Follow-Up Answers to the Holy Supper vs. Sacrifice

Question #1: With regard to the post “Particulars of the Ekklesia Epignostika Church” one paragraph states the Ekklesia Epignostika Church’s (EEC) positions as:

One of the alternative teachings we espouse is the Holy Supper instead of the Sacrifice….The altar is not a place of human sacrifice, thank you very much. Blood atonement is NOT one of our doctrines. Yes, Yeshua gave his life rather than resist arrest and risk his family and students’ persecution and deaths, but he did not give it as a human sacrifice to a blood-desiring Heavenly Father bent on some kind of weird “divine justice” or “payment” for everyone’s sins.

“Doesn’t this sound a bit exaggerated, harsh and confusing? Can you elaborate more on its meaning? Thank you.”

Answer #1: On the Holy Supper

Yes, that is a confusing statement when contained in such a small package. And it comes across as even somewhat polemic. I’m not surprised that it prompts a follow-up. Let’s see if I can unpack that a bit….

To begin with, the concept of original sin and the required death of God’s Son to “pay” for these sins is a strongly dualistic belief. My understanding is this is one of the holdovers we inherited from the early Christian Gnostic movement (and/or we may inherent this strong dualism from Zoroastrianism). So too with the self-abasement and whipping the hide off one’s back, for that matter. In what we now call the ancient Gnostic movement self-hate is normal. Everything of the earth is evil. We are supposed to be spirits, but we have been trapped here on earth. Trapped by an evil god, in fact (often depicted as the G-d of the Hebrew bible – speak of being polemic!). Therefore, anything and everything which has to do with the earth is corrupt and evil.

This is the background which sets up viewing the Garden of Eden story as resulting in Original Sin, from what became the orthodox Christian perspective, at least.

But I feel this is a mistake. When reading a text I think it is important to at least consider the perspective of those who wrote it. In this case we turn to the early Hebrew people, and ask what might they have thought of this story? We cannot be certain of course. But we can ask modern Jews how they interpret the story of creation and the “fall” of man.

The short answer to this is that the world is a good thing.

It is a positive creation. As are we. The earth and everything in it has been created by G-d and is fundamentally good. (The opposite of the ancient Gnostic position that everything is evil.) Furthermore, most modern Jews, and presumably their Hebrew ancestors, do not see any “Original Sin” taking place in this story. And it is a story in the Hebrew bible -not the Christian New Testament- so I give their interpretation a lot of weight.

They say what took place was a mistake. A “missing of the mark” (the meaning of the word from which “sin” is translated). An error. But nothing like the majority Christian understanding of original sin, which is much closer to the ancient Gnostic understanding; this is *not* the Jewish understanding.

Therefore the entire foundation of the idea that God killed his Son to erase our original sin is a mistaken belief. At least if one sides with the Jewish perspective of their Hebrew bible. And, as I said, I am among those who do. So if you look at the story of the crucifixion through this lens, instead of the lens of Original Sin, the meaning behind the statements may begin to make more sense.

Bearing in mind that I cannot speak for the bishops of the EEC because I may misrepresent their intended position, I will only speak of my own understanding of this position. My impression of the reason the EEC differentiates between a Holy Supper and a Holy Sacrifice, is that we prefer to celebrate the ideals of peace and love and the search for transcendent understanding (the way we interpret the term “Gnostic” — the search for spiritual apprehension of the Divine; and very much *NOT* an understanding that the world and G-d are evil). We do *not* celebrate the murder of Jesus. We do *not* believe he had to be slaughtered as a replacement for Temple sacrifice.

This will be one of the major differences between the orthodox Roman Catholic Church’s view of Original Sin and the way the church I am a member of looks at it. And a pretty fundamental difference at that!

One might even observe, this is why I feel it is so important to examine one’s cornerstone beliefs. And the meaning of “Original Sin” is one such example. If you get that wrong, then a bunch of other understandings are going to be misguided. This is what I think has happened in many Christian churches.

Question #2: The post “Particulars of the Ekklesia Epignostika Church” stated that your church believed “in Jesus his Son who came and brought the world salvation!”  What kind of salvation was this?

Answer #2

This is a great question. I cannot say I have a 100% understanding on this point. Coming to an understanding of this question is at the core of my entire spiritual search! But I will share my thoughts, such as they are. As for the church bishops, they’d have to speak to their views. I suspect it is close to the Liberal Catholic Church’s view in that they leave this interpretation up to the individual. And off hand I cannot recall their individual opinions on this point.

Speaking for myself, if the historical scholars are right, and if the apocalyptic teachings of Jesus are accurate (that’s a touchy problem, given the various revisions of biblical text over the centuries, we cannot really be certain of most of Jesus’ sayings are in fact his), then I have a problem because I do not subscribe to apocalyptic teachings. I believe these are best understood in their own historical narrative, not ours some 2,000 years later. So all the groups that point to Revelation as a foretelling of things to come, and the end of the world, I just can’t buy into that.

(The Book of Revelation, perhaps would have been better understood had it been entitled, “Revelation: A Book of Hope!” Because Revelation is really about providing hope to carry us through these hard times, and offer us assurance that following each series of tragic events, ultimately the Kingdom of Heaven/New Jerusalem will come to pass here on earth.)

So I personally hope Jesus was *not* just one of many apocalyptic prophets. If he was, he was wrong, and therefore not the Son of G-d as this is classically understood. Due to this uncertainty as to the nature of Jesus, my favourite Gospel is Mark. In it no one ever really understands who Jesus is, or what his life was all about! Turning to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 16, we find there are several “endings” to this book (quoting from: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark%2016&version=NRSVCE), the shortest of which is simply:

8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The Shorter Ending of Mark adds:

And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterwards Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.

