Christians are one Church, One Covenant, one Temple,...

Chapter 3: Biblical Theology in Eclipse

W. J. Phythian-Adams: It will be plain to the reader that if the teaching of the New Testament has been correctly represented in the last chapter, there is little doubt what the Church's Offering should be. But this is bound to raise a very serious question. For in that case it will also be plain that some of the most vital features of Biblical theology must have faded out of the Church's consciousness. Is this either likely or possible? On the face of it, it sounds ridiculous. Indeed, it may be argued that to postulate such forgetfulness is virtually to deny the operation of the Holy Spirit in guiding the Church into all the truth.

The answer which I attempt in this and the following chapter may rightly be criticized for its inadequacy: but even if the facts are stated too generally, they are facts; and we cannot ignore them. My submission, in short, is that we have sufficient evidence to show that the Church departed at a comparatively early date from the theology which we have been studying, and which it had itself once put into practice. If that is so, it will not only illuminate the character of our present divisions, but it will show us how they can be ended, viz., by a common return to that theology and that practice.

This surely is a prize worth striving for, and we must allow no a priori argument to deter us. How God works in his Church is, after all, a matter not of theory but of experience and if experience leaves us sadder, it may also make us wiser, men.

Here to begin with, then, is a bird's-eye view of the ground we are briefly and cursorily to survey. For purposes of comparison and contrast I put it in the form of three tables. The first gives (of course in a generalized form) the outlook of what we may call the "objective" or "Catholic" school of thought;

the second, that of the "subjective" or "Protestant." The third table is an attempt to formulate what would seem to be the teaching of Biblical theology, from which (as I submit) both "Catholics" and "Protestants" have in their respective ways departed.

(a) "Catholic" or "objective" formulation: The Redemption wrought upon the Cross is appropriated by Baptism in Water and the Spirit, accepted in repentance and faith. This means Deliverance from the Wrath of God and Safety within the Church. When post-baptismal sins occur, they involve restoration to a "state of grace" by "valid" (Grace-conveying) Sacraments through a "valid" (Grace-conveying) Ministry. The goal is Sanctification (personal increase in Grace) leading to Ultimate Salvation (Eternal Life, Everlasting Life, Immortality).

This table, I would repeat, is not intended to give a full account of the beliefs of those who would subscribe it. It is designed simply to indicate where in their view the essential emphasis lies. Nor are we here concerned with the arguments which they would advance in support of their position: we may note, however, that as it stands the scheme does less than justice to the corporate sense which pervades this doctrine of the Church. There may be as many "Catholic" as there are "Protestant" individualists, but there can be no doubt that the former have much less excuse than the latter for yielding to this temptation.

(b) "Protestant" or "subjective" formulation The Redemption wrought upon the Cross is appropriated by Conversion through repentance and faith, and sealed in Baptism. This means Deliverance from the Wrath of God and Safety in Jesus Christ. When post-baptismal sins occur, they involve reconciliation to God by renewed repentance and faith; while Sanctification (personal holiness) is won through the study and hearing of the Word. The goal is Ultimate Salvation (Eternal Life, Everlasting Life, Immortality).

Here again it is only the essential point of view that I am concerned to emphasize. There are many of the "Evangelical" school of thought whose view of the Sacraments is definitely objective (this is, of course, especially true in the Church of England). Would it not be true to say, however, at least of their extremer representatives, that they hold this rather in loyalty to the Dominical institution than because it is woven deeply and vitally into the fabric of their thought?

Fortunately we need not pursue these speculations, for they bring us back to that cage of ever-circling controversy from which it is our purpose to escape. I have, in fact, set out these tables not to contrast them but to show their virtual kinship with one another, and to exhibit what seems to be their common defect.

(c): A Biblical Perspective The Redemption wrought upon the Cross is appropriated by Baptism in water and the Spirit accepted in repentance and faith. This means Re-birth into the risen Israel of God and Consecration into its Royal Priesthood, which is the witness of a new life of Love, i.e., Holy Community, built up in the Holy Communion of the Lord's Body and Blood through a universal Ministry ordained to this end: that so Eternal Life may be manifested to the World as a pledge of its Ultimate Salvation (At-one-ment with God in Christ).

