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Jon Ruthven

This paper was written by Jon Ruthven.

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Jon Ruthven is a Professor of Systematic Theology at Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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Articles > Charismatic Theology > The "Imitation of Christ" in Christian Tradition

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 Acts 5:1-11Acts 13:6-12
Luke 5:17-263:1-1014:8-18
8:26-39 16:16-24
6:17-195:12-16; 8:4-819:8-12

    Even without the clearest similarities in content, verbal composition and position in relation to the surrounding pericopes, the charismatic mission activities of Jesus' followers in Acts, at least in broad scope, closely replicate those in the ministry of Jesus and those resulting from the first commission of the twelve and seventy-two.[36]

    Certainly, when St. Paul summarizes his mission he does so with a substantial charismatic/miraculous component (Acts 15:12; 1 Th 1:5; 2 Cor 12:12; Rom 15:19). In this he is simply replicating the same emphasis on the power of the Spirit in the ministry of Jesus, while at the same time, if we are to understand "mimesis" and its related NT concepts correctly, demanding of his own followers that they reproduce this same pattern of emphasis. This brings us to our final point.

    5) The last question is, what is the reader of the NT (the "disciple of the disciples") expected to do? Let us assume as before that the NT instructions to the disciples or apostles, in general, are instructions also to the reader.[37]

    The NT frequently commands to the reader/disciple to replicate the charismatic ministry of the apostles, e.g., to "seek," "desire earnestly," "rekindle" and "employ" certain "miraculous" charismata (1 Cor 12:31; 14:1, 4, 5, and 39; 2 Tm 1:6; 1 Pt 4: 10, cf. Jn 14:12-14; 15:7; l6:23-24--ask for "anything" in the context of the Spirit's descent to the disciples; Jn 3:21-22) and implies that their appearance can be suppressed by simple neglect to imitate faithfully the NT exemplars (Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 14:39; 1 Th 5:19-20; 1 Tm 4:14; 2 Tm 1:6).[38]

    Particularly interesting is the very verses which command a replication of Paul's ministry are verses which are somewhat explicit about the charismatic content of that replication. For example, 1 Th 1:5 is a summary of Paul's pattern of presenting the Gospel "not in word only [as in classical Protestantism], but with power [en dunamei-the most frequent word for "miracle/mighty work" in the NT] and in the Holy Spirit [en pneumati hagio-carrying a strong overtone of prophetic anointing], that is, in strong confirmation." The Thessalonians are reminded that they came to know by experience and interaction [oidate] what sort of [messengers] that Paul and the others proved to be. This is not primarily a reference to character or ethics! At this point, Paul notes that the Thessalonians then "became imitators of us and of the Lord!" The context demands that the Thessalonians were both imitating and modeling for others (vs. 7), Paul's miraculous/charismatic gospel presentation, mentioning specifically, inter alia, their faith in God-a charismatic gift of the Spirit (vs. 8)!

    A second example of the "imitation" pattern being integrally bound up with charismatic expression is 1 Cor 1:4-8, which shows Paul's presentation of the miraculous/charismatic gospel to the Corinthians, who then replicated the pattern "kathos ["exactly as"] the testimony of Christ was confirmed among you, with the result that you do not lack any spiritual gift." This replication is to continue among believers until the parousia.[39]

    A third example derives from another main "imitation" passage, above: 2 Tm 2:1-2, "be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." Traditional Protestantism might understand this as an exhortation to "be encouraged to receive the mercy of Christ for forgiveness of sin and for promoting sanctification." A more Pauline understanding would include this, but with a much stronger emphasis to avail oneself of the miraculous/charismatic power of the Messiah, as indicated in endunamou and in en chariti,[40]  who bears the Spirit of prophecy in this, the end of the Age ("endunamou en chariti en Christo Iesou"), cf. 1:6. This exhortation, then, is the normative content of the "teaching" that flows from generation to generation of Christian disciples.

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