Taming The Spirit

Taming The Spirit

Click to join the conversation with over 500,000 Pentecostal believers and scholars

Click to get our FREE MOBILE APP and stay connected

| PentecostalTheology.com


Pneuma 34 (2012) 229-244

Taming the Spirit

Paul G. Tyson

Department of Philosophy, Australian Catholic University, Brisbane



This article explores connections between the decline of prophecy and the evolution of a monar- chic mono-episcopate ecclesiological structure in the early Catholic Church. Of particularly inter- est in this evolution is the attempt to institutionalize the Holy Spirit within the post-apostolic ecclesial structure. This article argues that the Spirit of God is not governed by institutional necessity. Indeed, the freedom and resulting dynamism of the Spirit seems to require a light institutional structure and a radical power inverted vision of church such as seen in the Pauline churches. Hence this article argues that something like a Pauline ecclesiology is needed if the church is to practice an apostolic pneumatology.


Holy Spirit, institutional development, nonconformist ecclesiology, Robert Banks


This article seeks to explore the meaning of the changing role of the Holy Spirit within the life of the church from Paul to Constantine. Of particular interest to this article is the transition in organizational signatures that characterized the shift from the role of the Spirit in the primitive church to the role of the Spirit in the early Catholic Church. I will argue that the early Catholic Church acquires a distinctly imperial Greco-Roman religious structure, along with the hierar- chic and institutional signatures natural to that structure, and that the role of the Spirit is reworked in order to fit the religious and institutional necessities that evolved during this transformation. This transformation is seen as some- thing of a departure from the ecclesial praxiology consistent with Pauline pneumatology. This departure is seen as a serious loss. This article will con- clude with a few thoughts on the Holy Spirit and the church in our contempo- rary global context and briefly consider what a “primitive” pneumatology might imply for us should we seek to pursue it today.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2012 DOI: 10.1163/157007412X642416



P. G. Tyson / Pneuma 34 (2012) 229-244

Before commencing, however, some provisos need to be made and the inter- pretive framework from which my argument arises needs to be made explicit.

HERE The particular ecclesiology this article appeals to — let us call it ‘Pau- line primitivism’ — is one that draws heavily on the scholarship of Robert Banks. In terms of the New Testament, Banks’ understanding of the primitive church can easily be seen as overly ‘organic’ or ‘anarchic’ as it does not refer to the pastoral epistles with their strong emphasis on sound teaching and the authority of leaders. In Banks’ defence, as it is at least debatable whether the pastoral epistles were authored by Paul, it seems fair to call Bank’s understand- ing of ecclesiology Pauline. Even so, a nascent hierarchical model of institu- tional power, as integrated with teaching authority, is clearly in the pastoral epistles. As the pastoral epistles are canonical they may well express a natural evolution of Pauline Christianity and a natural evolution towards institution- ally normative teaching uniformity. Whether this evolution is one which is nascent in ‘Pauline primitivism’ or a move away from ‘Pauline primitivism’, or a stance that is compatible with Pauline Christianity but becomes a justification for an anti-Pauline rejection of pneumatic grass roots dynamism later on (the stance I take from my reading of Banks), is a matter hotly debated amongst scholars of the field.1 Whilst this article assumes that Banks’ scholarship is still persuasive and essentially valid, yet this article also assumes that informed readers will understand that this is a hotly contested area of scholarship. Due to the very different evaluative stances which are possible on the shift in the church’s organizational signatures over the period this article explores, this article is not simply scholarly but is unavoidably polemic. Yet, my polemic intentions are not without nuance. I am arguing that constructive tensions between charismata, teaching and institutional authority were inherent in

1 Notable amongst scholars of early Christianity who interpret the meaning of the Greco- Roman milieu very differently to Robert Banks is Luke Timothy Johnson. See Johnson’s Among the Gentiles (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009). Contrary to Banks’ framing of Pauline Christianity in creative contrast to the patterns of religious and institutional power common to the 1st century Greco-Roman milieu, Johnson argues that Christianity was of a Greco-Roman religious institutional nature from the beginning. Johnson maintains that what was normative to the pagan Greco-Roman religious milieu was normative — and happily so — to the development of the Christian religion. Yet what is at issue between the ‘Pauline primitivism’ I favour and the Christian/pagan sympathy Johnson advocates is not whether the Greco-Roman milieu formed the early catholic church, but whether that formation was aboriginal to Christianity or not and what the meaning of that formation is. On origins and meanings, as detailed and scholarly as Johnson is, his complete avoidance of any direct engagement with scholars of such importance as Edwin Judge and Richard Bauckham — both crucial to Banks’ understanding — does not lead me to the conclusion that Johnson puts up an interpretive paradigm that makes Banks obsolete.


P. G. Tyson / Pneuma 34 (2012) 229-244


Pauline ecclesiology and that those tensions were overcome by largely remov- ing the charismata from the congregation by the 3rd century. This is not an anti-institutional stance, rather it is a stance which finds the inherently dynamic institutional logic of ‘Pauline primitivism’ basic to New Testament pneumatol- ogy. It must also be noted that I am approaching this study primarily within the ambit of a non-conformist theologically informed engagement with the sociol- ogy of religious institutions — indebted to Ellul, Yoder and Weber — rather than the ambit of early Christian studies as such, even though the medium of my argument is unavoidably historical and Scriptural. So, with these provisos and this interpretive framework in mind, let us begin.

