Saturday, May 30, 2015

Barth, the Trinity and the Multiplicity of Gifts

Iris blooming -- picture by Rev. Judi McMillan

Tomorrow is Trinity Sunday. I recognize that the doctrine of the Trinity is complicated and thus we have a tendency, even if we affirm the Trinity, to not give it much thought. Since Trinity Sunday follows Pentecost Sunday -- where we celebrate the coming of the Spirit upon the gathered followers of Jesus, empowering them to proclaim the Gospel in the languages of the Jewish pilgrims who have journeyed to Jerusalem from across the diaspora -- it's appropriate to consider the connection to things church, ministry, Spirit, and Trinity.

I am nearing the end of my reading of Kimlyn Bender's Karl Barths Christological Ecclesiology (Cascade, 2013).  Bender's book is a helpful exploration of Barth's understanding of the church, and while Barth has a strong Christological dynamic to his ecclesiology, he is ever aware of the overarching Trinitarian dimensions of Christian theology.  In his chapter "The Ordination of the Church as the People of God in the World," in which  Bender explores Barth's belief that the church is called to service to the world, he writes of Barth's understanding of the multiple forms that ministry takes as the church serves the world. 

Bender helpfully summarizes Barth's position, which I thought I might share as I am ever interested in the question of gifts and ministry (see my book Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening).  He writes:

The multiple forms of ministry are described by Barth: 1. pneumatologically, in that they are gifts of the Spirit; 2. Christologically, in that the unity and multiplicity are understood according to the image of the body of Christ as one body comprised of many members, and; 3. in at Trinitarian way, in that the multiple gifts themselves are reflections of the unified multiplicity of God's being as triune and as "works of God, of Jesus Christ, of the Holy Spirit" (CD IV.3.2, 857). The community's multiple gifts that serve its unified witness thus exist by the power of the Spirit and in correspondence to Christ, who serves as "the original of the relations of unity and multiplicity," the community being his  "reflection and likeness" [Nachbild und Gleichnis'] (CD IV.3.2, 859). The community exists in correspondence to the Trinity as well, for as God exists as one God yet in the differentiated unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so also the church exists as one in life and witness, yet in the differentiated unity of a multiplicity of members, gifts, and forms of ministry (CD IV.3.2, 854-855).  [Bender, Karl Barths Christological Ecclesiologyp. 254].
I find this to be a profound understanding of the relationship of differentiation in gifts and the oneness of the church as reflective of the differentiation and unity we see in the Trinity. As Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 12, the church is blessed when it expresses its unity in diversity and its diversity in unity.  May we seek to reflect this vision as we move from Pentecost Sunday to Trinity Sunday!

Note:  Iris blooming -- picture by Rev. Judi McMillan, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church  of Troy, MI.

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