The Theological Declaration of Barmen 1934

5 07 2009

I. An Appeal to the Evangelical Congregations and Christians in Germany

8.01 The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church met in Barmen, May 29-31, 1934. Here representatives from all the German Confessional Churches met with one accord in a confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, apostolic Church. In fidelity to their Confession of Faith, members of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches sought a common message for the need and temptation of the Church in our day. With gratitude to God they are convinced that they have been given a common word to utter. It was not their intention to found a new Church or to form a union. For nothing was farther from their minds than the abolition of the confessional status of our Churches. Their intention was, rather, to withstand in faith and unanimity the destruction of the Confession of Faith, and thus of the Evangelical Church in Germany. In opposition to attempts to establish the unity of the German Evangelical Church by means of false doctrine, by the use of force and insincere practices, the Confessional Synod insists that the unity of the Evangelical Churches in Germany can come only from the Word of God in faith through the Holy Spirit. Thus alone is the Church renewed.
8.02 Therefore the Confessional Synod calls upon the congregations to range themselves behind it in prayer, and steadfastly to gather around those pastors and teachers who are loyal to the Confessions.
8.03 Be not deceived by loose talk, as if we meant to oppose the unity of the German nation! Do not listen to the seducers who pervert our intentions, as if we wanted to break up the unity of the German Evangelical Church or to forsake the Confessions of the Fathers!
8.04 Try the spirits whether they are of God! Prove also the words of the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church to see whether they agree with Holy Scripture and with the Confessions of the Fathers. If you find that we are speaking contrary to Scripture, then do not listen to us! But if you find that we are taking our stand upon Scripture, then let no fear or temptation keep you from treading with us the path of faith and obedience to the Word of God, in order that God’s people be of one mind upon earth and that we in faith experience what he himself has said: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” Therefore, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

II. Theological Declaration Concerning the Present Situation of the German Evangelical Church

8.05 According to the opening words of its constitution of July 11, 1933, the German Evangelical Church is a federation of Confessional Churches that grew our of the Reformation and that enjoy equal rights. The theological basis for the unification of these Churches is laid down in Article 1 and Article 2(1) of the constitution of the German Evangelical Church that was recognized by the Reich Government on July 14, 1933:

* Article 1. The inviolable foundation of the German Evangelical Church is the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is attested for us in Holy Scripture and brought to light again in the Confessions of the Reformation. The full powers that the Church needs for its mission are hereby determined and limited.
* Article 2 (1). The German Evangelical Church is divided into member Churches Landeskirchen).

8.06 We, the representatives of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches, of free synods, Church assemblies, and parish organizations united in the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church, declare that we stand together on the ground of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of German Confessional Churches. We are bound together by the confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
8.07 We publicly declare before all evangelical Churches in Germany that what they hold in common in this Confession is grievously imperiled, and with it the unity of the German Evangelical Church. It is threatened by the teaching methods and actions of the ruling Church party of the “German Christians” and of the Church administration carried on by them. These have become more and more apparent during the first year of the existence of the German Evangelical Church. This threat consists in the fact that the theological basis, in which the German Evangelical Church is united, has been continually and systematically thwarted and rendered ineffective by alien principles, on the part of the leaders and spokesmen of the “German Christians” as well as on the part of the Church administration. When these principles are held to be valid, then, according to all the Confessions in force among us, the Church ceases to be the Church and th German Evangelical Church, as a federation of Confessional Churches, becomes intrinsically impossible.
8.08 As members of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches we may and must speak with one voice in this matter today. Precisely because we want to be and to remain faithful to our various Confessions, we may not keep silent, since we believe that we have been given a common message to utter in a time of common need and temptation. We commend to God what this may mean for the intrrelations of the Confessional Churches.
8.09 In view of the errors of the “German Christians” of the present Reich Church government which are devastating the Church and also therefore breaking up the unity of the German Evangelical Church, we confess the following evangelical truths:

8.10 – 1. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14.6). “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. . . . I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1, 9.)
8.11 Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
8.12 We reiect the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.

8.13 – 2. “Christ Jesus, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30.)
8.14 As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.
8.15 We reiect the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords–areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

8.16 – 3. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together.” (Eph. 4:15,16.)
8.17 The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.
8.18 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

8.19 – 4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men excercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your srvant.” (Matt. 20:25,26.)
8.20 The various offices in the Church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the excercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation.
8.21 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers.

8.22 – 5. “Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17.)
Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The Church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.
8.23 We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commision, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well.
8.24 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.

8.25 – 6. “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) “The word of God is not fettered.” (2 Tim. 2:9.)
8.26 The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of th free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament.
8.27 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.
8.28 The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church declares that it sees in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of these errors the indispensable theological basis of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of Confessional Churches. It invites all who are able to accept its declaration to be mindful of these theological principles in their decisions in Church politics. It entreats all whom it concerns to return to the unity of faith, love, and hope.

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That They Might Be One

26 11 2007

After Paul’s escorts had taken him to Athens, they came away with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible. While he was waiting for them in Athens, his spirt grieved at the sight of so much idolatry. So he began to engage in discussion with the Jews and converts to Judaism in the synaggue, and also daily in the town square with whoever happened to be there. Even philosophers among the Epicureans and Stoics engaged him in discussion. Some asked, ‘What is this scavenger trying to say?’ Others said, ‘He sounds like a promoter of foreign gods,’ because he was preaching about ‘Jesus’ and ‘Resurrection.’

