Thank you for reading and for caring! Without your friendship, prayers, and financial support we would of not made it this far. We hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and that you have a rich Advent and Christmas Season. In each section there are links you can click on to go deeper by
Ryan and Noleen and the kiddos
1) REPORT FROM ROME
Seven us from the A2J Fellowship were able to join the Antioch Network team and others for our fourth of six meetings surrounding the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that will take place October 31st 2017.
Why are we spending so much time, energy, and resources around this? Simply stated it is God's heart and goal that we will all be one in Christ (John 17:21). I personally believe that as God’s people increasingly become reconciled and united in Christ and this grows in visibility and influence it will foster the healing of human divisions and mankind will know that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
You can read more on this below: https://ryanmthurman.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/why-is-christian-unity-so-important/
Danny has written three excellent short articles about these meetings that are very powerful.
You can read them here: http://www.a2jphoenix.org/blog
To see more photos click here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.10153498123033153&type=1
2) SIGNS OF HOPE
I found myself recently bent down with the burdens of the world, so much pain and despair all around. Yesterday on the way to Church I found myself connecting with the words of Job, Oh God, I cling with feeble fingers to the ledge of your great grace. God in his mercy heard my cry and stooped down and lifted me up strengthening me through the truth of this Advent Season that Jesus came into the midst of darkness, and the darkness did not – and will not – overcome the light that he brings (John 1:5)
Then in God's kindness returning home from church as I was getting ready to pull into our driveway I saw Anthony (photo above with my son Micah). You may remember that Anthony was a man struggling and in a season of homelessness when God brought us together, we gave him a home living with us for over year, graduating from culinary school and getting a job and doing really well. Then it all fell apart as the 'demons' of his past came back and darkness overcame and he left like many before him. We pleaded with him to stay but he left and our hearts were broken. We affirmed our love and our open arms to return at anytime. When I saw him I was so happy. I gave him a great big hug and he shared with me how God has restored him and shared all the ways he is thriving. Thank you God. Through this God reminded me that the story is not over and God will continue to surprise us with joy as we get glimpses into the beauty of HIS redemptive and healing work! I resonate with the words of Dorthy Day who said,
"if I did not have faith that the works of mercy do lighten the sum total of suffering in the world, so that those who are suffering…somehow mysteriously find their pain lifted and some balm of consolation poured on their wounds, if I did not believe these things, the problem of evil would indeed be overwhelming.
Be encouraged my friends, no labor of love is ever in vain and each of us can change the world one person at a time!
3) A2J QUARTERLY GATHERING - Saturday December 5th
This time is open to all. Come for the entire time or for just part. Schedule below:
10:00-10:45 Morning Prayer and Worship
10:45-11:30 Sisters from Canaan share
11:45-12:30 Maureen Alianza and Danny Malakowsky Share
12:30-1:00 Reflect on what God has been doing in our midst (Extended time for those who are able)
1:00-2:00pm Solitude on your own or small group fellowship and then join the Sisters for their monthly open time of Fellowship that begins at 2:00pm
4) YEAR-END FINANCIAL GIFTS
As you might know the work we do with Antioch Network and Apprenticeship to Jesus is enabled by the gifts of God's people. We have a prayer team and a financial team that support us monthly. Our committed monthly support is almost $2000. The other half we raise comes from one-time gifts and most of those are year-end gifts. Would you consider joining our prayer team and/or monthly financial team. Or would you prayerfully consider a year end gift. All gifts are tax deductible and checks can be made out to Antioch Network and mailed to the address below or you can donate online on our website by clicking below: http://antioch-network.org/donate/team-members/
1101 W. 34th Street; Box 315
Austin, TX 78705-1907
By Daniel Malakowsky
"Quo vadis?", "Romam eo iterum crucifigi."
