Binding and Loosing: Individualism vs Conciliarism

Responding to Michael Miano

Below is an exchange between myself and Michael Miano. Michael is a pastor and proponent of an eschatological view known as Full Preterism. In his view Jesus Christ fulfilled all prophecy, including that of His return to the world, in the year 70AD. My questions (in bold) challenge particular nuances of that view in contrast with Inaugurated Eschatology and an Amillennialist view. Michael’s response is given in italics,  then my answers follow. You can review his original response HERE:

1.) Why does the ascension not play any role in any of the imminent expectations of the Gospels?

Not quite sure I understand this question. The “end of the age” was imminent as demonstrated through time-statements all throughout the Gospels. Part and parcel of the “end of the age” is not only the ‘sign of Jonah’ to that generation (cf. Matthew 12:40) but also the fulfillment of all that was written (i.e., the hope of Israel) (cf. Luke 21:22). In order for the “hope of Israel” to be fulfilled, the Messiah would have to die, ascend, come in glory, and resurrect the dead ones – all of this is explained throughout the epistles, but unfortunately many “ignorant and unstable” people distorted and continue to distort those things (cf. 2 Peter 3:16).

Perhaps this question was a bit ambiguous, although I must say that Michael never asked me for clarification, but what I asked is this: why is it (assuming the FP view) that none of the expecting-statements … the “this is about to happen” statements … point to the ascension? Now Michael takes the most of this response by repeating the FP schema, but does not really address the question. In fact, he seems to substantiate my premise by not pointing to “time texts” that predict the imminent ascension and glorification of Christ. Now the fact that a “man born of woman” would ascend to the Right Hand of the Father and be glorified in His presence should have been a major event in itself (to understate the issue). Yet, as I believe Michael demonstrates here, in the FP schema this is utterly overshadowed by 70AD. In fact, FPs do not allow that any imminent statement in the Gospels refer to the ascension.

When we consider that the Apostles were born into a world governed by the Law of Moses, the Temple and the “invisible God” of the OT, but were about to be able to “behold His glory” and would soon enter into the Kingdom of God … but we have nothing from Christ to prepare them for this? His focus is all on one war 40 years in the future, but not the most important event in history that would happen within months to days?  (Not to mention telling us nothing to help us for the next 200 decades?) This is my question, why the silence? My point is to point out an imbalance and oversight of FPism. I do not believe Michael answered this, but I am hopeful that he will in the future.

2.) What would 70AD have added to the already glorified Son of Man that He did not already receive in His glorification?

In putting together the framework of fulfilled Bible prophecy it is vital to understand the “already but not yet” progression of events that happened in the first century. When Christ ascended in Acts 1:9-11 it was promised that He could come in the same manner He left (“hidden in the clouds” – which also correlates with what Christ said in Luke 17:20 about the Kingdom not coming with observation). The Parousia of Christ in AD 70 was the inauguration of the Kingdom.

It’s not what did AD 70 add to the Son of Man, but rather, in His coming in AD 70 what did the Son of Man supply to those who eagerly awaited Him? Faithfulness to His Word (cf. Matthew 16:27-28), complete salvation (Hebrews 9:28), and most notable, His demonstrated presence in and through His saints (His Temple) – which was the goal of prophecy (cf. Colossians 1:27). That also explains why the saints proclaimed “His death” until He would come (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26 ), now we declare His life in and through us.

Here Michael seems to answer that 70AD did not add anything, because the Kingdom did not come until 70AD. Or perhaps he would prefer to say that it did not come fully until 70AD. But if the latter is the case, then the question still stands; I will demonstrate this shortly. Now there are numerous problems with the FP line here, but let me begin with Michael’s invocation of already but not yet. For those unfamiliar, the phrase already but not yet belongs originally to inaugurated eschatology. The idea, if I can oversimplify here, is that the Kingdom was inaugurated in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.  G. E. Ladd, who coined the term[1] describes it as “God’s rule invading history before its eschatological consummation”.[2] In other words, it is the hermeneutical concept that the NT presents the Kingdom of God as something that is already present, but yet to come. Both of these aspects are seen in the NT and the realties of each aspect are foundational to Kingdom teaching in the NT. It seems that Michael agrees with this generally. But what Michael does it place the already as a reality before 70AD, and then the not yet comes to be realized in 70AD. But this only leads us back to my original question. If the already was realized before 70AD (we agree), then what did 70AD add to the glorified Son of Man and His Church that was not already given to them? Michael does not tell us.

Let me unpack this a bit: Christ was mystically (spiritually) present with the Church before 70AD. The Church “set with Christ in heavenly places” before 70AD. They had been “translated” into the Kingdom before 70AD. Salvation had been revealed before 70AD. The nations were coming in and “sitting with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” before 70AD. The Son of Man had been glorified and exalted before 70AD. The Gospel was being preached into all the world before 70AD. The nations were being taught the truth of God before 70AD. I could go on, but I think the point here is made … what in the FP 70AD realized not yet  was not already a reality for the Church? What changed? What was different?  
    

