Basics of Light:The Foundation

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In the whole world of spirituality it is popular to point out that it is hard to qualify with a quick slogan or a formula.  There is a saying in the Buddhist tradition “If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him”.  Or as Bishop Robert Barron says in the Christian tradition, “If you say you have figured God out, that’s not him” (Catholicism Series).

Jesus called for faith and to repent due to a kingdom that was at hand.  This is a great challenge and a mystery.  It is to change and experience something not comparable to other experiences.  But in Christianity, there should be some essentials.  One is that to be a Christian is to identify yourself in faith and life choices as belonging to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  He is known as the Son of God, true God and true man (Council of Nicea) who founded a visible church.  These are deep and mysterious truths not to be comprehended but truths nonetheless to at least get the general theme with some kind of faculties.  Reason is a good one but not sufficient in itself.  The fulness of the Christian faith takes a lifetime of learning possible even if you are raised Christian and live to 100 years old.  In such a journey there are many questions that come to mind not always answered and it can be hard to know where to start. 

But rest assured, there are at least some elementary things to it.  Again, not to box God in and make him “in the road,” but there are some basics in the New Testament.  God does not always repeat himself through the gospels and epistles but he does rhyme if you listen for it.   

Everyone who lives on milk lacks experience of the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties are trained by practice to discern good and evil. Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And we shall do this, if only God permits (Hebrews 5:13-6:3).

Good foundation in a system of thought is a lot like a thumb. Like how it can touch all fingers so it will touch the succeeding parts.  The “basic teaching” above overlap in the development of Christian life and doctrine as reinforcing agents.  They are respective, supportive traits of Christianity.  In Greek they could be called logoi or little words, but are effective because they point to the person and work of Jesus Christ who is encountered with those truths.

But how should we interpret the proper application of these foundational teachings?  First, it is a matter of seeing the principles conveyed that point to the Christian life being a forward one.  It is successive towards an ultimate design in Christ.  As we see the design and how it unfolds in church history there is an opportunity of seeing more than a fleshed out ideology but a lived experience of Christ as the “chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).   Paul goes on to described more about that below in the same letter. 

to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:12-16). 

Also, we should interpret it is in the context of how the first Christian society interpreted it so we do not project our post-modern prejudices into what was written in the New Testament.  For example, I could compliment the makers of Salt Lake City streets as genius founders.  The wrong bias could say I must be affirming the Mormon faith.  But if you get to know loved ones who have known me long they can add to that statement on what I believe doctrinally and the statement was about the road system.  So too is any responsible reading of the Bible which includes “basic teaching” verses. 

So from 30,000 feet, I would like to propose what those points are. I suggest the first two are more applicable to the individual in execution and the latter four are overarching fundamentals that are implemented at the macro level. 

repentance from dead works – – Provoked By The Light   

faith in God- – Engaging in the Light (both believers and unbelievers). 

instruction about baptisms- – Entering The Light

laying on of hands- – Lifelong Engagement In The Light

resurrection of the dead- – The Light of Life

eternal judgment- – Judged In The Light

Though in the case of the author of Hebrews we do not know who wrote it, we can discern from the small talk at the end of the letter that he was a colleague of big names of the New Testament.  So if we were to be fair to the context of his foundational references we can look at the other apostolic writings of the New Testament (compare scripture with scripture) and look at the writings of the early church fathers.  They were people who were handed down authority and a tradition that was a living outgrowth of the living authority of a living Jesus.  If ones is to be detective, following wherever the evidence leads, one will hunger for living out those truths in the most true to form version of Christianity as possible.  To investigate thus is to truly investigate Christianity responsibly and on what it has actually taught.  I would add solving this part of the mystery can then be more vibrant and life giving and thus is worth a closer look for which I hope to show as Christianity ultimately a true walk in Christ.  And to walk with Christ is to be engaged with all of the Trinity. 

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Seeking UNity

UnitedLast week was a great Easter celebration.  In my Christian tradition, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus starting on the Saturday night before Sunday.  I like how there is an ebb and flow of seasons in the year that ground us on the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus and tie it to our personal, onward growth in his love. 

