A Review (so far)- Stuart Johnson

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Theology in reconNow will be a good time to do a quick review of where are so far.  Jesus Christ is the Head and Source of the church.  The moment the gospel started to spread out of Israel and into the world, there were problems of misunderstanding and confusion and attempts by those with ulterior motives to bring about disunity.  However, what kept the church together and unified was its firm commitment to the Apostolic teaching.  The universal (or katholikos) church in the ancient era was not the same church as we understand it today.  The church of Rome have hijacked this ancient word katholikos for its own distinct brand of Christianity.  Nevertheless, as a movement among others they are part of the household (οικουμενικός) of God what we today understand as the ecumenical church.  This two words describe the One Body of Jesus Christ of which only Jesus Christ is the Head.  The two cannot be separated from each other.

This must be understood in relational covenantal ways so that we adopt these term in the right “ancient” context.  For example, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed is the universal confession of what the One household (οικουμενικός), which contains what the universal (katholikos) church, believes.  It is not something we choose to be a part of.  According to the ancient church it describes who we are.  This is in contrast to the denominations who often define themselves in such a way that they believe implicitly they are the true church.  Whatever the denomination, they are a community or a movement who are part of the One Body of Christ, not the Body of Christ.  One denomination cannot say to another, you are not a part of this Body, just as the hand cannot say to the foot you are not a part of this body.  So what remains is Jesus Christ is in charge of defining His own Body and we turn to Him to draw what He means by the Body of Christ.

They only way forward for us to start working in unity is to turn to the ancient church and sit at their feet and learn from them.  Their unity and understanding of the gospel had spread far and wide into the known world.  They faced the very same challenges when it came to preserving what the apostles taught as we are facing today.  What was contrary to this was explained in detail and the reasons were given to show why these errors were to be disregarded and not to be included as part of the Christian declaration.  By studying and celebrating this vital period in church history, we have more chance of bringing ourselves to unity on the more important issues.  Furthermore, we may see the heresies that attempted to infiltrate the ancient church still exist today.  There is a greater chance our knowledge of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ will grow ever deeper and the implications will become even more evident than ever before.

Once we truly see Jesus Christ as the image of the invisible God, then we truly might see Him as the image for the visible church, that is, the One church.  This can also be helpful towards those who have been hurt by a fellowship or a denomination and feel pushed to the outside.  Such is the pressure to belong to a denomination that anything that closes the doors to people because of some doctrinal falling  out or breach of law can have devastating consequences with long lasting pain and suffering for those who have been ostracised.  There are many who feel they are on the outside because of the abuse of power of institutions when in reality, these institutions have no right to do so.  In fact, it flies in the face of the New Covenant of which is ratified within the Person and humanity of Jesus Christ.  As Jesus Christ is the New Covenant ratified, those who are in the Body of Christ are a testament and part and parcel of this ratification in Him.  Jesus Christ inclusion of all people has far more power than any one person or a body of people’s attempt to exclude them from their idea of church.  It is not up to us to decide who is and is not Christian.  This falls entirely within the authority of Jesus Christ.  We preserve the dignity of all people.  When we are aware of who Jesus Christ is and the dignity He gave us by loving us to the end, we, in turn, love others in the same dignified way.  At the same time, we protect the dignity and well being of people around us who may have been taken advantage of by those who abuse their position or misrepresent Jesus Christ.

One of the main problems for disunity is the severing of the connection between the New Testament church and her Jewish heritage.  The church left the foundation of her Jewish fathers and planted herself in the Gentile world.  In her interaction with the Gentile world the culture, cosmology and their definite ideas about contingency tried to make inroads into the church.  However, for the most part of the first millennium, the church had to stand fast in preserving what they believed to be the very same teaching as was handed down by the Apostles.  In particular, we can see this in the works of Irenaeus, Athanasius through to Cyril of Alexandria as well as their many contemporaries.   However, as we venture into the latter part of the first millennium, we find the cracks started to appear and dualistic ideas gained a foothold.  These dualistic ideas have remained a part of contemporary theology even to this day.

These dualistic ideas are so embedded into the tradition of much of Latin and Evangelical theology that as we try to show ancient theology, which is largely free from dualism, it is regarded with much suspicion and may even be labeled heresy.  On the surface, our lips give due respect to the Lordship and divinity of Jesus Christ but the state of the church today reflects a very fractured understanding of what this Lordship and divinity of Jesus Christ really mean.  The bottom line is we are trying to understand Jesus Christ through Pagan eyes and with a Pagan mind.  Our whole Western worldview is schooled in the dualistic ways of the Greco/Roman school that bears only a minute resemblance of the Apostolic teaching through to the Nicene, Constantinopolitan and Chalcedonian Councils.  We have widespread disunity today compared with the unwavering unity expressed in the ancient period.  Today, we major on the minors while in this ancient period, many of these minors would more than likely be heretical because the relationship of Jesus Christ to the Father and towards us was of the utmost concern.

None of us are capable of knowing God to the level that God knows Himself.  What God has disclosed of Himself in Jesus Christ is limited by our creaturely capacity to understand Him.  We have to take great care to avoid insisting who God is and what He can do and keep our knowledge within what is disclosed by God in Person in the history of Israel.  We do not define God by what He is not like the Arians do.  We do not begin with a negative to prove a positive.  We begin with the Person who encounters us in a deeply Personal way directly to each and every one of us.  It is far bigger than we are able to explain.  Faith comes to us from what Jesus Christ claims of Himself and is the most important consideration over all that we attempt to comprehend and articulate of God.  What we say is in response to what is disclosed from the One God whose immeasurable reality overtakes us and far exceeds what we are able to comprehend.  The truth of God is thrust upon us but has a degree of mystery to it of which we worship and adore rather than attempt to fathom its depths.  I personally believe those who insist universalism as a central truth cross the line and try to fathom the love of God beyond what we can clearly see.  As a result, the mystery of God is ignored and a god is formed in the image of an anthropocentric understanding of His love that logically joins all their dots based on cause and effect.  In a nutshell it is simply idolatry.

As the Roman Church started to take hold, the primacy of Jesus Christ who delivers to us in Person the knowledge of God started to be pushed to the back seat.  In the Reformation, there was a revival of christocentric theology in the same style as the ancient church.  The primacy of Jesus Christ had been restored to His rightful place. Within a century this had been eroded away by the Calvinists and the Arminians who rested on pagan dualistic beliefs to hammer out their respective belief systems.  This has branched out into the many belief systems we have today which in turn have brought about further divisions.

The 20th century saw attempts by people such as Karl Barth and T F Torrance to make the primacy of Jesus Christ according to the ancient church the central axis for the gospel and all subsequent theology.  Today, we see an enormous resurgence  and a growing interest in their work.  Their main concern is that we critique all that we have been led to believe in light of the teaching of the ancient church.  If we see Jesus Christ in their light, I believe we see unity with all those who believe are in the One household of God mixed with those who do not yet see Him.  In Jesus Christ, there is no difference between male or female, Jew or Greek or anything that we try to build a wall of hostility against.  However, if we try to portray Jesus Christ in any other way than how He portrayed Himself to be, then we see the lines are drawn and imaginary divisions, that in reality, do not exist in Him.  Thus, unity and peace in the household of God rests with each and everyone of us.  It requires us to see with Christ’s eyes and to love with Christ’s hands.