Posts Tagged With: jerusalem

The Juicy Sequence of Ezekiel’s Compilation

So what was the point of how the compiler of Ezekiel laid out the book? It is likely an intentional chiastic structure. A common style of structuring Hebrew literature to place emphasis on the central event. For Ezekiel that central event is the exile itself. Though 24 is not necessarily the point in the book when Ezekiel hears of the actual fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. That takes place in chapter 33 not 24. The book is built upon the three visions of the presence of God, the presence leaving the temple, and the presence returning to a new and altogether different Jerusalem. Though it is never called Jerusalem or Zion, rather YAHWEH SHEMAH, The Lord is there. Aside from these major visions and including the vision of the valley of dry bones there is perhaps a far more interesting point to draw from looking at the flow of the book as a whole. Starting the the initial portion of Judgement (as most prophetic books begin and tend to carry on in that way for a while) on Judah, Israel, and the nations including the tribal peoples including Edom, Tyre, and Sidon. What are we to make of these potions of judgement on the nations. Well, first we start with the fact that Israel and Judah is judged first. They are in the wrong. Then there is consolation for Judah to know that the other nations and tribes are also in the wrong. They will be judged to for their injustice and violence done. Some make a point to see that this point is emphasized well. Because the Original people of Judah needed to have some hope that other nations were being judged to. But I say you can only take that so far before you end up completely missing the point. So if your going through you see all the passages on the judgement of nations. Three whole chapters on Tyre and Sidon. Then in chapter 35 it all ends with judgement on Edom. The big brother of Israel that took part in unnecessary humiliation and injustice done to Judah. They will be judged. Perhaps this is more consolation for Judah. Yes perhaps, but that’s not all. Chapters 35 and 36 are a contrast of the future blessing that will be poured out on the ‘Mountains of Israel’ and the destruction poured out on the “Mountains of Edom. However, the passage about Israel’s future blessing and restoration is for a very clear purpose outlined in chapter 36. “The whole point”, God says, (and I paraphrase) is that I chose this land as a place where Israel would be a blessing to nations. When I give it all back you need to remember that this is not given so that you will go on abusing the nations when they come to you. You need to welcome them into the family of God. I am not so much concerned about Israel as I am about my own name. Formerly you, Oh Israel, have defiled and profaned it among the Gentiles. So when I bring you back from the dead (moving on to the famous chapter 37) and I call you forth from your graves to again bear fruit as people who are alive and not dead, please, know that I AM GOD, and you are my special people with a calling. The two sticks prophecy at the end of 37 are a curious reminder that this special people of God will include members of the family of Israel that have since been lost and assimilated into the greater Gentile world. The future Elected people of God will no longer be a people of purely Hebrew ethnicity but Gods gathering of his family will be a mixed group and they will begin to accomplish his plan of making its way throughout all the families of the earth. This then leads the eye up to perhaps some of the most tricky two passages of the OT in chapters 38-39. The infamous Gog and Magog passages that are repeated by John in the book of Revelation. My own relative clarity about these passages comes by placing it in the sequence of events already tracking with as we follow the flow of the compiler of Ezekiel’s prophecies. We are talking about a mixed group of Gods people and the resurrection itself all no doubt pointing us to the resurrection of Christ himself, and the beginning of his church. Thus, a mixed group who have been raised to life bringing together the lost tribes, the true Israel of the house of Israel. These two chapters speak of a very distant enemy. Certainly an enemy that they are currently unaware of but in the future the new and more diverse people of God will be painfully aware of. Israel has had a lot of enemies but they did not know this one. They were to far off. But in the future Ezekiel speaks of the painful reality of this enemy and offers the hope that when this day comes there will be no need to worry. God will have an emphatic victory. Weapons will provide wood for fire for seven years. In plane language 38-39 speak of the persecutors and enemies of the church worldwide. This is not I believe a merely spiritualization nor a Figurative reading of the text as we move into more heavy ground with passages 40-48. Am i just going to go on then saying that the rest of the book is of a purely spiritual or figurative language. No because that is not what the Original Readers would have done by a long shot. They would go on reading as if it were all about literal though future enemies, literal new temples, and literal new land allotments. However, as they read it literally they would have seen the challenge and perhaps impossibilities of a temple without any measurement for height, temple with spring flowing from the inside going out to the nations and getting deeper and deeper as it went. Or perhaps they would scratch their head over the massive acreage needed to even build such a temple. Maybe they also would wonder about the strange new dimensions  of the tribal allotments and the lost tribes that were to inhabit each one of them. The point here is not that they perhaps would have doubted Gods power but maybe doubt their own understanding of the message he was giving. Maybe this temple is really about what it says here in 47 about the new temple being a place that blesses the nations, and is not merely secluded within and solely for Israel. But that the presence of God is meant as it has been throughout the book moving all about, and providing healing for the rest of the nations as well as our own here in Israel. Again, in plane language 40-48 is possibly about three main things. Israel’s return and the temple they would eventually rebuild under Zerubbabal, and second about they day when, as Jesus said, the temple water would flow out of the believers heart, and third a day in the future when from the throne of God all nations would be healed by the waters. In plane language that would make 40-48 simultaneously about the hope of the age to come and the practice here and now of that kingdom life. Not merely putting 40-48 about some distant utopia but about Gods vision for the people of God to clarify the whole point of their Election, MAKE THE NAME OF GOD KNOWN AND BLESS THE NATIONS.

