Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Mark of the Beast (2021 version) Post 1/n


To cite a now ancient cliche, we are living in interesting times. So "interesting" are these times that a percipient NZ political commentator, Chris Trotter thinks we are re-living the Protestant Reformation. (He doesn't call our times "interesting," appropriately he calls them "strange and disturbing.")

So strange and disturbing are these times that Antonio Garcia Martinez has written an essay "The Christ with A Thousand Faces", exploring "How trad Christians and woke progressives are unknowing co-religionists, and how the leading moral battles of our age really come down to casting." OK, I hadn't seen that trad Christians and woke progressives are co-religionists, but he has a point!

Then our friend and colleague in following Christ, Pope Francis is working on some radical reforms to the church's power structures. It all seems very Anglican! (Perhaps we are both re-living and reversing the Protestant Reformation :).

However, something very strange and disturbing, very seriously, is that we live in a time of misinformation, sometimes coming from the mouths of Christians, and with potentially very bad consequences. Naturally I am speaking about those Christians who link receiving a Covid vaccine with the Mark of the Beast. This has come up recently in our local Christchurch Press in an article entitled, "Covid-19: Mark of the beast or manna from heaven? Christianity's vaccine issue". (I have a small walk on part in the article.)

That's gotten me thinking a bit about Revelation, its message and its relevance for our times. Just may be there is more than one post in this ... Bear with!

First things first. A helpful way to think about Revelation and its mysteries is to think of it as three literary genres wrapped into one document.

1. It's a letter.

2. It's a prophecy.

3. It's an apocalypse.

Revelation as a letter to seven churches in Asia Minor

Sure, you have to wait, er, three verses, but in Revelation 1:4 you could be reading one of Paul's letters, except its by John:

"John to the seven church that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him ..."

And, sure, there is a lot of stuff after that which is very unlike Paul or Peter or James or that other John when they write a letter, but there are seven individual letters in chapters 2 and 3, and then, consider the ending in Revelation 22:20-21:

"The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon."

Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen."

We've head that before, haven't we?

1 Corinthians ends with these words in 16:21-24:

"I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord.

Our Lord, come!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

My Love be with all of you in Christ Jesus."

OK, so a letter, so what?

What do churches need from some authority writing to them? Answer: encouragement and perhaps a tune up. A pastoral need, in other words, met by a pastoral letter.

The churches in Asia Minor get this in spades. Things are building against them, times are tough, the power of Rome is so threatening you can feel the edge of the sword in your Laodicean mind and flinch Pergamumly at the crack of the torturing whip you're imagining with a cold sweat in the middle of the night. John writes to encourage them - to put some courage in them and he does this by acknowledging the depth of the danger they are in, by probing the true (and, frankly, disturbing) nature of the evil rising against them, while also and always presenting the love and power of God - the love which will see them safely into God's eternal presence is the same love which led to the Lamb being slain for them, and the power which will eventually triumph over all evil and depravity of political and economic power.

They also get a tune up! In most (but not all) of the seven letters, no matter how well a church is doing, Jesus has something they need to do something about. No slacking, no slouching, no sucking up to false teachers and their immoral leaning, and no swaying half way between being hot/cold for God.

And that's what the churches of the world today need too! We're feeling vulnerable, threatened and worried about where change and Covid are taking us. And, to be frank, there's a lot of false teaching - misinformation out there, by which I mean "in there, in the church." We're vulnerable and we have improvements to work on.

Score 10 marks for the relevance of Revelation for the church today!

Next week, a few words about Revelation as prophecy for today. Don't worry, we'll get to the mark of the beast before Christmas :).


Father Ron said...

Chris. Trotter seems to have turned into a bit of an alarmist in this article - likening our present-day struggle with COVID to the disturbance of the Protestant Reformation. It might more suitably be likened the devastating Flu Epidemic after W.W.1.

I find whole concept of 'The Mark of the Beast' to be similarly alarmist - reminiscent of the cultic anti-vaccine cod-theology of bishop Brian Tamaki and his followers in Destiny Church. They still think their 'faith' will save them from infection (when God give us the Vaccines and skilled medical help)

However, what the Universal Church throughout the world is going through at this particular time in history is a radical re-assessment of what it means to be fully human in terms of gender and sexuality - in recognition of scientific proof of the insufficiency of a purely binary code to describe the existence of loving relationship between human beings. This has ben a major cause of schism within the Churches - especially those which would count such relationships as being evidence of 'The mark of The Beast'.

Other issues; such as the voice of women in the Church is also being 'fought out' by those 'cribb'd, cabin'd and confined' by words of Scripture that would deny women a voice. The world has already come to terms such realities. However, the Church struggles to catch up.

The whole Book of Revelation was surely a 'Tract of The Times' written to hearten persecuted Christians,and to put the fear of God into the heart of the Roman Empire.

Unknown said...

+ Peter's intuition here seems sharper than Chris Trotter's.

Anti-vaxxers : scientific society :: early Christians : pagan society.

Both are movements resisting order they find superfluous and intrusive. Both treat a society's accredited knowledge as a mode of domination to be subverted.

In contrast, the Reformation was a state-sponsored reorganisation of northern churches that sorted out anarchy and dysfunction on ground far from, and not much like, sunny Rome. Only some of the grassroots resistance to that strong-armed sorting resembles what + Peter is talking about here.

Father Ron, I don't think that this topic is That Topic or even the Other Topic. But both do touch it.

Some personalities have-- intrinsically, you might say-- an unusually low desire to belong, agree, and comply. Or frankly, an unusually strong compulsion not to.

(Psychologists say that they score low on measures of Agreeableness. In the Five Factor Model, that's one of the dimensions of personality-- Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism spelling OCEAN.)

On one hand, the disagreeables might not object to expanded liberty for queer folk and women. That comports with their essentially anarchic sensibility.

But on the other hand, they feel organised efforts to *make them believe things*-- really any things at all-- as a deep intrusion into their own personal liberty. If the Things To Be Believed seem unnatural to them, then the domination seems all the more oppressive. That is, they can't hear a word we might say about love, justice, grace, etc while their brains are involuntarily fixated on the threat of domination.

Institutionalists of a modern mind find this ctazymaking because, in their view, moral right and practical authority flow from consensus, the more universal the more commanding. But resisters feel most threatened of all by whole societies grabbing at their brains to make them believe strange things, and so they resist, passively and sometimes aggressively too.

This more or less disproves the theory that majorities are precursors of an eventually universal consensus. Since that theory underpins the legitimacy of modern institutions, the wise and the good find their resisters subversive and terrifying.

Organic change does not inspire the resistance of those who fear domination. In Cockaigne, they do not vote so much, and synods are so infrequent that they sometimes forget to meet. When a few bishops began to ordain women, the practice spread on its own, although not to all bishops. There is still, even today, no authorising canon.

When town halls there started to register civil unions, nobody really noticed anything but the efficiency of it. Since it was working, courts and parliament just accepted the fait accompli. Churches were never asked, and never answered.


Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter, et al; today's lovely message from Pope Francis brings a feeling of quiet JOY, when all around us could be dark and gloomy:


“It is decisive even for all of us today to rediscover the beauty of being children of God, to be brothers and sisters among ourselves, because we have been united in Christ, who redeemed us. The differences and contrasts that separation creates should not exist among believers in Christ.”
Pope Francis'