I’ve seen the quote below making the rounds on the internet this Pentecost season and it’s quite striking. It’s excerpted from a presentation that Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Ignatius of Latakia (port city in Syria, historically known as Laodicea) delivered before the World Council of Churches in 1968.
“Without the Holy Spirit, God is far away,
Christ stays in the past,
the Gospel is a dead letter,
the Church is simply an organisation,
authority a matter of domination,
mission a matter of propaganda,
liturgy is only nostalgia,
and Christian living a slave morality.
But with the Holy Spirit,
God is with us,
the universe is resurrected and groans
with the birth pangs of the kingdom,
the risen Christ is here,
the Gospel is a living force,
the Church is a communion
in the life of the Trinity—
the body of the living Christ—
authority is a service that liberates people,
mission is Pentecost,
the liturgy is memory and anticipation,
and human action is God’s work in the world.”
I’m particularly struck by the notion that without the Spirit, Christ remains in the past. It reminds me of Will Willimon’s criticism of sermons that are more or less about a dead God who once upon a time did some wonderful things, and that our job is to try to remember and imitate what those things were. No. Our God is not a god of the dead but the God of the living! By the gift and presence of the Holy Spirit, the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is indeed alive, active, and on the move in our midst.
We might also insist that without the Spirit, there is no future. The Spirit, which the New Testament describes as a down payment and guarantee of our inheritance, is ushering in God’s new creation kingdom from God’s future. In Robert Jenson’s words, “The Spirit is God coming to us from the last future; he is God coming from and as the Kingdom.” 1
Jurgen Moltmann, in his The Church in the Power of the Spirit, explains the implications of this reality for the church.
“the Spirit of the last days and the eschatological community of the saved belong together. The new people of God see themselves in their existence and form as being ‘the creation of the Spirit’, and therefore as the initial fulfilment of the new creation of all things and the glorification of God. The Spirit calls them into life; the Spirit gives the community the authority for its mission; the Spirit makes its living powers and the ministries that spring from them effective; the Spirit unites, orders and preserves it. It therefore sees itself and its powers and tasks as deriving form and existing in the eschatological history of the Spirit. In this it experiences not only what it itself is, but also where it belongs. It discovers the redeeming future of the world in the overriding span of the Spirit’s history.”2
God is making all things new, and to that end makes us new by awakening us to the presence, power, and call of the Holy Spirit. And because the Holy Spirit is the presence of God’s future breaking into the common life of the world, the church can embark upon its mission with urgency and confidence, without fear of what lies ahead. This is what Ignatius of Laodicea calls the “living force” of the gospel. May the Spirit enliven us to it, that we might experience it with joyful anticipation of the future.
(1) Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology Vol 1, Oxford, 1997. P.219
(2)Jurgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit. SCM Press, 1977. p 294-95.