To Live Is Christ






A Review of The Church in the Power of the Spirit by Jürgen Moltmann

            It has been one of the distinct pleasures of my academic life to read the works of Jürgen Moltmann.  Each text I pick up I find myself enjoying more, and can measure the growth of my own theological development by how much better I am understanding Moltmann.  It is, I am finding, impossible to read any of Moltmann’s texts just once and fully understand it.  All the books interact and inform each other in a dynamic way.  The Church in the Power of the Spirit is Moltmann’s “contribution to messianic ecclesiology”, an exploration into what the Church is and why the Church exists.  In this essay I will briefly cover the book as a whole, focusing then on two chapters which will help to understand both Moltmann’s approach and his ideas in a more specific way.

The Church in the Power of the Spirit expounds on the idea of there being an intimate connection between Christ and the Church.  The Church is not only believing in and pointing towards the risen Christ, the Church has Christ as the foundation of its entire being.  Moltmann writes, “Every statement about the church will be a statement about Christ. Every statement about Christ also implies a statement about the church.” [1]   Any theological discussion about the Church, he suggests, must then entail an accompanying discussion of the person and work of Jesus.  It is also the case that the Church is not an isolated entity, but rather is a community of those who have been called to be light to this world, spreading the reality of the kingdom through multiple ways, reflecting the presence of God to this world.  Because of this aspect, a proper ecclesiology cannot just look at the inner aspects of the church’s being, but must be in continual conversation with how the Church is indeed relating to the world as a whole.  With this comes this understanding that the Church as filled with the One Spirit is also One, prompting the continual development of understanding not only how the Church is One, but actively engaging in conversation to discover how the Church could once again practically actually be united.  Because God is not only active in “religious” arenas, but is seeking to save the whole world, Moltmann argues for a political dimension which is required of the Church, engaging it in not only the proclamation of future rewards but also the active work towards a present transformation of society.

            These four dimensions are then framed within what can be called a Trinitarian outline.   Moltmann begins by looking at the work and influence of Jesus, seeking to understand how Jesus did live, expounding on his emphases, and reflecting on the shape that his ministry took.  Rather than seeking to simply let the proclamation be about Jesus, Moltmann argues that the proclamation should be that of Jesus.  He follows this with a section exploring the kingdom of God, showing the work of God prior to, and even outside of, the Christian church, showing that the Church is not representing the fullness of the kingdom, but is in fact a participant, a living piece which is part of God’s whole plan to save this whole world.    He then has two sections which connect the Church to the Holy Spirit, first focusing on how the Church is in the presence of the Holy Spirit, then showing how the Church is in the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Spirit that animates, leads, expands, and matures the Church, giving content to our worship and power to our plans.   Only at the end, in a last brief session, does Moltmann discuss the actual marks of the Church, showing how the prior sections reflect in an actual existence, taking up, as did Kung, the idea of unity, catholicity, holiness, and apostolicity. 

            One of Moltmann’s distinctive emphases as a theologian is his attraction to a political theology.  For him, the power of the Spirit in the life of the Church is not limited to the confines of the Church, but is active in redemption throughout various structures, demanding that we act in a way which reflects this redemption of what is usually called the secular.  In the fourth section in his discussion of The Church of the Kingdom of God [2] Moltmann discusses Christianity in the process of the world’s life, processes which he argues “can neither be ecclesiasticized nor Christianized, but to which the church adapts itself and in which Christians adopt particular viewpoints.” [3]   The point is that the Church does not encompass all there is, nor does it exist for itself but “exists for the sake of the coming kingdom.” [4]   This activity then is a preparation, a working towards what the Kingdom will fully realize, letting this present world increasingly reflect the reality of God, a mission which reflects a love for all people, all the world, in every dimension of life and being.  He notes three specific processes: the economic, the political, and the cultural. [5]   In all of these dimensions Christ calls us as the Church to fight for the “will to live”, being filled with hope, fighting with courage, and having a passion for living which is extended to all who suffer and feel hardship, without sacrificing some for others.

            In the economic process, Moltmann calls the Church to discover the idea of “symbiosis”. [6]   Rather than continuing to construct a system of the “haves” and “have-nots”, in which power and ambition are the highest goals, which falsely promise contentment thus leaving many to suffer pain and hardship, the Church should fight for the balance of life in economic circles, “to end the race between demand and satisfaction (a race which cannot be won in any case), through a revaluation of values, so that we may seek for other satisfactions with changed desires.” [7]   Because Christian theology encompasses all of life, the Church is called to increasingly reflect the reality of Christ’s being to this world even through economic adaptation.  Rather than a clinging to “earned” privileges, the Church should fight for the transformation of the global economy, encouraging continually that all people participate with responsibility for each other, letting all people benefit.  The respect and love Christ has for all people and this world demands the Church reflect this even in the most sensitive area of finances and economic decisions.

