The Thousand Years

Adapted from a larger work: They Shall Reign

By William L. Vincent

© 2018 All Rights Reserved

It is important at this point that we discuss the Full Preterist approach to the Thousand Years of Revelation 20. Research and investigation have produced only two such approaches that have any validity or that make any real attempt to deal with the subject. The first one will receive very little of our time, and the reason for this will be forthcoming. This theory is that the Thousand Years begins with the reign of David and continues on until 70AD. While this approach remains consistent to literalism, it has absolutely no other merit and seems absurd and contrived when we look at the actual prophecy. Another reason for our lack of focus on this approach is that it is an extreme minority position. The second approach will receive the bulk of our attention. This is that the Thousand Year reign of Christ is the small segment of 40 years between the crucifixion and the fall of Jerusalem[1]. In all honesty, and with great effort not to be condescending, merely stating this position matter of fact seems to be enough to demonstrate its absurdity.

The defense of such a clearly contrived position originates from the same argument that Preterist-amillennialism appeals to. This being that the number one thousand is symbolic and not a literal number of years. The issue here, however, is not in the use of symbols, but rather how they are used. We do not need to create a symbol to represent something smaller, or more easily grasped, than the symbol. A symbol, by nature, quantifies something more profound than the mere symbol. Yet FPs would have us believe that the phrase “they shall live and reign with Christ a thousand years” in reality means “they lived and reigned with Christ for 40 years.”

            The fact that the FP approach to the Thousand Years is uncompelling is certainly not the lone argument against it. The Preterist hermeneutic and exegesis provides the needed evidence to sit it aside. Essentially what we need to establish is when the Thousand Years begins. In regards to both the Olivet Prophecy and the Revelation, Preterists would assert that it was future, but eminent, to the audience who received them. In particular, they would assert that the primary historical event being predicted is the fall of Jerusalem. This being the case, it seems logical to posit that the events described in Revelation 20 must initiate at, or be in relation to, the fall of Jerusalem. This seems particularly compelling when we consider that the Revelation builds to the judgment of the Great Whore, whom Preterist contend was Jerusalem. If the Thousand Years is initiated in relation to the judgment of Jerusalem, then this means that the events described in the Olivet Prophecy are, in fact, describing the initiation of the Thousand Years, not its end.

It must be noted here that if the fall of Jerusalem relates to the beginning of the Thousand Years, then this necessarily falsifies the Full Preterist claim that all prophecy was fulfilled by 70AD. For at the least we would have prophecy ongoing for a thousand years after the fall of Jerusalem. Thus, if FP is correct in the timing of Revelations, then it is necessarily incorrect in its meaning.

            At this point it will be helpful to look at the Thousand Years, thus Rev 20, exegetically. What we would like to do is to look at the actual content of the prophecy, and determine whether or not it corresponds to the FP assertion (1000yrs = 40yrs), or to the Preterist-amillennialist assertion.

Students of St John’s Revelation know that it is a collection of interrelated visions. While these visions do not follow a chronological sequence, they do tend to progress and build to a climax. Here we will agree with the Preterist position that this climax is the fall of Jerusalem, which the prophecy describes as the Great Whore. At this point we will not spend a great deal of time proving that proposition, as there are numerous works that make that case. We will take for granted, for discussion sake, that the city guilty of the blood of the prophets and Christ is indeed Jerusalem.

The 17th chapter of the Revelation begins a particular vision sequence that builds to the introduction of the Thousand Years, which is related in the 20th chapter. This segment begins with the prophet being invited by an angel to come and see “the verdict upon the Great Whore who sits on many waters”. The pronouncement of sentence continues on until verse 11 of Chapter 18 where there is a transition and the “heavens are opened” and we are shown Christ making war with the gentiles and their kings. We are also told that the beast and kings of the gentiles will make war with the Lamb until He brings them under an iron rule. This segment is distinguished from the previous section in that, while the Great Whore is receiving sentence in the first segment, now Christ and those with Him, focus on bringing the beast, gentiles and kings under subjection. It is also important to note the change in tense. While the Great Whore has been judged, the beast and kings of the gentiles (all who make war with Christ) will be judged in the same way as the Great Whore. What we see then is that the judgment of the Great Whore becomes the opening volley in Christ’s war with all of His enemies. We are assured that the fate of the Great Whore will be that of all enemies of the Lamb. Further, just as those who suffered at the persecution of the Great Whore were rewarded for their faithfulness, those who campaign with Christ will also be rewarded.

This leads us into the 20th chapter where an angel descends and binds the adversary who has been “deceiving the gentiles.” The previous segment has told us precisely who was working to deceive the gentiles, and now this power is bound with a great chain. We cannot help but think here of St Paul’s words in Ephesians 4 “he took captives, and bestowed gifts upon men.” This, in fact, is just what Rev 20 describes, the Serpent is taken captive – bound, and those who had suffered were rewarded. In fact, it says here that the martyrs were “given judgment”. This is important because early in the Revelation the martyrs had not yet received judgment and were told to wait until the rest of the brothers had spilled martyrs blood (6:9-11). Yet here they are given judgment. If the climax of this prophecy is the judgment of the Great Whore, we open with judgment being asked for, and here it has been given, then this must mean that the beginning of the thousand years corresponds to the fall of Jerusalem. It is also important to note that those given judgment were the faithful martyrs, those whom early chapters described as coming through great tribulation. These faithful martyrs are given thrones and reign with Christ. They are also exempt from the power of the “second death”, which is described as not having one’s name written in the book of life. The “rest of the dead” do not come to life until the Thousand Years are finished. So, we have those who were martyred for Christ given judgment over the Great Whore, life with Christ and freedom from the second death. Finally, we are told that the culmination of the Thousand Years will result in a final war, and that Christ will rain down fire on His enemies and cast death and the grave into the lake of fire.

There are a couple of terms used in this chapter that are worthy of our consideration. Those would be the terms “first resurrection” and “second death.” Particularly we are told “blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection, over such a one the second death has no power.” This must certainly be speaking of those who have, and will, receive new life in Christ through the Gospel. The Apostolic gospel certainly proclaims that those who are in Christ have participated mystically in the resurrection. They are said to have “risen with Christ” and to be “walking in the newness of life.” The entire rite of Christian initiation, in fact, follows the path of Christ’s own death, burial and resurrection. The one who converts to the Christian way is buried with Christ in baptism, are rises with Him in faith. He participates in the first resurrection, and because of this the second death “has no power over him.”

What we suggest here is similar to the FP proposition of resurrection. In fact, within the context of the Thousand Year reign of Christ, the FP notions of spiritual/mystical resurrection is quite solid. The Church as a whole has risen with Christ and is seated with Him in the “heavenly realms.” But we must keep in mind what John’s vision teaches us. This is the first resurrection. If there is a first, then there must be a second. Who does the first resurrection pertain to? It pertains to those in Christ, those who are free from the condemnation of the second death. Yet we read that “the rest of the dead do not raise until the thousand years are finished.” Just as sure as there is a first resurrection, there will be a final resurrection for all the dead, small and great.

At the conclusion of the Thousand Years we read of a final battle, a grand finale. The Adversary who was bound in the opening of this vision is loosed for a season. Being loosed he then goes forth to gather the nations in attacking the city of the Living God – the camp of the Saints. While history has taught us that speculation in such matters can lead to flights of fantasy, we should be able to extrapolate some things from this vision. As we have said, this is the final battle. The last showdown between God and His enemies. In the description we see a mingling of imagery. The gathering in rebellion of Babel and the depravity of Sodom and Gomorrah and the perennial enemies of God; Gog and Magog. They traverse the circle of the earth and come to lay siege to the holy beloved city. They are instantly answered with fire out of heaven. We cannot here help but be reminded of the utter destruction of Sodom. Does this describe one event at the end of the ages, or the war that takes place through the ages? Is this a particular manifestation of the spirit of antichrist, or is this the spirit itself taking on its many forms? One thing seems certain, the wars of the Lamb come to a final and swift end.

