The Pep Talk that Jesus Never Gave…

A Speculation

“Gentlemen, tomorrow is the day that we’ve jointly been working towards. You’ve supported me throughout the various trials meted out by both the occupying forces and our own religious leadership, not to mention individuals who seem to have missed the point.

But tomorrow I die. If you don’t listen carefully you’ll be confused, and there will be multiple theories in the future about what my death proved, or showed, or achieved. People will speculate that I was sacrificed as a ransom to Satan, or that I died to satisfy an angry Father (God forbid). But the reality is far simpler:

Tomorrow you are all forgiven. Every one of you. And you, and you. In fact, every person, man, woman and child in the whole world. You are all forgiven of your past sins and I’m giving you a fresh start as children once more of the Father. All you have to do is accept this gift freely. No strings, other than to follow the example I’ve set over these last years through faith in me and a genuine, heartfelt desire to return to the Father. Of course, some will carry on as normal, and ultimately miss out, but hey, people.

My death doesn’t bring about your forgiveness, nor does it reconcile you to the Father. Reconciliation is a gift given by the grace of God. He doesn’t need anyone to die to be generous. The Father has waited patiently for your return, but to no avail, so the time has come for Him to show you what love and forgiveness in action means. Adam blew it, and I’ll put it right.

But my Father and the Holy Spirit have agreed with me (and they always do) that I must die in order to conquer the one enemy you have left, apart from your own hard hearts – death. I will die the lowliest death known to man, in order that my return to life will be all the more spectacular, and of course my chosen method of dying won’t leave any room for doubt. People don’t get over this one. If everything goes to plan my resurrection to life will remove all doubts you may have, although I suspect Thomas may need a bit of work. One day even my worst enemy will say that without my rising your faith would have been in vain, so this isn’t about me being a great teacher, or morally perfect. This is about you being able to join me at the end of your natural earthly lives because I will have defeated death for you. It’s the best gift we could think of for you and it’s what the Father has always wanted. All you have to do is understand what I’ve done and know it was for you.

I’d like to thank you all, Peter first, for being a stalwart and practical leader, if a bit slow at times (Just kidding Pete), Judas, in his absence, for being sooooo predictable, and each of the rest of you for being there. Your work is not over (although I can’t see much of a future for Judas), because I’ll want you to get the word around along with the others. And remember, this death thing is supposed to happen, so don’t go getting down on yourselves. There is nothing you could’ve done to stop it because it’s been the plan from day one. Anyway, I’m going off to pray. All I ask is that you stay awake to watch over me. Nothing too complex, and I want you all on top form for when Judas comes back…”

 

The Butterfly Effect and Where Open Theism Fails

Many are aware of the Butterfly Effect: a tornado (exact time of formation, exact path taken) being influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier.

First formulated (or at least named) when searching weather patterns by Edward Lorenz, it shows causal determinism to be true. To clarify: a single flap of a wing producing this specific amount of pressure on surrounding air under those specific conditions will always provide the same impetus with the same results. The identical result from identical situations. It’s physics. This causal chain extends indefinitely, a long way beyond the reported final result. Yes, a tornado forms (or not) but the chain continues – the house roof that’s blown off was inevitably blown off given the strength of it’s fixings and the uplift forces placed upon it under that specific set of circumstances, and so on.

All forecasting is based upon a study of cause and effect. However, where forecasting is inaccurate it is always due to working with an incomplete set of data, i.e. not knowing every variable and its trajectory at the time required. This will include all future variables to cover the time between the forecast and the event actually taking place.

So, what are the religious implications? We believe in a first, or uncaused cause, whom we call God. And God (it is believed in orthodox Christianity) knows future events. The question is, how? For the answer, we must look to our own views of time:

We experience time as a linear sequence of events, the past being dead and gone, the present being that which we currently experience, and the future yet to come. This is the “A” Theory of Time. It’s rival, the “B” Theory of Time concludes that time, past, present and future, co-exist simultaneously. “B” Theorists hold that God can see all of time simultaneously, so predicting isn’t really a problem. Open Theists subscribe to “A” Theory; God knows the future as a series of possibilities, probabilities, and his own determined will. If God says he will do something in the future it is a promise, not him exercising his foreknowledge. His view of future events lies in his ability to calculate the possibilities, perhaps reducing some to probabilities, but never pronouncing a certainty about anything other than his own future actions.

But knowing that all events are caused, and having full command of the complete data sets, God should be able to calculate with certainty, any future event. Using infallible omniscience God can eliminate any probability or possibility by using the whole causal date set to track the paths of converging events, and physics will do the rest. He doesn’t have our limitations and therefore doesn’t have our failures in forecasting. Open theism doesn’t need to say that God doesn’t know the future with certainty. He can.

“Ah, but what about free will?” calls the crowd. Well, the question is, is free will determined by external factors plus experience? Or is a decision the result of a purely arbitrary process? Knowing our past and its influences in infinite detail must allow God to know how we would decide in any given situation. Particularly if our series of options is finite and in fact, limited. Example: I am accosted in the street by a young male who demands my wallet at knifepoint. Three thoughts spring to mind: 1). I’ll fight him; 2). I’ll give him my wallet and remain unharmed; 3). I’ll draw out a gun and shoot him. I have to will one of these options in order for it to take place. I opt for option 3. Unfortunately, I don’t carry a gun, so despite me willing option 3 I have to choose between options 1 and 2. I am a lifetime coward, so I go with option 2. Not just predictable, but a certainty bearing in mind my cowardice, upbringing and a multitude of other influencing factors, all known by God. So, I can will something that is impossible, like drawing a non-existent gun, or levitating at speed to safety, but ultimately, whatever I will, my actions are limited by circumstances and by my nature.

The Christian world seems divided between those who favour a deterministic God, and those who prefer a God who gives Mankind dominion over the Earth (though, even those admit that God enters human history from time to time). Any arguments are often couched in the term “Free Will vs Determinism”, though these terms aren’t mutually exclusive. My will is determined by who I am, and who I am is determined by numerous factors. Those factors are, in turn, influenced by past factors, all ultimately regressing to the single act of creation in a vast chain, criss-crossing, interlacing, and all subject to the Laws of Physics given to us by our creator.

We seem to be getting to a point where we understand time better than before, and I suspect that the “A” vs “B” Theory arguments may become settled.  However, I hold that under each theory God can both determine and know future events. The mechanics of how are currently unknown to us. Whether it is or not makes little difference as we always work with what we have at the time. God is in charge of history and we’re here for the ride.

The meaning of Original Sin

When it comes to Adam and his wrongdoings there are three main views of God’s position:

  1. God planned and indeed decreed that Adam should sin.
  2. God knew Adam would sin before he created him, but created him anyway.
  3. God’s hopes for humanity were dashed in a single, if allegorical act.

I’m firmly in Camp 3, believing that God hoped we’d do better but we failed him. In fact, as I’m not a biblicist, I believe that Genesis 1-3 is an allegorical tale designed to promote the God of Israel above the pagan gods and to explain why we so desperately need rescuing from the state we’re in.

When Adam ate of the mysterious fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (nothing to do with apples) he incurred the wrath of God. He and his new partner were expelled from the Garden and cast out into the hostile lands surrounding it, to eke out an existence from the now cursed ground, from amongst the thorns and thistles.

