It is interesting as one reads through the ancient father’s writings how they all say the same thing in regard to the origins of what it is they are trying to teach. I have found that there is a strong theme of the New Covenant woven throughout their writings. This is of vital importance. If it was not for the fact that Jesus Christ has come and through the witness of the New Testament Scriptures written by those closest to Him, we would all have nothing to say. We would all still be blind in our sin to the ways and works of God. The teachings of Jesus Christ have been received by the first communities of the church in the years that followed closely after Pentecost and pen was put to paper. They were treasured by this early community and passed on to following generations of communities. Even today, we have copies second only to the originals. The other copies number in their hundreds, even thousands and are cross referenced. The purity of Scripture lies in their Greek language from which the english texts we have available to us have been rendered. We have people who have to the best of their ability, translated the Greek text into our own language.
In those first few centuries the church had much to contend with to preserve what was handed to them by the Apostles. What they endeavoured to do was to make sure Jesus Christ was the Light upon the hill for all to see. They articulated what Jesus had said and done and clearly showed the implications of such an event as the Incarnation. By having this objective point out of the hands of the church and in the hands of Jesus Christ, they attempted to show that Godliness (θεοσεβείας) was not merely based on moral rectitude in word and behaviour. Rather it was about saying the same thing (ὁμόλογος) as Jesus Christ with the clear understanding that He was the coming of God, born of the Virgin and was made man. The ground of all truth lay in this One Person where all other so called belief systems were shown to be empty and worthless.
If we take the reality of the Incarnation seriously, then everything we say must be questioned against the Light of Jesus Christ who is the source and ground for all the ways and works of God. Faith is the other term that was often coupled with Godliness. When we speak of Godliness as saying the same thing as Jesus Christ through the Apostolic tradition, we speak of faith as the product of Truth. It is as Baxter Kruger says,The “aha” moment. It is the moment when we go from not seeing and perceiving to seeing and perceiving. It is not some doctrinal thing that one agrees to or answering the alter call. It is the mysterious moment when we realise Christ has disclosed Himself to us in a very intimate and personal way and realise His truth for ourselves. It can happen through church meetings. It can happen through reading the Bible. It can happen talking to Christians. However, it does not happen because of what they do. It is the Spirit of Christ at work. There is no set formula to make this happen. It is when we encounter the Person of Jesus Christ Himself then faith follows. The Truth comes first then faith follows after which the fruit is repentance. When we are confronted by the Truth of Jesus Christ then it is Jesus Christ, being the Truth of all that God is in Himself, discloses the Truth of Himself to us. The Truth of God can only be known by God and it is only God who can make the Truth of Himself known. When the Truth of God is made known to us, then all our preconceived ideas concerning the nature of God or the question of His existence are demolished and we are presented with Jesus Christ. We see Him for who He is, we change our mind and conform to who God is in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
Once we have received the Truth, we turn to Him through the Scriptures to learn all we can about Him. The main problem we have in much of mainstream theology is the lack of emphasis placed upon the Apostolic tradition in the ancient church. In general, theology tends to skirt around Jesus Christ with human centred ideas that often question the significance of the Incarnation. Jesus Christ is pushed to one side and Scripture is reframed to fit in with humanity’s own ideas of God derived from the best of philosophical logical and deductive reasoning. This is attempting to make the claim that humanity has the inside take on who God is. This was the immediate reaction to the Incarnation as soon as the gospel started to make inroads into the Mediterranean world. All ideas of God were already nailed down through centuries of thought and tradition. Those who opposed the assertion by the Christians that Jesus Christ was God made Man could not conceive that such an event could ever take place. As far as they were concerned, the Incarnation was utterly impossible. Others, seeing there were problems with the idea of the Incarnation wanted to create a synthesis of pagan philosophical thought with the gospel. Perhaps Jesus Christ was not really God. Or, perhaps Jesus Christ was not human like the rest of us is human. However, the Christians were acutely aware that Jesus Christ was God who, being the very ground and source of existence and of the same nature with the Father, held their ground in their claims regarding who He was and what this meant. By making this claim, all of what was said contrary to the gospel was deemed worthless.
The protests against the gospel have hardly changed over the centuries. The ideas of God in the Pagan mind in the ancient Mediterranean world gradually crept into the gospel and was able to gain a foothold. When godliness is defined within a legal, moral framework we lose touch with the reality of Jesus Christ as containing the whole nature of who God is and how He acts towards us. The ancient church saw Jesus Christ as the only reality for which we could apprehend and therefore endeavour to comprehend all the ways and works of God. Once we see Him, then we see into the heart of the Triune God. We see the incredible loving nature of God, as the Man Jesus Christ, in engagement with sinners. Taking on our humanity to the full extent of its estrangement from God, Jesus Christ allowed and relished in sinners’ intimate engagement with Himself. It was the heart of the Triune God showing the goodwill towards and in all humanity exhibiting in a precise way the true nature of the Triune God is a Lover of humanity. Believing Jesus Christ is knowing that our entire understanding of the Triune God is precisely centred in Him.
All theories that have their origin in careful human (anthropocentric) extrapolated theories that begin outside the Person of Jesus Christ have no place within theology. Unless they correspond with the central theme of the ancient church’s understanding of Jesus Christ as the Subject and content of all the ways and works of God, they are are empty and worthless. How He expressed His nature in the things He said and did is precisely who God is. Jesus Christ is the statement of God who is. The righteousness of God demands that He will take humanity back where they ought to be.
