The Holy Spirit is the “mediator of communion.” The Holy Spirit “mediates,” or “brings together,” things that are distinct, diverse or even different for the sake of fellowship. The Spirit’s mission is communion, or fellowship, at both the divine and human levels of existence. The Holy Spirit acts as “mediator of communion” in three distinct ways: 1) in the Holy Trinity 2) in the incarnation and 3) in the church.[i]
In the Holy Trinity
The Holy Spirit is the mediator of communion in the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit unites the Father and Son in eternal fellowship. Early Christian thinkers described the Holy Spirit as the eternal “bond of love” between the Father and Son. That is, the Father and Son are eternally united in a fellowship of love through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Father loves the Son in the communion of the Spirit. The Son loves the Father in the communion of the Spirit. As the “bond of love,” the Holy Spirit unites the Father and Son in a communion of love. Thus, God eternally exists in a fellowship (“communion”) of love.
In the Incarnation
The Holy Spirit is the mediator of communion in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.[ii] As the eternal bond of love between the Father and Son, the Holy Spirit is uniquely qualified to be the mediator of communion between the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ. In the incarnation, the Eternal Word of God, through whom all things are created and in whom all things exist, takes from the womb of Mary a “body like we sinners have” (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16, 17; Hebrews 1:2, 3: Romans 8:3). The Holy Spirit unites the Eternal Word of God to humanity in the womb of Mary. The Holy Spirit sustains the union of divine and human natures throughout the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. During the earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy Spirit sustained the relationship between the Father and Son by empowering Jesus to offer perfect faith, love and obedience to his heavenly Father in our place and in our name. In the union between God and humanity established in the incarnation and lived out through the life of Jesus, all humanity is brought into fellowship (or, “reconciled”) with the Father. In Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19; Colossians 1:20).
COMMENT: Reconciliation between God and humanity is the work of the Holy Trinity. By the will of the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the eternal Son of God becomes a human being in the womb of Mary in order to reconcile the world to God. The union of God and humanity in the incarnation of Jesus Christ is sustained throughout Jesus’ earthly life by the Holy Spirit. In the power of the Spirit, the Son offers perfect faith and obedience to the Father in our name for our salvation.
In the Church
The Holy Spirit is the mediator of communion in the church. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit broke down barriers of language and culture in order to create a new community. The Spirit united diverse believers from many nations into a fellowship that worships Jesus as Lord and serves one another in love. In the time between the resurrection of Jesus and the end of the age yet to come, the Spirit’s primary mission to the world is fellowship, or “communion.”
The role of the Holy Spirit as mediator of communion helps us to understand the union of Christ with his church. Our union with Christ can be described in “incarnational-Trinitarian” language. In both the incarnation of Jesus Christ and in the church, the Holy Spirit unites and holds together things that are different for the sake of communion.[iii] In the incarnation, the Spirit unites God with humanity in the person of Jesus. In the church, the Holy Spirit unites believers to Jesus. The Holy Spirit is sent from the Father through the Son to awaken believers to the reality of our union with Christ. In the communion of the Spirit, believers actively, knowingly, willingly and thankfully participate in the union between God and humanity established in the incarnation of Christ. As the mediator of communion, the Holy Spirit lifts us up into the life, beauty and joy of the Holy Trinity, where we share in the mutual love and knowing of the Father and Son. The mediation of communion through the ministry of the Holy Spirit—a mediation of mutual love in knowing and of knowing in love—is the origin and goal of all things, made possible by the saving work of Jesus Christ.[iv]
As the “bond of love,” the Holy Spirit is the mediator of communion among believers. The primary work of the Spirit today is to gather the community of faith in order to equip it for mission to the world. The Holy Spirit unites believers as one “Body,” with Jesus Christ as its “Head” (Colossians 1:18). In the communion of the Holy Spirit, believers are gathered in faith, built up in love and sent into the world in hope.[v] The church, gathered into community through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, represents the Kingdom of God among the kingdoms of men. Empowered by the Holy Spirit and moving forward in the name of Jesus Christ, the church is sent into the world with the good news of the Kingdom of God.
