Category: Theology

Welcome to the Kingdom! It is an incredibly strange phenomenon that we find ourselves in, for the past 1300 years the Church has been largely a European religion/phenomenon. This however is quickly and radically changing, and the Church in the West is now a minority in terms of Christian population, so the question I have is why? Why is it that our view of Christianity remains so centralized and focused on the West? The story of God stepping into 1st Century Judea as a marginal Jewish Rabbi and Carpenter isn’t intrinsically European, however often we as Europeans have made it so, but as our grip on the hegemony of what it means to be Christian loosens so too should we be willing to listen to majority voices. But even more radically as we look at Paul’s vision for the Church in Gal 3:28 and elsewhere as we come to God we are transformed so that as a whole in community we might image the God of the margins. This means that we should value not just the voices from outside our current locale who make up a majority of Christianity today, but also to the margins even in our own society where we find diaspora and indigenous voices, the voices of those who have been uprooted, of the sojourner so that we might properly become strangers and exiles in this world.

The Corinthian correspondence has become my meditation this year. I am admittedly somewhat fascinated by it. In what appears to be at least his second letter (that is 1 Corinthians, cf 5:9) to the church Paul is concerned to correct the spirit of division found there in the pervasive one-upmanship and elitism that has infiltrated from the surrounding Corinthian culture. However as we move on to the second epistle we have remaining to us we find that this attempt has not been well received. Instead we see clearly that this letter of correction has bitterly hurt the church. In the midst of their hurt certain persons have united the church against him!

As we see in 2 Corinthians as Paul struggles to deal with this betrayal and continued elitism he pours his heart out for the Corinthian church in gospel focused cruciform love. 2 Corinthians is one of the most emotionally stirring missives of the New Testament, here is Paul deeply grieved and grieving for the object of his and Christ’s affection is so close to deserting him, and even deserting Christ. Hard accusations have come against Paul and his ministry through the deception of these so called Super-Apostles (11:5) who are now using the grief surrounding the corrective pain of 1 Corinthians to wield against Paul as a sharp weapon that cuts deeper than any other weapon could.

Yet here in the words that Paul writes to the Corinthian Church are a deep and consciously Christian, crossformed vision of joy through, in and underneath the sacrament of suffering. A vision of suffering and joy that arouses in us a call to embrace both on this side of eternity, not just as a discipline, but as a missional framework to reach out to those like and unlike us.

I want to make a brief sketch of this vision of joy in suffering. In his opening blessing of God Paul wants to frame the rest of his letter, indeed even the previous letter, and his ministry as a whole, he writes, “[God] comforts us in all our affliction,” it’s not a simple thing that God does this, why should he do this? Some theologies would suggest that we are sinners and that any affliction that we face is for discipline, to punish us for our sins. But this is not the purpose that God has in mind here according to Paul, “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.” Whatever affliction through which we pass is forming us so that we can bring the Gospel with its healing, grace, love, and life to the burdens, aches, and pains of the Other. This is why elsewhere Paul says that “For your sake,” that is Christ and His Father’s, “we are being killed all the day long, we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. Indeed in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” These things which come against, Paul goes on to say are, no matter the origin nothing compared with the love of Christ which holds us.

If God’s ministry of comfort through our suffering finds its “yes” in the person and work of Jesus Christ as we then move to embody and enflesh this Godly “yes” to the Other then we need to join the Christ-work of the Cross. The wonderful Cross which bids us to come and die, that place where we find ourselves crucified in the Messiah, and walking away as new people bearing forth the Resurrection life that he breathes into these dry bones.

And this exactly is what Paul goes on to say and call out of us. “As we share abundantly in Christ’s suffering, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

I have made too light of this suffering of ours, Paul is stronger again. These sufferings are not merely ours apart from Christ. They are not merely found in Christ. Not merely found to be usable for the alleviation of the Other’s suffering. Paul is adamant, these sufferings are Christ’s sufferings. We are to go through them with the expectation not just that we will find Christ in the midst of them but that just as he promised to be our strong yokefellow Christ is our cosufferer, we through the sufferings we have are crucified with Christ that we might bleed out his love and life for the sake of the Other. The sufferings that we go through are not and cannot be separated from Christ’s.

