Ecclesiology with godfather
Brad: It’s time for me to have a discussion on ecclesiology (the theology of church or ecclesia) with my Eastern Orthodox godfather, David Goa.
Though I’ve attended churches since birth and spent 20 years as a full-time clergyman (and now a tonsured Reader in the EO Church), ecclesiology is probably the weakest area of my theology. This partly stems from straddling my appreciation of the so-called ‘institutional church’ [hereafter contracted to IC] vis-a-vis my call to minister (via PTM.org) to the ‘nones and dones’ (generally post-Evangelicals). These folks general still love Christ, but for a variety of reasons (from irrelevance to spiritual abuse) have no intention of returning to congregational participation. It leaves me asking, what is church?
David: While your focus has primarily been outreach to the Evangelical world (and those who’ve left it), I more often rub shoulders with clergy on the modern liberal side.
In both cases, two levels of ecclesiology are intertwined. First, regarding those in ministry, what is our calling? What constitutes ministry? And second, what constitutes the church?
Brad: Alright, let’s take those in order. Tell me about the call to ministry.
David: What I have found that those who spend any length of time in the register of justice tend to become spiritual anorexics, burnt out and cynical.
If you’re raised in the dominant justice register, your task is social criticism, usually leveled congregation. And so, the congregation gets pissed off or they become convinced, and in either case, they leave and the church withers.
The best and brightest of them can’t sleep in sheets of 220 threads, if you know what I mean. In the place of privilege, they’re exhausted. I say to them, “Your father’s fundamentalism was never the point. Your reaction to his fundamentalism is not the point. There’s something deeper happening here.”
This becomes very vivid when working with that clergy. It’s amazing how few can rest with peace in how they minister. Are they supposed to be politicians, prophets, therapists or liturgists?
Brad: And how do you answer that?
David: What if our calling allows us to simply be present to people? What if we get to be present to our community (outside the church)? To be resources who follow the Spirit’s winds, free to speak the word of healing whenever, to whomever? And what if our calling—our ministry—is to live lives that allow us to hear that word, too?
Once we discuss what constitutes ministry, confusion often occurs around what constitutes the church.
Brad: Indeed. Pray tell, godfather … What is the church?
I've been reading your A More Christlike God. On page 102 you discuss "Trinitarian love". I've always taken the Trinity as a "given," and never really looked into its implications. But as I've read Jason Pratt's Sword to the Heart, I've come to see that the Trinity has significant ethical implications; God Self-Begetting (the Father) and God Self-Begotten (the Son) always treat One another lovingly. If a Person of God were to rebel against another Person of God, all existence would cease. This gets around the "Euthyphro dilemma" in a way that I do not think unitarian faiths can. What are your thoughts?
"O Lord, God of vengeance,
God of vengeance, shine forth.
Rise up, O Judge of the earth."
God is the Judge of the earth; Abraham even said, "the whole earth." Here we must not think of a stern person wielding a gavel, but a merciful God who will put everything right, who will bring about justice.1 God is the one who straightens the crooked paths (Isaiah 45:2) of the whole earth. His appearance in vengeance, therefore, doesn't bring forth darkness but creates a radiant light.
The Hebrew word for vengeance is naqam. And naqam has the meaning: restoring justice.2 Vengeance is the restoration and recovery of justice. Traditionally the word naqam also has to do with qum, which means 'rising up.' Thus, vengeance has got everything to do with raising up what has fallen. Vengeance biblically, therefore, has everything do with the restoration of all things.3 "God of vengeance, shine forth," says Psalm 94. Popular opinion says if God appears with his vengeance, it will become dark. But Psalm 94 says, the light will shine. There will again be radiance in our lives.
