Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 39

The Nicene Creed~ Part 25

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

WE BELIEVE IN ONE HOLY CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC KEHILLAH ~ One Holy Catholic and Apostolic ~ Part 1

In the Apostles’ Creed, the profession of faith is personal: “I believe,” while in the Nicene Creed, it is “we believe.” The kehillah expresses its faith together. At the last part of the creed, after the profession in the Ruach HaKodesh and His work, we say we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.” These four notes are fundamental for the definition of the kehillah as the kehillah of Yeshua, and they enable its recognition by all the baptized.

Holiness has always been the first characteristic of the kehillah to be recognized. Already from the beginning of the second century, we find the saying the holy church.” Beginning from here, the texts of the Fathers repeatedly and incessantly define the kehillah as holy, up to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan profession of faith. The biblical foundation for its use leaves us in no doubt. Yeshua, the holy one of God, is the center of the new kehillah chosen and consecrated to raise to God true spiritual worship. This kehillah is the holy temple of God, and the death of Yeshua makes it holy and immaculate. The baptized are called holy ones to indicate their belonging to God and the consecration brought about by the baptismal water. The celebration of the Eucharist highlighted for all Believers the state of holiness in which they participated and to which they were called. This was so profoundly experienced that the emissary felt obliged to write about the necessity for a serious examination of conscience before approaching the celebration of the banquet. The holiness of the kehillah is founded on the presence and action in it of the Ruach HaKodesh. It is, therefore, original holiness that has no analogy in the previous history; it is objective and complete, fount and source of every other personal holiness that is born in the kehillah and is developed. If the kehillah were not holy, it could not proclaim as holy those who give testimony to true evangelical life. The history of the kehillah, then, is above all and before all a history of holiness. It is not possible to ignore or not recognize this dimension without misinterpreting the sacred texts and two thousand years of the history of the kehillah. If the kehillah is holy, then it cannot, because of its nature, sin, or have sinned. This poses another problem that must be faced: the presence of sinners.

The affirmation of the unity of the kehillah finds its root in the tremendous high-priestly prayer placed on the lips of Yeshua in the Gospel of John that they may all be one. Just as you, Father, are united with me and I with you, I pray that they may be united with us so that the world may believe that you sent me. [1] Sha’ul many times exhorts readers to attain this unity by using the powerful image of the body of Yeshua, where all members are connected. According to one bishop’s principle for one city, the unity of the kehillah was affirmed not only in rhetoric but also in the organization: each local kehillah was led by a bishop in communion with other bishops, according to one bishop’s principle for one city his territory. His office was primarily liturgical and one of guidance. He presided over the liturgical assemblies and was aided by presbyters and deacons. The celebration of the Eucharist expressed unity. The bishop decided who would be admitted to catechesis, who admitted catechumens to baptism, who baptized and celebrated the Eucharist, who admitted or excluded people from the Eucharist, who gave penance sinners and pardoned them.

The kehillah of the early centuries elaborated different systems to preserve, favor and develop unity among the kehillot. The lack of centralization and the absence of solid cohesion, in the institutional sense, constituted a weakness of the messianic kehillot in relation to the whole kehillah. Indeed, it was a strength in that all the kehillot were involved and felt responsible. Still, it was also a weakness, especially at a time when the doctrine was being refined and discipline was being constituted. This was true both in the relations between kehillot and inside a particular kehillah because of all the components’ sense of participation.

The affirmation that the kehillah is holy comes from Scripture, as does that of unity. The Brit Hadasah often calls Believers “holy ones.” Sha’ul writes that the Messiah loved the Messianic Community, indeed, gave Himself up on its behalf, 26 in order to set it apart for God, making it clean through immersion [2] in the mikveh, so to speak, 27in order to present the Messianic Community to Himself as a bride to be proud of, without a spot, wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without defect.[3] The first letter of Kefa says, But you are a chosen people, the King’s cohanim, a holy nation, a people for God to possess! Why? In order for you to declare the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. [4] The holy nation is the new kehillah constituted of Believers; its holiness does not mean that there are not sinners in the kehillah, but the kehillah participates in the holiness of God, the only Holy One.

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] John 17:21 (CJB)

[2] Baptism.