As we become the possession of the suffering servant we suffer with him, dying daily the death of the Cross that the life of the Resurrection might too be made manifest in our lives and the lives of those to whom we minister. So then there is no vain hope in the ministry that we bear, the trials and suffering we need live out, they form us and call us forward, broken heart in hand that the Gospel of Jesus Christ on full display in the wreckage of our lives in hope, that maybe just one other might taste the resurrection life. That they might taste and see that, yes, God is Good!

A stirring fire in my heart burns against the falsities of Dispensationalism which evangelically neuters the church in its witness to natural Israel, and makes her complacent in picking up the promises that her lover made to her. Some of my readers may not know what Dispensationalism is, so for their sake I will give a definition from Charles C. Ryrie’s book “Dispensationalism.” Ryrie defines it as follows; “Dispensationalism claims to be a help in supplying the answer to the need for biblical distinctions, in offering a satisfying philosophy of history, and in employing a consistently normal principle of interpretation.” He follows up this with the marks of a Dispensationalist, these three marks are,

1. A distinction between Israel and the Church.

2. Literal interpretation

3. The glory of God as the underlying purpose of God in the world.

It is true that these are what dispensationalists often claim to themselves as what marks them out over against other Christian world-views, and interpretive grids. However it is my contention that at least in conservative interpretational schools within the church the only distinctive mark that the Dispensationalist can claim to themselves is the first, and this I believe is a distinction which is read into rather than out of Scripture.

So, further why the name Dispensationalism? The name comes from the idea that there are distinct times, ages, or dispensations in which God relates to his people in different ways. The word dispensations is used by 17th Century writers to talk about this phenomenon which is seen somewhat clearly in Scripture. (The distinction between the New and Old Covenants for instance) However given their allegiance to the distinctive of Dispensationalism the Dispensationalist sees in Scripture two distinct people groups, that of the Jews, or Israel to which Christ came to proclaim a new Messianic Kingdom, and the Gentiles, with whom God is currently dealing with in the Church dispensation. The Dispensationalist broadly will see three relevant Dispensations, there is the Dispensation of Israel in which God deals with Israel, culminating in Israel’s rejection of the risen Jesus leading to the Church age in which God deals with the Gentiles, offering them salvation through Christ, which gives way eventually with the Rapture, the Tribulation, and finally the acceptance of Jesus as Messiah and King by Israel and the Millennium. It is this disjunction between Israel and the church that I wish to deal with.

I believe a firm place to start is the polemical thrust of Luke in writing the book of Acts, while the Dispensationalist claims that there should be a firm place where given the rejection by Israel in diaspora of the risen Jesus as Messiah that God then turns to the Gentiles and that this then is the Church. However this is not what we see, though Paul says “It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles.” This is entirely situational, it is to a specific group of Jews, and Paul and Barnabas continue their pattern of going to the Synagogue first to preach the Gospel there before opening it up to the Gentiles. Further before the inclusion of the Samaritan village in Acts 8 the Church was a thoroughly Jewish affair, the dispute that lead to the appointment of Stephen, Philip and others to leadership roles in Acts 6 was one between Hebrew speaking Jews in Jerusalem, and Greek speaking Jews in Jerusalem, there is a tentativeness to bring in both the Samaritans of Acts 8, and subsequently the Gentiles in Acts 10. The inclusion of the Gentiles in the church is a debate that lasts from Acts 9 through to at least the end of Acts 15. But they are included in what Paul would later call the grafting in. (Rom 11:17-18) A remnant of Israel has been filled in by God with those from the nations in order that God might receive the Glory. This is what was prophesied in Isaiah 2:2-4

In the last days, the mountain of the LORD’s house

will be the highest of all

the most important place on earth.

It will be raised above the other hills,

and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.

People from many nations will come and say,

Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,

to the house of Jacob’s God.

There he will teach us his ways,

and we will walk in his paths.

For the LORD’s teaching will go out from Zion;

his word will go out from Jerusalem.

The LORD will mediate between nations

and will settle international disputes.