(Though this is not well written it roughly captures some of the flow of the more difficult parts of the book. Basically Israel is meant to learn something here before ever we, the 21st century reader was to. They needed to see how God was reminding them of their true identity and calling as well as the true intent or will of God. God wants to be known, and he wants to redeem his creation, humankind being the linchpin of creation. Israel’s true identity and calling were essentially one and the same. Their identity was wrapped up in their unique understanding of two things, the true nature of God as he revealed himself to them, and their understanding that it was their responsibility to be a blessing to nations and bear witness to their God. Ezekiel’s strange visions can be clarified when we understand that he is an agent of these ends.)

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These Dry Bones

bonesThe book of Ezekiel is a really strange book. Outside of Daniel it may be the weirdest book in the OT. The three main visions of the book that act as the pillars of the book are about the presence or absence of God. In chapter 1-3 it is the introductory vision of the glory of God by the river Chebar in Babylon. In chapter 9-10 Ezekiel sees how the presence of God leaves Jerusalem and why. Then in chapters 40-47 he sees the return of the glory of God to Jerusalem or the new Jerusalem. The question for the exiled community in Babylon is about whether or not God is present with them in exile. Is God still powerful and worth devotion if they have been removed from the land? Mid-way through the book the exiled community in Babylon learns of the fall of Jerusalem. Now they realize for the first time that they really are dead and finished as a nation and a people. The destruction of the temple sends a strong signal that they really are done for. Thus Ezekiel’s most famous vision in chapter thirty-seven affirms the feelings and of the exiled community that they are really really dead. But perhaps the most powerful message not only of Ezekiel but of the entire biblical narrative is that death is not the end.

Sin and death entered the world in Genesis chapter three but that was not the end of the story rather the beginning of the redemptive nature of the entire story. And similarly to chapter three of Genesis Israel needs to look outside of themselves for life. Only one source for life exists. Chapter thirty-seven of Ezekiel is meant to remind us of Genesis two when out of the dust of the earth God makes man, and from his own breathe he gives him life. Ezekiel reminds the OR that it is God who does this and that soon he will restore Israel just as he has sought to use Israel to restore life and breathe into all his children.

If nothing else Ezekiel powerfully affirms two things about God and his plans for humanity as a whole as well as Israel. The death and devastation that Israel is going through is not an indicator of Gods absences. This is what the exiled community felt it was. Instead its meant to remind us of our own sin and guilt, or the simple biblical fact of a world that has been seriously infected by the sin of others. Israel desired no doubt to throw God under the buss, so to speak. We also are tempted to continue doing this. However, the second thing that is clear and powerful in Ezekiel’s message is that death is not the end, pain, and suffering are not signs of the end but signs and reminders of the beginning when sin and suffering entered the world through mans rebellion. It can simultaneously remind us of a bright future in which God will restore life and bring the really dead bones back to life.

The theological term here is resurrection. We can ask how the Jewish community thought about the resurrection of the dead. But really it helps just to know it was a topic of discussion for Jews and when Jesus came he spoke of it, he raised people from the dead, he did it himself, and then his apostles were witnesses of it. Actually the first apostles were women, they were the apostles to the apostles. (Women apostles is a topic for another time). Often enough these passages in Ezekiel are thought of in terms of the restoration of Israel as was part of the intended message. But they have a more far reaching fulfillment. First of when we keep in mind the resurrection and redemption narrative beginning in Genesis, and when we recall the importance of the resurrection Christ. In other words the resurrection of Israel after their exile was part of the picture of how God actually intended to bring resurrection to the whole of creation, a theme stretching back to the garden. And when in Romans 8 Paul talks about the revealing of the sons of God he is not speaking merely of Israel but of the church and all of Gods redeemed. The precursor to full restoration and resurrection of Gods creation is the revealing of the sins of God. Which was the whole point of Israels election. A chosen people for the purpose of turning all peoples to the creator. This is a very key element to grasp, it is a true resurrection of Israel when not just ethnic Israelite’s are preserved in the land of Israel, but when Israel has effectively taken part in the purpose for which they were divinely elected when the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.

