the state and to the public culture by its existence. Relativizing the political order may make it possible to have an effect on individual and on public life. The church exists as a separate society alongside the political order. The separation demonstrates the brokenness of every human order. Its separation helps to humanize the social order. It also reminds the present political order that its destiny is not now, but in the future.

In these matters, Pannenberg is quite consistent with other theologians. Let us consider a few.

John Macquarie will say that the rule of God is an eschatological conception, and the church is a stage on the way from actual sinful humanity to the kingdom. The church is a kind of bridge between the place where humanity actually is and its destiny as the kingdom of God.[2]

Robert W. Jenson will say that the church exists in and by anticipation. The one people of God cannot gather in this world before the last day. Therefore, the church can now be the people of God only in anticipation of that gathering as the community lives by what God will make of it. The church is the body of that Christ whose bodily departure to the right of God we must still await. The church in the power of the Spirit is such as a foretaste or down payment. He[3] will also say that what the church anticipates is inclusion in the triune communion. The present reality of the church, which includes all its brokenness and fallibility, is the end of all things, exactly as the end is the embrace of Trinity of all in all. The communion that is now the church is itself constituted by an event of communion or participation, with the communion that is the Trinity.[4] He also draws the conclusion that the beginning of the church provides no paradigm by which to make judgments about the institutional life of the church. He finds that appropriate, since the end of the church is the proper paradigm, a coherent narrative that hangs together by anticipations of its conclusion. The church is an anticipation of her transformation into God. Therefore, even if the beginning of the church were uniform, we should still look forward to see its true shape. The end of the church will be perfect inclusion in the triune life. A proper ordering of the church is one that can accept this inclusion. For him, this suggests three norms, differentiated, perichoretic, and reciprocally hierarchical.[5]

Peter Hodgson says that the church is an anticipatory sign and sacrament of the project of God in the world, the vision of the kingdom of God that we see through Jesus. The church is a mediating reality, but fragmentary. It participates in the saving power of the world-transforming redemptive presence of God, but actualizing it in a fragmentary way because it can actualize this power only in an historical and finite way.[6]

The practical effect of this notion of the church as a sign or provisional community on the way toward the redemption accomplished in the Spirit is that the church in any age has no absolute authority even in matters pertaining to God.[7]

            Third, Pannenberg discusses the law and the gospel. In focusing on the love of God and neighbor, Jesus directed its fulfillment in the future rule of God. The universal thrust of this message opened the possibility of the universality of the law of God. The law of God was no longer the distinctive possession of the Jewish people. He will explore the understanding of the law in Paul in terms of salvation history. For Paul, the Jewish law was not a timeless form of the divine will. Rather, the law is an historical entity. The law ended in terms of its validity with the coming of Christ. He contrasts the legal righteousness of the Jewish people with the righteousness of faith. Yet, he expected that those enlivened by the Spirit to faith and the death of self-seeking would abide by the moral aspects of the Jewish law. These observations lead him to consider whether the gospel is a new law. This leads him to discuss theories of natural law. For him, the abiding element of truth here is that the question of our common human nature constantly arises in a way that we cannot evade. It raises the question of the basic anthropological conditions of social life. This view is in tension with sinfulness as part of the human condition, but is also under the influence of human destiny defined by Christ.

The difficulty he sees with both forms of law is that it neglects the creative freedom and multiplicity of possibilities of life that flow from love. While law binds people to a specific form of conduct, love can imaginatively create new forms. While law formulates a traditional order of life, love introduces flexibility. Love does not despise the rule, but agrees with them as a free act that is not applicable to every situation. He then discusses the law as demand and the pronouncement of the gospel. He points to Luther, who broadened the notion of law from its historical Jewish setting to a factor among all peoples. The eschatological turn from law to gospel has taken place definitively in Jesus Christ.

He then discusses the freedom of the Christian from the law as it applies to the righteous will of God. God has not left Christians to themselves as they consider their moral conduct. Rather, they receive apostolic moral exhortation (parenesis or paraclesis). They provide exposition of being in Christ, and we thus make a mistake in thinking of them as law. The only reason to move against them is if the love of God in Jesus Christ compels us to do so. Love may develop many creative responses to the demands of situations in life. What holds together the various moral exhortations is the unity of the love of Christ.

The need for law arises from the imperfect state of human society in this world. The power of the state also occurs in this context. The eschatological consummation of human fellowship in the rule of God no longer needs either law or the power of the state. This means the law is not the definitive form of the righteous will of God. By its liturgical life, the church leaves room in human hearts and social life for hope of the future of God. In fact, the church already mediates to individuals their assurance of participation in the associated salvation.



[1] See John Wesley, Sermon 138, “On Grieving the Holy Spirit,” 1733.
[2] Principles of Christian Theology, Charles Scribner’s Son: New York, 1966, 349.
[3] Ibid, 222.
[4] Systematic Theology: Volume 2, The Works of God, Oxford University Press: New York, 1999, 171-72.
[5] Ibid., 239.
[6] Winds of the Spirit: A Constructive Christian Theology, Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, Ky, 1994, 297.
[7] Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, Charles Scribner’s Son: New York, 1966, 350.

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