The point to be noticed about this scheme is that whereas in both of those just studied the purpose of the Redemption is assumed to be the Salvation (through Sanctification) of the Christian himself, here that Salvation is itself taken for granted, and the purpose of the Redemption is found in the service offered (through Consecration) by the People of God. To put it in other words, there the Christian is taught to be ever watchful over the state of his own soul, here he is taught to look beyond himself to the priestly work of Israel.

I. Israel

The Church has forgotten that it is Israel: this, I maintain, is the ultimate origin of our divisions. Baldly stated, it certainly sounds odd, for it is not an idea that ever occurs to us now. Nevertheless, when we stop to think of it, there ought to be no doubt in our minds: and when we think a little more, we can even contrast what actually happened with what might have happened when the Gospel was first preached.

Let us remember first that from one end of it to another the Bible teaches Election: and this does not refer to anything abstract or indefinite or (ultimately) individual, it means the concrete historical People of Israel, the seed of Abraham, the kingdom of David. It is Israel's redemption, Israel's resurrection, Israel's purification and re-consecration which the prophets predict: and it is to be in Zion, now gloriously commensurate with the whole of the Nation, that the kings and peoples of the earth are to seek the worship of the one true God.

It is into this Israel according to Biblical theology that a man, whether Jew or Gentile, is "born again" through Holy Baptism. For there are not, and never have been, two Israels, the one surviving in the natural-born Jews, the other "founded" for the first time at Pentecost. There is but one Holy Nation, the seed of the promise; an Israel "new" because raised again from the dead, and comprising now both Jews and Gentiles; each of whom having been grafted into it is a full and equal citizen of its commonwealth, sharing alike its life and its privileges, its hopes and its duties (cf. Gal. 6:16; Eph. 2:11-22).

Now, the Jew of the first century reborn into the risen Israel would have no difficulty in understanding this primacy of the People over its individual members. To him, as to his fathers for countless generations before him, it was simply second nature to think of Israel first: and even if before he became a Christian he had learned from the Pharisees the hope of a personal resurrection to everlasting life hereafter, he would not have allowed this thought to dominate him now. Sooner rather than later it would have been rigidly subordinated to the immemorial esprit de corps which was woven into the fibers of his being.

But the Gentile reborn into the same risen Israel would have had no such innate instinct. He might have learned its scriptures as a proselyte, and after his baptism he might sing Magnificat ["My soul does magnify the Lord", Luke 1:46-55] and Benedictus ["Blessed", Matt 21:9, Luke 1:68] as one who consciously claimed to be a true son of the patriarchs.

It would have meant something very real to him that he was no longer alienated from the commonwealth of Israel but had been made a fellow-citizen with the saints. But nothing could alter the fact that he was a "wild olive"; and his grafting into the stock of Israel could not make him a native of it in a moment. To become that he must find himself in the midst of brethren steeped in this age-long sense of community and eager to show him how it had found fulfillment in Christ. "To the Jew first, and also to the Greek": nothing could alter that order or deprive the Jew of his "advantage": and that fact inevitably meant a serious handicap to the Gentile unless he was helped from the first by his Jewish brethren. What he needed to find - what indeed he ought to have found - was a Church which was first the old Israel reborn, a People whose natural sense of solidarity had been transfigured and sanctified, not abolished.

But this background of an immemorial faith was lacking to the new Israel at the moment when it was most needed. By the time of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple the division had grown too deep, the mutual hostility too firmly rooted. Already by the third century, if not before, we find it almost unconsciously assumed by Christians that there are two bodies facing one another in irreconcilable opposition: "the Nation" and the "Church of the Gentiles." So soon and so widely did Christian thought, left thus unbalanced, diverge from the path of Biblical theology.

(Didascalia, Chap. 24. "God therefore hath left the Nation, and hath filled the Church. ... Because therefore the Lord hath forsaken the nation of Israel, he hath also abandoned the temple. ... He hath taken away all service from the Nation, and hath established it in the Church of the Gentiles." Trans. M. D. Gibson, Horae Semiticae, No. II, p. 105.)

Meanwhile, the Gospel had gone out to the Gentiles; and to them as to the Jews it had come first as a call to repentance and the good news of the remission of their sins. But here, though many of its earliest hearers were proselytes, its message inevitably took on a change of meaning. For the Gospel came, as we know, to a world avid of salvation, and this "salvation" was pre-eminently the gift of immortality. "In aeternum renatus sum" ["In eternity I am reborn"] said the devotee of Cybele or of Mithras, and in those words came very close to the Christian Gentile. "To be saved"; that meant, above all, to be free of the dread of everlasting extinction, after a life spent perhaps in slavery, or at the best in a world where all was vanity and vexation of spirit: from corruption to "rise again" into incorruption: from being mere flesh and blood to become "partakers of the divine nature."