The Longer Ending of Mark adds quite a bit of material:

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

9 Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

Jesus Appears to Two Disciples

12 After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

Jesus Commissions the Disciples

14 Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. 16 The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

The Ascension of Jesus

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.

Footnotes:

Mark 16:8 Some of the most ancient authorities bring the book to a close at the end of verse 8. One authority concludes the book with the shorter ending; others include the shorter ending and then continue with verses 9–20. In most authorities verses 9–20 follow immediately after verse 8, though in some of these authorities the passage is marked as being doubtful.

 

I favour the shortest ending. All the others I think are much more likely to have been added to over the centuries because people just couldn’t stand the uncertain ending of the women running away in fear and never telling anyone. However, this missing the main point of this Gospel! It *is* all about trying to work out an understanding of who Jesus was! What was his nature? (And struggling with one’s uncertainty in the face of such questions.)

In line with this questioning search for Jesus’ nature, there is what has been called the “Messianic Secret.” Jesus kept telling people *not* to proclaim who he was. Was this because he knew no one tells things faster than what they have been told not to tell? Or might it be because he knew that people expected a warring messiah? And he did *not* wish to start a revolt. Therefore, he told people not to speak of him so they would be safe. The Romans killed rebels. Ultimately, this is why the Romans killed Jesus (*not* the Jews – the Romans).

And this ties in with the theme of Jesus turning himself in quietly so as not to get his friends and family murdered alongside himself, and is why the EEC honours this form of Jesus’ sacrifice through the aforementioned Holy Supper. This is an *alternate* understanding -which I favour- to Jesus turning himself in so that he could be slaughtered on our behalf; as a substitute to ritual Temple sacrifice; as a blood sacrifice to G-d. As I indicated above, I just don’t believe that G-d has to murder himself to save us from original sin (which didn’t happen in the first place).

My own view of what kind of salvation Jesus offers us is much more mystical.

This is always hard to pin down in words. Or is for me at any rate. I personally think Jesus was speaking of breathing life into the Divine spark we each have within us. One of the sayings which I take to heart is found in the Gospel of John (which is an admittedly poetic Gospel and is meant to be taken allegorically) where Jesus says he is in the Father, and the Father is in him. He then says he is in us/we in him. Could he be clearer? (Apparently so! heheh.) To me this says Jesus found a unity with the Divine, and that we too are part of that Unity.

John 14:20 NRSV: On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

Theosis

So I subscribe to an understanding closer to that offered by the Eastern Orthodox Church’s belief in theosis. This belief is still a vibrant aspect of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, it is just not a form of Christianity we are greatly exposed to in the West. And certainly it is greatly removed from Protestantism as a whole, because it tends toward a mystic interpretation (as does the Eastern Orthodox as a whole), whereas Protestantism is founded upon more literal interpretations of the written texts of the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

[This difference may especially be expected to be felt quite sharply by those who are coming from a largely Pentecostal Church perspective. In such cases, we are pretty much residing at opposite ends of the Christian continuum in many ways. Although I suspect we agree that the Holy Spirit is the active agent in our spiritual lives as well as in the world. A view we share with all "Charismatic Christians" in general, regardless of their exoteric/outer affiliation within the wider Church of Christ. In this wider sense of the word, I too am a "Charismatic Christian." (Otherwise, I really see little point in being Christian. But that's just me.) One way to imagine this difference is to see that on the outer sphere of being Christian we have very different understandings of what that means. When we traverse the outer surface of this sphere we seem very different from one another much of the time. But as we turn inward and look toward the center of that sphere, our differences become less and less as we move toward that central point. This center is the point which I have -following others- called the Divine Center, and in the heart of that center lives the Holy Ghost; the Shakinah; the Presence of G-d; Brahma; the Tao; call it what you will. Thus enters a theme of plurality of religions and one way to better appreciate each as a unique means of "finding God."]

As I re-read my answer, the Book of James comes to mind. Nowhere does James speak of salvation through the death of Jesus, nor of God demanding the blood of Jesus. Instead, James (presumed to be the brother of Jesus, who should know Jesus pretty well!) encourages his readers to do good works. The second chapter of James reads (quoting v. 14-17, but this theme continues through to the end of the chapter, concluding with verse 26, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”):

James (Ch. 2): 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

So for me, the salvation Jesus brought us is found in his example and his loving encouragement that we too find a way to allow that Divine Breath of Life to live though us, and to become vehicles for that in-dwelling Spirit (Shakinah/Holy Ghost) to live in/through/with us.

Psalms 82:6 (which Jesus quoted) reads: “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you”

And one aspect of doing this may be experienced through participating in the Eucharist celebration. I really do believe/feel that is one way to bring us into contact with something Divine. I like to think this results in the Holy Spirit becoming more active in our life, and body, and I hope our soul and spirit.

This is quite clearly another point where my belief is quite different than that of the Roman Catholic Church. And it is one of many reasons I personally could never be a RCC priest (nor would they have me! it is fair to observe). I have never felt that the ideas of original sin, and the blood sacrifice of Jesus made any sense. Why would God Almighty set up the world that way?

It makes more sense to me that we are in a fundamentally good creation, are part of this good creation, and that we are here to learn to grow into beings becoming more resonate with the Divine. I don’t see salvation as something Jesus does “to” us. And it is something more than a philosophical view with which we agree/”believe.” It is our responsibility to follow Jesus’ example, finding a means of letting more and more of the Divine Spirit of the Christ to live in us each day. And there are many ways of doing this. Some days being “closer to the mark” than others.

Such are my thoughts.
Father Erik



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