FROM A READING FOR MAY 23, PENTECOST
'All of us hear them speaking in our own languages about the great things
that God has done!' Acts 2:11
In his lectures and writings on John's Gospel, Rev. Raymond Brown always stressed the uniqueness of John's late-first-century work. It not only contained narratives and sayings of Jesus found nowhere else in the Christian Scriptures, but John championed a "church structure" quite different from his fellow evangelists.
Brown coined the term "apostolic" churches for the communities of Mark, Matthew and Luke. These Synoptic authors stressed the continuity of their writings with the preaching of Jesus' first disciples. Their readers could be certain the theology in those Gospels was authentic because of the unbroken teaching line between the authors and the Apostles who first proclaimed Jesus' faith.
John never explicitly challenges this apostolic belief, but he proposes different criteria for the authenticity of his Gospel.
According to John, Jesus' followers can be certain they're properly carrying on Jesus' ministry both because they love one another and because they have the Holy Spirit guiding their lives of faith.
He clearly states his love/spirit thesis in this Sunday's Gospel passage (John 14:15-16,23b-26): "Jesus said to his disciples, 'If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.
"I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you."
The Holy Spirit in each Christian is the only guarantee of authenticity he or she will ever need. That's why it's essential for John's risen Jesus to include the words, "Receive the Holy Spirit!" in his first post-resurrection appearance.
Without the Spirit's presence in the disciples' lives, their faith is on shaky ground.
Spirit for all
But before we falsely presume the other three Gospel writers encourage their readers to root their faith only in "apostolic tradition" - with no need of the Spirit - listen carefully to Luke's description of the Jerusalem Pentecost event (Acts 2:1-11).
Out of the fire, noise and wind, the Spirit descends on the new Christian community and they "begin to speak in different tongues as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim."
For Luke, this is the first step in the church integrating both Jews and Gentiles. If Jesus' first disciples only follow His practice of preaching just to Jews, we Gentiles would either have been forced to convert to Judaism to be Jesus' disciples, or find another way to channel our experience of God in our lives.
Though the people Luke mentions in this passage are Jews, they're living outside Israel. As we know from the rest of Acts, the road to converting actual non-Jews from these countries will be opened by the same Spirit. Luke is reminding his readers that all Christians need the Spirit, even the most apostolic of them.
Long before any Gospel was written, Paul also recognized the necessity of the Spirit for all Christian churches. Without the gifts the Spirit gives to each individual, we wouldn't be church.
As he teaches his Corinthian community (I Cor 12:2b-7,12-13), those gifts mold us into the Body of Christ: "As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ."
Three subsequent, corrective letters of John assure us that the author of John's Gospel went a little "overboard" in his emphasis on the Spirit. Yet any church which doesn't recognize the necessity of the Spirit working in all believers has gone just as "overboard" in its emphasis on authority.