Unifying Spirit

Last week I tied together some reflections on Pentecost with the ongoing discussions about women in ministry.

I got questions from two different sides but pushing on the same point of my exposition. Some saw the passage in Acts, or my reading of it, as an indication that we shouldn’t ordain anyone others that we should ordain everyone.

Or, to paraphrase a Facebook comment: “Every good complementarian thinks that women can have the Spiritual gift of prophecy, you haven’t made any argument for women’s ordination yet.”

So how is it that the gift of the Spirit to all, and the gifts of speaking for God in particular being given to all, constitutes an argument for women’s ordination. Why should we be willing to ordain anyone we baptize?

The argument that reception of the Spirit, and being baptized into Christ, delineates the boundaries of who might serve in pastoral or other leadership capacities, becomes compelling as we recognize the place that this reception of the Spirit and baptism into Christ holds in Paul’s arguments in Galatians and 1 Corinthians (in particular).

In both Galatians and 1 Corinthians, common reception of the Spirit and common baptism into Christ disclose the gospel-denying implications of discriminating within the Body of Christ.

In Galatians, Paul is confronting the idea that Gentiles, outsiders to the Jewish story, have to become Jewish in order to become fully part of the people of God. Sure, they can be in as Gentiles, but they are not treated equally.

Paul appeals to the common reception of the Spirit: you received the Spirit already, so why turn to something else as though it will make you perfect?

But here’s the thing: we have too little realized that Galatians is not merely about “soteriology,” how we are saved in Jesus. It is about this.

But it is about soteriology because Paul wants to convince them that their ecclesial practice must be different.

Paul is not trying to get the Galatians to change their theology only. He is working over their theology to show them that they are making evil, destructive distinctions among themselves.

To receive the Spirit is to be equal within the body. And if we, in our churches, make distinctions in our practices and positions based on anything other than the Spirit’s initiation, gifting, and calling, we are denying the Gospel.

The indicative of how we enter (baptism into Christ by the Spirit) determines the imperative of how we act (discriminating what people may do solely by the Spirit’s gifting).

In 1 Corinthians these dynamics are even clearer. The church is falling from its confession of the crucified Christ by perpetuating society’s differentiations and hierarchies in the body.

And make no mistake: in the ancient world, gender was not merely a question of differentiation, it was also a question of hierarchy. Men were regarded as better than women.

Paul deconstructs the Corinthians’ practice (ecclesiology) by extended appeals to the gospel and how they are saved (soteriology) as well as the way that the Spirit works among them (pneumatology).

In short, when we uphold the differentiations of society, rather than embracing the unity of the Spirit, we deny the work of God, the judgment of God, and the gospel itself.

Why is Pentecost significant?

Not because it tells us who we should ordain.

It is significant because it shows us that the gift of the Spirit is a democratizing, unifying, and transcending bestowal. God judges all as members of the body, and gives to each, as the Spirit will, or as the Lord Jesus will (Eph 4) according to his good pleasure.

If we demand that the gifting and calling fall along the lines of differentiation that demarcate first creation, if we say that only men can teach or preach, only men can lead and rule, we cling to societal differentiations that the Spirit of God has transcended.

We deny the work of the Spirit, and misjudge the body of Christ.

The Story of the church is always supposed to narrate what is most true about us as God’s people: not only that we are God’s in Christ, but how we are God’s in Christ (we live a cruciform life as a cross-saved people); not only that we are one in Christ, but how we are one in Christ (the Spirit poured out on all irrespective of gender, ethnicity, social status).

We faithfully live our our story when we display in our practice the reality of who we are at the core of our identity. As those marked by the Spirit without regard to gender, we must also faithfully steward the gifts Christ by the Spirit has given to the church without regard to gender.

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