Looking around in the faces of so many wonderful brothers and sister in Christ, I see so much of the life of him so strongly reflected in words, deeds and overall commitment to state strong in the face of opposition in a materialistic world.  Christians are called to be a light and the prayer of Jesus calls us to be one.  That is a prayer that has not been greatly answered at this point.

For there is much that divides Christians too.  There has been mistakes on different sides with rhetoric and actions that fall short of the command to “love one another”.  And the world is watching.  Watching with skepticism about that division and maybe rightly so at points. 

But there are ecumenical movements that are going on to change the story.  There was an event last night that I almost went to but my wife went instead to help with the worship team.  I didn’t mind since I have gone to far more than her.   It included worship and teaching from two pastors. One who has had flack from officials in his own denomination for a trip to meet a leader in another part of the Body of Christ.  There was also break out groups where people were able to interact in constructive dialogue.

I am all for dialogue but I am restless for more than that in wanting to see where the action is.  Perhaps the leadership in this specific movement, John 17 Movement, has something in mind.  I would like to make some suggestions partly in the context of a season.  It would end before Advent season begins for the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. 

As far as I know, mid September to the turn of the months of November and December are free.  This could be a season of “Unitas” as a working title for now. 

1: In this season, Christians go to a church meeting of some kind of Christians that ascribe to the tenets of the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed.  But there is a catch, you go by Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant.  If you are a Baptist Protestant Christian then you are not making a splash by going to a Presbyterian Church.  In my case as a Latin Rite Catholic it is not brave to go to a Byzantine Rite Catholic Church.  If you go, seek to understand and bless where you can. 

2: In this season read a book by a respected author in one of the other traditions but not an apologist for that tradition.  It is not a matter of getting converted.  Even more, recommend something like that from your side to a friend of one of the other traditions. 

3: If you have been mean spirited to a brother or sister in Christ, this may be a great season to examine yourself and seek forgiveness. 

4:  Take a break from debating for your version of Christianity.  40 days won’t kill you.  I am not proposing an indifferentism on the things that matter.  Instead I am saying there could be a temporary setting aside of stressful debate. 

5:  On a grander scale, organize a charitable work between your church and one of the other traditions.  This may be a better way to reverse the scandal of division than a joint doctrinal declaration. 

6:  Do something to directly bless those in the other tradition.  I have deep respect for the Southern Baptist Convention writing an amicus brief when the contraception mandate was effecting a group of Catholic nuns known as the Little Sisters of The Poor. 

7: Read the 17th chapter in John’s gospel.  In the minutes before Jesus was arrested he prayed what theologians on different sides call “The High Priestly Prayer”.  He prayed for Christian believers on many issues but this included unity.  What does that mean?  Worth prayerfully considering. 

8: There is a side effect that could happen which can be unpleasant to some.  With responsible, ecumenical dialogue on what “those people” actually believe some people may change how they define themselves as a Christian including where they take communion each week.  If someone from your Side A “converts” (I hesitantly use that term here) to Side B but is still in the Nicene Creed then based on my personal experience here is what you do: get over it.   Give the Holy Spirit some credit unless with a deep breath you honestly think that specific fellowship is objectively unsafe.   

As Christians we should be fueled to honor the beautiful, good and true and I will on that note end a bit with my own path.  I had my conversion to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior at 11.  I was baptized at 15.  All of this in the Protestant tradition.  At the age of 42 after a few years of questions that I was wrestling with, I inquired through prayer, scripture and history to the point of entering the Catholic Church.  My oldest daughter was received the same night and my wife was received a year later.  As of this writing it appears that my older brother and his wife will be received into the Catholic Church in Advent season. And my second oldest daughter is a Baptist missionary in Argentina with her new husband.  I love them all. 

I’m so proud of my missionary daughter I can hardly contain myself.  When I see her, I see the love of Christ and also a love for others.  No macro level divisions change that for me. Nor does my thankfulness for my pastors and friends over my years as a Protestant who invested so much time, encouragement and many aspects of biblical teaching that I still cherish and apply.  I see the good and discern where needed on what truths are transferable in large part due to the lens of love.  Sure, there are other faculties in discernment, but I must keep love.  We must all keep love.  Love never fails.   