3.) Why was the Kingdom already preached as a reality before 70AD, if the point of 70AD is initiating the Kingdom?

As I mentioned in response to the last question, in putting together the framework of fulfilled Bible prophecy it is vital to understand the “already but not yet” progression of events that happened in the first century. Yes, Jesus Christ said the Kingdom was “at hand” and was in the midst of the people of God prior to AD 70 (cf. Matthew 3:2; Luke 17:21). However, even the Futurist, or especially the Futurist acknowledges that there is more to come (obviously to fulfill the details of the “end times”). Just like understanding the progressive effect of salvation and God’s presence, so it is the same with the Kingdom, and more and more was revealed as the “jots and the tittles” of the Old Covenant, or “all things that were written” were finding their fulfillment.

The real problem is that the Futurist has sought to stretch the progressive fulfillment of these prophecies, the “already but not yet” to be more than 2,000 years. The Preterist asserts that the things which were “not yet” would find their fulfilment within the generation of some of those who were alive at the time of Christ’s earthly existence (cf. Matthew 16:27-28; Matthew 24:34).

Here are two links by popular Full Preterist teachers, Ward Fenley, and Mike Sullivan, regarding “the already but not yet” and the “inauguration of the Kingdom” in AD 70.

https://www.preteristarchive.com/Hyper/1998_fenley_response-zaspel_01.html

http://fullpreterism.com/jesus-taught-the-soteriological-and-eschatological-already-and-not-yet-of-his-kingdom-and-second-coming-would-be-fulfilled-by-ad-70/

Now Michael’s answer here builds off a previous answer, and my answer to that will answer this as well. There are, however, a few inconsistencies I need to point out here. First of all, Michael misapplies already but not yet here. Remember in the previous post he allowed that the already was effective beginning (I would assume) at the ascension of Christ. He then asserts that the not yet is realized in 70AD. Yet here he moves the already to 70AD and the not yet moves beyond 70AD. For instance he describes “understanding the progressive effect of salvation and God’s presence”. But how can any progressive understanding of God take place after the consummation where we “know as we are known”? I assume that Michael believes in some sort of ongoing salvation and revelation of God, but that does not fit in his schema. Now this is an important point, and I want the reader to really let this sink in: futurism is not merely the idea that Jesus will come to earth again, it is the idea that God has anything left to do on earth through Christ. Now if Michael, or any FP teacher, has an ongoing “fulfillment” of the promises of the Gospel – i.e. people coming to Christ – then they are futurists. In other words, they themselves retain a not yet aspect to their eschatology and preaching. And here you can see why this principle is applied in very inconsistent ways by FPism.

4.) Why were Christians already “raised with Christ” spiritually before 70AD, if the resurrection itself was only being raised spiritually? (Also what did 70AD have to do with this?)

In Colossians 3:1, we read “you then being risen with Christ”, which demonstrates that the living saints could experience ‘resurrection power’ before AD 70 (not only did Jesus say this in John 11:25-26, the Apostle John writes in in 1 John 3:14, and said power as the church’s reality is explained by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter 1). Simply put, the living saints could experience the “synergio Christos” by living in faith. But…the “hope of Israel” made known through the Law and the Prophets highlight that generations before the first century would experience “resurrection” as well – this is what the writer of Hebrews is getting at in Hebrews 11:39-40. Neither the living saints of the 1st century or those who had “fallen asleep in Christ” would experience the fulness of salvation until the dead ones were raised.

The “resurrection of the dead” is different than “being raised with Christ”. The “anastasis nekroi” is the standing again of the dead ones, and demonstrated the promise of fulfillment being extended to the Old Covenant saints – those who could not put their faith in Christ in the 1st century. This “standing again” would take place at the coming of the Lord and the destruction of the Temple (cf. Daniel chapter 12 and 1 Corinthians chapter 15).

I had participated in a public discussion with Ed Stevens, a Full Preterist who disagrees with what has come to be known as the “Corporate Body View”. In that debate I explained and demonstrated the “change” spoken of in 1 Corinthians 15:51. You can view that debate at the following link, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7zaUtNfLC0&t=501s

I am glad that Michael agrees that “the living saints could experience ‘resurrection power’ before AD 70”. Now Michael does offer an interesting proposition here. He asserts that those before Christ were raised in 70AD. I am going to give a short answer here, but he raises several points and I think this deserves more attention than I can give in a short answer; honestly. Allow me to point out a few problems here:

If 70AD is the raising of pre-Christian saints in the OT, and NT saints were already raised with Christ, then does that not mean that the resurrection is ongoing? Especially in the FP schema, for those that allow an ongoing salvation through Christ. Thus, pre-70AD Christians are saved, die and go to heaven with Christ, post-70AD Christians die and go to heaven with Christ. No difference that I can detect. Also, does this not also mean that the resurrection took place for Christian’s before 70AD? (If so, then this would actually qualify FP for St. Paul’s rebuke of those who say the resurrection is past.) Further, limiting the proposed 70AD resurrection to OT saints, we would have a future resurrection promised to those who had already experienced the resurrection.

