Is ministry incarnational?
The Incarnation is a singular, unique event that can never be repeated and yet ubiquitously explains every relation between God and humans:
- Unique in that only the Word became human;
- Ubiquitous in that God always relates to creation as the infinite does to the finite.*
With that said, do Christians engage in incarnational ministry? not exactly.
We are ambassadors for the infinite God who dwells in inaccessible light; and we by adoption enter into Spiritual union with the Incarnate One. For this reason, we Spiritually mediate the Incarnate One’s presence by our mission and ontology.
At the same time, we are not in-carnating, in-fleshing in our ministry. Put simply, being in-person together does not equal incarnational ministry.
Does it matter?
Is this mere word ninjutsu? That’s up to you. Here is why I think it is not.
Knowing Christ as he is is the primary way we contemplatively move from one level of glory to another (John 17; 2 Cor 3–4—gazing at this face). For this reason, getting our concepts right matters, even if we often use improper idioms.
Justifying in-person ministry as incarnational may give it an air of authority or mission or divinity that Scripture does not itself lend to it. So, we may use a term “incarnational” to make our ministry sound pious, even though it is not proper to call it such.
Obviously, in-person ministry is essential, good, and right. That’s not my point. We should meet in-person.
What should we say then?
Ha! There is the question!
In my view, we could say something like “Spiritual ministry” since our Spiritual union ties us both to the Incarnate One and to each other.
We could say: “Mystical ministry” since our mystical union does the same. This one is a joke because almost no one uses mystical this way today. Let me have at least one silly moment, please!
If mystical ministry does not work, I find myself left with Spiritual ministry because it means that I am united to Jesus and to my fellow believers. It may not have the same “kick” that incarnational has, but it seems more accurate to say.
And I think words and what they represent matter. So whatever we call what we do in-person, let us do so with the best language we can so that we can uncover the truest concepts that will let us grow in grace and glory.
*The Word relates to humanity in such a way as to totally remain infinite while truly united to humanity without mixture of confusion. The particular relation of the finite to the infinite might be called real while the infinite to the finite might be called rational.
Mark Matthias says
Excellent, I agree with you, Wyatt. Incarnational, due to the association of that word with the bodily form and substance of the Son of God, our “indwelling” by His Spirit is not quite the same phenomenon. His incarnation doesn’t improve Him — perfection cannot be improved or fixed. This is also why the Trinity could never disagree(!) in contrast to humans who often disagree even, or perhaps, especially in the Church.
John 1:18 tells us the Son exegeted the Father — who can do that except someone who believes he is the Holy Spirit especially if most of what is said is blatantly contradictory to the letter and intent of the word — one who would be seen as a madman or worse.
Moreover, John 1:12:
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“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name…” That’s only for us and certainly not Jesus, who came so that we could be born again not so that He could be born again. We were born in the Spirit, He came in the Spirit so that we could have the Spirit as well, which no man can do, i.e. give what is not his to give. Yet, John 6:63:
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are (Spirit) spirit and are life.” Moreover, even if we walk n the Spirit for 1000 years — if we stop, we go right back to the beginning, hopeless and helpless.
Thus, one of the reasons that no man can “make” a disciple (though he can spread the Gospel) whom the Messiah would want — He certainly didn’t want Judas (so the Spirit did not indwell him), ultimately — cf, Luke 13:25-27:
“Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
What is automatic for Jesus we must be taught by the indwelling of the Spirit so we can discern His language (2 Cor. 12:10) — in contrast to the counterfeit…2 Cor. 11:15, which necessitates acute discernment we can have as we follow the Saviour — Matt. 7:13-14.
Without the John 16 experience, we haven’t a prayer to stay on the Narrow Path; and only our heartfelt passion to obey Him (particularly John 13:34-35); an inspiration bestowed by the Spirit.
And yes, we can relate to humanity as far as we pray to obey the most important “new (and most important) command” John 13:34-35 which Jesus did — He fulfilled the Law.