Along with my co-blogger Daniel James Levy I have been posting a review of Jack Levison’s Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life from Paraclete Press. You can find parts one through five linked at the bottom of the post. Today I will share some thoughts inspired by Chapter Five: Chloe’s Complaint.
In this chapter Jack juxtaposes two communities that claimed to have the holy spirit: the church at Corinth and the sect at Qumran. These communities teach us that the holy spirit is not something possessed by individuals alone, but by groups. Jack writes (p. 119) ”…when we talk about the most mystical and powerful force in the universe, the spirit of God, it is almost always in individual terms.” He acknowledges that Scripture uses examples of individuals, but that it is not limited to speaking of the spirit in individuals, therefore neither should we be limited.
Exegeting 1 Corinthians 1.11-12 and 3.3-4 Jack reminds us that Paul challenged the divisions in the church at Corinth (“I’m of Paul…Apollos…Cephus…Christ) by referring to the Corinthians using metaphors like a field that is planted and watered, a building with a foundation in Jesus, and a temple filled with the spirit.
The “you” who makes up the temple is plural. It is the church, not just the individuals. Paul warns against destroying God’s temple–his unified church. Jack says, “Because we miss the communal dimension of the holy spirit, we tend not tot be appalled by the near constant birth of new denominations and splits in churches.” He reminds the reader that schism is a “tragedy” that we somethings overlook, one that appalled Paul (pp. 122-128)!’
This doesn’t mean the spirit leads us to uniformity. Jack writes about the Qumran sect and all the rules and regulations placed upon member to conform. This isn’t the aim of the spirit either. He writes:
Unity at Qumran arose from uniformity. All were Jews. All were disenfranchised Jews, joined in opposition to the Jerusalem priests. All, or most, were male Jews. All of these male Jews underwent a rigorous two- or three-year period of initiation. All, throughout their tenure as members of the community, could be severely disciplined: spitting in the assembly brought a penalty of thirty days of exclusion; unnecessary walking about naked in front of others led to six months of punishment; defaming another individual meant a full year of punishment and exclusion from the community meal, while defaming the community as a whole led to permanent exclusion, never to return. It was perhaps not terribly difficult to maintain unity, to live as a holy spirit-filled temple, when that unity was imposed through regularized uniformity and the threat of expulsion (pp. 132-133).”
One thing Qumran did understand that the church at Corinth seemed to miss is that the spirit was to make the community holy. So Qumran and Corinth misunderstood the spirit at points. Corinth missed the need for holiness and unity. Qumran missed the need for diversity (and I might add grace).