It’s been my experience that the more one studies Scripture, especially in its original languages, the more central the text becomes. This has become apparent after being taught Hebrew and NT Greek for the past 2 years.
Theological and traditional differences become less important—in fact, for me they have become almost meaningless.
Anyone who comes to the text and is under it, worshipping the God of Scripture, is a fellow worshipper in the tent of Abraham. I will continue to use that expression in this post. It just refers to the followers of God free from any institutional or denominational control.
As the world moves more and more towards chaos and tyranny, I think there’s a need for a scripturally-united fellowship to stand as a rock against the world’s lies.
This church (or ecclesia, more accurately) need not even be comprised of Christians only. Anyone who, in their own way, submits to the scriptural God is a part of this ecclesia. Ecclesia is from Greek and means “the ones called together”. In essence “ecclesia” means an assembly of those called by Scripture, in this case. Like the tent of Abraham image, ecclesia is not restricted to any one tradition.
Christendom in particular has been divided for too long by institutional and theological differences that in the long run mean nothing. Practically from its inception, the church was rife with division. There was a rift between the Judaizers and the school of the Apostle Paul. However, at least in the New Testament books, this dispute was healed.
The church was troubled enough staying mostly among Jewish communities, but it spreading more and more among Hellenistic groups brought more converts, but also more divisions. Greeks and Hellenized peoples, used to the philosophy and Bacchic festivals of Hellenic paganism, brought their baggage with them into the young Messianic church. Some of this conflict can be seen in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, especially.
Things though only got worse as the early centuries AD rolled on.
The struggle with syncretization as seen in the Epistles came in many forms. Gnostic sects mixed Christian characters with mystical, pagan narratives and functioned little better as secret cults for the intelligentsia of the day. Meanwhile, the main body of the church was overtaken more and more with the passing centuries by a Hellenic mind, which favored philosophy (masquerading as theology) and anthropocentrism.
Notice how so much of these problems have little to do with the Scriptural texts themselves, but rather the layers of baggage and ritual which was being forced onto the church by a Hellenic culture. I don’t mean to rag on Greeks—I’m part Greek myself and quite frankly find Greece one of the most interesting countries to visit—but it’s a historical fact that early Christianity moved about in a thoroughly Greco-Roman world.
My real point is about syncretization, not necessarily anti-Hellenism. Though the Greeks sure are damn full of themselves, I’ll say that much.
This more or less culminated in Eastern Christianity ( the churches of Greece, the Balkans, The middles East, Russia, etc.) with the ascendancy of the Alexandrian school of thought over the Antiochian school. The Alexandrians were obsessed with Greek philosophy and veneration of the human being. This can be seen in the emphasis of “man” (the human being, adam in Hebrew) as the pinnacle of creation. It was the Alexandrians who wanted to interpret the Bible along Greek philosophical lines, making everything metaphysical and sometimes dualistic in the vein of Plato.
When, for example, the Apostle Paul speaks of “spiritual” versus “fleshly” matters, the Alexandrians tend to interpret that metaphysically, as if he were talking about a mystical, invisible, hyper-dimensional existence. Rather, “spiritual” (the Greek pnevma, which is the New Testament word for the Hebrew ruach, simply mean breath or wind in their native contexts) refers to the “spirit” or “wind” of the text, which is a poetic way of talking about the message of Scripture.
It is from the Alexandrian school of thought that Christ becomes the Eternal Logos and he is put on the same level as the Lord God, something which is forbidden in the commandments which God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai. But, the construct of the Trinity allows Christians to circumvent this commandment.
The Antiochian school meanwhile maintained a knowledge of Hebrew, allowing them to read the original texts of the Old Testament. The Antiochian school saw Scripture for what it was: ancient Near Eastern literature which communicated wisdom through its stories. Scripture to them was not a philosophical treatise in the style of Plato and Aristotle, as this style of writing was foreign to the ancient Near East.
