Within the context of 40+ years as a religious historian, and especially during the writing of my first book, there is a simple fact of religion and humanity that has presented itself.
Fellowship, the desire to come together in similar interests and harmony is in and of itself divine - Hundreds of passages in the bible, many by Christ and the Apostles, give us this direction.
There are two passages that strike a cord regarding fellowship, Christ and our humanity;
Matthew 18:20 - For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
1 Corinthians 14:26 - What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
It may be irrelevant in our age whether we come together under a physical roof, social media or any other way we communicate. If we come together in the name of Christ, no matter the circumstances, is this not a divine act?
None the less, God created us with a mind of our own, each unique. We bring to the table unique ideas, beliefs and experiences - NO TWO can ever be the same. Each hymn strikes a different note for each of us, God reveals himself to each individual according to their unique comprehension, we may speak with different tongues and dialects, we interpret God's word based on a uniqueness of ability to comprehend within our personal measure.
Yet we come together in COMMON cause, that is the love of our Savior and his promise of salvation. Whether we come together to celebrate the Eucharist or if we so decide to come together to help someone or a group in need, or if we simply wish companionship of friends, we are doing Christ's work.
It is imperative that the clergy, in it's mission within the priesthood, to carry the banner for all humanity; bring themselves and others together in common cause.
We in the priesthood must ourselves come together, to present our love of Christ and discuss our beliefs (and differences) in peace and harmony. We must share our different hymns, present our unique lessons and revelations and above all share our independent interpretations.
It matters little if we of the priesthood come together in a Synod, in chapel or church or even on social media. Without fellowship and communication each clergy is isolated and alone. But together, in our own fellowship and speaking with a voice in unison, we are strong in our conviction to bring all humanity together in communication and fellowship.
Without fellowship, the church has found the pews emptying at an alarming rate. The example of fellowship must be presented to the world by the priesthood. It is one of the tasks set forth by divine providence.
The priesthood itself must grasp the concept of fellowship with a new outlook and with all of their love and caring. Each clergy is also UNIQUE, with their own hymns, lessons, revelations and interpretations. That is simply the way that the God of Abraham created us. He gave us individuality. The clergy should embrace our uniqueness, come together to learn from each other; not in debate rather in honest caring for understanding. We may never truly reach that level of enlightenment, but does not our Lord desire us to at least try?
As our Savior indicated, if we reach a level we can no longer comprehend, simply have FAITH. And is not fellowship the best way to share that faith? Jesus stated clearly the he spoke in parables because "they will not understand". He was blunt that even his disciples "would not fully understand". None the less he directly asked us to come together in fellowship, and simple have faith, to simply trust in him.
But to do this, the priesthood must first come together in fellowship. No matter the place or the media. It is up to the clergy to set the example, a GOOD and DIVINE example for the masses.
We have the tools for all presbyters to come together; synods, conference calls, social media, videos, newsletters and so much more. There is power in numbers, but that power is only realized if those numbers are brought together and focused on a single mission.
With the Vatican announcement that the word of the Pater Noster (Lord's Prayer) should be rendered anew, this resurrects an issue that has plagued Christian Theologians and Scholars principally in our modern era.
These revisions (renditions) , however, are based on personal discomfort with Jesus' wording rather than on facts. Whether we like it or not, Jesus definitely taught His disciples to pray "lead us not into temptation."
Has the text of the Lord's prayer been accurately rendered for us? The answer is unequivocally yes. The text of the Lord's prayer is independently preserved in both Matthew's and Luke's gospel, (Matthew 6:13, Luke 11:4). All of our many manuscripts of both of these texts preserve the exact same Greek wording for the phrase in question, differing only in minor spelling variations that have no impact on meaning. (1)
[Technical description of the Greek usage: The verb in the petition “lead” is an aorist active subjunctive (εἰσενέγκῃς); with the negative particle, “do not lead” is the idea." (1)
There are other texts with similar wording that show clearly there is only one translation that is valid from the Greek. The works of Didache and Poltcarp, not to mention the works of other church fathers, liturgies, hymns and other writings. There is an entire discussion on the subject written by Tertullian.
There is also precedence in the word usage of "lead" or "bring" in other books of the Bible: Acts, Luke, Timothy, Hebrews.
We as a Christian Society make every attempt to twist the words of biblical text into meanings relevant to us. We attempt to understand the mind of God. No human can ever understand the mind of the Father or Son, Christ himself made it very clear that not even the Apostles could or did understand. Yet, we keep attempting to make our God and Savior "relevant" to our age in this world.
Are we truely that willing to have so little faith..... what is at risk?
Our Christian Society may benefit from stepping back, make "ourselves relevant to our God" and not the other way around. If we do not fully understand the "word", we must embrace the simple fact that our Savior very clearly asked us to have "faith".
1. Christian Apologetics and Research
Do not judge, or so you shall be judged.
Jesus, in his many teachings, was very clear on this one significant point. He did not meddle in the secular beliefs of the masses, none the less made it ubundently clear that he was the one and final word on morality.
In this age, we see many who insist on pushing their concept of morality onto others. This occurs from the lowliest individual to the growing occurances of our World Leaders.
One of the biggest issues faced by the church universal, is losing it's perspective on WHY the church exists.
Case in point, Christ and the Apostiles did not necessarly form the early ministries to serve the "faithful". On the contrary they held their arms open to those on the fringe. The church universal is a moral compass for those who require the grace of Christ, not those who have already found grace. No human is without sin, we all have an off skew moral compass. We are all impure, so by making judement ourselves, are we attempting to hide our own shortcommings?
No mans moral compass can out weigh another! Jesus , by his own words, is the only way to absolve sin, by his power alone will any judement fall.
Are any of us willing to bargain our eternal souls by assuming we hold the moral highground, and that Christ will overlook our actions at the end of days?