Categories: Bible, Context, CSBS, Genesis, Old Testament, School of Biblical Studies, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reformations Rethought: Part 1

Intro: When Did the Reformations Start? Jan_Hus_2

Wikipedia gives the most common start date for the Protestant Reformations in the early 16th Century. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions gives the same date. Wikipedia also identifies this as the schism that took place rather then an actual reformation of the church.

I want to take a look at the nature of what we call the reformations. Every October Lutherans around the world celebrate Reformation Sunday to commemorate the events of Martin Luther and other figures of the German reformation. However, this is a narrow view of the reformations. Our understanding of the reformations as something to do with Luther and the German church is obviously not hitting the whole church. There was an English Reformation, there was Calvin, Luther contemporary working to bring reform to France. There was the Bohemian Reformations initiated by the Czech Jan Hus. Only recently, and you can see it in the timeline on the Wikipedia page, that historians have begun to trace the beginning of the reformations to the 11th century.

The main body of this post will be to discuss the reformation spirit seen even earlier then 16th or 11th century. But generally it is a way of referring to the actual schisms that took place in the life of Martin Luther.

Generally speaking, most people are aware that Acts highlights the growth of the organic move of the spirit, and the work of the apostolic community. But were did the real trouble with the church begin. Before jumping to the time of Constantine i think it is important to remember what Jesus said about wheat and tares. Jesus knew that even in the Old Testament community of faith, there were those among the faithful who sought there own good and were not concerned with being the people of God. The early church, though it was a time of ‘organic’ growth, was a time when Judaizers sought to distort the message, Greek pagans, and Christian Gnostic attempted, and often succeeded in weakening the witness of the church.

It is obvious to me but not everyone, that ‘reformation’ may have been needed as early as the apostolic times. If we look at the nature of some of Paul’s letters it would seem that some churches, though young, encountered great error that needed to be addressed and people brought back to the truth. I think were the trouble lies later for the church is who has the authority to speak into the error within the church. Constantine, and the institutionalizing of the church has its pros and cons. I want to consider both when moving forward. But remember things were not perfect before the institution.

Constantine: Church gets Institutional con

To many various claims have been made about Constantine. That he was a blessing to the church because he helped it to triumph other religions and become the world religion it is today. Or that it was a curse to Christianity because it gave the church a sword. These two perspectives are a bit off though.

The triumph of Christianity was already in effect taking place leading up to the time of Constantine. If anything he weakened the expansion of the organic growth by supporting it. But there are some misconceptions here. Constantine did not make a Christianity a monopoly religion of the empire. He did not persecute pagans, many consider him to still be a pagan, and his conversion to Christianity fake. Some make an opposite argument. But in truth he simply ended the persecution of Christianity, sought the blessing of the Christian God in battle, and in time transferred some of the wealth of the state temples to the church. This weakened Christianity, because as Christ said, wheat and tares, there was not more of a reason for tares to come into the church. Also Christian bishops became friends, and influential parts of the Roman empire. The Capital of the Roman empire also became a capital for church policy and doctrine. Thought previous centers in Jerusalem, Antioch, and Ephesus, maintained their influence.

Constantine did work within the church to protect its unity with the sword, at times fighting off the heretics of the time. There is a bit that can be critiqued in the life of Constantine. Much is up for debate. One of the earliest issues within the church was that it became a place of power and influence. Simony, the buying and selling of offices within the church became a play at power for and were filled by sons of the aristocracy. The high office of Pope had its price along with the lowly parishes.  Clerical families took up residence in the high office. Pope Innocent I (401-417) Succeeded his father Pope Anastasius (399-401). This is the earliest example and the latest was 1044. This was far from regular but there are a handful of examples.

This gets me on then to the body of this post. Now that we have reached a somewhat institutional church as opposed to the early grassroots move of the church. What was the nature of the church? When did the reformations begin? Where there successful reforms? Was the church from Constantine to Luther corrupt, hiding scriptures, ignorant, and committed to all the wrong things?

