Christian Community

“Eat, Pray, Live…Together”

Where Two or three

“In Their Midst”
by Burden Studio (burdenstudio.com)”Where two or three are gathered
in my Name, there I am in the midst of them.”
(Matthew 18:19) 

“Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In his book Life Together, Bonhoeffer says that “whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ. What does this mean? It means first that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.”

Bonhoeffer’s definition of Christian community reminds me that we all individually find our identity in Jesus Christ, and because of that we Christians are only connected through and in him. We need each other. We cannot say to the weaker believers in our congregation, “you must leave,” or “we don’t need you,” or “things would be so much better without you,” for in doing so we would be casting out Jesus Christ. Just like the rest of us, their identity is in Jesus Christ, and he alone is our hope and salvation. As a community of Christians, we are united solely through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ now and forevermore!

Unity is important because our story of salvation is in God’s story of salvation through Jesus Christ. This is the reason we gather together in worship, gather together for Bible study, and gather together to share a meal. Bonhoeffer recognized that “our salvation is external to ourselves.” He said, “I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ.” This is true for all of us.

So, anytime we are gathered together let us remember that we gather and fellowship solely because of, through and in Jesus Christ.

“All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.” – Jude 1:25 (NLT)

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Humanity in the “Imago Dei”

Imago-Arts-IMG_1518Do not allow your view of humanity to be skewed by the image of evil, rather view all of humanity through the image of God. We see the best of humanity in Jesus Christ who teaches us what it means to be human. For he alone restores the “likeness” of God to those who are being restored by, through, and in him.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” – John 13:34

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An Evaluation of “For Whom Were Gospels Written?” by Richard Bauckham and “Patristic Counter-Evidence to the Claim that ‘The Gospels Were Written for All Christians’” by Margaret M. Mitchell

9780802844446_p0_v1_s260x420Introduction:

Bauckham begins his argument introducing two questions: 1) Were Gospels written for Christians or for non-Christians? 2) Were the Gospels written for a specific Christian audience or for a general Christian audience? The first of these questions he answers according to the scholarly consensus that all of the Gospels were written for a Christian audience. In answering the second question, Bauckham addresses whether or not the gospels were written for specific local churches or for the purpose of circulation to every late first century Christian community.

Position:

Bauckham constructs his argument by confronting the assumption on which arguments concerning the Gospels have been based, particularly, the view that the Gospels were written to specific Christian communities. He says, “The unargued assumption in every case is that each Gospel addresses a localized community in its own, quite specific context and character.”[1] Bauckham proposes an alternative to this view. The alternative consists of the Gospel writers writing for the purpose of reaching an audience in any church to which the Gospel might circulate and the Greek language understood. Bauckham’s purpose for arguing this alternative view is to open discussion that has not taken place, and to propose this view as more plausible than the localized view that the Gospel writer’s wrote for specific communities.

Bauckham makes some good points that require further investigation, but he makes certain assumptions regarding the Gospel writer’s intentions, especially in the Synoptic relationship. He says, “Most likely Matthew and Luke each expected his own Gospel to replace Mark’s.”[2] Although this is a possibility, Bauckham does not address the probability of Matthew and Luke adapting Mark’s story and style to meet specific needs for a specific purpose. While he does acknowledge that the churches in the first and second centuries were connected and diverse, Bauckham does not acknowledge the effect that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70ce would have had on the Gospel writers. The possibility of Jewish-Christian sectarian groups (groups that consisted of Jew and Gentile Christians that lived in isolation)  arising outside of Jerusalem immediately following its destruction in 70ce is not mentioned.

Argument:

Bauckham argues that redaction criticism in the late 1960s attempted to claim that the Gospel writers were writing for specific situations within a Christian community. He says that redaction criticism developed an allegorical reading of the Gospels in hopes of “reconstructing not only the character but the history of the community behind the Gospel.” In her article, “Patristic Counter-Evidence to the Claim that ‘The Gospels Were Written for All Christians’,” Margaret M. Mitchell responds to Bauckam’s essay by examining patristic evidence for a pre 1960s interpretation of the Gospels being written for a localized community. Mitchell agrees with Bauckham, in that, redaction-critical readings can use allegory to the point of projecting onto the life of Jesus the concerns of a “hypothetically reconstructed local church community.[3]” However, Mitchell argues against Bauckham’s view that “all readers without exception before the mid-twentieth century missed the (alleged) hermeneutical relevance of the Matthean community to the interpreter of Matthew.”[4] Mitchell insists that the interpretation of gospels is more complex and ancient than what is presented in Bauckham’s essay.[5]

Reading Strategy:

Bauckham’s argument against a particular ‘reading strategy’ would be strong if every Gospel contained the same accounts. In using the example of J. Louis Martyn’s proposal for interpreting John 9 as a narrative of the Johannine community’s expulsion from its local synagogue[6], Bauckham argues for a general process that was taking place throughout the Diaspora. A question for this proposal is that if it really were a general process, then how come the other Gospel writers do not address it?

Another argument made by Bauckham is that everything that was written in the Gospels did not necessarily need to be pertinent to everyone who read them. One example he uses is Mark 15:21, where Mark mentions Simon of Cyrene as the father of Alexander and Rufus. Matthew and Luke do not mention Alexander and Rufus in their Gospels. This raises the question of why they were important enough for Mark to mention them in his gospel. Bauckham makes the observation that Matthew and Luke’s exclusion of Alexander and Rufus could be another example of how the latter of the Synoptic Gospels would abbreviate Mark’s texts.[7] Another possibility that Bauckham offers for Alexander and Rufus’ exclusion from Matthew and Luke is that they may have been alive when Mark wrote and dead by the time Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels. But if Alexander and Rufus were such important figures that most of the first century Christian communities would have known them (if Mark truly wrote for all the churches), then it seems that Matthew and Luke, having been recipients of Mark’s Gospel, would have known of their importance also.[8]

Gospels and Letters:

Bauckham makes a good observation concerning the Greco-Roman bios in asking, “Why should he [the Gospel writer] go to the considerable trouble of writing a Gospel for a community to which he was regularly preaching?”[9] Bauckham defines the genres of letters and Gospels in order to illustrate their use in the context of the writer’s absence. He says, “The obvious function of writing was its capacity to communicate widely with readers unable to be present at its author’s oral teaching.”[10]

Bauckham does not address the possibility of the Gospel writers writing for the sake of permanence and distinction. David C. Sim in his book, Apocalyptic Eschatology in the Gospel of Matthew, argues for reading the Gospel of Matthew as a work to an apocalyptic-eschatological Jewish Christian sect who has broken ties with Jerusalem and ‘formative Judaism’. Sim goes on to say that Matthew’s community was affected by a combination of factors stemming from the aftermath of the events from 66-70 CE. These factors included conflict with Jews, Gentiles, and the wider world of Christians. Matthew’s community was considered to be withdrawn from society as an alienated group.[11] If an apocalyptic-eschatological sectarian group of Christians were experiencing persecution from the rest of world around them, then a leader of the community may have seen the need for writing a Gospel that would distinguish those on the inside from those on the outside. A Gospel written in this context could have been used to promote group solidarity and social control within the sectarian group.[12]

Patristic Evidence:

