Ass. Prof. of the University of Thessaloniki
Reconciliation as a pneunatological mission paradigm
(Some Preliminary Reflections by an Orthodox)
III. Pneumatology and the Christological basis of the Christian mission.
I mentioned earlier that the pneumatological aspect of the Christian mission cannot be received in the wider Christian constituency, unless it is christologically conditioned. This meens that any theology of mission, needs to derive from, and be determined by, the teaching, life and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. His teaching, however, and especially his life and work, cannot be properly understood without a reference to the eschatological expectations of Judaism. Without entering into the complexities of Jewish eschatology, one can very briefly say, that at the time of Jesus of Nazareth the core of these expectations was the idea of the coming of a Messiah, who in the “last days” of history (the eschaton) would establish his kingdom (Joel 3:1; Is 2:2, 59:21; Ezek 36:24, etc.). The start of the eschatological period will be sound by the gathering of all the nations, and by the descent of God’s Spirit upon the sons and daughters of God, and by calling all the dispersed and afflicted people of God, but also the Gentiles, into one place, reconciled to God and becoming one body united around him (Mic 4:1-4; Is 2:2-4; Ps 147:2-3). A statement in the Gospel of John – generally overlooked in modern biblical scholarship – about the role of the Messiah is extremely important. In that statement the author of the 4th Gospel interprets the words of the Jewish High Priest by affirming that “he prophesied that Jesus should die...not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” (Jn 11:51-52).(18)
Throughout the Gospel writings (synoptic and johannine alike) Christ clearly identifies himself with this Messiah. One can see this in the various Messianic titles he chose for himself, or at least as witnessed by the most primitive Christian tradition (“Son of man”, “Son of God”, “Servant of God” etc., most of which had a collective meaning, hence the Christology of “corporate personality”). We see it as well in the parables of the Kingdom, which summarize his teaching: i.e. that his coming inaugurated a new world order, the world of the Kingdom of God; we also see this idea in the Lord's Prayer, and above all in his conscious acts, and most significantly in the selection of twelve disciples, signifying the establishment of a new eschatological dodekaphylon (twelve tribes) of the New Israel. In short, Christ identified himself with the Messiah of the Eschaton, who would be the center of the gathering of the dispersed people of God.
It was on this radical eschatological teaching of the Historical Jesus about the Kingdom of God (which as modern biblical research has shown moves dialectically between the “already” and the “not yet”; in other words, it begins already in the present, but will be completed in its final, authentic and glorious form in the eschaton) that the early Church developed her theology, especially her Pneumatology, and above all her mission. The apostles, and all Christians thereafter, are commissioned to proclaim not a set of given religious convictions, doctrines, and moral commands, but the coming kingdom, the good news of a new reality to be established “in the last days”. This has as its centre the crucified and resurrected Christ, the incarnation of God the Logos and his dwelling among us human beings, and his continuous presence through the Holy Spirit in a life of communion, in a life of full-scale reconciliation.
This reconciliation was experienced in the liturgical, more precisely “eucharistic” (in the wider sense), life of the early Church.(19) The early Christian community suffered from factions and divisions but, reconciled through the grace of our Lord to God, felt obliged to extend horizontally this reconciliation to one another. Being incorporated into the one people of God by Baptism, the Christian community experienced this new eschatological reality in the Eucharist, a significant act of identity, which was celebrated as a manifestation (more precisely a foretaste) of the coming kingdom. It is not accidental that the condition for participating in the Lord’s Table was, and still is, a conscious act of reconciliation with one’s sisters and brothers through the “kiss of love” (Mt 5:23-24). Furthermore, the Eucharist as the Lord’s Supper par excellence cannot be completed and authentically constituted where the congregation fails to share, in other words where is not fully and in all respects reconciled (1 Cor 11:20-21).