Catholics say we carry the stain of that Original Sin and Augustine in the fifth century claimed that we are jointly guilty of that first sin, and unless we turn to God’s Son, Jesus Christ in faith and obedience we are doomed to Hell fire. We are all born sinful and so deserve to die and suffer. However, the Eastern Orthodox Church defines Original Sin as Ancestral Sin, and says we don’t share in Adam’s guilt, but suffer the effects of it, and this is the view to which I hold.

Because of my beliefs I find myself trawling through the story to find its key metaphor in order to more easily explain what Original Sin is, and how we may use that knowledge to talk to others, perhaps (and hopefully) persuding them that God doesn’t make people bad then punish them for it – a view held, but denied, by Calvinists. For me, the key lies in the expulsion of the first couple, described by a fellow commentator as “being cast out into the wilderness”, stolen from Ezekiel 29.5ff.

To cast somebody out from the perfection of that first garden and into the wild, denying them access to the Tree of Life (and thus denying them eternal life) is a pretty definitive act of rejection. The holiness of living under God’s protection and all the benefits that closeness to God can bring were instantly lost.

Genesis 3:23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

This is the cause of our being separated from God. This is the effect of that Original Sin. As Adam’s progeny we are born out of fellowship, alone in a harsh world without God’s special protection and blessing. We are children in the wilderness, some searching for a way home, others resigned to their condition, and some completely ignorant of it. Our restoration can only come through our relationship with Jesus Christ, dying with him and rising to new life in harmony with the Father. The undivided Church held that the means of this rebirth was through baptism, where we symbolically die and rise again, cleansed by grace, symbolised by water.

At birth we carry the effects of our disfellowship. We have not yet sinned, but we lack that closeness to God. Worse, we have a propensity to actual sin, something Adam displayed as resident in the human psyche. For believing adults, baptism brings membership into the family of God. For infants, baptism does exactly the same thing, bringing them to God and into the family of the Church, to be later ratified by their personal faith. Actual, personal sin is only remitted by repentance, but with the promise of forgiveness for those who truly repent.

In recent years the Roman Catholic Church has moved broadly in line with the Orthodox, and now insists that we don’t carry Adam’s guilt, merely the effects of his disfellowship as head of the human race. The charge that the Church teaches that babies are “born evil” can at last be consigned to the bin of historical quirkery; The effects of Adam’s Original Sin separate us from God, but thankfully he has provided the solution in the form of his Son.

The Bread of fe

The Bread of Life (Sermon Extract)

The following is an excerpt from a sermon I gave on Sunday 16th August 2015:

St. John, Chapter 6, verses 51 – 58

Like all Anglicans, indeed, all Christians, I occasionally visit other churches, perhaps other denominations. In one particular church they held the Lord’s Supper, what we call Communion or the Eucharist in the Church of England, every two weeks. The bread, real actual bread, and some type of grape juice, were shared among the congregation after the traditional words of Christ’s institution, and the un-consumed bread was returned to the table. At the end of the service this bread was given to the children to eat while mums and dads drank coffee, and invariably it ended up being trodden into the carpet, to be later swept up and thrown into the rubbish bin.

sweep 'n 'rollI’ll let you consider that for a moment, because how you instinctively feel about it will guide you in the way you view the Eucharist, one of the two central sacraments of the Church of England, and in which we are about to share. If you cringed slightly, then you probably belong to the more traditional end of the Church. If you genuinely thought “What difference does it make” then perhaps you’re at the more progressive end.

In our Gospel reading Jesus referred to “the living bread that came down from heaven,” he continued, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Of course, he was referring to himself.

He further went on to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (54)  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (55) For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

As we heard, this started the Jews grumbling and arguing among themselves because they just didn’t get his point. But Jesus didn’t rephrase or obfuscate; he carried on, repeating his claim in the same way. He also said “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him,” perhaps referring back to the book of Genesis where two become one in matrimony,  and followed up by our understanding of the Church, the people who believe, as being the Bride of Christ. Jesus also said, in verse 58, “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Here he was referring to Manna, food that God gave miraculously to the Israelites in the Exodus, after the food they had brought with them from Egypt had run out. This was a temporary solution to keep the Israelites going and not starving, but Christ made the clear distinction: his “bread” is a permanent solution. It would be impossible perhaps, not to link this passage in John 6 to Jesus’ instigation of the Eucharist at the last supper, where in the book of St. Matthew, chapter 26 we read,

communion 1As they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” (27)  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, (28) for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (29) I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

These words are very familiar to us, and in about ten minutes we’ll hear those words again, as we come to the front of the church to receive communion.

In those words Jesus is giving himself to those who wish to partake of him, and promising eternal life as a reward. That day and the next would be a jamboree of giving, from God to us.  Jesus knew this was the night of his forthcoming capture and the subsequent trial which would end in his death. It was his last act of giving before his final gift of conquering sin, and ultimately death, on the cross.

But what exactly did he mean when he spoke of being the bread of life?

The literal view is the one that’s been held by Roman Catholics throughout the centuries; that what we eat and drink literally becomes the body and blood of Christ. However, they maintain the appearance of bread and wine. How this is so is deemed a mystery, but the claim gave rise to attacks on the early Church and accusations of cannibalism from its enemies.

The metaphorical view is held in two ways: firstly that Christ was instituting a memorial whereby we remember him each time we eat and drink, and secondly, that we encounter Christ spiritually whenever we partake of the bread and wine in a worthy manner.

Jesus was no stranger to metaphor when it came to describing himself. He was the light of the world, the vine, the door, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the alpha, the omega, the way, the truth and the life, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the bread, the wine, and carrying on the food theme he told us to “eat my flesh” and referred to the disciples as “the salt of the Earth”.

Eucharistic waferYou may understand the Eucharist in any one of these ways, because the Church of England is a very broad Church and is tolerant of each view. Generally speaking, the Church teaches and follows the understanding that Christ is spiritually present in the Eucharist, which is one reason why we take our communion with Christ so respectfully and carefully. We may bow towards the communion table, or make the sign of the cross if we’re at the more catholic and traditional end of the Church. We partake in silence, and pray our thanks when we return to what used to be our pews, back in the day when an aching back and a numb rear end were all part of being a Christian. Some of us may mourn the passing of our wooden pews, but I defy anyone to claim they were comfortable.

When Jesus distributed the bread and wine at that last Passover meal he did something which on the face of it was unexpected: A Passover meal was made up from the Passover lamb, killed for the occasion, and wine, which was supplemented by bread to help “soak it up”. But Jesus chose to call the bread his body, not the lamb, which was the central offering, and whole point of the meal. Perhaps this is an odd thing as Christ was referred to as “The Lamb of God” by John the Baptist, but in those times lamb was more of a luxury, and of course this ceremonial lamb was killed specifically for this occasion, but bread was eaten at every meal. Jesus wasn’t instigating a once a year celebration; this was to be a regular and common occurrence.

The disciples used to meet early on every Sunday morning, which you’ll remember was an ordinary working day in Roman times, and partake of their Agape meal, pray a little, sing a little and then go about their day. Soon, the elements of bread and wine became separated out, and the earliest forms of the Communion we now enjoy began. Well over 2,000 years later our repetition of that small ceremony still takes place in virtually every church in the world, and because our liturgy is so similar to the Catholic liturgy, millions of people are simultaneously saying the same thing, time zones excluded!