Again, this deserves more in way of an answer, but I believe I have pointed out several issues here.  

5.) Why did Christ promised to be mystically with the Church and never leave her, if he would not return mystically to her until 70AD? (Also what did 70AD have to do with that?)

This is a rather confusing question and reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the ‘telos’/ the goal of the Biblical narrative. God was “mystically” (to borrow the term Mr. Vincent used) present with Old Covenant Israel in the cloud and fire (and later the Ark of the Covenant) and that was based upon their obedience to the Law of Moses. The Old Testament reveals this is problematic, as innate wickedness continually led Israel into disobedience. But God promised….Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, comes to do to the work of fulfillment of the Law and thus rendering it obsolete as the standard of God’s presence (cf. Matthew 5:17-18; Hebrews 8:10). Thus removing “the death” that plagued the people of God by the work of Jesus Christ.

All of that said, Jesus Christ came in the flesh to fulfill necessary aspects of sacrifice, raised in glory to demonstrate His being the power of God (which is what is meant by “seated at the right hand of God”) and thus provided the Church with the Holy Spirit to discern the things of the Spirit, and then came in glory to have His life in His Body, the Church (much of this seems to be demonstrated in John chapter 14). The destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem in AD 70 demonstrated the truth and faithfulness of God through Jesus Christ (this is the very basics of Full Preterism). It demonstrated where God’s presence was to be found. Even the 1st century Jewish historian, Josephus, took note that the burning of the Temple and the signs that followed, were representative of God’s presence departing that Temple and system (“Heaven and Earth”).

A beautiful resource regarding the contemporary application of what God “mystically” did for the saints, the “change of mind” (Gr. Word alasso used in 1 Corinthians 15:51) that was provided, can be found at the following link titled, “Remember Pella”, https://www.preteristarchive.com/Idealism/2005_dubois_pella.html

Michael writes a good deal here that frankly does not answer my question. This is essentially a variation of my earlier question – what did 70AD change for Christians? Michael seems to concede that Christ was present with the Church before 70AD. Was he then even more present? How did He “return” to the Church if He never left the Church? Again, this is another layer to the question of what did 70AD change? Still waiting for an answer.

6.) Why is Christ shown as “in the midst” of the Seven Churches at the opening of the Revelation, if the Revelation is about 70AD and Christ was to only ever be present mystically; and this at 70AD?

Another confusing question which demonstrates Mr. Vincent’s presuppositional desire to impose a different presence of Christ upon the nature of fulfillment. In the beginning chapters of the Book of Revelation we read a vision given to the Apostle John regarding Christ’s declaration to the 7 Churches of Asia Minor (cf. Revelation 1:9 -11, 13, and so on…). The details of Revelation are about things which were, things which are, and things which will come, which again makes it necessary to understand the “already but not yet” of Christ’s presence with His people through the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Not even the Futurist denies this progressive demonstration of Christ’s presence with His people through the fulfillment of Bible prophecy.

In AD 70, the “end of the age” (cf. Matthew 24:3), the details of Revelation chapters 21-22 were fulfilled in that the fullness of the New Covenant was revealed (the “New Jerusalem” of Revelation 21:2 and Galatians 4:23-26), God’s presence and tabernacling among His people was demonstrated (cf. Revelation 21:3), and the “burning up” of the Temple (or the “elements” as Peter mentioned in 2 Peter 3:10) gave evidence to the crying, mourning, and death revealed through the “old order of things” had passed away (cf. Revelation 21:4).

We have already demonstrated Michael’s misuse and inconsistency with the already but not yet hermeneutical principal. He seems to assume this absolves him of hermeneutical consistency. He also seems to be confused by these questions, but I believe that this is because his schema is myopic and has not really deeply considered these challenges, although he claims they have been answered. (It is difficult to know how you can have answered things that you do not understand).

Let me unpack this question (which goes again to what did 70AD change)? If Christ is already present in the midst of the Churches (at the opening of the Revelation), then what changes when the not yet is realized? What changed? How does it get better? Now Michael writes “God’s presence and tabernacling among His people was demonstrated” in 70AD.Which is odd because the Apostle John wrote “and the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of a father, full of grace and truth.”[3] Then Paul writes “What agreement can exist between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be My people.’”[4] So here again, we have Michael applying something to 70AD that was already a reality before then.