Mitchell notes that although Bauckham uses the patristic sources from the second century to illustrate the travel patterns of the church leaders during the first century, he does not cite second century patristic sources regarding the origin and interpretation of the original readers of the gospels.[13] She says a possible obstacle for Bauckam’s argument is that early traditions associated each of the gospel writers with a specific locale: Mark with Rome (and/or Alexandria)(or Syria[14]), Matthew with Judea, Luke with Achaia, and John with Ephesus (and/or Patmos).[15] Bauckham dismisses the influence of Clement’s statement as proof that patristic sources thought of the gospel writers as writing locally, and says that it does not “strictly require this conclusion.”[16] Mitchell illustrates that Bauckham’s interpretation of Clement of Alexandria concerning Mark’s Gospel is incorrect. In her translation of Clement of Alexandria, Mitchell shows that in the tradition about Mark’s gospel there was no “‘envision[ing] of a gospel beginning to circulate’; here Mark’s gospel (singular – the text says nothing about ‘copies’) does not move beyond the Roman Christians who asked him to write it, who are presented as a rather specific group who in turn receive the document from him.”[17]

In another instance, Mitchell recalls Papias’s tradition about Matthew’s peculiar language, particularly about Matthew composing “the sayings” in the Hebrew language, which Bauckham does not discuss.[18] Mitchell makes the point that “for Papias language of composition differentiated Matthew’s readers from Mark’s readers.”[19] This would seem evident since not every Christian in the late first century spoke or read Hebrew. Mitchell notes that, “this presumption about the Semitic original of Matthew was to be a constant in patristic and medieval gospel interpretation, and from it considerable inferences about Matthew’s local community were made.”[20] In the third century, Origen inferred that Matthew’s gospel was written specifically for Jewish Christians.[21] Furthermore, Mitchell explains that this tradition “depends upon the assumption – held already in antiquity by such scholars as Origen and Jerome – that language, place and addressees of the gospels can be correlated with one another.”

Hermeneutics:

Bauckam states in his essay that reconstructing the historical situation of the Gospel writer’s community has “no hermeneutical value since the Gospels were not addressed to or intended to be understood solely by such a community.”[22]  Contrary to Bauckham, Mitchell notes the importance of recognizing the historical situation of the gospels before encountering the text.[23] This is important for Mitchell’s argument because she illustrates that early Christian biblical interpreters were concerned with historical validation of apostolic or sub-apostolic authorship.[24] Bauckam makes the statement that only modern redaction critics “simply assum[e] that the question about the context in which a Gospel was written and the question about the audience for which a Gospel was written are the same question.”[25] Mitchell counters this statement with examples of Christian commentators who combine these two questions in their writing gospel prologues in medieval manuscripts, “which are based on complex histories that extend back to late antiquity.”[26]

Conclusion:

Mitchell provides significant evidence from the patristic writings to show the plausibility that the thought of the Gospel writers writing for a localized community did not originate in the 1960s, as Bauckham proposes. According to Mitchell’s research, “patristic interpreters of the gospel thought it important to ask where when and to whom each of the four gospel was originally written.”[27]

Mitchell’s conclusion calls for movement beyond extreme dichotomies (“either the gospels were written for ‘relatively isolated, introverted communities’ or for ‘any and every Christian community’”).[28] Furthermore, Mitchell utilizes the works of Irenaeus and Origen to argue for a both/and theological approach to interpreting the audience of the gospel writers as local and universal.[29] I agree with Mitchell in her assessment that modern scholars should strive for “methodological flexibility” as we encounter questions that require different approaches.[30] Mitchell’s illustration of “universality and particularity in a deliberate theological and rhetorical tension”[31] in John Chrysostom’s work provides insight for modern biblical scholars to leave room for the mystery of God’s work and revelation.


[1] Richard Bauckham, ‘For Whom Were Gospels Writen?’, in The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 11.

[2] The assumption here is that since Matthew and Luke utilized Mark’s Gospel in their own works, they must have anticipated that their own Gospels were going to be circulated also (Bauckham, 13).

[3] Margaret M. Mitchell, “Patristic Counter-Evidence to the Claim that ‘The Gospels Were Written for All Christians’”, New Testament Studies, Vol. 51, Issue 01, January 2005, (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 37.

[4] Bauckham, 47.

[5] Mitchell, 46.

[6] Bauckham, 23.

[7] Bauckham, 25.

[8] Joel Marcus makes this rebuttal also (Mark 1-8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [The Anchor Bible; New York, NY: Doubleday, 2002], 27-8).

[9] Bauckham, 29.

[10] Ibid.

[11] David C. Sim, Apocalyptic Eschatology in the Gospel of Matthew [Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2001], 182.

[12] Sim identifies the specific functions of apocalyptic eschatology in five distinct groups that may overlap on certain points: 1. Identification and legitimation, 2. Explanation of current circumstances, 3. Encouragement and hope for the future, 4. Vengeance and consolation, 5. Group solidarity and social control (Ibid, 64).

[13] Mitchell, 47.

[14] Marcus, 36.

[15] Mitchell, 47.

[16] Mitchell, 48.

[17] Ibid, 49-50.

[18] Ibid, 53.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Bauckam, 45.

[23] Mitchell, 55.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Bauckam, 16.

[26] Mitchell, 57.

[27] Mitchell, 77.

[28] Ibid., 78.

[29] Ibid., 61-67.

[30] Ibid., 78.

[31] Ibid., 74.

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A Brief Summary of “The Messianic Secret” by William Wrede

secretIntroduction:

Wrede addresses two decisive questions regarding Jesus’ life: “What do we know of Jesus’ life?” and “What do we know of the history of the oldest views and representation of Jesus’ life?” (4) In addressing these questions, Wrede makes three points pertaining to historical criticism and critical method. First, Wrede notes that the writers of the Gospels were not actually writing eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life. He says that this  is widely accepted in historical criticism. Wrede describes this further in detailing the evangelists’ influence from their own community of faith’s needs and beliefs in their accounts of the life of Jesus. Second, Wrede notes that historical critics are too quick to leave the life circumstances in which the evangelists wrote in order to appropriate them as the history of Jesus. Wrede argues that the first task of the historical critic is to develop an understanding of the spirit and intention of the evangelists’ writing to their readers during their time. Third, Wrede refers to psychology. According to Wrede, psychology alone does not produce good historical critical work because most of the work is not based on facts and even if they were facts the results would still be suppositions. Wrede considers these points a foundation that he utilizes in his research throughout his investigation. The aim of Wrede’s investigations into Mark’s Gospel is to determine when Jesus was acknowledged as or revealed himself to be Messiah. (7)

 

Part One: Some Preliminaries on the General Picture of the Messianic history of Jesus:

In order to establish the direction of his investigations, Wrede traces the Messianic revelation of Jesus to the people according to the outline of Mark’s Gospel. Wrede poses the question, “Did Mark intend to represent the supposed development in Jesus messianic life, or did he describe it unconsciously and yet faithfully?” (14) Certain arguments have been made concerning Mark’s revealing Jesus as Messiah through Peter’s confession in 8:29. In establishing his own answer to this question, Wrede claims that “the narrative does not look like an intentional record of messianic development” (16) and follows this statement by making four positive points.