So, here we are. We meet here faithfully and regularly every week, and perhaps at other times, to bathe in the grace of God. This is the time where, as a body of people, we can feed on Christ, however you may understand that, and become one with him. It is a special time, a privilege. We believe that Baptism is the means of obtaining new birth, when we are cleansed and raised to new life in Christ. But the Eucharist offers us the strengthening and sustaining power of the Holy Spirit, not once a year, not once a month, not once a fortnight, but every week in the parish when we come together. In it we commune with God through the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. We are truly a blessed people.

So I come back to my first point. When that bread was trodden into the carpet in the other church, was it the actual body of Christ being trampled on, as many Catholics believe, or was it the physical representation of the spiritual body of Christ, or was it just a bit of bread, and everything else is in the hearts and minds of those who ate from it during the service? Whatever your view, the Holy Eucharist is THE central act of worship of the Church of England. Through it we receive spiritual nourishment through the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit and direct Communion with God, instituted by Christ himself. Christ is indeed the bread of life. He said “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him”.

There’s a small but interesting PS to all this; something I discovered when reading prior to writing this: Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which I already knew, but Bethlehem was a place renowned for its hospitality to travellers, as we know from Mary and Joseph’s experience at the time of Jesus’ birth. Now this may be pure coincidence, or it may be some form of cosmic joke played by God as part of his all encompassing plan, but Bethlehem, in Aramaic, means House of Bread.

Amen.

Why Church?

It’s inevitable that somewhere along our Christian walk there will come a dissenter, naysayer or, on a good day, a genuine seeker.

We learn to deal with these people with a half smile, or direct engagement, or hopefully, with the guidance of the Spirit. One of the common arguments I’ve heard is “Why do I have to go to church? It’s full of hypocrites and holier-than-thous who only turn up for their weekly God-fix. Most of them aren’t real Christians.”

Yeah, they’re probably right.

Jesus didn’t speak of forming a “Church”, only of a new kingdom, where we walk with God and death is no more. That’s a pretty big deal on its own, but yeah, no “Church”. So, fair question, why church?

“Church” in the New Testament refers to a body of believers. Can I be a Christian and not go to a specific, purpose built building yet still be a member of this “Church”? Well, maybe. It depends on you, your fortitude, and what you understand that was meant by the term “the body of Christ”.

Many moons past I fell out with organised religion. I felt let down by people I’d trusted and thought better of. I walked, and I kept walking. I walked for eleven years, and in that time underwent a different form of rebirth. Perhaps “unbirth” would be a better term. I drifted from the fellowship of other believers and set out as a lone wolf.

In a pretty short time I came to see that the people weren’t wrong or bad, they were just gullible, easily led, and not for nothing were they known as “Sheep”. I read theological works, but everything about the kingdom of God and the person of Christ became difficult, where before it had all been simple. We were also now into the Internet Age, and I met and spoke to others from diverse theological backgrounds online. Eventually, having been subjected to every conceivable piece of misinformation, misunderstanding and just plain wrong doctrine, and no longer a believer, I turned to the atheist chat rooms and forums. I was a successful debating atheist. I like debating, although nowadays it’s a lot more friendly, but then it was savage, and included well worn tropes like imaginary friends and sky-fairies.

Eventually, even that became tiresome and I slowed down to a gentle trot as opposed to the full-on raging gallop. I became a semi-retired atheist.

ordo salutisAfter my eleven years in the spiritual wilderness I was driving a well-worn route from London to my home in Bristol, a journey of about 120 miles – not really far in my line of business. Two thirds of the way home I became a Christian, maybe for the first time. There was no vision, no voice in my head, I wasn’t forced from the road, which at 80 miles an hour is a good thing. No, I just knew. I can only describe it as an overwhelming sense of RELIEF. Like when you’re climbing a long set of steps with your kid sitting on your shoulder and you lift him down at the top. That kind of relief. I didn’t cry or drop to my knees (though I sometimes did when I was carrying the child), but I just felt DIFFERENT. Still, it took me a year before I set foot inside another church.

I spent that year studying, this time with renewed vigour. I finally returned to a Reformed Baptist church where I’d attended for a year or so in my pre-atheistic times. Eventually I left because a few things for me became unbearable. Firstly, I wasn’t a Baptist. They knew my position and accepted it, but we mutually enjoyed the fellowship so we both compromised. Secondly, I missed the Liturgy. I saw free prayer as being dominated by a small number of old-faithfuls who could be relied upon to fill an uncomfortable silence. Lastly, the God they showed me didn’t line up either with my own ideas of God or my own experience of him. I determined to read the bible from end to end, and found that the Calvinistic overtones I’d been shown just weren’t there.

I moved back to my old church. Guess what? Every person who had let me down, disappointed me and (I felt) caused my initial departure was still there. But they embraced me, welcomed me back. I saw for the first time their dedication to Christ and their faithful commitment to each other. Maybe, just maybe, it had been me with the problem.

So, back to the point: Why go to church?

Because Christ was all about fellowship. He gathered people together for the purpose of evangelism, he gathered people together for meals. For an itinerant preacher he sure had a lot of friends. He famously said “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matt 18:20). Now this may or may not refer to a worship gathering, but read your New Testament and tell me where Christ says this is a solo enterprise. There is strength in fellowship. Knowing you are one of a body of people isn’t enough if you never meet with them. Praying together becomes contrived and just a little bit weird if it’s only done over the Internet and the common breaking of bread in His name is nigh-on impossible.

House Churches seem to be in vogue, particularly as of course the early Church started that way. But did it start that way as an intended model for future generations or from necessity? I argue the latter. as soon as The Way started to gain acceptance numbers of believers started to gather together in ever larger groups. Were that not the case we wouldn’t have Church as we now understand it. It is man’s natural instinct to form groups in cultures, and like attracts like. Join any online hobby group and see how long it is before somebody notices that half a dozen of you live within 100 miles of each other and “Let’s get together…”

To be part of a body of people is, for me, essentially a part of the Christian faith. You’ll never agree 100% with the theology of your peers, but you will learn. My congregation is at the upper end of middle aged. I thought that if church is all about new blood then we’re failing, until somebody pointed out to me how lucky I was to be sharing my worship with so many decades of faithful witness. Nobody goes to my church for the entertainment. we’re relatively high-church Anglicans, so why would they? No, they go to quietly worship God, to confess their sins, to be assured of God’s forgiveness and to partake of Holy Communion with Him.

So let’s gather together and bear witness to our faith in Christ, and maybe God will enable the building of his kingdom. You won’t do it on your own.

Trinity

It was one of those nights when sleep doesn’t come easily, and I was searching for a way to explain the Trinity, following a post on Christian Free Thinkers asking the same question. Trinitarian Christians believe that although God is one, he subsists in three persons, hence the Trinity. At the First Council of Nicaea in 325, later adjusted in 381 in Constantinople, the following formulary was devised, chiefly to exclude several alleged heresies prevalent at the time; I have highlighted those lines which need further clarification or explanation, and which may be contentious:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son].
With the Father and the Son
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. AMEN.

In the Nicene Creed we can see descriptions of the nature of God in these three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, explaining the nature of the Trinity is something which is difficult to get across to a lay person, and even many Christians struggle to find a way of presenting it which doesn’t inadvertently wander into one of the heresies the creed was designed to avoid. Here are the supposed heresies and some more recent heresies, and the reasons why they don’t do justice to the concept of “three in one”. However, we must remember that by definition a heresy is a belief that differs from the orthodox position:

Tritheism says there are three gods. But Scripture says there is only one God.