Vengeance generally sounds slightly negative and malevolent in our ears. If you have feelings of vengeance, you don't generally have much good in mind, do you? Rather, vengeance actually is the restoration of the relationships in the community. So vengeance has to do with restoring, the recovery of relationships. Vengeance has everything to do with the question: How do we get Cain and Abel back together? How do we re-unite Jacob and Esau? How will coherence be restored? How do two opposites become one again? How do you get back the original unity? So again, the biblical vengeance is the rehabilitation of the relationships within the community. Vengeance is in fact a form of love, a kind of straightening. The relationships that are skewed will be straightened, so that people can look one another straight in the eyes again.
Joseph's vengeance was about giving his brothers bread. This is the mercy-bread, which is at the heart of the gospel. Elie Wiesel says in this regard: "the victim gets the last word"--giving bread to the enemy. You can also see this portrayed in the story of Elisha and the king of Syria. Rather than crushing the enemy, bread is being distributed. (2 Kings 6:21)
Divine vengeance is the counterpart of the vendetta, which says an eye for an eye (cf. Matt. 5:38-39). However, evil is to be overcome with good (Romans 12:21).
|The Sermon on the Mount by Miki Goodaboom - www.mikigoodaboom.com|
Editor's note: When approaching the Sermon on the Mount, two opposing ditches need to be avoided. One is adopting the Sermon as a new Law (to attain righteousness); the other is rejecting it as an impossible Law (negated by grace and the Cross). In the following excerpt, Eberhard Arnold steers between these errors, urging us along the grace-empowered Jesus Way. In that sense, the Sermon on the Mount is Christ's version of Paul's "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 6). It is the life of Christ-in-me, lived by those who "abide in the Vine" (John 15).
"For through the Law I died to the Law so that I might live for Go. I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me." (Galatians 2:19-20)
That life, the salt and light life in Christ, was described for us by Christ himself in this Sermon as the foundation for Christian cruciform discipleship.
Excerpt from Eberhard Arnold's Salt and Light: Living the Sermon on the Mount (The Plough Publishing House).
Not a New Law
How do we respond to the Sermon on the Mount? The Sermon on the Mount is the first step on the way to discipleship. ... If we fully grasp the Sermon on the Mount and believe it, then nothing can frighten us -- neither our own self-recognition, nor financial threats, nor our personal weakness.
The dedication demanded in the Sermon on the Mount is not a new law or moral teaching. Instead it is forgiveness. Its vital element is the light and warmth of the Holy Spirit. Here is Christ: the essence of salt, and the strength of the tree that bears good fruit. The Sermon on the Mount shows us the character of a community, which shines like a light for the whole world.
The Sermon on the Mount is not a high-tension moralism, but we must grasp it as the revelation of God's real power in human life. If we take our surrender to God seriously and allow him to enter our lives as light, as the only energy which makes new life possible, then we will be able [empowered] to live the new life.
If we see the Sermon on the Mount as five new commandments, as the Tolstoyans do, we will fall right into a trap. For in his book My Religion, Leo Tolstoy lists the commandments of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount as five new laws: peacefulness with others, sexual purity and marital faithfulness, the refusal to swear oaths, non-resistance to evil, and love for one's enemies. But Jesus shows us that the clarity and demands of the old laws are not weakened by his coming into the world; instead they are infinitely sharpened. Moreover, these are only five examples -- there could be five hundred or five thousand -- revealing the powerful effect of God's work in Christ.
His righteousness, his justice, is better than anything scholars or theologians could offer. It is something absolutely different, and it does not depend on moral intentions and good ideas. The righteousness of the law can be fulfilled only through a new, organic way of living, through a life from God that flares up like light and sears and purifies like salt. It is like a flame that shines, like the sap that pulses through a tree. It is life!
Spoken Oct. 27, 1935, at the Rhön Bruderhof.
Fr. Aidan Kimel recently posted a fascinating, must-read article on the question of Judas Iscariot's final destiny in light of universal hope. It begins, "But what about the Iscariot‽ The fate of Judas is the challenge most often posed to anyone who dares to proclaim the greater hope." That's the question. His research and thoughts on the matter are worth reading here:
However, it still left me wondering about Jesus' words at the Last Supper in Mark 14, where we read,
17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”
19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?”