Tradition holds that this exchange between Peter and Jesus led to the apostles decision to remain in the city of Rome during a period of persecution and ultimately be crucified himself, albeit upside-down. As he was fleeing the city, it is said he encountered the risen Lord walking towards Rome and uttered these words in Latin, translated as, "where are you going?" In response Jesus stated, "I am going to Rome to be crucified again."
The city of Rome has a sacred legacy that goes beyond its role as capitol of the empire. It was this city alone that a church could claim both Peter and Paul as its founders. One Jesus uniquely called out in the much debated passage in Matthew 16 to be his rock, the other he uniquely commissioned as his apostle and ambassador to the Gentiles. Both would find this city the place of their death, as each was martyred, it is believed, during the reign of Nero.
The city of Rome would see its significance unfold in the next centuries in relationship to the church as it would be affirmed as the first among equals in comparison with other important sees. Damasus I, bishop of Rome from 366-384, formally developed the idea of sedes apostolica (apostolic see) and it was during the time of his successor, Siricius, that the title of papa (pope) would be applied exclusively to the Roman pontiff. Many great men and leaders would eventually hold this title, such as Leo I and Gregory the Great, who would navigate and lead through political and theological turmoil.
With the crowing of Charlemagne on Christmas morning of the year 800 A.D. by Pope Leo III, a new era unfolded which would be known as the Sacrum Romanum Imperium (Holy Roman Empire). During this era, Rome, and with it the papacy, would grow to incredible levels of power, prestige, and alongside each, controversy. The legacy of Rome would be its role as the centerpiece of this bridging of temporal and ecclesial powers and its place in history as the successor of Peter. The question is whether this is truly the legacy of Rome?
While gathering for the Wittenberg 2017 meetings with leaders who were representative of numerous different streams and traditions of the Christian faith, there would be the opportunity to worship together as our time would allow us one Sunday with one another. As many who gathered were of traditions in which they celebrated mass every Sunday, many of these being clergy themselves, there was the reality and difficulty of planning a form of worship that would honor the present divisions within the body of Christ, without also dishonoring the traditions that each was a part of. That meant that we could not take part in celebrating the table together, the very thing Jesus commanded us to in coming before the bread and the fruit of the vine. Therefore, it was decided that we should celebrate the heart and nature of that passage of scripture in the middle of the Gospel of John, by reaffirming our baptism vows and through the washing of feet. We may not have been able to come to the table together, but we could get as close to it as possible.
The location of this gathering would be in the church that now sits atop the catacombs of St. Callixtus. These underground chambers would become the gathering place of early followers of Jesus as they buried their dead. Adorned with frescoes that portrayed the gift of life in Christ and the power of the resurrection in the life of the church through the triune God, many martyrs, including Roman bishops, were placed inside of these carved rocks and were commemorated for their example to the flock. Following a tour of these sacred chambers and burial grounds, we gathered in the small church above embracing both the legacy and pain of this city. Standing above the witness of its faith, we also came knowing we sat at a divided table.
In a service led by clergy representing Catholic, Lutheran, Pentecostal and Anglican traditions, we were blessed as we moved through a liturgy which included a 'pre-Eucharistic' thanksgiving, a purification with water, an offering of ourselves to God and one another, a surrendering to the Spirit, and finally an offering of peace. The highlight and focal point of this time came through the washing of feet. The Catholic clergy washed the feet of the Protestants, the Protestants those of the Catholics, and the German clergy washed the feet of the Messianic Jews among us.
One of the leaders of this service was the Catholic priest, Fr. Peter Hocken. In a conversation with him that evening there was an opportunity to ask him what he thought of the service we were able to take part in earlier that day. Obviously moved emotionally, he stated that the legacy of Rome is not its authoritative claim to Peter and apostolic succession. Its legacy is in the shed blood of Peter and Paul and the many martyrs that followed that gave this city its sacred history and heritage. The legacy of Rome then is not its power, but the witness of those who have given themselves in life, and death, to the testimony of the Gospel and Christ.