Unitarianism says there is only one God in one Person, namely the Father alone. It denies the Trinity and deity of Christ, and makes the Spirit an impersonal force. Unitarianism is held to by Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults, the Unitarian Church, and many Liberals.

Sabellianism says that God appears in three different ways, or roles. This is also known as Modalism or Monarchianism. Under this view there are problems with Jesus “praying to himself” in the Garden prior to his arrest and crucifixion.

Christomonism places the Son at the head of the Holy Three, ignoring the orthodox eternal truth of their equality. This view was held to some degree by Karl Barth.

Eunomianism says that the Father created the Son, and the Son created the Spirit. This denies the eternal natures of both the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Mormonism says that the Father is Elohim and the Son is Jehovah, but neither are eternal, as both were at one time human. This fits with the Mormon view that all believers eventually attain divine status.

Temporal Generationism rejects the doctrine of Eternal Generation, saying that Jesus is only the Son by virtue of his Earthly birth, although he is God.

Dualism says there are two gods, usually God and Satan, but occasionally God and Jesus, with the Spirit having no divine quality.

Quadtheism or Quadinity says that there are four gods or four persons in God. Some say that Roman Catholicism sits on the edge of quadtheism by including Mary in the Godhead, although this is difficult to maintain if one understands the Catholic view of Mary. Some cults include their leaders in the Godhead, but clearly there is nothing biblical in this.

So, let’s try to work through the Trinitarian doctrine, using Unitarianism as a benchmark, as it’s the most prevalent current counter-theory.

Unitarianism simply states there is one God, and highlights the incidences where the physical Jesus speaks of God as his Father, and appears to have an independent will, as in his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The incarnation of Christ is dealt with in terms of the divine Logos, or Word of God, existent from time immemorial, being given physical form in the womb of Mary. The argument goes that although the Word is eternal, the Son is not, and is therefore not equal to God. Indeed, nothing could be equal to God as God is One.

Trinitarian doctrine has it (as we’ve seen above) that God is one essence, subsisting in three persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All are equal in nature and essence, although there is a revealed hierarchy in the Trinity as far as Earthly actions are concerned, with the Father sending the son, and the Father and the Son sending the Holy Spirit.

So, how did the man Jesus become God?

It has been said that Jesus is “100% man and 100% God”, which some say totals a logically contradictory 200%. In fact, this statement is a contemporary English shortcut to describe the full divinity and full humanity of Christ. Some Bible translations of Hebrews 2:17 have “Fully human in every way” while others have the less definitive “like his brothers” and Col 2:9 has “For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form,” which is virtually universal in all translations. The Greek word Logos, as used in John 1, requires a closer look:

“In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

trinity3Firstly, Logos is a philosophical term first applied by Heraclitus (ca. 535–475 BC), who used the term for a principle of order and knowledge, and Philo (c. 20 BC – AD 50) who adopted the term into Jewish philosophy, obviously prior to the birth of Jesus. In Christian thought the Logos applied to “wisdom”, personified in Jesus. In fact, the word “philosophy” comes from the Greek “to love wisdom” (philo-sophia). Secondly, the personification of Wisdom was a common literary device, whereby the attribute was so strongly identified as to merit personhood in it’s own right. Jesus spoke of Wisdom and her words in Luke 11:49, but Matthew records Jesus speaking strikingly similar words in the first person in Matt 23:34, substituting ‘I’ for ‘the Wisdom (Sophia) of God’, which makes the point implicitly.

Luke 11:49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,

Matt 23:34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town,

In the Epistles, the Apostle Paul provided the most explicit identification, calling Jesus “the wisdom of God” (1Co. 1:24).  Also, see Hebrews 1:3 where Christ is said to be ‘the radiance of God’s glory.’  This reference, and his identification as “the image of the invisible God” in Colossians 1:15 comes from a text where Wisdom is said to be “a reflection (or “radiance”)  of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God’s active power, and image of his goodness” (Wis. 7:26).

1 Corinthians 8:6 speaks of Christ as the one through whom all things came, providing a parallel to Wisdom as the one God created “by” (Pro. 3:19).  Indeed, references to Christ’s involvement in creation throughout the New Testament can be traced back into Wisdom texts in both the Old Testament and other Jewish literature.

So, in Trinitarianism, the Incarnation of Jesus seems to have at its root the personification of an abstract concept, in line with the most popular Unitarian view. However, Unitarians disconnect the Incarnation from the eternity of the Logos, as they stress that Logos is an abstract term, and though the “Word became flesh” this more readily translates as “God begat his Wisdom, knowledge and overall plan in the form of a man”. Thus, in many forms of Unitarianism the pre-existent Logos of God became Christ the Man. In Trinitarianism the Logos takes on a greater degree of “personhood”, being capable of independent thought and action, continued in the physical form of Jesus, so the orthodox view is of an eternal, single nature plus a new human nature, both existing in the person of Jesus, where the Unitarian view is of the thoughts and plans of God being given human form at some point in history. It’s important to point out that the concept of a person of the Trinity becoming a man is called “incarnation”, where anything else might be called “creation”. The Nicene Creed has Jesus as “Incarnate from the Virgin Mary”.

 

The Holy Spirit

Arguments have raged throughout history about the nature and personhood of the Holy Spirit. Some groups describe him as a “force” of God, where biblically he’s referred to in personal terms. In John 15:26

26 But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

Or John 16:13ff

13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Matthew 28:19 speaks of the Trinity:

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

In Acts 5: 3-4 Peter refers to the Holy Spirit as God:

Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.

Similarly, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:17ff:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

The Nicene Creed took the above clues, along with many others, to protect the biblical statements against perceived heresy, as we have seen.

Which view is correct?

It might help to look at the context: voting at the First Council of Nicea substantially went against the non-Trinitarian view espoused by Arius, and he was temporarily banished as a result. Interestingly, Constantine, who oversaw this council, later converted to Arius’ views and eventually died rejecting the Trinity. As was said earlier, the understanding we have of the Trinity is based not so much on explicit bible verses, but on implicit clues and the conclusions drawn from them. In many ways the early Church took a simpler view of theology than some might today, and was happier to accept that some apparent logical contradictions might be attributed to “mystery” or “paradox”. It seems that today we have lost this innocence, and developed a will to re-interpret all that’s been handed down over 2,000 years in favour of a more “rational” approach; a form of “secularisation” perhaps.

Conclusion

 

For my part I remain a Trinitarian. However you define the Logos it was with God eternally and as something that emanated entirely from God, is divine. It is that divine nature which took on flesh, along with a human nature, in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, so bearing in mind his fatherhood we cannot deny his divinity. That divinity is all of the one God, the Father, so either we now have two Gods, or Jesus is somehow a part of that one God. You decide.

Sin and Redemption

This is just a very brief article to answer a question I see often on Calvinist boards:

If Man isn’t born sinful then why is he in need of redemption?