Right Road On The High Road

string-broken-hutong-wallsI think about “Rocky Mountain High” when I think of retreat.  People who have an intentional life of faith sometimes go on a retreat to the beach or mountains and set aside time for prayer which can be a good experience.  But eventually we have to come back to earth.  We are meant to walk this earth announcing in word and deed that God is relevant.  That is at the heart of Jesus’ nature.  “God so loved the world…” is not just a catch phrase at a sports game but a way of life. 

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus (Matthew 17:16). 

took with him – – It is not enough for the believer to white-knuckle themselves by willpower to their retreat or in any Christian growth experience.  The grace of God comes first always whether it is clear to us or not. 

There he was transfigured before them- Much fanfare is given in light of the spectacular descriptions here.  Pope Benedict VI makes a point that in a way this was the moment in Jesus’s earthly life where he ironically was not transfigured but was his normal self and thus meaning his glory was hidden otherwise. 

Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus- – In God’s involvement on the earth before, during and after the events of the gospels there are adornments in person or things that confirm what God has done or is doing.  In a parallel passage on the same event there is more detail here where it is pointed out how  they “appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). 

The wording in the original Greek is literally what the Greek translation of the Old Testament uses for the exodus of Moses.  The word meant “the way out” of Egypt but here it is a heavenly direction. “What he was going to accomplish” is about the work of redemption on the cross. 

Lord, it is good for us to be here- – God really does not need our good ideas.  And we do no favors to ourselves when we emphasize a geographical location due to what the think it is intrinsically to be.  Such are the thoughts that we can have when we are unsettled and absent God’s peace. 

I will put up three shelters- –  The following could be an imaginative translation of what he is getting at. 

What an awesome experience!  Let’s turn this into a new village! We’ll hang out, do a  Torah study with Jesus, Moses and Elijah and Jesus will bring the wine.  Sure, I’ve got a wife down the mountain and there are masses of people that want to get into this new kingdom thing (whatever that is) but let’s settle. Letting his excitement get ahead of him, Simon Peter puts Moses and Elijah on equal footing with Jesus.  The Father loves them, but not like He loves Jesus.

Peter is centering on this experience to be the end all. The kingdom of God does go beyond earthly things and is across the generations and in part he is right to recognize that.  But those are things and not a person.  Christianity is based on the person of Jesus and his central work of being crucified and being raised from the dead.  Days earlier the cross was a scandal in his mind.  When Jesus was first announced by John the Baptist it was as the Lamb of God (which in Jewish tradition is sacrificed).  If one does not get that and keep this truth engrained they will miss how sacrifice in the gospel and the Christian life is entwined. “Love without sacrifice is meaningless.  Sacrifice without love is unendurable” (Dr. Scott Hahn). 

a bright cloud covered them- – Through the Bible there is a theme of clouds as symbolic of covenant or community.  Here it is both in the sense of God being a community of holy persons and that the establishment of The New Covenant is drawing near. 

This is my Son, whom I love- – But with that overwhelming presence of God the Father, Simon Peter gets his perspective readjusted.  But notice it is not, “Listen to my Son or I will smite thee.”  The Father brings it back to love and repeats what He said at the baptism of John the Baptist.  He is well pleased in Jesus.  Jesus is enough. Jesus and the message of sonship for those in him does not change

Listen to him- – Where John the Baptist says “Behold” the model of ongoing conversion is “Listen”.  That is a means by which faith comes (Romans 10:17). 

they fell facedown to the ground, terrified- – At best they interpret the love going on as only to Jesus and the Father is fresh out of mercy.  But the gospel shows us that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). 

But Jesus came and touched them.- – Coming to the end of ourselves and admitting we are powerless over our sin is a sobering experience. Wrong does not mean one is bad and deserving only punishment.  So Love Incarnate steps in and does what He does: He pushes out that fear. But Jesus embodies perfect love and “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:17).  Jesus will manifest his presence in some way for that if we let him.  Where shame immobilizes us in a sort of spiritual shock, Jesus changes the story.    

When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus- – The story comes to the full circle with Jesus being central.

When I was a Protestant, Peter was the comedy relief in a lot of sermons.  Now with a passage like this, I have to laugh at myself.  What goose bumps have I raised to the level of Jesus?  Have I mistaken a definition for myself that is like being too spiritually minded for any earthly good?  Where has Jesus called me down from my “Rocky Mountain High” and I have refused to come back to the simplicity of devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3)?   

