Spirit of Pentecost

Joshua wasn’t sure how far things should go. He liked that Moses led. He liked standing guard while Moses entered the tent and served as mediator.

He didn’t like it when Moses’ ground was encroached upon. But Moses had a different vision:

A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” Joshua, Nun’s son and Moses’ assistant since his youth, responded, “My master Moses, stop them!” Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? If only all the LORD ’s people were prophets with the LORD placing his spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:27-29, CEB)

Moses’ vision was the vision of Joel, the reality of Pentecost:

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young will see visions.
Your elders will dream dreams.
Even upon my servants, men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:14-18, CEB)

On Pentecost, Peter declares, the day has come in which the wish of Moses is realized. There is no stinginess in the outpouring of the Spirit.

Nor is it sequestered to one part of the community.

In particular, this passage in Joel emphasizes twice that the gift is not only for all the men of Israel, but for all the women as well.

Not only sons, but daughters.

Not only manservants, but maidservants.

In the past month I have seen both a button and a bumper sticker that read:

If you’re not going to ordain women, stop baptizing them!

The logic is impeccable.

The end of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 culminates with: repent and be baptized, for the promise is for you and yours… What promise? The promise of the Spirit.

Baptism in water is they physical representation of baptism by the Spirit into the body of Christ. The same Spirit by which we are baptized, represented in the waters of baptism, is the Spirit who is poured out on all, so that all may prophesy, all may dream dreams for the people of God.

The same Spirit poured out in fulfillment of Moses’ wish and Joel’s promise is the one who, baptizing us into Christ, provides each a gift according to God’s good pleasure.

At its core, the failure to open up every aspect of the ministry of the church to women is an admission that we do not believe that preaching, teaching, and leading are gifts of the Spirit.

The Spirit who sees to it that in Christ there is no Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, is the same Spirit who enables people to speak on God’s behalf. All of us, male and female, who have been baptized into Christ have clothed ourselves with Christ, are God’s sons in Christ, and Abraham’s seed.

Pentecost is when we all receive the Spirit of the freedom of the sons of God: so that all may participate in the Body according to God’s giving of the gifts, and that all may inherit all the promises–even Joel’s.

26 thoughts on “Spirit of Pentecost”

  1. The real problem is not really women’s ordination but instead the institutional nature of the church and the idea that in order to properly minister one must spend $40k+ and get a seminary education. I only wish you’d address the systemic issues that keeps the American church in ‘standard operating procedure’ mode. Giving women pieces of paper legitimizing their ministry won’t fix the broken institution we have in the American church.

    1. The real problem is not really women’s ordination… No. It is ordination per se. Whilst I don’t share your American perspective, I reckon that the misunderstanding of what constitutes ‘church’ is near universal.

      I think Daniel proves too much, and I wonder how seriously he takes his own words: ‘In particular, this passage in Joel emphasizes twice that the gift is not only for all the men of Israel, but for all the women as well.

      If it’s for the men it must also be for the women. Very true. But it is equally true that it is for all of them and not only a select few. The cleric/lay distinction has no place in the NT. There are no ‘congregants’, pew-fodder, audience. All are participants and members of the body. It is true enough that not all are teachers, but the nature and manner of teaching in the light of the universal prophethood of believers is something that needs serious and radical rethinking.

      1. Hi John … what’s the distinction you are drawing between universal prophethood today and ongoing revelation? Not trying to pick a fight, serious question.

        1. Gulp. It’s a worthwhile question, and its answer probably goes well beyond what I have thought of. But I guess it would be something along the lines of the fact that we do have the scripture, and it’s the only scripture we’re ever going to get.

          Maybe, in some views, what constitutes scripture is rather indistinct and fuzzy at the edges. Nevertheless, we have something — a fairly well-defined set of texts that we recognise as God’s inscripturated revelation. (I say that with several reservations that I would not have admitted to until recently.) We have no new Isaiahs now (or even Deutero-Isaiahs); the original is what we have. Whilst some say there are continuing gifts of apostleship, there are none today who have seen the risen Jesus. It seems to me to follow that the prophethood of believers (or, more particularly, of local assemblies — the colonies of heaven, the bodies of Christ in particular places) lies in the understanding and application of the scriptures, rather than in the giving of new revelation.

          I am still coming out of a Reformed/Evangelical theological mind set, which I cherished very carefully and went along with unreservedly for many years. So forgive me if I have not yet arrived at a fully thought-through replacement; I’m not even sure that I want to.

          Given, then, that the difference lies in the giving/receiving of direct revelation and the interpretation of existing revelation, I think the distinction reasonably clear. At risk of going on for too long, I would mention nearly all the NT epistles, including those to the churches in Revelation. In each case there were problems in the churches which needed correctives. They were genuine churches, blessed with the array of gifts, which they sometimes misused, sometimes ignored, sometimes suppressed and sometimes used. They are still described as the pillar and ground of the truth. They are still described as the bodies of Christ (I stand by that plural).

          That, more or less, is my position. I hope it helps rather than leading to yet more confusion.

          1. Thanks for your thoughtful reply, John. I agree that the Canon provides a necessary set of survey posts. I acknowledge that these are questions we all need to approach with reverence and humility.