            With this comes also a fuller involvement in the fight for human rights in general.  This relates to what is typically called political processes, the allowance of people to not be subjected to the power of a hostile other, understanding that governments were made for people not vice versa.  Moltmann writes, “Political rule must be justified by the people, for the people and with the people.” [8]   The Church must encourage “the forms of government which best serve human fellowship and human rights and dignity, and it must resist those things which hinder or suppress those things.” [9]  It is not simply a spiritual freedom but a whole freedom which the Church seeks, hoping and living for the restoration of humanity to a healthy community.  As God has created no person better than another, the governing should reflect this ontological equality.  Focusing a bit more narrow in his discussion of human rights, Moltmann proceeds to discuss what he call the process of Culture.  In this arena, the Church is mandated to fight for equality within “culture conflicts”.  This encompasses such issues as racism, sexism, and the treatment of the handicapped, issues which develop division, which relegate some to a “lesser” status and which reveal attitudes which are not reflective of Christ’s reality.  In all these processes, the insecurity and corruption of fallen human nature has sought to destroy the call to community and the acknowledgement of who we all are as created creatures loved by God.  The Church, as a community filled with the Spirit, should have its confidence what God is doing and who God is, thus not reflecting the defensive attack on others which these processes can lead towards.  Rather than being a people who seek to lessen others, the church is called to raise all people back to their God given status, fighting for the reality and wholeness of a community filled and led by the unifying, loving Spirit, reflecting the coming Kingdom of God, just as Christ did, and is.

            In the fourth section of his discussion of The Church in the Presence of the Holy Spirit Moltmann seeks to analyze the meaning and practice of what is commonly called the Lord’s Supper.  He calls this celebration “the sign of being on the way” just as baptism is “the sign of starting out”. [10]   In being a remembrance of the liberating suffering of Christ, the Lord’s Supper is a sign of present grace, of God’s continued action within history, allowing the present community to celebrate in the fellowship of those who have also been saved.  Moltmann makes the excellent point that at its core Communion is not the practice of “a theological theory” as it has often been developed over the last 2000 years. [11] Thus, Moltmann argues because it has its basis in the Lord, and not the Church, any theology about the Supper must not be divisive, it is rather open at its core, trusting in Christ who calls rather than the Church who allows, to decide participation.  He writes “It is not the openness of this invitation, it is the restrictive measures of the churches which have to be justified before the face of the crucified Jesus.” [12]

            The Lord’s Supper is, according to Moltmann, “the sign of remembered hope” reminding the community of the Christian mission which seeks to encompass all humanity in its eschatological vision, seeking out ever more people to participate in the celebration of Christ’s work in which Christ ate with sinners as well as with disciples.  In this, the Lord’s Supper celebrates the work and the resurrection of Jesus, re-invigorating the community’s emphases on both the present and future realities, filling the community with the hope that comes in the reality of Christ.  It is at its core a celebration of life, life as it should and will be, emphasizing the fellowship, peace, and hope which comes in being in the presence of and relationship with the Triune God.  In this, the feast become fellowship, as the community which celebrate Christ, celebrates the Body of Christ which is the Church.   Moltmann writes “The open invitation of the crucified one to his supper is what fundamentally overcomes all tendencies towards alienation, separation, and segregation.” [13]   By acknowledging the work of Christ, remembering the past, understanding the present, and pointing to the future, the Lord’s Supper reinvigorates the community to live out its mission in this world.

            Moltmann finishes this section with more practical suggestions of the actual practice of the Lord’s Supper.  First, the celebration must be a central activity for the community, with full participation by all involved.  It must be also an open activity, not limiting, letting all those who feel called participate in the feast.  This includes opening it up to those who are still burdened with sin, letting this feast of celebration of Christ be open to the “sinners and tax-collectors” just as Jesus himself ate and drank with such people.  The Lord’s Supper should not be bound to a specific person or ministry, but encompasses the whole community in participation and service.  Ideally, the people would be sitting around a table, using the idea of a “common room” more than an auditorium, emphasizing the equality of the fellowship. Finally, this having all been done this meal will facilitate real mission and involvement in people’s lives.  At its core, this is not simply a religious rite, but a real expression of true fellowship which seeks out practical expression in whatever way is required.

To Die Is Gain
Back to whither you came
Patrick Oden,  yeoman raven master