Pentecost, hypostasis, and apocalypsis

Bryan Reyna - Apokalupsis Eschaton

With my New Testament open, and with Pentecost just around the corner, I’ve been thinking again about the difference that Christ and the Spirit make to our cultural-ethnic boundaries, and it seems to me that what is being championed in Galatians, 1 Corinthians, and elsewhere is not that humanity has been liberated from religious boundaries in order to take up residence as a citizen of a secular, desacralized world, but rather that those baptized into Christ are now to live in the reality of Christ as both the boundary and centre of their existence, a boundary which includes all humanity in our cultural/ethnic/gendered/social/historical particularities. Christ’s kenotic community therefore must not violate the divine-human solidarity announced and secured in the hypostatic union by placing boundaries between itself and the world. But this is not all, for the radical solidarity created in the incarnation also creates a dissonance between that which depends upon arrangements which are passing away and those which depend upon and point to the coming reign of God. Put otherwise, and to borrow language from Ray Anderson, the incarnation and Pentecost announce that ‘historical precedence must give way to eschatological preference’. John Zizioulas makes this point even more radically explicit when he insists that even Jesus must be liberated from his past history in order to bring to the present history of the church his eschatological presence and power:

Now if becoming history is the particularity of the Son in the economy, what is the contribution of the Spirit? Well, precisely the opposite: it is to liberate the Son and the economy from the bondage of history. If the Son dies on the cross, thus succumbing to the bondage of historical existence, it is the Spirit that raises him from the dead. The Spirit is the beyond history, and when he acts in history he does so in order to bring into history the last days, the eschaton.

[Image: Bryan Reyna, ‘Apokalupsis Eschaton’]

‘Enemy of Apathy’: a song for Pentecost, and beyond


She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters,
hovering on the chaos of the world’s first day;
she sighs and she sings, mothering creation,
waiting to give birth to all the Word will say.

She wings over earth, resting where she wishes,
lighting close at hand or soaring through the skies;
she nestsin the womb, welcoming each wonder,
nourishing potential hidden to our eyes.

She dances in fire, startling her spectators,
waking tongues of ecstasy where dumbness reigned;
she weans and inspires all whose hearts are open,
nor can she be captured, silenced or restrained.

For she is the Spirit, one with God in essence,
gifted by the Saviour in eternal love;
and she is the key opening the scriptures,
enemy of apathy and heavenly dove.

– John L. Bell & Graham Maule, ‘Enemy of Apathy’, in The Iona Abbey Worship Book (Glasgow: Wild Goose Publications, 2003), 193. (The hymn also appears in Church Hymnary 4, #593, and in some other places too)

A Pentecost Prayer

O God the Holy Ghost
Who art light unto thine elect
Evermore enlighten us.
Thou who art fire of love
Evermore enkindle us.
Thou who art Lord and Giver of Life,
Evermore live in us.
Thou who bestowest sevenfold grace,
Evermore replenish us.
As the wind is thy symbol,
So forward our goings.
As the dove, so launch us heavenwards.
As water, so purify our spirits.
As a cloud, so abate our temptations.
As dew, so revive our languor.
As fire, so purge our dross.

– Christina Georgina Rossetti, The Face of the Deep: a devotional commentary on the Apocalypse (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1892), 155.

One other great Pentecost prayer that comes readily to mind is James K. Baxter’s: ‘Song to the Holy Spirit’.

William Stringfellow, Imposters of God: Inquiries into Favorite Idols – Part IV

After chapters on money and status (pp. 31–6), race (pp. 39–43), and patriotism (pp. 47–52), Stringfellow, in Chapter Seven, turns to the idol named ‘Church’. He recalls that by the sheer gift of God, the Church lives in the midst of a history constituted by the Fall and in ‘juxtaposition to each and every institution and ideology in their fallenness’ for the critical purpose of ‘being a witness and example of the society of mankind and of all creatures liberated from the power of death’ (p. 55). In building his argument, Stringfellow considers the very constitution of the Church at Pentecost, where, he notes, arise two peculiar characteristics which distinguish the Church as free from the power of death. Both, he insists, pertain to the Church as renewed creation, that is, both inhere in the unity of the Church, bestowed in Pentecost by God for the sake and service of the world. He names these characteristics the ‘secular unity’ of the Church and the ‘churchly unity’ of the Church:

The secular unity of the church at Pentecost consists in the extraordinary transcendence, in that event in which the church is called into being, of all worldly distinctions familiar to men. Thus, according to the biblical testimony, on the day of Pentecost there are gathered in one place men of every tribe and tongue who are, in becoming the new society of the church, no longer divided and separated and unreconciled on account of their differences of race or language, ideology or class, nationality or age, sex or status, occupation or education, or, indeed, even place and time (Acts 2). Such distinctions, so esteemed in the world that they are representative of the idols men worship and vainly look to for justification, are surpassed in such a way in the establishment of the church in history that the church is characterized, biblically, as “a new creation,” “a holy nation,” “a priest among the nations,” “a foretaste of the Kingdom of God,” “a pilgrim people,” “a pioneer of salvation,” “a new race,” a community in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond or free, but in which all have become one in Christ.