3 Ephesians 5:27 ~ (CJB).

[4] 1 Kefa 2:9 ~ (CJB).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 38

The Nicene Creed~ Part 24

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

WE BELIEVE IN ONE HOLY CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH ~ The Church.

Recall that I prefer to call the “church” the kehillah, which means “community” in Hebrew. I think that it is much easier to think of “church” as “a community” and not as “a building.” So, I will take some liberty to change the word “church” from now on in this post to kehillah. You will also note that I have used numerous quotes from the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) instead of my “go-to” version of the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). There is a simple explanation for doing so. This year, I am using the CSB for my reading to see what new gems I might discover for my daily devotions this year.

In our profession of faith, we proclaim, “We believe in … the kehillah.” Rufinus explains why in Latin, we say, “We believe the kehillah,” and not we believe “in the kehillah.” He writes:

“We believe the holy kehillah,” not as God but as the kehillah gathered together to God. And we believe that there is “forgiveness of sins”; we do not say “We believe in the forgiveness of sins.” And we believe that there will be a “resurrection of the flesh”; we do not say, “We believe in the resurrection of the flesh.” By this monosyllabic preposition, therefore, the Creator is distinguished from the creatures, and things divine are separated from things human. [1]

Understanding the Fathers of the significance and the nature of the kehillah is grounded on Scripture, especially on the Brit Hadashah. The strong images of Sha’ul support their explanation: the Messianic community as the body of Messiah, as his bride, as a mother. Because she is a bride, she can generate sons and daughters for the Father. Sha’ul, in describing the nature of the Messianic community, introduces the image of the kehillah as the body of Messiah and expounds it in the Pastoral Letters. Messiah is the head of that body: “He is the head of the body, the kehillah.… Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Messiah’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the kehillah.”[2] There is a mystical identification between believers and Messiah, as is shown in the conversion of Sha’ul: “As he journeyed, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”[3]

To belong to Messiah, have a personal relationship with Him, and have union with Him implies the result of union with other believers. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Messiah?… But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.[4] The same faith and love unify individuals in Messiah: “So we, though many, are one body in Messiah, and individually members one of another.” [5] According to Sha’ul, believers are members of a body and are connected, serving different functions. It is not only a visible unity, a society with all members in harmony; the unity is of a higher order. It is not only a social or a moral unity but a mystical body. Mystical does not mean something strange or hidden; it means that Messiah binds, guides, ties, unites us to Himself. It is a reality that is not obvious to our intelligence and is beyond our senses, and involves a unique union of all the members with Messiah, who is the head. John uses the image of the vine and the branches:

“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who stay united with me, and I with them, are the ones who bear much fruit; because apart from me, you can’t do a thing. Unless a person remains united with me, he is thrown away like a branch and dries up. Such branches are gathered and thrown into the fire, where they are burned up. “If you remain united with me, and my words with you, then ask whatever you want, and it will happen for you. This is how my Father is glorified—in your bearing much fruit; this is how you will prove to be my talmidim.~  John 15:5-8 (CJB)

The members are bound through faith, love, and sacraments to Messiah, who endows us with His gifts: “holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” [6] In the force of this union, the kehillah is the fullness or complement of Messiah: the Father “has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the kehillah, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.”  [7] It forms one whole with him: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Messiah.” [8] This body is nourished by the Eucharist: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” [9]

The visible kehillah is a human, mixed company, with shadows and spots. It is the visible sign of the presence of the kingdom of God among human beings, sustained by hope, whose soul is the Ruach. [10]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Rufinus Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed. In other words, we believe in God and things divine. We do not believe in things human; we simply believe them.

[2] Colossians 1:18, 24 (CSB)

[3] Acts 9:3-5 (CSB)

[4] 1 Cor 6:15, 17 (CSB).

[5] 1 Cor 6:15ans 12:5 (CSB)

[6] Colossian 2:19 (CSB)

[7] Eph 1:22–23 (CSB)

[8] 1 Cor 12:12 (CSB)

[9] 1 Cor 10:17

[10] Di Berardino, A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2010). We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (Vol. 5, pp. 1–3).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 37

The Nicene Creed~ Part 23

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase He has spoken through the Prophets in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

