Notes on Spirit and Institution in the Church


How are we to describe the relationship between the Spirit and ecclesial institutions? Is it Spirit against institution?  Spirit in tension with institution?  Spirit enlivening institution?  Spirit in institution?  Some combination of these?  I’m wrestling through this question right now in my dissertation, and was blessed to have an opportunity to lecture on the topic last week at Wycliffe.  The following thoughts are taken from my my lecture notes.

The church is necessarily institutional.  An institution is simply a stable set of social relations practiced among an identifiable group of people.  In order for the church to persist in time and “take up space” in history, it must be institutional.  We must beware the cultural baggage we bring to the term “institution.”  We live in a time of extreme skepticism regarding social institutions.  We as Christians have been formed in a society which encourages us to believe the myth that we should, as autonomous individuals, resist all institutional authority.  This is, of course, impossible and impracticable.

We must avoid the errors of triumphalism and spiritualism.  A triumphalist church presumes upon the Spirit’s presence and blessing, identifying the church with the Spirit.  A spiritualist church denigrates the institutional reality of the church in favour of a disembodied “spiritual” church.

The Spirit and ecclesial institutions must be distinguished but not opposed, just as nature and grace must be distinguished but not opposed. As nature is the milieu of God’s gracious action, so also human institutions are the milieu for God’s pneumatic / charismatic action.

We cannot identify the Spirit with ecclesial institutions. The Spirit stands over and against ecclesial institutions, as Christ stands over and against the church as its Lord and judge.

We cannot oppose the Spirit to ecclesial institutions. There is no “non-institutional” place where the Spirit is “really” at work in people’s lives.  Ecclesial institutions are not the enemy of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit condescends to work in human institutions, as “earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7).

The church can never presume upon the Spirit, but must always humbly call upon the Spirit, trusting in the promises of Christ (John 14:15ff) and the Father (Acts 1:4). The institutions in themselves are not endued with power; yet we know that Christ has promised the Spirit to the church, and we know that the church cannot avoid an institutional existence.

While ultimately the Spirit is not dependent upon institution, in the concrete life of the church in history, the two are inextricably interrelated (because the church is institutional in all aspects of its life).

As with human agents, the relationship between the Spirit and ecclesial institutions is not a zero-sum competitive game; the Spirit is the creator and animator of the Church’s institutions in such a way that they remain truly human institutions, while their institutional character is taken up and elevated into something more than a human institution – a sign, instrument, and foretaste of the kingdom of God.

In this way, all ecclesial institutions are charismatic. Just as humans were created in such a way that we cannot reach our divinely-ordered telos without divine grace, so the church as a visible, institutional reality is created in such a way that it cannot be what it has been created to be without concrete bestowal of grace.

Nevertheless, the gifts of the Spirit, which preserve, uphold, and elevate the Church’s institutional life are no guarantee of her faithfulness; the Spirit is not merely a stamp of approval, or a “divine positive energy”, but a divine Person, who carries out judgment  and brings conviction of sin (John 16:8-11), as well as giving life.

Because ecclesial institutions are truly human, they are caught up in the web of sin. Therefore the institutional character of the church can also be turned into something which it is not intended to be; it can become corrupted (and it often is).

In other words, the Spirit’s presence will include acts of both mercy and judgment, wrought in the historical life of the Church.  We can trust that the Spirit will be among us, but that should encourage a sure trust and confidence in God, and a humble watchfulness on our own part (rather than presumption on our part).

All the more reason to embrace the reformation call for a church which is reformed and always reforming. A constant repentance – an institutional turning away from sin and toward God – should mark the church’s corporate life.


Summary of the Uses of Charism and Related Words in the New Testament

Further to my last post, I’ve categorized the use of charisma in the New Testament, along with dorea and pneumatika, since both of those words are used interchangeably with charisma at times.  After the first three tables I’ve got other uses of dorea and pneumatika, for context.