The Apostolic Era — Paul’s Conception of Ekklesia in Context

The early church scholar Robert Banks gives considerable attention to the Greco-Roman context in which Paul’s conception of the Christian ekklesia is situated.2 Banks notes that after the rise of the Roman emperors the two main types of community familiar to the ancient world — politeia and oikonomia — were increasingly unable to fulfil people’s communal, political and religious needs. For “even those who had previously played an influential part in their respective civil and household communities found their freedom to do so dwin- dling in the face of changes that were overtaking both institutions in society.”3 That is, under the post-republican Roman empire, autonomous political power was concentrated in fewer hands producing disenchantment with the polis. This in turn placed new expectations on the oikos as a site of human fulfilment which in turn made the oikos more constrictive for those of subordinate posi- tion within (or, as slaves, to) it. A ‘macro-cultural’ reaction to this situation was to seek to find within the empire a more cosmopolitan order that replaced the

2 Whilst there was undoubtedly great diversity within the early church, Wayne Meeks argues that “Pauline Christianity . . . [provides us with] one reasonably coherent and identifiable segment of early Christianity . . . [which is] the best documented segment of the early Christian movement.” The First Urbane Christians, (second edition, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), p. 7. In order, then, not to lose the wood for the trees, this article somewhat sweepingly conflates Pauline ecclesiology with the most historically important aboriginal pattern of New Testament Church. For this pattern did survive the breach with Judaism and was the dominant pattern, as far as we know, in the first century surge of Christianity into the Greco-Roman urban environment. 3 Robert Banks, Paul’s idea of community (revised edition, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), p. 7.



P. G. Tyson / Pneuma 34 (2012) 229-244

polis and encompassed and unified all people.4 A ‘micro-cultural’ response was seen in the rise voluntary associations that sprung up in cities all over the ancient world at this time. Banks notes that “the novel feature of these groups was their basis in something other than the principles of politeia or oikonomia. They bound people together from dissimilar backgrounds on a different basis than that of geography and race, or natural and legal ties. Their principle was koinonia, i.e., voluntary partnership.”5 This period also saw disenchantment with traditional religion. “Amongst the Jews there was widespread dissatisfac- tion with the priestly hierarchy in Jerusalem, particularly in view of its collabo- ration with the Roman authorities and its absorption of Greek culture.”6 Disenchantment with traditional religion also existed among Greeks and Romans. “The reality or relevance of the official gods had been queried by the philosophers, and the ritual associated with their worship failed to satisfy the needs of those who were being awakened to greater individuality. [This gave rise to establishment of] thiasoi, private cultic associations [and Stoic philosophy].”7

Banks notes that the innovations of the Christian communities Paul called the ekklesia were particularly well suited to ‘success’ in the above context:

Comparison of Paul’s understanding of ekklesia with the intellectual and social climate of his day emphasizes both the comprehensiveness of his ideas and its appropriateness for his times. Attention has already been drawn to three aspects in the contemporary scene that were particularly significant: those aspirations for a universal fraternity that captivated the minds of educated Greeks and Romans and devout Jewish leaders; the significance of the household as a place which personal identity and intimacy could be found; the quest for community and immortality pursued through membership in

4 This notion bubbles around amongst upper-class lovers of imperial Rome from the time of Augustus but is only really taken on by imperial power itself in such a manner as to supplant the cultural independence of the ancient city-states under Diocletian. See Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), pp. 54-58.

5 Banks, ibid., p. 8.

6 Banks, ibid., p. 9.

7 Banks, ibid., pp. 10-11. As Banks’ comments indicate, it is important to remember that the relationship between religion and philosophy in the Greco-Roman world was deep and complex. Regarding Middle Platonism, Neoplatonism and astronomy see Walter Burkert, Greek Religion (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985), pp. 305-338; see also — regarding the deep connective roots between religion and philosophy within the Greek tradition — Francis M. Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991); see also — for a fascinating account of how dynamic ‘Dionysian’ and ‘irrational’ belief and cultus was in the Classical world — E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Los Angeles CA: University of California Press, 1951).


P. G. Tyson / Pneuma 34 (2012) 229-244


various voluntary and religious associations. In a quite remarkable way, Paul’s idea of ekklesia manages to encompass all three.8

The question now arises as to whether the institutional characteristics of the Pauline church were brilliant adaptations to the cultural milieu of his times, and might hence be structured in an entirely different manner in a different cultural milieu, or whether there is something distinctly necessary to a Chris- tian model of church in the Pauline model. That is, does “apostolic” mean mod- elled after the basic template of the Pauline church, or does it simply mean developmental continuity with primitive Christianity?9

In considering the above question Banks seems to imply that the model Paul establishes is not understood simply in terms of cultural innovation, but is invested with essential theological significance. Banks notes that “these small local churches were invested with a supranatural and supratemporal sig- nificance. They were taught to regard themselves as the visible manifestation of a divine and eternal commonwealth in which people could become citizens.”10 Further, this remarkable commonwealth — small and insignificant as it appeared in the spiritually unseeing eyes of ‘the world’ — was explicitly eschatological as it participated in Christ’s cosmos redeeming mission.11 As such, the church proclaimed the absolute Lordship of Christ over all earthly and heavenly powers, the staggering victory of Christ over the cosmic enemies