HE HAS SPOKEN THROUGH THE PROPHETS

In 2 Kefa 1:21, we read, for never has a prophecy come as a result of human willing – on the contrary, people moved by the Ruach HaKodesh spoke a message from God. From the earliest days of the kehillah, the Ruach has been known as the one who spoke through the prophets and writings of the Tanakh. The Ruach is the giver of revelation. Yeshua refers to David as one inspired by the Ruach, as does Kefa. Elizabeth, Simeon, and Zechariah were all filled with the Ruach when they spoke the words recorded in the Gospels. Yeshua, quoting Isaiah, spoke of the Ruach being on Him and anointing Him to preach good news to the poor. He also told the emissaries that when they would be called to speak, it would not be they who speak but the Ruach that He would give to them. Shavuot (Pentecost) and the subsequent life of the kehillah testified to the fulfillment of the prophecy in Yo’el that the Ruach would descend on the kehillah enlivening it and its message. Sha’ul speaks in his first letter to the Corinthians of his preaching, and words have come from the Ruach. Kefa refers to Sha’ul’s writings as difficult to understand and sometimes being twisted out of context, as also happens to the other Scriptures, no doubt including Sha’ul’s writings in what was considered the Scriptures. Here, as well as in what Sha’ul has to say about those who spoke in tongues, we begin to get a picture of the kehillah and its leaders struggling to get a handle on which prophecies and writings were to be understood as authoritative since some claimed the Ruach. Still, neither their words nor their actions were enlightening for the kehillah. Not everyone who claimed inspiration was necessarily received by the kehillah. A sifting process began by which the kehillah decided what was normative for the kehillah’s faith and life.

The challenges of Gnosticism and the teaching of such heretics as Marcion made it all the more important to confess that the Ruach by whom Yeshua was conceived and who was operative in the ministry of Yeshua and the Gospel message was the same Ruach who acted in the Tanakh. Messianic writers from very early on, however, emphasized the normative role of the Ruach and the rule of faith in revelation. At times, the Ruach made itself known in extraordinary ways, such as speaking in tongues as the apostles did at Shavuot. The kehillah, such as the one in Corinth, continued to utilize. These tongues and other signs were viewed as a witness to unbelievers, and they continued as long as there was a need for them in the kehillah. After a time, however, most, although not all, early Messianic writers believed this gift slowly ceased to exist. (I happen to be in the group that does not believe that speaking in tongues has ceased as a gift of the Ruach.) But the work of the Ruach continued and continues to live and work in the life of the kehillah.[1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp 266–267).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 36

The Nicene Creed~ Part 22

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase with the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

WITH THE FATHER AND THE SON

Wherever the Son’s divinity was questioned, it followed that the divinity of the Ruach was questioned. As a result of the Arian controversy, the Council of Nicaea in 325CE worked out the relationship between the Father and the Son, confessing its belief that the Son is homoousios (the same in being} with the Father. The third article of the Nicene Creed of 325CE also confessed a belief in the Ruach HaKodesh but did not expand on what that belief entailed concerning the Father and the Son. It simply said, And we believe in the Holy Spirit, followed by a condemnation of the Arians. It is also true that, while the Nicene Creed may have settled in principle the debate regarding the Son being of the same substance of the Father, it still took another fifty years before the kehillah definitively settled the issue. The relationship of the Son to the Father was being debated during this time. Still, the ancient kehillah writers and the heretics also realized that if the Ruach was in any way denigrated, this too affected the Son: as goes the Ruach, so goes the Son. The logic was inescapable. Thus, at the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381CE and again at the Council of Rome in 382CE in the West, the full divinity of the Ruach too was confessed and included in the Creed formulated for the Council at Constantinople in 381CE, once the full implications of what had been decided at Nicaea had been debated.

There was no inclusion of the homoousios in its confession of the Ruach, however. Such an omission may reflect the unwillingness of the period evidenced in such writers as Athanasius. Still, Basil, who said to worshiped and glorified, was as close as they came to say that the Ruach HaKodesh was God. Gregory of Nazianzus also reflects the ambivalence prevalent among some at that time when he remarked, “To be only a little in error about the Ruach HaKodesh is to be orthodox.” Such caution of not using homoousios in its confession of the Ruach may also stem from the attempts at the time to be conciliatory to the bishops who were allies against the Arians but followed the teaching of Macedonius and were present at the Council of Constantinople. There may have also been the realization that not everyone among even the orthodox, had come around yet fully to the idea of the Ruach HaKodesh being consubstantial with the Father and the Son. But this would not remain so for long. The full divinity and consubstantiality of the Ruach with the Father and the Son was soon the consensual teaching of the entire kehillah.