I would contend at this point that what is being described here is what St Paul calls the “last trump” in 1 Corinthians 15. He teaches us that “we shall not all sleep, but we will all be changed … at the last trump…for the dead will be raised and we will be changed.” Now remember that the “rest of the dead” will not raise until the thousand years have elapsed. This would place the “last trump” at the conclusion of the Thousand Years. Here the phrase “last trump” has a military connotation. It is the last routing of the enemy, weakened and awaiting defeat. I believe this also correlates to the prophecy of Enoch that we find quoted in Jude’s epistle. “Behold the Lord comes amid myriads of His saints. To execute justice upon all and to put every soul to shame for all their works of impiety, which they have committed impiously, and for all the harsh things that impious sinners have spoken against him.” This certainly reminds us of the Logos of God in the Revelation, riding forth in war against the nations and executing judgment upon is enemies. It also brings to mind Paul’s terminology in 1 Cor 15 “He must reign until all His enemies are destroyed…the last enemy is death.” In John 17 Christ prays that, in His ascension, His followers be “with Him to behold His glory.” In Revelation 20 we see them being given this very glory. Then we read that they return with Him to affect His final victory.

What we see then is that the Thousand Years must begin in correlation to the fall of Jerusalem, seeing that at its beginning sentence is given in favor of the saints and martyrs; which for Preterists must be the fall of Jerusalem. Further we see that the saints, who are given thrones, continue with Christ until all His enemies are destroyed. We see that while Jerusalem has been judged, that Christ will go on to conquer those who make war with Him and His Church. Thus, making the fall of Jerusalem the first victory of Christ the Logos over those who hate Him and giving us hope that all of His enemies will also be destroyed. This has been our hope in every age. Whether we were ravaged by the Roman beast, sieged by Muslim invasions, oppressed by Atheist regimes or insidiously encroached upon by modernism and materialism, we have known in every age that all these enemies must fall. We know that He sits at the right hand of the Father until His enemies are made His footstool. We know that to live is Christ, and to die is gain. In the words of one old song “kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there is something about that name.” And I saw heaven opened, and look: a white horse, and the one siting on it called Faithful and True, and he judges and wages war in justice…his name is called the Logos of God…and the armies who were in heaven followed him on white horses…and from his mouth comes forth a sharp sword, so that with it he might strike the gentiles; and he will shepherd them with a rod of iron.” Amen.

[1] While there are several variations of this concept, the variations are inconsequential to the argument against them.

The Until Passages

 

Adapted from a larger work: They Shall Reign

By William L. Vincent

© 2018 All Rights Reserved

One does not need to be around Preterists very long in order to hear of time-texts. These are important texts that Preterists depend on in order to demonstrate that many things prophesied in the New Testament would find their fulfillment “soon”, “at hand” and “before this generation passes.” It could be said that Preterism is built on time-texts. If this is the case, then I would contend its weakness (and error in the case of Full Preterism) are missing the until-passages. Just as time-texts demand a limiting chronological context for their fulfillment, the until-passages also set chronological parameters. But unlike the time-texts, the until-passages expect that a prophecy is unfulfilled until a condition is met.

When we think about how the Kingdom is described by Christ, it is always progressive. A seed is planted, grows and reaches maturity. Leaven is added to meal until it is all leavened. Crops grow, first blade, then stalk and finally mature plants. A mustard seed, He says, begins as the smallest of seeds, but becomes a great tree. Thus we have a beginning, maturation process and a culminating event.

It should not be missed that the Kingdom and the “coming” are intertwined. Those described in the time-text who “would not taste of death” would see the “Son of Man coming in His Kingdom.” But we must remember the nature of that Kingdom. It begins small, grows and finally reaches a point of maturity. One of the mistakes of the Preterism, and Full Preterism in particular, is reducing the “coming” to a singular and instantaneous event. I would contend that what “came” in the first century was something that grew, and grows, until.

The first of the until-passages that we will deal with is found in Acts Chapter 3. Here Peter and John have gone to the temple at the hour of prayer, and healed a lame man. In his sermon St Peter makes the following statement speaking of Christ who had ascended into heaven:

Whom the heavens must retain until the restitution of all things.

This is an important passage for several reasons. First of all, it makes the Full Preterist proposition impossible. It demands that the present state of Christ being absent from the earth is not a permanent and eternal one. No, Christ must remain in heaven, but also must return. This, in fact, is just what we are told that the angels tell the Apostles at the beginning of Acts “this same Jesus who you see ascend will in like manner come again.” The one who ascended must descend.

Typically, the FP camp will contend that Christ reigns in the heavens, which is correct. They would also contend that Christ is present with the Church, which is also correct. Yet all of this is true in Acts 3, yet Peter still says that the heavens will retain Christ until a point in time, and then Christ will no longer be “retained in the heavens.”

A second and important point is the contingency. Christ must be retained in heaven until “… the restitution of all things.” What this means is that as long as Christ is in the heavens, then all things have not been restored. It also seems to indicate that the restitution of all things is an objective of Christ’s being, presently, in the heavens.

Here it is important to point out that the statement about Christ being in the heavens is not arbitrary. This is a phrase that has significant messianic connotations. Christ is not just in heaven, or outer space. Rather, Christ is sitting at the right hand of the Father. He is in the heavens on business. When this business is accomplished, and all things have been restored, then He will return to earth. Further, if all things are accomplished, then there is nothing left to do. No more enemies to conquer and no one to save. This can be no other than the Last Day and this must be the last act of God in regard to the present state of things. Yet Christ remains in the heavens until then.

Another until passage that must be examined is presented by St Paul in the 15th chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians. Here Paul deals with a contention that has arisen in Corinth. It seems that some of them were contending that there was no resurrection. This is an interesting contention, and one can only guess at its formulation and nature. We do not, however, need to guess at the Apostles response. His answer is concise – if Christ was raised from the dead, then how can anyone claim that there is no resurrection? While, again, the details of this debate among the Corinthians are not given, we could imagine a position very similar to that taken by Full Preterists. Surely they could not have denied the doctrine of eternal life, or that those who died in Christ were “with the Lord.” In fact, Paul seems to summarize a major contention of their argument in verse 35 when he charges “some will say how are the dead raised, and with what body do they come?” I would contend here that the Corinthian dissenters were not denying eternal life, but rather the resurrection of the body. At any length, whether that was the Corinthian claim or not, Paul’s reproof certainly sets aside the modern Full Preterist confusion over the resurrection. Christ rose from the dead bodily, and we should expect the same. It is because of this dispute among the Corinthians that Paul outlines the “proper order” of resurrection.

Paul contends that the resurrection will affect all, but that this will come to all in the course of time. Paul says that the “full completion” comes after Christ has “rendered every Authority and Power ineffectual.” He then goes on to give us our until passage. “For He must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet, the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

In the last chapter (see the complete work: They Shall Reign…) we introduced the Thousand Years, and the concept of Christ’s progressive subjugation of His enemies. Here we find Paul adding to this concept. In the Revelation we are told that Christ goes forth to conquer all those who make war with Him – His enemies. Here Paul tells us that Christ must reign until all enemies are placed under His feet – the last is death. We should note that it is at the end of the Thousand Years, and at the judgment of the Great White Throne that death and the grave are cast into the Lake of Fire. Thus the sequence Paul gives us, the “order of resurrection”, fits perfectly with what we suggest as the nature of the Thousand Years. It begins in correlation to the judgment of Jerusalem, and ends when all enemies are destroyed by the conquering Christ, the last being death and the grave.