Again, Jesus does not change.  But He does love us enough to call us to Himself in purity and practicality.  Let’s cast off pretentious ideas, listening, and surrender to him. 

The Holistic Definition

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“I don’t that word means what you think it means” is one of the funnier moments in the Princess Bride film.  This statement humbled someone who  incorrectly use a word because he lacked a full understanding of the what it meant. 

Likewise a term like gospel can be used too lightly or wrongly.  Incorrect or shallow meanings can be dry information, politics, morals do’s or don’t’s, a specific culture’s paradigm or esoteric philosophy.  The Roman “gospel” was definitive, authoritative and expected to bring clarity in the world per a specific world view.   

“The term [Evangelion] has recently been translated as ‘good news.’ That sounds attractive, but it falls far short of the order of magnitude of what is actually meant by the word evangelion. This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, and redeemers of the world.  The messages issued by the emperor were called in Latin evangelium   regardless of whether or not their content was particularly cheerful or pleasant . The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a changing of the world for the better. “When the Evangelists adopt this word, and it thereby becomes the generic name for their writings, what they mean to tell us is this: What the emperors, who pretend to be gods, illegitimately claim, really occurs here – a message endowed with plenary authority, a message that is not just talk but reality…. the Gospel is not just informative speech, but performative speech – not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform. Mark speaks of the ‘Gospel of God,’ the point being that it is not the emperors who can save the world, but God. And it is here that God’s word, which is at once word and deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform, truly takes place (Pope Benedict VI, Jesus of Nazareth Vol 1 pp. 46-47).

There is a higher declaration in the message of Jesus.   We are told from the Bible that Jesus means “God saves”.  How does God save?  What does God save in us? This gospel speaks of transformation and not only of mental assent nor limited to only a personal paradigm. 

First, we should address it with a proper anthropology of the person.  A way to describe my physical existence is that I am physical and not that I have a body.  But I also have a mind, a heart, a soul and strength under the same view.  I am called to love God with all of them.  But without the grace of God, I cannot do that.  Jesus means “God saves” because we are saved by grace through faith in him connecting to his divine life. “The word of God is quick and powerful, to the dividing asunder between soul and spirit, joints and marrow and thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The word is Jesus and he became flesh (John 1:14) to be the Way. 

Divinity is key to understanding Jesus as Lord.  Isaiah wrote the Messiah would be “God with us”.  Jesus saves fully for those who receive him because he is fully God.  If Jesus was only 99% divine then the cross would not work because it would be an intervention of a finite being into finite material. 

Thus Jesus saves the whole person.  The Greek word for save is sozo.  That word is used for so much more than avoiding hell.  It is for all of the parts of the person and is ongoing.  When a woman with hemophilia was healed by Jesus the Greek word for healed was also sozo.  Several times in the Bible someone receives God’s touch on any dimension they are “sozo’d” or made whole. The demonstration of the gospel of Christ is a declaration of freedom from oppression (Acts 10:38).   Jesus so wanted to emphasize this that he said that to have true life one should eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6). 

One can see Jesus’  salvation through foreshadowing events in the Old Testament and into the New. Jesus is bridegroom, overseer of our souls, shepherd, servant, healer, forgiver, deliverer, living bread that comes down from heaven.  There would need to be a  natural habitat of these aspects of Jesus to be nurtured and allowed to grow in being understandable as channels of grace and by no means obstacles or else it is just more law. But how it begins is with the anointing of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son (Council of Nicea 325) flowing in sacraments such as “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Nicea).    

Early Christianity broadened from the Greek word for covenant, diatheke, to Latin expression of the word sacramentum.  As actions speak louder than words, Jesus articulates salvation with the sacraments. They are fruit of the cross which  Jesus initiates in love to the world through words and form by his people.

I will now repeat the biblical themes above shown in the sacraments. A common criticism is they are a “sacramental system” and “manmade traditions”.   I would respond the kingdom of God is familial.  It is kinship by covenant and not any more “system” than the joy of gifts being unwrapped by children on Christmas morning. They are centered on Christ.

Bridegroom- – Matrimony.  Holy matrimony speaks to Jesus who is returning at the end of the age for a pure and spotless bride. 