HE IS WORSHIPED AND GLORIFIED

The ancient kehillah’s worship and glorification of the Ruach HaKodesh is perhaps the most precise witness to its understanding of the role of the Ruach in the divine economy before such an understanding became enunciated in the Nicene-ConstantinopolitanCreed. The worship life of the kehillah not only informed the kehillah’s theology; it also expressed that theology in a way more often caught than taught. The technical way of referring to this is lex orandi et lex credendi (the rule of prayer expresses the rule of faith). Such a rule is already evident in the commission of Yeshua to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Ruach HaKodesh. While not the only formula used in the Brit Hadashah period, this formula for baptism became the most common and then the only one used in the subsequent life of the kehillah. The benediction of Sha’ul in his second letter to the Corinthians includes the Ruach in the same breath with the Father and the Son. The enlivening and unifying role of the Ruach in the life of the early kehillah and its worship is clearly evident throughout the pages of the Brit Hadashah and the post-apostolic documents of the second century. References to the Ruach’s work and activity, especially in worship, continue in the writings leading up to the fourth century and beyond. [1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp 225-246).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 35

The Nicene Creed~ Part 21

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase who proceeds from the Father and the Son in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

WHO PROCEEDS FROM THE FATHER AND THE SON

It would be placing far too great a burden on the Creed confessed at Constantinople in 381CE to say that the holy fathers gathered to establish the dogma of the procession of the Ruach HaKodesh in all its precision and fullness. In their writings, the Cappadocians had noted that the Ruach was distinguished from the Father and the Son by his procession. Thus, the Creed uses the language of John 15:26, which speaks most directly of the procession of the Ruach from the Father: When the Counselor comes, whom I will send you from the Father – the Spirit of Truth, who keeps going out from the Father – He will testify on My behalf. (CJB) The phrase, who keeps going out from the Father distinguishes the Ruach from the Father and the Son, even as the following phrase of the Creed demonstrates that the Ruach is to be worshiped and glorified along with the Father and the Son. Thus, the present phrase provides a distinguishing scriptural characteristic while also tying the Ruach’s procession to the Father.

To a certain extent, both Eastern and Western traditions have emphasized what is known as the Father’s monarchy in speaking of the Ruach’s origin. The Father’s monarchy implies that the Father is the source, principle, cause of the Ruach HaKodesh and the Son. One might even note that both the Son and the Ruach are spoken of as proceeding from the Father in our English Bibles and Latin ones. However, this was part of the problem between East and West that arose beginning around the fifth century, when working in both Latin and Greek was not as expected. In Greek, the origin of the Ruach HaKodesh from the Father is based on the Greek word ekporeuetai, which alone is used of the Ruach HaKodesh in John 15:26. The Greeks acknowledge the Latin Church that the Son too is spoken of as proceeding from the Father. But this does not occur with the Greek word ekporeuomai but the Greek word proiēmi – an important distinction that Latin does not make. The Father was unbegotten, the Son was begotten, which was a procession from the Father, but not the same as how the Ruach proceeds.

The question remained to be asked: What is the relationship of the Ruach to the Son in this procession, since Scripture, especially the Gospel of John, speaks of the Ruach of the Son, the Son giving the Ruach, breathing out the Ruach, etc.? This the Creed did not answer. As noted, at least up through the fifth century but even beyond, all the way to the time before the great schism of 1054, the dominant patristic understanding is that the monarchy of the Father is what binds and grounds the Trinity in its unity. And so, more often than not, the question of the Ruach’s procession is first of all addressed in the sense of His procession from the Father. But in no way does this exhaust all that the fathers had to say about the procession. The doctrine of the Ruach HaKodesh and His procession is not limited to His relation to the Father. Still, it is extended to His relation to the Son in a way that is not always so easily distinguished or held distinct from that of the Father.