The community of faith created by the ministry of the Holy Spirit is different from the communities of the world. In the Body of Christ, believers uphold and support one another rather than trying to cause the other to fall, or stumble. The church is a community of forgiveness, where one sinner my love and forgive another, because the sins of all have been washed away by the blood of Jesus. In the Body of Christ, the individual believer is free to live in relationships where he or she is loved and may love in return. In the communion of the Spirit, the Body of Christ is equipped to engage the world in love while not conforming to its ways.[vi]
Community is important because God does not want faith to be expressed in merely a “private” way within the hearts of believers. Humans are social beings created to live and move and exist within networks of relationships, both with God and with one another. The community of faith bears witness to God’s purpose for human relationships. The mission of Jesus to bring hope to humanity and justice to the nations is (ideally) embodied in the church, as it is equipped to witness to the nations in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is not a “private” Spirit. No one owns or controls the Holy Spirit. No one may claim a greater measure of the Spirit’s indwelling than anyone else. The Holy Spirit does not bring private revelations or messages to self-important leaders who claim special privilege with God. The members of the church, including its leaders, exist in relationship to the community created by the Holy Spirit. In the community of faith, there can be no individualism at the expense of the community and no community at the expense of the individual. In the community of faith—ideally!—each is for all and all are for each. The community of faith is a communion of persons-in-relationship, who are committed to bringing the good news of King Jesus to the world.[vii]
According to theologian Colin Gunton, the Holy Spirit is open to relationship with another.[viii] The Holy Spirit brings together things that are different. The Holy Spirit delights in crossing boundaries. The Spirit gathers people who are different or divided and brings them together in love. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit brought together a diverse body of believers from many cultures, who spoke many languages. From the “many” gathered at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit formed the “one,” a unified body of believers from many nations and cultures with a special mission to the world.
While the Holy Spirit brings together those who are different, the Spirit does not delight in “same-ness.” The Spirit delights in diversity. God delights in the “unique-ness” of each person. The Holy Spirit does not overpower our individual identities in order to make everyone the same. Rather, the Holy Spirit respects our personhood. The Spirit shapes us into “persons-in-relationship,” where relationship does not destroy our unique identities but, rather, establishes them.[ix] Communion means taking part in relationships without loss of personal identity, or “sense of self.” In communion, our identities as unique persons are enhanced. In short, we become the persons we are meant to be in relationship with others in the communion of the Spirit.
In the church, the Spirit shapes the community of faith by bringing us into relationship with the Father through Jesus, and, in Jesus, with one another. The church is a body of diverse people with the common task of mission to the world. The church is a community, not a collective.[x] In a collective, such as the communist system in the former Soviet Union or present-day North Korea, the rights of the individual are forfeited in service to the all-powerful state (or, government). Individuality and uniqueness are absorbed into a grey mass of conformity and sameness. Freedom of expression is crushed and personal differences are discouraged in favour of uniformity. In contrast, a community is a fellowship of persons who are free to express their individuality and uniqueness in the context of relationships. In community, each member lives and moves and exists as part of the whole, while the whole supports and serves the individuals within it. Community means unity-in-diversity and diversity-in-unity. Diversity brings richness, creativity and tolerance to the community, while unity ensures both the proper functioning of the community and the well-being of each member. In the church, unity-in-diversity is apparent in spiritual gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). The Holy Spirit distributes a diversity of gifts among believers in order to equip the community of faith for its mission to the world. The variety of gifts given to the community of faith attests the Spirit’s desire for diversity within unity.
COMMENT: God values diversity, but God does not value diversity without unity. Diversity without unity encourages separation, division and intolerance, as seen in the tribalism of east Africa or the break-up of society in the United States in favour of “multi-culturalism.” Unity-in-diversity, however, brings richness, growth and tolerance to the community, as seen in churches made up of different tribes, ethnic groups, age groups and races, worshipping and praising God in love and fellowship.
Just as the Holy Spirit is the bond of love between the Father and Son in the Holy Trinity, the Spirit is the bond of love among believers in the community of faith.[xi] As Professor Clark Pinnock notes, fellowship on earth reflects fellowship in heaven. The Holy Trinity is an open, inviting fellowship, and the Spirit wants the church to be the same.[xii] As a community of mutual giving and receiving, the church is meant to reflect the life and love of the Holy Trinity.[xiii] Our fellowship with one another is rooted in the fellowship of the Father, Son and Spirit, in whose image we are created. Thus, fellowship, or communion, characterises both the relationships of the Holy Trinity and the relationships among believers in the community of faith.[xiv]
Community is central to God’s purpose, because the community of faith reflects the light of the Holy Trinity in a world lost in darkness.[xv] The Holy Trinity is Father, Son and Holy Spirit—three equal divine persons eternally united as “One” in a fellowship of love. The Trinity is a fellowship of persons-in-relationship, where each divine person’s identity is established in relationship to the other. The Father is eternally “Father” only in relation to the Son. The Son is eternally “Son” only in relation to the Father. The Holy Spirit is the “bond of love” that eternally unites the Father and Son in a relationship of mutual giving and receiving. The Holy Trinity eternally exists in diversity: the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. At the same time, the Holy Trinity eternally exists in unity: the Father eternally loves the Son and the Son eternally loves the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. The church, as a diverse body of believers united in love (John 13:35), bears witness to the Triune (“three-in-one”) nature of God by reflecting diversity in the unity of love. According to theologian Stanley Grenz:
God intends to bring to pass a reconciled creation in which humans reflect in their relationship to each other and the universe around us the reality of the triune God. God’s actions are aimed at establishing the reconciled community of love as the human reflection of the [Holy] Trinity—the divine nature—which is love.[xvi]
The unity-in-diversity of the church reflects the unity-in-diversity of the Holy Trinity. The church is a diverse but united fellowship of believers worshipping and serving God in a variety of languages, ethnic and cultural forms. As an expression of the unity-in-diversity of the Holy Trinity, the ethnic and cultural diversity of the church is properly reflected in a variety of worship styles and music. The ethnic and cultural diversity of the church, expressed in a communion of believers united in love, offers an alternative to the tribalism, racism and nationalism of the modern world.