The bold references are texts that I included in more than one list.

Most of us use “charisma” and “charismatic” only in the sense of the second table – diverse gifts given to believers – but clearly the New Testament concept has broader applications.

Also notable are the two texts in Timothy, which have been used (rightly or wrongly) to defend various ordination practices.  One’s understanding of the relationship between “office” and “charism” will likely determine the way those texts are read.

GIFT OF GOD / SALVATION

REF GK MEANING
Jn. 4:10 dorea gift of God; living water
Acts 2:38 dorea gift of the HS
Acts 8:20 dorea gift of God
Acts 10:45 dorea gift of the HS
Acts 11:17 dorea gift of HS
Rom. 5:15 charisma free gift of God
Rom. 5:15 dorea free gift of God
Rom. 5:16 dorea free gift of God
Rom. 5:16 charisma free gift of God
Rom. 5:17 dorea gift of righteousness
Rom. 6:23 charisma free gift of God – eternal life
Rom. 11:29 charisma gifts and calling of God are irrevocable
2 Cor. 9:15 dorea the unspeakable gift of God
Eph. 2:8 dorea the gift of God (salvation)
Eph. 4:7 dorea each has grace given according to measure of the gift of X
Heb. 6:4 dorea tasted of the heavenly gift, and made partakers of the HS

DIVERSITY OF GIFTS GIVEN BY GOD TO BELIEVERS

REF GK MEANING
Rom. 11:29 charisma gifts and calling of God are irrevocable
Rom. 12:6 charisma gifts that differ according to the grace given us
1 Cor. 1:7 charisma so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift
1 Cor. 7:7 charisma each has a particular gift (context of celibacy)
1 Cor. 12:1 pneumatikon spiritual things (spiritual gifts?)
1 Cor. 12:4 charisma varieties of gifts, but the same spirit
1 Cor. 12:9 charisma gifts of healing
1 Cor. 12:28 charisma gifts of healing
1 Cor. 12:30 charisma gifts of healing
1 Cor. 12:31 charisma strive for the greater gifts
1 Cor. 14:1 pneumatikon spiritual (gifts in context), especially prophecy
1 Cor. 14:37 pneumatikon if anyone thinks himself a prophet, or spiritual
Eph. 3:7 dorea according to the gift of grace given to me by his power
Eph. 4:7 dorea each has grace given according to measure of the gift of X
1 Tim. 4:14 charisma the gift that is in you (thru prophecy with laying of hands)
2 Tim. 1:6 charisma the gift of God that is in you (thru laying of hands)
1 Pet. 4:10 charisma whatever gift each of you has received

BLESSING

REF GK MEANING
Rom. 1:11 charisma that I may share some spiritual gift with you
1 Cor. 1:7 charisma so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift
2 Cor. 1:11 charisma the blessing granted to us through the prayers of many
Jas. 1:17 dorea every good gift
Jas. 1:17 dorea every perfect gift

OTHER USES OF DOREA

RELIGIOUS OFFERING

REF GK MEANING
Mt. 2:11 dorea gifts from the Magi
Mt. 5:23 dorea gift offered on the altar
Mt. 5:24 dorea gift offered on the altar
Mt. 8:4 dorea gift that Moses commanded for one healed
Mt. 15:5 dorea gift devoted to God (corban)
Mt. 23:18 dorea gift offered on the altar
Mt. 23:19 dorea gift offered on the altar
Mk. 7:11 dorea gift devoted to God (corban)
Lk. 21:1 dorea gifts put into the treasury
Lk. 21:4 dorea gift offered by the widow
Heb. 5:1 dorea gifts offered by high priest (& sacrifices for sins)
Heb. 8:3 dorea gifts and sacrifices offered by the high priest
Heb. 8:4 dorea gifts offered on earth by priests according to the law
Heb. 9:9 dorea gifts /sacrifices offered in present age, incapable of perfecting
Heb. 11:4 dorea the accepted gifts of Abel

