Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Happy Birthday!

To all the world’s Methodists, Wesleyans, Pentecostals and Charismatics – take note: today is your birthday!

On today’s date, in 1784, John Wesley chartered the Methodist Church, setting into motion the form of Protestant Christianity that would gradually evolve into a very substantial portion of the word’s churches.

Our faith has been shifting and evolving in that way since the very beginning.

That’s why in today’s Bible reading (One Year Bible), the Old Testament and New Testament passages seem to be yelling at each other.

The Leviticus passage (Chapter 15) talks about how people become “unclean.” A man becomes unclean who has an orgasm – you have to destroy any clay pot he happens to touch, for example. A woman becomes unclean in her menstrual cycle. They both have to bathe, offer pigeons; do all sorts of things to become clean.

In the New Testament passage, Jesus says in essence, 'forget all of that. You don’t have to do the ritual hand washing. You guys keep focusing on all that stuff, but you forget about developing godly character. '

Out of such apparent contradictions between the two covenants, defining their relationship to one another, and applying such ancient instructions to modern life, come all the denominations and divisions of Christendom. Gather three Christians together, open up the Bible, and you will get five opinions, two systematic theologies and at least one new revelation that has been previously hidden from all humanity since the foundations of the earth.

What do we do with all of this?

Well, for one thing, we can laugh!

We all know that Jesus saved us and that He gives us new life as we follow Him.

We also know that we each interpret how that works in very different ways.

And, more often than not, we fuss about it.

However, at the core of our faith we find not only unity; but also diversity that remains committed to community.

This is true even within God Himself.

Although the doctrines of the godhead were developed slowly, the central ideas were already present in the Old Testament.

Consider Proverbs, chapter 8. Listen as Wisdom speaks.

22“ The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way,

Before His works of old have been established from everlasting,

From the beginning, before there was ever an earth …

27 When He prepared the heavens, I was there,

When He drew a circle on the face of the deep,

When He marked out the foundations of the earth,

30 Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman;

And I was daily His delight,

Rejoicing always before Him,

31 Rejoicing in His inhabited world,

And my delight was with the sons of men.

(Proverbs 8:22-31, New King James Version)

The way that Proverbs uses the concept of “Wisdom” is very close to how the Greeks used the concept of “logos.” The opening words of St. John’s gospel takes advantage of this similarity to create a bridge between Greek and Hebrew thought. That’s how John introduces Christ to the non-Hebrew world.

Christ was with and was God, he says.

St Augustine (November 13, 354 – August 28, 430) was one of Christianity’s most influential thinkers. In his Confessions (which every Christian should read), St. Augustine says that that as a pagan philosopher he had often read about the Logos. Therefore, he didn’t find St. John’s words as out of the ordinary at first. Then, he says, “I read these startling words: “The Word (Logos) became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

For Christians, these opening words of St. John’s gospel are some of the most precious words of the New Testament. However, that same passage has provoked much of the intense discussion that divided early Christians and which still can provoke a lot of passionate disagreement.

Why is that?

Presenting Christ as the “Logos,” or even as the “Wisdom” of God, forced Jewish Christians to stretch their understanding about God.

If Christ had indeed existed “in the beginning,” if he truly was with and yet was God, then they had to find some new way of comprehending their faith.

By using the word “Logos,” St. John set the stage for Christians to understand and worship Christ, not only as the Son of David or as the Jewish Messiah, but, as in the words of the Nicene Creed, the “eternally begotten Son of God.”

Christians through the ages have meditated on the opening of John’s gospel, trying to comprehend what he was really saying about Christ.

Robert Barron, in his book Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroads publishers, New York, 1996) says that in Christ, God “leaped out of Himself.” (p.49)

Wow! That’s it!

The Nicene Creed calls Jesus “very God of very God.” The Nicene statement is much more formal and precise than Barron, but “leaping out of Himself” – what a phrase!

God leaping out of Himself means He keeps surprising us.

Once we learned how to keep our bodies clean and to respect and manage our sexuality, he told us to stop obsessing about ritual hand washing. Once we settled down to a few centuries of tradition and protocol, he sent Martin Luther. Once we thought through the implications about justification by faith, he sent Wesley to remind us that faith ought to be changing our lives.

Anglicanism leapt out of Catholicism. Methodism leapt out of Anglicanism. Pentecostalism leapt out of Methodism. Charismatics leapt and leapt and leapt. We have no idea what will happen when they stop leaping.

It's kind of a madness, I guess, all this leaping.

Like the madness of a kindergarten or a high school dance.

Not nearly as nice and orderly as an old folks home.

On the other hand, there not much procreation in an old folks home.

So happy birthday to father John Wesley and all his unruly kids.

Keep leaping.


MLH said...

Clever, clever. I appreciate the recounting of our history as a witness ... just like David recounted his past successes to muster the courage to face Goliath. I'm amazed at how consistently good your writing is and remorseful that we are more vocal about our criticisms than our praise. Is it possible that too much praise could be bad? If not, then, much could certainly be embarrassing. I hope you are thinking about publishing these blogs as a devotional. (Will that cover all blogs, past and future?)

Anders Branderud said...

Quote: "forced Jewish Christians to stretch their understanding about God."

(le-havdil), A analysis (found here: (that is the only legitimate Netzarim)) of all extant source documents and archaeology using a rational and logical methodology proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical.

Judaism and Christianity have always been two antithetical religions, and thus the term “Jewish Christians” is an oxymoron
The mitzwot (directives or military-style orders) in Torah (claimed in Tan’’kh (the Jewish Bible) to be the instructions of the Creator), the core of the Judaism, are an indivisible whole. Rejecting any one constitutes rejecting of the whole… and the Church rejected many mitzwot, for example rejecting to observe the Shabat on the seventh day in the Jewish week. Examples are endless. Dt. 13.1-6 explicitly precludes the Christian NT.

Ribi Yehoshuas talmidim Netzarim still observes Torah non-selectively to their utmost today and the research in the above website implies that becoming one of Ribi Yehoshuas Netzarim-followers is the only way to follow him.

Beatrice Blount said...

'Jewish Christians' isn't an oxymoron if they are ethnically a Jew.

~*Miss Kelly Jay*~ said...

My maternal grandmother was Jewish, which makes me Jewish.

However, my Jewish friend told me that Judaism is a religion.

It's not a race.

Therefore, he said that there's no such thing as a Jewish Christian.

All I know is this man is more Godly than most Christians I know, and he's Jewish.

~*Miss Kelly Jay*~ said...

My Jewish friend is constantly asking me, "Kelly, is the world basically unredeemed, or is it redeemed?"

When I couldn't answer, he replied: "Kelly, I adore you to death; but, you've got to study religion and theology more."

He may be right.