Overseer of our souls- Holy Orders with a bishop (episcopi).  This is a matter of a bishop being a sacramental sign of Jesus who watches over our souls (1 Peter 2:25). 

Shepherd- Holy Orders with a clerical priest (prebuteros).  This speaks to the priestly ministry who is also a doorkeeper in the local assembly of good or bad doctrine.  Ultimately Christ is the Apostle and High Priest of our good confession.  A local priest is an extension and not a hurdle.  At the local level he is on the front line of dispensing the sacraments of Holy Unction and Penance (see below).  This does not take away from the priesthood of all believers. 

Servant – Deacon (diakonos).  Christ was a servant of the world. 

Healer- Sacrament of Healing or Holy Unction.  Christ is healer and at times uses this sacrament to communicate that. 

Forgiver- – Sacrament of Penance/ Reconciliation.  Jesus was able to say that someone’s sins were forgiven.  He passed this on to his apostles who have passed that on to others (John 20:22-23). 

Deliverer- Baptism which is the initiation of the priesthood of all believers. It is the normative way that we are saved (John 3:3).  “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).  There was a baptism in Moses (1 Corinthians 10:1-3) for the exodus (exhoda) from Egypt.  Jesus said he was the Way (hoda) which plays in words that he was the way out of the slavery of sin. 

Living bread that comes down from heaven- – Eucharist (eucharistia— thanksgiving).  Jesus gives us the means through his flesh that is made real in the Eucharist.  Jesus in communion is the “engrafted word of God that can save your souls” (James 1:21). 

But God is not bound to sacraments. My conversion to Jesus on a rainy day in Newport, Oregon was with the Protestant tradition“The Sinner’s Prayer”.  It but it is not something that one can point to in the scriptures nor anytime before the 19th century.  We are called to Jesus but ideally expressed as together  through the authoritative, universal, “according to the whole”, called out and together Catholic Church (ecclesia katholikos) which is the “church, the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).

The gospel can be articulated more holistically when applied sacramentally. This is not dependent on the individual holiness of the instrument he uses but by grace (ex opere operato).  Next is only how receptive we are (ex opere operantis).  God has something to say of all of us and to all of us but never forcing us.   

Portrait of An Assembly

Mountain TempleI used to love a show on CBS called “Picket Fences”.  It was set in a small town in Wisconsin.  It had drama and comedy with lots of social issues covered that represented the cultural dialogue at that time.  One TV critic at the time referred to the small town of Rome, Wisconsin as a “microcosm” of a larger culture.  One might compare it to a lab except there were real feelings involved.

When people think of church in a small level, for better or worse, they may see it a microcosm of the common culture but lose sight if they see it only as a social gathering. This is a mistaken approach because what is missed is the true “cosm” that the “micro” is based on. It is based on a beautiful fellowship in God and we are invited to participate in that which is heavenly and holy.

The truest Holy Family is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three in One. Three Who’s and one What. It is the highest experience of a community of persons we can presently point to.  In those three persons are initiating love, responding in love and a personhood of the love between. 

Church, as founded by Jesus, is meant to be an extension of this divine fellowship where heaven and earth meet. Not because it looks nice nor gives the members goosebumps.  A gathering of people ias Christians is always to point to Jesus and his higher purposes whether it is set of two or three gathered in his name or something even more deliberate.

The normative of such a gathering for higher purposes in the Old Testament was considered a solemn assembly.  One who said they loved God did not want to miss the event.  It was their everything.  It was the qahal.  When the Old Testament was translated into Greek in 200 BC an assembly was translated as ekklesia.  That Greek word was then used again in the New Testament to what we translate now as church.

Which brings us to another theme about church by the time the New Testament events occurred: church was about being called out to something.  The Greeks would refer the a small democratic town leaving the village to a nearby forest for a vote on what we might call a ballot measure.  the “ek” was the out of.  This comes to mind where we read in the Bible where God tells his people to come out and be separate for the world.  The highest point for an assembly is to be consecrated in some way. This was needed because it was a sacrifice. 

There were many sacrifices to be made.  As for the aspects of consecration and reason for a group to have the called out characteristics,  one would need to broaden their perspective to know what to look for.   Such a perspective would be informed by how the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New (Augustine).