GIFTS EXCHANGED BETWEEN HUMANS

REF GK MEANING
Rev. 11:10 dorea they will give gifts to one another (gloating over prophets)

FREELY

REF GK MEANING
Mt. 10:8 dorea freely you have received, freely give
Rom. 3:24 dorea justified freely
2 Cor. 11:7 dorea free of charge
2 Thes. 2:8 dorea without paying for it
Rev. 21:6 dorea I will give freely to him who is thirsty
Rev. 22:17 dorea take the water of life freely

WITHOUT CAUSE / MERIT

REF GK MEANING
Jn. 15:25 dorea hated without cause
Gal. 2:21 dorea then Christ died for nothing (if righteousness is through law)

OTHER USES OF PNEUMATIKON

SPIRITUAL

REF GK MEANING
Rom. 1:11 pneumatikon that I may share some spiritual gift with you
Rom. 7:14 pneumatikon the law is spiritual
Rom. 15:27 pneumatikon gentiles have been made partakers of spiritual things
1 Cor. 2:13 pneumatikon spiritual things / truths
1 Cor. 2:13 pneumatikon spiritual people ?
1 Cor. 2:14 pneumatikon spiritually discerned
1 Cor. 2:15 pneumatikon those who are spiritual
1 Cor. 3:1 pneumatikon those who are spiritual
1 Cor. 9:11 pneumatikon spiritual things
1 Cor. 10:3 pneumatikon spiritual food
1 Cor. 10:4 pneumatikon spiritual drink
1 Cor. 10:4 pneumatikon spiritual rock (Christ)
1 Cor. 12:1 pneumatikon spiritual things (spiritual gifts?)
1 Cor. 14:1 pneumatikon spiritual (gifts in context), especially prophecy
1 Cor. 14:37 pneumatikon if anyone thinks himself a prophet, or spiritual
1 Cor. 15:44 pneumatikon spiritual body
1 Cor. 15:44 pneumatikon spiritual body
1 Cor. 15:46 pneumatikon that which is spiritual
1 Cor. 15:46 pneumatikon that which is spiritual
Gal. 6:1 pneumatikon you who are spiritual
Eph. 1:3 pneumatikon every spiritual blessing
Eph. 5:19 pneumatikon spiritual songs
Eph. 6:12 pneumatikon spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places
Col. 1:9 pneumatikon spiritual wisdom and understanding
Col. 3:16 pneumatikon spiritual songs
1 Pet. 2:5 pneumatikon spiritual house
1 Pet. 2:5 pneumatikon spiritual sacrifices

Typology of Views of Charismatic Movements, Part 4: Charismatic Complementary to Institutional

Another approach to this question of the makeup of the primitive church attempts propose that the charismatic and the institutional aspects of the Church should be taken as complementary. In relation to the discussion of the constitution of the primitive Christian communities, Leonhard Goppelt was a particularly influential representative of this perspective, arguing that both charismatic gifts and offices were constitutive of the Church from the very beginning, strengthening his case by arguing that offices were both instituted by Christ and a functional necessity for the church as a historical reality (see Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Times, 1977).

The teaching on charisms in the documents of Vatican II presents a similar attempt at stressing the complementarity of the institutional and charismatic, speaking of the “hierarchical and charismatic” gifts through which the Spirit directs and equips the Church (Lumen Gentium, §4). A fundamental harmony between the charismatic and hierarchical gifts is presupposed here, in which the hierarchy “submits” to the working of the Spirit by endorsing and approving of those endowed with charismatic gifts.  The chapter of Lumen Gentium which deals with the religious life makes this clear:

“Submissively following the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the hierarchy also endorses rules formulated by eminent men and women, and authentically approves later modifications.  Moreover, by its watchful and shielding authority, the hierarchy keeps close to communities established far and wide for the upbuilding of Christ’s body, so that they can grow and flourish in accord with the spirit of the founders” (Lumen Gentium §45).