In such a mental atmosphere the old concrete historical idioms of Biblical theology fought a losing battle. The learned minority of Gentile converts was, no doubt, well versed in the Hebrew Scriptures, but even these scholars were more prone to interpret them by analogy or as allegory than by the true method of homology. It is not surprising, then, that for the mass of these new Christians the real significance of the Redemption should have been blurred, and then lost to sight.

From being primarily an event which happened to Israel (the setting of it free that it might be a Royal Priesthood) Redemption came more and more to be thought of as a benefit conferred on individuals, who thereafter must guard themselves from forfeiting it by relapse into sin. It is true that the doctrine of the Church entered in at this point to preserve the Christian from outright atomism: but nothing can show better the general trend of thought than the famous aphorism: Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. ["Apart from the Church no salvation"] In the last analysis that is an appeal to the individual's concern for his soul: it is the gospel of Sauve qui veut. [Be saved who wishes it.]

There is nothing at all surprising in this. We have to remember that in every age it is the circumstances of the time, and not least of them the spiritual state of mankind, which determines the form in which the Gospel is preached. Obviously this is an appeal to fear, not to love; it calls for passive acceptance of God's unmerited grace, not for a virile resolve to cooperate selflessly with his purpose. But the world-situation forced this note to the front.

A mass of pagans, ignorant even of the Ten Commandments, was rapidly submerging the well-instructed first-fruits of Pentecost. Not merely the history of Israel, but the first elements of its moral code, were in danger of being lost to sight. And upon this crisis descended persecution. Men whose faith had barely begun its education and whose standards of conduct were still only half-formed were suddenly called upon to risk their lives for Christ in a world which seemed evil beyond all hope of redemption.

Such a combination of circumstances could have only one result. It was not then a question whether the Church had been called to be a Royal Priesthood offering a holy worship through the ages: it was a question whether the Church could survive unblemished for the few years that remained till the Second Coming. Mankind as a whole seemed to be irrevocably lost, but this was a fact for which the Church was in no way responsible. Her task was to maintain the elect in a state of holiness; and with such children what discipline could she use but that of fear, what spur but that of self-interest?

All this was in the highest degree natural; but it is important to note the far-reaching consequences of such an attitude. Conscious of no task to be performed for God on behalf of the world, the Church's thoughts inevitably turned inwards. Fear and self-interest, however rationalized, became dominant in the centuries which followed: for, whether we like it or not, it is fear and self-interest which have always inspired the dreadful recurring sentence: "Let them be anathema." Behind this cry lies the assumption that the Church exists for the sake of its members, whose eternal salvation will be in peril unless it is continually purged of spots and wrinkles. Or to put it in other words, the Church is thought of as a fold designed to protect the sheep inside it. Its wall is the "Catholic Faith," and if this is once tampered with, those within will perish everlastingly.

It will no doubt be said that there is at least some Scriptural warrant for this point of view. I am far from denying it: nor do I suggest for a moment that the Fathers of the Church were unfaithful to their stewardship. It is doubtless true that in the fourth and fifth centuries, as in those before them, the mass of Christians remained at a low level of moral and spiritual development, with little capacity to resist the "wolves" of temptation and no thought to spare but for their own safety hereafter. And if it was true then, it was true in a much more marked degree of the centuries that witnessed the "conversion" of a semi-barbarous Europe. Granted that, what I am concerned to point out is that so long as these conditions persisted the idea of the Church as a place of refuge, in which helpless souls were preserved under magisterial tutelage, necessarily persisted also till it hardened almost, if not completely, into a dogma. That is why, despite its strong corporate consciousness and its missionary activities, the medieval Church was never capable of fulfilling the destiny of Israel.

To understand this, let us return for a moment to the Jews. Had the Jews been converted as a whole they would have grasped, sooner rather than later, the meaning of the mystery of the new Temple. They would have seen that if there is still a Temple, there must still be worship; if there is worship, there must be an offering, a sacrifice. And that offering, however mediated, must be as of old Israel's offering; a response of love and gratitude not less the People's own than the bullocks and goats which it once gave Jehovah from its fields and byres, or the riches which it once contributed to the building of the first Temple. These Christian Jews, in a word, would have realized that the function of Israel is an active, responsible, Priesthood.