Now that we have made this connection, we introduce a concept that does major harm to the Full Preterist idea of the “destruction of death”. FPs like to contend that death is destroyed in a “spiritual resurrection”. Yet the body, in their view, remains a corpse in the grave. Yet the Revelation tells us that death AND the grave are cast into the Lake of Fire. Thus, the destruction of death that Paul speaks of to the Corinthians must include the removal of the grave as well as death; spiritual or not. Further, the contention that death had already been destroyed by Christ’s resurrection does not hold true; at least not in the sense that they describe it. That is, while it is true that the raising of Christ from the grave is the event horizon that eventually brings the “order of resurrection” to the whole cosmos, this does not preclude the removal of the grave, as FPs contend. Finally, whatever destruction of death Paul describes has yet to take place, at least in fullness, at the time Paul writes. Paul says that “then will be fulfilled the statement death has been swallowed in immortality.” Then is future to Paul’s writing, yet the resurrection of Christ was past tense. Thus, and again, death had not been destroyed as Paul predicted that it would eventually be in the final act of Christ’s judgment upon His enemies.

Another important until passage is found in Revelation 20. Here we find, as we discussed earlier, that the martyrs and faithful reign with Christ in heaven until the thousand years are finished. Further, that Satan is bound until the Thousand years are finished. Now this brings up an important point of discussion about the nature of the Thousand Years in regard to the duration of Christ’s reign. If the reign of Christ is a “Kingdom which has no end”, then how can the reign of Christ have a conclusion? Here we should note that this is a problem regardless of whether we have a literal or symbolic Thousand Years. How can the reign of Christ end? My contention here will be that it does not. The reign of Christ does not end, but the condition of Christ’s reign, particularly during the Thousand Years, changes. We have already shown that Christ reigns until all of His enemies are destroyed, thus it is only a logical step to imagine that there must be a time when Christ reigns with no enemies remaining. The Thousand Years cannot simply be the reign of Christ, but a particular way in which Christ reigns. The Thousand Years must be the time before the until passages have been realized. This is the time when Christ “reigns among His enemies”, as the Psalm declares. This is the time when Christ reigns in heaven, until the restitution of all things.

It is important to understand, at this point, that the above until passages are derived from a very important messianic psalm (Psalm 110[111]). Here the psalmist writes “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool”. It is in this very psalm that he writes “reign thou in the midst of thine enemies.” This then ties together the previous until passages. The ascension of Christ into the heavens and sitting at the right hand of the Father is inextricably bound to an until culmination. The reign of Christ must be until all enemies are subjugated. Why? Because Christ is invited to sit at the right hand of the Father until His enemies are made His footstool. This was something that the first disciples clearly understood. When they declared that Christ was seated at the right hand of God, they were immediately indicting the enemies that were persecuting them. Further, the fall of Jerusalem, in accord with Christ’s own prophecy was the ultimate sign that “the Son of Man is in heaven.” Christ was seated at the right hand of the Father and the first enemy to fall would be those who had shed the blood of the prophets and martyrs, and Christ Himself. The first to fall, but not the last. “Many shall make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them.” He must reign in the heavens until all enemies are destroyed and all things are restored, the last enemy being death.

So we see that the until passages set the nature and duration of the present Kingdom. While the time-texts may limit prophetic events, in regards to when they can occur, the until passages do quite the opposite. Time-texts specifically define certain aspects of when a prophecy should be expected to achieve fulfillment, until passages deliver the culmination of prophecy to the hands of mystery and Divine providence. It is in this regard that Christ tells His Apostles “it is not for you to know the times and seasons that the Father has set by His own authority.” Or as Christ says on the Mount of Olives “but of that day knows no man …”. What day does He speak of? This must be the Last Day, when all things are restored to God and when Christ returns from the heavens at the restitution of all things. This must be that great and terrible day when the dead, small and great stand before the Ancient of Days and the books are opened. When the saints judge angels. When, after all enemies of God are vanquished, that death, hell and the grave are cast into the Lake of Fire and the Son delivers the Kingdom to the Father. The restitution of all things, when God is all in all. Maranatha.

 

© 2018

 

Sacred Cosmology in the Christian Tradition

Retrieved from: http://www.orth-transfiguration.org/resources/library/orthodox-perspectives-issues/sacred-cosmology-christian-tradition/

The Ecologist, January, 2000

by Vincent Rossi

“Where is the life we have lost in living;
where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge;
where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”— T.S. Eliot

These three poignant questions, penned by T.S. Eliot over a half-century ago, point us directly at the problem of the Christian view of the Creation as we face the new millennium. The Christian conscience has lost its ancient wisdom, and needs to recover it, as an essential and indispensable part of its life.

The Recovery of Christian Cosmology

Many people today are calling for modern religion, and specifically Christianity, to be re-imbedded in the cosmos, so that religion might become a real force in providing the ethical and spiritual energy for the critical task of reversing the degradation of the Earth. A study of the roots of the living Christian tradition reveals that the sense of ‘embeddedness’ in Creation was a very real part of the overall experience of the religion. The early Church, especially in its Greek or Eastern half, but also in the West, transmitted a fully ‘cosmic’ faith. The great saints and sages of the early Church, in their writings, implicitly recognise a fundamental truth, as expressed by G. K. Chesterton: “Religion is not the church a man goes to but the cosmos he lives in.” Chesterton also observed pointedly that “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult, and left untried.”[1] The point of this observation applies as much to the role of Christianity in relinking the Christian to Creation as it does to the more individualistic concerns relative to the salvation of the soul. Indeed, taken to its fullest meaning, the cosmic dimension so characteristic of Eastern Christianity implies that the salvation of the Christian’s soul is directly linked to the manner in which he or she responds to Creation. Far from being ‘anthropocentric’, the Orthodox Christian Tradition, throughout its 2,000 year history presents a world-view that is ‘theoanthropocosmic’.[2]

Religion’s Divorce from the Cosmos

If this ‘God-, Man- and Cosmos-centred’ world-view was so central to the early Church, how did we lose sight of it? While it is not the purpose of this article to rehearse the question of how Western religion got itself divorced from the cosmos, we cannot avoid touching upon it, however briefly. The root of the ecological crisis, according to Philip Sherrard, is ultimately theological. More specifically, it is a theological interpretation of the relationship between God and Creation that separates the created order from the Divine reality in such a way as to remove from Creation all spiritual value and leave only material processes and ‘resources’ to be exploited. The path towards the recovering of the integrity of Creation has been laid out in a number of significant statements from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, of which the following is a good example: “We must recognise the failure of all anthropocentric ideologies, which have created in men and women of this century a spiritual void and an existential insecurity, and have led many people to seek salvation in new religious and parareligious movements, sects, or nearly idolatrous attachments to the material values of this world. Similar are the dangers for the survival of the natural environment. The careless and selfindulgent use of material creation by man, with the help of scientific and technological progress, has already started to cause irreparable destruction to the natural environment. The Orthodox Church, not being able to remain passive in the face of such destruction, invites [us] to dedicate the first day of September of each year, the day of the beginning of the ecclesiastical year, to the offering of prayers and supplications for the preservation of God’s creation and the adoption of the attitude to nature involved in the Eucharist and ascetic tradition of the Church.”[3]

What I wish to suggest in this article is a way to recover the lost cosmic dimension of religion by showing how it might be found again in the Christian tradition. What must be recovered above all is the vision— not only that religion needs to be imbedded in the cosmos, but also that the world is imbedded in God. For it is this loss that inevitably led to the separation of religion from the natural order. In the words of Philip Sherrard: “There is a relationship of interdependence, interpenetradon, and reciprocity between God, Man, and Creation; and it is the loss by the Christian consciousness of awareness of the full significance of this relationship that is a basic cause of today’s ecological crisis. Correspondingly, if the Christian Church is to offer a positive response to the challenge of this crisis, it can only be through reaffirmation of the full significance of this relationship.”[4]

Man’s Divorce from Nature

If the root of this alienation of human nature from the natural order is theological, its tragic fruit has penetrated deeply into all aspects of modem society— political, economic, social, cultural and individual. But it is extremely difficult not to envisage even positive activities in terms that remain separating, alienating and abstracting. By the term ‘environment’ we usually mean ‘the natural world’, or, to use religious language, ‘Creation’. But if we look critically at the word ‘environment’, we will sense a certain abstract quality to it. It separates human nature from non-human nature, and turns non-human nature into an abstraction— something which we believe can be manipulated and controlled for our purposes.