I also want to point out what I call the bait-n-switch of FPism. Notice that my question was about the presence of Christ in the Church and how that was improved by 70AD. Michael then changes this about the prophetic significance of 70AD. We both agree that 70AD is important. We both agree that the fall of that Old Covenant house demonstrated that the “glory of the Lord had departed.” But his does not answer the question of how Christ became more present in the Church by this event? In fact, Christ would have to be glorified on His throne for this event to even take place or have any prophetic significance. If Michael wants to assert that the destruction of the Temple was a specific fulfillment of the prophetic word of Christ and witness to His Kingly authority (as prophesied in Ps 110) then I am all for it. But he still needs to tell us why this adds anything to the Church and Christ. Now this is important, because the FP schema has replaced a real and tangible transfiguration of the Cosmos, with an actual return of Christ to earth, with a spiritual and invisible event in heaven. (Which makes it more convenient to assert that it happened in 70AD). But if everything they point to as mystical, spiritual and invisible (by faith and not by sight) in the NT is a reality before 70AD, then what does their schema offer in 70AD?

7.) In other words, if every single aspect that FPs allow about the return of Christ and resurrection was a reality BEFORE 70AD, then how did 70AD add anything to that and why were the Apostles yet preaching that Christ would return from heaven at the restitution of all things?

Mr. Vincent’s use of “In other words” demonstrates that all of his other questions, which I believe I have sufficiently and Scripturally responded to, led up to the point of what does AD 70 add. As I explained through the various responses I gave that Mr. Vincent fails to grasp the progressive nature of fulfillment being demonstrated through the “already but not yet”. Author and Bible teacher Tony Denton mentions the concept of “prolepsis” as necessary to understand the fulfillment of Bible prophecy and the things of salvation, the Kingdom, and God’s presence. The book of Proverbs mentions the blessing of “a hope fulfilled”, which is what the Preterist asserts happened in AD 70 at the coming of the Lord Jesus, it says it is a “tree of life” (cf. Proverbs 13:12). It offers eternal life. That is demonstrated through a life that has moved from “hoping to having” as author Glenn Hill has mentioned. Point being? This question has been responded to again and again in the Full Preterist community.

Here Michael is astute in his understanding of my question, but deficient in the answering of it. He writes “Mr. Vincent fails to grasp the progressive nature of fulfillment being demonstrated through the ‘already but not yet’”. In reality I have shown that Michael himself either does not understand it, or knowingly applies it inconsistently. Further, this did not answer any of my questions, rather it only pointed to more problems with FPism. Now here Michael admits that he understands the question, but it is obvious that he did not answer the question.  Not even here.

So the question remains, and I will use Michael’s own words, “what does 70AD add”? I encourage the reader to review this exchange and look for any sort of actual answer to this question. Glory to Jesus Christ+

William L. Vincent, OblSB


[1] Thank to Sam Frost who elaborated on this in response to Michael Miano (personal communication).

[2] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (1993) ISBN 0-8028-0680-5, page 70

[3] John 1:14 YLT

[4] 2 Cor 6:16

Responding to: The Threefold Failure of Trinitarianism.

In a recent article on his blog Grains of Grace, Oneness Pentecostal minister Tim D. Cormier took it upon himself to reveal the errors of Trinitarianism. After reviewing the article myself, I thought I might take the time and reveal the errors of his blog post.Tim writes:

“The FOLLY of Trinitarianism is trying to better define the Deity than did the Apostles and then believing that this “better definition” is the foundational basis of Christian orthodoxy–thus making rejection of it heterodoxy or heresy.” 

This is a common assertion by those of my former denomination. The reality is that it is Oneness proponents that feel the need to “define the Deity” in a way that fixes the clear teaching of the New Testament. Passages like John 15:26 which clearly describe three persons:

When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.

Now ask your local Oneness Pentecostal to exegete this passage for you and see who feels the need to “define the Deity” better than the Apostles. Another example is John 10:30


I and the Father are one.

Here Christ clearly shows Himself to be one person, and the Father another. Yet Christ says that He and the Father are one. But Oneness will tell you that this passage means that Christ is the Father. They do the same thing in John 14 where Christ says “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” Christ then goes on to say that “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” But what do Oneness say? They assert that here Christ is saying that He is the Father. Again…who feels the need to “define the Deity” better than the scripture?

Tim goes on to write:

Here is FOLLY thrice-confounded! Consider Trinitarianism’s scripturally baseless claims: The FATHER is God but is not the SON or the HOLY GHOST; The SON is God but is not the FATHER or the HOLY GHOST;The HOLY GHOST is God but is not the FATHER or the SON.How can anyone contemplate such intellectual tripe and not perceive it for what it is??? –sheer and utter FOLLY!!!

