When Moses went inside the Tent of Witness it was said his face used to shine blindingly with the glory of God. It is precisely at this moment that Paul plugs into the story of the Shekinah in 2 Corinthians 3. He argues that through the in-dwelling of the Messiah’s spirit we are the new temple of his glory. When Moses went in to minister he came out reflecting the glory of God. The first couple was meant to reflect God’s glory into the rest of creation but they fell short. The apostle connects the glory of God to the spirit of God. This theological move was anticipated even in Ezekiel where he is commissioned by God and empowered by his spirit through revelations of God’s glory. He interacts with the glorious manifestation yet he records it as the spirit moving him (Ezekiel 3.) Furthermore, in the Psalms David speaks of God’s omnipresent spirit (Psalm 139.) They understood God to be present in his creation by his spirit. If God’s presence is visibly manifest in the creation then it must be his spirit that we are witnessing. Isaiah 63:8-12 the Shekinah is directly identified as God’s holy spirit among them.
Paul in Ephesians 1 describes the Spirit as the down-payment of our glorious inheritance in God. As the Shekinah was a tangible sign of the promises of the covenant being fulfilled, so is the Spirit in the New Testament. The indwelling of God’s spirit among us demonstrates we are his chosen covenant people. Since the Shekinah is the manifest presence it comes with visible signs.
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. – 1 Corinthians 12:1-7 ESV
Paul’s charismatic theology must be understood within the context of how he understood the role of the Shekinah in the New Testament. 2 Corinthians 3 is quite an obvious Shekinah reference. Someone may argue that it is a later development in his thought which I am anachronistically projecting on 1 Corinthians. However in 1 Corinthians 3 we see Paul using Shekinah language when he describes believers as the temple of God by virtue of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Paul early on his epistle sets up the temple motif and we need to follow this theme right through to the twelfth chapter.
He begins by explaining how pagan worship came with the manifestation of certain spirits at work among the worshippers. In fact, until the deity demonstrated something supernatural at the shrine, the sanctuary was deemed inactive. These idols were mute so they had to “speak” via supernatural means. What Paul talks about especially comes alive in our part of the world where you can still observe pagan rituals by fetish priests. When they are caught up in ecstasy they always confirm their allegiance to the deity by acknowledging its authority. They give the deity honour by giving it various appellations. Similarly, Paul argues there are signs of those who call upon the Lord Jesus. He compares the manifestation of the Spirit to ecstatic phenomena in pagan worship. People in modern times find it hard to swallow the strange occurrences in modern charismatic worship. In the ancient world, and many parts of Majority World today, people would immediately recognise it as being under the influence of a spirit.
Where a deity’s presence was, there were strange and mysterious signs accompanying it. The people of Israel enjoyed perfect health and their attire did not wear out throughout their journey in the wilderness. Also manner fell for 40 years and they were led by a pillar of cloud. When the elders of Israel witnessed the glory of God they began to prophesy. Subsequently, when people prophesied it was explained as the spirit of God coming up on them which is itself an outworking of the Shekinah presence. The individual “spiritual gifts” described in 1 Corinthians 12 should be understood as tangible signs of God’s presence among his people. They are not novel tricks God performs every once in a while to entertain himself or his people. They are powerful affirmations of the lordship of Jesus. The same spirit by which people declare Jesus as Lord is the same spirit at work in them to produce wonderful signs.
Paul describes them as manifestations of the Spirit since he considers them to be tangible signs of God’s presence in the Church. In other words it is the Shekinah glory of God. As much as the Old Testament had its glory the New Testament enjoys the true glory of God through the Messiah’s spirit at work among believers.
I Corinthians 12-14 Paul situates Shekinah in Christian liturgy in a similar manner to how the glory was found in temple worship in Israel. If we are the true dwelling place of God there must be signs to indicate his presence. This does not mean in every service there must be a healing or a stupendous vision. Paul observes that the Spirit works in diverse ways from the subtle, showing love and concern for one another for example, to the most fantastical like the working of a miracle. In fact Paul put’s more premium on good Christian character (1 Corinthians 13) because it is an enduring foundation that can be built upon. The manifestation of the Spirit affirms we are one people with one God. The Shekinah is therefore a characteristic feature of Christian gatherings. It is a marker of our identity that when we gather our God is at work, sometimes through extraordinary means.
Pagan ecstatic worship could degrade into wanton debauchery. Anything done under the influence of a particular spirit was allowed because they were spiritually intoxicated. Paul being well aware of this contrasts the Christian experience of being filled with the Spirit with being drunk in wine Ephesians 5:18. He observes the experience of the Spirit is rather characterized by orderly worship and love. In 1 Corinthians he goes into detail about order during Christian liturgy. There is room for spontaneity as the “Spirit leads” but he does not lead his people into anarchy. In other words the Spirit sets up the structures within which he works and expects his people to be conformed to it. It is a delicate balance that is stuck.
From the Day of Pentecost the Shekinah has been present in the Church. The manifestation of the Spirit provides a crucial affirmation of our status as the New Testament of God. As in the Old Testament, the activity of the Spirit is an indispensable part of Christian liturgy. However, the Shekinah is not present for spectacle alone. We are meant to reflect the glory of God into the world as our priestly vocation. When we see miraculous healings and other extraordinary signs it is a foretaste of the new age (Hebrews 6:4-5.) They show God is present in the world to restore it. The glory of the Lord is meant to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. He is accomplishing it in and through his Church. Spiritual gifts are signs of the new creation which is bursting through into this current world. The charismata offer tangible signs that Jesus is indeed Lord of all.