For the Church, as we have seen, this truth had no chance of immediate acceptance: and the result was inevitable. For once you lose sight of the People and of the chief end of its consecration, you begin to think of yourself and other individuals as reborn simply in order to be saved. Then because you find that sin still persists in your "flesh," you begin to fear: and fear always distorts realities and when they are evil magnifies them. The more you fear sin as an obstacle to your salvation, the more formidable does it appear, till the life of the Christian is in danger of becoming one long round of exercises designed to remove its defilement.

After that the descent is easy. Having lost the Biblical principle of homology according to which our Lord fulfilled and superseded the whole system of At-one-ment prescribed under the old Covenant, the Christian searching the Scriptures for new means of neutralizing sin finds them in the analogy of the Aaronic priesthood. We shall have to discuss this further when we come to the Ministry and Sacraments, but we may notice here how fatally simple were the beginnings of "sacerdotalism" and of the idea of the Eucharist as a propitiatory sacrifice.

"This is stout Protestantism indeed," the reader may exclaim; but let us look a little further. It is not surprising that the revival of the old sacerdotal mediation provoked in time a violent and lasting reaction. Actually the whole system had become extremely corrupt when the Reformers attacked it, but this was not its main defect in their eyes: they condemned it because it was so glaring a departure from the spirit of the New Testament. They were right, but not altogether for the right reason. For what happened when they proposed their professedly Scriptural alternative? Simply this, that for the means of salvation which they repudiated, they substituted - another!

This will be seen quite clearly from our second table. Salvation according to the Reformers is by faith alone, through grace freely imparted by God to the repentant and forgiven sinner hence there can be no question of priestly mediation. Since it is by faith that men are saved, it is the Word preached, not the ritual act performed, which ministers to this end, and if the Christian after his conversion lapses into grievous sin it is by a broken and a contrite heart, not by penance and absolution, that he is restored to the throne of grace.

No one, I suppose, would deny that this breath of fresh air from the Bible was sorely needed; and, once let loose, it has never ceased to invigorate the life and thought of western Christians. Its failure lay in the fact that it was not allowed to go beyond the needs of the individual. Luther and Calvin were themselves strong institutionalists, but as multitudes of their followers bear witness, this narrowing of the Gospel has an exactly opposite tendency. Corporate life of some kind may be felt desirable and helpful, as indeed it naturally is; but the idea of the Church as a People ceases to have much significance, and ultimately its form and even its visible unity becomes matters of little account. That is why, for all the good that it has done, the Reformation has stopped short of final victory. It has recovered the true meaning of faith and grace but it has never caught sight again of Israel.

II. Sin and Community

The assumption that Christians are merely "miserable sinners," to be shepherded passively to their salvation, is deeply ingrained in our theology. Let us consider, then, what our experience of sin has taught us, and compare it with the Revelation of God, and the teaching of Sacred History.

Of what sin is, in the last analysis, we are ignorant, nor do we know how it arose. That is one reason why one must strongly deprecate any attempt to base our theology on the myth of the Fall. But "sin," whether we know it by that name or not, is a historical and anthropological problem, and its effects can be scientifically investigated. Fundamentally it shows itself in a propensity to evil which is rooted in the self-hood of every man and woman and is responsible for the "enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions" which wreck the peace of the world.

Mankind's supreme need, as it realizes to-day, is to achieve community; but this is just what it is unable to do. What actually happens is that individuals find themselves, or else cohere, in groups which hang together so long as they have a common interest; and these groups react with open or covert hostility to any other group which may seem to threaten their well-being. Psychologically (and this is true both of the individual and the group) this reaction is bred of fear, the blindest and most powerful emotion in human nature, while fear in turn springs from the most primary of the instincts, that of self-preservation.

The process is thus from first to last completely "natural" (whether our nature is "fallen" or not). We act and react thus, because that is how we are constituted: and the blunt truth is that we shall go on for ever like this, until we have destroyed ourselves or have been made all over again.