Shortly after the council, Gabriel Murphy, a Roman Catholic brother, completed a study of the theology of charisms, which included a chapter summarizing the use of the term at Vatican II (Charisms and Church Renewal, 1965).  His summary of Lumen Gentium’s teaching on charisms stresses how the Church is aided by “two forms of assistance,” hierarchical and charismatic gifts, both of which come from the Spirit (123).  The two kinds of gifts cannot be essentially divided or separated, but should rather be conceived of as “overlapping” and permeating each other.

“As we have seen, there is not and cannot be an essential division or separation between these two aspects.  There is rather an overlapping or permeation of one by the other.” (125)

The charisms then, far from being a minor aspect of ecclesiology, are “a structural element in the Church,” granted to all the faithful, and bringing about renewal (142). The complementarity in this case of course implies both that those in authority accept the Spirit’s work through the charismatic movements, and that the movements themselves accept that the hierarchy is also charismatically based. Murphy argues that this is what the sixteenth century reformers rejected – the charismatic nature of the hierarchy (30-31, 125).

A variation on this position comes from Joseph Ratzinger, who rejects the institutional-charismatic discussion as completely unhelpful in attempting to understand and explain the place of reform movements in the Church (I refer to the current Pope by his former name, as the text in question was written before he became Benedict XVI).  This is based not an objection to the theology of charisms but on his rejection of the category “institution,” because the Church’s official ministry is based fundamentally on the sacrament of orders, and by its very nature transcends the sociological category of “institution.”

He writes, “this “ministry” is a “sacrament,” and hence clearly transcends the usual sociological understanding of institutions.” (“The Ecclesial Movements: A Theological Reflection on their Place in the Church,” in Movements in the Church, 1999, 25).  To speak of the Church’s ministry as an institution implies, in Ratzinger’s view, that ministry is something which the Church “can dispose of herself” and “can be determined of her own imitative,” views which are clearly inadequate in light of the ministry’s sacramental character. He continues,

“Only secondarily is the sacrament realised through a call on the part of the Church. But primarily it comes into being by God’s call, that is to say, only at the charismatic and pneumatological level.  It can only be accepted and lived by virtue of the newness of the vocation and by the freedom of the pneuma.  Since that is so, and since the Church cannot simply appoint “officials” by herself, but must await the call from God… That is why it has been clear from the beginning that this ministry cannot be produced by the institution, but can only be invoked in prayer from God” (26).

The Church itself, then, including its enduring historical and ministry, is characterized as a charismatic entity, an “irruption of something else,” which is “intrinsically iuris divini” (27). While Ratzinger does allow that there are institutional elements in the Church which exist of purely human right,he will not allow that the Church’s ministry is one of these, and thus he rejects an approach to the question of movements in the church by way of an opposition between charism and institution.

He prefers therefore to discuss “movements” in the Church under the category of the Church’s universal apostolicity. Ratzinger is arguing that apostolicity has always had two aspects, the local and the universal, with the unpredictable reform movements identified as part of the church’s universal apostolic mission.  For Ratzinger this begins with the primitive Church, which had both local ministers and itinerant preachers (charismatics according to other perspectives).   He thus roughly follows Harnack’s interpretation of early Church structure here, arguing that in the second century the local apostolic ministries came to dominate the universal, though Ratzinger believes this was a necessary development.  The “universal” apostolicity of the Church has continually been present in various movements, such as monasticism, the mendicant orders, and the clerical and apostolic movements which emerged in the post-Reformation period (33-47).