 

First of all, we have to understand that Calvinists, Wesleyans… pretty much everyone in the main theological camps believes that Man somehow suffers from the effects of Adam’s sin, the Original Sin. So do I, and I’ve outlined what the Church believes by the term Original Sin, here. To recap: Original Sin is the loss of Original Holiness, revealing the inclination to self-interest and “fleshly” desires, inherent in all men. BUT (and this is the point) an inclination to sin, known as concupiscence, is not sin in itself. The main differences between the historical Church and the later Protestant Reformation is the way that concupiscence is defined; in the historical Church it isn’t sinful, but acts as “the tinder for sin”, whereas the Protestant Church sees it as a sin in its own right.

sin1Traditionally, this “stain of sin” as it’s historically referred to, is removed during the cleansing of baptism (see more here). Baptism restores the gifts of fellowship between Man and God, lost after the first sin took place. However the presence of concupiscence is NOT removed, but lessened to a controllable degree. Man will continue to sin (though not inevitably) and believers in Christ are assured that if they sin and repent of that sin, forgiveness is granted. However, unrepentant sinners face condemnation.

Redemption, therefore, is the restoration of Man to his former position in the sight of  God, through the death of His Son and the death and resurrection of self through baptism.

The fact is, if God is as merciful as we believe, Original Sin does not send people to Hell. ACTUAL sin sends people to Hell. Both the sins of the unrepentant and the sins of the unbeliever (including the sin of unbelief itself) are those which are condemned. The faithful who confess and repent are saved; infants who have not sinned we believe and hope are saved through the grace and mercy of God.

This view has profound implications for the Reformed, who claim that only Elect infants are saved if they die in infancy according to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), and that Reprobate children go straight to Hell because of their separation from God due to Adam’s sin. Under pressure many will deny this, in which case the following questions can be useful:

1. Are all infants who die in their infancy elect?

2. Can Reprobate children be saved?

After a long pause many will answer “Yes” to question 1, and “No” to question 2. In which case, they may want to answer why the word “Elect” features in the WCF at all, when “Elect” actually means “All”…

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word” (10.3).

Baptism

Baptism divides the Christian Church, and a good online friend of mine, Tom Torbeyns, has been quizzing me about the  Anglican understanding. So here goes:

baptism1The first thing to acknowledge is that the Anglican Church is both catholic and reformed in nature, which actually provides two views of what baptism means. I’ll concentrate on infant baptism for the  purposes of this article, as it seems the most contentious aspect. Firstly, the view held by traditionalists within the Church, i.e. those who’s views were formed prior to the English Reformation:

You may want to refer to my article on Original Sin for exactly what baptism is needed for. Secondly, the Book of Common Prayer is crystal clear on what infant baptism achieves:

Let us pray.

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who of thy great mercy didst save Noah and his family in the ark from perishing by water; and also didst safely lead the children of Israel thy people through the Red Sea, figuring thereby thy holy Baptism; and by the Baptism of thy well-beloved Son Jesus Christ, in the river Jordan, didst sanctify Water to the mystical washing away of sin: We beseech thee, for thine infinite mercies, that thou wilt mercifully look upon this Child; wash him and sanctify him with the Holy Ghost; that he, being delivered from thy wrath, may be received into the ark of Christ’s Church; and being stedfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity, may so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally he may come to the land of everlasting life, there to reign with thee world without end, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

ALMIGHTY and immortal God, the aid of all that need, the helper of all that flee to thee for succour, the life of them that believe, and the resurrection of the dead: We call upon thee for this Infant, that he, coming to thy holy Baptism, may receive remission of his sins by spiritual regeneration. Receive him, O Lord, as thou hast promised by thy well-beloved Son, saying, Ask, and ye shall have; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: So give now unto us that ask; let us that seek find; open the gate unto us that knock; that this Infant may enjoy the everlasting benediction of thy heavenly washing, and may come to the eternal kingdom which thou hast promised by Christ our Lord. Amen.

baptism3Pretty straightforward – baptism is for the “mystical washing away of sin”, “sanctification”, “deliverance from wrath” and bringing the child to everlasting life. The child is regenerated, i.e. born again, and brought into the family of God. Declarations of faith are made FOR the child by his sponsors, much in the way a parent can speak for his or her child until he reaches an accountable age. It is a hope and an expectation, sometimes frustrated, that the child will grow in faith within the Body of Christ through familial nurturing, both from his birth-family and the wider family of the Church. When the child is  older, he will make his own declaration of faith in his Confirmation, at which time the strengthening of the Holy Spirit is requested.

At the reformed end of the  communion the promises given during baptism are seen as delayed, and conditional upon the child’s eventual personal faith. In reality of course, whatever view one holds, the procedure and outworking of baptism is the same.

But what of the unbaptised baby?

The Catechism of  the Catholic Church (Anglicans have no such document) says:

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,”63 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

Calvin, for the Reformers, said:

“But this controversy will at once be disposed of when we maintain, that children who happen to depart this life before an opportunity of immersing them in water, are not excluded from the kingdom of heaven. Now, it has been seen, that unless we admit this position, great injury is done to the covenant of God, as if in itself it were weak, whereas its effect depends not either on baptism, or on any accessaries.”

Institutes Book IV Chapter 15 Section 22

However, the Westminster Confession of Faith (the “Calvinist handbook”) hedges its bets with the following:

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word” (10.3).

Elect infants are those chosen by God for salvation from the foundation of the world in Reformed theology.

I remain convinced, along with the historical, pre-Reformation Church, that infants should be baptised into the family of God, that their baptism is regenerative, and that infants dying before baptism are saved in the mercy of God.

The Order of Salvation

Broadly speaking, Christians believe that we are, as a race, separated from God and in need of restoration. We sin, and sin is offensive to God and outside of his intentions for us. Because of our separation, God suffers, we suffer and the world is in a state of corruption, and because it is outside of our capabilities to put things right God must take the initiative, which he does through the sacrifice of his son on our behalf. Christ died bearing the sins of us all and rose to new life, conquering both sin and death for the believer. Believers are thus saved from destruction and brought by Christ to new life with him. Anyone who studies the faith must have some form of blueprint for the process of salvation in order to provide himself with a framework upon which to build his studies.

I can only write this piece from a personal perspective, as there are several theological stances on the order of salvation and any conclusion one reaches on which one is right is entirely dependant upon which aspect one starts with. What follows is, I hope, a non-heretical, generally acceptable, but carefully considered order, based on scripture. First, it will help to identify the key components. They are:

  • Grace
  • Faith
  • Justification
  • Baptism
  • Regeneration
  • Sanctification
  • Glorification

Grace

graceGod’s grace is not a commodity. It doesn’t come in buckets, litres, pounds or yards. God’s grace is his merciful and unmerited favour towards us. It is his unerring and unfailing kindness towards his creation. Some branches of theology attempt to further define it by categorising it into “strengths”, from “common grace” to “irresistible grace”, the weakest to the strongest. I reject any attempt to categorise; God is not “a little bit kind” or “so kind that you have no choice but to comply with his wishes”. His grace is universal and constant, surrounding us from our conception, giving us air to breathe, food to eat, and life to live.

Traditionally, our separation came at The Fall, the point at which man first sinned and all life changed. This “Original Sin” or loss of original holiness was passed from parent to child and the whole of humankind is said to suffer the effects of that sin, rendering us unable to turn to God of our own volition. Only god’s grace can enable us in such a way that we can turn to him.

There is a theological divide at this point, where Christianity is drawn along two distinct and contrary paths. On the one hand we have the views of the Arminians, called after Jacob Arminius, a Dutch Reformer of the sixteenth century. Arminius believed as the majority of Christians and I do, including the Catholic Church, that grace comes before anything else, and is thus “prevenient”. All may come to Christ, but those who reject him seal their own damnation. On the other hand we have the beliefs of John Calvin, who said that grace was not universal, but limited, specific and irresistible; God chooses whom he will save, enables them only to believe, and damns the rest, who according to Calvin were created for that purpose. Whatever path you follow, grace is your starting point, and without it we would all be “dead in our sins” and would remain unsaved.