That morning as we worshipped together above those catacombs, we embraced that legacy. We stood with men and women who have given themselves to the Gospel and in their humility served one another in love. Instead of using their position as a seat of power and their authority to bring service to themselves, they in turn used their role to serve those who had gathered. Bending their knees and grabbing the bare foot of the one they were serving, they opened their hearts and blessed the one before them with sincere joy.
This is the very type of leadership that Jesus exemplified and called forth in his disciples. The legacy of Christ then became the legacy of the disciples as they heeded his words not to use their power as the world does. As the disciples wrestled with their own personal desires for greatness, Jesus never denied them those desires. He had created them for greatness, yet he revealed to them that their greatness would not be found in their authority, but in their willingness to serve in love (Matthew 20:20-28). This is the power that Peter and Paul walked in as they followed the Gospel to their own crucifixion and beheading, walking after their master who had given his life as a ransom for many. The church followed a similar path and the catacombs that we gathered in bore witness to this fact as we walked past tombs with an 'm' marked upon them signifying the martyrs death of the one who was once buried within.
The church of the empire recognized Rome as first among equals. Her legacy then is not in her power and authority, but in her service and witness to the world. As we recognize the pain that is the divided table that we were unable to gather together at, we know that the path to reconciliation will be paved by men and women who will walk after this very legacy that laid beneath our washed feet.
"Those who attack us do not distinguish between Orthodox, Lutherans, Evangelicals or Catholics; they know only that these brethren are Christians. As far as they are concerned, we are all the same. And in these attacks many of our brothers and sisters have given their lives in witness to Jesus Christ. In such places they are experiencing the ecumenism of bloodshed, the ecumenism of martyrdom. This should impel us all the more to seek paths of unity in our daily lives." ~ Pope Francis
By Daniel Malakowsky
"By virtue of contrition our sins are forgiven, by confession they are forgotten, but by satisfaction they are so cleanly done away with that no sign or token remains." ~ Anselm, Cur Deus Homo (Why God became a Man), 11th century
"As soon as the gold in the casket rings, the rescued soul to heaven springs (So wie das Geld im Kasten klingt; die Seele aus dem Fegfeuer springt)" ~ Johann Tetzel, 16th century
The understanding and nature of forgiveness has been something that the church historically has wrestled with in nearly every age. The earliest symbol of fidelity within early Christianity became that of the martyr and with it arose the martyr cult, best exemplified in the second century writing the Martyrdom of Polycarp. This account tells of the heroic death of the bishop of Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey), and while possibly guilty of hagiography, none the less reveals the significant role that the martyrs and the lives of those who had gone before would hold in the church.
History never unfolds itself in clean lines that are easy to follow, but occurs as life always has, in the complexity of world in which we live and the narrowness of our own experiences, understandings, and relationships. As the early emphasis on martyrdom arose, there were times when persecution came about so fervently that many in the faith would lapse and recant on their belonging to Christ. One such occurrence came about under Roman emperor Decius in the middle of the third century. The significance of this persecution being on its emphasis on the laity within Christianity recanting and offering their allegiances to the cult of the empire. Many in fear succumbed purchasing certificates called libelli, but would later recant when the threats subsided. These would be known as lapsis and the church was forced to wrestle with the nature and heart of repentance, confession, and restoration, opening the door for what would later develop more fully into a formal theology of penance.
By the time you reach the 4th century you find several church fathers and thinkers speaking openly about prayers for the dead. Cyril of Jerusalem defends the role of the inclusion of this practice in the liturgy by noting the efficacy of those prayers on behalf of the ones who are now 'asleep' and yet have sinned. John Crysostom, also known as Golden Mouth, saw in Job 1:5 justification of this as well in seeing how one's sacrifice could be imparted in the purification of another. In the 6th century, under the leadership of the influential pope, Gregory the Great, we find a more explicit understanding of forgiveness in the age to come and reference to purgatory when he speaks of the purifying fire (purgatorius ignis).