One can distinguish different emphases or tendencies between East and West on the Ruach’s procession even as there are also areas of overlap. The later addition in the West of the Ruach’s procession from the Son began locally in Spain at the Council of Toledo in 589CE. However, it is preceded as early as the third century by writers such as Tertullian and then later with Marius Victorinus, Ambrose, and Augustine. The addition eventually received papal authority and became the standard creedal confession in the Western Roman Catholic and later Protestant traditions. The East has always considered it as a unilateral addition to the Creed without ecumenical consensus. But it is worth asking why the West perceived the phrase and the Son as a necessary addition in the first place? From the Western perspective, if the Ruach proceeded from the Father alone, this could appear that the Son did not have everything the Father had. Thus, the Son would appear as a subordinate being – especially to the new converts coming from barbarian tribes in the hinterlands of the West who had been heavily influenced by Arian Christology, which tended to subordinate the person of the Son. Thus, the original purpose of the addition was to protect the Son against such subordination by establishing the procession equally from Father and Son. And so, it is not surprising that the phrase filioque began to appear in the Creed spoken in the liturgy of the church. How the church worships is an expression of its faith. However, a change in something as basic as the ecumenical Creed shared by all the faithful was inadvisable – even if the doctrine itself, charitably and adequately understood, was true. It did not help that the West had no vocabulary for distinguishing the different types of the procession as the East had, even though theologians such as Augustine did speak of the Ruach proceeding principally from the Father. Thus, misunderstandings were inevitable. But neither East nor West was interested in denigrating the Godhead of Father, Son, or Ruach HaKodesh.

Rather than speaking of the Ruach as proceeding from the Father and the Son, the East spoke in terms of the Ruach proceeding from the Father through the Son, in effect guarding against any understanding that the Ruach HaKodesh derived his existence from the Son which would thus cause Him to appear as a lesser being. Perhaps it is an oversimplification to describe the emphasis in the East as that of safeguarding the Ruach’s full divinity. At the same time, the West emphasized a concern to guard the Son’s full divinity. No doubt other issues such as authority, both of popes and councils, are intertwined in these discussions and have complicated ecumenical discussions far beyond the issue of the Ruach’s procession. [1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version

[1] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp 217-220).​

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 34

The Nicene Creed~ Part 20

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase the giver of life in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

THE GIVER OF LIFE ~ In Sanctification

Sanctification is made up of two Latin words: Sanctus, meaning Holy, and the verb Facere, meaning to make. The primary work of the Ruach HaKodesh in the Trinity’s interaction with the world is to make us Holy, that is, sanctified. From its inception, the ancient church was concerned with the Holiness of the Believer. Clement of Rome, for instance, lauds the Corinthian congregation for its Messianic piety and character while also calling on the congregation to persevere in Holiness in the face of division. Polycarp exhorts the Philippian congregation to Holy living, good works, and a faith that remains steadfast. Holiness as a way of life was considered so important that, should the baptized depart from it, there was a minimal possibility for return. Baptism was the point of entry into the life of faith and Holiness, leaving behind sin and being conformed to the divine image. With its considerations as to whether one could sin after baptism and still be called a child of God, one might get the impression that the early church believed in salvation by sanctification, or, more concretely, salvation by good works. This would, however, place a sixteenth-century dichotomy onto the texts of the early centuries of the church they were not meant to bear.

The early church was more fluid in its discussion of sanctification and justification. It did not always use terms consistently. It did not have a well-established order of salvation that consistently worked out the logical sequencing of the various components of salvation. This at times can create misunderstanding or lack of clarity in what the church meant concerning sanctification. It is clear that when it came to the issue of standing before the judgment seat of the throne of God or when they were in trials or tribulations, it was not to their good works that they turned for certainty. When ruminating on the effects of sin or the coming judgment, they put their faith and trust in Yeshua alone and not on the works they had done. But they obviously spoke favorably of good works and the life of sanctification and demonstrated a fear and reverence for God often lacking today. Sanctification was integral to Messianic faith and life. It was not just a series of acts that takes place, nor did it simply imply the betterment of human life or moral improvement – although these will take place in those who are being brought to maturity in the faith.