First, Wrede observes that Jesus heals many sick people and follows their healing with a command for secrecy, but Jesus performs many miracles in the public’s view. Even when certain miracles were performed in private, those who were healed did not follow the command to keep their healing secret. Second, Wrede says that Jesus is revealing himself as Messiah to his confidants in the raising of Jairus’ daughter. According to Wrede, this story portrays Jesus doing everything he can to call forth the knowledge of his Messiahship for his confidants. Third, Wrede says that Jesus is calling himself “Son of Man” in 2:10 and 2:28. Wrede says, “If “Son of man means the Messiah, then according to Mark Jesus designated himself as such long before Peter’s confession, and in full glare of publicity at that.” (18) Fourth, Wrede observes Mark’s use of the “bridgroom” statement in 2:19-20. Wrede says that for Mark this statement necessarily has a messianic tone, and points out Mark’s use of this passage as a prophecy of the Passion.

By making these points, Wrede establishes the basis for his investigation regarding the secrecy of Jesus’ Messiahship. The question posed by Wrede is whether or not Peter’s confession cancels the other reports that could be considered in Jesus’ self-proclamation or Jesus being proclaimed Messiah. Wrede follows with the conclusion that a thorough critical examination of Mark’s data is needed.

 

The Self-Concealment of the Messiah

The Demons’ Recognitions of the Messiah

Wrede argues the point that in Mark Jesus is recognized as the Messiah by the demons, but not by the demoniacs. (25) The demons, as supernatural spirits, recognize the supernatural spirit in Jesus. Wrede makes the observation that when Jesus confronts a demoniac he speaks to the demon and not to the person who is sick.  However, Wrede does note the necessary presupposition that “the expectation of the Messiah was in the air.”(30) This could provide some clarity to each of the accounts concluding with the same judgment that Jesus is the Messiah.

Wrede questions the historicity of these accounts, yet combats the desire to reduce the number of cases found in the Gospel because he recognizes the accounts as part of an important motif for Mark. Wrede makes the argument that an historical account of the life of Jesus was not Mark’s goal. He says, “If we give up the history we leave the account entirely as it stands and find in the supernatural view of the author—which indeed amounts to what is historically impossible—a direct way of understanding the whole.” (33)

The Injunction to keep the Messianic Secret

In this section, Wrede organizes Jesus’ prohibitions into five sections: prohibitions addressed to the demons, prohibitions following other miracles, prohibitions after Peter’s confession, intentional preservation of his incognito, and a prohibition to speak which did not originate with Jesus. Wrede argues for the extreme probability that the various commands in Mark share the same sense. He says, “The continuous repetition of the feature is by itself enough to press this upon one, but the lack of a motivation intensifies it.” (37) Wrede also argues that the two passages in which Jesus is incognito (7:24; 9:30) are related to the prohibition passages, because they indicate a preservation of the messianic secret.

On the idea of a suffering Messiah, Wrede indicates that Mark is not portraying Jesus as an unpolitical Messiah, but rather as the Son of God who is the Messiah revealed as a result of his suffering. Wrede expounds upon the fulfillment of the prophecy, Jesus riding on the donkey and Jesus being hailed as the one to restore David’s kingdom, in making the point that Mark presents a contrast with the Jewish view of the Messiah. The contrast for Mark is not between a spiritual and a national political view of the Messiah, but rather a non-suffering Messiah and a Messiah as a result of suffering. (47)

Cryptic Speech as a Mode of Concealment

In this section Wrede notes that in the Gospel of Mark there are two closely related ideas: “(1) that Jesus spoke in parables, i.e. veiling his meaning to the people, but openly to the disciples, and (2) that the parables remained obscure to the people but were explained to the disciples.” (65) Wrede explains that, “the idea of the messianic secret goes beyond the miracles and the messianic apostrophes by demons or disciples.” (66) By using parables, Jesus concealed the meaning of the parables from the crowd and interpreted them to the disciples when Jesus was alone with them, however, the disciples did not always understand the interpretation that Jesus provided.

 

The Meaning of the Secret

Wrede asserts here that a historical motive by Mark detailing the messianic secret is not plausible, but rather Mark’s approach to the messianic secret is theological. Wrede argues that an one of the most important statements in Mark is after the Transfiguration when Jesus’ prohibition is to “tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of man should have risen from the dead. (Mk 9:9)” (67) The implications of this prohibition is that what was seen and heard during the Transfiguration will only be discernable after Jesus’ resurrection. Wrede concludes that “during his earthly life Jesus’ messiahship is absolutely a secret and is supposed to be such; no one apart from the confidants of Jesus is supposed to learn about it; with the resurrection, however, its disclosure ensues. This is in fact the crucial idea, the underlying point of Mark’s entire approach.” (68)

 

Concealment Despite Revelation

The Prophecies of the Suffering, Dying and Rising of Jesus

Wrede illustrates the necessity of Jesus’ death from the start of Mark’s Gospel. “Jesus’ death, just like his resurrection, is a part, and an essential part, of his messianic work.” (83) According to Wrede, it is Mark’s view that Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem because that is where he wants to die. For Wrede this is how Mark’s community would have viewed Jesus’ death and Jesus’ approach to life. (84) Wrede clarifies this in saying that “without the resurrection the suffering and dying are inconceivable for an early Christian.” (85) Wrede portrays the prophecies of suffering as statements directed from Mark’s community of faith. This could be a clue that Mark’s community was experiencing persecution and suffering.

The Attitude of the Disciples to the Prophecies

Wrede refutes the idea that the disciples are somehow slowly coming to understand Jesus’ prophecy of his suffering through repetition. He notes that despite Jesus’ repetition of the prophecy the disciples arrive at no clearer understanding, and there is no attempt by Jesus to explain the prophecy to them. Wrede says, “Jesus speaks of his passion and resurrection in such plain language that it is incomprehensible how there should be anything incomprehensible in them!” (94)  In a reference to Strauss, Wrede explains the disciples’ lack of understanding as if they were trying to understand a foreign language. “Nevertheless they hold on to it, one might also suppose, in order to preserve it for a time when understanding would dawn.” (94) Hence, understanding will come with Jesus’ resurrection.