But is this "sin" the sin that God must "take away"? Yes, for God has revealed himself as Love, Holy Community; and sin is that which is diametrically opposed to his Being. It follows, therefore, that what mankind supremely needs is not merely community but holy community; not merely the fellowship of man with man but the fellowship of man with man in and with God. It is the activity of this fellowship in holy community which in Biblical theology is called Salvation, and it is sin, rooted in the individual heart, which bars the way to its achievement.

The conditions of the problem being thus defined, we can turn with a new appreciation to the teaching of Sacred History. We understand now, to begin with, why it is a People, not an individual, which represents the man-ward side of Biblical theology. It might have been expected to start with Abraham, the Friend of God; and in a sense it does start with him, because it was from his loins that Israel was begotten. But it is the People, the Community, not its great ancestor, through whom God manifests his redemptive love.

God works by choosing a community, and that which he chooses is a People possessing to a unique degree the strong collective sense which was characteristic of all the nations of the early Middle East. He then reinforces this immensely potent natural bond by a series of miraculous blows dealt by him on his People's behalf. He redeems it against all hope from the bondage of Egypt; he leads it to his holy mountain and thence to a new inheritance; he conquers the land for it, subduing or ejecting its enemies. More than this, he gives it a succession of the greatest leaders and counsellors any people has ever known. He delivers to it a moral code which is still the basis of our civilization. Above all, under the outward symbols of the Ark and the Cloud, he vouchsafes his Presence to "tabernacle" in its midst, and ordains the sacred rites by which it may have fellowship with him in the beauty of holiness. Everything, in a word, is provided for the destiny which is to follow; that Israel shall become a holy nation; that natural community shall become holy community.

Yet, despite these manifold advantages, the result is a tragic failure. First, the seamless garment of Israel is rent asunder by the selfish tyranny of Solomon. Then, when prosperity comes to the divided kingdom, it brings with it a flood of vice and luxury and fratricidal greed. Usury, land-grabbing, false weights and measures, corruption and dishonesty of every kind invade the life of the Community. The rich dispossess, enslave and batten upon their poorer brethren. The judges are bribed to refuse redress even to the widows and orphans. In vain the prophets denounce and threaten, and at the last predict the ineluctable [inevitable] end. The old communal conscience is dead: and God's People love to have it so.< /p>

So Israel fails, and in that failure the doom of all natural community is written. Now men can see in one practical and convincing demonstration that, while human nature remains as it is, there is no hope of salvation for mankind. Against sin, against the disintegrating acid which lurks in the human heart, nothing can avail; not the closest ties of kinship, of race and blood; not the loftiest moral code; not all the external aids of religion; not all the forces of a common tradition and a common culture. Nothing can save it, and least of all an abstract idealism which rests upon the "brotherhood of man."

Jesus and the New Israel

It is in this context that we set the perfect At-one-ment made in and through Jesus Christ, the Angel [Messenger] of the Covenant, the Incarnate Presence, in whom Israel is raised from the dead, redeemed from sin, and consecrated to the Royal Priesthood. And we may note in passing how completely this reorientation of the mystery answers a familiar and at first sight not unreasonable criticism. It will not be irrelevant if we pause for a moment to consider it.

What of Creeds?

"That is always the way with you Church-people," says the educated man who cannot accept the Faith. "You start with a perfectly simple statement of belief about God - namely, that he is Love. Then you work it up into a complicated system of mythology. And, finally, you boil it down into a Creed which you say we must all believe if we are to be saved. Does it not strike you that that is rather a childish procedure? If God is love - and I should be well disposed to believe it - is he the sort of God who would make a man's salvation depend upon his acceptance of a series of barely credible and certainly quite unprovable happenings? And what purpose are these supposed to serve? How do they help me to believe in this God better than the teaching of Jesus which I can read for myself in the New Testament? Take this question of sin, for example. Why all this insistence upon a supposed Atonement (or At-one-ment, if you prefer it), when all we need to know about God's forgivingness is summed up in the parable of the Prodigal Son?"

Now, the fact that many Christians who accept the Faith contained in the Creeds are nevertheless unwilling to be bound by credal formulae is evidence of a sore point which this criticism touches shrewdly. And this is not a question of the inadequacy of our existing Creeds: these Christians appear to have no complaint on that score. Then why this indifference? Surely it springs from the feeling that the Faith might really be put much more simply without any loss to its saving power? This is the edge of a dangerous slope. Admitted, but what then? What is the danger? Is it that we may lapse from Orthodoxy? But of what account is that to-day, when we refuse to accept the damnatory clauses of the Athanasian Creed?

