Friday, November 21, 2014

Keep within the teaching

I love reading the Bible and finding new insights. The other day there was this gem in 2 John:

"If anybody does not keep within the teaching of Christ but goes beyond it, he cannot have God with him: only those who keep to what he taught can have the Father and the Son with them." (v.9, Jerusalem Bible).

This is a little different to the next verse which speaks of our human response to heretics. Here in verse 4 we are solemnly warned that when we go beyond the teaching of Christ we do not have God with us.

At the heart of all theological debates, including those within the Anglican Communion is the question of the 'doctrine of Christ' (to use a phrase from the constitution of ACANZP). What is it? What goes beyond it? What keeps us within it?

John in this verse challenges us about the big picture of theological debate. The point of debate is to clarify the teaching of Christ. To fail to do this, to end up going beyond the teaching of Christ is to run the worst of all human risks, the risk that we no longer have God the Father and Son with us.

We sometimes joke that If God left the church, Would anyone notice?

In the midst of our debates it is quite possible that we would not notice that God was no longer with us. Debates have that ability to focus our attention on the debate and not on (say) the truth, or on the fact that the debating hall is burning down around us.

What if we debated with eyes open to the possibility that if we get the outcome wrong, if we go beyond the teaching of Christ, then we can no longer presume God is with us.

It is possible to have the form of religion without the content. To be sure we have the content with the form, we need to pay attention to what we teach and to strive to stay within the bounds of Christ's teaching.

Likely I will add to this post as I reflect further on 2 John over the weekend.

What does the author of 2 John understand the content of the doctrine or teaching of Christ to be?

From the content of Jesus' own teaching, the author mentions the 'new commandment' of love, 'let us love one another' (5) and spells out what love is, 'that we walk according to his commandments' (6).

So far so enigmatically Johannine! What are these commandments?

Turning back a few pages to 1 John we find reference there also to 'commandments' plural (3:22) yet then are told that 'this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us' (23).

So, back to 2 John, we remain within the teaching of Jesus when we believe in him and love one another.

Yet the author of 2 John has another concern which moves us outside of the 'teaching of Christ' = teaching taught by Christ, but focuses our minds on 'teaching about Christ':

'Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!' (7)

Since the warning to remain within the teaching of Christ follows this verse we may assume that when the author talks about remaining in the teach of Christ he also means we should remain in the teaching about Christ (that is, the true teaching about the truth of Jesus Christ).

In this case the author is concerned about heretics teaching that Jesus did not come in the flesh, that is, was not a full human being (perhaps because they taught that the flesh of humanity is evil and Jesus, as one from God could not possibly share in it).

Writing in the 20th or 21st century the author might have another, opposite concern about heresy, about those who teach that the all too human Jesus was not really the divine Son of God!

It is not a stretch in either logic or imagination to see that the author means by the 'teaching of Christ', the teaching which tells us the truth about who Jesus is, who the God of Jesus Christ is, what Jesus commanded us, and what Jesus taught us. Writing late in the period in which the New Testament was composed the author is implicitly affirming Scripture (the gospels and the apostolic epistles which have become our New Testament and the writings which we describe as the Old Testament, since they formed part of what Jesus taught).

The risks are high if we either deny Scripture or go beyond it.

We stand to lose God!


Father Ron Smith said...

This may be mere semantics, Peter, but I do question your use of the following phrase to describe limits beyond which we cannot go to proclaim the Gospel:

" to end up going beyond the teaching of Christ is to run the worst of all human risks, the risk that we no longer have God the Father and Son with us."

I would certainly concede the fact that to contradict the teaching of Christ - rather than 'go beyond' it, might be a more secure prohibition.

First of all, though, Christians need to agree on what Jesus actually taught - in coherence with the tenor of the Gospel - on any matter being disputed.

e.g. In the current context of Church differences on gender and sexuality; did Jesus ever condemn homosexuals? Did he ever forbid contraception or women clergy? These are matters still to be
more deeply considered before anathemas are issued by any competent authority.

Bryden Black said...

Two things should properly assist the interpretation of these verses in 2 John - which I have used with many a JW door-knocker.

1. The use of the characteristic Johannine verb menein. This shld guide us as to what it also means to go beyond, to not remain ... Especially when we correlate with both 1 John and the Gospel.

2. In typical Hebrew style: "God" // "Father & Son", using kai ... kai ... in Greek. That is, "God" = at least "BOTH Father AND Son". We are on our way towards the doctrine of Trinity.

Given the fact that many a "progressive" nowadays is curiously 'quasi Arian' and/or holds views that do not "remain" according to Jesus being THE exclusive, singular and only means of 'salvation', as the Incarnate One, then this verse helps to sift truth from falsehood rather well.

Sure; it does not cover every base; but what text does ...?!

Go 2 John!!

Happy Jack said...

Remember, the Apostles evangelised without the Gospels which recording Jesus' words and teachings. And even these could not have recorded all He said and did.

We see in Matthew 16 that Jesus instituted a Church, gave it His authority and also made it a promise.