Sanctification was considered to be the entire process of indwelling by the Ruach HaKodesh by which one is conformed to the image of God, a process that begins in baptism when sin is drowned and left behind so that a new life can begin. That new life grows and matures in people as they are joined to the community of faith centered around Word and sacrament, which were deemed essential to a life of Holiness for its members. [1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp. 37–38).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 33

 

The Nicene Creed~ Part 19

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase the giver of life in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

THE GIVER OF LIFE ~ Christ’s Life in Us Through the Spirit – Theosis [1]

The Nicene Creed~ Part 19

is the primary source for the kehillah’s teaching on Justification and its teaching of incorporation and union with Yeshua via the Ruach. Sha’ul often uses the phrase in Yeshua or in Yeshua Messiah to indicate a change in our relationship with God and a change in us through our incorporation into Yeshua. However, it is the apostle Kefa who has provided the kehillah with the clearest text concerning our participation in the divine nature. This concept has been found predominantly in the East, although the selections here will demonstrate that this was teaching in the West. In the first chapter of his second letter, Kefa writes:

3 God’s power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, through our knowing the One who called us to His own glory and goodness. By these He has given us valuable and superlatively great promises so that through them you might come to share in God’s nature and escape the corruption which evil desires have brought into the world. ~2 Kefa 1:3-4 (CJB)

Kefa and Sha’ul no doubt took this idea from Yeshua as inspired writers. But what did they have in mind when they spoke of Believers being in Yeshua and partakers of the divine nature? This teaches the kehillah of which many in the West, including evangelicals and some Roman Catholics, are unaware. What follows is an attempt to introduce what this teaching is about and to explore the significant place and influence this teaching exerted in the early kehillah’s understanding of the Ruach’s work in us.

The ancient writers believed that the apostles were speaking of deification. Their choice of such terminology was not cavalier. It was a bold and deliberate move meant to evoke and challenge the pagan language of exaltation. Human beings, especially heroes, sages, and ultimately emperors, advanced to the rank of deity. However, those writers avoided the term deification because it fundamentally transgressed on the divine prerogative, something that some present-day Believers believe occurs in the doctrine of Theosis, although such a transgression could not have been further from the patristic mind. Early Believers chose a polemical term and concept in a deliberate confrontation with the paganism of their day to differentiate what it truly meant to partake of the divine nature of the one true God. They were careful to note that it was not the polytheism of their pagan neighbors they were espousing. Instead, as Athanasius states, “it is as ‘sons,’ not as the Son”; as ‘gods,’ not as God himself that we partake of the divine nature. This is an important distinction since the Greek kehillah emphasized only one God by nature over classical religion with its deified men and women and its anthropomorphic gods and goddesses.

According to the orthodox, scriptural understanding of Theosis, we are given the right to become children of God by grace as we are born of God through the waters of baptism. We thus become sons and daughters of God at our baptism. What follows, then, is an ongoing process of sanctification by which we, through the indwelling of the Ruach, become more and more conformed to the image of our God and Father in which we were created. This conforming process ultimately realizes its full potential as the just receive their promised inheritance in heaven when their own glorious transfiguration takes place in the new heavenly kingdom. It is both a moral and ontological ascent toward the fullness of life and, ultimately, eternal life in communion with the divine, which was God’s original intention for humanity all along. [2]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Theosis is the belief, mostly found within the Eastern Orthodox Church, that a Believer can experience a union with God and become like Him so much that they participate in the divine nature. This concept is also known as “deification.” Theosis does not mean that they become Gods or merge with God but that they are deified. They participate in the “energies” of God with which He reveals Himself to us in creation.

[2] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp. 37–38).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 31

The Nicene Creed~ Part 17

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

THE GIVER OF LIFE ~ In Repentance

Life is spoken of in Scripture in terms of physical life or eternal life and the life of faith that leads to salvation. How do we receive this life, this salvation? The biblical answer has always been through Repentance, faith, and baptism. The message of John the Baptist was a call to repentance because the kingdom of God was at hand. (See Mt 3:2; 28:19; Mk 1:15; Lk 24:47; Acts 2:38.) Yeshua called on His hearers to repent and believe the Gospel. The talmidim were given the charge to preach repentance and forgiveness. (See Luke 24:7) Therefore, the terms of salvation have always been framed in the call to repent and believe the Gospel, and be baptized to remission sins.

One of the essential factors of being a Believer repeatedly urged by writers such as Clement of Rome and Barnabas was the confession of sins. One could directly confess his or her sins to God. But this confession might also occur amid the congregation, especially before the Eucharist, especially for sins that were known to the larger public. This confession of sins was also to be accompanied by charity, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving so that it was indeed a confession that was deep and heartfelt.