Danger, then, of what? Is it really necessary, if a sinner repents and accepts Jesus as his Saviour, that he should believe anything more than that God loves him as a Father, forgiving him his sins and promising him a life of everlasting happiness? What more than this have the mysteries of the Incarnation and Atonement to give him? And if not, what does he lose, what risk does he run, if he treats them as "great matters which are too high for him"?

Superficially this criticism may seem difficult to parry, but it collapses when we remember that, in Sacred History, Atonement is primarily communal. It was the "judgment of the children of Israel" and the "iniquity" of their "holy things" which Aaron bore upon his heart and forehead when he went in before the Mercy Seat (Ex. 28:30, 38); and in this he was simply the type of the whole system of mediation under the old Covenant.

This symbolism is not to be dismissed as a relic of primitive collectivity, a view favoured by those who stress the traces of a "more developed" individualism in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. (Actually, of course, the Priestly Code as it stands is later than either of them.) On the contrary it expresses the very pith of the old Dispensation, for it was through the complex screen of "atoning" rites and persons that the natural community was to be able to offer its gifts as a holy community. The contamination of "sin" remained, because Israel was flesh and blood, but it was absorbed, neutralized, in a word "borne," by the High Priest and those under him. To adapt the homologous language of the fourth Gospel, they were sanctified that Israel might be sanctified, though not in all the truth (cf. John 17:19).

But "natural" Israel failed, even though it thus had access to the Glory and perfect freedom to offer an acceptable worship (Rom. 9:9): and in its place God created a new Israel under a new and better Covenant. It is the forgetting of this which has led to so much sincere but mistaken criticism and to the demand for the "simplification" of the Faith. If God's purpose had "simply" been to "save" repentant sinners individually, the example and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth would have sufficed. But the truth revealed by God about himself and the truth revealed by bitter experience about man both point, as we have seen, to a deeper mystery. Exalt the worth of the individual as we may - and perhaps we have sometimes overdone it - the fact remains that he cannot be saved by himself; he must be saved in and through fellowship or not at all. For God is Love, Holy Community; and if Salvation means to have fellowship with him, we can only find it in and through community. "He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God, whom he hath not seen"; and because this is the Truth it is true both in time and in eternity, on earth as it is in heaven.

In a word two things, not one, are seen to be necessary for us men and for our salvation. We must be remade, reborn, redeemed, justified (call it what you will), by repentance and faith as individuals, because it is in the individual self-hood that the root of the evil lies. But we must find salvation together as members of a community; and the living principle of that community, its spirit, the law of its being, must be love. And since such a community does not and cannot exist in the natural order of things (because in that order it is the individuals themselves who go to make up a community), this, too, must be created for us by God, and it must come into being before we as individuals can be made members of it.

This is why under the new Covenant not less but far more truly than under the old the mystery of At-one-ment is communal. Redemption comes to us as individuals, but it is the gift of a freedom which does not leave us as individuals. It means that we are reborn into the flesh and blood of the new Israel, redeemed and consecrated in the person of Jesus Christ. This new Israel, like the old, is a completely human community; but it is not, like the old, a merely "natural" human community, it is what that never became, a holy human community. Nor is it simply "holy," as the old might have become, through a fellowship with God mediated and maintained by ordinances and ordained persons; it is "holy" in an absolute sense, through the inward inalienable and eternal communion [sharing] of Spirit.

This is a mystery of Love which we cannot fathom, though we know it to be the truth because we believe that he who ministers it to us is the Only-begotten [Gk. monogenes = "one-of-a-kind"] who is in the Father's bosom. But while we cannot fathom it, we can understand so much of its significance as it is needful for us to know. Because Christ, through whom Israel has received the Holy Spirit, is God Incarnate, his gift is God's life of Holy Community to a human community "naturally" incapable of receiving it: and that gift has been made possible because, by sanctifying flesh and blood in himself, our Lord has utterly removed that incapacity.

Now in him the "commonwealth of Israel" has "boldness and access in confidence in one Spirit unto the Father," for Christ has "taken away" the barrier of sin, not by destroying its infection but by "bearing" the sins of Israel himself henceforth for ever.