They will hammer their swords into ploughshares

and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will no longer fight against nation,

nor train for war any more.

The Dispensationalist in seeking to interpret literally appears to gloss over the prophecies that Israel will be filled up with people from every nation, or places them into the Millennial dispensation because it could not possibly refer to the Church dispensation.

But the nail in the distinctive of Dispensationalism is truly Paul’s rant against Judaisation in his letter to the Ephesians, he is passionate and eloquent, but most importantly he sees a dire need that the Church not be split on any identitarian issue, she is Christ’s Israel, that remnant borne in his body on the Cross, such that God might receive Glory in creation for His People going about on His business. Paul writes;

“Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God¡¦s holy people. You are members of God¡¦s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph 2:11-22)

The solution to the problem that the Judaisers were placing before the Ephesian Church was not to claim that we are of a different dispensation, but to affirm the place of the Ephesian church as included in the citizenship of Israel based on their faith in the Jewish Messiah Jesus of Nazareth. So then from here and other places in Scripture what I propose as an understanding of the place of Israel is not as some secular state over in the middle east in turmoil with Palestine, but rather the Remnant of Israel dwindled down to a sole individual who was bloodied and executed at the hands of the rest of the world. He bore in his body a new people that has become the Church. Jesus is the true Israel, and the only way for anyone to become a part of Israel is through Him.

Since, therefore you have been raised with Christ, set your desires on things above, where Christ in glory is seated with God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on earth.

I have started to really look into the topic of Union with Christ. It has been something on the periphery of my theology as a whole, but as I have been reading over the past year and a bit I have felt the need to bring it into the center. According to Con Campbell in his work Paul and Union With Christ, for Paul too this concept of the believer being united with Christ in a mysterious and powerful way lies at the center.

Now that I have chosen to delve into the topic in a deeper way this is the first verse that has come to mind as significant. I have provided my own translation above. There are a few comments that I would like to make on this out of the Greek.

συνηγερθητε which I have translated as raised with  is a Pauline construction that I’m lead to believe is part of a host of similar συμ- words created to deal with these new concepts. This particular one dealing with the resurrection, if you are partaking in the Christian life then you are enjoying the benefits of resurrection life. That we partake in the resurrection life of Christ also points us to the fact dwelt on elsewhere and raised us with him, and seated us with him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.  (Eph 2:6) the two συμ- words (raised with, and seated with) here in Eph 2:6 confirm for us our relationship both to Jesus’ resurrection and his glorification, we have as a now-not-yet reality that we partake in the resurrection life, so too do we have foretastes of our being glorified.

Our being with/in union with Christ in his resurrection is not just a happy coincidence, or a factoid to think “Oh that’s nice” and to store away as a piece of trivia, no, Paul says “Since, therefore…” there is an action to take if this is a reality that we taste and see. We are to set our desires, set our thoughts upon the things above in contrast to where we find ourselves. Life is fundamentally messy and if we’re always focused on ourselves then we often get bogged down in the details. Paul’s antidote to this is to look up, to fix our attention on the things which are in many ways more real, more concrete. For the Christian it is a far more primordial reality that we are united with Christ in his death, resurrection and glorification than any problem, or drudgery of “ordinary” life. A true living and vibrant union with Christ gives us courage to live out the ordinary, the suffering, and know that the life we live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us.

The interpretation of what lies behind the factionalism that Paul addresses here in this opening section of 1 Corinthians is many and varied, one of the less plausible ones in my opinion is that of the Kephas group being aligned with the “Super-Apostles” of 2 Corinthians, that this group saw itself being positioned behind an elite apostle in opposition to Paul. But the nature of the “Super-Apostle” controversy in 2 Corinthians is typified rather by a love of Rhetoric and Triumphalism, that is the “Super-Apostles” are “Super” because their speech adheres to the trends and currents in Greek/Hellenistic persuasive speech, and that the signs of an apostle are to be found in victory. While the Apollos group is likely to find itself alongside the “Super-Apostle” group in their love for Hellenistic Rhetoric (Acts 18:24 introduces Apollos as eloquent which is thought to be gifted in the Rhetoric of the day) there is little evidence to suggest that Apollos, (or his group) would find themselves comfortable in the triumphalism of the “Super-Apostles” The lack of such a mention of the “Super-Apostle” group in 1 Corinthians would lead us to believe that between when Chloe’s people reported on the schism at Corinth and when Paul probably visited this group arose.

