D.W. Congdon at The Fire and the Rose has recently published an excellent series of theses on Divine Passibility with which I am in almost unqualified agreement. However, in his final thesis he makes this remark:
“The church is not the continuation of Christ’s incarnation on earth, because the incarnation is an event that cannot be liquified or dissolved. Christ is not resolvable into the church, nor is the church anything more than a creaturely community constituted by the Word to be God’s faithful witnesses. The church participates in the life of God only insofar as it participates in the concrete history of Jesus Christ as the creaturely community sanctified by the Spirit for the purpose of corresponding to God. God does not suffer through the community, because the church and God are not ontologically united but at best ontologically analogous; and even then the communio sanctorum is never established as God’s analogue but remains dependent upon God’s grace through the agency of the Spirit who alone constitutes a gathering as the people of God.”
Now, David and I have had numerous stimulating conversations on the nature of divine-human communion, particularly as it relates to the question of creaturely participation in the life of God. If I may be permitted to caricaturize our discussion, I would say that his instincts are much more Reformed while mine are somewhat more Catholic and Anabaptist.
While I could probably affirm most of what David says here, particularly agreeing that we only participate in the life of God through the concrete history of Jesus, and that we are always dependent on God’s grace to be constituted as the body of Christ, I am very reticent to speak of the church as nothing more than a witness to God’s action, though it is certainly not less than that. Such a characterization seems to nullify the realism of divine-human communion through Christ and the Spirit. For, if Christ and the Spirit are not external, but internal to the Trinitarian life, and if God’s being pro nobis is indistinguishable from is being pro se, then to be “in the Spirit” or “in Christ” is to be drawn (passively) into the the internal Triune relations which involves some sort of ontological communion and union, though the shape of that union never nullifies our creaturliness and finitude.
My point in saying all this, is not primarily to initiate further debate with David over this issue, though I’m sure it will make for an interesting discussion, but rather to give me an excuse to post this excellent quote from Thomas Torrance’s The Christian Doctrine of God, which I think summarizes beautifully what the church’s participation in the Trinitarian life of God means.
“Thus, in establishing his relations with us in the Spirit, God upholds us from below and sustains us from within, and brings us as a people whom he has made for himself to our true end in communion with himself, and thereby makes us participate in his own eternal life.
On the one hand, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit along with the Father and Son in the Holy Trinity imports and openness on the part of God in which in virtue of the inherent movement of his own eternal Being he is free to relate himself to what is not himself and to become open to created realities beyond himself. On the other hand, the presence of the Holy Spirit to the creation imports an openness on the part of God’s creation toward himself, for through the Spirit God is able to be present within them in such a way as to lift them up to the level of participation in God where they are opened out for union and communion with God far beyond the limits of their creaturely existence. To be ‘in the Spirit’ is to be in God, for the Spirit is not external, but internal to the Godhead. But since only the Spirit of God who knows what is in god and it is he who unites us to the Son of God in his oneness with the Father, through the communion of the Spirit we are exalted to know God in his inner trinitarian relations as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When this actually takes place, however, we are restrained by the sheer Holiness and Majesty of the divine Being from transgressing the bounds of our creaturely being by inquiring beyond what is given through the Son and received in the Spirit, and therefore from intruding upon the mystery of God or thinking presuptuously or illegitimately of him. When God is present to us in his Holy Spirit we are on holy ground like Moses at the Burning Bush where he was bidden to take the shoes off his feet. Before the Face of God we are constrained by the Holy Spirit to think of him only in a reverent and godly way worthy of him, in which worship, wonder and silence inform the movement of our creaturely spirits to the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit, answering to the movement on God’s part from the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit.” (p. 153.)
This, I think, encapsulates how we should think about what it means to participate as God’s creatures in his very trinitarian life. Such a perspective spurs us on to creaturely humility and worship and invites us to enter the hope of communion with Godself and participation in the Triune relation which is proleptically realized in the church, the sanctorum communio.