Below are some of the broader elements of church in God’s eye that are worth considering. Consider it a “Picket Fences” but of the community of God to look for.

 No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect,  and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22).

Mount Zion—  When there is Zion, there is David who made that mountain a standard for covenant.  Jesus was called the Son of David because he has a kingdom that is modeled after David and how his dynasty was established and flourished.  His dynasty in the sense ended eventually but his line is fulfilled in Jesus.

..the living God— God is alive and not an idol.  He is not subject to man’s desire to make him in man’s image.  We know from Adam and Eve, however he did it, we are formed unto him.

..the heavenly Jerusalem—– Heaven is where you go to for Jesus the King and Jesus the High Priest.  And going there one does to some extent when they are in prayer with other believers.

countless angels in festal gathering—- Angels are God’s way of delegating heavenly power and authority to those who will inherit salvation.  The are a part of Christian fellowship whether one can seem them with the carnal eye or not.  I can add my own anecdote that my first time as an adult going to mass there was not a doubt in my mind that there were angels there.

the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven— This would be called the communion of the saints.  Those who are in heaven and witness to our running the race of faith and also who intercede for us under the merits of Jesus (Revelation 5:8).  The Church Triumphant is who we are “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).

and God the judge of all— This is not a bad thing.  God is a judge who gives us a chance to reap the benefits of discipline.  This was covered earlier in Hebrews 12 on how much we can submit in discipline to the “father of our spirits and live”.  God is judge and father.  It appears to be a paradox but not a contradiction.

and the spirits of the just made perfect—  This state is referred to as the Church Suffering or Purgatory.  To speaks of salvation for the members of God’s people as only an imputed, or legal designation, righteousness falls short for all of the grace that God the Father has for his children.  The gospel has for the converted the opportunity to accept “the engrafted word of God which can save your soul (James 1:21).  For further scriptures on this I recommend the fire references of 1 Corinthians 3 and the prayers for the dead shown in 2 Maccabees 12:24.

and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel—  An important distinction in Greek is that “and” often can be translated as “with”.  I would point out that this description of church ends on the highest note:  pointing to the saving nature and work of Jesus that is ongoing in our temporal reality but planted in eternity. That salvation in Jesus is in the context of joining. To join with Jesus is to receive him on his terms.  Jesus said he was the bread that came down from heaven and that the one who eats his flesh and drinks his blood receive eternal life (John 6). 

The important thing to note is that the advancing kingdom of God has an aspect that transcends what we can measure with our senses but still is true. As one looks at the passages of the New Testament before Jesus one can appreciate who he was by those who knew him in a manner of the senses and beyond. The traits are there.  This is why for them then and in modern times we need eyes to see and ears to hear and all the while without fear. For this family God stared is supposed to walk in that “perfect love [that] casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:17). 

Shedding Light On The Subject

Light In A Maze

“Ignorance is bliss” so the saying goes.  People love to say that not knowing those things that bring a dark view of life are not worth knowing.  But knowledge needed for a painful but needed change can be good from a more objective point of view.  In the human experience one can look back to painful change that came from knowledge that we are appreciative of.  The ignorance comes for often better change but by choice.  The dominant culture we live in allows for change with knowledge but with a caveat that “that’s good if it works for you…but don’t force your views on me” or something like that. 

But religion comes in as a contrast in the post-modern thought but it really should not.  The “lig” part of religion has an etymology that speaks of connecting like where ligaments comes from.  Religion is a matter of reconnecting for those that think beyond the materialistic point of view even if but for a moment. 

Christianity has a message for reconnecting with what matters that is objective and above the natural limits of meaning but in different forms of default delivery.  Much has been said about the improvised means of delivering the message of Christianity that has been violence or anecdotes of conversion.  The kernel of meaning on those two basic means of delivering the Christianity are still worth discovering.  From the Christian point of view, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). 

So the first means of the delivery could be considered black coffee in a microwave.  Paul, who had his sudden conversion being blinded by Jesus says later as an apostle that the time for “bliss” is over. 

 God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now he demands that all people everywhere repent because he has established a day on which he will ‘judge the world with justice’ through a man he has appointed, and he has provided confirmation for all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). 