But is that claim actually baseless? No, it is actually based on the very scripture itself and what it reveals to us. In the Gospels the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are clearly distinct. The Father speaks to and about the Son. The Son speaks to and about the Father. The Spirit speaks about the Son and proceeds from the Father. The distinction is undeniable (although they do give it a lot of effort). Now they question remains for Oneness – do you deny that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are God? Do you deny that there is one God? If not, then you have no choice other than to affirm what the Church has always affirmed. Tim calls this “intellectual tripe”, but is his suggestion not just what he accuses? In what world is a father his own son? How can the Spirit be the Father and then be sent by and from the Father? But this is what Oneness want you to believe. They want you to believe that you really cannot understand what is affirmed in the NT without their special revelation.

Tim writes:
The FALLACY of Trinitarianism is attempting to define God in wholly human terms ..

Here I would really like to know just what terms Tim want’s us to use? Should we use un-human terms? Does he have words that are not used by humans? I think what Tim wants to do here is poke at theological terms such as “person” or “trinity”. What Tim clearly does not realize is that while the terms “person” and “trinity” are useful, they are not essential. In other words it is not the terms that are essential, but the concepts that they communicate. He discloses his objective, which is one of the original protests of early Oneness proponents. The major emphasis of early Oneness proponents was that the word “trinity” is not in the Bible. They leaped to the conclusion that if the term “trinity” is not in scripture, then the teaching that it describes is not in scripture. The reality is that we can relate the orthodox faith without ever using the terms “person” or “trinity.” In fact the Nicene Creed, the foundation of Orthodox faith, never uses either term. Yet every single term of the Nicene Creed is substantiated by scripture, often word for word.

Tim then jumps to another topic:

The FUTILITY of Trinitarianism is adopting the words of Matthew 28:19 as a baptismal formula, instead of using the words spoken by Peter on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38. Removing the name of JESUS from the baptismal formula completely takes away the efficacy of the sacrament of Water Baptism! 

Says who? This is such an odd comment honestly. You would think Tim would at least attempt to string together a rationale for suggesting that a person who obeys the words of Christ has lost the efficacy of the sacrament. Why does Tim think we should take the statement of Peter as an absolute formula, but what Christ says … meh. This is one of the most puzzling claims by Oneness Pentecostals, and I am glad that Tim clearly states their view here. (It is typically veiled in sophistry). He does not even argue that Jesus’ only baptism is valid. He says that if one obeys Christ instead of Peter that they have not even been baptized. So very strange. Now of course he will fix this in typical Oneness form. He will assert that Christ is giving code-speak for Jesus only baptism in the great commission. That what Christ “really meant” was baptize in Jesus name. (But we need to define things outside of scripture?) Imagine standing before Christ in judgment. Christ says “man I am so sorry. You obeyed my words as a command. I really meant it as a secret code. Too bad, now you are lost forever. Got be more clear next time.” But perhaps we should ask Tim which “formula” from Acts and the Epistles we should use? In the name of Jesus Christ, in the name of the Lord Jesus, in the name of the Lord, into Christ, into Jesus Christ, into His death, buried with Him, circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, washed in the name of Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God ect. Which of these mentions of baptism should be recited at baptism? According to Tim, perhaps all except the actual words of Christ. Would being baptized in the name of the Lord save us (Acts 10) but being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit will not … because Tim says so.

Tim succeeded in revealing much folly, unfortunately it was his own. It is interesting how things in a revival meeting surrounded by those who agree with you sound good. But when we bring those ideas to the light, they are seen for what they are – a lot of tradition that is no older than soda pop and radio.


The Vincentian Canon of St. Vincent of Lerins

From Chapter 4 of The Commonitory (aka The Commitorium), AD 434

[ed. Moxon, Cambridge Patristic Texts] *

(1) I have continually given the greatest pains and diligence to inquiring, from the greatest possible number of men outstanding in holiness and in doctrine, how I can secure a kind of fixed and, as it were, general and guiding principle for distinguishing the true Catholic Faith from the degraded falsehoods of heresy. And the answer that I receive is always to this effect; that if I wish, or indeed if anyone wishes, to detect the deceits of heretics that arise and to avoid their snares and to keep healthy and sound in a healthy faith, we ought, with the Lord’s help, to fortify our faith in a twofold manner, firstly, that is, by the authority of God’s Law, then by the tradition of the Catholic Church.

(2) Here, it may be, someone will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and is in itself abundantly sufficient, what need is there to join to it the interpretation of the Church? The answer is that because of the very depth of Scripture all men do not place one identical interpretation upon it. The statements of the same writer are explained by different men in different ways, so much so that it seems almost possible to extract from it as many opinions as there are men. Novatian expounds in one way, Sabellius in another, Donatus in another, Arius, Eunomius and Macedonius in another, Photinus, Apollinaris and Priscillian in another, Jovinian, Pelagius and Caelestius in another, and latterly Nestorius in another. Therefore, because of the intricacies of error, which is so multiform, there is great need for the laying down of a rule for the exposition of Prophets and Apostles in accordance with the standard of the interpretation of the Church Catholic.