Faith

faithThe link between grace and faith is well established, in that most theological positions hold that man is unable to turn to God without grace. As said above, this position can be rigidly held, where grace is seen as almost an enabling substance which is 100% effective upon those to whom it is administered, to a looser definition, which can say as little as that our very existence is in itself a gracious act. Similarly, faith can be seen as a gift of God, given only to those whom he has fore-ordained will believe, to a voluntary action of man’s, brought about by a recognition of his need for salvation from his broken relationship with God. A third view understands that the grace of God is shown to us in the giving of his Son for our sake, and that Christ’s action alone shows us sufficient grace to enable our faith, though some will reject this graceful act and continue in a broken relationship with God. It’s important to accept that faith goes beyond a mere intellectual assent given to the idea of Christ’s sacrifice, or agreement that he was, in fact, a person who really lived 2,000 years ago. As a child, you may have jumped from a swing at it’s highest point, having faith that your father would catch you. This is very different from merely acknowledging your father’s existence.

Justification

Justification is the act of being declared righteous. It is the point at which God recognises your faith and declares you one of his people. Romans 4:

9 [Cometh] this blessedness then upon the circumcision [only], or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

10 How was it then reckoned ? when he was in circumcision, or inuncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.

11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which [he had yet] being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe , though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:

12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which [he had] being [yet] uncircumcised.

13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, [was] not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

Justification then comes through faith, to all who believe.

Baptism

baptismThe placement of baptism is a difficult one for  some. For many, baptism is analogous with circumcision, and as we have seen, Abraham was declared righteous BEFORE his circumcision, therefore baptism must follow justification. However, most would see that faith leads to obedience, and obedience requires baptism. For many the process of baptism would include the washing away of the stain of sin, forgiveness for past sins, justification and regeneration. Those of us who baptise infants and those unable to make their own decisions through mental impairment do so on the understanding that the individual is brought into the family of the Church, cleansed, forgiven and given new life. As time progresses is it hoped and believed that the grace of God will work within the individual to strengthen and build faith, which is ultimately personally declared at confirmation, where further helpful grace is imparted.

Regeneration

Regeneration is the process of New Birth, Rebirth or being Born Again. It is also described by Christ as being “Born from above” (John 3:7). God, after justifying us, gives us new life in the Power of the Holy Spirit. We then work with God, empowered by his grace and our faith to become the person he would have us be. The traditional churches see Baptism as the most common means of effecting regeneration, though God can use any means he pleases. Baptist churches deny God this freedom, rejecting baptismal regeneration and reducing baptism to mere ordinance – something we undergo because God says we must, but without specific salvific purpose.

Sanctification

sanctificationBeing born again does not, in itself, make us perfect. The process of gradual perfection is known as Sanctification. As we live a life fulfilling our Christian calling we grow daily in our faith. Our faith, in turn, leads to good works and we grow more Christlike. What may have started with some difficulty becomes “second nature” over time as our sanctification progresses, always aiming for Christian perfection. Most will say we can never achieve this perfection in this life, which has led some to believe in some form of post-mortem sanctification to complete the work. This is a huge debate. Catholics hold to a view of Purgatory, more of a state of being than a location, where sanctification continues and punishments for venial (or minor, non-mortal) sin takes place. Some hold similar views without using the word “Purgatory”, and many reject the view that sanctification continues in time, but that God makes all things perfect for believers prior to their final judgement. John Wesley, founder of Methodism and a lifelong Anglican priest, held that Christian Perfection was achieved on a daily basis, whereby every single decision a man makes is the best possible decision in God’s eyes, given the wherewithal of the individual. Man must make God his first thought in every action. Some have confused his view with Sinless Perfection, the ability to never sin, which he never agreed with nor supported in any way.

Glorification

glorificationThe act of being Glorified. This, then, is salvation, the point at which one is actually saved following death and final judgement. Some, particularly Protestants, will see salvation as occurring at the first point of belief. On this basis they may argue that salvation once given, cannot be lost, as God will complete the work started in an individual. In this God acts Monergistically. Orthodox believers (by which I mean non-Protestants) see salvation as a process, never complete until the very end. This is a Synergistic process whereby an individual CAN turn his back on God and foolishly walk away.

As a member of the Church of England, and therefore an Anglican, the above ordo salutis (order of salvation) can be seen to have both catholic and reformed elements. It is the order I personally adopt and one held by churches worldwide.

 

Original Sin

First sinThe question of Original Sin has dogged thinking Christians for the last 600 years, from what seemed a straightforward, if misunderstood, Catholic doctrine of the corruption of Mankind, to the view that Original Sin is a construct designed to enable the Church to exert power and control over the masses by holding Mankind to ransom through the power of the Church alone to offer salvation. I’ve been looking at the issue for years, and confess to holding several confused and sometimes polarised views. But as an Anglican I’ve had to take a close look at what I believe, and importantly, why.

For example, I believe that baptism is the proper mode of entry into the Church, the body of Christ. I reject the Baptist notion that is is merely an ordinance, an action undertaken by Man to follow commands given by God. I take a sacramental view of baptism in which God works in Man to cleanse and regenerate, making him fit for a growth in faith and eventual sanctification and glorification.

But cleansing from what?

Original Sin

The story of sin’s entry into the world is a simple one, which in figurative language is described in the first three chapters of Genesis in our Bibles. The first humans, Adam and Eve were implanted in Paradise and given free rein to eat of each and every plant with one exception – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. While Alone, Eve was tempted by Satan, in the form of a serpent, to eat of the tree, being assured that God had mislead the couple that death would ensue but rather a new realisation would occur and they would be like God. After sampling the fruit Eve passed it to her husband and Adam too, partook. The result, when it was discovered by God, was a curse upon the Earth and a spiritual separation between God and Mankind, discernible throughout history. This marring of our relationship has been known by the simple, all-embracing term Original Sin.

I’ll simplify this if I can: in the 1500s there was a major revolt against some of the teachings of the Catholic Church, which rejected some of the doctrines that had crept into Church practice at the behest of corrupt leaders and at the expense of Christians everywhere. This will be the subject of a separate article, but leading the thinking of the Reformation, as it became called, were two men: Martin Luther and John Calvin. They adopted the view that Mankind is not only totally corrupt, but all his deeds are evil in the eyes of God, however, their views on the efficacy of God’s grace differ: Lutherans believe that grace and the influence of the Holy Spirit are always of the same benefit to Mankind, yet some will stubbornly refuse it; Calvinists hold that grace is only efficient to those whom God has chosen to give it (the Elect) and then irresistibly. Calvinists therefore posit a class of people to whom this grace is never offered and who are therefore doomed to eventual destruction, while the Elect are saved to eternal life. These damned individuals are known as the Reprobate.

