Friday, November 7, 2014

Reflections on the New Anglican Catechism

Alice C. Linsley

I have been leading a study of the Ten Commandments at my church. The following is the Introduction to this study. My comments are italicized.

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.



In Jesus Christ, God calls us to respond to him in three basic ways: by grasping God’s revealed truth about Jesus with our minds; by prayerful communion with God in and through Jesus; and by doing God’s will. God’s will is primarily revealed to us in Jesus’ word and example, which are inextricably linked to the Ten Commandments and other moral instructions found in Scripture.

Comment: The Church teaches that truth can be known because God has revealed truth by various means, and most especially in and through the person of Jesus Christ. Ancient pagan philosophers believed that truth is veiled and that the unveiling of truth (aletheia / ἀλήθεια - disclosure) is the work of the Deity. God has revealed a moral code for us to follow and it is most fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ who is the Law Giver, the fulfillment of the Law, and the embodiment of divine moral obligation.
Jesus is unique, and so is the Christian moral law. Just as Jesus had ancestors with a tradition of laws, so the Christian moral law has a history of development. To say that something is unique does not mean that it has no precedent in history. The Christian moral law develops out of an ancient law code which includes the Ten Commandments and many other laws, some of which are older than the time of Moses. Some of the laws attributed to Moses were already observed by Jesus’ ancestors before the time of Moses.

Some of these ancestors were know as Anu/Ainu or "the Anakim" who are referred to as "the mighty men of old" in Genesis 6:4. The Code of Ani had 42 laws stated negatively and this code seems to be the precedent for the Ten Commandments.

Catechetical instruction deals with the first aspect [revealed truth about Jesus] through teaching and learning the Apostles’ Creed. It deals with the second [prayerful communion with God] through teaching and learning the Lord’s Prayer. It deals with the third [doing God’s will] by centering on the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21), which are the heart of the Law of God that Jesus embodied in his own life, and are summarized for us in the command to love God and our neighbor.

Comment: The Ten Commandments are sometimes called “The Decalogue.” These comprise the core of Christian ethics. When Jesus declared himself to be “the way, the truth and the life,” he was claiming to be the ethic for his followers, the sum of divine knowledge, and the Author of life. The “way” speaks of human behavior guided by ethics. For Christians the Way is Jesus Christ. “The truth” speaks of knowledge and wisdom of what is real and true and good. For Christians the Truth is Jesus Christ. “The life” speaks of existence or being, and for Christians Life is Jesus Christ.

The catechism refers us to two Bible passages [Ex. 20 and Deut. 5]. Both include the Decalogue, but there is a significant difference between these passages. The difference and the sequence of these references points to the belief among Abraham’s people that God appoints rulers through whom He delivers and executes the law. For Jews the appointed ruler is Moses, but for Christians Moses is but a shadow of the long-expected Righteous Ruler Jesus Christ.

Exodus 20:1-17

And God spoke all these words, saying: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Note that in Exodus, God is speaking. In the following passage from Deuteronomy 5:6-21, Moses is speaking.

Moses summoned all Israel and said:

Hear, Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our ancestors that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. The Lord spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. (At that time I stood between the Lord and you to declare to you the word of the Lord, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” These are the commandments the Lord proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me.

Comment: This progression in Scripture is significant. From anthropological studies we know that in the ancient world the moral law was believed to come from the Creator. It was delivered to God’s appointed ruler who was responsible for upholding and enforcing the law. In this case Moses is the appointed ruler. Usually the appointed ruler is indicated in the Bible by a Y, a solar cradle at the beginning of his name. Examples include Yitzak (Isaac); Yacob (Jacob); Yaqtan (Joktan); Yosef (Joseph); Yetro (Jethro); Yeshai (Jesse), and Yeshua (Joshua or Jesus). This symbol means that the emblem of God – the Sun – overshadowed the ruler as a sign of divine appointment. The Virgin Mary was divinely appointed to conceive and bring forth the Son of God. Remember what the Angel Gabriel said to her when she asked how she would conceive as a virgin. Gabriel explained, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

The standards set by the Law reflect values and obligations that are, to some degree, impressed upon the consciences of all people (Romans 2:15). Yet God gave the Law in a clear and unmistakable way to his chosen people, Israel. Delivering them from slavery in Egypt, he established a covenant relationship with them at Mt. Sinai through Moses, giving them the Law. In grateful response to his grace, Israel would worship and serve God, living as his people in accordance with his Law.

Comment: God has revealed his divine nature and eternal power in the order of creation (Rom. 1:20) and has created humans with a “conscience” (the word appears in Paul's writings). The awakened conscience is alert to the distinctions between good and evil and life and death. The dulled conscience fails to see the distinctions and tends to justify wrong doing. Paul makes it clear in Romans that the law has a purpose. It is given to check the flood of corruption and violence.

Since humans have been corrupt and violent from the time of the Fall, so there have been laws to govern human behavior since the earliest known archaic communities. It happens that the earliest known human communities with laws are the communities described in the book of Genesis. These communities were ruled by Jesus’ ancestors and the rulers are named in Genesis 4, 5, 10 and 11. These appointed rulers were responsible for the enforcement of the laws and to see that these laws were passed on to future generations without change. Moses was a descendant of these early rulers. The people of Israel also descended from these early communities. Let us consider this in greater detail.

