Torrance, T.F. 1959. The School of Faith: The Catechisms of the Reformed Church. London: James Clark & Co. 298 pp.
The Spirit and the Church
Because the Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of Christ” and is sent in the name of Christ, the Spirit operates especially wherever the name of Jesus is preached and wherever people gather in his name (p. cxvii). Thus, the Church is the primary locus of the Spirit’s activity. The Church is the “inner circle” of Christ’s identification with humanity, for in the Church, the Son’s filial relationship with the Father “is made consciously to echo within mankind in a filial relation of obedience to God” (pp. cxvii, cxviii). As steward of the mysteries of God, the “economic” purpose of the Church is the election of one community in place of all for the blessing of God upon all (pp. cxx, cxxi). In the language of Barth, the Spirit gathers a community of believers in faith, builds it up in love and sends in out in hope, carrying the same message of forgiveness that Jesus brought to earth when he took the form of a servant in his mother’s womb.
Comment: “Election” is not exclusive, as in conservative Calvinism, where the few are chosen and the many are lost. Election is inclusive. God called Israel to bring blessing to the nations. God calls the Church for the same purpose. God “elects” for the purpose of bring blessing to all.
By the Spirit, the Church participates in the “New Humanity of Christ in order that through the same Spirit at work in the fellowship of the Church mankind as a whole may share in the New Humanity of Christ and therefore in the new creation.” As a corporate entity, the Church is the “one” for the “many.” As such, notes Torrance, “the Church is to be looked on as the new humanity within the world, the provisional manifestation of the new creation within the old” (p. cxxi).
The Church’s participation in Christ is the special work of the Holy Spirit. Within the Church, the Spirit creates “real reception and participation in the life and love of God in Christ.” In communion with Christ by the Spirit, the Church “presses out toward universal fullness in all creation.” That is, the Church moves forward “from the particular to the universal, from the nucleus to the fullness, from the one hundred and twenty at Pentecost to all mankind” (pp. cxxi, cxxii).
Christ has ordained that he will be met and known through the Church’s proclamation of the “Word.” It is the mission of the Spirit that, through the communication of the “Word,” “men may hear not only the words of other men who communicate it, but the Words of the living God, the Words that are Spirit and Life” (pp. cxxii, cxiii). Through the encounter with the Word, proclaimed by the Church in the power of the Spirit, “each man may through the Spirit share in the faith and obedience of Christ, and himself live the life of faith and obedience to Him” (p. cxxiii; emphasis mine).
Torrance asserts a “three-fold dimension” to the operation of the Spirit. First, there is a universal dimension of the Spirit’s activity. As a correlate to the inclusion of all humanity in the atoning reconciliation effected in the incarnation, the Spirit’s activity is universal in scope. In regard to the universal dimension, however, Torrance notes that “we can hardly speak of it as a Communion” (p. cxxiii). (One can only wish that Torrance had elaborated further on this dimension of the Spirit’s work. Alas, he did not.) In addition, there is a corporate dimension of the Spirit’s activity, that is, “a Communion of mutual participation through the Spirit in Christ and His graces.” Finally, there is a personal dimension of the Spirit’s activities within the corporate communion of the Church, wherein the Spirit ministers to the individual believer (p. cxxiv).
In view of the corporate and personal dimensions of the Spirit’s ministry to the Church, Torrance (p. cxxiv) writes eloquently:
That is the doctrine of the Church as the Communion of Saints, in which each shares with the other and all share together in the life and love of God in Jesus Christ. In that Communion no one can live for himself alone, or believe or worship alone, for he is nothing without his brother for whom Christ died, and has no relation to Christ except in Christ’s relation with all for whom he died.
Torrance’s assertion of the importance of the corporate body in relation to the life of the individual believer is confirmation of the “onto-relational” character of his theology, where entities do not exist in isolation but find their identities within the nexuses of relations in which they exist. In short, we are created for community.
As a “Communion in the Spirit,” through whom the Church participates in Christ, notes Torrance, the Church is subject to an “irresistible compulsion” by the Spirit, in which “the Church is turned outward to all for whom Christ became incarnate and lived and died that they might be gathered into the life of God.” Thus, the Church cannot live unto itself, for by the Communion of the Spirit, it is made to transcend itself in proclaiming the “mystery” in which it is entrusted. The boundaries of the Church must be open to all, for “the range of the Communion of the Spirit cannot be limited and bound to the Church, but through the universal range of the Spirit the Church is catholicised and universalised and made to reach out to the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (p. cxxiv).
Comment: For the Torrances, who were born of missionary parents, the Church can never be a closed society of individuals seeking a common religious experience. The Church exists for the world, not merely for itself. In its proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Church must transcend itself and open its boundaries in order to enter the “field” of the Spirit’s ministry, a field that is universal in range.
Nevertheless, while the Church is elected “for the world,” notes Torrance, it finds itself in tension with the world, “for in the world, the Word of God is as yet resisted, and the Spirit of God is abroad convicting of sin, righteousness and judgement” (p. cxxiv). Thus, by participating in the New Humanity of Christ, sharing in his obedience and love through the communion of the Spirit, the Church, by being Church, “calls the world into question, proclaims to it the Gospel which claims the world for God and which therefore resists and judges the will of the world to isolate itself from the love of God” (pp. cxxiv, cxxv). Thus, by its participation in the “self-sanctification of Christ,” the Church finds itself separated from the world. At the same time, by its participation in the “reconciliation of Christ,” the Church is thrust into the world with the message of reconciliation. The Church’s separation from the world, even as it is thrust into the world, creates a tension that will only be resolved with the return of Christ, when he comes again to take up His reign and to judge and renew His creation. Yet, this tension is itself a sign of the end, for it indicates that the Spirit is moving forward in triumph and consummation.
Thus, there is a correlation between the communion of the Spirit and union with Christ that carries within it the eschatological hope of the renewal of all creation. In union with Christ, believers may experience and enjoy their adoption as sons and daughters of God. In communion with the Spirit, the Church goes forth with its message of emancipation and renewal, when finally “the universal range of Christ and His Spirit will be coincident with the Communion of the Spirit, that is, the sphere wherein all who share in the Spirit share in Christ’s Sonship.” As Torrance notes, the universal communion of the Spirit has its “provisional and proleptic form” in the historical Church. In the consummation of all things, however, “the Church attaining to the fullness of Christ will be coincident with the whole Kingdom spanning the new heaven and the new earth.”
Amen. Come quickly Lord Jesus!
We will begin to unpack Torrance’s thought in regard to “the communion of the Spirit” as we continue in Radcliff’s book in the next post.