Category Archives: Opinion

Original Sin – Is it time to discard the doctrine? Review it? Reformulate it?

by Kevin Treston

INTRODUCTION

The reality of sin in the world is a mystery within the context of beliefs about the presence of a loving God in creation and the nature of the human person. According to Genesis, a person is made in God’s image and likeness: So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

The theological concept of Original Sin is trying to name the moral flaw that is inherent in the human condition. We may call it the ‘shadow’ to use Jungian typology or if we venture into science the ‘chaos theory’ or ‘principle of indeterminacy’ might capture the essence of understanding the mysterious element in human nature that moves people towards self-destructive behaviour. The reality of ‘Original Sin’ is a common theme in the narratives in literature and movies.  The concept of what Christians call ‘Original Sin’ is similar to the experience of moral degeneration as taught in Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism.

Sin should not be viewed as a breakdown from a state of primordial innocence through the disobedience of Adam and Eve but rather a perversion of what it means to be a fully human person. Sin is both personal and communal. Sin is alienation from God’s gracious love. Sin is disequilibrium and alienation from the core of our being, God. The pervading presence of sin in the world reflects the fragmentation of human’s relationship with a loving God. Communal sin pits groups against other groups and reinforces the dichotomy between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. Communal sin also diminishes the wellbeing of the integrity of creation.

The doctrine of original sin as developed and defined by the church was an attempt to explain the mystery of the origins of sin, how sin is manifest in the world and how sin is transmitted from generation to generation. Early Christians sought answers to such questions as, ‘If God is good, where does sin come from?’ ‘Why is there suffering in the world?’ ‘Why do we need Christ’s redemptive mission to save us?’ The doctrine of original sin seemed to offer answers to this dilemma of reconciling the mystery of sin within beliefs about the goodness of God in creation and the redemptive mission of Christ.

A relevant Christology must also include a contemporary understanding of sin. The redemptive mission of Jesus assumes the reality of sin. The central theme in the teachings of Jesus was the reign of God, a vision of what could be integral to the ‘wholeness’ of God’s presence in creation. The dominance of the atonement theme in Christology is now under close scrutiny in theological circles. The doctrine of original sin was trying to express the mysterious reality of human moral flaws which reside within us, we who are created in God’s image and likeness.

The official teaching of the church since the 5th century on original sin no longer has credibility in contemporary evolutionary consciousness and the science of religion.

 It is time for the church to face up to the hard questions about how the doctrine has been historically defined and also be open to critique the historical rationale for such teachings and the story of its formulation. After acknowledging the story of the historical development of how the doctrine of original sin was formulated, the church must then courageously move to modify or even discard such teachings, at least in its current form. To fail to engage in this enterprise strains the credibility of believers.

The other option for the teaching church when doctrines lose their relevance in contemporary consciousness is for the historical formulation to be relegated to its rich theological heritage. History has many instances of this happening with theological positions. For example, teachings about ‘outside the church there is no salvation’ now belong to a past era of such teachings.

PROBLEM OF LITERALISM AND MYTH IN FORMULATION OF A DOCTRINE

A problem with the actual formulation of the doctrine was confusing a symbolic or mythical expression about the origins of sin (mythos) in Genesis 3 with a pragmatic word definition (logos) of sin. The process of defining the doctrine of original sin was fraught with difficulties once the symbolic nature and mystery of sin were articulated in a logos or pragmatic mode. Once the sacred myth about sin as mythos became a doctrinal formulation (logos) the teaching church became entangled in a doctrinal web of issues such as, how sin is inherited and transmitted, baptism as necessary for salvation, the nature of human beings, Immaculate Conception, limbo and so on.

There is a deep religious truth about the reality of individual and communal sin embedded in the doctrine as currently stated but its truth is obscured by the actual wording of the official teaching of original sin. Surely no one would deny the prevalence of evil and disorder in the human condition – just watch the nightly news on TV!

In religious teachings, when mythos becomes logos or literalism, religious truth is lost. The bane of literalism has been and still is now a major impediment in communicating the gospel and teachings of the church. When the sacred myth about the mystery of evil in humanity was subverted into a literalist mode as the doctrine of original sin, the doctrine tenable became untenable in its literal expression as is evident in the exposition below.

