In this country we have an RV industry that is experiencing rapid economic growth. As the baby-boomers enter into retirement many are investing in caravans and camper trailers or motor homes and setting off into the Australian outdoors to explore this vast and beautiful country. At the same time, this industry is in somewhat of a crisis as it is self-regulated. They set their own standards and claim almost anything they like to get a hold of the hard earned dollars of retirees. Numerous people have run into trouble when the RV they have purchased breaks down as the enter into their first journey. Some break down after their second or third journey. Price does not necessarily reflect quality. Whether you buy at the bottom end of the scale or spend $100 -200,000 and beyond people are not receiving what their RV retailer had promised. I am not talking about a few isolated cases here but numbers that run into the tens of thousand who have had bad experiences. Generally speaking, this industry has become a law unto themselves. The current legislation is around 30 years old and there are many loopholes that allow manufacturers and suppliers to produce substandard and sometimes dangerous products that cannot withstand even the minimum expectations of the consumer. When things go wrong, there is a long and painful process to pursue the relevant people concerned to have the problem rectified or the product replaced or refunded. For some people, there health has suffered as a result of trying to seek justice. There is no central body or rule to adequately place control on this industry so that the consumer is protected from practices that often place them at enormous risk not only to themselves but to the wider public who may suffer at the hands of catastrophic failures. This has left the consumer lost in no man’s land as far as their safety, their rights and the reasonable expectations are concerned when purchasing such a product.
The modern church faces the same crisis where very little is afforded to having a central controlling reference that govern how each and every Christian are to understand the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith. Each denomination often follow their own reference point where even the fellowships within the denominations may have their own reference point. Within the denomination there may be divisions between fellowships who disagree on theological points and therefore divide themselves against each other. For the average Christian, how are we supposed to know who is right? It might be the case that if they we throw our support for the fellowship who have one point of view because it makes sense, then we may be ostracised from the fellowship who have the other point of view. Yet those with the opposing point of view may believe theirs make sense! For the average person, how can we be sure who is right and who is wrong? This happens time and time again through the thousands of denominations and fellowships around the world. How difficult it is for anyone who is just seeking just to follow the truth to work out how to navigate through the many and various points of view. This is the same kind of chaos that occurs in industry when it is left to regulate itself.
There are three things I have been exploring over the last couple of months.
- Grasping the central object, which is the central reality for the Christian faith.
- The Apostolic tradition & The Word made flesh i.e. God who made Himself Man
Grasping the central object, which is the central reality for the Christian faith.
I was attending a Christmas dinner for an agency we were working for. Some people asked me what I did for a living. I told them I was a trained minister. They asked me what church I attended of which I replied to their horror that I did not attend any church. It just so happened that one was a Baptist minister who was concerned about my lack of involvement in the church. I told him I was involved with a group of people who were passionate about Jesus Christ. We were interested in the period of the ancient church and wanted to share people the wealth of information it had to provide. I only had a very small time window to share what it is we do. I explained to Him that much of the modern church are ignorant of this period and did not realise how far removed we were from the central tenets of their teaching. He asked who was the leader of this group. I said their was no leader as such but more like situational leadership. He said he was very concerned about this. Then I went onto the Incarnation and how so little was understood about the implications of God becoming man. “What implications?” he replied, “He just became a man and that was it!” The people who were hosting our dinner wanted our attention so the conversation ended right there. I was shocked at how little interest the minister had in what I have come to understand as a monumental event in human history.
When I went home after the dinner, I started to explore what church statement of beliefs said about the Incarnation. There was much said about the Cross but very little was said about the Incarnation. There was a strong emphasis on the divinity of Jesus Christ who was God and man but little else was said. In the Gospel of John their are two chapters, the first chapter and chapter 17, that act like bookends. The first chapter is on the Incarnation of the Word while the last chapter is the Priestly prayer of Jesus Christ just prior to His crucifixion. When interpreting the life of Jesus Christ in between these chapters it is with the Incarnation and His Priestly prayer that should always be taken into consideration. When we look at the event of His passion which includes his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension we must not let go of what was said in the very first chapter. All the way through, we find it is Jesus Christ who is His own interpreter of what the whole of the Gospel of John means.
While much of evangelicalism focus heavily on the Passion, the ancient church focused heavily on the Incarnation. In response to heretical attacks the early church responded with proof texts to show what heretics believed was impossible that the Incarnation has actually happened. If we take a journey with the ancient church, we find the Incarnation was of paramount significance to how the gospel was understood.
In John 1.1-20 we have an unfolding of the Word in union with the Father and sharing in His very essence. In addition, all things were created through the Word. Through the Word God promise of adoption was carried out by an act of God where no human being participated in on this act. Then the Word was made flesh. This Word was made man in the likeness of sinful flesh without sinning in it. This union between the Father and the Word was now extended to the entire human race. He made His dwelling in us! What was so astonishing to them was the fact that God humiliated Himself to become man and lived entirely within the rules of human existence without breaching them once.