20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
Verse 2 ought to trouble even the most hopeful among us, for in light of the possibility of ultimate redemption, how could the Saviour say non-existence would have been better than a redeemed outcome, the betrayal notwithstanding. That question led to a fascinating discussion among friends, worth sharing here:
Eccl. 6:3 A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that *a stillborn child is better off than he.* [emphasis mine].
"Then he will come, Christ the uncrucified,
Christ the discrucified, his death undone,
His agony unmade, his cross dismantled—
Glad to be so—and the tormented wood
Will cure its hurt and grow into a tree
In a green springing corner of young Eden,
And Judas damned take his long journey backward
From darkness into light and be a child
Beside his mother’s knee, and the betrayal
Be quite undone and never more be done."- Edwin Muir, "The Transfiguration"
Free colouring sheets of "Jesus Showed Us!" by Bradley Jersak (author) and Shari-Anne Vis (illustrator) are now available.
"For a century now, we have been singing war songs about addicts. It occurred to me as I wiped his brow, we should have been singing love songs to them all along."
"Posterity may know we have not loosely through silence permitted to pass away as in a dream." RICHARD HOOKER, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, 1593.
When living in a political climate where silence, and indeed a certain banal idiocy, threatens to nullify Hooker's sincerest hope, sometimes the stark voice of lament delivers a wake-up call and a nation's demise is deferred for another generation. So it was with the publication of George P. Grant's Lament for a Nation in Canada in 1965. Canada's unique vision was waning into vassal state status in the shadow of US imperial policy and liberal culture. Grant's jeremiad served as smelling salts and, against heavy odds, Canadians 'came to,' at least in part and for a time.
Through Ron Dart, Grant's Lament was my introduction to the High Tory tradition. Ron and I hiked the trails of the North Cascades over the course of years, through a series of parapatetic lessons on political philosophy and practical theology. The miles covered took us from Plato to Christ, Luther to Leacock, Hooker to Hegel to Heidegger ... and ultimately to my PhD dissertation on George Grant and Simone Weil. Mounting these peaks broadened my own horizons and offered me fresh mental, emotional and theological health. I'm indebted to Ron for that experience. In the end, we co-published a text entitled, "George P. Grant: Canada's Lone Wolf - Essays in Political Philosophy."
Now, Ron Dart, though already profound and prolific in this field, has released his magnum opus on The North American High Tory Tradition (American Anglican Press, 2016). This weighty work of politics, philosophy, literature and theology surely cements Ron's place as the leading High Tory scholar in Canada, if not the world. He has a unique ability to see to the heart of the matter and to transcend the poverty of the left-right spectrum. His critique of American modern liberal thought would be devastating, but Dart nevertheless disappoints extremists (as did Grant before him) by nuancing nearly any debate beyond crass reactivism.
Perhaps Ron's greatest critical faculty is expressed when he compares various thinkers and movements. In this collection of essays, he contrasts Canadian toryism with American conservatism; Noam Chomsky with Robin Mathews; Ginsberg with Grant; Creighton with Forsey; Leacock with Eliot; and even Anglicanism with Orthodoxy. This sort of flint-on-stone approach produces sparks of insight that I've not seen elsewhere. I would regard Dart's work as a richer blend than, for example, Phillip Blond's popular Red Tory analysis on the UK front. This achievement is magnified by Dart's embodied stewardship of the George Grant legacy. It marks this particular work as the decisive text on The North American High Tory Tradition.
Bradley Jersak is the author of From the Cave to the Cross: George Grant and Simone Weil's Theology of the Cross, originally Jersak's PhD thesis completed under Ron Dart's co-supervision.
Brad Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC. He is on faculty at Westminster Theological Centre (Cheltenham, UK), and is also the editor in chief of CWR (Christianity Without the Religion) Magazine.
Brad’s most recent book, "A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel," seeks to detoxify our images of God to present the Incarnation of Christ as our clearest vision of the nature of God as love.