They took him and led him to the Areopagus on the Hill of Ares and said, ‘We would like to hear more of your ideas. For you bring some strange notions to us; we would like to know what they mean.’ Now all the Athenias as well as foreigners residing there used their time for nothing else but telling or hearing some new philosophy or idea.

Then Paul stood up among them at the Areopagus and said: ‘It is very clear to me that you Athenians are in every way a very devout and religious people, for as I walked around examining your shrines, I even discovered an altar dedicated to ‘An Unknown God.’ This, whom you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all that’s in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands, nor is He served by human hands as though He were in need of anything. Rather it is He who gives life to all and breath to everything. He made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and He fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their influence, so that people might seek God, even perhaps groping for Him to find Him, though He is, indeed, not very far from any one of us. For “In Him we live and move and have our being,” as even some of your poets have said, “For we too are His offspring.” Since therefore we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine is like an image fashioned from gold, silver, or stone by human art and imagination. God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now calls all people everywhere into repentance because He has established a day on which He will “judge the world with justice” through the man which He has appointed, and He has provided confirmation for all of this by raising that same man from the dead.’

When the philosophers heard about the ‘resurrection of the dead’ some began to mock Paul, but others said, ‘We would like to hear more from you about this at another time.’ So Paul left them. Some did however join him and became Christians, among these was Dionysius, a mamber of the Areopagus, and also a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” – Acts 17:15-34

This is perhaps one of my favorite sections of the Acts, partly because I find philosophy fascinating (Socrates and I are homies), partly because I find Paul’s ability to so readily integrate himself into a group of thinkers very different than his own, partly because I think this is perhaps one of the best sermons given in the Acts, and lastly (and most relevant here I think) in part because it shows the disparity within the clash of metaphysical ideas.

One the one hand you have the Greeks who have their own long and ancient tradition, and on the other you have the Jews who likewise have a long and ancient tradition.

Here Paul is mediating between two very different worlds, the Hellenic and Hebraic. These two worlds have very different metaphysical conceptions of reality.

It demonstrates the unique world-stage in which Christianity was born, and the tug-of-war between Athens and Jerusalem which has forever shaped the course and core of Christianity down to this very day.

On the one hand there is Jerusalem, center of the Jewish world, center of the Hebrew way of life, home of the Temple. This is the home of the Prophets, this is Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon and Elijah. Home of prophecy and revelation.

On the other hand there is Athens, center of the Greek world, center of the Hellenistic way of life, home of the Areogapus. This is the home of the Philosophers, this is Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno. Home of philosophy and pursuit of knowledge.

In typical Pauline style he seeks to mediate between the two. He is amongst philsophers here, the top thinkers in Athens, specifically here are students of Epicurus (Epicureans) and Zeno (Stoics).

I think that what amazes me about Pauline thought, what makes me love the Apostle Paul as a theologian is his vision. Paul’s Christianity is not radically different than what the Apostles had been teaching up to that point, but it does have a scope of vision that is unbelievably broad.

Prior to Simon Peter’s (quite literal) vision while meditating on a rooftop, the followers of “The Way” were quite content conceiving of their religion as little more than a new way to be Jewish. Theirs was very much a Jewish religion, and was exclusively for members of the Jewish religion. There was some idea of reconciling disparate groups, however. For example no one particular sect of Judaism was plucked from the consortium of Jewish sects of the period, whether Pharisees, Saducees, or Hellenic Jews it was all the same: The message of Jesus as Messiah. Indeed there may have even been this idea that, per Jesus’ peaceful interactions with Samaritans (the woman at the well in John ch. 4) and His use of the “Good Samaritan” in the parable that is so-named, that these early followers of “The Way” were to help mediate between Jews and Samaritans and bring them together in unity of faith under the Messiahship of Jesus.

Peter’s vision, and Paul’s subsequent work changes the scope. It’s a radical change in emphasis and vision of what Jesus came to do and who Jesus is in relationship to all humanity.

In truth Paul’s visionary conception of Christianity is nothing more than taking Jesus’ own teachings to their inevitable conclusion. That if Samaritan and Jew are, in fact, neighbors; if a Roman Centurian can have faith, if there is–indeed–no reason for any barriers to exist between people; then God has indeed done something truly magnificent and tremendously gigantic in the sending of Jesus.

It’s precisely from this radical vision of seeing all people as part of a single people, rather than dividing them up into tribes and various other affiliations. Rather than seeing ‘Jews’ and ‘Greeks’ and ‘Barbarians’, rather than seeing ‘Circumcised’ and ‘Uncircumcised’; rather than seeing ‘slave’ and ‘freeman’–all these categories cease to function with any meaning in Paul’s vision. In Christ God has done away with all these lines of demarcation, that is why Paul, in Galatians, says, “There is therefore no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) It’s why in Colossians he writes, “Here there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11). In Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians he writes, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have become near by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, He who has made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through His flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that He might create in Himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it.” (Ephesians 2:13-16).

There is, in Jesus, a new way of being human, a new kind of existance. The former way is full of division and bitterness, war and hatred, enmity and tribes trying to exterminate each other. Paul sees in Jesus a call from God toward something new, something which had always been predetermined by God for the world, but which was a mystery hidden in the past and only in the present coming to light. This mystery is the Church (Ephesians ch. 3), which hidden in God from time immemorial, has now come to light through Jesus Christ.

