Pentecost, Politics, & the Munus Triplex

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Yesterday I launched the barrage of Tweets through which you just scrolled with varying degrees of (dis)interest. I hold something of a dialectical position on the value of theologizing on Twitter wherein I view it as at once helpful and completely unhelpful. It is helpful insofar as it generates interest in the topic at hand but unhelpful in that this is as far as it can actually go. That is, anything worth saying can be condensed into a tweetable proposition but one should never confuse the proposition with its explanation or explication. Tweets are samples, tidbits, bites. They aren’t full servings, let alone complete meals. At best, they are pleasant aromas from the kitchen that draw hungry souls to the dining room. That you are here though says more about your appetite and the table fare than it does my culinary expertise. Pentecost is delectable on its own terms and that is just how I want to serve it—pleasantly arranged but raw and unencumbered by too many condiments. Think sushi.

Pentecost was that extraordinary event in redemptive history which launched the ordinary mission and ministry of the Church. It provides both the foundation and fuel for all of the subsequent activities of the Kingdom of God on earth. Pentecost was a participatory event—like the incarnation, cross, resurrection, and ascension—in which the One, Holy, Apostolic, and Catholic Church lives, moves, and has her being. It was a once-and-for-all occurrence which transforms every successive moment from that morning in Jerusalem to the final advent of the New Jerusalem. That meeting in the Upper Room marked out the Church’s identity, authority, and destiny. In this sense, all who name the name of Christ are at once “Pentecostal and Catholic.”

Very briefly, I would like to outline the theopolitical implications of Pentecost with reference to the Munus Triplex. Such an understanding seeks to safeguard the Kingdom from the temptations of bare abstraction, crass individualism, frigid formalism, and hyper fanaticism. Undergirding my argument is the insistence that Augustine was correct in his concept of Totus Christus. That is, that which is true of Christ is in some sense true of the Church; that which pertains to the Head in some sense also pertains to the Body which is both mystically and organically joined to the person of Christ. In short, the Church is in some sense a continuation of the incarnation—the Body of Christ on earth.

While the three-fold office of Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King was accepted by the Fathers, it has generally been understood as having been most fully expounded in antiquity by Calvin. For him, the entirety of Christ’s work was bound up somehow in the ministration of the triple office working together in concert. The New Testament writers, in a fashion which would later prompt Augustine to make his assertion concerning the continuity between Christ and his people, take up the three-fold rubric and apply it in a way so as to give coherence to the ongoing mission of the Kingdom of God. At the risk of oversimplifying matters, Christ’s priestly, prophetic, and kingly life and ministry are bequeathed to the Church and are dramatically enacted in full force on the day of Pentecost.

Such parallels and motifs are woven throughout the historical narratives of the New Testament. Consider the obvious parallels between the fiery event at Sinai and the fiery endowment at Pentecost. In each case a prophetic leader ascends into the presence of God through a cloud in order to receive a gift from the hand of God which forms a covenant community on earth. At Sinai the Law was given to and through Moses, at Pentecost the Spirit is given by Christ. 3,000 souls approached Sinai having not heeded the heavenly warning and the whole lot of them were slain for their insolence. Whereas at Pentecost, 3,000 souls were “cut to the heart” after hearing the Spirit’s welcoming voice and were swept into the Kingdom of Life. Sinai was the place at which Israel was constituted a kingdom of priests and a holy nation set apart for divine service. This is also the apostolic description of the Pentecostal event. On the day of Pentecost, and for the second time in the history of his people, God is visiting his people on his holy mountain and mediating a new vocation for them. The Church thus becomes both a priestly and prophetic institution, proclaiming and administering salvation by the word and sacrament.

The prophetic identity of the Church also finds a parallel in the ministry of Elisha. At the ascension of his master, Elisha lays hold of the mantle of continuing ministry whereby he does “greater works” than Elijah. His reception of the Spirit was the parting gift of the ascended prophet. So it is with the Church.  The investiture of the prophetic Spirit of Moses upon the seventy elders of Israel recorded in Numbers 11 appears to be relevant also, not least on account of Luke’s employment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 (Numbers 11:29). There is too a vivid echo of the consecration of the tabernacle and temple (Exodus 40:34-38; 1 Kings 8:10-11) in the descent of the Spirit, filling the house, and placing tongues of flame upon the assembly as if upon a lampstand. In all of this we find the concepts of both the priestly and prophetic offices typified, actualized in Christ, and adhering in his Body.

But what of the “kingly” aspect of the Munus Triplex? Kingship is distinctly political, so if our hypothesis holds then Pentecost is a revolutionary political event. Here too I think that we find a parallel in the Hebrew Scriptures which should inform how we understand the theopolitical implications of the outpouring of the Spirit. That parallel is Genesis 11.

Genesis 11 recounts the story of an immense building project undertaken by King Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-12). That massive project was comprised of two dimensions—a city and a tower (Genesis 11:4)—and those two dimensions corresponded to the linguistic (‘one language’) and liturgical (‘one lip’) unity of the people recorded in the opening verse. Thus the tower was the religious epicenter of an empire which was to dominate the earth. The city and tower of Babel was an attempt to secure human power against the threat of divine judgment and usurp the rightful authority of the Kingdom of Heaven. God, in turn, frustrated their feeble attempts by coming down and confusing their language, with the result that they were scattered abroad.  Nimrod’s dream of establishing a single world empire was abandoned by reason of necessity.

In the following chapter however, a new nation is formed when Abraham is called away from Ur of the Chaldees—the land of Babel. The Lord promises that, through Abraham and his offspring, he will bless all of the nations of the world. In Zephaniah 3:9, God promises that He will restore to the peoples a pure ‘lip’, so that they may all call upon the name of the Lord. So it seems that for Dr. Luke, Pentecost is a sign of the fulfillment of these multifaceted and interwoven promises.

Pentecost marks is the unification of humanity through the gospel of Christ; it is the un-Babeling of the world. This unity is accomplished through the sending of the Spirit of Christ, poured out like life-giving rain on the drought-ridden earth; “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.”  In place of a single, sacred tongue, the wonderful works of God are spoken in the languages and dialects of the peoples of the earth. Properly speaking, this is not a reversal of the curse of Babel but a baptism; a redemption of human diversity. The multitude of languages is preserved and human unity is achieved, not through the dominance of a mighty human empire, or through the collapsing of all cultural differences, but through the joyful worship of God in the power of the Spirit.  For the Church of God, every country is a fatherland and every fatherland is foreign. Present within all nations, yet belonging to none, God’s worldwide kingdom cannot be contained, controlled, circumscribed, replicated, or assimilated by any worldly power.

As Ascension Day marked the coronation of Christ the King, Pentecost consecrated the Body of Christ so that she might fulfill his ongoing priestly, prophetic, and kingly ministry in the world. The gift of the Spirit is the tie which binds all believers together throughout heaven and earth and time and eternity. The ‘Promise of the Father’ realized at Pentecost ensures that everything necessary to perform the tasks to which our three-fold office has called us has been given to us and backed by omnipotence.

Therefore, we are reasonably commanded to go into all the world and make disciples. What else could we possibly need?

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