Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pneumatology in the same-sex debate.

Thoughts for another paper.

It is no secret that that church is deeply divided by the debate on same-sex relationships. Not only have I followed different discussions with interest, but have been part of our denomination's struggle for the past 5 years.

Different theological perspectives have given reasons for their respective stances on the issue, and when asked to define the one factor, which causes the difference in theological perspective, the response points to different hermeneutic methods employed in the reading of Scripture. I am not satisfied with this answer. This rift is not due solely to people reading the Bible differently. It is clear that in the discussion there are different understandings of the doctrine of Scripture, Ecclesiology, Soteriology and Missiology. The differences in these doctrines, something that can be captured in a book, are acknowledged, but if there is one doctrine that can be identified as the root of these divergent views, it is Pneumatology.

Yes, Pneumatology is the forgotten doctrine, except in its overemphasis in the charismatic/Pentecostal traditions. Yet, it is a doctrine which informs our understanding of so many other doctrines. This is what I’ve noticed:

Among those arguing for the recognition and appreciation of same-sex relationships in the church, the Spirit of God is seen as one who’s function it is first, to point to the Son. The belief is that God’s self-revelation is not subject to the availability, intention or righteousness of the individual, nor of the community. This means that God’s choice to reveal pre-empts the factor of human cognition, recognition and ability. Wesley refers to this as Prevenient Grace. God does not only reveal Godself through the Son, communicated and recognized through the Spirit to certain individuals, but God’s revelation extends to all. The result is that all have equal opportunity to respond in faith to what God has already done. In the response to this revelation, a community which exceeds time and space is formed, with the aim of holiness. This Soteriology, although affecting the individual does not necessarily depend on the sanctification of the individual per se, but is concerned with the sanctification of the community. It is at this point that one should guard against the danger of Gestalt Theology. The work of the Spirit is not only the cumulative work of transforming individuals for the sake of a redeemed community, but is first at work in the restoration of the community which has, as a result, the inevitable consequence of the restoration of the individual. Even if we were to assume that homosexuality is a sin, then the place of the homosexual is rooted in the community of faith, because the Spirit is at work in the community.

Those who are vehemently opposed to same-sex relationships indicate a different understanding of the Spirit, which in turn affects their ecclesiology, Soteriology and doctrine of mission. The work of the Spirit is to reveal truth and to safeguard the truth in the community of faith. Truth is contained in Scripture, encapsulated in tradition and history. Reason, the third pillar of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, becomes informed and subject to the three mentioned factors, two of which are Quadrilateral pillars themselves. This ensures that truth remains stable, and is not open to change as the result of a clinical and relatively “new” discovery, but must be subject to the truth of the Spirit as revealed through time in the aspects mentioned. It is therefore an unreasonable question to answer when those holding this perspective are asked: “If God is so passionately opposed to homosexuality, why doesn’t the Spirit convict homosexuals of their sin as pointed to in John 16:8-11?”. Based on this Pneumatology, it is the work of the church to convert those who partake in this practice, for the Spirit has already convicted the church through Scripture, history and tradition. The question that is raised is whether this Pneumatology leads to a re-invention of Sola Ecclesia (in the Roman Catholic sense)?

If this is the case, then we must speak of two different Christian theologies. This is of much greater consequence than merely having different hermeneutic approaches.

Share some thoughts… Obviously I haven’t argued concisely and coherently, so please, once again, excuse the fragmented thinking.

1 comment:

Beryl Donkin said...

I'm adding eschatology to the pot! What we are made for being more significant that what we are made of.
The goal towards which we are being drawn, not facing away from where we are with it's back to us (as it were) but facing toward us - and thereby informing and challenging and shaping our present. Questioning our current position in the covenant and the exercise of our faith. Are we allowing others to dictate who we are and what we are about? or are we allowing God (pneuma/spirit) to shape and guide our lives and fulfill the eschaton in us? Our present is that place where we worship and live in faith together in community, and discern the place of the cross and obedience to it. Where we are faithful to this present and the challenge of the eschaton on it, life is renewed, hope is present and rejoiced in, and we get beyond (I would hope) the finger-pointing religiosity of trying to get others to earn acceptance in our eyes and in God's by excluding them and holding them in contempt. When we focus on the eschaton we recognise that we all fall short of the glory of God and that God does not hold that against us (he knows we are but dust), but continues to love and draw us to that which he has created us to be and become.
Just some ramblings to add to what's in your thoughts!!