However, the Eucharist was not the only liturgical rite of reconciliation in the healing process of the Christian community. Baptism, the other major Sacrament of initiation, is always preceeded by a concious act of repentance, i.e. a solemn renunciation of the evi and a concious act of reconciliation, thus becoming a sign of incorporation into the one body and Spirit (Eph 4:4-5; “…there is one body and one Spirit, just as (we) were called to the one hope of (our) calling”). The act of confession, which very early in the life of the Church acquired sacramental significance, was originally meant as the necessary reconciling process with the community – a sacrament of reconciliation (in the Orthodox Church is called sacrament of metanoia). But the list of liturgical rites with a reconciling and healing significance does not end here; there is also the act – or sacrament – of anointment for healing. For many Churches the Lord’s Supper itself also has therapeutic meaning. These examples draw our attention to the importance of reconciliation and healing in the life and mission of the Church.
This symbolisation of the kingdom in the community was the starting point of Christian mission, the springboard of the Church’s witnessing exodus to the world. The missiological imperative of the Christian community stems exactly from this awareness of the Church as a dynamic and corporate body of reconciled believers commissioned to witness to the coming Kingdom of God. In struggling to manifest the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18) to the world, the Church cannot but become a “reconciling” community. This holistic understanding of mission by no means a neglect of the classical missional task; it certainly includes a commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel. “Evangelism aims to build up a reconciling and reconciled community (cf. 2 Cor 5:19) that will point to the fullness of God’s reign, which is ‘righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom 14:17)”.(20) This affirmation of the preparatory document for the previous World Mission Conference in Salvador of Bahia, Brasil (1996) finds an echo in the recent WCC mission statement: “To speak of evangelism means to emphasise the proclamation of God’s offer of freedom and reconciliation, together with the invitation to join those who follow Christ and work for the reign of God”.(21)
Today in the field of world mission we speak, with the help of pneumatology, for the “oekoumene which is to come” («τὴν οἰκουμένην τὴν μέλλουσαν»), according to the terminology of Hebrews (v. 2,5 cf. also vv. 13,14ff.), as it is described in the book of Revelation (chs. 21 and 22), as an open society, where reconciliation and healing are more than needful; a society where an honest dialogue between the existing living cultures can take place. Today, more than in any other time of history, the world can and must become a household (οἶκος), where everyone is open to the “other” (as Christians are open to the Ulimate Other, i.e. God), and where all can share a common life, despite the plurality and difference of their identity. After all, in modern missiology the term oekoumene and its derivatives (ecumenism etc.) no longer describe a given situation. When we talk about the oekoumene we no longer exclusively refer to an abstract universality, such as the entire inhabited world, or the whole human race, or even a united universal Church. What we actually mean is substantial – and at the same time threatened – relations between Churches, between cultures, between people and human societies, and at the same time between humanity and the rest of God’s creation. This means that reconciliation, and of course of healing, is a mission primary. But we can hardly achieve these unless we honestly pray:
COME HOLY SPIRIT, HEAL AND RECONCILE.
18. The idea of “gathering into one place the scattered people of God” is also to be found in Is 66:18; Mt 25:32; Rom 12:16; Didache 9:4b; Mart. Polyc. 22:3b; Clement of Rome, I Cor. 12:6 etc.
19. In a historic statement to the world Christian community George Florovsky, declared that “the Church is first of all a worshipping community. Worship comes first, doctrine and discipline second. The lex orandi has a privileged priority in the life of the Christian Church. The lex credendi depends on the devotional experience and vision of the Church” (“The Elements of Liturgy,”, in G. Patelos (ed.), The Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical Movement, Geneva 1978, 172-182, p.172; cf. also J. Zizioulas, Being as Communion. Studies in Personhood and the Church, New York 1985).
20. CWME Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, 24 November – 3 December 1996, Preparatory Papers for Section Work, Geneva, WCC Unit II, 1996, p. 19.
21. “Mission and Evangelism in Unity Today”, IRM 88 (1999), pp. 109-127 § 62.