Public penitence was reserved for scandalous and public sins, with all others being treated by the clergy in private. Traces of public discipline remain in the West, reduced to Lenten ceremonies on Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. The years-long and humiliating process of public discipline was condensed to these forty days of comparatively easy discipline framed by Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. The penitent would leave church on Ash Wednesday, focusing on a time of penance over the next forty days. On Maundy Thursday, he/she would again enter the church and prostrate himself and be reconciled by the bishop, who offered prayers for forgiveness on his behalf. [1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp. 37–38).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 19

The Nicene Creed~ Part 5

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. This post digs a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed.

THE ALMIGHTY

Centuries of Creedal repetition have made it seem natural to associate the words Father and Almighty, and it now takes special effort to realize that this was not so in the early days of the church. The title Almighty is used many times in the Tanakh and the book of Revelation, but it occurs only once elsewhere in the Brit Hadashah, and in no instance is it ever coupled with the word Father. No doubt, the early Believers were happy to make this identification. However, although they did so almost unconsciously, a case can still be made for saying that there should be a comma between the two words in the first article of the Creed to emphasize that the terms are of independent origin.

The word Almighty is not an adjective describing a divine attribute, but a title given to the God of Israel, which is unfortunately obscured in translation. In our English Bibles, Almighty is used to translate the Hebrew name El-Shaddai every time it occurs, and its apparent Greek equivalent, Pantocrator. However, the Greek word is used more than 150 times in the Tanakh, where it sometimes translates El-Shaddai but more often Yahweh Sabaoth or the Lord of Hosts. Unfortunately, neither Latin nor English has exact equivalents of these names.

Initially, the word emphasized that God was the ruler of all things, a status that belonged to him because He had created them. The early Believers needed to maintain this essentially Jewish idea. Without it, the door was open to belief in an independent evil deity that could compete with the true God for power and influence. As time went on, the question arose as to whether God’s universal rule implied that He could do anything and everything, and at first, Believers like Origen were inclined to say that it did. This view was modified somewhat later on, as other theologians (like Augustine) realized that God could not do things that contradicted His nature. This was not because He was not omnipotent but because it made no sense to say that God could do such things. They were no more than verbal constructs, with no reality behind them. For example, to ask whether God could commit suicide or do evil was to fall into absurdity since such concepts could not be applied to His being.

The fact that the Brit Hadashah presents Yeshua as the co-creator of the universe quickly led the early Believers to recognize that the Son must also be Almighty God. As the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was developed in the fourth century, the term was naturally extended to Him as well. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that this theological development, which was greatly assisted by the need to react against the claims of Arius, did not find its way into the Nicene Creed.

Maker

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was unformed and void, darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water. ~ Genesis 1:1-2 (CJB)

The doctrine of creation is one that the early church inherited from Judaism, and it is fundamental to any understanding of the Tanakh. Like Jews, Believers have always believed that the world was created by a good God, who is a personal being who cares for His creatures. He governs the universe by His providential care, and nothing can happen in it without His permission. Because of this belief, Believers have always had to face the problems of what theologians call theodicy. These can be stated as the problem of the existence of evil, and second, the degree to which evil can affect those who believe in God.

The early Believers did not have to defend their doctrine of creation against Jews, except insofar as to say that it was the work of all three persons of the Trinity and not of the Father only. This issue became critical in the fourth century after Arius tried to maintain that the Son and the Holy Spirit were the highest of the creatures. [1] Until that time, the bigger problem for the church was explaining and defending its doctrine against the many forms of paganism, including the most sophisticated pagan philosophies, which could not reconcile their understanding of evil with that of a world created by a good and omnipotent God.

As the implications of a divine ordering of the universe sank in, it became clear that God had to be understood as being in complete control of His creation, even when the latter appeared to go against His wishes. This led to an elaborate defense of divine foreknowledge, which included Adam’s (future) sin and eventually to a refined doctrine of predestination, which is associated above all with Augustine. The Church Fathers were determined to avoid saying that God created evil or made it impossible for some people to be saved on the ground that they were not predestined. Still, the logical implications of predestination were hard to escape, and the fundamental dilemma remained for future generations to ponder and attempt to resolve in their own fashion.