8 Banks, ibid., p43.

9 I do not mean to imply a binary either/or here. Institutional evolution in response to or directing the norms and conditions of the ever changing cultural milieu in which any gathering of Christians meet is simply a fact. So institutional and cultural evolution and apostolic continuity must be co-substantial in the life of any living and real church. However, there is a primary division here in how this particular matter is interpreted. A ‘restitutionalist’ stance maintains that the New Testament template is not simply original, but also normative in its essence, and so the church is prone to evolve away from its essence if its evolution departs radically from the New Testament template. On the other hand, a ‘developmental’ stance maintains that authority is passed on via the succession of the laying on of hands, and provided that chain of authority is unbroken, however the institution develops, it is graced by the Holy Spirit and so the developments are necessarily unfoldings of the original church even if they may be radically organizationally different to the New Testament church. So I am here asking whether a ‘restitutionalist’ or a ‘developmentalist’ hermeneutic is most appropriately suited to evaluating the decline of prophecy and the changes in organizational structure that accompanied the transition from the Pauline apostolic churches of the 1st century to the early catholic churches of the 3rd century. 10 Banks, ibid., p44.

11  See Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993). Moltmann points out how intrinsic the eschatological emphasis is to the Hebrew Scriptures, and how the Christian church, and consequently the Christian Scriptures, took this emphasis deeply into its own understanding of itself.



P. G. Tyson / Pneuma 34 (2012) 229-244

of humanity — sin, death and the devil — and the soon coming totally redemptive reign of Christ on the earth.12 And, if the New Testament is to be believed, it was the power of the very Spirit of God Himself that was manifest in this ekklesia. Thus it is the work of the Holy Spirit to testify through this odd community of believers to the truth of their claims. Miraculous signs, the enabling of Christians to follow the divine way of Christ — even to death — the extraordinary freedom from the bondage of sin and demonic influence, and the divinely enabled love of the Christians for one another and ‘the world’ was seen in Paul as the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian ekklesia.13 The ekklesia was nothing — mere human stubble — without this manifest pres- ence and miraculous power of God in her midst. If, to use New Testament imagery, the church is the Body of Christ, then it is the Holy Spirit who is the life giving breath in that body. It is the Holy Spirit who actively makes the Christian church more than just a socio-cultural religious institution, but an entity which is vitalized by the very life of God.

The Holy Spirit and the Primitive Christian Ekklesia

Luke clearly sees the missionary dynamism of the early church as being the result of the work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). That is, the New Testament does not give us the impression that the church succeeded because of its neat and innovative socio-cultural fit with the felt needs of the times — rather it is the Spirit of God moving within and through the believers that is the key to the church’s ‘success’. The model of evangelism seen as normative in the New Tes- tament is where the proclamation of the lordship of Christ above all earthly and heavenly powers, His victory over sin, death and the devil, and the reality of His church being a living sign and fore-presence of the eschatological king- dom of God yet to come in fullness, is attested to with powerful signs wrought by the Spirit of God. Paul notes that his ministry is not one of cleverly devised schemes of men, nor the wisdom of this age, but a ministry of the power of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:4,5).

But here is the rub. “The wind (pneuma) blows where it wills.” (John 3:8) Human institutions cannot contain and govern the Spirit. This is true even at

12 See Gustaf Aulén, Christus Victor (London: SPCK, 1931) regarding the commonly held Christian understanding of the atoning work of Christ before the 10th century.

13 See Gordon Fee, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God (Peabody MA: Hendrickson, 1996) and N. T. Wright, Paul (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 2009), pp. 108-129, regarding the centrality of Paul’s distinctive pneumatology to his ecclesiology.


P. G. Tyson / Pneuma 34 (2012) 229-244


the ‘ordinary’ level of charisma. There is a well known sociological pattern where charismatic moral, religious, intellectual or political leaders start up a movement which is then institutionalised around a set of principles seen to be in keeping with the founders charism, yet the original charism fades over time, and is lost, and the movement then ossifies into a self perpetuating doctrinaire organization. Ordinary human charisma does not survive the process of insti- tutionalization — as Weber well understood14 — so how much more might we expect the charisma of the very Spirit of God to refuse to be subject to socio- political necessities of human institutions?