III. The Church's Offering

How far we have allowed this truth to suffer eclipse surely needs no underlining. Our divisions speak for themselves. Had the Church realized, proclaimed, and, above all, sought to live it, we should not be facing what seems to the outside world the twilight of the Christian Faith. But it would be as idle as it would be arrogant to judge our fathers for a failure under which we, too, stand. Our task (if we are wise) is to recover the glory of this mystery and in its light go forward.

I have suggested that if the Jews as a whole had accepted their Messiah they would have recognized more easily than converted Gentiles the implications of this mystery. "If there is still a Temple, there must still be worship; if there is worship, there must be an offering, a sacrifice." Is it not the task of our own generation to make this truth explicit? If the Church has been thus redeemed and thus consecrated to God's service, it is because there is an offering which the new Israel alone can make.

This offering is in two senses the offering of its great High Priest, since it must be made through and in him, and it is the same sacrifice as that which he offered himself. Yet for all this it is the Church's own offering; filling up the one perfect Sacrifice yet not for a moment absorbed in it, united with it yet not for a moment overshadowed by its more excellent glory. Nor again must it be likened to any sin or guilt offering of old, for sin is utterly taken away from it by him who sanctified himself to be its Altar. It is in the fullest sense a "positive" sacrifice, a freewill offering presented like his "for an odour of a sweet smell," in unalloyed love and joy and thankfulness and peace [i.e., not a sin or trespass offering, but a peace or whole-burnt offering.]

I cannot help suspecting that it is the consciousness of this truth which has exposed the "good," "once-born" Englishman to the charge of being at heart a Pelagian. Technically that may often be true, but a Christian living in a professed Christendom has a reasonable excuse for counter-generalizations when he is told that he is nothing but a miserable sinner. On that score at any rate he has every right to protest, and we may go even further than this. Behind such a protest lies the conviction that God dislikes the "miserable sinner" mind, quite as much as most Englishmen do, because it is an emasculated parody of what he wants men to be. This idea is probably never reasoned out, but it is not on that score to be counted puerile: blurred and distorted as it may be, it is still the authentic voice of Biblical theology.

That God so far from wishing men to cower before him, helps them to stand upright with boldness and confidence, freely answering love with love; that so far from treating them as helpless he seeks their help, and shows them how they may become responsible partners and fellow-workers with himself - this is Bible Truth, and it extinguishes with a breath the false heroics of Titanism. But it cannot stand by itself.

Where things have gone wrong has not been here, it has been over the question what exactly it is that we can offer God of our own and to that question men have made strange answers. The Elizabethan Englishman assumed that he was to glorify God by sweeping the seas clear of Spaniards and incidentally possessing them himself; the Calvinist on the Continent, that he was intended to make himself prosperous by unremitting industry. And since the results have been Big Business and Jingo Imperialism, it is small wonder that the faith which produced them has seemed tainted at its springs! That too, as I have suggested, may be a mistaken judgment. With these men at any rate, it was not that grace was flouted, but that it was robustly misused.

To-day, through no special merit of our own, we can see the true answer more clearly. For, as other ages have set the Church their particular problems to solve, so this is the sign of our times. At this moment when the world itself confesses its need of fellowship, we should indeed be worse than "fools and slow of heart" if we did not discern our calling: and we shall be worse than traitors if we do not hasten to be worthy of it.

The Church's offering - the sacrifice, which is most truly pleasing to God and at the same time most truly its own - is the witness of mutual self-giving love, manifested in ever-growing, ever-deepening holy community. This is now sufficiently obvious: nevertheless, there are one or two comments which should be made about it:

(i) It is a sacrifice "in spirit and in truth," i.e., in the concrete reality of Spirit, since truth is not simply what we believe but what we do in the power of that belief. Figurative language, then, where it is used, must be used with due attention to its nature. The "sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving" is not a mere matter of the lips, even when this acknowledgment is made ex animo in the celebration of the Eucharist: it is the fruit of the lips which "make confession to his name" (Heb. 13: 15), or rather of the heart which puts those lips in motion.

The Church's offering, then, is a concrete reality, a communal sacrifice which must be made at an appreciable cost by those who jointly present it. And this reality is a true fellowship of spirit, mind, and body built up with painful unceasing effort by men of every race, language, color, temperament, level of intellect, stage of culture, social status and occupation, national and denominational inheritance. How this immense diversity of gifts is to achieve At-one-ment can be learned only through experience. One thing, however, we know, that the principle of integration and co-ordination must be love; the tireless exercise of humility, forbearance, long-suffering, tender-hearted sympathy, forgivingness.