This wrestling with the nature of forgiveness, the afterlife, and reality that the idea of penance and purgatory came out of the tangible experiences of the church in persecution, repentance, and the formation of the Sacrum Imperium (Holy Roman Empire) gave way to a nuanced understanding in the medieval period. Penance was the practice of not just removing the guilt of the confessor, but also required some remittance of the temporal punishment (note here not eternal) that was owed in accordance to divine justice. In this understanding we find the role and practice of indulgences in the history of Christianity.
The indulgence was a way of transferring the merits of Christ and those who had gone before and were now known as saints to the penitent to relieve their temporal punishment in either in this life or in the confines of the purifying fire of purgatory. Historian Jaroslav Pelikan notes that the practice of indulgences "became an almost indispensable component of the church's disciplinary and pastoral program." Along with the indispensability of the role of indulgences in the life and practice of the church came its abuse as it became a tool to fund papal projects and to line the pockets of greedy bishops and commissaries.
Pope Innocent VIII was seated in an era during the latter part of the 15th century when unequaled greed, power and corruption entangled the sacred see of Rome. In this time he exploited the indulgences in what historian Justo Gonzalez calls, "a shameful business proposition." The first pope to openly acknowledge his illegitimate children, this practice was further developed by one of his sons.
Several decades later, under the leadership of Pope Leo X, the sales of indulgences were increased to bring in resources necessary for the construction of the basilica known as St. Peter's in Rome. It was during this time that the Dominican friar, Johann Tetzel, was dispensed as the grand commissioner of indulgences to Germany and the famous quote mentioned above was known. It was also during this period that Luther, wrestling with the nature of grace and forgiveness, offered his 95 theses, and was driven to challenge the penitential system and indulgences. His discovery of the Greek word metanioa, meaning repentance, which was translated paenitentia in Latin texts, meaning penance, gave rise to the theology of forgiveness that he and many other reformers championed.
Now in 2015 we found ourselves, seven of us together from A2J, with an international group of leaders taking part in the Wittenberg 2017 initiative meetings in Rome. During this time the emeritus auxiliary bishop of Mainz, the very diocese and bishopric to which Luther himself appealed to during the reformation, stood before us as a representative of Catholicism and its history. He, without compromising the Catholicity of his role and position, began to speak to the nature and understanding of forgiveness within the Catholic tradition. Affirming his belief in purgatory, venial and mortal sins, and the role of penance in the life and history of the church, he also acknowledged the abuses of indulgences and the sin upon which St. Peter's Basilica, now in Vatican City, was built.
Leading the way he invited this gathered community to join him in proceeding to this very basilica for a service of repentance and forgiveness. Asking for a private area to gather, we were afforded the opportunity to enter the sectioned off area of the altar where pilgrims and tourist are not permitted to enter. We were able to find a private space just off to the side of the altar and here, surrounded by the pomp, grandeur and history of the Western tradition, we stood as a community with solemn and saddened hearts. Every piece of marble and the incredible dome, which can seen from outside of Rome itself on a clear day, spoke not just to the height and pinnacle of Renaissance art and architecture, but to a history in which salvation and the souls of men and women were exploited in pride and greed.
So on bent knee the bishop bowed himself before God and those who were there and asked for forgiveness. Confessing the sins of his tradition, he lamented the fact that what was meant for a house of prayer had been built upon the abuses of indulgences to testify to the legacy of men. As he confessed, and as the other Catholics within the group joined him in their shared sorrow, it was as though the Spirit was showing each of us how this history was not just the history of Catholics, but was our shared history. This confession led to our united plea for healing and restoration.
The abuse of the indulgences belongs to the Western tradition, and it is out of this tradition that the Protestant movement arose out of and from, and is also indebted to. As a Protestant, and more so as an Evangelical and a Baptist, it became very evident that the sins of arrogance and greed were not isolated to the Catholic tradition and the indulgences. They have made themselves equally as present, though sometimes more subtly so, in the very tradition that I now stand as a minister and representative of.