COMMENT: God does not value sameness and conformity. God values diversity-in-unity. For this reason, God’s people are free to worship in a variety of ways that reflect their own cultures and traditions. Churches in Africa and Asia should not try to model their worship services after those in the United States, Australia or Europe. While liturgical (“worship”) traditions developed over many centuries should not be ignored, God’s people are free to adapt them (or, reject them) as needed in order to offer worship and praise to God in a manner fitting their cultures, customs and values.
The Goal of Creation
The goal and purpose of creation is “communion.” Out of an abundance of love, God created us for fellowship with himself. We are created to share in the Son’s relationship with the Father in the communion of the Holy Spirit. By sending his Son for our salvation and by sending the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts by faith, God proves that he does not want to be without us. In the words of the Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, the greatest Christian thinker of the modern era:
[God] wills to be ours, and he wills that we should be his. He wills to belong to us and he wills that we should belong to him. He does not will to be without us, and he does not will that we should be without him. … The blessings of [the Holy Trinity] are so great that they overflow as blessings to us.[xvii]
God does not will to be without us. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). It is the nature of love to reach out to another. The Father reaches out through the Son and Spirit to draw us into fellowship, so that we may live forever in the abundance of his love.[xviii] Our fellowship with God is grounded in the freedom of God. Although God “lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him” (1 Timothy 6:16), God is free to give himself to us in an act of love. Despite the vast difference between God’s holiness and our sinfulness, God sovereignly and freely chooses to unite himself to humanity in his Son. The Holy Spirit enacts the freedom of God by bringing us into a real, living union with Christ and, through Christ, with the Father.
Although the goal of creation was achieved in principle in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we live today “between-the-times” of the resurrection and the age to come. The church is the “first fruits” of the new creation. In Israel, the first fruits, or “first crop,” of the harvest was set apart as a special offering to God (Leviticus 23:10; Deuteronomy 26:2-4). As the “first fruits” of the new humanity brought in by Jesus, the community of faith is set apart as a sign of the great harvest to come. According to theologian Clark Pinnock, the church is a “new family, made up of brothers and sisters, among whom Christ is firstborn (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:11). Such a community is intended to [show] what God wants the world to be.”[xix] The community of faith is a testimony to God’s purpose for the world. The church is a “human assembly that points to a much larger [assembly] at the end of time.”[xx] The church represents the Kingdom of God that is destined to cover the earth.
According to theologians Hauerwas and Willimon, “The church, as the very body of Christ, is a visible sign of the intimacy that God intends for all through the redemptive, relational power of the Holy Spirit.”[xxi] As a community of faith, love and hope, the church—at least at its best!—is the model for what God finally intends for everyone. The fellowship of the community of faith is an outpost of the Kingdom of heaven in a world divided by suspicion, distrust and violence. The blessings of the Kingdom of God begin to flow into the world through the church, as the Kingdom is enlarged in ever-widening circles through the growing fellowship of believers.
God’s good plan for the world, launched in the Garden of Eden, taken up by Israel, and fulfilled in Jesus, is being carried forward today in the church. Through the community of faith—under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit—the Kingdom of God is spreading across the earth, so that one day the ancient vision of the prophets will be fulfilled, when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14).
[i] George Hunsinger, “Karl Barth’s Doctrine of the Holy spirit, in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, 2000, pp. 177ff.
[ii] Hunsinger, p. 179.
[iii] Hunsinger, pp. 187, 188.
[iv] Hunsinger, p. 179.
[v] Hunsinger, p. 190.
[vi] Hunsinger, p. 191.
[vii] Barth, Church Dogmatics, II.2. pp. 312-314; cf. Hunsinger 190.
[viii] Colin Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, p. 181.
[ix] Cf. Gunton, p. 182.
[x] Gunton, p. 183.
[xi] Torrance, Trinitarian Faith, pp. 250, 251.
[xii] Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love, p. 117.
[xiii] Torrance, Trinitarian Faith, pp. 250, 251.
[xiv] Pinnock, p. 117.
[xv] Cf. Pinnock, p. 117.
[xvi] Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, Broadman & Holman, 1994, p. 636. Cited in Pinnock, p. 117.
[xvii] Barth, Church Dogmatics, II.1, p. 274; cf. Hunsinger, p. 189.
[xviii] Hunsinger, p. 189.
[xix] Pinnock, p. 118.
[xx] Pinnock, p. 117.
[xxi] Hauerwas & Willimon, Holy Spirit, p. 39.