Read the passage for our discussion here.
Over the last few weeks, it has become more and more apparent that the church is in need of a shift in perspective. This is not to say that as God's people we are missing the entire picture, but rather that modern Christians are lacking a crucial part of what we were meant to be in the grand scheme of things. Our picture of the Christian faith is missing the most important part - the background.
Why is a background so important to a photo?
A photo without a background can be misinterpreted or given a new setting with ease. Looking at the modern church without taking in the greater context of our forefathers can leave us looking about as genuine as a green-screen photo of a couple being chased by aliens riding dinosaurs. This is admittedly an exaggeration, and in some cases the holistic appearance of a person's faith can be quite convincing- like the elvish council chambers in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
This problem is not new to our generation, however, and luckily for us, the Apostles, and Early Church Fathers dealt with and wrote about the same problems. In fact, the beginning of the fourth Gospel focuses on this very issue: holistic faith. This is not the only discussion that takes place, but it is clear that the author of the passage was trying to help believers connect with the faith of their forefathers.
John 1:1-18 as an example of holistic faith.
There are a few points in which the holistic vision of the Prologue of John is very clearly depicted. The first of which is in the comparison between the introduction of this Gospel and the introduction to the Greek version of the book of Genesis. The opening line is nearly identical; which gives the impression that what is about to be heard has something to do with the original Jewish faith. This alone is not enough to say that we must look to the Jewish faith for our foundation, but in tandem with the other verses points to the fact that this is more than just a compare and contrast.
A second aspect to this holistic understanding of the Christian faith was that these five verses are not only comparing language, but also theological concepts. Verses one through five begin the illustration of Christ as The Word. This view of the Messiah was a common thread in Jewish theology, and brings in more of the continuative nature of the passage. This language also served to root the Christian faith beyond the birth of Christ, making Him pre-existent to his human dwelling on earth.
This pattern of pre-existence language is carried into verses 10-13: "He came into his own" (John 1:10). This is more than simply saying that Christ was coming into Israel as a newborn Israelite baby boy, but rather that He was coming into the world that He had helped the Father and Spirit create. The world was His own because He was the author of its existence.
Finally, verses 14-18 address this issue by explaining how Christ fulfilled the Old Testament need for Grace and Truth along with the Torah. The language regarding the fulfilling or ammending of the covenant between Israel and God serves to unite us as Christians with our Jewish forefathers. The God of the Jewish Old Testament, the same Scripture that we have in our Christian Bibles, is our God too. What was once unseen, has now been seen in Christ Jesus (John 1:18, paraphrase).
So you mean to say that Christianity didn't start as Christian?
This thought had never been really teased out in my mind, but I once held the same idea that a lot of young Christians hold: Jesus was obviously a Christian. I had was not aware of this problematic thinking until I saw a colouring book photo for a Sunday School lesson in which Jesus was depicted as going to church like a good boy. It was a that moment that the thought occured to me: How could He have gone to church if his disciples founded the church?
Our generation is in danger of never getting beyond this concept, and losing the Jewish heretiage that we take for granted. The question must be asked at this point: would that be such a bad thing to lose? After all, God brought the Gospel to more than just the Jewish people.
Marcion's Abandonement of the Semetic History
Back in the days of the Early Church, a man named Marcion began a movement away from the Jewish history of the faith. While there was more to the problem of his system of thinking, a major issue arose in his teachings: the God of the Old Testament could not be a good God, or even THE God, if the Jewish faith is left out. If that is the case, then who is God?
Marcion had some anti-semetic issues in his faith, but more than that, he also was struggling with the idea of the Problem of Evil. If God is a good God, then why do bad things happen to good people? He reduced things too simply, and looked at the inactivity of God to prevent bad things as an equation with Him not being a supreme God. In trying to solve this problem, Marcion omitted the explanations of the Jewish faith and made the problem even bigger.
So, what's the big deal?
As a church, when we alienate ourselves in the same way that Marcion alienated himself and his followers, we place ourselves in danger. Marcion could no longer deal with how there could be evil and suffering in the world without the Old Testament context. What might we be in danger of missing or falling into if we omit the faith and teachings of those that came before us?
Aside from the Jewish faith, there is a great deal that we can learn from men and women of faith who are no longer here to teach us. Seeing the mistakes, and corrections made long ago can help us from repeating errors that have already been a source of pain to the Church. This is especially true for the Protestant Church; as the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches have a more historical view of the faith than we do. By reading and learning from those before us, we will become stronger in our faith.
The "Spoiler Alert" here is that not only was Christ pre-existent, but according to John 1:1-18, so was our heritage. We have an enormous legacy of faith that we are a part of, but if we refuse to acknowledge it we are missing our background. Without that background, there is little support for us when we need it.
What will your faith look like?
Rev. Olivia Phillips