So should we assume that is all that Christianity is?  I would say there is a declaration that we are accountable to the natural law for morals that are revealed with logic that anyone can adapt.  That is why there are very moral atheists and agnostics out there. But we will be judged.  Even though I am a counselor, I believe in guilt trips to a point if they are self-imposed.  Those moments are our spiritual pain crying out to do better.  To think better.  They are a shadow of things to come where we stand before Deity and are judged.  If one is ignorant, that is once thing, but the other?

But there is another means that all mankind can consider and that is in the full, multi-layered presentation of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the kingdom he founded.  Make no mistake, Paul said the abrupt statement above in the midst of a nuanced discussion where he borrowed from points of light from Plato and pagan deity script to illustrate the truth he presents in Jesus.  But without a printing press, without the gospels having been even written, that was what his audience could get.  Centuries later, we have in Christianity a well developed thought for “Man’s Search For Meaning” that Viktor Frankl approached as well as he did.  It is the message of Jesus that can also be legitimately be expressed as a kingdom based message of a battle won on a cross that is encountered and organically appropriated with initial and ongoing conversion.   

But from what starting point could the most erstwhile seeker begin?  Much of what I write is from the Gospel of John.  He begins with this proposition to the world to believe in Jesus from outside of conventional time and space. What is greatly addressed is a message of connection and it is divine.    

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5).  

We know from the first epistle of John that God is love.  One could say then that what was happening was a love exchange that was mysterious, perpetual and reciprocal. 

without him nothing came to be— The word for word is Logos in Greek.  “Ancient Greek philosophers associated the Word with the order and design of the universe or the intelligible expression of the mind of God as he sustains and governs it” (Ignatius Study Bible).  The Word is in transition in relationship to the world as the gospel unfolds in that.  The ISB goes on to states that “this eternal Word, once a mediator of creation, has now become a mediator of salvation through his incarnation”. 

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.  Of all things visible and invisible.  I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ…. Born of the Father before all ages.  God from God.  Light from Light.  True God and true man.  Begotten not made.  Consubstantial with the Father (Council of Nicea, 325).   

What came to be through him was life—  Already we are seeing in the text an inference of the love between the Father and the Son to have an overflow.  If it was only to Jesus, then it ends with Jesus.  But since we know that the Holy Spirit is a person with relation to the Father and the Son then we can surmise that this life comes from God the Father in his initiative and goes through Jesus to mankind. 

and this life was the light of the human race- – We as humanity are initiated with the overwhelming, holy love of God that is tamable like a wild firehose.  But it is filtered through the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus and his Church preach. 

the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it- – As Jesus walked on earth and taught in parable he was setting up his followers to spread the message in words and action.  Jesus said that he was the light of the world but said to his Church too that,  “you are the light of the world”.  It is another case of Jesus being the Lord and transcending realities of our lives and pushing out darkness.   

this life was the light of the human race- – John speaks here to where Jesus of mystery steps into history.   Jesus expresses his light through the Church in a way that engages humanity in all of it understanding by whatever foundation of truth is in the pocket of civilization. 

and the darkness has not overcome it- – That is quite a declarative statement.  There is a stain of sin over individuals and communities out there.  But light keeps finding a way to shine through or around those things of substance that resist and cast a shadow.  Shadow is all solid obstacles to the kingdom can do.  Truth is going to still be evident.  And it is described in the narrative of Christian history and doctrine in the person of Jesus Christ. 

Again, it should be understood that for some individuals it may seem that the darkness is overcoming in present observations one can see in  a case by case basis.  One case of someone that was spiritually blind was Saul of Tarsus.  He was a persecutor of Christians, had a life changing encounter with Jesus and converted to become Paul the apostle.  He spoke from his experience on light and darkness.

And even though our gospel is veiled, it is veiled for those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they may not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

We are not all connected.  But we can be! What is our choice?

A Tale of Two Priesthoods

Set Free Broken Chains

Urban myths are a dangerous thing to live by; especially in the realm of faith and history. 

One that I heard and then believed ad nauseam was “What about the priesthood of all believers?  The Church Jesus left was supposed to be pure and pristine.  One way those Catholics have it wrong is that only a select few are priests and thus they take away true freedom of the gospel and the priesthood of all believers.”

There is a further one that says, “anything from the Catholic Church that softens things up is a later development to make it look nice in the last 100 years.”

