Thursday, July 15, 2004

Powers and Principalities

At a friend's gracious invitation, I recently began facilitating a weekly Bible study; for our first session we did around-the-table introductions and then continued with an inductive study of Colossians 1:15-20.Of course I mentioned (more than in passing) those legendary, sometimes nefarious "Powers and Principalities" and when I asked the group what book or topic or approach they'd like for next time, we decided on more about the Powers. Since I'd posted a fair amount about them on this site, I decided to put together a powers summary for the group and I figured posting all my previous notes together at once all in one place would be a good idea, too. Here they are, with the most recent first:

1. With its "reconciling the whole creation to its Creator," the United Church of Christ Statement of Faith evokes the cosmic Christ of Colossians, and though in its cosmology Colossians challenges Gnosticism's powers and principalities and claims Christ's reconciling and reigning Lordship over everything and everyone created--esp in its assertion of his making hash of the "powers," not only Gnostic ones but all those other influences that bind themselves to us and often rule our institutions and that all of us actually invoke at times . . . I'd also include the witness of Paul's undisputed writings and of the Jesus we meet in the synoptics in claiming the Lordship of our Crucified and Risen man of Nazareth over all creation, not just a terracentric one!

2. Churches on the way to becoming museums? Museum exhibit or mission example? Let's ask what a museum does at its best. But first, in his Powers trilogy, Walter Wink does a great job on the letters to the angels - to the spirits of the seven churches in the book of Revelation 2 and 3, as he points out each organization, each institution and each organic expression of the church (local, regional, or whatever!) has a particular spirit external to, greater than and different from the spirit or *angel* of any of the individuals that comprise a specific entity. Walter Wink claims each institution, each organization, each local church and every judicatory, etc., has its own quasi-independent spirit or "angel," which lives and breathes with a life of its own external of the life of any of its constituent parts. It seems to me a museum at its best displays succinctly and locally a wide if not inclusive range of a particular painter, period, style or genre. So if some of our local churches or even denominations are becoming museumized (is that the same as or related to "fossilized?"), why do we feel some of those characteristics are worth preserving? Something to think about :)

3. Our ultimate model of power is our God of glory, majesty and sovereignty willingly abrogating that power and becoming "small for us in Christ" - as Martin Luther expressed it: small enough to die. For us. From Christmas and the vulnerability of the manger we go to Good Friday and the vulnerability and absolute defenselessness of the cross. As Christians we confess we find the height of God's sovereignty in the vulnerability and weakness – and in the hiddenness - of a human dying on the scandal of a tree. We discover and recognize the fullness of the Shekinah Glory - the glory of the presence of God - in the weakness of Jesus, "The Human One," who dies without defense. And that powerlessness proved enough to annihilate the powers and principalities; it was sufficient to effect the death of the old order of death itself; Jesus' dying on the tree of death that paradoxically becomes the Tree of Life. Our Good Friday / East Sunday proclamation is the end of the supremacy of death and the birth, the ascendancy of the primacy of life - the eschatological reign of the Power of God, most eloquently uncovered and found in the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified and risen One both Human and Divine who shared our common lot and in whose birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension we know and affirm the definitive manifestation of the God beyond time and beyond space. For Paul, the human Jesus becomes the divine Christ at his death and resurrection…and Paul determined "to preach only Christ crucified."

4. Liberation theology categories bring us back to God's self revelation in scripture and in the Christ Event. Mary of the Magnificat is a central liberation theology concept and text:
"He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly, the hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away." -Luke 1:52-53
These words are grounded!!! Aren't those happenings demonstrated by Jesus' life and kerygma, Jesus' proclamation? I also like the liberation theology theme of the obliteration of SHAME: middle-class mainline U.S. Christianity often emphasizes annihilation of individual sin and guilt…as devastating and as paralyzing as sin and guilt can be, shame is a far more cosmic category, visited upon individuals, cultures and societies by forces outside of themselves, forces over which they have no control - Paul's apocalyptic "powers and principalities." …although the historical roots of deutero-Paul's exposition of and concern with the powers and principalities was somewhat "other than" what I've been writing about.

To paraphrase Christiaan Beker in Paul's Apocalyptic Gospel: The Coming Triumph of God, the Church is the sign of the dawn of the new age and of the powers of life over and against the powers of death, and God calls the Church to active engagement with the world in order to fulfill its redemptive mission in the world. As I'd express it, God calls the Church, the Body of the Risen Christ, to be an instrument of grace to the world.

5. My point about death's agents and about death itself is that the sum of the parts not only is synergistic in being greater than the literal addition of the parts, but it's also vastly different in kind from any of the individual parts and assumes a real liveliness and a dynamic of its own. I continue to see much of physical existence, as well as spiritual existence, as fallen and still in the control of both past and current agents of bondage and alienation and demonization. The sins, separations, asundernesses that hold creation in bondage and slavery demonstrate not only spiritual separation but also an extremely physical separation. Although at their origins the "powers and principalities" are practically inert, in combination they take off on their own with a cosmic presence and a cosmic influence far beyond anything they ever could have as discrete elements. They become real persons with personalities and with tremendous power to extinguish life. This gets back to what I wrote about the infrastructure supporting the epistructure. Possibly systems of all kinds begin with the individual?

6. I may agree that in a sense salvation may always have been complete…though STILL, Jesus lived and died and was raised to new, resurrected life not only in the shadow and thrall of "powers and principalities" of all kinds and dimensions but those same forces still engage and all too often continue to shape and to define us as individuals and as a society. "And so he got rid of the Sovereignties and the Powers, and paraded them in public, behind him in his triumphal procession." Colossians 2:15, Cotton Patch Version

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