The Lord used a reforming priest and monk by the name of Luther to challenge the errors and abuses of the Western church. In these meetings he used a Catholic bishop to pave the way once more by showing us the error of a divided church. The way to reconciliation will require difficult conversations and an embracing of the hard and difficult history and story that is still a living memory in the church. That way though, will only be paved through the path that was led before us as we grieved together in St. Peter's Basilica, on bent knees before God and one another.
By Daniel Malakowsky
Apprenticeship to Jesus has become increasingly more involved with a growing initiative called Wittenberg 2017. The focus of this initiative is on the unity of the Body of Christ, with a specific recognition that October 31st, 2017, the 500th anniversary will occur of Luther offering his 95 theses and the spark that launched the fire that swept the Western world called the reformation. While this day will be a day of great celebration in commemorating the life and fruit of Luther, it is also a day of embracing the numerous and destructive divisions that have driven those who claim the name of Jesus from one another. In this it is both a day of celebration, but also a day of lament. A lament of the necessity of the Reformation, and also a lament of the exponential divisions that have now occurred in both its light and shadow.
Originally focused on bringing church leaders from various traditions and nations together to offer prayer for the global church, the Wittenberg 2017 initiative has been expressed as a movement focused on reconciliation prior to and beyond this historic date. In preparation for a gathering in Wittenberg in the days and week following the celebration on in 2017, a developing community of international leaders from various ministries in Europe, the United States, and even Messianic Jews from Israel, have been gathering to grow in sharing their personal and ecclesial contrition through acts and teachings of honoring and repentance. These meetings have grown from times in Ottmaring and Volkenroda in Germany, to two more recent gatherings in the historically significant cities of Trento, Italy (Trent), and the eternal city itself, Rome.
The movement of these meetings has been clear, especially as Catholics have taken initiative to pave the way in their own repentance, recognizing and lamenting the unfortunate need for the reformation. A clarion call has been rung in our times noting that Malachi 4:6 in speaking of turning the hearts of fathers to their children, and children to their fathers, may be as much about historic streams and traditions of the faith as it is about the individual family unit. In this way, those who represent the fathers of the Western tradition, have through their humility paved the way for their spiritual children to reciprocate in those representative of newer streams and traditions birthed out of the reformation itself.
As we have done this, one significant undertaking has been embracing one of the core foundations at root in many of these divisions, and that is the division of the church universal from its Judeo roots. The late South African scholar, David Bosch, speaks of this unrooting in his book Transforming Mission in the following way:
"The Christian church may never forget that it developed organically and gradually from the womb of Israel and that it may therefore not, as an outsider, lay claim to Israel's historic prerogatives. This is, unfortunately, what happened all too frequently as Christians boldly (even rashly) designated themselves as the 'new Israel.' With the ascendency of Gentile Christianity and the virtual disappearance of Jewish believers in Jesus, generations of Gentile Christians have ignored their dependence on the faith of Israel and often boasted of their new faith over and against the Jews...Gentile Christianity did not, however, replace the Jews as the people of God; rather, in the wake of Pentecost thousands of Jews, after embracing in staggering realization that their sacred customs are to give way before the 'impartiality' of God, became what they truly were - Israel...Into this renewed (not new) Israel, Gentile converts were incorporated...The church may never in a spirit of triumphalism arrogate the gospel to itself and in the process turn its back on the people of the old covenant."
Historically this unfolded in an accelerated way following the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in year 70 A.D. It must be understood that these historical realities made this division in many ways unavoidable and it would be anachronistic to assume otherwise. The complexity of the situation, sociologically and politically, makes any attempts at blame for this undoing nearly impossible. The rising anti-Semitic tendencies of the growing Gentile church is found nearly at its onset in some of its earliest writings, such as the Epistle of Barnabas and a few of the works of Ignatius of Antioch. The Jewish rejection of both its Messiah and Roman rule gave fertile ground for the rebellion which would occur in 66 A.D. and the swift wrath of then general and eventually emperor, Titus. Years of animosity and anger erupted on both sides and the end result was the turning over of every stone of the building that once stood as the symbol and reality of God's presence in the world.