That Christ, who being a New Adam has set forth to establish a new humanity bound and interconnected with His Person. Through His death and resurrection Christ has overcome and destroyed the “powers and authorities” (i.e. sin, death and hell). Being now released from all bondage through the victory of Christ mankind is now free to enter into new life in and with God through Christ who is the Mediator between the two–being the very embodiment of God in human flesh–and this new life is unconditionally given to all as an act of God’s unwavering generosity. Entering into the Life of God through Baptism, by which we are bound to the same Christ who was crucified and resurrected, we become participants in that same mystery of victory as Jesus and become inexplicably interwoven into the tapestry of His own bodily life. Therefore the Church–that community of baptized Christians–is properly called the body of Christ. If, thus, we are inexplicably bound, bodily, to Jesus we are therefore participant sharers in all that properly belongs to Jesus. All which is the unique property of Jesus is therefore the unique property of all who are, in mystery, bound to Jesus: Thus it is the Son of God who gives right for all others to be called children of God; if Jesus suffered we too shall share in His sufferings, since Jesus rose from the dead we too shall rise from the dead. If Eternal Life is His, it is ours too. The “evidence”, or rather the pledge of God to us that this is true is that we have the same Spirit in us that was in Christ Jesus, namely the Holy Spirit–“If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11)

This Church, this community of baptized, is the very organic–if not very mystical–body of Jesus Himself; and it is a new way to be human in the world. A way of being human that is organically and inexplically connected to Jesus Himself in all respects, and in which all people of all walks of life are brought together in the peace of God. This Church is destined toward a purposed future, where death will no longer have any power, for at the end of the age there will be a resurrection, and all who ever died will be brought back to life, vindicated by God and experience, in full, the victory of God in Christ who is the “firstfruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

The purpose and mission of this Church is to live out into the world the same mode of life which Christ lived, and to–through loving words and actions–invite all people to come in and dwell and to sit and be gathered at the same table of peace as we ourselves sit.

Thus whether by feeding the hungry, giving to the poor, taking care of the sick, widow and the orphan we are doing the work of God in the world; the will of God to be peacemakers and ministers of reconciliation. These actions have within them the very character of Christ, and thus in them God is, Himself, at work in the hands that feed, clothe, give, and help.

In contradistinction from an exclusive club with highly mystical and religious overtones, the Church understands itself as a mystical union of people of all walks of life, that is inclusive to all. It is, in this respect, a reunion and re-formation of human community, a re-bringing-back of people who have been dispersed all over the world back together into a unity of hope and community, bound together in the grace and graciousness of God through the Crucified and Risen Jesus. If through Adam all men have become many and divided, through Christ the New Adam all men are being brought back together into the unity of love. Through the old there was war and strife and corruption of power; through the new there is peace and grace and the eradication of corrupt power.

Therein lay the Christian conviction that death is dead and life has sprung up bodily immortal in Christ Jesus, who “in [us] is the hope of glory.” (Collosians 1:27).

-Jon





Christian Unity?

15 11 2007

As with most of my religious blog posts (which is to say, just about ALL of them), if you aren’t a Christian you probably won’t have any interest in what I have to say except, perhaps, out of sheer curiosity. In this case, fairly specificaly, what I want to discuss gets close into the heart of inter-Christian discussion and dialogue. Feel free to be a spectator though.

What exactly does it mean to be the Church?

Chances are that unless you spend any considerable time thinking about these sorts of things the phrase “the Church” may sound odd to you. For many people, particularly we Americans, there simply doesn’t exist this concept of “the Church”, there are simply “churches”. There are essentially two kinds of people who think this way, people outside of the Church and people whose only real religious fealty is, “This is what I was raised with.” For the latter group this is something like, “My grandma was a Baptist, my mom was a Baptist, and I am a Baptist.”

Thus “churches” become little more than religio-cultural entities, like membership clubs, similar to one’s national heritage–one is “Lutheran”, “Baptist”, “Catholic” in the same way one is “Polish”, “Italian”, or “Iranian”.

I want you, whoever you might be, to completely eradicate this idea from your mind in this discussion, because it’s absolutely not what I’m talking about.

Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans and Catholics are, for certain, churches; we often call them “traditions” or “denominations”–that funny word coming from the Latin, “de nomine“, meaning “to name”. I prefer the term “expressions”, these are localized “expressions” of Christianity, they are “expressions” of the Church.

Which gets at something quite deeper, the idea of the Church over the idea of “churches”.

Many Christians, particularly Protestants, both Mainline and Evangelical, are quite comfortable with the idea of the “Invisible Church”. This idea essentially says that there is the “Invisible Church” and the “Visible Church”. The “visible” is, of course, what we can see, we see “churches”; and of course the “invisible” is what can’t be seen, and it seeks to grasp at something deeper, that despite what we observe, all Christians are, more or less, part of the same thing: the Church. That is to say, the one and only Church; what is typically called “The Body of Christ”.

Now following the Protestant Reformation, where we have a serious split within Western Christendom between Catholics and Protestants, there were the wars of religions where Catholics and Protestants killed themselves for roughly about a century. This whole thing obviously wasn’t working out so well, and Protestants started to come up with a theory of “denominationalism”, that each Protestant sub-group was simply just an expression of the same thing. It took a while to get some of the kinks out, but it allowed Protestants to basically stop hurling anathemas against one another; though of course it often meant continued anathemas against the Roman Catholic Church–after all she was to blame for all this (or so you’d think if you read all the anti-Catholic rhetoric which came out of the 17th-19th centuries).