Prophets — Speaking Truth to Power in the Old Testament

The relationship between the kings/priesthood and the prophets in the Hebrew religion tells us a lot about how the Spirit of God works in relation to human religious and political institutions. From 1 Samuel 8 it is clear that God did not intend for His people to have either kings or a temple, but rather He desired that His covenant people be ruled by no authoritarian human institution, but by the law of God written on their own hearts, and thus by God Himself. To that end the ‘primitive’, organic and relatively egalitarian social organization of semi-nomadic tribal life seems to have suited the purposes of God for His cov- enant people better than did the lifestyle and division of labour and power, and the need for official religious legitimation of power, that settled city life seemed to require. The pre-Davidic structure of elders and judges arising from the com- munity who were recognized by the community as being particularly graced by God for wisdom and specific tasks, and the priesthood being attached to a mobile tabernacle that was outside of the direct ownership of political power was the model rejected by the people in the Book of Judges. The ancient Israel- ites aspired to rise to the same more complex and power concentrated level of civic and cultural life as their more civilized neighbours, and thus the forms of governance and religious authority had to change. With the anointing of the first king of Israel, Samuel transitions from being the last judge to being the first prophet. Now a dynastic monarchic centre of political power and a temple con- structed by that power and used to legitimate that power, rapidly colonizes the religion of Israel for its own ends. Thus the prophets must now speak truth to power — that is, to the kings and the priesthood in the temple — and the Spirit

14 Max Weber, Theory of Social and Economic Organization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947), “Charismatic authority”, pp. 358-363; “The Routinization of charisma” pp. 363-385.



P. G. Tyson / Pneuma 34 (2012) 229-244

of the Living God is now often found active at the margins of power and reli- gion and often found in direct opposition to the power of the king and the religion of the priests.15

Bearing the above in mind, let us now look at the ‘fate’ of the Holy Spirit in the transition from an organic charismatic religious movement in the time of Paul to an institutional church ruled by monoepiscopate bishops by the late 3rd century.

Silencing the Holy Spirit and Out Growing Primitive Christianity

E. R. Dodds notes that the “crucial period between Marcus Aurelius and the conversion of Constantine [was] the period when the material decline [of the Roman Empire] was steepest and the ferment of new religious feelings most intense.”16 That is, during the time in which the early catholic church develops Dodds finds that there is a tight relationship between the material decline of the Roman Empire, the uncertainty and flux within social, cultural and politi- cal institutions, and the ferment of new religious feelings.

Considering Bank’s description of the churches that Paul established a cen- tury before, two points are apparent. Firstly, Christianity is already at the fore- front of the new religious feeling sweeping the empire so by the mid 3rd century Christianity is really picking up pace as a popular, empire wide movement.17 Yet secondly, things have changed considerably within the church from the time of Paul to the time of Marcus Aurelius. Notably, the fall of Jerusalem and the drift away from the Judaic cultural roots of the first Christians situates Christianity in the second century and onwards more or less entirely within the milieu of Classical Greco-Roman culture. The Judaic apocalyptic sensibilities of the early church had greatly diminished by the third century and most Chris-

15 See Martin Buber, Kingship of God (New York: Humanities Press, 1990) for a brilliant exegesis of the Book of Judges and its theo-political implications. See Abraham Heschel, The Prophets (Peabody MA: Hendrickson, 2009) for a fascinating unpacking of the role of the prophets in the life of biblical Israel, and the nature of Hebraic prophetic religion. See Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (second edition, Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 2001) for a powerful exposition of the marginality of the prophetic voice and imagination, and its centrality to the ministry of Jesus and the church in the New Testament era.

16 Dodds, E. R., Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), p. 3.

17 This growth was particularly noticeable in Africa, and here “a new type of Christian was born who claimed to unite the values of Hellenism and the Christian faith.” This quote is from Jean Daniélou & Henri Marrou, The Christian Centuries, Volume One, The First Six Hundred Years (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1964), p. 136.


P. G. Tyson / Pneuma 34 (2012) 229-244


tians felt culturally comfortable — and increasingly materially comfortable — within Classical civilization. Thus, the demise of the apocalyptic and prophetic church of the apostles happens right at the transition point between the Pau- line model of church and the rise of the early catholic church. Montanism is particularly interesting in unpacking the nature of this transition.

Jaroslav Pelikan notes:

The explanation of the origins of Montanism lies in the fact that when the apocalyptic vision became less vivid and the church’s polity more rigid, the extraordinary opera- tions of the Spirit characteristic of the early church diminished in both frequency and intensity. The decline in the eschatological hope and the rise of the monarchical epis- copate are closely inter-related phenomena . . . 18

A significant feature of the shift away from the semi-Judaistic, apocalyptic, pro- phetic ekklesia of the New Testament era is a shift in attitudes towards centralized power and institutional control. Here attitudes shaped by a sensibility politically at ease with Imperial Roman are very different to attitudes shaped by a Galilean sensibility which was already in tension with its own cultic leaders and their col- lusion with foreign (Roman) imperial power and (Greek) culture. For indeed, Jesus was crucified because of that collusion. So a grass roots ‘underground’ movement, with localized independent and amateur leadership — something, without the militancy, a bit like Al-Qaeda’s organizational structure — seems apparent amongst Christians in the New Testament era. Here unity is provided not by formalized structures and distinct chains of command, but by deep com- mon belief commitments and, as Gordon Fee argues, a shared experience of the power of the Holy Spirit.19

By the end of the first century the need to solidify and regulate an authorita- tive range of unifying beliefs and practises — stimulated by the powerful force of non-authorised heterodoxy (which, of course, was the force defining ortho- doxy) — combines with a shift in ‘political’ culture towards Greco-Roman institutional norms. It is in this context that the push towards monoepiscopacy and a somewhat imperial ‘command-and-obey’ notion of authority, vested in the bishop, starts up in earnest. This move is highly tenuous during the second century (Rome, for example, only gains one bishop well into the 3rd century)20

18  Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, Volume 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, 100 — 600 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), pp. 98-99.