In Semitic literature, generally, everything is parable. Things are not meant to be taken literally, but rather literarily. An example I love of this is the Code of Hammurabi. If we remember high school history, we should recall what the code is: an ancient law code set down by the 18th century BC king of Babylon Hammurabi. This law code became famous throughout the ancient Middle East and was reproduced in numerous places, even long after Hammurabi died. Yet, in all our various records of court cases, from the Hittites to Egypt to Assyria, not a single one actually quotes Hammurabi’s code.
That’s because Hammurabi’s Code was not a literal law code of how the king decided court cases and dealt out punishments, but rather an example, a parable of his kingly justice and wisdom to show to both the gods and men. It was like legal literature or poetry, not the minutes from a trial.
Unfortunately, Alexandria won over and become the dominant school of thought. Ever since this time, roughly the 3rd-4th centuries AD and onward, this theological lens has been the way that the Christian church interprets Scripture. This has led to disputes, councils, heresies, and schisms of all sizes from then until now.
Especially as time went on, church councils like the lauded Seven Ecumenical Councils, became about philosophical constructs like the natures of Christ or the role of the Holy Spirit or other confusing nonsense. None of these things are actually in Scripture. And these councils weren’t mild-mannered discussions over tea: people were tortured or even killed as a result of the outcome of some of these councils.
In the Byzantine East, in the 8th century AD, there were bloody disputes and persecutions over whether or not to have icons in church. People died over whether or not to have pretty pictures in a building. It sounds silly, at least to me. But this is what human tribalism does: the silliest things become deadly serious and worth of killing another human over.
And so what I’m saying is enough. Be done with it. Be done all these silly, useless theological questions which divide whole churches. Be done with tribalism in the churches. “Orthodoxy” means nothing if you’re not following the text of Scripture.
I don’t care what tradition you come from. If you submit to Scripture, we all belong to the same tribe. More, even those who don’t submit are not our enemies. The human race has one Creator. All divisions are the works of men. God unties, God casts away. It’s in His hands, not ours.
You don’t have to abandon your tradition, just acknowledge that the divisions in the ecclesia of Scripture are not what you should build your identity on. Scripture is the rock on which you build your house, not the sand of tradition.
In Christianity, Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant doesn’t matter at the end of the day. We are all part of the body of Christ.
There’s nothing wrong with cherishing your tradition, with loving the good aspects of it. But every tradition, Christian or otherwise, obscures the text of Scripture, whether they know it or not. Whether this is Christian “theology”, the Jewish Talmud, or the hadith and mysticism of Islam, no faith tradition has the cojones to sack up and actually face the text.
And there’s good reason for it: Scripture is scary!
Honestly reading Scripture is unsettling. Scripture demeans and belittles the human being. You are not in control in the eyes of Scripture: God and God alone is. And as Judge, He is impartial in the truest sense of the word. He’s a judge that can’t be bribed or cajoled, nothing you do will convince God to have mercy on you. Only in His sovereign will does God show mercy, as Scripture shows repeatedly.
My Greek and Hebrew said, in paraphrase: Muslims, real Muslims, don’t dread Allah. They dread the Quran. This is because once you hear the commands in the text, there is no escape and you are caught in a trap.
Now more than ever, we as members of the ecclesia need to come together as brothers and sisters in submission to Scripture and its God. That universal ecclesia, planted on the rock of Scripture, is what’s going to stand against this world of darkness we’re currently in.
How else will the lies of the world, and the powers which rule the world, get dispelled?
Whatever your political leaning, whatever your tradition, whether Jew, Muslim, Gentile, this is the time to see each other not as enemies but slaves in the same household, all of us beholden to the same Master. Even those who don’t believe, but are in their own way seeking truth should be our allies in this fight against lies.
The disparate tent of Abraham needs to unite. Not physically or in the sense that we all need to start attending the same church building. But wherever we are, whoever we are, those obedient to the God of Scripture should come together in spirit (narrative worldview). And stop letting worldly narratives or the short-sightedness of church leaders keep us apart.
If we don’t see who the true enemy is, then who will stand up to it? Who will stand up to the lies and hatred of this world and bring about God’s blessing if not the tent of Abraham?