While not ignoring the significant debates of eschatology and preterist interpretations, it is also true that Jesus spoke and warned of this destruction in his final sermon recorded within the Gospel of Matthew. As many wrestled with the significance of this destruction, one of the earliest interpretations of it was from Origen who attributed his view to the historical writings of Josephus. It was believed this destruction was brought upon through the martyrdom of James, the brother of Jesus, who was then head and patriarch of the Messianic church gathered in the city of Jerusalem. His death by decree of the high priest and Sanhedrin was thus understood to be the initiating act that led the God of Israel and Jerusalem to then allow its destruction. If this were so, then the God of Israel was expressing his frustration at its present disobedience in that time and once more using Roman hands to express that wrath. In a way similar to the death of Jesus though, the Roman's were ruthless, brutal, and thorough in their violent acts against the city and its people. Their violence arose from their arrogance and that arrogance would soon be celebrated within the city of Rome itself.
While interpretation gives way to speculation and it is unknown how God was at work in the unseen during this period, the combined hatred of Rome for the Jew, and the Jewish rejection of Roman rule culminated in a series of events that saw Titus' destruction of the city in 70 A.D. This led to the utter annihilation of Jerusalem and the temple and it was this act that was commemorated by Titus' successor and brother, Domitian, through the construction of an arch memorializing the conquest in 82 A.D. The arrogance of this monument is seen in the celebration of Jewish spoils depicted on it and the appropriation of the divine in claiming Titus and his father, Vespasian, as such.
The church in many ways has stood equally in arrogant triumph over Israel, forgetting that it is, as Bosch stated, birthed out of the womb of Israel. While in the first century many Jews rejected their Messiah, the increasingly Gentile church grew to reject its Jewish heritage and foundations. In addressing the divisions that have occurred since it is important to recognize that this misappropriation has been a foundational element. The false dichotomies, the cultural arrogance, and the redefinition of authority, polity, and administration can trace their own lineages to this original division.
Since the founding of Israel as a nation once more following the second great war in 1948 and a growing movement of Jewish followers of Yeshua within the Messianic movement, the church has become increasingly more aware of this arrogance appropriated within itself. Vatican II brought this to light in Nostra aetate acknowledging the shared guilt of the crucifixion and the anti-Semitism of the church's history. While controversial, those involved in mainline and evangelical circles have been influenced by scholars in the new Pauline perspective, such as E.P. Saunders, James Dunn, and N.T. Wright. This has done much to initiate scholarship and conversation on the Jewish roots of the faith and pull it beyond the narrow apocalyptic eschatologies that had previously dominated such conversations. Now for the past half century it appears there is a greater work being done in the body of Christ to acknowledge its own unfortunate history and pride, and embrace the foundations it arose out of.
And so we found ourselves with this community of leaders as a part of the Wittenberg 2017 initiative standing before this arch just outside the forum gates in Rome. Overlooking the Coliseum, the arch of Constantine and the forum complex itself, we stood being led by a German Lutheran nun with a simple banner. Upon the banner was a cross with the star of David at its center and the inscription INRI at its top. The INRI, that acrostic placed above the head of Jesus in his crucifixion by the Romans, in Latin stands for "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." There we stood at what is now a museum of the remnant of an empire that gave way 16 centuries before proclaiming that the king of the Jews was still seated upon his throne. The arrogance of Titus and Domitian in appropriating the divine gave way to the historical reality that their lives and works are now gone, only now filling history books and drawing tourists, while the eternal purposes of God are still being revealed in the life and work of the son of David, the son of man, the king of Israel, Jesus the Messiah. The arrogance of the church gave way to honoring its Savior as King of the Jews.