19 Fee, ibid., pp. 1-8.

20 Alistair Stewart-Sykes dates the monoepiscopacy in Rome to no earlier than 235AD. See Hippolytus, On the Apostolic Tradition, translation introduction and commentary by Alistair Stewart-Sykes (New York: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001), pp. 12-16.



P. G. Tyson / Pneuma 34 (2012) 229-244

because of two practises that were in direct continuity with the ministry of Paul: patronage and prophecy. Both of these practises needed to be either stopped or transformed by the emerging centralised ecclesial authority (vested in the one regional bishop) in order for the process that did in fact occur in the institutionalization of the church to succeed.

Teaching the Holy Spirit to Behave within Institutional Bounds

Leaving the demise of paterfamilias styled house based patronage and the rise of professionalization in the ‘clergy’ slightly to the side here, let us now focus on the demise of prophecy.

Dodds makes this penetrating observation:

The eventual defeat of Montanism was inevitable. It is already foreshadowed in the sage advice whispered by the Holy Spirit to Ignatius: ‘Do nothing without the Bishop.’ [Ignat., Philad., 7; cf. Magn., 6] In vain did Tertullian protest that the Church is not a collection of Bishops; in vain did Irenaeus plead against the expulsion of prophecy. [Tert., De pudicitia, 21; Iren., Haer., 3.II.12] From the point of view of the hierarchy the Third Person of the Trinity had outlived his primitive function. He was too deeply entrenched in the New Testament to be demoted, but he ceased in practise to play any audible part in the counsels of the Church. The old tradition of the inspired prophets who spoke what came to him was replaced by the more convenient idea of a continu- ous divine guidance which was granted, without their noticing it, to the principal Church dignitaries. Prophecy went underground, to re-appear in the chiliastic manias of the later Middle Ages and in many subsequent evangelical movements.21

Confirming — though in a more churchmanly manner — the basic insight of Dodds, Stewart-Sykes makes this comment on Hippolytus’ “Apostolic Tradition concerning spiritual gifts”:

Although [the section on charismata proceeding the Apostolic Tradition] is no longer extant, the first two chapters of Apostolic Constitutions 8 may give us some idea of its content. Its purpose appears to be a subordination of charismata, including prophecy, to the fundamental gift of true faith. In this it reflects likewise the struggle with the household church, for prophecy was the fundamental medium of communication within those households . . . . Prophecy must be subordinate to the transmission of orthodox teaching . . . This reflects the . . . struggle between prophetic households and scholastic communities [. . . and resulted] in the triumph of the teacher over the

21 Dodds, E. R., Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), pp. 67-68. The square brackets within this quote are from Dodds’ footnotes.


P. G. Tyson / Pneuma 34 (2012) 229-244


prophet . . . . The stage is thus set for the professionalization of the clergy and ultimately for the move out of the private house and into the basilica.22

So what is happening here is not simply that the charismata were in some unaccountable decline after the New Testament era. Rather, the form of eccle- sial life developed by Paul in which the work of the Holy Spirit was central and in which the paterfamilias of the oikos was the overseer, was being supplanted by a professionalised teaching institution who saw it necessary to stamp out the claim to authority that resided in the old form of leadership and in the explicitly miraculous work of the Spirit within that older form of authority. Correctly authorized doctrine and proper institutional status thus replaces “demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:4) as a sign of the author- ity of God. And this is unsurprising, for an institution can define correct doc- trine and regulate those it authorizes via simple doctrinal tests, but the Holy Spirit does not perform according to the will of institutional authorities simply on the basis of their institutional status and their orthodox doctrine. Though, as Dodd intimates in the quote above, this is precisely how the work of the Holy Spirit is re-defined within the institutional early catholic church.

Is the Early Catholic Church — After the Institutional ‘Taming of the Spirit’ — Apostolic?

Paul’s church is very different to the early catholic church that emerges by the end of the 3rd century. Over the first three centuries the institutional structures of the Greco-Roman Christian religion emerge and solidify, and correspond- ingly, the warrants of authority shift and become distinctly institutional. A transition is effected from an ‘organic’ family based structure where authority is embedded in the kerygma and radical praxis of the gospel, as enabled and directly warranted by the living dynamic of the fruit and gifts of the Spirit, to a teaching and cultic institution with professional leaders whose authority rests — in a circular fashion — on institutional status, doctrinal orthodoxy and cultic authorization. That is, by the 3rd century we have a replicable and

22 Hippolytus, On the Apostolic Tradition, translation introduction and commentary by Alistair Stewart-Sykes (New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001), pp. 42-43. Tracing the physical architecture of Christian gathering places from the church meeting in people’s houses, to the domus ecclesiae, to the aula ecclesiae, to the basilica, also gives a fascinating material map on this transition away from the family and towards the institution in the authority structures of the church. See L. Michael White, “Architecture: the first five centuries” in Philip F. Esler, The Early Christian World, Vol. 2 (New York: Routledge, 2000), pp. 693-746 for an excellent survey.