Even with the best of intentions, we have created and are sustaining, a division between the natural world and ourselves— a division that is at the very root of all environmental problems. As Wendell Berry, poet, essayist and farmer, writes: “Abstraction, of course, is what is wrong. The evil of the industrial economy (capitalist or communist) is the abstractness inherent in its procedures— its inability to distinguish one place or person or creature from another. The right scale in work gives power to affection. When one works beyond the reach of one’s love for the place one is working in and for the creatures one is working with and among, then destruction inevitably results. An adequate local culture, among other things, keeps work within the reach of love. The question before us, then, is an extremely difficult one: How do we begin to remake… what will preserve our part of the world while we use it? We are talking not just about a kind of knowledge that involves affection but also about a kind of knowledge that comes from or with affection— knowledge… that is unavailable to anyone in the form of ‘information’.”

The Original Christian Worldview

A study of the lives and writings of the great spiritual masters of the First Millennium of the Christian Church— East and West— will show that a sacred cosmology was integral to the Church’s world-view. Salvation, or deification, as the ancient Church and the Orthodox Church of today calls the process of reconciliation with God, was cosmic as well as personal in scope. It included not only human beings but also everything else in the universe, through the reciprocal relationship of the human microcosm with the macrocosm of the created order.

The self-understanding of the ancient Church— the united Christian faith of the first thousand years— shows a complex and subtle relationship between Church and cosmos. For the sacred cosmology of the early Church— the traces or vestiges of which still can be found in the Orthodox Church today—showed that not only was the Church imbedded in the cosmos, but that the cosmos was imbedded in the Church. St. Maximos the Confessor describes the teaching of his own spiritual master (to whom he refers as “the great elder”) on the Church: “On a second level of contemplation, he [the great elder] used to speak of God’s Holy Church as a figure and image [ikon] of the entire cosmos, composed of visible and invisible essences, because, like it, it contains unity and diversity… in this way the entire world of beings produced by God in creation is divided into a spiritual world filled with intelligible and incorporeal essences and into this sensible and bodily world which is ingeniously woven together of many forms and natures.”

In the new order inaugurated by the Incarnation of Christ, the Church is the new cosmos. The Church is the Body of Christ, which is the new creation. As such, the Church is the destiny of the cosmos. The Church is the cosmos becoming itself, what it truly is to be— its end— as intended by God. The mission of the Church is the mission of Christ, which is the reconciliation, unification and glorification, not only of human beings, but of all things in the universe. But how can this knowledge become an effective force for protecting God’s Creation? This challenge is a form of asking how the knowledge of a cosmically-enlightened ancient tradition actually gives believers the power to transform our world. How, in short, in the Christian tradition does information become knowledge, become wisdom, become transfigured life? The answer to that challenge lies in the nature and method of Christian spiritual practice. The art of Christian Creation-keeping is an aspect of the Christian spiritual way.

Logos and Creation

The fundamental cosmic intuition of the Christian spiritual path is that creation is the manifestation of an order that at one and the same time transcends it, sustains it from within and manifests itself through it. This intrinsic, transcendent, immanent order is the Logos— the eternal son of God. The term ‘Logos’ in Christian theology marries, through the revelation of St. John’s Gospel and the Epistles of Paul, its Greek philosophical meaning of an all-encompassing rational order uniting nature, society, individual humans and divinity into ‘a great cosmos’[5] with the Christian theological meaning of Christ, the Word (Logos) of God, in, through and by whom all things are created and “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). It is thus the supreme ordering principle uniting all levels of being, from the sublimity of the Divine to the deepest density of the mineral kingdom. According to three great Christian masters of cosmological vision, St. Ephrem the Syrian (306-373), Dionysius the Areopagite (circa 500) and Maximos the Confessor (580-662), thereciprocal imbeddedness of cosmos and Church is groundedin the primordial imbeddedness of all creation in God.

St. Ephrem the Syrian

St. Ephrem the Syrian was a great theologian, and one of the greatest writers in the Syriac language, as the following excerpt from one of his hymns shows. “As the water surrounds the fish and it feels it, So also do all natures feel God. He is diffused through the air, And with thy breath enters into thy midst. He is mingled with the light, And enters, when thou seest, into thy eyes. He is mingled with thy spirit, And examines thee from within, as to what thou art. In thy soul He dwells …” Ephrem here represents God as the water, and all creatures as sea creatures. Just like the sea, God both contains and transcends his creatures. He is not only over all things, but also in and around and embracing all things. The separation implied in Divine transcendence never nullifies the unity implied in Divine immanence.

St. Dionysius the Areopagite

St. Dionysius the Areopagite lived in the late fifth or early sixth century. He was a great Christian neoplatonic philosopher, ascetic and speculative genius. Dionysius completes the picture or world-image of the traditional Christian cosmology.[6] His most important contribution is undoubtedly his concept of hierarchy in the cosmos. Dionysius is, as far as we know, the first person in literature ever to have used the word ‘hierarchy’. He seems to have coined the term. This profoundly Orthodox Christian concept is vital for a conception of the cosmos that includes not only the beings and activities of the visible world but also the ‘invisible’ world; beings and activity of the subtle, celestial or angelic worlds, not susceptible of scientific measurement, yet part of the order of created nature. “A hierarchy is a sacred order, a state of understanding and an activity approximating as closely as possible to the Divine.”[7] What does Dionysius mean by “approximating as closely as possible to the Divine”? His very next sentence gives the explanation: “It is uplifted to the imitation of God in proportion to the enlightenments divinely given to it.” According to Dionysius, then, the order, understanding and activity of the hierarchically-ordered cosmos is the sanctifying beauty of the Divine image, revealed simultaneously in the being, in the knowing of and in the activity of the hierarchy. A hierarchy, then, contrary to the popular Church notion, is not a ‘chain of command’; or an organisational chart representing a system of authority that is imposed from above upon a mass of individuals who are not part of the authority structure. To Dionysius, the sacred concept of hierarchy applied not only to the world of angels but to the world of visible nature. To quote from his treatise on the Church, the priesthood and the sacraments, The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy: “We have a venerable sacred tradition which asserts that every hierarchy is the complete expression of the sacred elements comprised within it. It is the perfect total of all its sacred constituents. Our own hierarchy is therefore said to embrace every one of its sacred constituents. Talk of ‘hierarch’ and one is referring to a holy and inspired man, someone who understands all sacred knowledge, someone in whom an entire hierarchy is completely perfected and known.” [8]

In other words, the created order itself— the universe— in the Dionysian conception, is a God-given means of fulfilment, salvation and transfiguration for all its constituent parts or members. This is to say that human beings cannot be ‘saved’ without ‘saving’ the Creation. In Orthodox Christian terms, without the transfiguration of the cosmos, there is no ‘deification’ of human beings. Central to this, is the crucial insight that the purpose of the created order is “to enable beings to be as like as possible to God and to be at one with Him.” In the understanding of the ancient Church, the universe, far from being either an illusion or a vast mindless material force, is a Divine revelation and a sacred means of salvation,enlightenment and ‘at-one-ment’.