The Disciples Understanding in General: Revelation and Secret

Wrede makes the points that throughout Mark’s Gospel the disciples are seen as incapable of understanding Jesus. (101) Their inability to understand extends from divine intention for messianic secrecy until the resurrection. For Wrede, these disciples in Mark are not real figures. They are “disciples who never become any wiser about Jesus after all the wonderful things they see about him.” (103) Jesus keeps the messianic secret while on earth and even though Jesus reveals himself to his disciples, they remain incapable of perceiving his revelation until Jesus resurrection. (113)

 

The Confession of Peter in the Gospel of Mark

Wrede acknowledges that Mark did not know anything about when Jesus was revealed as Messiah and that historically it was not important to him. Wrede makes two points as to why Mark did not view Peter’s confession as a climax in the revelation of Jesus life. First, he notes that Jesus did not conceal himself from his disciples; rather they were incapable of understanding. Second, the Transfiguration provides another introduction of the secret. (116)

 

Mark as an Author

Wrede argues that Mark does not have the historical life of Jesus in mind when he is writing his Gospel, rather Mark is writing from convictions of faith. (131) According to Mark, Wrede explains, “the person of Jesus is dogmatically conceived. He is the bearer of the definite dignity bestowed by God.” (131) According to Mark, Jesus’ motives are divine and “his knowledge is such as no man can possess on his own account but he conceals it and conceals his own being because from the beginning his gaze is directed to the point of the whole story, i.e. the resurrection, which is the event that will make manifest for men what is secret.” (131)

 

Concluding Remarks

Wrede concludes by acknowledging that the notion that Mark invented the messianic secret is quite impossible. Wrede says that in Mark’s Gospel, “the entire life of Jesus is shot through with the various motifs of this idea. The individual conceptions occur in a multiplicity of variants. In them there is much that is unresolved. Material of this kind is not the work of an individual.” (145) Wrede understands Mark’s motifs to be an admixture of Traditional material and Mark’s own contributions. (146)

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A Critical Book Review of “Apocalyptic Eschatology in the Gospel of Matthew”

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David Sim’s reconstruction of the apocalyptic eschatology in Matthew’s gospel illuminates our understanding of the time period in which Matthew lived, and also Matthew’s concern in portraying Jesus Christ to his audience. Sim suggests that Matthew did not write to condemn his community, but rather he wrote out of an acute need to protect and enhance his community’s sense of distinctiveness. From a pastoral perspective, Matthew was concerned for the wellbeing of his troubled church.

In his introduction, Sim defines apocalyptic eschatology as “an all-embracing religious perspective which considers the past, present and future within a dualistic and deterministic framework.”(1) Sim defines apocalyptic eschatology in this way to refute the notion that apocalyptic eschatology has only to do with judgment or final judgment. There are three related areas in which Sim says that a document studying apocalyptic eschatology involves: “the content of the apocalyptic-eschatological scheme in question, the social setting which gives rise to it, and the particular functions it serves for the author or group which adopts it.” (2)

Developing from these three areas of study, Sim identifies the aims of his work. The first is his concern to descriptively identify “precisely the nature and extent of apocalyptic eschatology in the gospel of Matthew.”(3) The second is his concern to explain and account for Matthew’s adoption of apocalyptic eschatology. The third is his identifying the practical purposes for Matthew and his audience in adopting apocalyptic eschatology.

Sim begins his work with a brief overview of the historical development of scholarly discussion concerning the apocalyptic eschatology in Matthew’s gospel. He develops his argument from Bornkamm’s work that extends into the work of Trilling and Strecker; in that, eschatology in Matthew’s gospel was to be viewed only in conjunction with or part of Matthew’s ecclesiology (7). Sim describes the drastic movement away from Matthew’s eschatology up to 1980 in H.C. Kee’s quote, “The church of Matthew with the apostolic foundation going back to Peter as sovereign and arbiter… is an established institution, not an apocalyptic sect.”[1]

Sim’s purpose for this work was to provide a larger and more complete treatment of all aspects of Matthew’s use of apocalyptic eschatology and its relation to other apocalyptical-eschatological sources. Certain presuppositions that Sim identifies concerning his work with Matthew’s gospel are that he maintains that the author of the first gospel is not known, rejects the traditional identification of Matthew as the disciple of Jesus, asserts that Matthew was a Jew, dates the gospel around 80 CE and probably written in Syria, and attests to the ‘two document’ thesis that Matthew’s gospel was composed using Mark and Q as its major sources.

Sim uses two techniques to develop his study of apocalyptic-eschatology in Matthew. The first technique he uses is redaction criticism. Secondly, he applies a social-scientific method to determine the influence of the historical, geographical, cultural, and social context on Matthew and his gospel. Sim also employs the movement from description to explanation, and then explanation to function in each section.

Part I: Apocalyptic Eschatology and Apocalypticism

Sim first addresses the problem of terminology. He illustrates P.D. Hanson’s threefold classification of apocalypsis as the view of many scholars. “According to Hanson, we must speak of the literary form as apocalypse, the dominating (eschatological) religious perspective as apocalyptic eschatology and the socio-religious movement as apocalypticism.”(24) Sim argues that the latter two are more closely connected together and that the literary form can be separated from the religious perspective and the socio-religious movement. As a result, modern terminology is used to describe the historical situation. Sim says the use of these modern terms to reflect the historical situation is insufficient. He says,“We must accept that there is apocalyptic eschatology and apocalypticism outside the apocalyptic genre, apocalypses which have little or no apocalyptic eschatology, and apocalyptic groups which did not produce apocalypses.” (26) He identifies the Qumran community as an example of an apocalyptic group that did not produce new apocalypses.

Even though he sees the current terminology as insufficient in detailing the different parts of the genre of apocalypses, Sim retains the current terminology in his work. Sim makes the distinction of apocalyptic eschatology and apocalypticism as being separate from the literary genre of apocalypses, so that the reader will recognize the validity of studying apocalyptic eschatology and apocalypticism in the book of Matthew, which is not a work of apocalypse.

The major characteristics of apocalyptic eschatology

Sim uses the Qumran Community as the strongest evidence for connecting apocalyptic eschatology to the Matthean community. According to Sim, the eschatological themes function under the two concepts of dualism and determinism. The six themes that function under these two concepts are eschatological woes, the appearance of a savior figure, the judgment, the fate of the wicked, the fate of the righteous, and an immanent end expectation. Following a brief overview of the two concepts and six themes, Sim summarizes the apocalyptic-eschatological perspective in a general overview. He begins the summary stating, “Apocalyptic eschatology is a comprehensive religious perspective with a distinctive view of reality.” (53) This sets up for the reader a basic understanding of Sim’s approach to the apocalyptic eschatology in Matthew’s gospel.

The Social Setting of Apocalypticism and the Function of Apocalyptic Eschatology.

Sim depicts the social setting that is apparent with apocalypticism as the rising of minority groups in response to “a situation of great crisis or distress.” (54) He identifies the specific functions of apocalyptic eschatology in five distinct groups that may overlap on certain points: 1. Identification and legitimation, 2. Explanation of current circumstances, 3. Encouragement and hope for the future, 4. Vengeance and consolation, 5. Group solidarity and social control. (64) Sim provides a brief summary of the focal points of both apocalyptic eschatology as a religious perspective and apocalypticism as a socio-religious movement within the historical time-frame of the gospel of Matthew. (70-1)

Part II: Apocalyptic eschatology in the gospel of Matthew

Looking at Matthew’s use of his synoptic sources, Sim identifies the parts that were altered minimally, altered drastically, or altogether supplemented. Sim’s goal in this section is to identify the elements that Matthew utilized from the Christian sources both within and without the synoptic sources, and the themes and motifs he adopted from the Jewish apocalyptic-eschatological tradition. (73)

Dualism and Determinism in Matthew

Sim says that there are temporal and cosmic dualism present in the gospel of Matthew. This mixing of the temporal and cosmic forces is very present in the eschatological judgment. Sim points to the “parable of the tares” in Matthew 13:24-43 as an apocalyptic-eschatological example of dualism in the gospel of Matthew that resembles that of the Qumran community (“sons of light and sons of darkness”). “By using such language Matthew deliberately relates the dualism of the human sphere to the cosmic battle which is being fought between Jesus and Satan.” (79) In the Qumran community Michael was the leader of the cosmic forces of light while Belial was the leader of the cosmic forces of darkness, and in Matthew “Jesus Son of Man, the leader of the heavenly angels, who sows the good seed” while the devil is the one who creates the weeds.