The triumph of the church is not its triumph over Israel. It is its triumph of INRI, that in Israel God was bringing forth his covenant and promise to be fulfilled through his son, the king.
For more on the Wittenberg 2017 initiative - www.wittenberg2017.org
By Daniel Malakowsky
"Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world..." ~ Ephesians 1:4a
Some of the great gifts of the Reformation were the translation of the sacred scriptures into the vernacular of the day and the empowerment of the laity through emphasizing the priesthood of all believers. The Gospel had once more been placed in accessible ways for all to embrace. The unfortunate consequences of this though are well described by Alister McGrath in his book, Christianity's Dangerous Idea:
"The fundamental difficulty that the Reformation faced: the absence of any authoritative interpreter of scripture that could give ruling on contested matters of biblical interpretation. The question was not simply whether Luther or Zwingli was right: it was whether the emerging Protestant movement possessed the means to resolve such questions of biblical interpretation."
What this means, and what McGrath is here highlighting, is that in the Reformation a church was emerging that was becoming increasingly detached from its authoritative moorings and a vacuum was created in terms of who and how that role would be filled.
Why do I bring that up in a series of blogs on Paul's vision of unity in the epistle of Ephesians? To understand that is to understand the way in which the centuries since that unleashing of both renewal and division known as the Reformation have been impacted by new and innovative ways of approaching scripture. While mainline Protestantism viewed itself in continuity with the past, it was a selective continuity usually embracing those who supported the theological tendencies of its founders and leaders. More radical forms of the Reformation tended to embrace a view of themselves as restorationist and not reformers, and thus there was no continuity to be had with the past. In summary then, this movement to reform opened the door for the church, especially the church in the West, to be shaped and influenced by rapid transitions in culture and intellectual thought in the subsequent centuries.
Fast forward and you will find that a theology of the priesthood of all believers lends itself to more democratic forms of polity and governance. Isolationist histories can then be written and while everyone lives in a world that holds congruence with its past, individuals could view a world in which that no longer mattered. Eventually as culture and church continued to emphasize the individual it become the only thing that mattered. By the time you reach the 19th century and the Second Great Awakening you can hear the boisterous chant of the individual through the decree of 'no creed but the Bible.' What this really equates to is the ability of the individual to view themselves as autonomous from the community where it is just me, God and my bible. All this is to say that we have been shaped by our cultural history of individualism and our isolationist tendencies. This has and continues to influence our reading of Paul and thus our understanding of what we are reading.
One of the great passages in all of scripture is Ephesians 1:3-14, 202 power packed words coalescing into a single sentence in the Greek. Much emphasis has been made though of this passage and what it speaks to in terms of individual election. While not denying the truths of those conversations and avoiding the convoluted debates surrounding them, too often this individualism is triumphed over the corporate and communal nature of election that Paul is holding front and center to begin this epistle. It is impossible to find any pronoun or verb in this passage that speaks of an individual, only the plural forms of such words that emphasize the communal nature of the Gospel. It is not 'my adoption' or 'my inheritance' that Paul is speaking of, but that of 'ours.' We miss the fact that Paul, as a Jew, is speaking to a church composed of majority Gentile population, and using language of inclusion and belonging. It is 'we' who have redemption through the blood of Jesus, and who have been blessed together as God has made known the mystery of will with the purpose of uniting all things. To read Ephesians then, is to read it corporately and communally, recognizing that the great gift and power that is in it is in the power of Christ to bring union to God and thus communion with one another. This is not to lose the individual, as all communities are only such as individuals come together, but to help the individual find their identity and purpose in the triune God revealed in Christ and the great 'us' that is adopted into him.