For example, evolution is a human invention with no real way of proving the origin of life actually carried this path. It never has been and can never be tested objectively that some event millions of years ago actually took place. This theory that has no real proof of its validity cannot have any bearing on theology. If evolution is only a theory, then why does an idea with questionable evidence have its place within what we Christians grant as the pure, untarnished Truth of all truths? Theology has a Christological centre and not an anthropocentric centre. The only reason we have a Christological understanding at all is because God took the initiative and inserted Himself into human existence. Consequently, in Jesus Christ, there is real and authentic conversation between the heart of God that is spoken into the hearts of human beings. So we listen and take heed to the Spirit of Christ and learn from Him. It is Jesus Christ alone that gives direction in theology.
From the very beginning of the church on the Day of Pentecost, all people were directed to Jesus Christ who dwells in each and every human being. It is not human teachers who qualify this event according to their own idea of what happened and what it means. It is the teachers who are qualified to let the Light of Jesus Christ shine even brighter so that people could see the truth from Jesus Christ and learn for themselves. The gospel is such that no one can stand in between Jesus Christ and Christians and declare something new, novel and therefore restructure the whole of the gospel according to this idea. It is Jesus Christ in His own Person as the unity of God and Humanity in Himself who contains the whole gospel. It requires no modification, nothing added to it and nothing taken away from it.
At the beginning of Contra Gentes, Athanasius says the following:
The knowledge of our religion and of the truth of things is independently manifest rather than in need of human teachers, for almost day by day it asserts itself by facts, and manifests itself brighter than the sun by the doctrine of Christ.
It is one of those rendered phrases of Athanasius that hardly do justice to the original Greek. If one was to gloss over it then it would appear at first that Athanasius is undermining the significance of human teachers. Ultimately it is Christ who teaches. Athanasius is actually saying using the strongest metaphor of the sun shining in the sky that it is the teaching of Christ which is a precise exhibition (ἐπιδείκνυται) of the Christian teaching. There are those in our community who are gifted at articulating the truth on display in the teaching of Christ. We come alongside these teachers and stand with them and examine the precise Christian teaching fully and widely exhibited in Jesus Christ. It is wide open for all to see and it is where we begin with understanding all the ways and works of God. Good teachers say the same thing as what Jesus Christ teaches and therefore make their students dependent on the teaching of Christ. Teaching the same thing as Jesus Christ is teaching in Godliness (θεοσεβείας). What we hear from our teachers corresponds to what the Spirit is already teaching in us. So external tuition from teachers in godliness should match our internal teaching of the Spirit, what I would call in-tuition.
We need to look into this a little further. I have repeatedly looked at Matt. 11.27 in previous blogs and in light of where I am going we need to look at it once again:
All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.
We have a reciprocal relationship of knowing (ἐπιγνώςσκει) between the Father and the Son. Knowing that Jesus Christ is of the same being with the Father, the Son is the precise point of knowledge (ἐπιγνῶσεως) which we examine to gain our knowing of the Father. Jesus Christ is everything the Father is except Father and the Father is everything the Son is except the Son. Knowing that Jesus Christ is in us, we have intimate, intuitive knowledge (ἐπίγνωσιν) of Jesus in His knowledge (ἐπιγνώςσκει) with the Father. There is union of the mind of God with our minds so that there is mutual and reciprocal interaction between God and ourselves. Human teachers that allow the Light of Christ to shine through so what they say is ὁμόλογος (are the same words) with Jesus Christ. Then we are taught in Godliness (θεοσεβείας). What we are taught by human teachers is also ὁμόλογος with what the Spirit teaches within. There is union and communion with those who are taught, those who teach, what Jesus Christ teaches and with what the Spirit teaches from within. It allows us to engage with what God has given to us as the precise representation of His being, ground of existence and Person (Hebrews 1:3). If we function as a community, we find that in teaching and discussion that it is Jesus Christ who shines ever so brightly as all are included in the process of moving from glory to glory. This understanding of what was taught gave students the confidence that the Spirit of Christ was already at work teaching those they encountered on a day to day basis. Not everyone hears and not everyone sees. This was also an indwelt understanding of the nature of sharing the gospel.
We must exercise extreme caution if anyone tries to bring something new and novel into this exercise of the reciprocity of knowing in the Christian community in union with Christ. What this tends to do is to have the light belonging only to Jesus Christ shining a little too much on the teacher. In turn, those taught become dependent on the teacher who feeds them fish rather than depend on Jesus Christ who teaches them how to fish and feed themselves from Him. If we are taught effectively according to what is in harmony with what Jesus Christ teaches, then we are more confident to go out into the community and teach others. Rather than creating a community to be fed by one fisherman, we have fishermen taught by the Teacher, Jesus Christ, alongside human teachers, teaching others how to fish. We all become fishermen of men (humanity) teaching others how to fish (Matt 4:19). It is this way of reciprocal teaching that is sorely needed within the Christian communities today. Ancient communities knew what their teachers were teaching to the degree they could go out and teach what was taught to them knowing the origin of their teacher’s teaching resided in Jesus Christ within them. Then maybe there is the real chance that all may become ‘one.’ Amen.
P.S. Hebrews 8:10-11
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
After those days, says the Lord:
will put My laws into their minds,
And I will write them on their hearts.
And I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.
“And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen,
And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
For all will know Me,
From the least to the greatest of them.