Eschatological woes and the coming of the Son of Man are important for Matthew’s apocalyptic eschatology. Sim points out that Matthew is the only gospel that uses the term parousia. For Matthew, when the Son of Man comes two things will take place before the final judgment, the general resurrection of the dead and the recreation of the cosmos. Matthew points out certain events that will transpire before the Son of Man appears, the breakdown of the social order and the natural order described in 24:4-31. A possibility of the social breakdown for Matthew could consist of the Roman and demonic forces forming an alliance. (103)

Matthew depicts Jesus Son of Man, who is now at the right hand of God, returning as the Son of Man like a military commander leading the armies of heaven. Sim identifies Matthew intensification of Mark 13 in this motif. In the New Testament, only Matthew and Revelation depict Jesus and his angels militarily. Matthew also depicts Jesus Son of Man as a judge, whereas, Q and Mark depict Jesus solely as an advocate in the eschatological judgment. The arrival of Jesus Son of Man is during the final battle between the righteous and the wicked, but Matthew does not describe a battle. Instead, Matthew moves directly into the judgment which could indicate the immediate surrender of the evil forces upon the arrival of Jesus Son of Man.

Sim argues, quite convincingly, that Matthew acquired his “Son of Man” language from a common source that was used also by the writer of the Parables of Enoch. The Son of Man language in both traditions is considered to be a reinterpretation of “like a Son of Man” in Daniel 7:13-14. Sim makes the point that Matthew edited his Jewish sources just like he edited his Christian traditions.

Sim also argues against the thought that Matthew was not concerned with specific elements of judgment and especially the outcome of the final judgment. He makes two points. First, Sim argues that the varying accounts of Matthew’s descriptions that seem to communicate the final judgment are not to hinder Matthew’s concern for the final judgment because Matthew was not a systematic theologian. Second, Sim argues that the accounts of the final judgment and its aftermath are not as inconsistent as some claim. (146) Sim argues that Jesus Son of Man, not simply as advocate, but as judge in the eschatological judgment assumes the greatest importance in Matthew’s overall apocalyptic-eschatological scheme. Sim says, “the material delineating the respective fates of the righteous and the wicked is therefore the climax of Matthew’s particular scheme to which everything else points.” (147)

Whether or not Matthew considered the end as imminent is highly contested among scholars. According to Sim, most scholars do not consider Matthew’s view of the end as imminent. However, Sim argues for an earlier view of interpreting Matthew’s writing in light of his apocalyptic-eschatology and an imminent end. Sim addresses three texts to argue for the imminent view of the end in Matthew’s gospel (10:23; 16:28; 24:34). (155) Sim spends most of his work on the latter two passages and attest to Matthew’s own eschatological timetable being constructed in 24:4-14. (174)

Part III: The social setting of the Matthean community and the function of apocalyptic eschatology in the gospel of Matthew

Sim depicts the Matthean community as facing a number of related crises pertaining to the Jewish War during the years 66-70 CE. According to Sim, there was no indication of economic oppression in the Matthean community like that of the community in which the author who wrote the book of Enoch addresses. Even the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem was not directly the cause of crisis for the Matthean community (Matt. 22:7). (181) Sim depicts Matthew’s response to the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem as an appropriate response from God for rejecting the Messiah. Matthew’s community was affected by a combination of factors stemming from the aftermath of the events from 66-70 CE. These factors included conflict with Jews, Gentiles, and the wider world of Christians. Matthew’s community was considered to be withdrawn from society as an entirely alienated group. (182)

The Function of Apocalyptic Eschatology in the Gospel of Matthew

In commonality with other apocalyptic-eschatological works, Matthew constructs a “symbolic universe” that conflicts with those of the wider societies from which his community is alienated. “While he doubtless rejects out of hand the gentile world view, Matthew also dismisses the respective world views of the Jewish parent body and the law-free and dominant wing of Christianity, and replaces them with one which reinforces and legitimates the beliefs and hopes of his own group… By adopting the gospel genre from Mark, Matthew uses no less a figure than Jesus the messiah, son of God and Son of Man to convey and authorise this new symbolic universe.” (222)

Sim concludes by revisiting the five general functions of apocalyptic eschatology, and showing how they all play a part in Matthew’s scheme. These five functions of apocalyptic eschatology provide identity and legitimacy (dualism), explanation of the current circumstances (determinism), encouragement and hope for the future (determinism-earlier predictions were fulfilled), vengeance and consolation (fate of the wicked), and group solidarity and social control (free will for the individual, but two edged sword of judgment). (222-41)

Conclusion:

Sim does an excellent job arguing the need for better terminology in associations made within the apocalyptic genre. He argues that apocalyptic-eschatology (a religious perspective) and apocalypticism (a socio-religious movement) are not necessarily dependent upon apocalypses (literary works), and that the gospel of Matthew is a great example of this. Also, Sim provides adequate historical background for understanding apocalyptic eschatology so that the reader is able to associate the religious perspective’s proper interpretation within Matthew’s gospel. By addressing in detail the contrasting views of his argument, Sim provides a systematic methodology to determine that the contrasted view is insufficient or possibly incomplete.


[1] Kee, Christian Origins, p. 143.

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Biblical Studies, Theology, Worship

Creation, the Establishment of Worship through God’s Good Work.

religiopoliticaltalk.comIntroduction:

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” [1]  Jesus declared to his disciples their identity and work in the world. The disciples were called “the light of the world,” and their work was to involve doing good works before others so as to bring glory to God. The Church was ordained by Christ to be God’s light, and shine God’s light by practicing good works for all of creation to see. As the author of light and good works, God created the natural processes in which good results stem from good works. Christ revealed to his disciples their identity in the world by appealing to their understanding of light’s role in Creation. In Creation, God spoke light into existence and separated it from darkness.  Just as all creation has seen the good work of God in creating light and separating it from darkness, so Christ called his disciples to be light separated from the dark state of creation. The disciples were to model God’s good work in Creation so that others would see their good works and give glory to God.  The disciples worshiped God in responding obediently to God’s greatest revelation of light, Jesus Christ. Creation responds to God’s revelation of good works that are done by Christ’s followers.

God established worship by revealing the good work of Creation to all created things. In response to God’s good work, all created things experience God’s goodness. God’s good work in Creation established Israel’s worship regimen.  In Exodus 34:21, the people of Israel were called to follow the paradigm of God’s good work in Creation by working for six days out of the week and resting on the seventh day. God’s good work in Creation also established worship for all humanity in the revelation of Jesus Christ. God’s revelation of Creation’s goodness to humanity culminated in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. God’s Spirit acknowledged the goodness of Creation to all people through Christ’s humanity.  “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”[2]  In Jesus Christ’s humanity, God’s good work was revealed to all of creation as the means of restoration to God’s glory and goodness.