(3) Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly ‘Catholic,’ as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality [i.e. oecumenicity], antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.

(4) What then will the Catholic Christian do, if a small part of the Church has cut itself off from the communion of the universal Faith? The answer is sure. He will prefer the healthiness of the whole body to the morbid and corrupt limb. But what if some novel contagion try to infect the whole Church, and not merely a tiny part of it? Then he will take care to cleave to antiquity, which cannot now be led astray by any deceit of novelty. What if in antiquity itself two or three men, or it may be a city, or even a whole province be detected in error? Then he will take the greatest care to prefer the decrees of the ancient General Councils, if there are such, to the irresponsible ignorance of a few men. But what if some error arises regarding which nothing of this sort is to be found? Then he must do his best to compare the opinions of the Fathers and inquire their meaning, provided always that, though they belonged to diverse times and places, they yet continued in the faith and communion of the one Catholic Church; and let them be teachers approved and outstanding. And whatever he shall find to have been held, approved and taught, not by one or two only but by all equally and with one consent, openly, frequently, and persistently, let him take this as to be held by him without the slightest hesitation.

Translation taken from Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. These documents were compiled by Paul Halsall. Also, check out a complete version of St. Vincent’s Commonitory.

This Generation – Who Is It?

One of the most important statements in the Olivet prophecy concerns what Christ calls “this generation.” After warning His disciples of the cost of discipleship, and the coming catastrophe in Jerusalem, Christ closes with this statement – “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”[1] The meaning of this statement is of great importance, and in the minds of Full Preterists, it forces everything Christ describes within the scope of the contemporary audience. The question is whether such a conclusions is warranted? I would suggest that the phrase this generation has a more robust meaning, and this must be considered when exegeting this passage. I would contend that the phrase “this generation” speaks to a perpetuation of a sort of people (wicked/righteous), yet is manifest in the contemporary audience. So when Christ says “this generation”, He is speaking to the contemporary audience in particular, but more broadly to the group they belong to as well.

The concept of the wicked versus the righteous is as old as Cain and Able. In fact, these two brothers (both religious in nature), represent the architypes of this age old battle. We see this as Moses faces off with the magicians of Pharaohs court and Elijah stands down the prophets of Baal. We, in fact, see just such a conflict in the 23rd Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, as Christ stands face to face with the scribes and pharisees. Just like Moses’ rod and Elijah’s fire, Christ puts forth His prophetic word as the seal of His prophetic office. Jerusalem will be judged. It is interesting, however the language that He uses in this prophetic pronouncement.

He says at one point of His rebuke, near the end of His prophetic message:

Matt 23:29 29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt.

This is an interesting indictment, and I believe it sets the context and tone of what follows. Why is it important that they are the “children of those who murdered the prophets”? I suggest that it is because this identifies them in continuity with the wicked generation. They are already admitting a lineage that descends from this wickedness, now they only need to live up to their fathers. Perhaps this draws upon the song of Moses when we read that the people that God had chosen were, in fact, a wicked generation:

They are corrupt and not his children; to their shame they are a warped and crooked generation[2].

And also:

“I will hide my face from them,” he said, “and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful.

Here it is clear that Moses does not mean only the contemporary audience, as his prophecy seems to be an outline of the time of Israel’s covenant. Here the wicked generation is the whole posterity of Israel. Christ calls them, at one point, children of their father – the devil. St Paul says of them, quoting the prophet:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.”

“Their throat is an open grave;

they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood;

in their paths are ruin and misery,

and the way of peace they have not known.”

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”[3]

The important point here is that this cannot be limited to a contemporary audience. This generation is inclusive of all those who had rebelled against God and the covenant. It is all those who made themselves an enemy of truth and loved unrighteousness. This is why Christ can say:

That on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.[4]

Note that He says to them that you murdered Zechariah, son of Berechiah. How could the contemporary audience have murdered this man who many think was stoned to death during the siege of Jerusalem in 598 BC? Then He says “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”[5] How can this be to the contemporary audience only? How could those alive at the time of Christ have killed all the prophets? How could they have murdered everyone from Abel to Zechariah? This is impossible, and it demands that we see this generation in a way that encompasses the contemporary audience, but is not limited to the contemporary audience.

What we see then, is that the contemporary audience is a present-tense manifestation of the wicked generation. They are counted with the “generation of His wrath.”[6] Christ calls them “the children of the world in their generation” and compares them with “the children of Light.”[7] Christ’s indictment reminds us of the challenge that Moses put forth to Israel “who is on the Lord’s side among you!”[8] The sons of Levi gathered to Moses. In the same way the royal priesthood of the New Covenant gathered with Christ, while the rebellious took their place in the wicked generation. What we must take away from this, however, is that this generation is much more than the contemporary audience. It refers to an age-old battle between the seed of the woman and the serpent. A battle that emerges in every age, with that very important generation being a type or icon. The battle is still being waged. Who is on the Lord’s side among you!

