Rebirth to Life (part 7)

Jürgen Moltmann writes, “We must first of all discern who we are, what we are and how we are, at the point where we feel the touch of God on our lives” (Spirit of Life, 180). The key, for him, is the question “how is unity in diversity, and diversity in unity actually implemented in the community of believers?” (181)

He begins his discussion with a brief look at the Scriptural perspectives on the charismata, and emphasizes again that the work of the Spirit is not separate to any part of our life, but rather in participating with the Spirit we become empowered in who we are for the work of the kingdom of God (182). This includes our regular daily participation with God in our lives, which Moltmann calls “everyday charismata of the lived life” (183). There are, however, special gifts for the community, for the congregation, where the Spirit works in and among the participants leading to the kerygmatic, diaconal, and kybernetic charismata from which the church exhibits its purpose and mission (183). These are special gifts because they come into being as a community of Christ comes into being, reflecting a particular work of the Spirit in the midst of the community that cannot be rigidly separated from the everyday charismata, but do seem to have a special reality.

There is unity in the exercise of this diversity that centers on the discipleship of Jesus, which brings with it a recognition of the value of others in the community, with their distinctions. Attempts at uniformity numb the community (184), and deadens it. Rather, in the community of Christ we find a dynamic interplay of the Spirit binding us together and freeing us to be fully ourselves. Later in this chapter Moltmann writes, “We experience at one and the same time our socialization and our individuation. ‘In the Spirit’ we come to know the love that binds us and the freedom which makes us our own individual, separate selves” (196).

Moltmann turns to look at two particular, maybe even controversial topics, the gift of tongues and the gift of healing. With tongues he admits that he has never personally experienced this gift (185). Yet, he is affirming of this as a participatory gift, seeming to him to be a reflection of a strong inward possession by the Spirit that cannot find adequate expression (185). This connects with the idea of prophetic speech as offering a particular word for a particular setting. Again, he emphasizes the role of participation in these gifts that open up the voices of many rather than limit it to the few. He does, however, suggest that these forms of speech are not the only dynamic charistmata, and pushes for those churches who emphasize these charismatic forms of worship to not neglect the wider charismatic gifts—the works of the Spirit in leading people to move towards liberation, to work towards peace, to offer ecological solutions. Moltmann’s holistic pneumatology insists on charismata that more fully reflect the whole work of the Spirit, not simply in a congregation gathered for worship, but also in the world and for the world.

This is about individual and communal becoming, becoming whole in shared participation with the Spirit of Christ. In the broad place of love we find hope and healing, place and purpose, to stretch our being and identity in creative explorations of life. This healing is not just social or emotional, but involves, as we see in the New Testament the reality of physical healing as well. The holiness of the Spirit overcomes the darkness of corruption and brokenness, and in this holiness, in this Spirit of wholeness there is healing. “God’s Spirit,” Moltmann writes, “is a living engery that interpenetrates the bodies of men and women and drives out the germs of death” (190). Healing is a testimony of the eschatological reality of God’s eternal kingdom. In experiencing suffering, God brings healing to those who are suffering, embracing those who are sick, and communicating renewing life (191).

Yet, the reality of God’s healing is not something all experience in this present, and to see the results of healing as the sign of God’s favor and the lack of healing as God’s disfavor is to strongly misunderstand God’s whole work. There is, he argues, a charisma of the handicapped life. “No one,” Moltmann writes, “is useless and of no value”(192). This is more than a kind acknowledgment of people who may not seem to contribute very much. Rather, Moltmann presses the point further in light of his previous discussion. He writes, “If whatever a person is and brings with him becomes a charisma through his calling, this has to be true of his disablement too. If through the calling the splendor of God’s love falls on a life, it begins to shine. There are handicapped, sick and disfigured people whose faces shine in just this way” (193).

In all the hurts and disablements, God’s “suffering power is revealed”. In this, disabled men and women are not simply the receivers of help and gifts, but in their shared participation with God offer a significant awareness and contribution in return, the absence of which impoverishes the wider, more conventionally healthy community.

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