Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mike: Response to Rami's 1/25 Post

See if I ever again leave you "free to focus on other matters!" That being said, you raise a good question with regard to the Christian teaching of forgiveness through Jesus. I do not pretend to be a scholar on the subject (either the particular example you raise, or the larger matter of Christology). Still, I harbor strong impressions, which I hope are based primarily in reflection on biblical texts, Christian history and experience.

Christians view Jesus through the lens of the resurrection. All his words and actions take on additional meaning for us as a result. To the best of my knowledge, all early Christians interpreted the resurrection as God's validation of the life and teachings of Jesus. Almost immediately, they concluded Jesus must be the Christ. Some tended to view him as a man, whom God elevated to the status. Others soon began to see Jesus as the incarnation of the Word (to borrow John's language). We see a bit of both tendencies in Paul's letters. Ultimately, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity evolved from such considerations. With regard to your question, Christians felt it natural to pray in the name of such a Jesus or to ask forgiveness in his name.

The practice also derived from early Christian reflection on other sayings of Jesus. For example, Jesus told his disciples that whatsoever they asked in his name would be granted, that no one came to the Father but through him, and the like. You and I live in a time when sets of scholars debate which sayings should be regarded as authentic. The first followers seem to have accepted and worked with whatever sayings were available. That being the case, they soon began to pray in his name and seek forgiveness through him.

Experience played a role as well, I think. The first generation of Christians clearly believed Holy Spirit was active in and among them to comfort, bring to memory the teachings of Jesus, guide them in ministry, and instruct them. My personal hunch is that if we could interview early Christian leaders, they would tell us they believed Holy Spirit led them to pray in the name of Jesus and seek forgiveness through him.

All of the above begs the question of Jesus' intentions. How one deals with the matter seems largely determined by whether one factors genuine resurrection into the equation. By that, I mean we're either dealing with a life and its attendant perceptions/intentions which ended with death, or with someone who lived bound within the limitations of genuine incarnation then lived again with expanded perceptions/intentions via resurrection. The early Christians went with the second option.

1 comment:

Thanksgiving First said...

The thief on the cross next to Christ at His death was an example of a repentful man acknowledging his need for the saviour and the need for justice to he rebuked the other thief for mocking Christ even as he himself was dying.

Thereby we have an example of two different men who saw Jesus at a time when grace and forgiveness was so divinely chose to mock Christ and give no respect to who He was purposed to be...and the other submitted to who Christ was purposed to be.

Neither was reported to have had a water baptism or have read the Torah daily...but only one was saved for eternal life (if we conclude that paradise was that place of forever salvation).

The fact that Christ came to overcome the rebellious spirit that had the power of death working in its entourage over mankind...that Christ indeed was able to be empowered with the keys to the kingdom of death and darkness so that Christ triumphed over his enemies....tells us that we have an advocate with GOD that we should accept whether we understand it or not. The thief didn't understand the 'finished work' of Christ on the cross...He just accepted it and accepted that Christ was indeed a just and righteous man and he put his trust in that alone. His repentance was genuine and acceptable to Christ and he only believed...he did not earn his way to salvation...he just accepted that Christ was and is the way.

Mike, if you read this post...I hope you get better soon.