St. Maximos the Confessor

1,400 years ago, St. Maximos the Confessor (580-662) brought the ‘Logos’ paradigm to new heights, creating an unsurpassed synthesis showing that all are representatives of one simple and supreme principle, the Logos Principle which underlies the deep structure of the cosmos. For Maximos, the perennial integrity paradigm of the cosmos was self-evident. It was the Church as the cosmic ‘living symbol’; the house of all horizons and perspectives. The Logos is the eternal, which understands, explains and encompasses all. In the words of St. Paul: “In him, we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

The essence of this notion, which Maximos termed diakosmesis is this: all we know about humanity and all we know about the universe are reciprocal. This means that how we see the world depends upon how we see ourselves; and, equally, how we see ourselves depends upon how we see the world. The model we have of the universe depends upon our view of ourselves. This means that we live in a participatory universe of incorporeal and corporeal light where the observer and the observed are intertwined and interactive. This principle is enshrined in Genesis, Chapter One, where we are taught that God made humanity in His own image and likeness as microcosm and mediator. The image is the perfection of all nature, and our nature as God intended; the likeness is the actual state of our nature; the distance between the image of nature— the way God made it— and the likeness of nature— what we have done with it— is the source of all disorder and disharmony in the world. If there is dissonance in this liturgy, it stems from any paradigm of thought or action which enshrines the unnatural disorder and distance between the way things really are according to the Divine creative will; the end to which they are intended (teleology), and what we have made of them and the end to which we actually put them (economy/ecology). There is nothing in the principle of diakosmesis that is superseded by any technological development of the present, including computers and the ‘information revolution’ that would necessitate an all-out effort to find or declare a new paradigm.

St. Maximos, Liturgising the World Let us consider the cosmological and ecological functions of liturgy: the act of liturgising the world. The word liturgy is from the Greek leit-ourgos, which literally means the ‘work of the people’. The Byzantine Church of St. Maximos’ time recognised liturgy as the topos, or place, of the direct link between human knowing and ethical action, with the wellbeing of the cosmos and the metaphysical transparency of things. The insight that the cosmos itself is a vast liturgy is a revelation of the cosmological dimension to the liturgy of the Church. This theoria (contemplation), itself the fruit of natural contemplation (or physiki, in Maximian terminology[9]), leads St. Maximos the Confessor to interpret the Divine Liturgy of the Byzantine Church as sacred cosmology in action. We can clearly see this conception fully expressed in St. Maximos’ commentary on the Divine Liturgy, the Mystagogia. It starts with a section where he presents his image of the universe as a living symbol in which God, the Church, the cosmos, Holy Scripture and humanity are presented as icons— or reciprocal symbols— of one another. He then interprets the actions of the rite of the synaxis (or holy communion) in terms, not only of the life of Christ, but more specifically in relation to the goal of Creation, and most of all, in accordance with the ethical, ascetical, contemplative and mystical transformation of the human soul. The third section is a contemplation that unites the human image, the image of the cosmos, and the Divine image in and through the Primordial Sacrifice of the Logos. Because the human image and the cosmic image are reciprocal in the thought of the Byzantine spiritual master, the inner constitution and condition of the human soul or microcosmos will be seen to have a direct effect on the outer condition and order of the universe or macrocosmos. Clearly, St. Maximos understands liturgy to be the attainment of authentic being in knowledge and virtue, leading to ‘knowledge’, or the identity of knower and known in the experience of truth. This in return leads to ‘love’, or harmony of being and knowing and doing in Man and to peace (hesychia), or fulfilment of the destiny of Man, in which his deification or salvation and the transfiguration of nature are one and the same experience. To St. Maximos the Confessor, authentic liturgy is sacred cosmology in action. The field of the action is the human person as microcosmos, united reciprocally to the macrocosmos, the universe as a whole.

But even the cosmos as a whole is not seen as the spiritually empty universe of astrophysicists and evolutionists, but the universe understood liturgically and reciprocally as a Cosmic Man.[11] “The whole world, made up of visible and invisible things, is Man, and conversely… Man, made up of body and soul, is a world.”

The action of liturgy is twofold: first, the reconstitution of ordinary space and time into liturgical space and time, wherein the valences of eternity are manifest, as Blake’s “infinity in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour.” Second, the transfiguration of human nature by uniting mind, heart, will, soul and body into wholeness, which results in a person whose faculties are energised and oriented toward truth, goodness and beauty in self, neighbour and Earth. This cannot but result in a person capable of genuinely feeling the wrongness of the ongoing destruction of the environment. Enlightened and empowered by liturgy, Mankind’s true work in the world, such a person is thus capable as well of responding with ethical and practical effectiveness toward making the necessary sacrifice that will lead to healing and harmony in person and cosmos.

Liturgy, in its authentically Orthodox sense, is the transfiguration of nature (not just human nature but all nature) through the living symbolism of the sacramental act, which unites man and woman, this present world and paradise, earth and heaven, the sensible and intelligible dimensions of creation in its totality, and, ultimately, the Creation and the Uncreated.

In the conception of St. Maximos, which is the view of ancient traditional Christianity, the liturgy is the Divinely ordained work of the people in which the essence of religion and science is fully embedded in the cosmos because the cosmos is fully embedded in God. Through such liturgy, both the universe as macrocosm and the individual human being as microcosm are transformed, transfigured and deified. This transfiguration and deification is the ultimate destiny of both cosmos and man. Liturgy as sacred cosmology in action is able to accomplish this because of its essence; the communication of and communion with the Archetypal Sacrifice; the very foundation of the universe.

The heart of liturgy is sacrifice, and the purpose of sacrifice is to make holy. Liturgy was conceived as the primary work of all people, and the field of this work was not merely the horizon of the individual soul, but the whole world. The Church was embedded in the cosmos, the cosmos in the Church. The Church’s mission, through the Holy Spirit, was to bring about the reciprocal transfiguration of the cosmos and itself as the New Creation. The responsibility of people on the Earth was and is to liturgise the world, and by so doing, to heal divisions in an ecology of transfiguring light. Clearly, restoration of sacred cosmology at the heart of Christian teaching, is the single most powerful step in an effective Christian effort to reverse the desecration of the cosmos in the next millennium.

Vincent Rossi is an Eastern Orthodox theologian, environmentalist, and founder of Epiphany, a quarterly journal on traditional Christian spirituality. He is also an Associate of World Stewardship Institute in Santa Rosa, California.

References and Notes

[1.] G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With The World, Chapter 5, 1910.

[2.] A term coined by Philip Sherrard. See Human Image. World Image (Ipswich: Golgonooza Press, 1992), Ch. 7.

[3.] Excerpt from the Message of the Primate of the Orthodox  Church Regarding the Church’s Position on the Protection of the

Natural Environment, Phanar, Sunday of Orthodoxy, 15 March 1992.

[4.] Ibid., p.243

[5.] Roy A. Rappaport, Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, p. 349.

[6.] Thomas Aquinas himself quotes Dionysius some 1700 times in his works.

[7.] Celestial Hierarchy 3,1. (PG 3-164D).

[8.] Ecclesiastical Hierarchy 1,3. (PG 3-373C.

[9.] Physiki, or “natural contemplation” is a technical term in the Greek ascetic tradition. It means less the enjoyment of the beauties of nature than a rigorous noetic penetration  into the “living symbols” that are all natural forms.

THE MYSTICAL APPROACH TO THEOLOGY (#7)

This is the seventh post in a series. Click here for part 1.

Do we all worship the same God? Gadadhara Pandit Dasa, a Hindu teacher and author, addresses this question in an article for the Huffington post. He suggests that while there are certainly many differences between the various religious traditions of humankind, there are also many similarities. He says:

I’m not suggesting we close our eyes to the differences that exist in our traditions, but am proposing that we maintain a balanced perspective by looking at both with an open and positive mind.

He goes on to make an interesting point, and one that has stuck with me:

It’s not just religion that is practiced differently by people of the Earth. We have different languages and ways in which distinctive cultures communicate. Does it make any sense to make the claim that one language is better than another?

It has been said that every analogy breaks down at some point, and I am sure that with time we could find holes in this one, but the idea of religion as a spiritual language is certainly an interesting one. Pandit also mentions the variety of food and cultural expressions that are often intimately connected with language. Is it possible that the many religions of humankind are attempting to describe the same things with different spiritual languages?