Two Churches: From Constantine to Luther

I believe that this is a very unknown era of history for most Protestant Christians because when being told the story of the church people like to go to the beginning. For Protestants the beginning is often the reformations. Or maybe Acts. But usually not what happens in between. As a protestant young person, I’ve been grown disturbed at not having been adequately acclimated to this long era of Christian history. Not to mentioned it has polarized my faith from that of your average Roman Catholic. Though I remain protestant, some Sunday mornings I would just as soon attend a good Catholic church as I would a charismatic pentecostal church. And I say that not as a slant against either. I find that there are wonderful traditions in the Catholic church just as there are a few I do not appreciate. I also enjoy the emotional stirring of a pentecostal atmosphere from time to time. But it really is not about preference, I’m simply stating what my preferences are from week to week. So while I will remain protestant I will not bash Catholics. In fact I may be caught more often sympathizing with their beliefs and traditions save one or two.

I feel the need to do this sympathizing because there history is my history. Not to mention many of the Catholic traditions have in fact been carried over into Protestantism and it is wrong to claim them as solely protestant. So there is a large heritage protestants enjoy built up by those who’s loyalty to God, and the catholic church will be observed a bit here in this post.

However, when I refer to Catholic I am not using the word as a synecdoche. Catholic includes both the church of power, and the church of piety. Or the high church and the low church. These terms indicate that from a very early time in the history of the ‘institutional’ church that there was a difference in the part of the church concerned with power and those concerned with being the people of God. The early monastic movements as opposed to those buying office and playing politics. These are the two churches of the history from Constantine to Luther. If Luther and other reformers were not successful they would appear likely as another monastic movement within the Catholic church. Or had they been truly successful to reform rather than form a new sect then the catholic church would have remained in place. We may still have a Pope, although a very different version of what the Pope was and is and the authority he holds.

What we are then to be looking for is how much like the true church of Acts was the the two churches of the medieval era? ( also quick disclaimer, the two churches might bring to mind the eastern orthodox church. However, I will not be strongly including it because my knowledge is still limited as to what went on and why, within the Orthodox church.) So we will be looking at the church of Power, its corruption and some of the bright spots. Also we should be considering the reformation work of the monastic communities all throughout this era.

How the Church was the Church and how it was not

It is interesting to remember that the monastic movement was institutional just as the high church of power was an institution. Though many devotees went of in search of solitude and silence, ther reputations grew and soon man more would flock to learn from these hermits. The need grew for organization, rules, and establishments to be provided for many seeking to follow in the footsteps of influential monks. Francisco_de_Zurbarán_040

This is essentially the story of Pope Gregory the Great who was the first monk to ascend the papal throne. He began by seeking the kind of life that the great monastic founder St. Benedict. Upon his becoming Pope he fought endlessly for reform, he sought to reform the churches corruption of offices bought by wealthy families. He also reformed the monastic communities according to the Benedictine Order. He wrote a book on what being a Pope was to be about. For this early Pope, Gregory saw his role as a pastor over the whole church rather then the master of the flock. He understood his role as a servant to the church. After Gregory’s death the roman clergy quickly replaced monks with secular clergy. The church was still a tool for politics. Perhaps exactly what Constantine did, or something that came as a result of his influence given to the church.

He is an example of a number of men who rose to the high church even when this was not easy to do because of corruption and typically needing to buy your way into those positions.

But the traditions that had begun in the deserts of Egypt with monastic communities is a better way to trace the church being the church. Though its not completely one sided. There were two natures of the church during this era that I think are important to maintain. Monastics had a sincere approach and love for God. The High church was committed to public life, sometime to much, and sometimes compromising as I have mentioned.

It is helpful to think of the churches influence not in such drastic terms. The church did not consist of only Popes and Monks. The in-between is the job of the Bishop. When monks had spent time in meditation, discipline, scripture, education, they would then be elected to serve as Bishop. Many did so unwillingly because they preferred the life of a scholar and hermit. When examples came along who served faithfully as Bishop, and also enjoyed scholarly life then you had someone special. But scholastic monks had a great value even before becoming well known Bishops. Saint_Anthony_The_Great

The earliest well known hermit was Anthony the Great (251-356). His life inspired many to pursue the monastic life.  His most influential follower was Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo (354-440). Augustine’s influence is well known. His work as a scholar has likely been the most influential of all scholars. Calvin’s commentaries are like holding a mirror to the work of Augustine. Not only was his work influential for theology but he developed a model for education and modeled a wider education for what would become the Cathedral Universities of the Middle Ages. Not only did monastic communities make way for an educational system, but also for better economic systems.

