By Daniel Malakowsky
When most think of the seat of power of the Catholic church in Rome, what immediately comes to mind is the Vatican and the incredible physical presence of St. Peter's Basilica. This was true for us from A2J who had gathered as a part of the Wittenberg 2017 initiative meetings just outside of Rome proper in the comune of Ariccia. On Monday, October 26th, we would be afforded an opportunity to put into practice the very messages we had been receiving from during this time through services of repentance at the aforementioned basilica, the Arch of Titus, and also, at what we would discover is the true seat of power of the Roman church, St. John's Lateran Basilica.
St. John's Lateran, also known as the Lateran Basilica, is the most significant of the papal basilicas and the actual ecclesiastical seat of the Roman pontiff, the pope. Officially known in Latin as Archibasilica Sanctissimi Salvatoris et Sanctorum Iohannes Baptista et Evangelist in Laterno, meaning Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in the Lateran. It alone is reserved the title archbasilica and ranks officially over St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, being the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome.
Alongside having this unique designation as the formal symbol of ecclesial power, St. John's Lateran is also the location of five ecumenical councils, known as the Lateran Councils. While the Church of the East, and the Church of the West acknowledge 7 ecumenical councils that are shared, the Western tradition of what we now know as the Roman Catholic Church, continued to meet under the title of being ecumenical. The 8th, and controversial in terms of East/West relationships in the church, would be the 4th Council of Constantinople in which the Patriarch of Constantinople, Photios I, was deposed and his predecessor reinstated. Following the excommunication of one another by the Bishop of Rome and the Bishop of Constantinople in what is popularly known as the Great Schism in 1054, these ecumenical councils in the West would be predominantly focused on issues related to the Western Church and its role in the Holy Roman Empire.
The first four of these more isolated councils, being the 9th-12th of the Western tradition, would take place in the 12th and 13th centuries within the confines of St. John's Lateran. Several hundred years later, and at the dawn of the Reformation, a 5th Lateran Council would be held from 1512-1517. While these five Lateran Councils would be an opportunity for the church to embrace reform, they were often rooted in issues of political and temporal power, as well as horrific schisms that would often plague the church in the West during the latter Middle Ages.
The First Lateran Council was called in 1123 by Pope Callistus II over issues of lay investiture, predominantly dealing with the role of the emperor, being a laymen, in the naming of bishops and clergy. This council affirmed an agreement made the year before by the Pope and then Emperor, Henry V, called the Concordant of Worms that would limit to the emperor to giving political power alone to bishops, while their choosing and ordination would remain the duty of the church.
This was followed shortly after by a schism after the death of Pope Honorius in 1130 and led to Pope Innocent II calling forth the Second Lateran Council in 1139 to deal with the issues that arose during this brief period and to affirm the decisions of the First Lateran Council. Only 40 years later the Third Lateran Council would be enacted in 1179 following another schism between the papal powers and the emperor. The emperor, Frederick I, attempted to ordain his own pope and rejected the then elected pope, Alexander III. This continued struggle for power would lead to the eventual decree that the election of the pope would be limited through the cardinals, and thus restrict lay and temporal roles in the process.
The most notable Lateran Council would be the fourth, called at the height of papal power and influence during the medieval period by Pope Innocent III in the year 1215. Despite having the broadest and most influential attendance of all Lateran Councils, the 70 canons decreed would only take 3 sessions and affirmed the dictates given by the pope. It is within the canons of this council that the doctrine of transubstantiation would be formalized and the fifth Crusade would be launched into the Holy Land. Jews and Muslims were required to wear special dress that would designate them and limit issues of 'blasphemy' and the controversial apocalyptic teachings of Joachim of Fiore, largely adopted by the spiritual wing of the new Franciscan order, were also condemned as they challenged the temporal and political power of the church.
While a number of concilliar movements would occur in the next centuries, it was not until 1512 that another ecumenical council would take place in St. John's Lateran. It is debated as to whether this council could have fully anticipated the undercurrents that would erupt in 1517 in the Reformation, but its timing and opportunity to deal with issues of reform make it a remarkable opportunity for the Western Church. Instead of focusing on the larger issues that were plaguing the church, it was mired in an embittered battle between the papacy and the papal states with the king of France.
Simultaneously there was another battle taking place over how authority would be held within the Western Church itself, with some advocates touting the role of the papacy, and others the role of concilliar authority in the councils. For the past century this debate had been unfolding as councils had been deemed, when they were occurring, to be the highest ecclesial authority. No council could be called with the pope who, when councils were called, would be subject to them, but when they were not, would himself be the highest ecclesial power.