“SPARKS” 2016 was a weekend of conversation and discovery at Ashburnham Place to explore the following theme: “How to remain present, faith-filled, and resilient in the challenge and change of today”.
This video was produced by Michael Lafleur and The INFUSION NETWORK on behalf of SPARKS and it’s organizers © 2016.
This article originally appeared on AlwaysLoved.net
The last years have seen a grand deconstruction of Scripture reading and interpretation—some would say of Scripture itself. Of course, this has been an ongoing centuries-long project, but two unique elements dominate the past decade: first, the ‘New Atheists’ are actually reading the Bible—carefully and, unlike liberal scholars, they have read it literally with a view to destroying faith. “The Bible says it; I reject it; and that settles it.” And second, their dance partners in this deconstruction have been evangelicals who are finally questioning the modernist lingo of inerrancy and it’s narrow literalist interpretations. They’re ready to either toss Scripture (many have) or to reconstruct their reading on sturdier foundations.
For my part, the deconstruction has run along very specific lines. I have come to believe that Jesus Christ revealed the fullness of God in the Incarnation and thus, he—not the Bible—is the only divine Word and our final authority for theology, faith and Christian practice. His primacy as the revelation of God challenges doctrines like inerrancy when they elevate ‘every word of Scripture’ as the ‘infallible word of God.’ That latter phrase was reserved by the Church fathers for God the Son alone. And so while I do believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture, I’m among a burgeoning crowd of quite conservative theologians who reject evangelical bibliolatry in favor of the Christ to whom Scripture faithfully points.
For those who’ve made that trek, the niggling question remains, ‘What now?’ How do we read the Bible, if at all, after the deconstruction? The answer to that will require many authors to contribute umpteen volumes, a task well on its way. What I’ll offer here is just one gesture toward reconstructed Bible-reading. Ironically, my suggestions were elementary standards in the early church, but were often marginalized by Protestant assumptions and the co-opting of Evangelicalism by modernity … and now by the fashionable cynicism of post-moderns. But anyway … you’ll see how a counter-intuitive reconstruction may be helpful.
How, why or when is 'wrath' God's?
Why does the Bible talk about 'the wrath of God'?
As we continue to preach and teach the NT message that "God is Infinite Love," embodied in Christ and revealed on the Cross, it is right that we should continually challenge and be challenged by "the wrath of God." That challenge requires us to keep returning to the Scriptures and to the Lord for greater clarity, because such great potential for error persists. We dare not slander God, either as a violent punisher or a spineless pushover, because such images serve as stumbling blocks, especially to those suffering under the consequences of their poor choices or those of somebody else.
In A More Christlike God, I referred to 'wrath' as a biblical metaphor for the natural and supernatural consequences of our self-will and defiance. I lament the fact that these consequences often afflict others with terrible suffering, such as victims of drunk drivers. And I question whether it's appropriate to think of sin's effects as the 'wrath of God.' In that book, I cite the great church Fathers, St John Cassian and St John of Damascus, who show us that 'wrath' is an anthropomorphism for human anger, projected onto God, and which must not be literalized lest we commit a "monstrous blasphemy." I showed how Paul redefines wrath as passive, as divine consent, as "giving us over" (Romans 1) to our choices and their consequences. And in Romans 5, we see finally that God-in-Christ came to rescue or save us, not from God, but from "the wrath" (an allusion to Wisdom of Solomon 18:22-25 , where "wrath" is a synonym for "the destroyer").
So much for review. For those who need more backstory, see:
Today, I stand by the progress we've made, but press a little harder. All the above still begs the question: why does the Bible sometimes refer to the consequences of sin as "the wrath of God" when Paul so clearly sets "the wages of sin" (death) over against "the free gift of God" (life)? How, if Satan is the destroyer and Christ is the Savior, can "the wrath" ever be said to be "of God"? Why does God ever own punishment for sin in any way, if judgement for sin is intrinsic to sin, rather than God's literal reaction to it?
"And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years." Genesis 6:3
"For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations." Psalm 100:5
"O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever." Psalm 136:1