Saturday, June 18, 2005
Salvation: Creation, Fall and Redemption
I bring this up because I believe that this basic approach to Biblical theology - being tought, as I said, by Reformed theologians - provides a very useful starting point in dealing with certain controversies that have separated most (though not all) Reformed Christians from their Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brethren, particularly questions like the place of the sacraments in Christian worship, or the use of religious imagery.
But more fundamentally, I believe that this hermaneutic provides a general approach to what salvation is that is simple, useful in many areas of theology, and capable of uniting divided schools of thought. These Reformed authors (though they may not share some of my thoughts on this) were close in many ways to the spirit of such easly Christian figures as Athanasius, hero of the First Council of Nicea (who wrote a masterpiece on the Incarnation of Christ.)
To begin, I would pose the following, rather speculative question: What would the world be like if it had not fallen? If the entire world is under a curse because of human sin, what changes when the curse is lifted? How are matter, space and time impacted when God Himself - the Word by Whom they were formed - enters into them and gives them new birth, as it were? How is Creation fundamentally altered by this tremendous event? What does it mean for flesh, and for all matter by extension, that the Word became flesh?
This question is very applicable when pondering the use of icons, which was discussed a bit in the comments on my previous post. But I say this to approach not only the subject of icons, but also the sacraments. What fundamental goodness is there in water, in bread and wine (or paint, to go back to icons for a second), that obscured by sin, is made even more glorious than originally, by the Incarnation of God the Word? How does the Son of God use these, His good Creation, the resources of His Kingdom, both for our good and for His glory? What holy and sacred uses can we put matter to that, by our doing so, reveal and testify to the redemption of Creation in Jesus Christ?
My basic point is that if Christians are devating anything from the nature of Baptism and the Lord's Supper to the use of icons, they should keep in mind the principle of the redemption of Creation through Christ's Incarnation, and that nature has a divine calling and purpose as the good design of a loving Creator. God gave us matter, and thus food, water, art, architecture, etc., are to be used for His glory. They are good, and are for our enjoyment - our use of them cannot be disconnected from our worship of the One who gave them, but must be offered back to Him.
I realize that this does not even begin to solve disagreements over whether people should kiss pictures of Christ, or whether the Holy Communion is literally Christ's body and blood. A reverence for Creation also demands that it not be degraded through misuse, by worshiping it for example. This shows dishonour both for the giver, and also for the gift, because the gift is not being used for its intended purpose. Having a proper attitude toward the place of God's material creation can make some of these questions easier to address. If we see these things in Creation as being created originally with a fundamental goodness, and sanctified again by Christ's Incarnation, it allows us to see them in a new light, as being given back to us redeemed and restored for a sacred purpose. For me, when I see religious artwork, or when I see people annointed with olive oil along with prayer, I see not only something that ministers to the soul of the individual, but also a testimony to the goodness of Creation restored to its proper role and place in the Kingdom of God.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Towards a Return to Nicea
At the same time, those Christian denominations that have traditionally worked with the most effort for the ecumenical movement, are often those that are most influenced by distinctly non Christian philosophies of life, and most likely to embrace a vision of Christianity far removed from the faith of the scriptures and tradition. Although these divisions within Christianity have been present for a very long time, some of them for over 1500 years, the sheer number of them at this time is mind boggling, and I believe that this is one of the most potent reasons for the lack of influence of the Church in the western world of today. Christians are quick to blame the forces of secularism and liberalism, rarely thinking that these forces are bound up with much of the individualism present in today's popular Christian theology. A Church that is not expected to be united in theology and discipline is inherently unable to present a unified front to a secular culture; rather, it is simply absorbed into it. The central premise of our cultural and political systems is that anything goes; sadly, the standard for theology in many Christian denominations - even those that claim a theological conservatism and fidelity to the Bible - is rarely higher than this, since it is assumed that each interpretation of the Bible is equally valid.
This blog is written with the conviction that there must be a sincere effort on the part of all Christians who believe in the teachings of the Bible, who believe in the Trinitarian Faith of the Nicene Creed, to find theological common ground in the teachings of the undivided Church, to form a united Church that is committed to having a theology which is orthodox, catholic and apostolic, as well as an evangelical mission. All Christians who sincerely desire to follow the will of Christ should seek this unity with each other, and confront some of these theological disputes (admittedly serious ones!) head on, in order to seek a true reconcilation. The standard of this must be Holy Scripture, but it must be Holy Scripture as it was lived out and taught during the earliest ages of the Church, during a time of relative unity. There must, on the basis of this, be a standard to distinguish truth from error, heresy from orthodoxy, fact from fiction. The extent that today's theological traditions and trends conform to that standard, and grow from it, should be the grounds for judgement of their value to the Church.
From that premise, it is my intention to comment on various theological questions, or Christian news items that catch my eye. To admit my biases from the beginning, I am a conservative (Traditional) Anglican. My Church background is Evangelical Protestant; I admit to having an intense interest in the Eastern Churches, as well as maintaining connections with the Roman Catholic, Reformed, and Evangelical worlds. I am currently a theological student, studying towards possible ordination as an Anglican priest, within a conservative Anglican body which has close ties with both Evangelical and Catholic Christians.
I will always welcome comments, and do my best to answer them in a way that contributes something to the discussion. Thank you for reading, and may God bless you as you work out your salvation with fear and trembling.