But what is the original view held by the ancient Church? I believe it is reflected in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which firstly sets the scene regarding Mankind’s relationship with God:

I. THE DESIRE FOR GOD

27 The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:

The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.1

28 In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, and so forth. These forms of religious expression, despite the ambiguities they often bring with them, are so universal that one may well call man a religious being:

From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “in him we live and move and have our being.”2

29 But this “intimate and vital bond of man to God” (GS 19 § 1) can be forgotten, overlooked, or even explicitly rejected by man.3 Such attitudes can have different causes: revolt against evil in the world; religious ignorance or indifference; the cares and riches of this world; the scandal of bad example on the part of believers; currents of thought hostile to religion; finally, that attitude of sinful man which makes him hide from God out of fear and flee his call.4

30 “Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.”5 Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness. But this search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, “an upright heart”, as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God.

You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is without measure. And man, so small a part of your creation, wants to praise you: this man, though clothed with mortality and bearing the evidence of sin and the proof that you withstand the proud. Despite everything, man, though but a small a part of your creation, wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.6

No sign of Total Depravity here.

Elsewhere, the Catechism defines in precis form, the process of the fall and what it means by Original Sin:

413 “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. . . It was through the devil’s envy that death entered the world” (Wis 1:13; 2:24).

414 Satan or the devil and the other demons are fallen angels who have freely refused to serve God and his plan. Their choice against God is definitive. They try to associate man in their revolt against God.

415 “Although set by God in a state of rectitude man, enticed by the evil one, abused his freedom at the very start of history. He lifted himself up against God, and sought to attain his goal apart from him” (GS 13 § 1).

416 By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all human beings.

417 Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called “original sin”.

418 As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin (this inclination is called “concupiscence“).

419 “We therefore hold, with the Council of Trent, that original sin is transmitted with human nature, “by propagation, not by imitation” and that it is. . . ‘proper to each'” (Paul VI, CPG § 16).

420 The victory that Christ won over sin has given us greater blessings than those which sin had taken from us: “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:20).

421 Christians believe that “the world has been established and kept in being by the Creator’s love; has fallen into slavery to sin but has been set free by Christ, crucified and risen to break the power of the evil one. . .” (GS 2 § 2).

Adam and Eve in the Garden by MichelangeloConcupiscence is a word which most see as being exclusively sexual lust, hence the charge levelled at the Church over the centuries that the “Eating of the fruit” was a metaphor for sinful bodily conjunction, which of course the LORD hates (even though he told Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply”). In fact, concupiscence ((from the Latin: con-, with + cupi, cupid – desire + -escere – suffix denoting beginning of a process or state) is lust of any description, and in Catholic theology is called Fomes peccati, the desire for any person, object or experience. It describes our leaning towards “fleshly appetites”, usually things which are proscribed.

For now, we can tie the terms concupiscence and Original Sin together, and this is where Protestants and Catholics often separate. Most Protestants see concupiscence as a sin in itself, an act of the sinner; Catholics see it as “the tinder for sin” which “cannot harm those who do not consent” (CCC 1264) and therefore not a sin in and of itself, but the propensity to sin.

The overriding Protestant view of The Fall, as it become known, is that Mankind was created with an innate tendency to good, and their relationship with God wasn’t due to any particular gift, but to their own natures. Adam’s sin therefore brought about a change or corruption in their natures, making them evil in themselves. This is why a Calvinist will claim that a non-Elect baby (one not chosen by God) will go straight to Hell if it dies.

The current Catholic view, in contrast, says that while also maintaining that humanity’s original nature is good (CCC 374), the loss of withdrawal of God’s gifts has led to a propensity to sin, and Man’s nature is NOT evil because it remains a natural creation of God. So human nature is not sinful in itself and is not the cause of sin, although it may magnify and ignite sin where it comes into contact with it.

The difference in views also extends to the relationship between concupiscence and original sin.

Some Protestants will hold that a person can be guilty of sin even if it is involuntary. Catholics believe that guilt only applies where sin is voluntarily chosen. Because some Protestants believe that concupiscence is the primary sin itself, human nature is described as “sinful”, thus humans are inherently evil. The Catholic view is that humans aren’t evil, but concupiscence is the influencing factor in human behaviour, yet resistible. The Catechism states that human nature has been “weakened and wounded, subject to ignorance, suffering, the domination of death, and the inclination to sin and evil (CCC 405, 418)”

masaccioThe Catechism of the Catholic Church also states that “Original sin is called ‘sin’ only in an analogical sense: it is a sin ‘contracted’ and not ‘committed’ – a state and not an act. Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants”. The Greek translation of the Catechism uses the words “προπατορική αμαρτία” (literally, “ancestral sin”) where the Latin text has “peccatum originale”.

Eastern Orthodox teaching agrees, and more specifically uses the term “Ancestral Sin”: “It can be said that while we have not inherited the guilt of Adam’s personal sin, because his sin is also of a generic nature, and because the entire human race is possessed of an essential, ontological unity, we participate in it by virtue of our participation in the human race. ‘The imparting of Original Sin by means of natural heredity should be understood in terms of the unity of the entire human nature, and of the homoousiotitos of all men, who, connected by nature, constitute one mystic whole. Inasmuch as human nature is indeed unique and unbreakable, the imparting of sin from the first-born to the entire human race descended from him is rendered explicable: “Explicitly, as from the root, the sickness proceeded to the rest of the tree, Adam being the root who had suffered corruption” (St. Cyril of Alexandria)'”

Conclusion

It would seem then, that the term “Original Sin” has two distinct flavours in both the Protestant and Traditional Churches. Protestants might see it as a corruption, from a perfect nature to an evil one, where Catholics and the Orthodox may view it as Man’s natural, God-given nature but with certain gifts of unity and fellowship removed. Protestants see Mankind therefore as sinful in nature, and evil in the sight of God, and the Traditional Church sees us as still bearing the image of God, concupiscence being something natural to humans if unchecked.

Personal experience

Because of my exposure to elements of the Reformed Church I came to reject the notion of Original Sin as I could not bring myself to believe that Man is as corrupt and evil as I’d been taught. Only by researching the original Church’s view of Original Sin have I learned a form of understanding and acceptance. We ARE predisposed to self-interest (concupiscence) and that does put us at odds with God. God will restore his gifts to us through our returning faith in his Son, but that does not make us evil, just broken. This understanding, I can happily live with.

End Note

All of the above represents the current view of the Catholic Church, which has revised its views on “inherited guilt” and somewhat aligned its views with the Orthodox Church regarding Ancestral Sin.

 

Foreknowledge and the Handcuffs of God

Note: This is an intellectual exercise, designed to present a view I no longer hold. A further article here will explain the contrary view.

There are four fundamental positions in theology about the foreknowledge of God. They are:

  1. handcuffsGod knows the future because he decrees everything that takes place (Reformed Calvinism)
  2. God knows the future and can interact with it, but does not determine it (Reformed Arminianism or Exhaustive Divine Foreknowledge)
  3. God knows the future and cannot interact with it (Simple Foreknowledge)
  4. God knows the future as partly settled and partly free, with the settled parts being those which apply only to his own planned actions (Open Theism)

We may also consider Molinism and Middle Knowledge along with Process Theology in other posts.

In this piece I will attempt to show that Exhaustive Divine Foreknowledge (EDF) is fundamentally no different to Simple Foreknowledge (SF).

Simple foreknowledge has it that God foreknows or foresees the future at whatever his earliest opportunity is, and having foreseen it is unable to act in it in order to effect change because to do so would render his original foreknowledge false. God is, in effect, handcuffed by his own knowledge of the future.