Ratzinger’s perspective is therefore similar to Rahner’s, in that he insists on the charismatic nature of the church’s ministry, but Rahner is more willing to grant the tension between what he calls the two structures of the Church, and continues to view “institution” as a helpful category, so long as it is clear that the Church’s institutions are charismatic.  Ratzinger, on the other hand, essentially fuses institution and charism into one category, blurring what I think is a helpful distinction made by Rahner.   So, while I’m sympathetic to Ratzinger’s concern that we don’t treat the Church’s ministries as mere institutions, I think Rahner’s discussion of “institutional” vs. “non-institutional” charismata answers these concerns without losing the insights that we can gain by examining the stable structures of the Church as institutions.

Charismatic Movements in the Church

I’m introducing a new series of blog posts on the topic of “charismatic movements” in the Church.  When I speak of ” charismatic” movements,  I don’t necessarily mean pentecostal movements, but those movements of renewal and reform which rise up spontaneously in the Church, and centre around particularly gifted individuals, who operate outside existing authority structures.  Such movements have existed throughout the history of the Church, and have always had a rocky relationship with the established Church authorities.

I developed this rough timeline as a teaching tool for a course I was TAing earlier this year.  We could debate whether some of these movements are “charismatic,” but I would argue that they were all charismatic in origin, meaning that they sprung up around individuals who were perceived to be specially gifted (the basic meaning of “charism” being “gift”).   The timeline gets really selective when it comes to the modern era, because at that point I had to be selective.  I’m not claiming the timeline is exhaustive at that point, but I hope it is representative.  My main purpose in creating the timeline this way was to contrast “catholic” movements (meaning those who were eventually accepted by Church authorities as legitimate) with “non-catholic.”

I should add also that I’m not addressing the issue of “heresy” here, as some of the movements in question were definitely preaching a message which was outside the boundaries of historic Christian orthodoxy. I think most people would agree that the Bogomils and Cathars were heretical, but assessing the orthodoxy of other individual movements on the list would require more of a discussion than I want to get into.

One of the questions I’m studying for my dissertation concerns how we account for these movements theologically.  How do we know if a charismatic movement is truly of God?  What do these movements represent? A return to the primitive purity of the Church?  A form of fanaticism?  A revitalizing force?

I’ve developed a typology of positions on the question of the place of charismatic movements in the Church, and this typology will form the basis for my series of posts, each of which will discuss one or two representative theologians:

  • Charismatic opposed to institutional. Here the work of Rudolph Söhm and early 20th century scholars such as Adolf von Harnack is important.  The theory of these writers is that the church was originally charismatic, but this was stifled by emerging catholicism (institutionalism in his mind) in the 2nd century.  The emergence of stable authority structures was therefore a failure on the part of early Christianity.
  • Charismatic more fundamental than institutional. I’d summarize Leonardo Boff’s work in Church, Charism, and Power along these lines.  Charism is more fundamental than institution, because it gives rise to the institution and keeps it alive. Therefore the charismatic gifts of the Spirit should be the structuring principle of the church.
  • Charismatic in tension with institutional. Karl Rahner tries to hold the two structures in tension by arguing that there are both institutional and non-institutional charismata. A Legitimate opposition of forces in the life of the Church is inevitable and should be accepted.  Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s “christological constellation” also fits under this category.
  • Charismatic complementary to institutional. More recent ecumenical work has attempted to overcome the duality of charismatic movements and institutional structures by stressing the complementarity of the two.  Joseph Ratzinger also wrote along these lines in his discussion of lay movements in the Church, even going so far as to reject the dichotomy of charism/institution as inappropriate for ecclesiology.
  • Charismatic enlivens institutional. Others stress the role of charismatic movements as enlivening forces for the institutional church.  So Howard Snyder argues that both institutional structures and charismatic movements can be seen as normal and valid in the Church’s history.  I’ll also discuss Catholic theologies of “the religious life” (religious orders, etc.) under this category.
  • Institutional over charismatic. It’s hard to find anyone who actually argues for this theologically, but it is common on a practical level, so I’ll still attempt a post on this perspective.
  • Charismatic gifts as justification for separation. Oscar Cullmann’s book Unity Through Diversity makes the argument that different the “confessions” in the Church have their own unique charisms, which need to be preserved.  Therefore he argues that continued structural separation of the churches is justified, so that these diverse gifts can be preserved.  Many denominationalist theologies proceed on similar assumptions.