God’s order of Creation has been instrumental throughout history in dictating the worship of God. The Israelites were commanded to rest on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, the day in which God rested after the good work of Creation was finished. Sunday has been the Church‘s designated day of worship since the 4th century and coincides with the first day of Creation on which God’s good work established light. God’s creation of light was also significant to the early Church because of God’s revelation of “the true light,”[3] Jesus Christ and his resurrection.  Justin Martyr, a second-century apologist, appealed to God’s Creation as a reason that the Church gathered on Sunday to worship when he told his pagan listeners, “we all hold this common gathering on Sunday since it is the first day, on which God transforming darkness and matter made the universe, and Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead on the same day.”[4]

God sees Creation as good, temporally, through the Holy Spirit’s revelation of Creation’s goodness to humanity.  Through the Holy Spirit’s revelation of Creation’s goodness to humanity, God initiates worship.  Humanity responds to God’s good work in Creation by extolling God, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works that I know very well.”[5]

In his Confessions, Saint Augustine reflects on the Genesis 1 account of God’s recognizing Creation as good.  Augustine reflects on the seven times that God declared the individual acts of Creation as good, and an eighth time, after Creation was complete, when God declared all of Creation as exceedingly good.  In Augustine’s questioning the nature of God’s work in time, Augustine discovers that God experiences the goodness of Creation through the Holy Spirit’s presence in humanity.  In Augustine’s reflection on the goodness of Creation, he says to God, “It is different for people who see creation through your Spirit, for you are seeing it through their eyes.  Thus when such people see that these things are good, you are seeing that they are good; whatever created things please them for your sake, it is you who are arousing this delight in these things; and anything that gives us joy through your Spirit gives you joy in us.”[6]

First Move: God’s Good Work in Creation established Worship for Israel.

Creation is God’s work of grace.  Karl Barth claims, “the very existence and nature of the creature are the work of the grace of God.”[7]  God’s selflessness models the nature and spirit of worship for humanity.  God acts, and creation responds by doing what it is created to do.  God’s acting is essentially God’s work in revealing creation’s purpose.  Barth says, “creation is the road to the covenant,… The covenant is the internal basis of creation…. This consists in the fact that the wisdom and omnipotence of God the Creator was not just any wisdom and omnipotence but that of His free love…. The fact that the covenant is the goal of creation is not something which is added later to the reality of the creature…. It already characterizes creation itself and as such, and therefore the being and existence of the creature.”[8]

A commandment that God gave to the Israelites that stemmed directly from God’s good work in Creation, is found in Exodus 34:21, which says: “Six days you are to work, and on the seventh day you are to rest. Even in ploughing time and in crop harvest, you are to rest.”[9]  This passage identifies God’s work in Creation as the establishment of worship.  God’s good work establishing worship in Creation is evident in the study of the Hebrew word, avad, in the context of Exodus 34:21.

In Exodus 34:21, the word ta’avod is taken from the verb root avad that means “work, serve,” and in many English translations of this passage the word ta’avad is translated as “work.”

The word avad comes from an Aramaic word which means “worship, obey (God).”[10]  The word ta’avod in Exodus 34:21, is related to the root avad in that it is absolute and means “labour, work, do work.”  The word ta’avod is the Qal, prefix, 2nd person, masculine, singular and seems to take the imperfect form.  Other possible translations similar to the word ta’avod that are absolute are “work for another, serve him by labour,” “serve as subjects,” “serve God or serve other gods,” or “serve with Levitical service.”  In the Niphal stem, the root avad can be translated “be tilled,” “cultivated,” or “make oneself a servant.”  In the Pual stem, the root avad can be translated “has been worked” or “was worked.”  In the Hiphil stem, the root avad can be translated “compel to labour,” “make to serve,” or “cause to serve.” In the Hophal stem the root avad can be translated “be led to serve” or “enticed to serve.”[11]

The idea of “work” for God in the Old Testament constituted allegiance to God by doing what God desired.  The command to live righteously and justly is a command to worship God through actions.  The Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament describes serving God as inseparable from being human.  To be human is to serve God.  “Being human without serving God is as impossible as being human without being active.  In the OT, “serving God” comprehensively describes relationship to God.”[12]

The correlation between “worshiping” and “serving” God is so closely connected to humanity’s living life that it is inseparable from being a part of everyday living.  What people do six days a week in “working,” “laboring,” and “serving” is for and because of humanity’s relationship with their Creator.  “Since ‘serving God’ indicates one’s relationship to God as a whole, it cannot mean ‘to do God a service.’  Instead, it signifies acknowledgment of God as Lord, an acknowledgment that requires one’s entire existence.”[13]

The Exodus 34:21 passage describes a renewal of God’s covenantal relationship with Israel.  In the verses before 21, there are pronouncements to do away with the worship of other gods to worship only Yahweh.  The culmination of these pronouncements seems to be verse 21, when the passage depicts a week long/total existence of “service/worship” to Yahweh.  “The rhythm of worship and rest following six days of work (21), in a close parallel to 23:12, with the addition of a statement not found elsewhere in the OT, that the rhythm of seventh-day rest is not to be interrupted even by the busiest work-seasons, plowing time and harvest time-this requirement, which would certainly have set Israel apart.”[14]

This type of work ethic would be contrary to the rest of the world’s laboring work requirements.  The command seems to indicate a day of rest for reflection on the previous six days just as God did after creating all things.  The command also seems to call for a reestablishment of purpose, “to serve/worship the one true God, Yahweh,” for the next six days and remain in the covenant.

The Torah contains several clues for translating ta’avod as “worship” in Exodus 34:21. In Deuteronomy 6:13, the word ta’avod is translated as “worship.”  This passage is a part of the shema, which Israel would use in worship everyday, not just one day a week.  In Deuteronomy 7:16, the word ta’avod is translated as “worship” to command the people of Israel not to worship other gods.  This passage echoes the call of Exodus 34:21, in that, it pertains to the fulfilling of the covenantal relationship setup in Exodus 34.  In Deuteronomy 10:20, the word ta’avod is translated as “worship” to command the people of Israel to worship only God and to remain faithful to the covenantal relationship with Him.[15]

The Israelites were to worship according to the model of God’s work in Creation.  God’s good work in Creation was prompted by covenant.  In Israel’s disobedience and worshiping of false gods, God calls them to remember who created all things and to remain in the covenant instituted by Creation in God’s love for them.

Second Move: God’s Good Work in Creation established Worship for all People.

The purpose of humanity’s creation and the establishment of worship are seen through the covenantal relationship that God established in Creation and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Barth says, “Divine creation is divine benefit. What takes shape in it is the goodness of God.”[16]  In Creation, God’s purpose is to reveal the ultimate goodness of Jesus Christ as a benefit for all created beings in order to secure the covenant between God and humanity.

In reflecting on Christ and the goodness of God’s work in Creation Augustine says, “in your Word, Your only Son, we saw them severally as good and collectively as exceedingly good; for what we saw was heaven and earth, the Head and the body of the Church which you predestined before time began, when there was neither morning nor evening.”[17]  If covenant is the purpose of Creation, and worship is God’s revelation to humanity and humanity’s response, then Jesus Christ is the purpose of Creation and initiates all worship.  Paul details Jesus’ work in Creation to the church in Colossae in writing, “For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things have been created through him and for him.”[18]  Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God’s love for creation because in Jesus Christ, God became human.  The purpose and means of creation is Jesus Christ, and in him, all of creation sees God’s work of goodness within creation.