P. G. Tyson / Pneuma 34 (2012) 229-244

preservable institution that is quite capable of functioning entirely within — as Nietzsche might say — the “all too human” power realities common to any religious institution. Thus, it is clear that this organizational evolution carries the Pauline church a very long way from where it started. So does this evolution signal a deep and serious break with the New Testament church? If so, can the early catholic church really be considered apostolic?23

It seems to me that the development of the monoepiscopacy, the institu- tional ‘taming’ of the Holy Spirit and the formation of ecclesial institutional structures that in many ways mirrored Imperial Rome were indeed — whilst in many regards understandable — developments that departed from key fea- tures of apostolic Christianity.24 Whilst such a transition is very complex and thus does not give itself to an un-nuanced interpretation as a fundamental rup- ture with primitive Christianity, none the less this transition is profound. For unlike Paul’s Spirit empowered understanding of the church, a church whose organizational structures now centre around teaching authority and liturgical ritual is now suitable to being appropriated by Roman imperial power.25 So, via

23 If “apostolic” by definition means ‘institutional continuity with the twelve apostles’ — as an institutional form of authority would wish to define it — then the fact that radical organizational evolution occurs is entirely incidental. But if “apostolic” means a living practise of being ‘sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit’ where the miraculous dunamis of the Holy Spirit is manifest amongst the radical followers of Christ, then the shift away from such a conception of an apostolic way of being church is a radical shift indeed and possibly speaks of the quenching of the Spirit by the necessities of institutional power.

24 In favour of the centralising, institutional re-framing of the charismata that did in fact occur in the early catholic church, it can be noted that the threat of gnosticism and the difficulties of discernment without any overarching centre of institutional authority within the one city made the historical trajectory we see in relation to the charismata of prophecy in particular, quite understandable. Modern Pentecostal scholars are well aware of these sort of institutional difficulties. See the classic text on the complex and often schismatic history of the modern Pentecostal movement by Walter Hollenwenger, The Pentecostals (Peabody MA: Hendrickson, 1988). See also one of today’s preeminent international Pentecostal scholars Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology (Downers Grove IL: InterVerasity Press Academic, 1998), p. 213: “The discerning of spirits has always included an evaluation of extraordinary phenomena. Even in the New Testament church there were problems associated with the exercise of the charismata . . . The need for discernment has taken on added significance in recent times with the growing influence of the charismatic movement. Human nature has a weakness for extraordinary phenomena.”

25 That is, the apostolic era saw “demonstrations of the Spirit’s power” and the “fruits of the Spirit” in a life lived in miraculously Spirit enabled non-conformity to “the world” as markers of Christian authenticity. By the 5th century this emphasis has shifted profoundly to the less demanding, humanly doable and now conformist markers of correct ideology and morality as authorized and ‘magically’ facilitated by state endorsed sacramental rituals. Certainly after infant baptism becomes a standard feature of Imperial Christianity, belief in a set of doctrinal propositions coupled with the avoidance of obvious flaunting of the norms of ‘Christian morality’ is all that is required for those baptised into the death and resurrection life of Christ to uphold their full validity


P. G. Tyson / Pneuma 34 (2012) 229-244


Constantine, the pagan cultus is thrown out and Christianity becomes the imperial cult.26 Christendom now contained deep inner tensions between the radical non-conformist Spirit enabled way of Christ on the one hand and the authority and power of Christianity as an imperial cultus on the other hand. Eusebius’ joyful embrace of Constantine in near messianic terms — though Constantine was the antithesis of Christ, being a ruthless, enormously ambi- tious, supremely privileged, fabulously wealthy, ingeniously politically intelli- gent man of worldly power — would scarcely have been possible had the church maintained greater continuity with its apostolic roots.27 After Constan- tine, what Yoder sees as the collapse of the church into the world more or less indelibly entrenched an imperial view of ecclesial leadership and authority within the post-Nicene Catholic church.28 The Roman Catholic sociologists Budde and Brimlow argue that to this day the post-Constantinian church is deeply entrenched in an identity of being a religious chaplain to secular power and in modelling itself after the template of secular power. Budde and Brimlow argue that this deep identity template has not changed in the modern West since the Reformation (i.e. Protestants typically assume this identity too), and

as members of the church. So the long catechesis (still focused as much on orthopraxis as orthodoxy) prior to baptism upheld in the 3rd century is already an institutionalized ideological structure capable of morphing into the post-baptismal and now centrally doctrinal conformist dynamic of the nominal Christianity of the late 4th and early 5th centuries. And this nominal Christianity, of course, produces the monastic reaction by those who hungered after a return to the more spiritually dynamic Christianity of the New Testament and of the church of the martyrs.

26 See Frank Viola and George Barna, Pagan Christianity (USA: Tyndale, 2008) for some good historical digging demonstrating the profound continuity of the pre-Constantinean pagan imperial cultus with the post-Constentinean Christian imperial cultus. Yet whilst Viola and Barna give close attention to the impact of paganism on Christianity via this transition, they do not give much attention to the impact of Christianity on pagan Rome.