Many history books mention the Code of Hammurabi as the oldest known law code. Hammurabi was the sixth Amorite king of Babylon. He reigned from 1792 BC to 1750 B.C. However, there is an older law code associated with Abraham’s Nilo-Saharan ancestors. It is called “The Law of Tehut” and dates to around 3000 B.C.

Tehut represents the divine wisdom that overcomes chaos. It is victorious over Tehom (Hebrew: תְּהוֹם‎), the chaotic deep described in Genesis 1. When God spoke the creation into being He also ordered the creation by fixing boundaries: waters above separated from the waters below; dry land from the seas, male-female, animate-inanimate, etc. We honor God when we observe and honor the boundaries He has established. When we trespass divinely established boundaries we invite chaos (te-hom) into our lives and into the world.

Tehom is an ancient concept of a watery and disordered deep which God put in order by His Word (hu or hut). Tehut is an ancient Nilo-Saharan and Egyptian word. A central experience of ancient Egyptian life was the Nile inundation. As rains fell during the spring in the Ethiopian headlands the Nile River in Egypt rose above its banks, flooding the Nile Valley between June and October. The flooding lasted for 40 days. This turned the valley into large lakes and deposited fertile silt which renewed the earth. As the waters receded, only the highest mounds of earth would been seen at first. Even after the waters crested and began to recede, families didn't return to their homes for another 40 nights. This is the origin of the biblical phrase "forty days and forty nights" and the context is originally Nilotic and much older than the time of Hammurabi.

The older law recognizes that God reveals his eternal power and divine nature in the order of creation, through the conscience, and through the law given through righteous rulers. So it is that God self-reveals is many ways and his revelation is universally evident.

In a similar way, the moral teaching of Jesus Christ is universal, authoritative and final. It is set in a family relationship with God the Father and established by his love and grace in Christ. Through the reconciling power of Jesus’ cross, anyone who names him as Savior and Lord is freed from bondage to sin and death, adopted as God’s child, and called to a life of holiness.

Comment: Jesus is not simply another moral teacher like Buddha or Ghandi. His teachings are more authoritative, being consistent with the ancient ruler-priest tradition that He received growing up in Nazareth. Na-za-reth is a very ancient settlement and the name is older than Hebrew. Na-za-ret is related to the Nilotic Luo words reth and rwot, and to the Ethiopian Ge'z word rwt, meaning chief or king. Another Nilotic people, the Shilluk, use the word reth to mean king or chief. From very ancient times, Nazareth was associated with the word “king.”

In 1962, excavators discovered in the ruins of a Caesarea synagogue a small 3rd to 4th century marble fragment with a list of the twenty-four priestly divisions. This list names the places where four of the divisions resided, including Nazareth. Nazareth was the home of the eighteenth priestly division, ha·pi·TSETS, rendered Happizzez in the Hebrew. This division is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 24:15. From very ancient times, Jesus’ hometown was associated with the priesthood.

The Horim or Horites were a caste of ruler-priests. They married exclusively within their own caste which is why even today geneticists are able to identify the “Kohan” or “priest” gene among Arab, Egyptian and Jewish descendants of Abraham. Both Joseph and Mary were of the ruler-priest lines. Mary was Joseph’s cousin bride and his second wife.

A mark of the ruler-priests was purity of life. This was not merely obedience to the laws of cleanliness in performing rituals. The whole of their life was to be an expression of holiness.

The Christian life of holiness, in which obedience to Christ is central, is rooted in the bond that believers have with the Son and the Father through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, keeping the divine Law is a fundamental form of the new life into which we are brought by faith in Christ.

Comment: Jesus explained “If you love me you will obey my commandments.” (John 14:15) He links this to the Holy Spirit, saying, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever…” (John 14:16), and later He says, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them." (John 14:21) We see that holiness is not so much about following rules as it is about being in relationship with the Persons of the Holy Trinity.

Following the teaching of Jesus, his apostles, like all the Bible writers, always look at the human individual as a whole. They see behavior as a “fruit,” not as something external or separate from heart and character. They therefore always speak of human behavior in terms that link behavior with motivation and purpose. For Jesus, acts are only right insofar as the attitude of mind and heart that they express is right. The pages that follow reflect the same viewpoint.

Comment: Jesus taught His disciples that they would be known by their fruits (Matthew 7:20). He explains this by using the image of fruit trees. Some trees do what they are created to do. They produce good fruit. Others fail to do what they were created to do. The owner tries for several years to improve the tree’s production. He nourishes, prunes and waters the tree, but if it continues to fail in its mission (telos), it is used for another purpose. It is cut down and split into fire wood so that the owner has some benefit from the tree. The wood provides warmth for his home and fire with which to cook. This passage is not about hell really. It is about God’s desire that nothing He creates should be wasted. Jesus is telling his followers that we have a mission and when we fail, there is still hope that we might be useful to God. God doesn’t waste what He has given to us. He has the power to turn our failings into something useful. I personally take great comfort in that Good News.

END Part 1

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