Basics of Light:The Foundation

cornerstone

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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Passing It On

Slide 1

“Who died and made you….”, insert word into the blank.  This is a common challenge someone makes to someone who assumes authority that is not theirs.  I remember when I was  a kid that sometimes the one being challenged would cite a parent or teacher or some other adult who had indeed given them charge of a situation.   Then the accuser would comply or rebel.  But if the challenged one had no comeback then it was usually assumed that they do the “walk of shame” away from the school yard taunt.

When I was a young adult I was intrigued by the writings of a man named Gene Edwards.  He wrote great Christian historical fiction that still stands up today as worth reading.  But he also had some non-fiction books that had a mixed effect on me.  One hand, it made me hungry to see the continuity of the Christian people living in the first century continued or restored in the 20th.

But secondly he made me hunger for the snapshot of church we get in the book of Acts as the way to go always and that it was definitely not hierarchical.  He saw apostolic authority only as something to be used then and now at a minimum and that most things of consequence were left to the laity.  Being you, almost my definition, made me love what he was saying and easily swayed by rhetoric that was against anything perceived as modern day Pharisees.

There was a central verse for this that I pondered on day and night. “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

A cornerstone to that list is with the apostles teaching.  Surely, if God was going to “restore” Christianity to the purity of the apostolic age then he would need to raise up apostles.  But that song and dance has been tried before regarding someone new on the scene with a gift for reformation.  It is a long story but I erred in many movements in my Christian life become a man or group of men were considered “on the cutting edge” and raised up “for such a time as this”.

But Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition do not indicate this.  First, the premise I had was wrong in that since only something evil would make the church drown in error in doctrine and practice then that means Satan in large part got the upper hand.  But this would be a contradiction with the words of Jesus when he said, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  Am I making the connection too strong?  Logically, I do not see how.

For someone to have a conversion and hold on of Jesus they are first met with the choices that he is Lord, Liar, Lunatic or Legend.  For Jesus to be discerned as Lord in ones heart the truths are that he was what he said he was, did what he said he would do and is with us to the end of the age (more on the last one when I write about breaking the bread).  If he said he would build a Church that would never fall, but it did, does that not cast doubt that he rose from the dead?

For it to last, there would have to be safeguards based on Jesus and the ongoing revelation by the Holy Spirit.  An example is where Paul writes to a Timothy who was a bishop under him but meant for others in the church to overhear since at the end of the letter he says, “Grace to you” using the plural form.  “And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2).  Right there is a trust of Sacred Tradition to be passed on at least to a fourth generation.  Now are these just nice sayings?  We can look at Paul earlier in his ministry on this.  “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).  “Stand firm” is more serious than a handed down recipe.

But not just anyone can carry that weight.  “Do not lay hands too readily on anyone, and do not share in another’s sins. Keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22).

But can this be passed on with good intentions to the empowerment over all people like Americans think of “We The People”?  Not so easily.  “For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God  that you have through the imposition of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6).  This lends to the doctrine of Holy Orders and apostolic succession.  This is a sacrament that part of the guarding of the deposit of faith and its access.  For instance we see it next to the sacrament of baptism which is the baton of salvation in the adding to the number of the church.  Both belong side by side.

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 6:1-3).

This is the skeleton of the Church of Jesus Christ as indicated by Scripture and Tradition.  With the truths above she survives.  But with the truths below she thrives.

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God,  built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-21)

So is this “teaching of the apostles” still ongoing?  If one reveres the Bible then to be consistent it begs reverence for apostolic authority until at least the 4th century when it was codified.  Objectively speaking, what has been outlined above points to a church that has had a laying of hands, never passed away, never ceased teaching the same doctrines of the early church and definitely has current the Holy Orders.  Long story short, that leaves us with the Coptic, Orthodox or Catholic Church.  I would posit that this deposit of faith rests in its fulness in the Catholic Church.  How it is the Catholic Church and not the others will be explained later.

Recommended reading:

The Fathers Know Best by Jimmy Akin

Crossing The Tiber by Stephen Ray