[1] Matt 24:34; Luke 21:32; Mark 13:30

[2] Duet 32:5,20

[3] Rom 3:11-18

[4] Matt 23:35,36

[5] Matt 23:37-39

[6] Jer 7:29

[7] Luke 16:8

[8] Ex 32:26

How much healing do you want?

In the Gospels we read of many miracles performed by Christ in regards to healing. He healed the lame, opened the eyes of the blind and unstopped def ears. Christ did these things in fulfillment of messianic prophecy, beyond doubt. Yet, the Lord tells us that there is a greater message in His ministry. In one of my favorite such miracles in scripture, Christ heals a man “born of four”. Men so full of faith that they climb onto the roof, tear away an opening and lower their friend into Christ’s presence. Christ does not disappoint. His words, however, carry a profound message of revelation:

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:4)

Of course this statement causes a stir among the skeptics in the crowd. “Who can forgive sins but God!” they cry. That, however, was the point. God was in their midst and they, like their forefather Jacob, did not know it. Yet here Christ teaches us a lesson about the forgiveness of sins. He shows us that the root of our problem is sin, and that He is the cure.

In another place in scripture Christ asks a man “will you be made whole?” This is an interesting question. This is the man who lays at the pool of Bethesda. But the question – do you want to be made whole? Perhaps not. Perhaps he wants to remain in this condition. Perhaps this is a pretense, a way to cover his secret desire to remain in a broken condition. The answer is important. This is not the only time Christ asks. He asks blind men “what do you want me to do for you?” They are blind Lord – is it not obvious? Their answer matters. Do you want healing? How much healing do you want?

The modern Christian culture has too often been reduced to minimalism. The question has been distilled to this: what is the least thing a person has to do to be a Christian? The answers vary. The steps are debated. But the focus is on when a person crosses the legal line, and what they do not have to do. I imagine such a mentality playing out in an emergency room.

“Sir, what do you need?”

“Well” he says “what is the least thing I need to do to have visited the hospital today?”

The focus is all wrong. The question is not what is the lest thing I need to do to have visited a hospital. The question is what do I need in order to be totally well? The answer to this is everything! You will need it all. You will need all that God has invested in His Church. You will need prayer, mercy, sacrament and forgiveness. The treatment will take a life-time. But have faith! The physician has never failed to heal anyone who submitted themselves to His treatment!

How much healing do you want? How much healing do we need? The question can only be answered by asking ourselves – just how sick are we? How do we compare to the image of perfect wholeness? How do our lives compare to the life of Christ – our Lord and high example. For me the answer is humbling. It would be tragic, if not for the outpouring of mercy that Christ has revealed to the world in His Church. With this I check myself into His great spiritual hospital, and resolve to follow His treatment plan to the best of my ability. I will do this, by His grace, until standing in His presence I hear Him say “thy faith has made thee whole.”

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner+

 

 

How I Study the Bible as an Orthodox Christian.

As an Orthodox Christian I approach the holy scripture in much the same way as my Protestant brothers and sisters do. I believe they are inspired by the Holy Spirit, both in their content and in their canon. I believe they are spiritual, and that they should be approached prayerfully. I believe they are reasonable and can be studied in a rational manner. Proper exegesis and hermeneutic must be applied, and historical context should be considered.

Where I may differ is that I also realize that they can often be interpreted in various ways. I am aware, in fact, that individuals far more learned, and perhaps sincere, than I have come to polar opposite views by appealing to the very same scripture and using rational exegetical and hermeneutical approaches. Because of this, I do not approach the scripture armed first with my own intellect and reasoning. I go there guided by those who have lived the Christian faith, and whose lives are the fruit of it. I read the fathers, and allow them to shape my approach. I give this particular weight when they are in consensus, believing that this is the witness of the Holy Spirit in the Church. I do not hold them infallible, but I do not flippantly dismiss their testimony in favor of my own understanding.

Further, and forthrightly, I cannot believe that the Holy Spirit who inspired the canon failed to inspire the Church in the understanding of it. Thus, when the whole/catholic Church has spoken in agreement, I believe what the Church has bound on earth is bound in heaven. I speak here of the ecumenical symbols of faith, such as the Nicene and Chalcedonian. While some may protest this assertion, I believe such is rational and, in fact, demanded by the scripture and reason.

