The Apostle Paul’s Mystical Perspective: Part IV

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Paul’s Mysticism Communicated

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is especially revealing in terms of his insistence on conveying the Gospel through the Holy Spirit to those who are on the way to salvation, for in the second chapter, he relates how he shared the Gospel with them:

  • He did not come to Corinth with “superiority of speech or wisdom” or using the wisdom of this world (v. 1).
  • His message was not delivered with persuasive words of wisdom, but in the “demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (v. 4).
  • He did speak God’s wisdom to them, however:  “We speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory” (v. 7)
  • Paul had received this hidden wisdom from God by the Holy Spirit, “combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” which a “natural man” cannot accept (v. 13-14).
  • Only a spiritual person may understand this hidden wisdom, a person who has the “mind of Christ” (v. 16).

Finally, in spite of the appeal Paul’s teachings held for many seeking deliverance from a troubled world, Paul carefully establishes the fact that while a believer’s spirit was in heaven with Christ, his hands and feet still needed to be firmly planted on earth. Like Christ, the Word made flesh, the believer must paradoxically dwell by faith on both sides of the divide between Heaven and earth.

Though a believer may speak with the tongues of men and angels or understand all mysteries, Paul taught, he is nothing without love, a love which found expression in helping the poor and needy or working with one’s own hands rather than depending on others for sustenance. And as transcendent as his teachings are, they find expression in the ordinary observances of baptism or the communal partaking of bread and wine.[8]

This simple adherence to the sacraments, in spite of Paul’s disparagement of formalized religion reflected in his antipathy to the Judaizers, ties his teachings to physical observance rather than the mere contemplation of the transcendent only. 

I recall the expression, “He’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good!”

 

The Apostles John and Peter

Indeed, the teachings of Christianity, as expressed by Christ and the apostles, are not entirely otherworldly.

The Apostle John emphasizes the incarnation as the central focus of God’s revelation: Not only has the Word become flesh and dwelt among us, he writes, manifesting the light and life of God, but also this same “Word” ate fish after his resurrection. 

John therefore proclaims, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands handled, of the word of life . . . we declare unto you, that you may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship may be with the Father, and with his son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-2).

The Apostle Peter cites his own mystical experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, hearing the voice of God:

17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.   (2 Pet. 1:17)

However, Peter states that the Scriptures confirm personal experience, for they are not interpreted privately, according to one’s own insight, but according to the Holy Spirit’s revelation to the whole Church. While each believer must work out his own salvation, he finds the source of his power through the Holy Spirit, who holds all believers together into one body of Christ.

As important as individual experience is, the whole Church benefits from individual expression. The apostles placed their emphasis, therefore, on the whole Church rather than the individual’s private expressions and personal revelations. Believers were taught to avoid schisms and recognize the mystical unity they had with Christ and all parts of his body.  Therefore, they were not to “forsake the assembling of themselves together.”

 

CONCLUSION

While this brief survey of the Apostle Paul’s mysticism is by no means complete, the mystical elements of early Christian teaching and practice are clear. Christ crossed the gulf separating humankind from God, and by willingly ascending the Cross, He bridged the gap for all who enter into mystical oneness with Him.

 

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it (I Corinthians 12:27)

Body of Christ

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