27 Note Peter Brown The Rise of Western Christendom (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), pp. 60-61: “Constantine’s “conversion” was a very “Roman” conversion. It consisted in the fact that he had come to regard the High God of the Christians, rather than the traditional gods, as the proper recipient of religio. Worship of the Christian God had brought prosperity upon himself and would bring prosperity upon the empire. He had risen to power in a series of murderous civil wars which destroyed the system of divided empire developed by Diocletian. He occupied Rome in 312. But this did not give him the total power he wanted. Only 12 years later, in 324, did he take over the eastern half of the empire in a series of bloody battles.” See also Eusebius, “Oration in praise of Constantine”, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 1, Eusebius (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 581-610.

28 John Howard Yoder, The Royal Priesthood (Scottdale PA: Herald Press, 1998), p. 57: “We have seen that for the early church, “church” and “world” were visibly distinct yet affirmed in faith to have one and the same Lord. This pair of affirmations is what the so-called Constantinian transformation changed ( . . . the transformation began before 200 AD and took over 200 years) . . . [After Constantine] the two visible realities, church and world, were fused. There is no longer anything to call “world”; state, economy, art, rhetoric, superstition, and war have all been baptized.”



P. G. Tyson / Pneuma 34 (2012) 229-244

has not changed since the demise of the church as a military and political power in its own right.29 Yet, because the New Testament itself is stuck in the gospel narrative and in the experiences of the first Christians, Christian belief formed by our Scriptures remains profoundly open to prophetic, apocalyptic, eschatological, charismatic, power inverted, privilege inverting, sin challenging themes. Institutional centralised religious power and authority, modelled after Roman imperial power, is always going to find it difficult to deal with the New Testament and difficult to simply ignore Christians seeking to speak prophetic and biblical truth to ecclesial power.

Just as the royal/temple religion of ancient Israel was a late arrival that pro- foundly compromises the founding exodus critique of pharaoh’s religio-political claims to total authority, so too Imperial Christianity is inherently in profound tension with the founding Christian critique of worldly realism. Just as proph- ets inevitably arose in ancient Judaism who challenged the temple and the court, so saints, reformers and non-conformists must inevitably rise up against not only ecclesial abuses of power and authority and ecclesial interpretive departures from the radical gospel message, but against the very existence of ecclesial structures modelled after imperial patterns. If the Spirit of the living God who moved the prophets of old against the palace and the temple is the same Holy Spirit who empowers the gospel of a crucified outcast, then the real life of the church (her God given breath) is always going to be as much against the centres of ecclesial authority and power as within our human institutional centres. The centre can never rest its authority on institutional legitimacy alone and is only being faithful to the gospel and moved by the Holy Spirit to the extent that it is humble and open to the margins, to the extent that she heeds the radical power and privilege challenging voice of the Holy Spirit. When the voice of the Spirit is not heeded then the Spirit will work against the centre, for it is the centre which is dependent for its life on the Spirit, the Spirit is not dependent on the centre. When the religio-political institutions of man become enchanted by their own formal authority, and when they presume that obedi- ence is due to them simply in virtue of hierarchical institutional necessity — divinely sanctioned, no doubt — then they will find that they do not own the

29 Michael Budde and Robert Brimlow, Christianity Incorporated (Grand Rapids MI: Brazos Press, 2002), pp. 129-153. And certainly we have seen that modern secular political power often expects the church to be a good chaplain to it. See Marion Maddox, God under Howard, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2005. The role of Christian religion in the public cultus of war is also, to this day, very striking. See Marilyn Lake & Henry Reynolds (eds.), What’s wrong with ANZAC? (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2010).


P. G. Tyson / Pneuma 34 (2012) 229-244


Spirit of God, and He does indeed blow where He wills. For the Spirit will not be tamed by the institutional necessities of our religion.30

The Holy Spirit and the Contemporary Church

So the Spirit seems to be something of a radical non-conformist who does not come as a sustainer of any institutional status quo but as a foretaste of an apoc- alyptic hope. As indicated in the magnificat, the Spirit of the living God is found amongst the outcast, the marginal, the oppressed, the weak, the ‘powerless’, the down trodden, those who’s hope is for a radically different order of reality. In our world, then, the Spirit will be found amongst the Nike factory workers in Indonesia, the chocolate labourers in Africa, the factory workers in China, the orphaned, the dead and the dying in Iraq, Afghanistan, Burundi, Burma. In a world groaning under the exploitative weight of oppressive luxury as upheld by global economic imperialism, a first world culture industry of enormous politi- cal power, and military technologies of unimaginable effectiveness and vio- lence, what does the Spirit say to the churches today?31

Philip Jenkins believes the Spirit has largely abandoned the West but is mov- ing in the global South.32 Perhaps if we Western Christians do not wish to inhabit a dead institutional shell — church without the breath of God in her — we must find ways of identifying with the global South and so find some fellowship with the living breath of God.