These things do not restrict my rationality nor force me to cognitive dissonance, rather they provide safety rails as I traverse the, often treacherous, path toward the knowledge of God in Christ that is given so powerfully in holy scripture. I do this precisely because I believe they are God-breathed. No man should take in the breath of God without tremendous gravity. Like the rails and rungs of a ladder, the fathers and the symbols of faith allow me to move upward in understanding. This is how I study the scripture…

Having Not the Spirit …

In the final days of His ministry on earth, with His disciples gathered with Him, Christ told them that they would not be left as orphans. Rather, Christ says, the Spirit of truth “who proceeds from the Father” will come to you and teach you all things. St. Luke gives us more in the prologue to Acts as He has Christ saying to the disciples after His resurrection “but you shall receive power after that the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be witnesses unto me…unto the uttermost part of the earth.” This was fulfilled with thunderous power at the feast of Pentecost, bringing about the birth of the Church and shaking the foundations of history.

Nearly two thousand years later we have modern Christians who, in this way or that, want to deny and limit the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church today. This takes on many forms and is based on many unfortunate ideas. Then end result is the same however, a Church without the Holy Spirit. Perhaps they have forgotten that James told us that a body without the spirit is dead…

The development of this idea is nuanced, and we are compelled to deal with it at its root. Essentially the idea comes from the idea that the scripture alone is the “rule of faith and practice” for the Church. The concept is called sola scriptura and became a major emphasis in the fracture between Rome and early Protestants. The purpose of this stance is to place the writings of the scripture above the authority of the Papacy. In the end, however, it tends to remove the Pope of Rome and make every man his own Pope. This is not to disparage the scripture, which is Holy and Inspired of God, but rather to admit that the scripture has always been in the care of the Church of God. Rather than the scripture alone/sola scripture, prudence, reason and Christian tradition call for prima scriptura or the scripture in first place. To come to a clear and fast point, the same Holy Spirit that gave us the scriptures, gave them to us through the Church. In order to accept the inspiration of the scripture by the Spirit, we must acknowledge that this same Holy Spirit can and has worked through the Church in all ages bringing men into its light. We stand at a crossroads at this point. We must either deny the working of the Holy Spirit in the Church through the ages, or admit that the Spirit abides in the Body of Christ. Sadly, many have taken the former road to the extreme point that they have a Church with no Paraclete, a body with no spirit.

No where is this seen more than in Full Preterist circles.[1] In a recent conversation on social media I was asked whether I believed that the Revelation was the “final testimony of Christ.” To this I adamantly replied no! God forbid! Think of the logical conclusion of such an idea. Paul says to the Romans “how shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall he preach unless he be sent…then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” If the “final witness” was in 70AD, then who could be saved today?

Of course, to this I am sure that they will reply that they refer to a closed canon of scripture. And we do not deny that the canon is closed (but we might ask them when does the canon itself tell us that it is closed? Without the witness of the Spirit through the Church how would they know?) Yet I myself affirm a closed canon of Holy Scripture, but I also just as adamantly affirm the ongoing and ever-present witness of Christ in the life of His Church. In every missionary and evangelist. In every hospital, orphanage and half-way house. In the sacred worship and life of the Church and in the private prayers and devotion of the faithful. In hymns and prayers. In persecution and prosperity. In every time and every age in all of the world, the Gospel is preached and I rejoice. The Holy Spirit is present in every action of the Church – and wherever there is salvation, there is the Church.

Perhaps it is the tendency to reduce the Gospel to ideas and concepts that help foster this unfortunate idea. Perhaps a long history of emphasizing believing the right things, rather than living the right way. Not that what we believe is unimportant (it certainly is), but that Christ says “take up your cross and follow me”. Follow – imitate. Live as I live. Perhaps in such a sterile environment reducing the Gospel and Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ to dusty historical facts seems perfectly natural. Everything is past – fulfilled. And the Holy Spirit confined to prison … like the headless horseman of Ichabod’s night ride, not daring to pass the threshold of 70AD. Ichabod[2] is appropriate to write over such ideas. What does St. Paul say “the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable”! As long as the Church remains in the world, the Tabernacle of God with men, then she will be graced with the Holy Spirit and power. But then perhaps this is why so many deny the Church as well. The 70AD teaching becomes the final resting place of the foul bird of unbelief. No Church, no Holy Spirit and no faith. This is where many have ended up. Shipwrecked on the rocks of error.

I realize the words above are strong, and that there are many teaching the 70AD doctrine that are devout in faith, if misguided in understanding. But I hope to stir you to repentance here. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that if Christ rises not, then our faith is in vain. I challenge that if the Church is no more and the Holy Spirit not with us, then we have no hope in the world. It is time to truly consider the things which we affirm, and turn to sound doctrine from the winds of teachings that toss so many about. May the Lord have mercy…and on me first, the chief of sinners.

[1] Full Preterism is a recent eschatological view that contends that the second advent of Christ is a past event. While some allow some ongoing presence of the Church today, many deny that the Apostolic Church exists beyond 70AD.

[2] In the OT the name Ichabod was said to mean “the Spirit of the Lord has departed.”