The wars of religion also created something else, a large group of Europeans who simply were convinced that all this organized religion stuff was a problem in and of itself, which of course led to that wonderful thing called the Age of Enlightenment, and of course we’ve been so enlightened ever since here in the West that we’ve never gone to war again; unless you count the American and French Revolutions, the Napoleonic Wars, World War I and II, the Bolshevik Revolution and the Maoist Regime–to only name a couple.

The real brainchild of the Enlightement was what eventually was birthed in Democracy and the rise of the modern nation state, particularly the idea of secular government which could keep all us religious folks from slaughtering one another. America was born as such an utopia of religious freedom and religious plurality, with all the glory which secularism brings. This, of course, not to attack religious freedom, democracy, secularism or religious pluralism by any means–but it has all created this culture we now live in today. It’s where we presently are as a civilization.

Which is probably why all my talk about “the Church” sounds so very odd.

Here’s the real meat of what I’m getting at: Christ did not establish “churches”, and talk to your local Catholic priest and he’ll tell you the very same thing; but fear not my Protestant chums, I am not arguing on behalf of Rome, at least not completely. I am, however, arguing on behalf of something more than a mere amorphous “invisible” Christian unity.

Here’s the cold and painful truth: What really divides us as Christians is not that we disagree on this or that point of theological minutia, Christians have been debating theology since Paul and James discussed the “Gentile Problem” at the Council of Jerusalem in around 50 AD. Anyone who cares much for studying Church history and reading the things Christians have been saying and writing over the centuries knows that all those guys with long beards and funny names disagreed on a hell of alot. Yet they were all still part of the same Church, probably because they had no concept for “church” in the modern sense. For them there simply was what there was, and so it didn’t matter where you were, in what city you visited, you could go to any urban center throughout the known world and gather with your fellow believers and experience life together with them.

What made them one wasn’t their agreement on theological minutia (though certainly theology was tremendously important, something also clear from a cursory study of Church history), but their participation together in worship. It was their liturgia–their work of worship as the people of God–which unified them as the Church. And for most of us Evangelicals, what we typically call “worship” would, no doubt, be completely and utterly alien to Christians from the apostolic era onward. For them worship was not getting up on Sunday, going to your local church building and singing a few hymns. Though they certainly did sing hymns, and hymnody is a vibrant part of the Christian tradition. For them what made worship actually worship was the Eucharist (Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Table of the Lord, the Agape Feast, etc). Everything else which they did when they gathered was organized around this centralized event. The hymns, the prayers, the homily (sermon), these were all in place, placed around the reason the Faithful even gathered to begin with: To receive the bread and the wine.

There are good chances that this may seem silly to you, because this idea is probably so alien from your very conception of worship. Such is the way things have become over the last couple hundred years for many Protestants, but it’s the truth.

Christians gathered to eat. Their eating together was the most fundamental part of their worship.

The theological meaning of the Eucharist for the ancient Church was that it was the actual body and blood of Christ, and there was a mystical meaning between the ideas of Jesus’ body, the bread and the wine, and the Church as “Body of Christ”.

I think this much is clear from reading just about anyone who had anything to say about the subject from antiquity: The bread and the wine of the Eucharist simply, and really, was the body and blood of Christ. This is long before theories like “Transubstatiation” existed, the philosophical ideas of medieval theologians. There was no “theory”, it was simply “mystery” (Greek “mysterium”, received into Latin as the word “sacramentum” or sacrament). The bread eaten was Jesus body, the wine drank was Jesus’ blood. All the “how?” questions were fairly unimportant, the Eucharist simply was what it was: Jesus present in/as bread and wine. If you don’t believe me then feel free to do your own homework.

The ramifications of this, however, are very important. Because three things in Scripture (and the ancient Church as a whole) were called “body”: Jesus’ own body which was crucified and resurrected, the Eucharist, and the community of Christian believers (the Church). In a real sense then these three things are all in some way the same thing: The Body of Christ. It’s precisely in our eating that we partake in Christ’s own body and are, corporately, that same body.

Think I’m making this up?

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” – 1 Corinthians 10:16,17

We are the Body of Christ. And it’s precisely because we all gather at the same Table that we are that very body.

What does it mean, then, if we don’t gather together at the same Table? Division in Christianity is not because of theological minutia, but because we forbid each other from gathering together.

Much more could be said of the meaning of the Table, connecting it with Jesus’ ministry of eating with people, going into their homes to share a meal, the Eucharist as gathering with Jesus, around Jesus (the Last Supper anyone?), because the Table is the central event where we are actually gathered for, in, around, with and under Christ; we could also delve into the topic of how this Eucharist supplants the Temple cultus of sacrifice. The Church as Temple, Christians as priests (which the New Testament affirms in several places), as well as the significance that only the Temple priests could partake of the Temple sacrifice thus participating in the sacrifice (look at 1 Corinthians 10:18) itself. But I won’t get deep into that.

It will, however, suffice to say that what actually constitutes Christian unity is, in fact, the Eucharist–the Table.

As long as we forbid one another from the same Table, or if we no longer understand the Table as the central element of our gathered worship, we are no longer functioning as the Church. What’s left are simply “churches”, religious social clubs without any significant meaning.