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
The heretics had a considerable concern that God would allow Himself to take on our nature to the degree the Christians were testifying to, especially that He would allow Himself to suffer in such a cruel way as the crucifixion. Christians, on the other hand, were saying this is the whole point. Inwardly, Jesus Christ was by His nature, God. When He became flesh, though inwardly He was God, He did not use His nature to give Himself any advantage over every other human being. He declared to all like a lighthouse on a hill that He and the Father are one, therefore making Himself equal with God. His signs and wonders were powerful indicators that all He said was true. Jesus Christ spoke as God speaking where His truths struck His hearers to the very core causing the powers and principalities (i.e. the religious and political institutions of the day) to react against Him. The evidence was presented in all that He said and the miracles He performed giving enormous credence that He truly was the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. Yet, He was arrested by the Jewish authorities handed over to the Gentiles where His own people demanded that He be crucified (Mark 15.12-15; Matt. 27.19-26; Acts 2.22-24; etc). Jesus Christ bore the brunt of our hatred and we killed Him for it.
When the ancient Christian stood by their claim for Jesus’ divinity, it meant so much more to them than it does today. Not only was Jesus given equal status with God but He was also designated equal status as Creator who gives life to what He has made (John 1.3; Heb. 1.2; Col. 1.16-17). He also is the one in whom all things consist and are held together. Much of what is said in these verses are acceptable to the heretics as the source is given such status. However, they will stop short at the Incarnation. (Acts 17.28). It is easy enough for the heretics to accept all that was said about the divine nature of God but they could not conceive that such a one as the Divine would allow Himself firstly to become human and then to die such a lowly death as the Cross. It sounded so ridiculous. In the minds of the heretic, the event of the Incarnation had to be modified to fit in with their own idea of what possibly happened. These modifications they said merely in a hypothetical way. The Christians response was to refer to the Apostolic testimony, particularly in Matt. 11.25-30:
“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
as well as John 1.1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
& John 5.39
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.
& 1John 1.1-4
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.
The apostles actually engaged with God who being eternal life and is the only one who knows the Father. Theirs are first hand accounts of the One and Only and we see what they saw and hear what they heard regarding the very Person of God, the precise representation of His Being. This very idea was taken up by Irenaeus and was held over the centuries:
For the Lord taught us that no man is capable of knowing God, unless he be taught of God; that is, that God cannot be known without God: but that this is the express will of the Father, that God should be known. For they shall know Him to whomsoever the Son has revealed Him (Against Heresies 4.6.4).
God truly became man to save humanity on a universal scale in an outpouring of love towards us. As soon as the gospel spread into the ancient world there was the immediate concern that the claim, The Word was made flesh and dwelt in us, misrepresented all secular ideas of who God might be and what He could do. The response of the first apostles was to declare they were first hand witnesses to this event. The Source, the Cause, the Origin of all things, the Author of Life, the one in whom all things are sustained and held together, the One who was crucified and killed by the Jews and the Gentiles did not stop the event of the Word made flesh who rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father. Irenaeus also says
To whom the Word says, mentioning His own gift of grace: “I said, Ye are all the sons of the Highest, and gods; but ye shall die like men.” He speaks undoubtedly these words to those who have not received the gift of adoption, but who despise the incarnation of the pure generation of the Word of God, defraud human nature of promotion into God, and prove themselves ungrateful to the Word of God, who became flesh for them. For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God. For by no other means could we have attained to incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been united to incorruptibility and immortality. But how could we be joined to incorruptibility and immortality, unless, first, incorruptibility and immortality had become that which we also are, so that the corruptible might be swallowed up by incorruptibility, and the mortal by immortality, that we might receive the adoption of sons? (Against Heresies 3.19.1)
If anyone’s statement of belief is devoid of a sound understanding of the Incarnation as rich in its implications as was held by the ancient church, then you can be sure their belief has its origins in paganism. They are like a de-regulated industry where they become a law unto themselves. In the ancient church the nature of Jesus Christ in His oneness in Being with the Father as well as His oneness in Being with our human nature was the rule that regulated the entire scope of Scriptures. The more we undermine or downplay the significance of the Word made flesh, the more we complicate the Christian message. Consequently, the more we complicate the Christian message the less we rely on Jesus Christ as the rule of faith that helps us to interpret Scripture and the more we rely on human beings instead of God to to try and make sense of it.
This was hardly the case in the ancient church. Again we turn to Irenaeus to see the confidence they had in the message:
For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it (Against Heresies 1.10.2).
It was when the Word was made flesh, our rebirth began where He stepped into our fallen existence and we became His brothers and sisters and God became our Father. So secure is our adoption, when it was faced with death and defeat, Jesus Christ conquered it, rose from the grave and has taken us all back to the Father’s side. There was confidence in the church that they were children of God and nothing in the whole cosmos could separate them from this reality. In Jesus Christ God has such a hold of us that He would have to reverse the Incarnation which is something He cannot and would not do. All humanity are lovingly connected to God in the Incarnate Jesus Christ where even if people were to refuse His love and damn themselves to hell, His love will never cease and because of our union in Jesus Christ the Father will never let them go. It does not matter if we are highly qualified in theology, most eloquent in our preaching or just know in the simplest of terms that we are adopted and united to Christ, our adoption and our union is precisely the same. Complex theological knowledge does not make this reality any more real. As the sun, we creatures of God, are one and the same throughout the world, the capacity is within us to shine this truth everywhere and participate in enlightening all people that are willing to come to a knowledge of this truth: As the Creed says, Jesus Christ, the begotten Son of God, begotten from His Father before all ages, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of the same being with the Father, through whom all things were made . . . .