  2. Dang, John beat me to it. Yes. Ordination as a practice needs radical rethinking. I just read John Howard Yoder’s short, brilliant, and apparently ignored book on this very subject (it’s called The Fullness of Christ). Certainly I support women’s ordination if we are going to ordain (as generally understood) at all. But the vision described here is actually even more radical than having a few more women invested as professional religionists.

    1. Yoder’s The Fullness of Christ, is, very sadly, uncelebrated, but is, along with his booklet Body Politics a treasure in my library.

  3. Thanks for those insightful comments everyone – the ‘what constitutes prophecy in NT & after’ question has been puzzling me of late. Seems the possible interpretations are as controversial as those of ordination.

  4. I’ve long seen the connection, and the inconsistency of egalitarianism in the sexes but somehow not in church structure. Rather than ask whether women should be ordained and become “pastors”, the better question is whether men should be ordained and become “pastors”. And that “becoming” is an issue as well: how is it that a spiritual gift is not recognized until a person has a seminary degree or runs a church? Which in turn leads to the question of whether churches should be “run” at all, by anyone but the Holy Spirit. It’s as if church tradition/history has built an elaborate gasoline engine when the NT blueprint is for diesel or electric.

    And asking such questions led me to write: http://books.fether.net/index.php?theBook=1

  5. Lots of people in here calling ordination itself into question which is only natural given the texts in view. I am strongly sympathetic to that viewpoint, but I also see people in Scripture (Elisha, the Deacons in Acts, the prophets) commissioned for particular work.

    I don’t think there is anything contradictory about saying that the Holy Spirit pours out on all people, but not every person receives every gift equally. We still recognize distinctions in the body, not of worth, but of utility. The eye still has need of the hand etc… If we see that someone has a particular gift it makes sense to commission them to use that gift for the benefit of the church.

    If we accept the idea that people can be commissioned for particular kinds of service then I think Daniel’s argument here is very persuasive because it is absolutely clear that there are women gifted to preach, teach, prophecy, and lead.

    1. Totally agree. I just think each member is commissioned to a particular nameable service in the body and that teaching and leadership are examples of this alongside hospitality, for instance. Yoder’s (to me, quite convincing) argument is that it is traditional ordination that flattens the variety of spiritual gifts described in the NT into one job, over against which the mass of “laity” are described negatively (not called, not having authority, etc.).

      It is, as you say, abundantly clear that women receive all these gifts. Where they are called and gifted, they should be recognized by whatever ceremony is appropriate. But I fear we thereby frequently shoehorn women into a one-size-fits-all role that they cannot possibly thrive in any more than men can. The whole structure needs a serious and thoughtful look.

      1. Absolutely agree that one-size-fits-all ordination is bad for the church and it needs a serious look. However the church is going to organize herself though there aren’t good grounds for denying full participation to any and all who have received the gifts of the spirit.

  6. “If you’re not going to ordain women, stop baptizing them!
    The logic is impeccable.”

    If you’re not going to ordain babies, stop baptizing them!
    Is the logic still impeccable? ;-)

    (Just messin’ around.)

  7. Love the simplicity of the bumper sticker and your unpacking of the outpouring of the Spirit.

    It seems to me the only part of NT scripture that holds a bar to women being ordained is the Titus (1:5-9) & Timothy (1 Tim 3:1-7) which talk about men only elders\overseers.

    I personally have no problem with women in leadership\ministry so I would be interested on your take on that. :-)

  8. Hi,

    I realise this is about gender, but it does raise, as commentators have noted, questions about ordination.

    Why I love the simplicity of the bumper sticker, I do think it misses the nuances of Acts. Yes the Spirit comes in chapter 2. But deacons are still commissioned in chapter 6; as are Paul, Barnabas at Antioch.

    What strikes me with these examples is the sense they are commissioned into mission. Acts 6 is about enacting social justice; Antioch about the Gentiles. So here’s a proposal: that we need to frame ordination not as a church conversation, but as a mission conversation.

    That in the complexity of our society, we need an “ordering” which networks, trains, supports those the church recognises for mission. I’ve tried to think through this a bit more here – http://www.emergentkiwi.org.nz/archive/ordination-and-the-future-a-question-of-mission/.

    steve

    1. I’m a Lead Pastor with no seminary degree and I have women in leadership. I read this days ago and enjoyed the post and the many thoughtful responses. However, the bolded portion of the post that ties ordination to baptism and defines that as “impeccable logic” is concerning. Is this good theology, to tie the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and commissioning together? There are many N.T. examples that separate the two. Maybe it’s logical, but doesn’t seem Biblical. Thoughts?

  9. The problem began with Tertullian’s change of a ministry of teaching into an office of teaching, as the church moved from the private into the public. What is interesting is that by doing so, Tertullian excluded women from the church entirely: all laymen could perform the functions of the office in the absence of the overseer – except women, who could not hold an office (for it was forbidden in Rome). So, yes, we should stop baptizing women, if we want to exclude them from teaching, since a disciple is supposed to become a master who makes disciples herself, not remain an eternal novice, whose place is solely in the pew.

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