We must be reminded that Paul was most likely writing this from prison for living out the nature of the very truths he is inviting us into (ref. Acts 21:27-29), sharing his covenantal belonging in Christ with a Gentile. The great mystery of the Gospel is not for Paul a hyper individualism with a predetermined view of election, but how the corporate nature of election in Christ was unfolding in the church. In approaching Paul and understanding his vision of unity it is imperative to recognize that Paul, again a first century Jew, is now using the language of covenant and belonging with Gentiles in the church only through the love and power of Christ in the resurrection. We must move beyond our conditioned individualism and join the great 'us' that Paul is calling forth in Christ.
“My people are my community, which is both the small community, those who live together, and the larger community which surrounds it and for which it is there. ‘My people’ are those who are written in my flesh as I am in theirs. Whether we are near each other or far away, my brothers and sisters remain written within me.” ~ Jean Vanier
By Daniel Malakowsky
Barukh Attah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha-Olam
These words, which translate as 'Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe,' are possibly the words that began worship within the synagogues that the early church arose out of. This basic blessing manifest the nature and purpose of worship, to lift one's eyes to the sovereign one of Israel, who was also the sovereign one of creation. In Christ and the resurrection, what scholar Lesslie Newbiggin described as the root of all knowledge, the self-revelation of God in Jesus culminated and all the events of history find their summation and their foundation. With this summation came the recognition that if the God of Israel were to be known, he was to be known through the Messiah, the son of God who became flesh and made his dwelling among men. That Jesus would change history meant that he would also change its liturgy, the narratives and truths which are affirmed as the filter's of reality and the ways in which one is to live.
Three times within the writings of the apostles we see this basic blessing, or berakah, open the words of an epistle, only now it is framed in light of the person of Jesus and what he reveals about who God is. The sovereign of Israel and creation, the creator and king, remains the blessed one, but now so as the one who is known as the Father of our Lord and Messiah, Jesus. Peter, the apostle to the Jews, opens his first letter to the churches of Asia Minor with these words and reminds them that in Christ they have been blessed to a living hope through the power of the resurrection and are now born again in the mercy of God. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, reminds the churches of Corinth and Ephesus that this same God is also one who comforts the afflicted and brings the gifts of the world unseen to those who are in him. The fact that these three letters each open their body with the exact same phrase leads to the possibility that these early followers of Jesus, shaped and formed by their worship in the synagogue, were now redefining that liturgy in light of who God had revealed himself to be in the Son. The Creator was revealed as a Father and the King as a Savior and Son. The blessing was now access to God and all that is in him through the resurrection.
It is this re-framing that I would like to explore over the next several months, specifically through Paul's letter to the Ephesians. Even more precisely how the person and work of Jesus shaped and formed Paul's view of union with God and the reconciling reality that exists within it. In Christ men and women who were once dead in their transgressions are now seated in the heavenlies and made alive again. The dividing wall of hostility with God had been crucified with the Son and the balustrade of division between men is now destroyed, bursting forth in new humanity. This God of Israel had now brought forth the fullness of their calling and the mystery of the Gospel is being made known in that the Gentiles are now included in the promises and people of God. In revealing God as Father, Jesus was also revealing all who would become his children.
I invite you to join me in pursuing Paul's vision of union and reconciliation in the Gospel and the call to unity that is revealed in it. It is this ecumenical vision that is needed more than ever, but to enter into it one must first enter into the life of Christ that drove Paul in his zeal for God and in his missional endeavors. In the meantime, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...
In a chapel above catacombs holding the bones of the early church martyrs, a British Roman Catholic priest and German Lutheran pastor wash the feet of a young Messianic Jew from Israel, with two onlookers - an Anglican Jew who survived the holocaust, and a young American YWAMer who lives in Malta. Wow!
And though it seems hard to believe, God took us even deeper from that point on. The depth was expressed in repentance for the sins of our own streams, in honoring the other streams of the body of Christ, and in rejoicing in the beauty of the church - even in the midst of her divisions and hostility.
Click here to view a short video of some of the highlights from the gathering