To visit the original question for a moment, are we all worshipping the same God? If several people were selected at random to have dinner with the President, it is possible that each of these people would have a different impression of this same person. This would be affected by each individual and their own life experiences. Was this the Presidential candidate they voted for? Do they agree with his policies? Are they socially awkward? Perhaps they enjoy social interaction and feel very comfortable. Based on this scenario it is possible that each individual would come away from this encounter describing the same person in very different ways. We are here reminded of the parable of the three blind men who encounter an elephant for the first time. One takes the trunk and proclaims “it is like a snake.” The next disagrees, grabbing the legs he says “it is like a large tree.” Finally the last grabs the tale and says “it must be a very small creature.” The moral of the parable is that based on our limited perception, we can each have a very different view of the same things. In ancient times people thought the world was carried on the back of a large elephant. Then they revised this view to describe the world as a sort of dinner plate floating in a large, perhaps infinite, ocean. This gave way to the idea that the Earth was a sphere and that the sun, moon and stars orbited it. Finally we have the heliocentric model. Are each of these models describing a different universe? Or are they describing the same universe in different ways? Perhaps some descriptions are better than others. Perhaps some are coming from a different perspective and would be like comparing apples and oranges.

St. Justin Martyr observes:

We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them; and among the barbarians, Abraham, and Ananias, and Azarias, and Mishael, and Elias, and many others whose actions and names we now decline to recount, because we know it would be tedious. So that even they who lived before Christ, and lived without reason, were wicked and hostile to Christ, and slew those who lived reasonably.

St. Justin tells us here that the seeds of the Logos, Divine Wisdom, were planted in every race and in every people. He even says that those who lived in accordance to Wisdom were indeed Christians, even though they were perhaps thought of as atheists. This is an interesting perspective indeed. St. Paul seems to agree with this assertion:

Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Rom 1:19,20

Then again:

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. Rom 2:14,15

If it is true that there is one Ultimate Reality, Ultimate Source … one True God, and this has been revealed to all mankind through creation and the seeds of Divine Wisdom, then perhaps the various religions are trying to describe the same thing. If we affirm, as does the Divine Liturgy that “you are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same … ” then perhaps we need to distinguish the spiritual language of culture and ritual from the ideas they are trying to convey. This sort of understanding is certainly important when trying to communicate across religious traditions. I think it is also important when we attempt to understand our own approach to God. Our religion and tradition is a language through which we communicate with God, and more importantly, through which God communicates with us. We will discuss this more in the next post…

 

How Many Seeds?

The Pauline corpus is nearly a treatise of Christian mysticism. Of course here when we speak of mysticism we do not speak of magic and fairies, but rather the personal encounter with the Divine that one may experience through sacred ritual and revelation. This is not to say that Paul invents this mysticism, but rather Paul, like no other New Testament writer, expresses it. It is Paul that teaches us that the baptized “put on Christ.” That it is through the bread and wine of the Eucharistic feast that we become “one body” and participate in the Divine office of priesthood. If one takes an objective look at Christianity, particularly that which is expressed by Paul, one would have to admit that it is mystical – and this from first to last.

An exhaustive treaty of the Christian mysteries is beyond the scope of this article, but it is a needed concept to introduce the point of this article. This being a text that I would contend is the cornerstone of Pauline mysticism and theology. This text is Galatians 3:16:

16The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say, “and to seeds,” meaning many, but“and to your seed,” meaning One, who is Christ.

While this passage is quite straight forward in its wording, it is often overlooked in its meaning. Paul does not mince words. The seed to whom all the promises were spoken was not the “many” but rather the “one”. Least the point is missed he clarifies “and to Thy Seed – which is Christ.” This a profound and, again, mystical statement. It is profound because it captures and defines essential terms that relate to prophecy and the nature of God’s Covenant with Israel. Whatever promise might have been extended to Abraham, Paul posits, were given to one singular individual – Christ. This one point is so utterly important that the rest of Pauline theology rests upon it. Paul consistently argues several points throughout his epistles. He argues that all of Israel had sinned and fell short of God’s glory. In the opening of Romans, in fact, he shows that both Jew (those who had received the Law and Covenant) and Gentiles, those outside of the Covenant, had sinned. He speaks specifically to “the Jew” in this epistle. His point: that “all have sinned” and that “none is good, no not one.”

The above Pauline contention is important because it essentially disqualifies the entire people from receiving the blessing promised to Abraham, and the inheritance of the Prophets. A sinning Israel cannot be blessed with Abraham. Yet they had sinned, and sinned to the fullest. Crucifying the very “Lord of Glory” and demanding that the blood of the Just One be exacted upon them. Israel, according to Paul, was not just disqualified, they were in line for the most severe of judgments. This is not a lone sentiment from Paul, it was the commissioned Apostolic warning from the beginning:

“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross…Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Here Peter preaches the message at Pentecost, and this is the tenor of the Apostolic preaching which the Jews claimed was intended bring the guiltiness of blood upon them:

“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” Acts 5:28

Christ Himself proclaims that the present generation was “guilty of all the righteous blood shed”. Why? Because they would kill the Just One and bring condemnation upon themselves through unbelief. It is to this Paul speaks in Romans 11 when he says says “God did not spare the natural branches”, he adds that they were “they were broken off because of unbelief.”

Therein lies the dilemma, the tension, of Pauline mysticism. The entirety of God’s Covenant with Abraham, a Covenant that was promised to bless all people, was in jeopardy. There was only one obedient Son of Abraham, and only one of his descendants worthy to inherit the promise. Paul says:

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. Gal 3:16

The entire Covenant and promise of God to Abraham came to one obedient Son – and they killed Him:

Finally, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and take his inheritance!’ Matt 21:37

What a dark day when they laid the hope of Israel and all mankind in a tomb and covered Him with a stone. The promise was crucified and buried. Yet, God’s Word cannot be bound – death could not hold Him. On the third day Christ rose again and Israel rose from death with Him:

“He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day,That we may live before Him. Hosea 6:2

Christ is the true heir, the one Seed of Promise. Risen from death and forevermore alive. Israel has risen in Christ. The branches had been broken away, but just as Aaron’s rod, that which was dead sprung to life:

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. Isaiah 11:1

Israel is risen in Christ, the Covenant is established forever because he lives forever. Yet we hear the cry of the ancient prophecy “who will declare His generation, seeing that He is cut off from the living”? Yet even in the prophecy we are promised that “he will see his offspring and prolong his days.” How would Christ have any offspring having been crucified and never having any biological offspring? We are given a clue in the Petrine epistle:

For you have been born again,not of perishable seed,but of imperishable,through the living and enduring word of God. 1 Peter 1:23

Here we see a concept of progeny that has nothing to do with biology. A lineage that is not dependent upon corruptible seed, but rather on the “enduring word of God.” Paul confirms this in Romans 4:

 

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. Rom 4:16,17

Here Paul declares the offspring of Abraham to be those who are of the faith of Abraham. Notice that Paul asserts that “God gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.” This reminds us of the words of John the Baptist:

 

9And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. Matt 3:9

God may call those things that are not as though they were. God may speak life to that which is dead. God may raise up from the stones children unto Abraham. Not only does God not need corruptible, biological seed, Peter tells us that this is emphatically not how we are born into God’s family. We are born again through the abiding word of God – the declaration of God. Paul quotes the Old Prophecy:

25As He says in Hosea: “I will call them My people who are not My people, and I will call her My beloved who is not My beloved,” and, “It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” Rom 9:25,26

We are here reminded of the words of Mary when she asks “how shall these things be seeing that I know not a man?” The angel replies “the Holy Spirit shall come upon you.” Surely this is the tone to which all the Gospel and Covenant is sung. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God” Paul contends. This promise would not be through human will and sexuality, it would be by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We should be convinced that God, who gives life to the dead, could give life to those dead in sins. Particularly Israel who had been cut off from the Covenant for their sins; culminating in crucifying the very Christ. Israel was dead in sin beyond doubt, but God was able to raise them from the dead:

12And having been buried with Him in baptism, you were raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead. Col 2:12

Paul invokes the mystery of marriage. In his epistle to the Ephesians he says:

31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32This mystery is profound, but I am speaking about Christ and the church. Eph 5:31, 31

Through faith we are married to Christ, and become one with Him. Paul says:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:27,28

It is through the mysteries of the Christian faith that those of us who were dead are joined to Christ and made one with His body. We are the Bride of Christ. We are “bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh.” Because we are joined together with Christ, then we become joint-heirs with Him of the promise:

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17And if we are children,then we are heirs: heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ — if indeed we suffer with Him, so that we may also be glorified with Him. Rom 8:17

So then the dilemma is solved. Israel’s hope was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and rose again on the third day according to the scriptures. Israel’s hope died with Christ, and rose with Christ. Christ who calls all men to Him. To be joined with Him in Divine marriage and to inherit the promised blessing of Abraham. The Seed has been blessed and multiplies unto the number of the stars of heaven and the sand of the sea shore. Amen.