As the Fifth Lateran Council concluded, the predominant motif in the canons it declared were focused on these issues of power and authority. This council would only be followed by only three more over the next five centuries. The first being the Council of Trent in response to the Protestant movement in the Reformation in middle part of the 16th century, but then not again until the First Vatican Council in 1870. This latter council would be called during the same century that the Holy Roman Empire was formally dissolved and the Church would once more find itself wrestling with the issue of authority, only now in the context of the rising secular nation state, and no longer in the bridging of temporal and spiritual powers through the Sacrum Imperium. It would be in this First Vatican Council that the issue of authority and power would once more be promulgated through the formal declaration and canon of papal infallibility.
On Monday, October 26th, 2015, we would gather now being led by the Catholic priest and scholar, Fr. Peter Hocken, with the support and participation of the emeritus auxiliary bishop of Mainz to embrace this long legacy of the councils in a service of repentance. Fr. Peter would speak to the issue of arrogance and pride that had been manifested and reinforced through the decrees that came forth from the very building and church we stood within at St. John's Lateran.
His confession led to prayers for healing and an honoring of one another, especially those who were members and clergy of Protestant churches. There was even a moment to honor and pray for those who were a part of the Anabaptists churches, whose traditions were forcefully opposed by not only Catholics, but by mainline Protestant traditions also. These movements of honoring allowed Fr. Peter and the Catholics among us to then acknowledge the arrogance of the see of Rome in relationship to the Messianic Jews among us. The in-grafted branch symbolically acknowledged it was such, and through prayer and repentance, the natural branches were lifted up and honored. Fr. Peter would go even as far as to say that the greatest arrogance of all within the see of Rome was to claim for itself something that belonged to Christ alone, that being the head of the body.
The next day Fr. Peter would lead us in a teaching on the nature of reform. He stated that a lack of reform reveals a lack of confession and that without confession one is attempting to deal with sin detached from repentance. The power of reform then lies in the ability to confess. The five councils that took place in this basilica came together missing the spirit and reality of this truth. Fr. Peter would state that this defensive nature within the church led to a view that critique was an expression of disloyalty, thus hindering any honest introspection.
In would not be until Vatican II in the 1960's that the Catholic Church would give a real listening to the voice of the Reformers. This has translated to a slow formation from the council to the local parish as the major symbol of the church moves from the Holy Roman Empire, to the body of Christ. In John Paul II the sons and daughters of the church were given permission and blessing to acknowledge their sin and confess. In Pope Francis a further step is being taken as he sheds the symbols of the Sacrum Imperium, refusing all privilege, and thus embracing the Christ of the Gospels and the present role of the Spirit. While not doing away with the roles of bishops and cardinals, he is redefining them by removing the idea of arrogance in hierarchy. In this he is opening the door to confession and through that door is the way of reform.
There is a battle for the church of Rome that Paul spoke of in scriptures as being not of flesh and blood. It is a battle we waged in this time at St. John's Lateran and one that requires our continued prayers and intercession, but also our continued willingness to confess to one another. In this we too will continue to find our own healing and reformation in Christ, and the only path to a reconciled church.
"The true authority of the church of Rome is the charity of Christ...[it] is the heart of its truth, which does not build walls of division and exclusion, but makes bridges that build communion and recall the whole human race to unity; that is its secret power, which nourishes its unshakable hope, invincible despite momentary defeats." ~ Pope Francis
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
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
By Ryan Thurman
This morning we had the privilege of visiting the catacombs of St. Callixtus, where many of our Christian brothers were buried. It is a powerful reminder of the many who gave their lives for the testimony of Jesus. We stand upon their shoulders and have received the faith that was passed down from them.
We experienced this reality in a beautifully symbolic way as we held a worship service in a small chapel that was built on top of the catacombs. This service was led in such a humble and honoring cooperation by a Catholic bishop, An Anglican priest, a Catholic priest, and two Lutheran pastors. During the service these leaders washed our feet following Jesus command to serve and love one another.
It was a beautiful expression of the body of Christ and a sign of why we are here in Rome, to pray that the Church would be reconciled and restored and we would all be one (John 17:21). These meetings have been full of prayer, worship, repentance, teaching, and strengthening of friendship. We are 70 strong from different contingents, ages and Christian tradition.
Our days are long, from sunrise to late into the night. We sense God is deeply at work, we have 3 more days of meetings, please pray for us. This is our fourth International Gathering in four years. There will be one more June 2016 and the final will culminate Nov 1st 2017 around the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 thesis which often symbolizes the split of the Catholic church by the Protestant reformation. If you would like to learn more about this you can click here.