"And I tell thee this in my turn, that thou art Peter, and it is upon this rock that I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; and I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

So, no need for any doubts at all if you're a member of Christ's Church. The real question is: are you a member of His Church that carries this authority and has inherited this assurance?

Father Ron Smith said...

And yet, Smiling Jack, Jesus did not send Peter to tell his fellow disciples about His resurrection. NO, He sent a woman, Mary Magdalene, to tell Peter, who didn't believe her word.

Remember, Peter was the rock, the base - not the living foundation - on which the Church is built. There is no other live foundation than Jesus Christ, Himself.

liturgy said...

Fr Ron,

Happy Jack is happily off on another circular ride. Using the Bible to prove papal infallibility with a verse that is open to several interpretations, not least that a foundation is just that – a foundation. We do not have a foundation present at each point in a building! A foundation is the very sort of thing that cannot be ‘inherited’!

Twist the meaning of what the Bible says to try and make it mean what the Vatican would prefer that Jesus had said in order to demonstrate that the Vatican has the right to twist the meaning of what the Bible says…

When we run out of fossil fuels maybe we can wire up Happy Jack’s arguments to power our generators.


Happy Jack said...

Well, who knows the mind of Jesus, Ron? Just look who God chose to carry and give birth to His son. A woman of all things! He even went so far as to forewarn her of what lay ahead too. The first Christian a woman! Perhaps God wanted to indicate that women are equal members of the Church. Equal but different; with different roles to play. Women do have certain qualities that complement those of men, you know. What's clear is that He appointed an all male group, Peter and the other Apostles, to be His priests and endowed them with His authority and special graces. Mary was never a member of this male group He specifically chose. And there's no record of her or Jesus' mother complaining either. Still, they didn't really understand feminism back then or how to exercise political influence.

Jack guesses that Jesus, as God, had His own good reasons or, as man, He was influenced and wanted to be sensitive to the patriarchal culture He grew up in. Which do you think more likely? Theology informs us that even though Jesus Christ had two separate wills the human will was always subject to and submitted to His Divine will. Based on this, Jack would say if Jesus wanted women priests He would have said so. There are other reasons too. Like the imagery of God and Son and the Church as the Bride and Mother. There's also the matter of the Persona Christie too. We wouldn't want to cause gender confusion, now would we?

And of course Jesus is our foundation. What on earth made you think otherwise? He is present with us in a direct way too in His Church, His Mystical Body here on earth made up of the religious, priests, bishops and all sorts of other faithful men and women.

Father Ron Smith said...

"And of course Jesus is our foundation. What on earth made you think otherwise?'
- Funny Jack -

Nothing at all.

It is only you who think otherwise. Even your own logic cannot convince you.

And as for the Mother of Christ, we also love her - as the fully human source of Christ's humanity, but not, herself, divine. Ave Maria!

Bryden Black said...

Well; that's got us down the old boreen for sure, miles from 2 John's emphatic desire to remain in the Truth of the divine relationship between Father and Son ...

Peter Carrell said...

A note, at 9.34 pm Sunday 23 November 2014 NZ time - all comments above are on the post to the italicised line before additional material was added.

Suem said...

It all comes down to the new commandment that Jesus gave us to love each other as he loves us. So love for each other, a love that models itself on the example of how Christ treated others (which requires study and knowledge of the gospel), is at the heart of the Christian faith. It is not so much a doctrine in the sense of creed or set of rules to recite, more genuinely a "teaching", a whole way of life and attitude of mind and spirit.

Happy Jack said...

" .... the author is implicitly affirming Scripture (the gospels and the apostolic epistles which have become our New Testament and the writings which we describe as the Old Testament, since they formed part of what Jesus taught)."

He's also lending authority to the spoken teachings of the Apostles. What Saint Paul called "tradition". Remember, not everything Jesus did and said is contained in the New Testament. All truth is in scripture, explicitly or implicitly, but it has to be interpreted, understood and applied.

Jean said...

Hi Peter

This all makes for common sense to me. God will only be with those who give an accounting of His Son and His Words within the bounds of what he has laid forth. How could he do otherwise if Jesus is the way, the truth, the life....?

It recalls to mind the challenge to those discussing the fate of Jesus when one challenged why not let Him live, if God is with Him His ministry will grow if He is not it will die away.

Happy Jack

I do believe you seem to be hi-jacking (excuse the pun the) the thread in a different direction. I would contend true authority came from and still comes from Jesus Christ Himself alone as given to him by the Father, and The Church is merely (but not really only merely) all those who are called by His name.

While I do not question there is some of what you say I would agree with. I issue a challenge. Putting aside preconceptions read the book, "Chasing the Dragon" - it is autobiographical and not about Church politics or positions so it contains no intent to influence people on such.

After reading I would be interested in your honest opinion on whether Jesus gives His authority, a calling to leadership, and the keys to the kingdom of heaven today, and even to a women. Such as - I believe is scriptural (and I know you may not) -- he did in the past to women such as Deborah... and announced later in the NT, "there is neither male nor female but all are one in Christ Jesus"....

Best Wishes

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
I will not publish further comments from "Happy Jack" until he resiles from a comment on another thread which declares other commenters here do not belong to the Christ's church.