How does God work with man? The age-old questions of providence and free-will usually lead into the same dead-end. I find Moses’ account of the post-Fall actions of God interesting. Moses does not armchair philosophize what happened or insert a didactic section on God’s ways with man—obviously it’s not his intention in the account. The Lord sees that man has “become like one of us in knowing good and evil” and to prevent the eating of the Tree of Life God sends Adam and Eve out of the garden and bars the way back in. In this case at least the Holy Trinity does not simply will a thing; actions are taken to prevent what Adam and Eve would probably have done next. The Lord knows what actions these creatures of His will take and acts to prevent them and begin the road to redemption via the seed of the woman.
I never noticed this until recently: Eve did not receive the name “Eve” until after the Fall, prior to that she is simply called “Woman.” I don’t grasp the significance of this. John Sailhamer does say of the incident:
“This was the second time Adam had named his wife. The first name given to her pointed to her origin (“out of man”), whereas her second name pointed to her destiny (“the mother of all living.”).”
It is also true that the serpent is not identified further by Moses and is in fact identified as one of the ‘beasts of the field” made by God. The identification of it as Satan is not made from the Genesis text. It seems the identification of the serpent as Satan is made by John in the Apocalypse: “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan,”
Some further confirmation of what I was saying about the term “evangelical”;Christopher Hitchens writing in the August 2003 issue of Vanity Fair:
“Gerson is loosely describable as a Christian “evangelical,” a term of art in the religion business that has no known definition. (Approximately speaking, an “evangelical” Christian is one who really believes this stuff and wants to share the good news.)
“Rarely did the self-denying principles of their own theology check the hubris of the elect. They did not usually act as if they believed what their own theology said about the huge gap between divine omniscience and human finitude, nor did they seem to really believe their own claim that even believers continued to abuse the gifts of God for idolatrous, selfish ends. Rarely were the Reformed as sharp-eyed to catch their own compromises with worldly reasoning as they were to pounce upon the inconsistencies of Roman Catholics, Lutherans, or rival Reformed communities.”
Mark Noll in America’s God
I think the term “evangelical” is almost meaningless. It needs to be replaced or removed from use. I believe it has replaced “Protestant” as the definition most Protestant Christians give if pressed as to what kind of Christian they are.
Roger Olson in his book The Story of Christian Theology discusses Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley and says: “While Calvinist evangelicals hold Edwards in higher esteem, Arminian evangelicals tend to tout Wesley as a paradigm.” What can he mean by “evangelical” in this case? Olson goes on to say of Edwards and Wesley, “They rejected sacramentalism, confessionalism and religious rationalism in favor of conversional piety, faith as trust and not merely assent, and belief in a supernatural God who works immediately in the world in often mysterious ways.” So “evangelical” equals no confessions, ‘ordinances’ instead of sacraments, conversion and a belief in the supernatural? In America’s God Mark Noll mentions a definition of “evangelicalism” from British historian David Bebbington and says, “It stresses four characteristics: Biblicism (or reliance on the Bible as ultimate religious authority), conversionism (or an emphasis on the new birth), activism (or energetic, individualistic engagement in personal and social duties), and crucicentrism (or focus on Christ’s redeeming work as the heart of true religion). But as Bebbington and all other students have noted, evangelicals always appeared in countless variations.”
D.A. Carson in a section of The Gagging of God where he tries to define evangelical says “It may be, as some have suggested, that the term will eventually so lack definition as to be theologically useless–” I agree, it is useless. You could say there are “Christians” and define that term. Or say “Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox” and I think things would get clearer. You could say “Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist” etc. and maybe that would help. But I think overall that beliefs AND practices of churches are so muddied these days that it is hard to differentiate at all. If I visit a local Calvary Chapel, Vineyard, or Evangelical Methodist Church what is the difference? The same with Baptist, Presbyterian, and Nazarene; most often the only difference is worship style and by that I mean music.
I think if we all stopped and defined our terms better it might help further the discussions amongst fellow Christians and actually speed reunification of the church rather than using muddy terms like “evangelical” which leave all sides unclear and frustrated about what the other believes. I am willing to extend the right hand of fellowship to all Christians of whatever stripe, but we need to be honest about where we disagree. I’d like to coin a completely new term that might help clarify things for everyone but I am at a loss.