Paul’s main point as seen in this passage, however is not to dwell on the nature of the factions, factions are wrong, and divide Christ. The most common modern question that comes up in relation to this text is that of how do we understand denominationalism in light of this text? We separate ourselves on practice, and some other points of doctrine, and Paul later in this same letter says that some of these disagreements can be tolerated within the church. These days often theologians separate issues into three teirs; Those of primary, secondary, and tertiary importance, of primary importance is clearly the doctrines of the nature of God, and of how he has saved us, in second place come issues of practice; do we baptise infants, or believers, and then there are things which we can totally differ on such as “how often should we take communion” The words of Rupertus Meldenius seem rather poignant in connection with this;

“In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”

Paul called an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother.
To the church of God, beloved in Christ Jesus, that is in Corinth, called saints, with all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, both their Lord and ours.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to God always concerning the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you have been enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge. Just as the witness of Christ was established in you, so that you might be not be lacking in any gift, as we eagerly wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also establish you to the end, with view that you might be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful, through whom you have been called in fellowship with his son; Jesus Christ our Lord.

I call upon you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, as you all say; that there should be no schisms among you, but you should be complete in his mind, and in his judgement. But it has been revealed to me about you, by Chloe, my brothers, that there is strife among you. It is said to me that each of you says;
“I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Kephas,” or “I am of Christ.”
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified on your behalf? Or, were you baptised into Paul’s name?
I thank God that I baptised none of you apart from Krispus and Gaius, In order that no one may say that they were baptised in my name. (I baptised also the house of Stephanas, I know not whether I baptised anyone else!)
For I was not sent by Christ to Baptise, but to evangelise, not in wise words, in order the Cross of Christ not be emptied.

We Believe…

The first statement of the Apostle’s Creed is a statement of belief, an affirmation that what is laid out following is borne by the Spirit into the hearts of men (Eph 2:8) A Spirit borne testimony by which God makes foolish the things of the world.

The Mighty One, God, The LORD, speaks,
and calls the earth from sunrise to sunset.
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines out.
Here we see Yahweh, speaking out from His dwelling place, and to whom does he speak; He is addressing the peoples of the earth. God is speaking out from His place of abode amongst the peoples of the earth unto the nations that he disinherited at Babel.
There is a few more things of note here; Yahweh is described as Mighty, His dwelling place is the perfection of beauty, (As for me it is God to be near God (Ps 73:28)) and His Glory, just as his call goes out to the ends of the earth (from sunrise to sunset)

The Creature/Creator Distinction
The problem with what has come to be known as New Age Spirituality converging with Christianity is exclusively in the realm of how we differentiate the created from the creator, on this I think in general the Western Church in following Augustine’s synthesis of Theology with Platonism has made this Creature/Creator distinction harder than what Biblically is mandated, I’d more easily fall on the side of the Eastern Fathers in what has been recently named Palamite Panentheism after Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) that the divine energies as distinct (but dependent) upon the essence of the Triune God uphold and sustain creation, so it can be said that without God creation would cease to exist. (Acts 17:28, etc) While the New Age system is closer to my position than most other Western conceptions of Creature/Creator distinction, I would say that in that system the divine depends on creation to exist as divine, which of course leads to the corollary that creation is divine hence a dismantling of the Creature/Creator distinction.

Without the Creature/Creator distinction Christianity cannot make such claims as it does to spur on its adherents such as “Be Holy as your Father in Heaven is Holy,” or “I will be their God and they will be my people.” indeed the distinction comes into full force through the doctrine of the Incarnation, Death, Resurrection and Glorification of the Second Person of the Trinity. Nothing says more powerfully that God is not Creation than His very entering into Creation such that we might be His own.