Christ became human to glorify God within creation.  In the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the plan of God’s redemptive work in the world is seen.  The German word for worship, Gottesdienst (“God’s service and our service to God”), “reflects a God who ‘emptied himself, taking the form of a slave’ (Phil. 2:7) and our service to such a God.”[19]  In the Incarnation, the Creator embodies the created and proclaims, “See, I am making all things new!”[20]

Jeremy Begbie details creation’s restoration through Christ’s resurrection in saying that, “On the third day, the destruction and distortion are transfigured and redirected.  In Christ, all that is ugly and subversive in the cosmos has been purified, beautified and fulfilled.  Therein lies the promise for the transformation of all things.  Like our bodies, which will be changed in resurrection from physical to spiritual bodies while still remaining bodies, creation will be remade by the God who promises never to let it go.”[21]  Paul communicated this restoration of the world in Christ to the Corinthian Church in saying, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!”[22]  Paul continues in saying that in receiving the Holy Spirit of Christ, the Church is given “the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.”[23]

In Christ, there is new creation, because in Christ, creation is restored to God’s glory and goodness.  Begbie explains the significance of Christ’s work for the restoration of creation in saying, “the goal of transformation is clearly best thought of as re-creation, rather than ‘a return to Eden’, to what ‘once was’, a status quo ante.  The entire universe is summoned by the Spirit to a new future, a destiny not given ‘in the beginning’, a destiny centred – as the book of Revelation reminds us so clearly – on the one who says ‘Behold, I make all things new’.”[24]

The Church embodies Christ’s restoration through the sacramental worship practice of Baptism.  In Baptism, the disciple responds to God’s revelation in Christ’s resurrection.  James White says, “After Easter, lessons from the book of Acts are read as the story of the new creation begins with the resurrection.”[25] In Baptism, the follower of Christ accepts death with the promise of a new life, Christ’s life. Bonhoeffer describes this death as “not the act of an angry Creator finally rejecting his creation in his wrath, but the gracious death which has been won for us by the death of Christ; the gracious assumption of the creature by his creator.”[26]

The visible act of Baptism puts to death the individual’s life in exchange for the resurrected life of Christ. The individual, through the work of the Holy Spirit, is then a part of Christ’s Body in the world, the Church. The Baptized Church is alive and united in the Body of Jesus Christ. Through the death of baptism, the Church’s goodness and newness is being restored by God’s good work in Jesus Christ’s incarnation, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension.

Conclusion:

Jesus Christ is the purpose of God’s Creation.  God’s good work in Creation is directed to humanity by the covenant and benefit of Jesus Christ. Christ is the greatest possible revelation of God to humanity; therefore, Christ is humanity’s greatest response to God in worship. Worship is established in Creation by God’s good work through and for Jesus Christ.

If worship is God’s good work in restoring all creation to God’s image and glory through Jesus Christ, then the followers of Christ are called to worship God through extending God’s work of restoration to all Creation. This is evident in the book of James, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”[27] In the example of Abraham, James says, “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works.”[28] Faith is only possible through God’s good work in creation. James continues, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”[29]

Works is the spirit that brings the body of faith to life.  If faith is defined in Jesus Christ, then Christ’s followers proclaim their faith through their good works. We act out the goodness of God through works, because we have faith that God is restoring all of creation to a newness that has been actualized in the resurrected body of Jesus Christ. The world sees our good works and glorifies God by taking part in the restoration of God’s glory to all creation through the Holy Spirit. If Christ’s followers do not practice good works for the world to see and give glory to God in heaven, then their faith is dead, and left lifeless before the power of God that is established in Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

The Resurrection is the power of God to restore goodness! God is revealing, through the Church, the revelation of Christ to the world so that the world may respond. In worship, Christ’s followers actuate God’s restoration of goodness and newness to all creation, by responding to God’s revelation of Jesus Christ’s resurrection in this world, with good works. The act of Creation is worship to God because of God’s good work in and through the created work.

 

The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” – Psalm 19:1

 


[1] Matt. 5:14-16 (NRSV)

[2] Jn. 1:14 (NRSV)

[3] See Jn. 1:9 (NRSV)

[4] Cyril Richardson, ed., Early Church Fathers  (Philidelphia: Westminster Press, 1953), 96.

[5] Psalm 139:14 (NRSV)

[6] Saint Augustine, Confessions (New York: Vintage Spiritual Classics, 1998), 337.

[7] Karl Barth. Church Dogmatics (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 150.

[8] Barth. Church Dogmatics, 151.

[9] John I. Durham, Exodus. Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 3. (Waco: Word, 1987), 456.

[10] Francis Brown, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Glasgow: Oxford University Press, Amen House, London E.C.4, 1957), 712.

[11] Brown, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, 712-713.

[12] Ernst Jenni, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1997), 829.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Durham, Exodus. Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 3, 461.

[15] Abraham Even-Shoshan, A New Concordance of the Bible: Thesaurus of the Language of the Bible Hebrew and Aramaic Roots, Words, Proper Names, Phrases, and Synonoyms (Jerusalem: “Kiryat Sefer” Publishing House LTD., 1985), 818.

[16] Barth. Church Dogmatics, 152.

[17] Augustine, Confessions, 340.

[18] Col. 1:16 (NRSV)

[19] James F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 26.

[20] Rev. 21:5 (NRSV)

[21] Jeremy Begbie, Voicing Creation’s Praise: Towads A Theology of the Arts (London: T & T Clark, 2003), 175.

[22] 2 Cor. 5:17 (NRSV)

[23] 2 Cor. 5:18-19 (NRSV)

[24] Begbie, Voicing Creation’s Praise: Towads A Theology of the Arts, 175.

[25] White, Introduction to Christian Worship, 76.

[26] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: SCM Press Ltd., 1959), 232.

[27] Jas. 2:18 (NRSV)

[28] Jas. 2:22 (NRSV)

[29] Jas. 2:26 (NRSV)

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Christian Community

The Church’s Call to Suffering in Post-Christian America: Preliminary

How can the Church’s suffering make visible the Kingdom of God in America?

Universal Scope: God restores creation’s goodness and newness through the Church’s suffering.

The Kingdom of God in the world is the ongoing work of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit’s work in the Church, to restore goodness and newness to all of creation.  Creation’s goodness stems from the work of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and reflects the community, image, and glory of the Triune God. The Church reflects this goodness of God in the world through its suffering. This call of the Church is essential for the visibility of the Kingdom of God in world, because Christ gave the call to the Church while He was in the world.

Through the Lord’s Prayer, the Eucharist, and Baptism, the Church lives out Christ’s call and becomes the visible Body of Christ in the world. The Church embraces suffering as living in, what Jewish apocalypticism would define as, the penultimate age which is to precede the full in-breaking of the age to come when God’s presence will infuse all of creation.

The Lord’s Prayer, instituted by Jesus, is the empowerment of His followers to actively proclaim their desire to God in declaring, “Your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus Christ is the only one who encounters both Heaven and Earth at the same time; therefore, he is the only one who would be able to encourage his followers of the validity of their prayer by his example.  In Jesus Christ’s becoming flesh and dwelling on earth, he made visible the possibility of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. The Eucharist and Baptism are practices Christ instituted for the Church in order to establish the will of God in the world.