Simon Peter writing in his second epistle instructs the saints to “…make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,” I take virtue here to stand for some form of moral excellence and right living. Verses like this (and Ephesians 4.29, 5.9-12) seem to me to militate against certain Reformed understandings of ‘liberty of conscience.’ I grew up in an environment where cursing, smoking, drinking, listening to ‘secular’ music, etc. were all viewed as great sins to be avoided. This tended to legalism and did not necessarily have Scriptural mandate. However, it did foster a sense of the holiness or “called-out-ed-ness” of Christians. A Christian in other words did not look like the world, listen to the same things, watch the same things, etc.
Some time later I became Reformed and suddenly it seemed like ‘anything goes’ was the attitude if something was not forbidden by a direct command in Scripture: listen to whatever, watch whatever, drink and smoke, as long as you didn’t violate Scripture, you were ok. I have a hard time believing that Calvin, Bucer, Zwingli, Luther, or anyone else would condone watching the trash on TV and the big screen that we watch these days or listening to what we listen to, but I guess that’s not the issue.
It seems to me that the clear directives of the NT forbid the kind of intake of trash that many in the church (not just the Reformed world) now accept as ok. Many non-denominational churches with their quest to be relevant open themselves up on the same fronts of music and movies that Reformed folks do. While I’m sure that legalism can thrive in places where R rated movies are forbidden, it does seem to me that the individual Christian should actively seek to set before their eyes and ears what is encouraging Christ-likeness and not worldliness. It can be hard and tedious I know, but isn’t that part of our transformation?
I guess I just see a lack of thirst for holiness in many quarters of the church and in my own life. And this lack of drive can be easily papered over by “liberty” and “freedom.” I am not advocating Wesleyan legalism but I do think Christians need to examine their consciences, and see if perhaps the voice of the Spirit has been blunted and His influence quenched in the areas of media in our lives.
“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”
Is the history of Second Temple Judaism any guide to the current situation of the church in the world? In that day there were Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, philosophers like Philo, accommodators like Josephus, zealots, etc. There was no one party that was outwardly “the one true Israel.” There seems to have been believers amongst many of the parties–Joseph of Arimethea, and several of the Pharisees who later believed, Anna and Simeon, Simon the zealot, Levi the tax-collector, etc. And Jesus himself granted a teaching authority to those who sat in the seat of Moses. The Temple was the institution that united most of these factions (not the Essenes) in a common worship. And then Jesus came and redefined who Israel is and the Church, the new Israel, was born in His resurrection.
In our own day there are something like 20,000 plus denominations in the West. And of course there are the monoliths of Rome and the Orthodox claiming to be the true church in a visible and institutional sense. In light of our Lord’s prayer for unity this is unacceptable. Subjectively I would view the explosion of Pentecostal believers worldwide as a rebuke to claims from Rome or any Orthodox See that they are the one true church in visible form. Conversely, the complete ignorance of many Protestant and Pentecostal groups of history and liturgy, as well as an extremely low view of the sacraments, is unacceptable. I can say from personal experience at a large Calvary Chapel where I don’t believe we took communion once in the main Sunday morning service that an extremely low view of the sacraments is prevalent. I believe communion was given once in awhile on Sunday nights at that Calvary Chapel. This kind of deficient understanding of the grace offered to us in the Lord’s Table must be changed. My experience likewise shows good and committed believers in almost every local body as well as a great many who will perish just outside the walls of the kingdom having drawn near with their lips while their hearts are far off from the Kingdom. What is the individual believer to do? Stay in a church that you believe to be flawed simply to change it? Move to an ancient confession like the Latin or Eastern rite despite what seem to be grave problems with the role of Mary etc.? Move to a different physical location to be part of a faithful Protestant communion with a high church tradition such as Anglicanism? On the purely practical level, one cannot change entire structures of denominations by himself (unless he is the Pope or a similar authority figure). But one can work for unity by joining a church or something of that nature.
Think of the entrenched opposition to structural change though: thousands of pastors and priests who might lose their ‘job’ if their church were to seriously consider rapprochement with another sect; centuries of polemical works directed against other Christians that serve as obstacles to crossing barriers; institutions of higher learning that serve narrow denominational needs and would have a questionable future if reunion did occur, and on and on. It would take truly selfless and Christ-centered thinking to even begin a massive healing of the schism of the three main Christian families (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant). It is all far too overwhelming to believe possible at the present. One idea that I read today is to view the different traditions as synoptic expressions of the one gospel of Jesus Christ similar to the actual gospels which are diverse but united.
