Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Amen of God

Some things are so obvious that I am often oblivious.

In Genesis 1, God speaks and it comes to be. "Let there be Light...and it was so." While not the same word in Hebrew, we say something similar at the end of our prayers: "Amen" or "So be it/Let is be so." Mary, the mother of our Lord, says something similar, "May it be to me as You have said."

We follow God, we image Him, when we take His Amen, which is His Word, His Son, His will, and direct it back to Him. It is as He has said, so may it be as we have said. "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

God's Word, then, by which He made the world, is Amen -- no wonder Jesus describes Himself in the book of Revelation as the "Amen of God." All the world was created in this Amen, who has taken on the creation into Himself, so that it might be all gathered up into Himself, as St. Paul tells us in Ephesians. The world, then, is a dialogue: the Word makes it so, and with great thankfulness, the Word enfleshed -- as Christ and as His Church -- responds with Amen, may it be unto us as You have said.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Simple Syllogism

If Jesus Christ is the Life of the world (John 1:4), then that means when he was crucified, the world itself died, for its Life lay in the grave. The old mode of existence, the one brought on by Adam, is gone: death has been trampled down by death. The power of sin is broken. That means, if the Life is resurrected, and we are joined to that Life, we no longer need to live by the modes and ways of the dead world -- crucified once for all -- but rather can live in newness of life. This means eschatology that looks exclusively to the future, whether that future is AD 70 or AD 3000 (or whenever) is missing the point: the eschaton was fulfilled on the Cross. The Resurrection started on Resurrection Day, an unceasing Day of the Lord that brings all things into God's Light ("the Life was the Light of men"). Certainly, we are awaiting the fulness of this Day to dawn, but St. Paul says that "If anyone is in Christ, behold, a new creation is!" (2 Corinthians 5:17): it is here, we must live it. There is no reason to be an optimist: the world was died. There is no reason to be a pessimist: the world has been made alive. Rather, Jesus Christ is raised from the dead -- that is the ground of our whole existence. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Real Presence of the Christ

This post is somewhat a response to Mr. Robert Arakaki on Orthodox Bridge, a usually delightful site of Reformed-Evangelical and (Eastern) Orthodox dialogue (with, naturally, an emphasis on some prosyletism towards Orthodoxy). Since seminary at Trinity School for Ministry I have developed an interest in the possible connections between the Reformed tradition and Orthodoxy. I realize, after having many conversations both on the internet and off, that there are some unbridgeable parts between the two. Yet, hope springs eternal. I continue my quest to "rethink it all," albeit with a twist. I have changed -- dramatically -- since I started working on this train of thought. The problems that started it still remain (people my age leaving the Church -- this weighs always heavily on my heart and my mind), but my view towards many issues has, hopefully, matured. Part of that (possibly the majority of that) comes from a relatively recent rejection of cynicism. My own words from another journal aptly capture this:
I do not wish to be cynical any more. There is nothing more blinding than to believe that we see clearly when we assume that all operate only under the terms of power, sex, and wealth, or that all but we are ignorant. It is we who are blind and mad for the passions -- Christ is the Other under whom we must submit and learn, whether that Other manifests himself as poor, or woman, or black, or sexual sinner. "He came in the likeness of sinful flesh" to make our bodies like unto his glorious Body...
In other words, when I am cynical, I am enslaved to a point of view that blocks off the world: I can only see what my eyes see, believe only what my rationality leads me to, and so on. It was a logical outcome of my original hyper-Biblicism: I could only believe what I could see in the Bible. In other words, I could only believe at the level of my (paltry) rationality, which given the Reformed emphasis on the noetic effects of sin, led me to despair and cynicism. I remember one day (I shall never forget it), when I shouted out to my wife in despair, "Either God has abandoned His Church since the Apostles died or He has abandoned me!" Turns out, thank God, there were more paths than the dialectic rut I had carved (as I've related elsewhere).

When the scales fell off my eyes and I was allowed to read the Church Fathers sympathetically, I started to notice that many of the things I read in them were, yes, the same that I was finding in Scripture. There was (and is), as it were, a regula fidei, a [T]radition, behind the text that spoke volumes in these few recorded words. However, this has made me an ill-fit as a representative of the "Reformed tradition" (whatever, exactly, that may entail). As much as I long for institutional continuity and support, I am both a Protestant and an academic, which means that where I see the Reformed tradition as being in error, I must take exception (this strikes me as eerily familiar to the position I had previously concerning an over-rationalism: this gives me some food for thought). So, when Mr. Arakaki connected me to the Reformed tradition, and the possibility of Platonism lurking in the background of it, I was taken aback a bit. The branch of Reformed theology that I am most closely allied to, the Amsterdam School of Kuyper, Bavinck, and Dooyeweerd, views Platonism as the ultimate insult to any thinker. This has caused me, as all criticism (hopefully) should, to rethink and return to my own thoughts. Everything posted here at Withdrawals should be understood to not be a hard-and-fast dogmatic ruling (for I have no such authority), but rather meditations that I pray God will forgive me for -- they are meant for His glory, but are presented in decidedly earthen vessels.