Going on Sunday to sing a few songs, say a few prayers, and hear a sermon may all be really nice, it may be all really good, but it’s like going to a wedding feast without any wedding, or building a car without an engine.

The Table is what we fundamentally do, and fundementally are called to do. Because, in the end, it’s what we fundementally are.

Church without the Table ultimately isn’t Church at all.

The Table of Christ, eating together, is what makes us one.

-Jon





This Kosmos

21 10 2007

When we read the New Testament there can be, sometimes, confusion over what the term “world” means. For example John 3:16 famously says, “God so loved the world,” and yet in 1 John 2:15 we read, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” What becomes more confusing is that in Genesis 1 we read that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and after God surveyed all He had made He declared it all, “exceedingly good,” and yet in 1 Corinthians 4:4 it says, “In whose case the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they may not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Furthermore the Prophets speak of a future world where the lion will lay with the lamb, the lion will eat straw like the ox, the child will have no fear of playing near a viper’s den; and yet in the Gospel of John Jesus says to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36).

Does God love the world or does He hate it? Is God the God of this world or is Satan the god of this world? Will there be a future kingdom present in the tangible reality or will it be a spiritual existence?

The problem, I believe, is two-fold:

1) Many English translations render two Greek words as “world”, kosmos and aion. Which have very different meanings, and, in fact, neither mean (literally) the planet we call Earth. Kosmos means “order” and aion means “age”

2) In the case of the Greek, kosmos, the word has a long history of use as it developed layers of meaning through roughly five hundred years of Greek philosophy prior to the time of Jesus. Originally it simply meant “order”, and it was the opposite of chaos, disorder.

About six hundred years before Jesus, the Ionian philosopher Thales famously said, “The world [kosmos] is water.” Without getting too much into it, the earliest philosophers were deeply interested in what the world–the kosmos–was. In Sicily, the philosopher Pythagoras would, taking a different approach, said that the world–kosmos–was number; being interested in how the world was. The Ionians were interested in matter, the Pythagoreans were interested in function.

However what these two schools had in common was that there was, in fact, an order, a kosmos, that reality was an ordered structure, an orderly unity–some believed that the order was unitary (one thing) others said the order was many pluralistic (many things). So, for example, Thales said the world was water, everything was water, Pythagoras said everything was number. Democritus held that there were only atoms and void, Anaxagoras held there existed only mind and matter. Heraclitus would say that the kosmos is in constant motion under the power of the logos, the creative word, which was like a cosmic fire causing all things to be in perpetual motion. While Parmenides would say that there is no motion, change and motion are illusions, everything is absolute, being has always been and everything is perpetual being.

Through all this was an attempt to grasp what is and how is kosmos. What is the order and how is it ordered? Is it one thing or many, is it in motion or is it motionless?

From this concept of order–of kosmos–the conception of kosmos being “the world” developed, we are in the kosmos, the order, we are part of it. It’s from this idea that we speak of the universe as “the cosmos”–it’s all that is, and all that is an order–a kosmos.

So here is what I propose, that the writers of the New Testament were aware of these layers of meaning as the word kosmos was used in Greek. It could refer to “the world” as might understand it, as creation, the earth, moon, sun, the stars and all that is within them. It could be used to refer to the peoples of the world, but it’s most basic meaning was still “order”, and coulse be used in that sense to refer to how things or something is organized, ordered, or ruled. Thus we can speak of, for example, the Roman Kosmos, the Roman World, specifically the Rule and Order of Rome spread across the Meditareranean; including Roman government and power.

In this sense God can love–agape–the world (kosmos), showing His benevolent grace and compassion through the selfless act of sending His Son into the world. And thus Christians ought to imitate this by loving and being for the world through agape, service and self-sacrifice, loving our neighbor as we would love ourselves. And at the same time if any one loves–agape–the world (kosmos)–that is if they have affection for the way things are done, loving the present order and structure of authority spread across the world, with hate and war and oppression, if anyone loves these things, loving the order of how things are presently run–then the love of the Father is not in them. Because the god of this world(age)–aion–is the ruler which the world–kosmos–follows.

When the Prophets speak of a future age–aion–where peace exists on earth, with lions and lambs laying together, lions eating straw like an ox and children playing fearlessly around viper nests, this is true; and when Christ says that His kingdom is not of this world–kosmos–He is saying that His authority and dominion is nothing like the authority and dominion of the present order–kosmos. Christ’s kingdom has nothing to do with temporal, “worldly” kingdoms, His is not a kingdom led and governed by the sword, but goverened by the Gospel of Peace. His kingdom is not going to supplant Rome in any usual sense, He wasn’t about leading a zealous revolt against Roman occupation with swords and daggers; His was a kingdom removed from the present order, this present kosmos. His kingdom is above this kosmos, it is something different altogether, and altogether better, and altogether MORE dangerous to the kingdoms of the world and the present order than any insurrection could ever be.

The Way of the Cross is a thousand times more threatening and dangerous to the world and its powers than a rebellion. One kingdom rising against another in war is simply more of the same, it’s the same kind of kingdom simply attacking another, they are ultimately the same kind of kingdom and under the same rule, the same order, the same kosmos. Christ’s Kingdom will ultimately decimate them all, not through sword and war, but through the ultimate destruction of the present kosmos, which St. Peter says, is “reserved for fire.” This is the Fire of God’s Presence, the Fire that burns and purifies, the burns away the chaff and the dross. The all-consuming fire that consumes everything, destroying that which is impure and leaving only the pure, which St. Gregory of Nyssa envisions will mean (at least) the potential for the salvation of all and the restoration of all–apokatastasis. It is this fire, after it has consumed everything, where God is all in all, and makes all things new, where St. John sees a “new heavens and a new earth”, in effect, a new kosmos. A kosmos ordered not under strife and pain, but ordered under love and grace, where every tear is dried, every life made whole, where the lion will lay with the lamb and the child play near the viper’s den.