Dr. Greg Boyd of the Open Theist camp, speaks of a hypothetical book of known future facts handed down to us in November 1963, in which we are seen to cheat on our taxes 40 years hence. Boyd’s argument is that with this knowledge we can see that we are not free to do other than cheat, as God’s foreknowledge must be perfect. It’s the essence of a fine argument, but ignores the fact that we would never see such a book, and in 2003, when we did indeed cheat on our taxes, it was a free decision. In fact, we are never affected by God’s foreknowledge, but God is, because it is he who sees a determined future. If the future he sees is not determined then his foreknowledge isn’t infallible, and this is closer to an Open Theist position than any other theological stance.

In supposed contrast, Exhaustive Divine Foreknowledge, as practised by the majority of Arminians, is a form of foreknowledge which DOES allow interaction from God. Having seen the direction the future is going in, God can either make adjustments on the fly or put them in place at outset, thus keeping full control.

Here’s my problem:

Just as in simple foreknowledge, once God has seen the future it has become fixed, and any interaction renders his knowledge false. This is where exhaustive foreknowledge crosses into Open Theism. If God is able to change anything he has seen then he must only have seen what he has seen as possibilities, not fixed events. I find this conclusion inescapable, as to see an event as truth renders it unchangeable.

Of course, acting with foreknowledge of anything other than planned events is a logical contradiction, and as such all sorts of philosphical arguments need to be brought in in an attempt to harmonise the theory. One is the theory of the Eternal Now (see my brief explanation here) which I reject as a contrived way to protect the perfection of a God who needs no help from us, and posits a simultaneous past, present and future. God views all three simultaneously, in direct contradiction to everything about time which has been revealed to us, i.e. that it is linear and sequential and that God works within it, not outside of it. But the most desperate defence I have heard was relayed in another online group only yesterday:

“No Open Theist has responded to my challenge regarding historical knowledge. Can God know past events infallibly? If so, does that mean He had to cause them? No. Just like you and I can have accurate knowledge of the past without controlling it, so God can have infallible knowledge of the past and future without micromanaging the decisions of people. How would you respond to that?”

I replied that if anyone having a serious discussion thinks that God knowing the result of a past contingent (yet completed) event thinks this carries the same philosophical weight as knowing with certainty the result of a future (as yet incomplete) contingent event, then he probably isn’t thinking very carefully. OK, it was words to that effect and earned me an admonishment by a group administrator, but you get my point. In order to make any sort of foreknowledge work, one has to fully embrace the view that time is not as we experience it, and that the future is sitting somewhere, entirely complete, waiting for us to walk into it. And that, in anyone’s book, is predetermination.

By the way, I was not arguing for predetermination, as any decision I ever make can be freely made, but from God’s perspective, if he sees it and knows it as truth then it never be any other. The main objections come from a limited and strictly theological understanding of two words: predetermination and necessity. Traditionally, predetermination is a deliberate act of God, and necessity describes the only possible course of action. But I’m not talking “theology” I’m talking “English”. God’s knowledge of the future “passively” determines it. The act of knowing has the “necessary” effect of fixing an event. If these arguments make sense to you and you ever think of using them, be clear with your opponent that you mean what the words mean, not the divisive theological spin he will inevitably put on them.

My conclusion then, is that God’s foreknowledge is indeed limited to those things that he determines for himself, and those things which remain open. To know with certainty is to fix those events, and the difference between Exhaustive Divine Foreknowledge and Simple Foreknowledge is non-existent in every practical sense..

Where is God?

388px-But435.1.1r.wc.300Group member Wayne Scott recently asked fellow member Chris Fisher about his views on the omnipresence of God, which sparked an interesting discussion. For centuries Christians have taken for granted that God is Omniscient (all knowing), Omnipotent (all powerful) and Omnipresent (present everywhere).

The first two attributes are universally accepted by all but process theists; God can do what he wants and he can know everything there is to know, and some would add “and then some…”, but the third attribute, being in all places at all times, is tougher to pin down. Chris runs the Reality is not Optional blog and wrote the following article in support of his position, the title of which speaks for itself:

God is not Omnipresent

One beautiful and positively cinematographic passage Chris uses in his argument is 1 Kings 19:11- 13:

11 And he said , Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; [but] the LORD [was] not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; [but] the LORD [was] not in the earthquake:

12 And after the earthquake a fire; [but] the LORD [was] not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

13 And it was [so], when Elijah heard [it], that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, [there came] a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?

Here we see one of a number of Old Testament “arrivals” of the LORD, where at one point he was not, and then he was. It seems clear that an Old Testament view of God is that he was either highly anthropomorphised or did indeed appear in a virtually human form. In the Garden of Eden we have the following, in Genesis 3:8-10

8 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. {cool: Heb. wind}

9 And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where [art]thou?

10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid , because I [was] naked; and I hid myself 

Certainly here we see God as a fellow being with Adam, with more than a hint that God was enjoying a pleasant afternoon stroll, even looking for his new friend. But this human vision of God does not sit well with the traditional Church view of God, as immutable and distant, aloof, unseen and dispassionate. Chris sees this latter view as having it’s roots in paganism, and quotes Plotinus, another Greek philosopher of the Platonic tradition:

The authentic and primal Kosmos is the Being of the Intellectual Principle and of the Veritable Existent. This contains within itself no spatial distinction, and has none of the feebleness of division, and even its parts bring no incompleteness… every part that it gives forth is a whole; all its content is its very own, for there is here no separation of thing from thing, no part standing in isolated existence estranged from the rest, and therefore nowhere is there any wronging of any other, any opposition. Everywhere one and complete, it is at rest throughout and shows difference at no point; it does not make over any of its content into any new form; there can be no reason for changing what is everywhere perfect.

This view is as far away from the ancient Hebrew view of God as it is possible to get, where God is personal and relational. And it’s that personal attribute which casts doubt on the notion of Omnipresence.

Chris’ argument is really not about whether God is omnipresent or not, but rather what the authors of scripture thought. And it’s certainly clear that some took the omnipresent view and some the view that God need to see something to understand it, or that he came from somewhere to view something. I think Chris weakens his argument here:

Can God see everything but not be omnipresent? I can watch a live golf match on TV, I do not have to be present. How many more resources does God have? And note, as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, God can choose not to know something.

I’m personally uncomfortable with the concept of a self-sufficient God pulling on resources, but perhaps Chris meant it less literally. With regards to God choosing not to know, we have to be careful about how literally we take the words of bronze age inhabitants, recorded well after the event, in terms of their presentation of God.

If you’d like to join our group you can read the whole discussion here

167px-The_Lord_Answering_Job_Out_of_the_Whirlwind_Butts_setMeanwhile, here is my view: We lack both the language and the comprehension to fully understand the concept of omnipresence, yet we seem to speak of omniscience with no trouble at all. We can never explain how God can hear all prayers globally simultaneously; it is entirely beyond our language. God is personified in the Old Testament and walks and talks with man, something we have either lost now, or anthropomorphised in the past. I lean in favour of a God who was present with man when he chose to be. These appearances are known as theophanies, where the Deity communes with man in human form. But equally I believe that a being who can create all that is ex nihilo can certainly be omnipresent if he so chooses. It’s not an either/or situation. The writers of Genesis held to both views, and many hold the first five books of the Old Testament to be the work of one author. I don’t, as I hold to higher criticism, but its clear that both views are represented in scripture and we believe scripture to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, so both views must hold, particularly as they are non-contradictory.

Read the whole of Chris Fisher’s blog here.