Conclusion: A Few Thoughts on Apostolic Pneumatology, Missional Context and Ecclesial Structure

The argument put forward in this article is that the ecclesial structure that facilitated a Pauline apostolic pneumatology was much more organic, family centric, provisional and charisma empowered than the ecclesial structure which evolved in the early catholic church era. Shifts from a Hebraic apocalyptic eschatological ethos to a Greco-Roman this-world-focused imperial ethos accompany this transition. This article argues that the decline of prophecy and

30 See Karl Barth, On Religion (London: Continuum, 2006).

31 See Theodor Adorno, The Culture Industry (London: Routledge, 1991); Jacques Ellul, Propaganda (New York: Vintage, 1973); John Pilger, The New Rules of the World (London: Verso, 2003); Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, The Three Trillion Dollar War (New York: Norton, 2008); Robert Fisk, The Age of the Warrior (London: Harper Perennial, 2009).

32 Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).



P. G. Tyson / Pneuma 34 (2012) 229-244

the political sidelining of the paterfamilias are not incidental to this develop- ment. Further, this development makes Christianity ripe for Imperial incorpo- ration. After Constantine, the marginality of the New Testament eschatological vision and the work of the Holy Spirit amongst the small, the foolish and the marginal to bring a miraculous foretaste of the Kingdom to come into the present (a Kingdom no human hands or institutions can produce or govern) becomes deeply contextually incongruous. The church became enmeshed in the political, cultic and institutional necessities of the rich, the wise and the powerful and seemed quite capable of running itself without prophets, with carefully regulated miracles, and with an increasingly passive grass roots. Under these circumstances it is at the margins — in the desert, amongst the Celtic missionaries — where the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit is again manifest. But then the monasteries become rich and powerful and Europe is ‘Christian- ized’ so the margins become centres of power and privilege and the Spirit once more moves on. The Spirit will not be tamed.

It seems that the kind of institutional structures that are organic and grass roots empowering, as well as a missional focus centred on the marginal, com- prises the context in which the power of the Holy Spirit is most likely to be mani- fest in the church. Perhaps, even, the Holy Spirit cannot be coaxed into manifestation outside of that context. If this is indeed the case then an apostolic pneumatology has a distinct institutional and missional signature. Charles Ring- ma’s Catch the Wind identifies such a signature and carefully unpacks the rela- tionships between the work of the Holy Spirit, grass roots empowered ecclesial structures and mission for and by the marginal.33 Yet Ringma’s vision is — as one would expect — a marginal one. Within first world Pentecostalism the technolo- gies of congregational control, elitism and nepotism in ecclesial power structures, and a health and wealth message targeted at the middle class status quo are often prominent. This is far from a uniquely Pentecostal ecclesiological signature, but even within modern Western Pentecostalism it does seem that basically Imperial Roman models of religious institutional power — the innovation of the early catholic church — are easily taken for granted as a ministry grows.

In conclusion, it seems that an apostolic pneumatology, the proclamation of good news to the poor, and an organic power inverted ecclesiology require one another.34

33 Charles Ringma, Catch the Wind (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2003). 34 I wish to acknowledge the very valuable critical comments made on this article by Pneuma’s two anonymous reviewers, and equally the patience of the editors as I sought to respond ade- quately to the reviewer’s comments. All faults which remain are, of course, my own.



  • Reply September 12, 2023


    some ppl do it largely Dale M. Coulter Link Hudson

  • Reply September 12, 2023


    I think there are some false dichotomies here. The paper seems to put too much weight on the so-called ‘pastorals’ as being at odds with other Pauline epistles.

    The paper does not address the fact that opponents of Montanism embraced prophecy as a true charism, but opposed the idea of Montanus as a genuine prophet.

    Why would first century Christianity be seen as family based? A spiritual family, yes. There were some related individuals among the apostles, sons of Zebedee, maybe sons of the same Alphaus or a different Alphaeus. There is speculation that Zebedee’s sons might have been related to the Lord Jesus. Mary was related to John the Baptist. The Lord’s brothers were active in the church. There were household conversions, but where is any church presented as representing one family? There may have been some elders who were paterfamilias, but it seems unlikely that one church would be a household family headed by one paterfamilias.

    Acts presents teaching as important and also presents an important role for prophets. The apostles Paul and Barnabas are sent out as prophets and teachers gather and hear the Spirit speak, but they appointed elders in every church. Paul instructes elders to pastor the church of God over whom the Holy Ghost has made them bishops. The formal organizational structure and the charisma of the Holy Spirit work together and are not at odds in the book of Acts.

    The so-called pastorals do not assign traditional liturgical or sermon preaching roles to elders. Elders are to be apt to teach and have a role in stopping the mouths of false teachers, but Paul does not say that is to be done by stopping all teachers from speaking but themselves. Paul’s instructions or rather ‘commandments of the Lord’, he passes down allows for regular members of the congregation to address the assemby (I Corinthians 14:26) and does not restrict this to clergy. It is expected that a speaker in tongues and interpreter in tongues be allowed to speak in the assembly (vv. 27-28.) The congregation is commanded to allow prophets to speak, and the speaking prophet is to yield the floor to another sitting by who receives a revelation. (v. 29-31.) As teachers, elders can partipate in this type of meeting (v. 26), even though they are not specifically mentioned in the church order laid out in scripture.

    I get what a contribution to the literature is in my own field. I don’t quite get it with theology. It’s not like there is a new hypothesis that is being empirically tested, and there is a good case to be made that we should be wary of a truly new contribution to theology.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.