On the Indwelling God
This action by God towards us is then the basis on which we must understand the indwelling God, indeed it is Christ, who died who said that if he were not Glorified then God would not dwell in us. (John 16) This is not some arbitrary feeling, or searching that we might have power over creation, or have our own way, we are dwelt in by God to be conformed to God. It is not an empty call without empowerment, but one which when God alights on our hearts that which was stone, which made the creature into god, becomes enfleshed ready to be conformed to the Self-giving God, the God who comes to us, but once he is with us, we talk of him indwelling. It is not the natural state of fallen man that they are indwelt by God, but of the Child of God it is. God comes to us. Confronts us. And makes us His own. In this process of making us His own He makes His dwelling in us.

The proper direction of the Holy Spirit is always to the conformation of those in whom he dwells to Christ, to the mind and spirit of Christ, to humility and self-denial. In contrast the New Age view of the doctrine of the god within is that we must conform this world to our desires, to our wants and needs.

We need proper Biblical and Pentecostal understanding of the Spirit’s work in our lives, not an Enlightenment denial of His existence, spurred on by the Augustine Synthesis of Platonism and Christianity in it’s Creature/Creator dualistic understanding. The Spirit dwells in us to make us alive, the living Church, the vanguard of the Kingdom of God, for the Holiness and Righteousness of God displayed in the Son of God through the death of God on the Cross of God. We dare not shrink back from what is our right having been made Children of God, but we dismiss and dismantle those things which assault the very notion of the Incarnate God by destroying the distinction between God and His Creation.

If our eschatology is not evangelistically realised then it is useless. It is for this reason, for the stunted evangelism that comes out of the dispensationalist rapturist stupidity that I abhor that system of eschatology.
What’s our role as the church in that system? Why we sit on our hands and wait for Christ to come take us out of the world.
NO!
We as the Church have been given a mission! Christ said “All authority in heaven and earth…” not some, not all in heaven, not all on earth, there is no distinction contrary to what the Dispensationalist will tell you, All authority both in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ! And it is on this basis that he then turns and says; “Go therefore.” We have our marching orders, we are to Go! If you aren’t going out of the community of faith unto somewhere then you have missed the plot, we are sent, we are going, where are we going? “into all nations” there is no distinction, the Dispensationalist would tell you that this may not be for us, they take the same error that those of William Carey’s time had, cutting up the Bible into bits that are for us and bits that are not! If there is some Scripture some iota, jot or tittle that is not for us then how can the words “All Scripture is profitable for doctrine and building up of the whole man.” be for us? As soon as we divorce ourselves from coming under the whole counsel of God we divorce ourselves from any value of Christ, how can we disciple all nations if that one nation of whom Christ said he was specifically sent unto is not one to which we go! Indeed the Apostle Paul labours in prayer for this nation of the Jews that they might come into the church! If we make it such that they are excluded from the Church how then is the Apostle to the Gentiles a part of the church. I submit to you that the doctrine of Dispensationalism of whole cloth should be disgarded as the dross that it is. The doctrine of Dispensationalism that keeps our hands under our buttocks stopping us from reaching out because look, just around the corner Christ is coming and then we’ll be out of this Hell-hole. Dammit man, are you a Christian, or are you a mouse! Because we have been brought into the family of God we are not of a spirit of timidity that we should shrink back from the world! No! We are of a Spirit of Power. Christ died that we might have life, Christ came into the world that by his Death the Spirit of Sonship, the Spirit of Authority might scream coming into our hearts! Abba! Father! This should be the ground on which we stand! Christ has died and the Spirit has been poured out bringing us into the Victory of Christ! “For if you have died a death like his, you will live a life like his” The promise stands before us that if we join Christ in His death to self for the Glory of God that we might join in His Glorification and we have been given as Christians a Spirit, the Spirit, the Holy Spirit even courage to take our lives and cast them at the foot of the Cross that we might nail the old man there and die. Kill the old man with his passions. “I have been crucified with Christ” Paul says. We need to die to self. And if our Eschatology is more about saving our arses from the flames than it is about spreading the fragrance of the Glory of God in Christ then you have missed the point and become an abhorence to Christ. Man-centred news indeed is no good news at all.