Below I will address both. 

To proclaim the gospel is a charge to all Christians and the Catholic Church affirms this as a natural unfolding of the great commission to make disciples and baptize them (Matthew 28:20).  It is just implied that it is not official likely because it is not in the midst of a mass where clergy read the words of one of the actual gospels of the Bible.  The calling of priesthood happens to all Christians upon initial justification.  But the empowerment for ones expression of the common priesthood is in what is called Confirmation. 

1305 This “character” [sacrament of Confirmation] perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and “the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi ex officio).”[122 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theolpgica III,72,5, ad 2]

In reference to the referred Confirmation, it is a matter of one having a connection with the divine through God the Holy Spirit that binds the baptized to a common fellowship with the Godhead and not just “my Holy Spirit experience”.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is proclaimed since no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except through the Spirit of God. 

But doesn’t the role of the priesthood take away from non-priests like a second class citizen placement?  Not at all.  I have bones and I have muscle.  I need one to keep me moving and another that fits in and supports passing on the blood flow.  This is consistent with the many passages in the New Testament where there are distinct gifts to the Body of Christ and how not everyone can say they are everything. 

1547 The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, “each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ.” While being “ordered one to another,” they differ essentially. In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace –a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit–, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders. [22 Lumen Gentium,1965 10 § 2]

So if one was to an argument that one side exists to the own detriment of the other, it is really the position of the Catholic Church that the servants are the clerical priests. 

1141 The celebrating assembly is the community of the baptized who, “by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, that through all the works of Christian men they may offer spiritual sacrifices.” [Rev 1:6; cf. Rev 5:9-10; 1 Pet 2:5,9] This “common priesthood” is that of Christ the sole priest, in which all his members participate:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people,” [1 Peter 55-67AD] have a right and an obligation by reason of their Baptism.  (11 Sacrosanctum Concilium,1965 14; Cf. 1 Pet 2:9; 2:4-5, 55-67AD)

“Aha!  But there you have the problem of how you Catholics go about ceremony that has a  form of godliness but denies the power of God thereof. Just dry religion.”

For that I would respond that such premises are incorrect and miss the good, the true and the beautiful with the following points. 

Liturgy is a word that comes from the Greek that is liturgia meaning the work of the people.  Sounds like a non-Christ centered work?  Consider that Jesus spoke of the “work” to believe in Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3) which was the night he was betrayed and said of communion “Do this in remembrance of me”. 

As for the celebration of these two forms of priesthood?  It is the sacrifice of thanksgiving that is tied to the nearness of Jesus through the Eucharist.  This may be implied where Paul writes,  “Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Phillipians 4:5-6). The word for thanksgiving is eucharistia where we get Eucharist.  Once again, we see a participation of Christ’s priesthood who has done the direct work by suffering and death on the cross.  When we do liturgy we are doing what Jesus said with a supernatural remembrance “Do this in memory of me”.  Sacramentally, when I go to my parish in Tempe, Arizona, I do not re-sacrifice Jesus in my common priesthood but Christ lives out his sacrifice in me. 

1546 Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church “a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” [1 Peter].  The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are “consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood” [Lumen Gentium]. 

Yes, some were within the last 100 years.  The latest ones I can find are in the Catechism quoting from the Vatican II council in the 1960’s.  But one of the source quotes are from St. Thomas Aquinas from the 1200’s.  That is far before any possible “remodeling”.  Plus, for the Bible passages they are quoting that show the common priesthood, it is worth noting that such scriptures that point to  a common priesthood were approved as scripture by the Catholic Church.   If the Catholic Church is so against the priesthood of all believers, why did they call those passages as divinely inspired public revelation?  This was accomplished in the 380’s and 390’s AD with approval by popes. 

One other thing about this common priesthood of the faithful are those who are later in heaven.  There is more than biblical room that the worship before God in heaven can include such intercession ongoing. 

 When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones. (Revelation 5:8).

The beauty is not that Jesus is usurped of his status as Lord, Savior and Redeemer.  The Church does not teach that.  It is that the role of the believers is one that participates in what Jesus did and does in an ongoing way.  We are “a holy priesthood”(1 Peter 2:9). It is no coincidence that Catholic means “according to the whole”.  Jesus makes it that way.