Casting thr first stone may be the action that will secure only eternal damnation.
Outcome of the Reformation
Observations on the church universal, past and present. Impact on both church and state.
Our base religious practices were predominantly derived from the church that formed under Paul, and the church under Mark the Evangelist. The Syriac and Coptic churches became the theological and liturgical forerunners of the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Other than “political power struggle and human arrogance” that caused the schism of 1054, the base rubrics and canons of the early church did not vary much up to the 1500’s AD.
Then came the works of Martin Luther. Yes, the church had major issues, and reformation was needed. The posting of the 95 Thesis was on the surface nothing more than a list of questions Luther wished to open for debate 1. None the less Luther struck a sour chord over his “faith alone” concept, but more importantly his disgust with indulgences. The very indulgences needed by the Pope for St. Peter’s Basilica.
The rest, as they say is history. The subsequent excommunication of Luther had but one outcome: Luther dug in and Protestantism was born.
This inadvertently created two issues, one political the other religious. Let us tackle the political implications first.
The rise of Protestantism had direct ramifications to the end of the Holy Roman Empire. While Luther only desired reformation, ultimately he challenged the base theology of the Catholic Church. The premise that faith was more important than good deeds had a major impact on the decision to force him to recant. Over the subsequent years his writings led to a complete revolution against religious and political authority 2.
This led to nation states, breaking away from the “church” supported Emperor, Germany under Luther and Geneva under Calvin. It also brought on the rise of Absolutist Kings, that were not answerable to the church but only to God. With that changing political environment, The Holy Roman Empire soon collapsed 3. There was also an economic byproduct, freed from Rome the nation states had a new economic model, and competed heavily to exploit resources and colonies.
Also a direct link can be made between the spread of Protestantism and a blurring of the line between “separation of church and state”. The is seen clearly in 1534 with the outlawing of the Catholic Church in England by Henry VIII. The Anglican Church is a “state” church, sanctioned by the state, exists by state proclamation and is subservient to the state in all civil matters. This situation led to the English Civil War as Anglicans, Catholics and Puritans fought for control 4.
We see this in many countries around the world, with no exception here in the United States. Our constitution clearly defines “separation of church and state” yet certain laws bypass this fact. IRS Code 26(501) is an example. The government does not define a church, therefor that section of law treats “the church” as a business. It also defines clearly that the church is subservient to the secular law, as it restricts free speech from the pulpit, and the church can actually be taxed under very specific circumstances. While a newer version of the law, formed in the late 1950’s, declared as Code 26(508) clearly states that churches “can” be exempt from the 501 restrictions, unless they knowingly or by accident create a situation of operation that falls under the 501 laws. These “churches”, better known as Faith Based Organizations, are also supported by signatories of the Hague Convention of the United Nations. To muddy the waters even further, there is the concept of Second Amendment Churches here in the United States, with all of the controversy surrounding that entity.
The break away Protestantism also created a situation of intolerance, Catholics versus Protestants, friction between Catholic sects, issues between Protestant denominations. Many of the wars in the century's that followed were based on this intolerance. The most notable, the 30 years war (1618-1648) between Catholics and Protestants in what is now Germany, Austria and Bavaria: killed between 1/5 and 1/3 of the population through direct genocide, mostly civilians 5.
Today, we still see the aftermath of the upheaval the Protestant Revolution created. One major issue is the shear number of ‘denominations” or individual sects of a base denomination. There is much debate on this subject, depending on how one defines a denomination. Numbers range from 200 up to 20,000 + denominations that may vary by the belief of a single rubric, canon, or sentence in the bible 6. Even the Catholic Church is fractured into multiple sects, many wishing to distance themselves from the “papal infallibility”.
Christ’s prayer , and subsequently Paul’s, for unity two millennium ago means more today than any time in history.
1 Luther and the 95 Thesis – A&E Television Networks - 2009, 2018
2 University of Idaho – Religious Studies – The Reformation
3 Richard Cavendish – The End of the Holy Roman Empire
4 University of Idaho – The Reformation – Decline of the Catholic Empire
5 University of Idaho – Religious Studies – The Reformation – Intolerance, Wars and spreading Protestantism
6 National Catholic Register
Righteousness and Faith
Martin Luther – biblical text regarding righteousness and faith? Do we really need to understand, or simply accept?
Through two thousand years of christian history, we have and still seek understanding of God's word and plan. Many of the most noted theologians in history have failed to quantify or comprehend either. Today, let us consider the works of Martin Luther.
Luther was adamant regarding faith, that if a person had unbridled faith, salvation would follow. Understanding was not required. Righteousness assumes understanding, that specific good deeds are part of the plan, and whom among us understands the mind of God? None the less, Luther did his best to translate the bible accurately as possible for his people. He simply wished them to have the story of Jesus, his life and death. Paul probably stated it the best:
“. . . For what man knows the things of man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God . . .” 1
So with the many translations of the bible over two millennium, we strive for understanding. This may be a failure based on our human nature. Jesus himself stated clearly that many would never be able to understand: “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand “2. Could it be that the more we try to understand, rather than living by faith alone, we are driving ourselves further away from God?
But we should not fear, even the disciples struggled to believe or understand. The best examples of this occur in Easter week. We will use the current accepted biblical texts for this. Jesus direct statement “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” was met with confusion. Jesus was directly asked “Who is it?” and he answered “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish” 3. Still the disciples did not understand.
In ending this discussion, the bible is a moral compass leading us into a series of stories that will guide us to salvation. We may not always understand, but must have faith that the words have truth. Seek God’s help in prayer, do not hide from asking questions. In the end, be like the woman who touched Jesus robes and was healed – simply have faith.
1 1 Corinthians 2
2 Matthew 13:13
3 John 13:21-29