Christ came to set captives free and proclaim the Jubilee of God (Luke 4:18) and it is within His very Person that the Kingdom of God is manifest (Luke 17:21), the one Proclaiming the Kingdom of God is near, and that it’s the time of change (repentance–metanoia). And this Kingdom is manifest through the Crucified Jesus who then rises from the dead. It is the Christ of the Cross who brings forth God’s Reign, and sets to ruin this present age and kosmos, establishing within it’s crumbling decay a new order, a new kosmos, found structured within His Ekklesia, His Church. While the present kosmos is crumbling in its own self-destruction, Christ having overcome it (John 16:33), and establishing a new world order within His disciples, gathered together as ekklesia–as called community–the new kosmos is being ordered, and will be finally and fully ordered at Christ’s Parousia, His Second Coming.

In this sense the Church is the microcosm of the Age to Come, or in Hebrew, Olam Ha’ba. It’s purpose is the continued ministry of Christ in the present world and age, it is the Presence of Jesus in the world operating under the power of the Promised Comforter–the Holy Spirit–within the Community of God (the Church) through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Through the incorporation of individuals into the Body of Christ, by the Grace of God, through the Mystery of Baptism (death of the old and birth of the new), and called into Communion–koinonia–at the Table of Jesus, i.e. the Eucharistic Supper where the Gathered partake of body and blood of Jesus in and under the elements of bread and wine; which both rekindles the memory of Christ’s Passion which is as much a present reality as it is an historical one, and calls one to meditate upon the fullness of the Coming Time, when all will be gathered with Christ to partake of the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).

The Church, therefore, exists in the present, with the crumbling of the old order and the dawning of the new to function like Noah’s ark, the only place of refuge against the diluge which is washing away the corrupt things of the present.

It is not a message of condemnation which the Church bears, but of reconciliation and peace. It is not with hellfire on her lips that she speaks, but of persevering grace and a call to come and partake. To welcome all and love all and accept all, with all the insurmountable love of Jesus Christ which is beyond all height, width, length and depth.

The present order is a dying order, the principalities and authorities, the powers and dominions, are a dying thing. A facade, and coming to an end. Many kingdoms and nations have come and gone in two thousand years, and many more. America will wither away and die and be replaced by another–these are beside the point. It is the order that is itself dying, whether manifest through Rome or Byzantium, China or the Ottoman Turks, Britain or America.

The powers that be are, by the light of Christ, not powers at all, but merely fabrications without permanence.

This kosmos is dying, it has been dying for two thousand years. It is self-destructive and self-destructing.

This is not “end-of-the-world” hysteria, because I’m not saying everything you know will come to an end tomorrow, or even a year from now, I’m saying it’s already been coming to an end for two thousand years and it may continue to be coming to an end for another two thousand.

The present reality, the present kosmos, is one that is ultimately unreal and without permanence, reserved for fire.

Christ has overcome the world, and by His loving grace has saved the world, so that the world can have eternal life in the Shalom–the Peace–of God. Unto the ages of ages. Amen.

-Jon





Ecclesia Semper Reformada

30 07 2007

I’ve typically found that as I have grown as a Christian and gotten older with a host of -isms and movements swirling around and also what I generally see as contemporary theological manure I’ve done three things:

  1. Looked to Scripture.
  2. Looked to the Past (i.e. Ancient Tradition).
  3. Looked East.

I look to Scripture because I believe in Prima Scriptura (what I think is actually the more accurate understanding of the 16th century Evangelical doctrine of Sola Scriptura), I look to the Ancient Tradition because I believe there is more clarity and substance in the Traditional Faith of the Fathers and the Protestant Reformers than in most contemporary theological talk, and I look East because, while I reject the unique Ecclesiological claims of Eastern Orthodoxy, I do believe it retains the purest form of the Ancient Apostolic and Patristic Tradition; indeed my primary reason for not joining the Orthodox Communion is over the issue of soteriology, to which I remain ever steadfast in my affirmation of the original Evangelical Confessions of the 16th century.

I bring this up because I’ve once again been reminded of the kind of theological manure which the 19th and 20th century has produced. If I thought good ol’ regular Dispensationalism was bad, I’m fairly flabbergasted at the biblical and hermeneutical gymnastics of the Hyperdispensationalists.

I grew up in a thoroughly non-sacramental tradition, we had the Sacraments, we just called them “Ordinances”. Baptism and the Eucharist were part of my youthful experience of my faith, so I can still understand the non-sacramental views of the broad Anabaptist Tradition, because those were once my views as well. However Hyperdispensationalism goes an even further radical step, totally eradicating Baptism from its churchly praxis entirely.

Hyperdispensationalism teaches that Baptism was part of the Dispensation of Law, and that the Dispensation of Grace (which they teach we are currently in) didn’t begin after the death and resurrection of Jesus (as Traditional Dispensationalists believe) but at some point later. The most radical of the Hyperdispensationalists argue that nearly the entire Book of Acts is for an uniquely “Jewish Church”, whereas the Dispensation of Grace is for the “Gentile Church” which begins sometime in Acts 28, and thus assign the practice of Baptism to the former Jewish Church, but as non-applicable to the latter Gentile Church.