Allow me to go through my own train of thought:

If, as Paul seems to say (and I've argued in my Chalcedon series) and Irenaeus definitely asserts, "Christ became what we are, so that we might become what He is," then we must ask what He is. While it took me years to come to and understand, I must confess that he is both man (that is, he has a full human nature, including a will, passions, a mind, a body, etc.) and God (everything that belongs to the essence and nature of divinity He has). However, we cannot stop there, because we would miss what he has become because of his sojourn among us. It is obvious from John's Gospel that the humanity which Christ assumed at the beginning of the Incarnation is transformed (or, better yet, transfigured) via the Resurrection: he can pass through walls, he has no need of eating, he can appear and disappear at will, etc. This is not "normal" humanity. It has gone "beyond" in some way, even if how is hard to conceive or describe. Paul, I think, sums it up nicely in his discussion of the "heavenly body" (I Cor. 15): certainly still a body, still corporeal, but suffused with the Glory and Life of God to such an extent that it breaks up our normal categories (just as the Kingdom itself does). It is a fully saved humanity. This assumes, though, that salvation is more than having sins forgiven (although that certainly is a part of it, thank God); rather salvation is a conquering of death, of misguided passions, and a sharing or participation (and I realize that is a Platonic term -- the use of a term or many terms does not equate with an endorsement of a system, one only has to sympathetically read the Cappadocians or Athanasius to understand that) in the Life that is Jesus Christ the Word of God (John 1 -- "in him was Life and that Life was the Light of the world). The body that Jesus has is the body that we shall get at our own Resurrection (Come quickly, Lord Jesus). But how do we share in this Life now and into the future?

Certainly here is where Paul's doctrine of justification of faith comes in. We enter Christ's Life by swearing our allegiance to him. However, there is more. To share in his body we must share in his Body. We must contextualize that allegiance in the life of his community, the Church (Cyprian and Calvin were right to say that there is no salvation outside of the Church, although I would qualify that a bit to allow for the mysterious and altogether merciful movements of the Spirit). We enter the Church, get ingrafted into the Body (Romans 11), through baptism, and once we are in, we can partake fully of Christ through the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the height of Christian sanctification, then, since we are sharing in the sacrifice of the Son, once for all completed, but always effectual and on offer for us. But there is more. This too easily can be seen as a social club (and, alas, in all parts of Christianity this often seems to be the ruling assumption) that magically guarantees us a "Get out of Hell free" card. How can we start living the Resurrection Life of Christ now? We partake of his Life through his Body, that is, through the Bread and Wine. We must eat Christ if we are to be his Body the Church and if we are to live in the "newness of life" that Paul talks about. For this to happen, it is a necessity that the Bread and Wine be more than mere symbol or "mystical feeding," but rather the Bread and Wine must be the actual, real resurrected and glorified Body and Blood of Jesus Christ himself. "What is not assumed by God is not healed," one of the Gregorys said, yet what is not partaken of cannot heal us. "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no Life in yourselves" (John 6).

I don't, at this point, find anything particularly un-Reformed about this: certainly most Reformed (probably a large majority) have viewed the supper as either entirely symbolic or as entirely spiritual, whence comes "mystical feeding." The problem often seems to be "how can Christ's humanity be present in more than one place at a time?" However, this is only if we understand heaven as a "place" and not as a state of existence (and I am guilty of this confusion -- I have difficulty thinking outside of my own creaturely constraints): Christ, in his theoanthropic unity, "fills all things" (Eph. 1) so it is very possible for him to transform (how this happens, I do not care to know) bread and wine into Bread and Wine, Body and Blood. His humanity, while still being created by God, is a different sort of humanity not constrained by time and space. However, we are. That is why, in the reality of worship, we are transported to the heavenly state, which does transcend creaturely limitations without obliterating them (for which I am thankful). Our worship, then, is a mirroring of, and I would argue a participation in, what Christ is, the union of Creator and creature, while still maintaining the proper distinctions. There is, in my mind, nothing particularly Platonic about this: rather it respects the Creator-creature distinction while leaving room for true unity: the principles of that unity are the holy Spirit (Christ's Life) and the glorified flesh (Christ's Body and Blood).

This may sound different than what I posted in the comments section over at the OB. Certainly, it is. I've had time to think and read the Scriptures and see why it is so necessary for us to partake of the actual humanity of Christ (the question has been piqued because of recent sermons I've heard about how to live the Christian life -- I don't think it is possible without having Christ's Life regularly in us, which happens during worship -- although the Spirit, His Life, is always with us -- a mystery I cannot explain, but I also cannot avoid it). Reformed folks who don't think like me, though, aren't necessarily in danger of Nestorianism, as I (and, by extension, the whole Reformed community) was accused of. If we are in heaven, in the state of existence where Christ theoanthropically dwells, the question of "localized presence" becomes a non-issue. Even if Christ's humanity cannot leave heaven (which I'm not arguing for -- God forbid), our presence there in worship means that we feed on that humanity "whenever we do this".

This has not been a point-by-point response to Mr. Arakaki. I do apologize for that, but I thought it would be more helpful to just lay all the cards out on the table. It is not particularly scholarly either, even though that was what Mr. Arakaki presented for me. Again, I apologize, but the constraints of creaturely existence (time and space) necessitate a more personal and stream-of-consciousness approach.