Back to Second Temple Judaism: the Essenes as I understand it forsook the Temple and the priesthood of their day as apostate and waiting for cleansing and restoration–this might be analogous to the Reformers view of Rome. The Orthodox of our day view both Rome and the thousands of Protestant splinter groups as equally in error. And the growth of Christianity in the Global South will perhaps make all these debates anachronistic going forward as the centers of Christian vitality are not Canterbury, Rome, Moscow or Geneva but rather Singapore, Seoul, Lagos and the like. But again, as I understand it the Pharisees and all the other various groups amongst the Judaism of Jesus’ day all had a common worship in the Temple which despite their overarching differences united them in some sense. I don’t think Temple ritual and liturgy was debated amongst them though perhaps who should have the High Priesthood was. So there was a common nexus at the heart of the worship of the covenant people to which they all could look (Torah, Temple, the gracious election by Yahweh of Israel). In our fragmented situation that nexus seems obvious: eucharist, baptism, and Word. However as we all know these are some of the highly contentious issues that divide our modern-day communities. Working towards clarity and truth which acknowledges diversity is essential if we are to begin to heal the rifts between us and have a common core of worship and belief.
Any unity that is achieved in our time would be far more meaningful than that of the pre-schism Catholic church. That unity seems not coincidentally to have been maintained by the Empire often times at the edge of the sword. The split of the Church into east and west parallels the split of the Empire, and the later fracturing of Protestant groups also parallels the complete collapse of any Roman Imperial unity. Many churches were state-creations and to this day reflect ethnic roots (Dutch Reformed, Scandinavian Lutherans, etc.) So in a world where no Empire enforces concilliar decisions on a unified church, unity reached by consensus would be more organic and hopefully lasting then that of the first Christendom.
I think Maximus the Confessor has stated very plainly a theory of reading that I have been struggling to express in words for some time, he wrote:
If anything in these chapters should prove useful to the soul, it will be revealed to the reader by the grace of God, provided that he reads, not out of curiosity, but in the fear and love of God. If a man reads this or any other work not to gain spiritual benefit, but to track down matter with which to abuse the author, so that in his conceit he can show himself to be the more learned, nothing profitable will ever be revealed to him in anything.
I certainly couldn’t put it any better than that!
Many Biblical interpreters in the Calvinist tradition were influenced by Jewish Kabbalistic methods of interpretation. Among these was Petrus Cunaeus of Leiden whose De Republica Hebraeorum was first published in 1617 defined as “true Cabala” the “mystical sense of those things that are concealed in the sacred books.”
John Sailhamer has an extended treatment of their work in his Introduction to Old Testament Theology, he says:
The names of such Hebraists as Johannes Reuchlin, Johannes Brenz, Johannes Oecolampadius, Paul Fagius, and Sebastian Munster may not be as familiar as those of Luther, Calvin, and Melancthon, but it was these early Hebraists that formed the exegetical and, in many points of detail, biblical theological basis for the work of the Reformers.
Protestant biblical scholarship largely repudiated the central core of Jewish kabbalah which had so fascinated earlier Christians. They had not rejected, however, the basic concept that a divinely intended “mystery” had accompanied the OT text as a form of tradition (kabbalah) which gave its spiritual sense alongside that of the literal meaning. It was in this spiritual meaning that theologians were often able to find references to Christ and the Gospel. Protestant biblical scholars viewed this Christological, spiritual meaning as a form of “true kabbalah (Cabala vera) that had been preserved by Jesus and the NT writers. The Jewish kabbalah, which had been studied and applied to Christian theology by earlier biblical scholars like Reuchlin, they viewed as a “false kabbalah” (Cabala falsa). True kabbalah, however, was understood to be an essential part of the meaning of the OT, and its interpretation played a key role in the development of Protestant biblical theology. To a great extent, this has been an untold story,
The Didache was apparently written between 65 and 80 A.D. (some of course say later) and is something of a liturgical manual, with other strands of thought mixed in. Interesting to me is that as early as it was written we see the concept of the eucharist as a sacrifice being taught:
“But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: “In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.” (XIV)
Obviously referring to Jesus’ instructions to be right with our brother before coming to worship and also quoting Malachi 1.11:
“For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts.”
The sacrifice of Malachi is equated to the eucharist in the Didache.