While suffering in the world, the Church continues Christ work so that the Kingdom of God may be visible in the world. God’s Kingdom is seen in the world through the Church’s obedience to Christ’s call to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, to love their neighbors as themselves, and even to change the identity of their enemies by loving them.  Even in this commandment given by Christ, the call of the Church is evident. To love one’s enemies while enduring persecution is suffering.

Once Christ’s followers love their enemies, their enemies are no longer identified as such, but are drawn  into the love of Christ whether they realize it or not. Christ’s love transforms the identity of his enemies  in the act of the lover to the loved regardless of the recipients acknowledgment or response. The lover changes the identity of the loved  by commending the loved to prayer before God’s hearing and judgment in obedience to Christ’s decree to, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This model is given to the Church by Jesus Christ, and the Church is only able to follow the model through her empowerment by the Holy Spirit.

This call to suffering is not meant to provoke the Church to seek out suffering, but to endure suffering. The Church encounters resistance and suffering in its proclamation of Jesus Christ’s work in the world. With endurance, the Church suffers in the world through the example of Jesus Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. Polycarp wrote to the 2nd century Church in Philippi, “Let us therefore become imitators of His endurance; and if we should suffer for His name’s sake, let us glorify Him. For He gave this example to us in His own person, and we believed this.”

The Church’s understanding of suffering preceding glory is established in the life of Jesus Christ. The penultimate age, in Jewish apocalyticism, is the time of suffering that immediately precedes the age-to-come. This is evident in Jesus Christ’s suffering and death that preceded His resurrection. Christ is the first to receive glorification in the age-to-come because of His suffering. The Church, as the Body of Christ in the world, is partaking in the age-to-come through the Holy Spirit.

The Church freely suffers so as to eradicate suffering. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in regard to Christ’s suffering that Christ must drink the cup of suffering that was given to Him and in doing so He would relinquish it. The Church embodies suffering in its communion with Christ through the act of Baptism.

In Baptism, the follower of Christ accepts death with the promise of a new life, Christ’s life. Bonhoeffer describes this death as “not the act of an angry Creator finally rejecting his creation in his wrath, but the gracious death which has been won for us by the death of Christ; the gracious assumption of the creature by his creator.” The visible act of Baptism puts to death the individual’s life in exchange for the resurrected life of Christ. The individual, through the work of the Holy Spirit, is then a part of Christ’s Body in the world, the Church.

Through the death of baptism, the Church’s suffering with Christ in the world is a pronouncement of the age-to-come. It is in this hope that Paul encourages the Church in Rome in their suffering saying, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” The Church’s visible freedom in the world extends from Christ’s stipulation, “If any wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Bonhoeffer describes this daily denying of self in the example of Christ’s own suffering. “It is infinitely easier to suffer in obedience to a human command than to accept suffering as free, responsible men. It is infinitely easier to suffer with others than to suffer alone. It is infinitely easier to suffer as public heroes than to suffer apart and in ignominy. It is infinitely easier to suffer physical death than to endure spiritual suffering. Christ suffered as a free man alone apart and in ignominy, in body and in spirit, and since that day many Christians have suffered with him.”

Christ’s suffering is visible to the world. The world sees Christ’s cross as foolishness, but the Church declares the power of God in Christ’s suffering. Paul communicated the power of God in suffering to the Church in Corinth by describing his own weakness as an avenue for God’s strength. Christ suffered in order to elevate humanity, from created beings with the image of God, to children and heirs with Christ.

It is Christ’s Incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection within the world that establishes the Kingdom of God in the world. N.T. Wright explains, “that the inbreaking kingdom Jesus was announcing created a new world, a new context, and he was challenging his hearers to become the new people that this new context demanded, the citizens of this new world.”

A Challenge to the Church’s call to Suffering:

A view that challenges the Church’s call to suffering is Liberation Theology. Liberation Theology utilizes pedagogy as a way to establish freedom for oppressed human beings. One of the leaders of this view is Paulo Freire. Freire’s vision, to establish a free humanity and human dignity, aligns with the work and call of the Church. Freire says, “Indeed, if people were to become critical, enter reality, increase their capacity to make choices (and therefore their capacity to reject the prescriptions of others), the threat to privilege would increase as well.”

Henry Giroux, a proponent of Freire’s work writes, “Central to Freire’s politics and pedagogy is a philosophical vision of a liberated humanity.” Giroux says that, “The nature of this vision is rooted in a respect for life. The hope and vision of the future that it inspires are not meant to provide consolation for the oppressed as much as to promote ongoing forms of critique and a struggle against objective forces of oppression.”

Liberation Theology brings into question the call for the Church to endure suffering in the world. Liberation theology does not align with Jesus Christ’s subservience to the Roman Empire as a political power, even unto death. Jesus Christ embraced reality, embodied all the knowledge of the Universe, was free to make His own choices, was God incarnate, nevertheless, his freedom came through his crucifixion by his oppressors.

Christ’s submission to the oppression of the Romans indicates His willingness to suffer in obedience to God for the sake of the world’s freedom. Liberation Theology accentuates humanity’s desire to be free, however, it does not appropriate suffering under oppression as a way to freedom. Christ’s suffering and death is the way to His freedom in the resurrection.

Liberation Theology’s focus on education as a corridor for freedom also minimizes the power of the incarnation of Christ to nothing more than an intellectual revelation that empowers the oppressed with information. Knowledge and recognition of oppression is not a guarantor of freedom. Even the Israelites, while in Egypt, understood they were living in oppression; nevertheless, it was God who saw their suffering and caused them to be a free people.

Universal Result: God’s work, through the Church’s suffering, is restoring goodness and newness to all of creation.

In Jesus Christ, the Church continues the work of God to restore creation’s goodness and newness. God’s restoring of creation’s goodness and newness begins with the Incarnation. Through Jesus Christ’s flesh, God is reestablishing goodness and newness to humanity, because it is in the Incarnation that humanity confronts the goodness of God in the world. The Creator embodies the created and proclaims, “See, I am making all things new!”

Paul communicated this restoration of the world in Christ to the Corinthian Church in saying, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!” Paul continues in saying that in receiving the Holy Spirit of Christ, the Church is given “the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.” In Christ, there is new creation, because in Christ, God restores creation to goodness and newness.

God continues the work of restoring creation through the power of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Church. Through its suffering, the Church makes visible the Kingdom of God in the world. As the Body of Christ, the Church obeys the will of God in continuing Christ’s work in world. Christ’s work in the world is the extending of God’s community, God’s Image, and God’s goodness to all of creation.

The Church is only able to reestablish God’s goodness in the world through the work of the Holy Spirit. Karl Barth says, “Clever enough is the paradox that the service of God is or must become the service of man; but that is not the same as saying that our precipitate service of man, even when it is undertaken in the name of the purest love, becomes by that happy fact the service of God.”

Goodness only stems from the work of God. The reestablishing of God’s goodness in world must be comprised of God’s work in the Church. God’s work, through the Church’s suffering, is restoring goodness and newness to all of creation.

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