After this I looked and saw a multitude too large to count, from every nation and tribe and people and tongue, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried outin a loud voice: “- Salvation to our God, who sitson the throne, and to the Lamb!” Rev 7:9,10

The Sweet Lie of Rationalism

A recent conversation provided the catalyst for this article. I was discussing with an individual who stated that they no longer believed anything. They insisted that they only held as true what they knew to be true. According to this very sincere individual they could never “force themselves to believe” anything. I must admit that the proposition sounds appealing – down right rational. Of course we should never believe anything – we should only hold as true that which we can prove. Excellent idea! Right?

Most of the Western world today is caught in this social tug-of-war match between religion and science. Each side is convinced that their propositions are truth, and that their propositions invalidate those of the other side. As a result of this we have scientists making statements about religion and philosophy and religious individuals making theological claims about science. Of course between the two extremes are a variety of claims and views, each one asserting that they alone have the absolute perspective that can be verified to be truth. If we were to take a step back from this situation, it would seem rather odd to an outsider. How can so many people hold to some many contradictory points of view and each claim that their view is substantiated by evidence – nay fact? This applies equally to the Young Earth Creationist, the Theistic Evolutionist and the hard line Material Naturalist. Each group believes that their position is the rational position.

Perhaps one of these groups are correct. Perhaps one of them has the truth and the other groups are false. This is what rationalism leads us to, and what empiricism demands. This could be true, but it leads us to the problem of statistical probability. I am not a number cruncher, but it seems to me that if we demand that one rational position be the absolute truth, and that all other propositions are false, then we run into a high degree of unlikelihood that anyone could luck up upon the “truth”. Further, no one seems to be less convinced of their points than those who hold polar opposite views. Seeing that each rational view makes up only a small percentage of all views, and all views are equally held as rational by all those holding them, we are left with a conundrum. Of course each of these rationalistic views will contend that it is fear, cowardliness, greed, ignorance ect. that drives the blindness of their opponents. Yet again, however, this accusation is levied equally by all sides.

What the above seems to point to, quite painfully, is the utter inability of we humans to come to a rational formula for truth. We can measure material attributes, but that is not really determining truth. For instance I can list all the physical attributes of a painting, but I cannot say why or why it is not a masterpiece. Why is music beautiful? To answer that question is just as impossible as to ask “why is it wrong to murder”? The multitude of moral and ethical dilemmas we encounter and the plethora of ideological concepts we need to filter are simply out of the grasp of rationalization. This is not to say that there is no truth, such is absurd. It is to say that our rationalism is limited and can never take us to the point of truth.

We are utterly dependent upon our sensations to evaluate the world. Yet, when one studies the science of sensation and perception we find that they are not as dependable as we would like to think they are. Our senses are affected by our beliefs. Studies have shown that people see what they believe they should see. The brain is often filling in and creating images in our mind based on both distal stimulus and top-down processing. In other words what we perceive to be true is a combination of sensation and our beliefs and experiences. Further the raw data of our very senses are suspect. Did you know that you have a blind spot in your eye? ( Click here for an example. ) If you click on the link you will see how that your brain fills in portions of the grid for you. Which leads us to ask: how often is your brain filling in for you? The answer is – a lot. Our senses are not perfect, our ability to deduce truth is flawed and biased. So how do we ever think we can establish truth based on such faulty equipment? The answer is that we cannot.

Western society has bought into the idea that truth and reality can be measured in a lab or reasoned out by scientific thought. The result of this is that we are a very confused and unhappy society. This leaves us with a view of the world that cannot even acknowledge things that are essential to human existence. Beauty, art, faith and religion are all intuitive and mystical ways of seeing the world. They are things that we need to thrive. You cannot test them empirically, you must believe them. We are afraid of paradox. Afraid of not knowing or admitting that we may never know. Not in the way we can know the temperature of water, or the weight of steel. Western society is starving for the mystical. Starving for the bread of life that is embodied in the beliefs, rituals and rhythms of ancient times. Yet like a child that insists on dressing itself, Western society cannot partake of the food it desperately needs without being able to fit it into its neat rational little box. It’s time we embraced the mystery of the cosmos and our own existence again. Its time we allow ritual and rhythm back into our lives. To look at the world through the eyes of the mystic and embrace our true humanity. To do any less is perhaps the most irrational thing of all.

 

Making The Bible: Why the mere existence of the Bible damages the proposition of Sola Scriptura.

Sola Scriptura – the scripture alone. This is the mantra that embodied the failed attempt of Protestants to reform the Roman Church and eventually led to the chaos of the thousands of denominations that we have today. It seems such a noble sentiment, as we have written before. However as is so often stated “the proof is in the puddin” – and in the case of Protestantism the “puddin” has outdone Baskin Robins’ with it’s numerous flavors.

The point of this article however is not to rib Protestants, but to take a look at the idea of Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura is not just an approach to the scripture, it is a philosophy. It is the framework of the Protestant world view. We could at this point take the time to look at just how this worldview has failed the West and left us on the brink of social and spiritual anarchy, but here I want to take a more practical approach to the subject. I want to essentially ask a very rational question: why should anyone believe the Bible to begin with?

I will allow you to wipe the saliva from your chin and close your mouth, and then revisit the question: why should anyone believe the Bible? Here we are in the rational West. Here, where we are given the catechism of empiricism. Here where we need evidence of everything, why is it that Protestants accept off-hand that the Bible is better than the Bhagavad Gita? “It is the inspired Word of God” you shout. But why do you believe that? I must admit that this was a perplexing question for me as a young Evangelical minister. I could tell you what I believed about the Bible and give the logical arguments for those beliefs, but I really had no reason to accept the Bible as having any authority. After all, who says that the Bible is the Bible? Who says what texts have spiritual authority and which texts do not?

Now to confuse the issue a bit more, a look at christian religious texts from the first centuries of the Christian era will reveal that there were many, many more texts that did not make it into the scripture than those which did. These range from very respected writing like the Didache (which nearly made into the canon), to the wild-eyed writings of Sethian Gnostics. We could fill a book shelf with Bibles if they all had been admitted. Yet only 27 books were chosen for the New Testament. The question remains why?  When I was a child I remember the most angry my father ever got with me was when I tossed a Bible flippantly in the corner. I was told that the Bible was holy and should be respected. Yet where did we get that idea from?

There are times when Protestant Christians act as if the Bible floated down out of heaven on a cloud (perhaps somewhere in the mid-west). The Bible is a book with a history and a tradition. Christians venerate (honor) it because it has been handed down from one generation of Christians to the next from the days of the Apostles. We believe it is holy because those who gave us the Christian faith also gave us the Bible and told us that the Bible was holy. This however creates a problem for those who hold to Sola Scriptura. If you contend that one should abandon sacred tradition and hold only to what we can derive from the scripture alone, then we would have no reason to accept the scripture. It is after all sacred tradition that vindicates the Bible.