Another issue that engaged the Fathers was the distinction between a world fashioned by God (out of preexisting matter) and a world created by Him out of nothing. The Bible emphasizes the former without denying the latter, but things were not so clear to the Greek mind, which was often dualistic in this respect. The Fathers argued that the word make implied that God had created matter out of nothing since it had to come from somewhere. The fact that God had ultimately created it meant that matter must be good, not evil, and it was here that Messianic teaching confronted the most widespread pagan beliefs of the time. At the same time, the Fathers did not deny that it was the fashioning of matter into what the Greeks called the cosmos, which was the true glory of creation, and they often went into this in great detail. Creedal usage oscillated between maker and “creator,” with the latter word emphasizing the origin of matter ex nihilo. Still, it is clear from the comments made on it that both words are meant to convey the same belief in a God who has made everything according to the purpose of His mind and the intention of His will. [2]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the first article of the Nicene Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] This is the controversy that spurred the Council at Nicea.

[2] Bray, G. L., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One God (Vol. 1, pp. 93–94).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 16

The Nicene Creed~ Part 2

In our last post, we began to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we dig a little deeper into the background of the Nicene Creed.

Why Nicaea?

The Nicene Creed is the most authoritative common confession of the Messianic movement. Like all ancient baptismal confessions, it is presented in three phases or articles corresponding with the three Persons of the one God attested in Scripture.

There are two centuries of confessional prototypes before Nicaea. Their Christological core is found in Philippians 2:6–11, which confesses: 6 Though He was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God something to be possessed by force. On the contrary, He emptied Himself, in that He took the form of a slave by becoming like human beings are. And when He appeared as a human being, He humbled Himself still more by becoming obedient even to death – death on a stake as a criminal! Therefore God raised Him to the highest place and gave Him the name above every name; 10 that in honor of the name given Yeshua, every knee will bow – in heaven, on earth, and under the earth – 11 and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is Adonai – to the glory of God the Father. (CJB)

This same core confession repeatedly appears in the rule of faith we find in Ignatius (107 CE), the Epistula Apostolorum (150 CE), Justin Martyr (165 CE), the Presbyters of Smyrna (180 CE), Der Balyzeh Papyrus (200 CE), Tertullian (200 CE) and Hippolytus (215 CE), all in use and carefully committed to memory more than a century before Nicaea (325 CE). All early creedal prototypes follow this same sequence of confession. Scripture itself provides the structural basis for the organization of baptismal teaching.

As early as about 190 CE, Irenaeus of Lyons summarized the faith of Believers in this memorable way, which anticipates the background of this series: “The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles, and their disciples, this faith: [She believes] in one God,

  • the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and
  • in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and
  • in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God.”

This core outline of Messianic teaching had already appeared originally in Matthew 28:19–20 in the formula for baptism, where the resurrected Lord concluded his earthly teaching with this summary charge to all subsequent believers. Therefore, go and make people from all nations into talmidim, immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son, and the Ruach HaKodesh, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember! I will be with you always, yes, even until the end of the age.” (CJB)

Today’s Messianic teaching still stems from early baptismal teaching. Messianic theology came into being to explain Messianic baptism. The Creed first had a baptismal teaching function that later came to have a doctrinal teaching function – for the defense of the faith, for liturgical life, scholastic, and systematic theology, and for the training of persons charged with teaching the faith.

T.C Oden opines:

“Today, we live amid a flurry of well-publicized efforts to revive ancient heresies. Some are desperate attempts to give even the weirdest ideas some faint aroma of legitimacy: DaVinci decoding, the grail as a bloodline, the sexual relations of the Messiah, the insertion of ideological claims into Messianic interpretation, the new Gnostic elitism. Doting press attention has been given to these highly speculative forms of advocacy that promote long rejected documents and ideas. It has become a profitable media game to defend the poor heretics against the oppressive winners and elitists who wrote the rules of orthodoxy. The truth is the opposite: the most extreme elitism of all false claimants to Christian truth came from the Gnostics, who were contemptuous of the naive consensus of uninformed believers, and who were never even interested in gaining the hearts of ordinary believers. Yet ordinary believers then and now could easily recognize that these later speculations did not match the authenticity, beauty, and clarity of the original apostolic witnesses.” [1]

The Nicene Creed is the first which obtained universal authority. It rests on older forms used in different East communities and has undergone some changes again.

In my next post, we begin to dig into the first article of the Nicene Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] General Introduction. In G. L. Bray & T. C. Oden (Eds.), We Believe in One God (Vol. 1).