Coincident with this worldly unity of the church at Pentecost is a churchly unity encompassing the manifold charismatic gifts bestowed upon the church and distributed and appointed among members of the church, such as prophetism, preaching, teaching, healing, administration, speaking in tongues, and so on. (See Ephesians 4:11–14, cf. 1 Corinthians 14:1–19.) These particular gifts of God to the church are missionary gifts – that is, they are entrusted to the church and authenticated in their exercise by members of the church as means of witness and service to the world. At the same time, according to the biblical precedent, the efficacy of a specific gift requires the presence and use of all the other various gifts so that they are all interrelated and interdependent, and so that each enhances the wholeness of the body of the church. The diversity of charismatic gifts is not occasion for division of the church into sects or parties or for status distinctions or exclusionary practices among members of the church. The gifts are contributions to a churchly unity which serves a broken, divided, fallen world as a forerunner of the reconciliation vouchsafed in Christ for the world.

It is possible to speak of the marks of the church in other frames of reference which are both trustworthy and worthwhile, but it is never possible to omit these two marks of the church manifested in the constitution of the church at Pentecost. (pp. 56–7)

Stringfellow proceeds to note that ‘a distinctive mark of the biblical mind’ is the ability to ‘discern that human history is a drama of death and resurrection and not, as religionists of all sorts suppose, a simplistic conflict of evil vs. good in an abstract sense’ (p. 64). God has embodied the aspects of the essential conflict between life and death into his own drama of death and resurrection: ‘In the light of the Gospel, every life, every person, every event, is included in the context of death and resurrection – of death and the resurrection of life, of death and transcending the power of death. As death is not just something which each of us must eventually face, but a power at work here and now, so the power of the resurrection is neither something remote nor merely promissory. The resurrection of Jesus Christ means the available power of God confronting and transcending the power of death here and now in the daily realities of our lives’ (pp. 64–5).

It is to this truth that the Church is elected, called and empowered to bear witness. This election, calling and empowerment takes place in the event of Jesus’ resurrection. This event announces the end of the reign of death and inaugurates the new creation in which we need no longer fear the power of death, and so we need no longer serve any idols:

The resurrection constitutes freedom for men from all idolatries, whether of race or money or church or whatever. It constitutes freedom from death as a moral power in history, freedom to welcome and honor life as a gift, freedom to live by grace, unburdened by the anxiety for justification which enslaves men to idols.

In this freedom, we can begin to be faithful to our own humanity, and so faithful to God. We can go to work to give back to our various idols their true nature and purpose in relation to human beings and human living: to love our country and try to restore it to a sense of its true vocation in the family of nations; to use money as a medium facilitating equable exchange of goods and services; and try to get it so used in our society and in our world, and so on.

In this freedom, we no longer serve idols in our work or other experiences; we serve the living God. We work in the service of life, for ourselves and our fellow men. We work to re-establish human life in our relationships with ourselves and others and things in our society, anticipating in hope the final restoration when God will be “all in all.”

Thus work takes on the character of worship “in spirit and in truth,” and in our worship we celebrate the life and restoration we are working for. In such freedom, then, the present obvious dichotomy between what Christians do in the sanctuary and what they do in society can be done away with. What is affirmed and enacted in our corporate liturgical worship is what we affirm and work for in our daily lives. In both, we celebrate the gift of life as such by participation in God’s affirmation of life in the face of death. (pp. 65–6)

Imposters of God, which began its life as a study book for high school students, has been described as a work which ‘exposes the reality of idolatry at the heart of our common life in the world: work, status, money, race, the church, etc. But perhaps most importantly, it provides hope: a way of living in grace’ (Anthony Dancer). Yes it does. And Karl Barth was right about Stringfellow when he said, ‘You should listen to this man!’

Don’t forget Wipf & Stock’s offer to readers of Per Crucem ad Lucem of 40% off the retail price of any of the Stringfellow volumes. To obtain the 40% discount, just include the coupon code STRINGFELLOW with your order.

William Stringfellow, Free in Obedience – Part IV

‘The Church is born and lives … in the gift of Pentecost’ (p. 101). It is Pentecost, Stringfellow reminds us in Free in Obedience, that births the Church into the ‘awful freedom’ of Christ’s victory, a freedom from death, a freedom which empowers the people of God to live jubilantly ‘during the remaining time of death’s apparent reign, without escaping or hiding or withdrawing from the full reality of death’s presence … It is the freedom to live anywhere, any day, in such a way as to expose and confound the works of death and at the same time to declare and honor the work of Christ’ (pp. 75–6). This freedom is not given for God’s sake, or for the sake of the Church, but in order that the world may ‘recover wholeness and completion of life’ (p. 76). It represents, therefore, an act of divine generosity which gathers up in its ek-static movement a people called to witness to the grace, truth and power of Christ’s resurrection. Those so gathered are called into an ‘ethics of obedience’ (p. 76), a calling which involves a loosening of the grip on the principalities of race, class, ideology, commerce, status, etc., that hold the Church captive:

‘The principality of the nation is served by the silence of the Church on issues confronting society; the nation willingly tolerates a silent, uncritical, uninterfering Church concerned only with such esoteric things of religion as public worship’. (p. 85)

On the whole, the Church – largely confused about the freedom given in the gospel and ‘in which it was constituted at Pentecost’ (p. 88) – has been a faithful chaplain and ‘handmaiden’ (p. 95) to the State, dutifully blessing the State’s causes and idolatrous claims with a ‘dignity of allegiance that ought to be given only to God’ (p. 86). Those already familiar with Yoder’s and Kerr’s critiques of Constantinianism’s project of the politicisation of the church according to the terms of the state, the civil sovereigns, powers and principalities of this world, will find echoes here in Stringfellow.

After a discussion on the legitimacy and necessity of civil disobedience (though the Church is never to engage in civil disobedience as anarchists but only in order to affirm the nation’s true vocation), Stringfellow brilliantly outlines the proper relation between church and state (neither of which are ‘exempt from the fall’ (p. 98)) under God’s authority. He argues that ‘the Church vis a vis the nation is always in the position of standing against the nation in the nation’s bondage to death; at the same time, the Church is always in the position of standing for the nation in a most profound way that recalls the vocation for the nation in the service of God … The Church reminds the nation, as it is does any other principality, of the origin of its life, of the service it owes to God, and of the accountability of the nation to God in ruling the common life of men in society’ (pp. 92, 93). He also identifies the void in Protestant moral theology which fails to account for the way that those church bureaucrats who think that they control the institution are themselves slaves to the principalities of death.

‘This does not mean that Christians should be loath to work in churchly institutions, but it does mean that those who do should be aware of the reality which confronts them and should not be romantic about it because the principality bears the name “church.” Above all, they should be prepared to stomach the conflict which will surely accompany their use of the freedom from idolatry of even churchly principalities which Christ himself has secured’. (p. 99)

Stringfellow then engages with a wonderfully-helpful reflection of the ongoing power and significance of Pentecost (and of the authority present in Christian baptism) for shaping and determining Christian witness in a world in which King Jesus, possessed of the Holy Spirit, triumphantly encounters the powers and principalities of death – and death itself. ‘The Church, in the gratuity of Pentecost, is enabled to witness to God’s authority over the principalities in his victory over death by its knowledge of death, its discernment of the powers of death, and by unveiling and laying bare the works of death in this world’ (p. 102).

Don’t forget Wipf & Stock’s offer to readers of Per Crucem ad Lucem of 40% off the retail price of any of the Stringfellow volumes. To obtain the 40% discount, just include the coupon code STRINGFELLOW with your order.

James K. Baxter: ‘Song to the Holy Spirit’

Wild Goose

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You blow like the wind in a thousand paddocks,
Inside and outside the fences,
You blow where you wish to blow.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the sun who shines on the little plant,
You warm him gently, you give him life,
You raise him up to become a tree with many leaves.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the mother eagle with her young,
Holding them in peace under your feathers.
On the highest mountain you have built your nest,
Above the valley, above the storms of the world,
Where no hunter ever comes.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the bright cloud in whom we hide,
In whom we know already that the battle has been won.
You bring us to our Brother Jesus
To rest our heads upon his shoulder.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the kind fire who does not cease to burn,
Consuming us with flames of love and peace,
Driving us out like sparks to set the world on fire.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
In the love of friends you are building a new house,
Heaven is with us when you are with us.
You are singing your songs in the hearts of the poor
Guide us, wound us, heal us. Bring us to the Father.

– James K. Baxter, ‘Song to the Holy Spirit’, in Collected Poems (ed. John Edward Weir; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 572.

Fiery Dove, what are You doing here?

A hymn by Martin Bleby

1. Fiery Dove, what are You doing here?
Is it love, or do You come with fear?
Have You come to unsettle our soul?
Are we done? Or can You make us whole?

2. We are lost in a hell of our own.
We are tossed, weather-beaten, wind-blown:
Will You sink us, so we are no more?
Will You bring us safe home to the shore?

3. ‘I have come to convict you of sin
And to run all the unrighteous in;
Let you know that the judgement is past,
And to show you the kingdom at last.

4. ‘There is He, who has suffered your shame!
Come and see how He wore all your blame!
He’s now Lord, with the Father above—
I’m outpoured to fill you with His love.’

5. Holy Dove, come and set us on fire:
With that love, burn up all wrong desire!
Let us rest in the Father and Son,
In the best, that their victory has won!

6. In Your praise let us take up our part
All our days, with clean hands and pure heart!
For Your comfort has settled our soul—
We were done for, and now are made whole.

7. Fiery Dove, what are You doing here?
Is it love, or do You come with fear?
Have You come to unsettle our soul?
Are we done? Or can You make us whole?