This is a teaching that has underpinned some ‘third wave’ strands of the charismatic healing movement, appealed intently to those with a messiah complex, and some deeply humble people alike. In a nutshell the teaching goes like this:
Part One: Jesus (the Second Person)
Jesus was God
Jesus emptied (kenosis) himself of his God-power when he came to earth
Jesus was fully human
Jesus received power when the Holy Spirit (The Third Person) came upon him at baptism
Jesus was in perfect communion with his Father (The First Person) in heaven
Jesus only did what he ‘saw’ his Father in heaven doing (when he interacted with people).
Jesus was limited in his humanity, so he only ministered all his miracles, healings, prophecy etc through the Holy Spirit, in line with what the Father was doing.
Part Two: You
You are not God
You did not have God power
You are fully human
You can receive power from the Holy Spirit
You can be in good but not perfect communion with your Father in heaven
You can see in part what your Father in heaven is doing
In your limited humanity you can minister miracles, healings, prophecy etc through the Holy Spirit, in line with what the Father is doing.
What’s exciting in this model?
The life of Jesus is a model to us of how we can minister in the power of the Third Person in obedience to whatever the First Person is doing. All the miracles and healings in the gospels open up in technicolour as possible ways to ‘do the stuff’. Instead of spiritual gifts simply occupying a few chapters towards the end of 1 Corinthians, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the Acts of the Apostles through the Holy Spirit all open up to us as a textbook of the sort of Third Person ministry we might engage in too.
While this might sound appealing to megalomaniacs, compared to other charismatic healing platforms it has many advantages too. Where an older pentecostal model might emphasise the giftedness of the healer – who becomes a messianic figure performing international healing rallies with their name/photo writ large on advertising – this model emphasises the Third Person of the Trinity at work through each and every one of God’s people. Our role is to bless, and join in with whatever we think we see the Third Person doing (presuming that if reflects what the First Person – Father God is doing). So instead of it being all about the healer, those who teach this model are much more likely to be telling you about their weaknesses, and glorifying the ministry of the Third Person.
First person: Father God – doing things in heaven we join in with on earth
Third person: The Holy Spirit – empowering the ministry we join in with
Second person: Jesus – showed us the way and now having an extended sabbatical?
This kenosis model may be contrasted with a ‘pentecostal faith model’, where the missing ingredient if someone isn’t healed might be their faith, the communities faith or the healer’s faith (as God is to varying degrees seen as constrained by his prior commitment to heal) – see this on faith healers; this on does God always want to heal ; this on faith vs God’s freedom; other articles on healing here. The key is the Third Person, the ‘faith’ is in trusting that he will turn up and do whatever he wants to.
The kenosis model finds it easy to integrate a wholeness view of healing, as it is concerned with what the Father wants for us more than making us look like a Bupa advert. It’s much less a sense of a slot machine (modernist?) God giving you what you want when you want, more an experience of a loving (post-modern?) God giving you the love you’ve been longing for, with benefits of healing/wholeness on the side.
What’s missing in this model?
In the old Sunday School joke when a teacher describes something grey with a long bushy tail, the boy pipes up: ‘Sir, I know the answer is Jesus but it sure sounds like a squirrel.’
In this case the answer is Jesus. What’s he supposed to be doing now?
In the past he was the model for us. Now he’s…?
Of course, it wouldn’t take long to come up with an answer for that, (seated at the right hand of the Father, sends the Spirit to us etc), but the fact remains he barely gets a mention in the practical outworking of the model today, and that’s a weakness.
Putting Christ back into the Trinity
To see how important this is to getting the kenosis model right we need to think through a key idea ‘being in Christ’.
If the model is simply the First Person is doing stuff in heaven, and the Third Person is doing stuff on earth, and we get to join in, then what is the Second Person up to? To put it slightly more bluntly – is Jesus retired, having a heavenly knees up and been replaced by you and me?
Of course that’s absurd as soon as you ask the question, but it raises a key point. And simply raising it may help some of us get on board with ‘doing the stuff’:
Scenario One: Be like Jesus
Pressure is on to imitate Jesus. If I have a great relationship with God and effectively call on the Spirit then I should be doing the works he did, and according to some readings of John 14 ‘greater things’ too.
Scenario Two: Minister in Christ
Jesus is still the minister. I am in him. He is in me. Together we do the works of the Kingdom, that his Father is doing and the Spirit is empowering us to do. I have a friend on the journey, and as he is ‘the same yesterday, today and forever’ I can trust him to get it right. He showed me how to do it in his earthly life, and he continues to do that with, and through me now.
If you keep Jesus somewhere near the heart of the model it all seems a whole lot more accessible for anyone not inclined to think they’re called to replace Jesus. Note: in John 14 the reason that ‘it is better for us that he goes away’ is not so we get to replace him, but because when he is with the Father we can do the greater things so that the Father will be glorified in the Son when we ask things in the Son’s name… When we ask for those greater things who is it who ‘does the stuff’? In John 14;13 it is still Jesus who is doing the stuff, hence a helpful retitling of Acts of the Apostles becomes: The Acts of Jesus Christ through the Apostles in the Power of the Holy Spirit.