These are just a few key examples of the movements started. A movement for the reform of both high and low churches had begun with Anthony in the 3rd century (the same time Constantine helped shift wealth and power to the church).  A monastic way of life became what many sought who wanted a sincere approach the service of God. Among the monastics developed an entire educational system for reading, writing, scripture and other important works. The Scholastic movement was an option, men like Augustine lead way in this. And then there was men who dared as Gregory I did to reform the church of power, to fight against Simony, Adultery, and the lies of the high church clergy.

Conclusion:

Perhaps Ive done more to open up a can of worms here then anything else. However, I think there are a couple of main conclusions. That there are obvious characters throughout what some call a “dark ages” who’s aim was to bring the light of reform long before men like Martin Luther. Luther, well known for his challenge of Papal authority and his educational reforms had many who came before him. Pope Gregory, and Augustine both sought and achieved these kinds of reform but compromise and corruption persisted. Öèôðîâàÿ ðåïðîäóêöèÿ íàõîäèòñÿ â èíòåðíåò-ìóçåå gallerix.ru

The Sequel to this post will be to include what character’s, and events of the 10th century until Martin Luther hold. Protestants owe more to their Catholic, Monastic, roots then they realize. In order to continue to see our own needed reforms we need to understand our past and try to implement what we can from a true biblical worldview. We are not attempting as in a revolution to break off from the past and forget any of the lessons we could be learning from.

Knowing History is a precursor for Reformation.

Categories: Authority, Bible, Church, Culture, Faith, History, Medieval Period, Orthodox, Society/Culture, Theology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Gods Battalions

This was a book I wanted to read because of educational reasons. What happened for real in the crusades? This book gives the gory details of the Muslim Conquest of the Holy Land and as far as Spain, France, and Italy. It gives the details of gbEurope’s response. The gigantic question for many Christians like myself is; “was it a Christian response.”  Some are quick as I myself often am to say, “NO”! Violence is never a Christian response. However, that is not Rodney Stark’s conclusion. Rodney sticks to a sociological perspective. We can not judged one time period with the 21st Century presumption of what is right or wrong. But I think its interesting to see Rodney, now a Christian himself toeing a line where Christians have always sought to judge right and wrong based on what Christ would do or what the bible would say. Certainly there is a lot of criticism of the crusades. However, much of it brought about during the “Enlightenment” by strong figures such as Edward Gibbons, an influential historian and writer who sought to vilify the Catholic Church for centuries of what is referred to as the “Dark Ages”.  A period in which the church guided the whole of Europe into ignorance and stinted progress. (It was completely the opposite). The other criticism comes during the missions movement during the 20th century. When missionaries began attempting to reach Arab nations with the gospel of Christ. Certainly in order for Western Missionaries to be effective in Arab nations, apologies may open a door. So that is to say both Christians and Humanist Historians convince the masses that the crusades were almost entirely the fault of barbaric Europeans forcing their backwards way of life on peaceful, tolerant Muslim cultures. To use Rodney’s Words, “Nonsense”. No apologies needed. However, maybe apologies are something that help us build relationship with Arabs. You decide.

Maybe there could be one practical take away from the criticisms that happen when we think of the crusades. Maybe we could decide not to judge Europe’s response any differently then we judge the Muslim Empires conquest of Christian and Jewish lands. That the conquest done by Muslims of north Africa and all of the Mid-east is barbaric and cruel. With a close look Muslim conquerors  were not peaceful tolerant regimes but oppressive. That Muslim conquerors were not more culturally advanced then Europe. In fact in order to navigate the seas and build the ships they needed Egyptian ships, and Coptic Christians to navigate them. The Highly acclaimed Arab architecture also turns out to be of a Persian and Byzantine origin. The reason the architecture of both the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher resemble each other is because both were achieved by Byzantine craftsmen. The many intellectual books written in Arabic did not make them Arabic. Most often such scientific and medical books were the work of Christian Persians and Jews. Even considering mathematics. “Arabic Numerals” were entirely of Hindu origin. “Arabic Medicine” is actually Nestorian Christian work mistakenly attributed to Arabs because the works were translated into Arabic. Not to say Arab Muslim culture attributed nothing progressive or intellectual but must often what is attributed to them is done so because they conquered lands and people and laid claim to what they liked, or most often needed. Like ships, navigation, physicians, bankers, accountants, scientists, military technology, and agriculture.

As always there is plenty from Starks work that can offend good Christians, and offend those who are annoyed by Christians. Its a challenging book to read because you have to face some realities of history that some Christians and non-Christians alike would not wish to engage with. Fun stuff. Check it out.

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