You cannot amputate the scripture from the tradition that handed it down to us. You cannot venerate the Bible and at the same time disparage the Christian Fathers that preserved its writings for us. You cannot suggest that the Church fell into apostasy and then use those very people to substantiate the sacred text. It is for this very reasons that the existence of the Bible makes Sola Scriptura untenable. We have a Bible because of sacred tradition, not in spite of it. The scriptures were never alone, and they never should be.

Reaching the Limits of Science

The scientific revolution represents a pivotal moment in human history. While the term science essentially originates from a Latin term that means “knowledge”, what science would ultimately ask is this “what is truth?” Whether or not it was realized, this was precisely what the minds of the scientific revolution were asking. What presented itself as a uniform method of measurement in regards to physical realities became a measure of what truth is, and how it is defined. The scientific revolution, riding the wave of humanism of the Renaissance, stands boldly forth and points toward a world of ultimate truth and clearly defined laws. In time Sir Isaac Newton’s mechanics would measure the world of human existence. Life itself would be reduced to a formula; testable and repeatable. The mysteries of the universe were within the grasp of humankind. The riddle nearly solved.

Certainly all things pointed favorably to such a conclusion in those early days of scientism. Newton, as mentioned, had given the world the laws of motion. Darwin coming along a couple of centuries later would give the world a mechanical means to explain living diversity. The world must have appeared to thinking minds of that time like a puzzle with only a few pieces missing. Within a few decades surely even those pieces would be filled in by science; the bright and shining star of the modern era. The material progress of science only helped to bolster such conclusions. The efficiency it produced, the amazing wonders it performed! Science was magical. Men were born into an era where what they imagined as impossible became mundane by the time of their demise. Utopia within our reach – Eden ours to conquer.

Yet while humanity looked forward with such hope and lofty aspirations, it failed to look behind to the carnage in its wake. The brilliant efficiency of the industrial revolution was borne on the back of immense human suffering in the ghettos of the common laborers in Europe. The amazing speculations of Darwin, led to the arrogance of genocide and social narcissism; the will to power. Imperialism spread European humanism globally, yet these efforts at civilization ran red with the blood of those who were marginalized by it. Rather than a humanistic utopia, what humankind created was a version of gehenna smoldering with the burning remains of our collective soul. Where was the promise of science? Where was the confident surety? Further examination caused Newton’s mechanics to unravel. Quantum mechanics sounded like scientific sarcasm. Perhaps the Creator’s practical joke on His arrogant children. The mystery loomed larger than ever – the gaping abyss before mankind. The mystery remained, yet the hopeful soul of mankind had been long abandoned. Birthed from this era was a disgruntled humanism. A skepticism born of abject failure. Believe nothing.

Perhaps the abject failure of scientism in regards to human morality and spirituality (the blame for which was ironically laid at the feet of religion), was based in part on its immature desire to amputate itself from the human experience that gave birth to it. Science in some ways has become the prodigal son and religion the patient father. With premature arrogance the scientific revolution renounced the ignorance of religious mystery in favor of the sure thing of rationalism. Yet like the delinquent son of parable, it soon found itself indulging in the dregs of moral failure. A failure from which society has yet to recover.

Will the scientific community “come to itself” – awaken? There is hope. Science is nearly spiritual these days. While fields like biology hold doggedly to material naturalism, others fields seem to have the naivety to speak with nearly childlike boldness. Mysterious fields like quantum physics and consciousness theory are saying things out loud that sound strangely close to forgotten ways of looking at the world. What is old is new again. Yet there is a chasm between these two worlds, ancient and modern, created by centuries of willful disconnection on the part of science. Science at times seems to be rediscovering truth without realizing that it is doing so. Perhaps the prodigal has begun its journey home. One would pray it is so; what glories await its homecoming…

Does Fulfillment Equate to Futureless?

Futurism. A term that has become pejorative in preterist circles. While there are many things that preterists disagree on, one thing it seems that all agree on is that futurism is bad. But what is the basis of that assumption? Typically when discussing preterism, the key apologetical points revolve around what was fulfilled in the first century. To arrive at the preterist position it is essential to establish that chronological events of the first century directly correlate to prophecy. In most cases these are the very same events that so-called Futurists say have yet to be fulfilled. Preterism to some degree becomes nearly the mirror image of futurism, and this leads to a tendency to dismiss everything in the New Testament as being fulfilled without qualification. This is however a lazy hermeneutic, and yields down right odd results.

Is the broad-brushed dismissal of ongoing and future implications of the New Covenant warranted? The contributions of those who have taken this approach have produced little to substantiate such a claim. Yet in spite of the weaknesses in their approach, and the mountains of supposition that are used to substantiate claims, we are still given a list of propositions that seem utterly absurd prima facie. Are we to believe that the events of the first century leave no covenant body, no ongoing actions of the Holy Spirit, nothing to instruct or guide our present age? Are we to believe that the entire witness of scripture is to take us in an arbitrary circle back to the days of Judges 21:25 where “every man did that which was right in his own sight”? Was random spirituality really the ultimate purpose of the Christ? The same Jesus that says “this generation shall not pass” also says “upon this rock I will build my Church.” The same Jesus that says “some standing here shall not taste of death until they see the Son of Man coming in power” says “my words shall not pass away.” The version of fulfillment presented by some seems more like failure.

Lets consider the situation a moment. What took place in the first century? Did time and space cease to exist? Did the physical laws of this cosmos give way to a new supreme physical order? No. Was there any indication of a mass “rapture” of Christians? No. Did humanity suddenly come to a grand revelation of God by which all men everywhere are now fully enlightened to His majesty and power? No. So what actually happened? A religion was born. I know in our present climate of “religion is bad”, the idea that the results of Christ coming was establishing a religious movement seems distasteful. But from a strictly empirical standpoint, this is what was produced. I could perhaps choose other terminology and put some frustration to rest. Perhaps if I had written “a new spiritual path was born” or “the supreme spiritual path was revealed.” Perhaps this phraseology would seem more in line with our cultural climate. However one might phrase it, what came from the first century was Christianity. Which makes it difficult to understand why so many reject out right the one thing that we can point to as emerging from the events of the first century. Two things beyond question take place in the first century: the Temple in Jerusalem falls and the Church emerges to a level that the Mosaic system never came close to achieving.

Is fulfillment futureless? I suppose we might need to ask what fulfillment is. It cannot mean the end of time, a secret rapture or even an instantaneous, perfect revelation of all God is to all humankind. Because we see no evidence of any of that from the first century. The only thing fulfillment can possibly be is something pertaining to the initiation of a religious/spiritual movement. In fact this concept of restored order and renewed priesthood is woven throughout the New Testament. The believers are a royal priesthood, made kings and priests unto God. The New Covenant is the restored order of Melchizedek; with Christ its high priest. The Christians are the “tabernacle of the Holy Spirit.” They are a house being built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets. The Church is the New Jerusalem and Heavenly City. The New Jerusalem is not going into heaven, but coming down from God out of heaven. What is spoken over it? “The tabernacle of God is with men!” God with us. This is the beginning prophetic announcement of the New Testament, and the vision by which it is concluded.

I would then contend that fulfillment is not only not futureless, but that it in fact demands a future. The Kingdom is a mustard seed, leaven, salt and light. It infiltrates, changes and grows. It is a spiritual institution that has been commissioned to remain in the earth and to enlighten the world. The nature of the Kingdom – the Church – may be a subject for discussion, yet its reality is undeniable. This particularly for those who contend for a first century fulfillment. The emergence of the Church – His Body, is the only tangible evidence of the coming of Christ. Christ came in flesh, and then came to the world in His Body the Church. This is the only tenable position for fulfillment. Fulfillment then secures the future, it does not eliminate it.