How do people come up with this stuff? Seriously!

I find the anecdotal story that Martin Luther, on his deathbed, lamented, “My God, what have I done? Even the milkmaids think they can interpret Scripture!” to be fairly interesting. It’s not that milkmaids (and the rest of us) shouldn’t read and seek to understand Scripture, rather Luther’s lament is most likely grounded in this unfortunate truth: When we threw off the yoke of Rome, Rome’s Pope and his Curia, we fashioned for ourselves papal tiaras and crowned ourselves mini-popes.

What good is it to cast away one Pope a thousand miles away in Rome in exchange for a thousand popes right in our own home?

It’s no wonder that when the Orthodox look at us Protestants they call us “Crypto-Papists”.

To be true to our Evangelical heritage means, in my honest and most sincere opinion, to take seriously the Ancient Tradition of our Faith.

The Hyperdispensationalists remind me, once again, why the Reformation isn’t over, and the call toward Evangelical Reform is as important now as it was five centuries ago.

Solus Christus–Christ Alone.
Sola Gratia–Grace Alone.
Sola Fides–Faith Alone.
Sola Crucis–Cross Alone.
Solum Evangelium–Gospel Alone.

-Jon





Creation, Calamity, and Calvary

27 07 2007

There is, I believe, profound mystery that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and that in the end God will create the new heavens and the new earth.

Within that mystery there is the Salvation of the World.

The first ten chapters of Genesis depict the protohistory of the world, seen through the lens of the Israelites.

Creation.
Fall.
Flood.
Tower of Babel.

Noticing that it begins with the benevolent act of God to create all things, the Fall initiates the world into Sin and Death, the Flood demonstrates the destruction of the world due to the proliferation of evil in the world, and the Tower of Babel is the dispersal and confusion of the nations and their languages.

In other words the setup for the Patriarchal Narrative (beginning with Abraham in Genesis 11) is the narrative establishment of the creation of the world and its subsequent fall into corruption, into Sin and Death. It ends with the disharmony of the nations, people separated into separate cultures, languages, barriers are put up between people.

The Patriarchal Narrative flows from this with the beginnings of the Promise of Covenant, “Through your [Abraham’s] Seed, the nations of the world will be blessed.” The Patriarchal Narrative flows seamlessly into the Story of Moses and the Exodus, the Establishment of Israel as God’s Covenant People through Torah. From Joshua onwards we see Israel as the Covenant Nation, and its history from the time of the inhabiting of Canaan, the age of the Judges, and finally the Monarchy; the Kingdom Narrative continues through the Age of the Prophets, and within that period is the Messianic Promise.

The Story of Israel doesn’t end with Malachi, but endures through the conquest of Alexander the Great, the Defilement of the Temple under the Seleucid Dynasty, the Maccabean Revolt, and then finally the Occupation of Rome when Pompey conquered Judea in the name of Julius Caesar.

From here the Evangelists tell us that a half century afterward, shortly before Herod the Great’s death, during the reign Augustus Caesar, that Jesus of Nazareth was born.

We believe Jesus to be the Messiah, the Christ, and the Salvation of the World.

In Christ God undoes all the wrong that has been wrought. He is the Story of Israel encapsulated, the Presence of the Temple enfleshed before us, the Veil torn down separating the Sanctuary of the Most Holy God from the world. In Death and Resurrection undoing what Adam did, being Second Adam and New Man.

Flowing from Him is the Establishment of His Church, His Ekklesia, and the pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost broke down the barriers erected at Babel–on Pentecost began the uniting of the nations as one New Man. And through His Gift of Baptism the waters that once destroyed wicked men now gives them life and unity into His New Covenant People. Through Him we have been and are being redeemed from the Curse of Sin and Death, for everyone in Christ is a new creation; and our eventual and ultimate eschatological hope is in the end, when God restores the whole of creation, a new heavens and a new earth.

The entire Historical Narrative brings us from Creation to Calamity, and in Christ, from Calamity back to Creation.

That, in a nutshell, is the Mystery of Salvation.

-Jon





Christianity in a Japanese World

25 07 2007

People who know me pretty well know that I have a few quirky obsessions: Theology, Church History, linguistics, paleozoology and (what comes to a surprise to a lot of people) a love affair with all things Japanese.

Perhaps it was the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles“, or the anime series, “Ranma ½” that did me in. In my sophomore year in high school I took Japanese as my chosen language course, I had intended to go a second year, but it didn’t work out. A few years ago I was introduced further into the wide world of anime. I found myself in love with that cultural delicacy known as sushi, and drawn toward craving Japanese dishes I have never tasted. I have for years had my heart set on visiting Japan at some point while I’m still young enough to enjoy traveling, a traveling experience as intense as my desire to visit Ireland (if not greater) and to visit the Holy Land (the Church of the Holy Sepulcher specifically). And the list goes on.

But there is an entire field of obsession that brings my love of Christianity and my love of Japan together, the topic of Japanese Christianity, or perhaps, Christianity in Japan.