So while it is helpful in the model to see Jesus as an example of how we can do Kingdom ministry, while this can be a breathtaking and empowering liberation, while it can shake us from apathy and give us a reason to get out of bed in the morning, it may well be even more helpful to remember that we get to do this stuff with our still very active friend Jesus still very much involved, in the driving seat, providing the petrol, holding the steer wheel and getting the credit (which then causes the Father to be praised even more).
Would Jesus be a Current Day Charismatic?
One issue with the model in practice is that it can encourage a kind of passivity that seems a long way removed from anything we read Jesus/the Apostles actually doing. This doesn’t make it wrong/unhelpful as a model, but it is worth a little thought.
The Kenosis Model in Practice in a Worship Service Setting
In the model the key moment at the end of a service comes when everyone is invited to pray ‘Come Holy Spirit’ for themselves, and then the leader also invokes the Third Person. Spiritual gifts are expected and the leader looks around the room with spiritual/natural vision to ‘see what the Father is doing through the Spirit’ and encourage us to join in. It is described well here. People then respond through prayer ministry, laying on of hands (gently, ‘in a non-weird way’, with any manipulation apart from background worship music consciously kept to a minimum). It can be a glorious time of liberation, release, encouragement, comfort and a sense of God’s warm transcendent love. At the very least it’s a time of chicken soup for the Christian soul, or a warm foamy bath of God’s love.
So far, absolutely no complaints! And for most it’s good. Helpful. Encouraging.
But it is fair to ask where in Acts or the Gospels is this a prevalent model of ministry anyone uses…?
- Does Jesus pause by the blind man and say ‘Come, Holy Spirit’?
- Does Jesus ask for the Holy Spirit before helping Peter to walk on the water?
- Is there any invocation of the spirit before raising Lazarus from the dead?
- Or does Peter institute a ‘time of ministry’ before his shadow heals someone?
- Does Paul call on the Spirit when he takes Eutychus in his arms and raises him from the dead?
- Do Peter and John call on the Spirit when they met a lame man on the way?
- Does James invite us to wait attentively for the Holy Spirit when he tells us that the prayer of faith will heal people?
- Do any of them put on a special healing worship service, or hold a healing rally?
Just for clarity, as far as we know from the text, the answer to all the above and many similar scenarios is – NO!
Thinking this through
I think it is fair to say (in line with the kenosis model) that the miracles above are done in the power of the Holy Spirit – including the miracles Jesus does [see Peter’s speech in Acts 2:22]. But this is not an external Holy Spirit who sweeps down upon them to empower them in the moment but one who abides in them. This is one of the key differences between them and the OT prophets.
In the case of Jesus, the Spirit fills him utterly already as part of his union with the Father as the righteous God-man. Arguable this pre-empts his baptism experience (c.f. his supernatural wisdom/teaching ability as a 12 year old), which is best seen as an affirmation of who is already is (this IS my son) and an empowering trigger for him to begin his ministry of service, grace, truth and love with the miracles confirming who he is already. He doesn’t need to keep asking for power. He is endued with power. So at the grave of Lazarus he expressly prays not because he needs as extra charge of Third Person help, but to help others see that the glory goes back to God and not to him.
The disciples too seem quite happy to yield authority without resorting to prayer… ‘be silent’, ‘come out of him’, ‘rise up and walk’ are all authoritative imperatives the disciples speak. Jesus had told them that ‘all authority has been given to me’, and he promised them the same ‘power’ would be given them at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on them. They’d already been practising handling Jesus’ authority as his ambassadors on mission trips in their three years at his travelling seminary, and they’d clocked up countless miracles then. Now the authority is theirs for good, to be handled the Jesus way.
Integrating the above
But what is so attractive about the Third Person model is precisely that it doesn’t require prima donors who think that they’re on an authoritative par with Jesus and the Apostles to pull it off. It’s not the ‘I’ve got the Power’ model of ministry, but a ‘He’s got the power’ – pointing away from us to the work of the Holy Spirit.
As argued above, it might be improved as a model if an active Jesus today was integrated into the model – not just as an alternative to the Holy Spirit (‘Come, Holy Jesus’), but as the source of power and prayer answers, sitting at the right hand of the Father, and as the person who is in us and we are in him.
And while the model may actually miss some of the authority Jesus and the Disciples ministered in, in favour of the more humble invocation ‘Come Holy Spirit‘ – this is a far humbler approach not open to some of the same excesses as some of those already outline in the Healing section of this blog. It has much to commend it in this 21C world, despite underplaying the role of Jesus, and whilst trying to be a continuation of early church practice not actually looking much like Jesus or the Apostles in practice.
‘Come, Holy Spirit’: Who do you pray to? New Testament prayers are almost universally to the Father, in the name of the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. They are almost never to Jesus (except if you include conversation in the Gospels) and they are not at all directed to the Holy Spirit. Why do you think that might be?
It is not without its critics though. This award winning article in GQ magazine about a student’s experience in a ministry time at a summer festival, is worth reflecting on. Jesus didn’t rely on producing a post-modern love in, and if we do, as culture shifts and changes again, it is likely we will sell another generation as short as we may feel we have been sold before. With sensible handling it may be the best model we’ve got at the moment, for demonstrating the power of the Truine God at work in a world in desperate need of healing and wholeness. But make no mistake, we’re only scratching on the edge of things Jesus and the Disciples seemed to know about union with God, being in the Father/ in Christ, and ministering in the authority of the Holy Spirit.
And I’ve probably got further than most to go on that breathtaking journey…