While the work I’ll be discussing is scholarly, the issue of finding a place for charismatic movements in the Church has immense practical implications, and I’ll attempt to draw these out.  This has been a perennial issue for the Church, and it remains an important problem today.  Think of the controversy surrounding “emergent” and whether it is a legitimate movement of reform or a heretical offshoot of genuine Christianity.  How are these “new expressions” of church related to the established Churches?

It is also an important question for people of evangelical heritage, because move evangelical denominations began as charismatic reform movements (not as denominations or “churches”).  Does that have implications for our understanding of the Church and the place of “denominations” as they now exist?  I think it does, and I’m hopeful that reflection on the history of charismatic movements, as well as theological reflection on the nature of the Church and where they fit, can provide some direction for our life together as we seek to give faithful witness in the post-Christendom context.

The longest church name in the history of the world

This is a church that has a storefront in our neighbourhood.  The St. Francis National Evangelical Spiritual Baptist Faith Archdiocese of Canada.   Personally I like the acronym printed on the window below, the “St. Francis N.E.S.B.F.  Archdiocese of Canada.”

It makes you wonder about this history of this group.  How on earth did they come up with that name?   At first glance it seems like they’d have something to appeal to just about every kind of Christian.

  • St. Francis – well he appeals to everyone, but especially to Catholics
  • National – that appeals to established Church types
  • Evangelical – obviously appeals to…
  • Spiritual – maybe the charismatics?
  • Baptist – of course…

Some of these things don’t normally go together, notably “St. Francis” and “Baptist,” which makes it all the more interesting.   I found a website for the church, which explains that they are a group from Trinidad.  They seem charismatic – they are also called “shouters,” and the have three hour worship services – and they mix elements of Protestant Christianity with African religion.   It’s not clear from their site exactly what that looks like.   They themselves aren’t exactly clear on their origins.

What is interesting to me about this group is that they are charismatic, but they don’t seem to downplay the significance of ritual and symbol in their faith.   Actually their website lists candles, bells, swords, flags, uniforms and a whole host of other items as significant in their worship.    Most charismatically-oriented protestants (we could expand that to include most evangelicals) are wary of any kind of ritual.  They’ve got some obviously “catholic” elements in their worship (one page on the website has prayers of the saints), but they speak in tongues and have street preaching missions.

Then again, if you know the story of St. Francis and the mendicant friars, you’ll know that these things are not so distinct from one another after all.  Francis was the ultimate charismatic.  He was also completely committed to the Catholic faith, and to the task of preaching the gospel.   Maybe the St. Francis N.E.S.B.F people are on to something.  It’s the history of division in the Church since the Reformation that has caused us to see the various terms that go into their name as being at odds with one another.   The names that we have given to our denominations are there precisely to distinguish us from the other denominations and traditions.   Our particular denominational identities then become filters for the discernment of what is good, acceptable, and true.   For example, in my tradition, if someone says something is “Wesleyan” that automatically makes it acceptable, but if it’s “Calvinist” people assume it is wrong, without even really thinking about it.  Although strong denominational identities are fading fast, most of us have been formed in communities that make these kind of distinctions all the time. “St. Francis” and “Evanglical” seem an odd pairing to a contemporary evangelical, because St. Francis is seen as a Catholic figure. But actually Francis lived during what is rightly called an “evangelical revival,” a real flowering of the gospel, which included radical forms of discipleship, self-denial, and evangelistic preaching missions.   I really don’t know much about the St. Francis N.E.S.B.F., so I wouldn’t want to hold them up as a model of anythying, but maybe the fact that they seem to have developed in obscurity has allowed them to hold these things together without worrying that they were crossing traditional boundaries.