It is well known that Assyrian Christians were the first to take the Gospel to China, we have archeological evidence from around the 8th century to prove this. These “Nestorian” Christians planted churches and Christianity was generally well received, though within a couple centuries seems to have receded into the mists of history. This Assyrian-Chinese Christianity adapted to the Chinese culture, churches were constructed in typical Chinese fashion, as pagodas. There is also, perhaps, some evidence of Buddhist-Christian syncretism having taken place.

There are some who even argue that these same missionaries made it to Japan, almost a thousand years before St. Francis Xavier came to the island empire.

In the 16th century a Jesuit priest, Francis Xavier, came to Japan to spread Christianity among the Japanese. The Jesuit mission was fairly well received, with many Japanese converting to Catholicism.

However within a century the Japanese Shogunate officially outlawed the Christian Faith, and those found to be Christians were treated harshly. The Portuguese and Spanish missionaries were deported, and while some remained behind, the native Japanese Christians were largely left to fend for themselves.

The Shogunate employed the tactic of the Fumie, a wooden image of Christ or the Virgin which suspected Christians were told to trample upon and break, those who refused to trample upon the Fumie were arrested for being Christians. All sorts of tortures were employed to get Christians to renounce their faith. The most famous of the Japanese martyrs are known as the Twenty-six Martyrs of Nagasaki, some were Jesuit priests, but most were Japanese, the youngest was a thirteen year old boy, Louis Ibaraki–all of them have been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, and are also remembered on the calendars of the Anglican Communion and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (their Feast Day is February 6th). All twenty-six of them were crucified together on a hill in Nagasaki, today there is a memorial which remembers them.

Due to the persecutions the Japanese Church went underground, and hid all evidence of their faith, presenting their Christianity in the guise of Buddhism and Shintoism. Over the next two hundred and fifty years they would largely forget the Latin and Portuguese they spoke liturgically, but continued to due to tradition.

Then in the 19th century, during the Meiji Restoration, Japan reopened its boarders to the West, and a period of cultural revolution ensued. Amongst the radical changes taking place within the Empire was an influx of both Catholic and Protestant missionaries.

Despite well over a century of missionary activity, the Japanese seem to be particularly resistant to Christianity, today only about 1% of the Japanese population is said to be Christian.

Missiologists have long struggled to understand why the Japanese seem so particularly resistant to missionary efforts. And there have been many who have taken to task to try and make Christianity more substantially Japanese, by removing Christianity of particular Western cultural trappings. Many Japanese Christians have likewise struggled with the conflict between Christianity and Japanese identity.

It is within this mesh and matrix that I find particularly interesting. In the late 19th century, during the latter part of the Meiji Era, a Japanese Christian, Kanzo Uchimura, along with several others started the “Non Church Movement” which essentially removed much of the “external” aspects of the Christian Religion–Sacraments, rituals, clergy, church buildings, etc.–and sought a non-institutional loosely affiliated network of home Bible study groups, using a traditional master-disciple method of operation. It is one of the more popular Christian movements in Japan.

But is that kind of thing actually healthy? When discussing what aspects of “Western” Christianity can be dropped for the sake of cultural adaptation, it becomes a pretty muddied area.

I like to believe, quite strongly, that a thoroughly Japanese Christianity can exist, one that doesn’t need to look like an American or a European Church, but one that when all is said and done looks like a Japanese Church. Where the Japanese are not only allowed to continue to be Japanese, but are encouraged to do so; but without sacrificing the fundamental essence of the Christian Tradition.

This goes deeper into the very function of Christianity, how do we do Christianity? What is the essence of the Christian Way? What does it mean to be Christian? What does it mean to be the Church?

Do we have to totally eradicate Liturgy all together? Or perhaps we can construct an authentically Japanese Liturgy.

Do we have to remove the Sacraments? If we do, aren’t we essentially denying our identity as Christians? After all the Sacraments aren’t merely ritual tokens, but fundamental channels and communicators of God’s Gracious Action in the world and in the Church-at-work-in-the-world.

Exactly how much do we have to change Christianity to adapt before it stops being Christianity altogether? Both pragmatically as well as theologically?

At the same time, I’m not arguing for a “take it or leave it” mentality, so much as for an honest pursuit of a Japanese Christianity that is both authentically Japanese as well as authentically Christian. Something that resonates both within the Japanese themselves, as well as being authentically linked to the broader Christian Tradition.

I think such an honest pursuit will help foster a deeper meditation of our own “Western” Christianity, as well as show us how Christianity can develop in other cultures.

In the end I have more questions than answers.

I think I should also offer, here at the end, that I am less concerned with “winning Japanese souls” (with the idea higher numbers) so much as I am with a serious interest in the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom, such that it truly resonates within the Japanese psyche and it remains true to what it is. Less concerned with building new churches, and more concerned with establishing genuine Ekklesia. It’s not about getting the Japanese to “play on our team”, but about sincere Kingdom-building with a evangelically faithful and resonantly meaningful call for the Japanese to participate in the Church’s Kingdom-mission in the world.

After all, we believe, that,

…He is our peace, He who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of hostility, through His flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that He might create in Himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one Body, through the cross…” – Ephesians 2:14-16

All the cultural boundaries that keep men from true Koinonia with God and each other have been torn down by Christ, we are no longer “Jew nor Gentile”; it follows that there is neither Westerner nor Easterner, European nor Japanese, etc. That, indeed, in Christ, there is now only one new humanity–His–and that He is establishing it within His Church, and all people, everywhere, are called to participate in His “Kosmic” Revolution.

-Jon