At no stage will there be an arbitrary enforcement of authority. Differences will not be flattened out from above; they will be reconciled from within by that deep mutual interpenetration of spirit which cannot be analyzed but which is the sign and seal of all truly intimate friendship. Wholeness, in a word, will come by organismal growth, not by the mechanics of external regimentation.

So far we have thought of the Church's offering mainly in terms of what is called "Reunion." But this is only one aspect of it, as we should realize more easily if we had not become accustomed to the divorce of religion from social life. For "faith without works is dead."

At-one-ment in the Gospel remains a gesture - however heroic a gesture - till "faith and order" have borne fruit in "life and work." This truth was familiar enough in the early Church where "the daily ministration" was the chief practical concern of the growing community: with some of us it has faded to a shadow, dimly suggested by the word "alms" and occasional references to the "sick and poor." Yet this is the perfection of At-one-ment, without which fellowship is an empty name; and the offering of a community which is merely "religious" will meet with no acceptance on the Altar of the Cross.

Here, again, only experience will show how the end is to be achieved. In the symbolism of Psalm 110 there must be a holy war in which the servants of the King-Priest of Zion will wrestle with the most powerful of worldly interests. How that battle will be fought no one will dare to prophesy, but again we may be sure that it will be by a process of development from within. Drawn together in love, Christians will learn to bear one another's burdens, and wonder why they have denied themselves that joy hitherto. But it will not be an easy fight while it lasts. It will mean self-denial to many too little practiced in it. It will mean obloquy and persecution. It may even bring the Church into the shadow of death.

Let it be so. Then its sacrifice will indeed be without blemish, and its Royal Priesthood will be the more gloriously fulfilled.

(ii) The Church's offering is not only the climax of its priesthood, it is the outward sign of its holy communion with God - it is not simply an Eucharist, it is the Eucharist of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, of the "witness."

It might seem joy enough to know that God is well pleased to accept the thanks of his creatures for his love and mercy. But to know that God has made their very thanksgiving a means of salvation for the world, this surely is joy undreamed of and incomparable. Yet this is just what the Church's free-will offering is to be. The Church's offering is its own: yet because it is the Temple of God; because Christ is its Mercy Seat and Christ its Altar; because the Holy Spirit dwells in it, framing and compacting it in love; its sacrifice of fellowship will be not only accepted but transfigured by the Divine Glory.

This is that "deification" which we meet so often in early Christian literature and the meaning of which is so often misunderstood. No single individual can ever be "made God": that is obvious [but we can become "gods", see "Does God our Father beget us as god-level beings?"]. But when the community of Israel becomes a holy community through perfect fellowship with God who is Holy Community, the term ceases to be presumptuous, for it describes a simple fact. "We all (note the emphasis), with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18).

The point here lies in the two words "reflecting" and "image." As the Church strives on its own part ("working out its own salvation") to become more and more a holy community, i.e., to be more and more like God, so God responds by working more and more within it till that likeness is perfected. But this is not for the Church's sake, because the more like God it becomes, the less will it desire to think of itself or to regard its image with satisfaction in a glass. The image is for the world that men seeing it reflected in the Church may recognize the Truth, and. be drawn to worship it.

This, then, is the third stage of the mystery of Salvation; and its context is that of the Kingdom of the "Beloved" Son, the greater "David," the new Melchizedek of Salem. It is the "lot of the Inheritance" of which Israel, redeemed and consecrated, even now enjoys the first-fruits; the Jerusalem "builded as a city that is compact together," whose breadth and length and depth and height can be apprehended, because its fulness is sure. Here, in short, under the Priest-King is the Royal Priesthood of the Saints; and here is fulfilled "Immanuel".

"Thus saith Jehovah Sabaoth: In those days it shall come to pass that, ten men shall take hold, out of all the languages of the nations, shall even take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you." Zech. 8:29.


Christians are one Church, One Covenant, one Temple,...
Chapter 1: The Pattern of Sacred History
Chapter 2: The Royal Priesthood
Chapter 3: Biblical Theology in Eclipse
Excerpted from "The Way of At-one-ment: Studies in Biblical Theology" by W. J. Phythian-Adams, Carlisle, England, 1944.

Subsequent chapters deal with post-Apostolic times and are omitted here.


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