The doctrine of original sin, defined by the Council of Orange (529), was repeated in many Christian creeds and confessions of faith eg Lutheran: Augsburg, 1530; Roman Catholic, Council of Trent 1563-64; Reformed: Second Helvetic Confession 1566; Westminster Confession 1646; Anglican: Thirty Nine Articles, 1563; Methodism: Articles of Religion 1784.

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Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy Theories, explored by the Redcliffe Explorers

 At our Redcliffe Explorers meeting in October, psychologists and counsellors Meryem and Greg Brown[1] revealed some of the neuroscience and psychology behind belief in fake news, alternative facts, conspiracy theories, Q-Anon, anti-vaxx views, and climate denial that have become familiar to us in recent years. This led to a very illuminating discussion on the best ways to talk to a family member, friend, or colleague who’s been seduced into a totally irrational belief system. Our speakers very kindly provided the following summary of their presentation.

But first, Meryem began by posing the question: ‘What do you call the shortest distance between two points?’ Naturally most of us said (or at least thought) ‘A straight line’. She replied: ’Yes, but a few years ago I heard renowned Houston University professor and social researcher Brené Brown claim that “a conspiracy theory” also answers this question.’

Meryem and Greg then investigated ways in which this might be true, looking at neuroscience and personality characteristics to help explain why conspiracy theories meet ‘shortest distance’ needs in some people.

When a person feels under threat, our brains are wired in such a way that the first part to be activated is the limbic system, particularly the amygdala. The amygdala has one main job: to ensure our survival, usually by triggering the freeze, fight or flight response in the face of perceived threat. It is not very nuanced or sophisticated, unable to distinguish between a feeling and a fact, so it requires another part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex (our smart brain), to assess the actual risk and take appropriate action. Unfortunately, because this is when we may most need it, the smart brain tends to go ‘off-line’ when we are flooded with stress hormones or are sleep-deprived, thus leaving the amygdala in charge.

Covid has been described as a time of both chronic and acute stress, where the two main causes of stress – a lack of predictability and a lack of control – have become the norm. Many people have come to feel insecure and powerless. These are perfect conditions for the limbic system to be over-activated as it seeks the shortest distance to guarantee our survival. The brain is wired to see patterns and seek order in chaos when it feels under threat. Conspiracy theories meet this need, providing simple answers to complex questions, comfort and solace in patterns rather than randomness, and thereby a sense of certainty and control. This appears to be particularly the case in people who have a fear of the unknown and low trust in authority figures.

Research into early trauma and attachment style helps explain this further. Trauma – whether ‘capital T or small t’ trauma – changes the brain. The amygdala becomes over-activated, switching the brain from learning mode to permanent survival mode. Studies suggest that people who experienced early trauma – for example, betrayal, neglect or abuse by primary caregivers – develop an insecure, anxious or avoidant attachment style in order to survive. This usually results in low trust in authority figures (and perhaps even a transference of parent pain onto these figures). Politicians and scientists may then be seen through the lens of suspicion and scepticism, for the building block of trust in people who claim to be working in our best interest is missing or broken.

Some people who have an inherent mistrust of authority figures do so because they believe that truth should be a short, straight line which is set in stone. So when they hear scientists and politicians revise their advice and policies day to day – first declaring just one jab, now two needed, now a booster shot needed; masks not needed because virus not originally seen as airborne, now mandatory mask-wearing, etc. – this is interpreted as more proof of ‘the so-called experts lying to and manipulating us to rob our freedom and control us’. Rather than understanding that best practice in science demands constant re-adjustments as new data come to hand, with advice being shaped daily by the latest modelling, conspiracy theorists look at the alterations as proof of untruthing.

How do these factors of mistrust and fear of the unknown play out? We then looked at personality and conspiracy theories.

For some people, this alienation and disenfranchisement manifests as individualism: ‘I can trust no one but myself’. Research into conspiracy theorists suggests that some score high on grandiosity measures, whilst others score with very low self-esteem. The former tend to be lone-rangers or else become leaders of their cohorts; whist the latter tend to gravitate to conspiracy theory cohorts, seeking a sense of belonging and special identity (we special few Vs the sheep majority) in these tight communities.

Research also suggests that people disposed to conspiracy theories score low for agreeableness (a factor measuring trust, altruism, kindness, affection, and pro-social behaviours which make people cooperative) and score low for conscientiousness (the factor measuring levels of thoughtfulness, good impulse control, and goal-directed behaviours).

Studies also point to a conspiracy mindset: some people are predisposed to hold multiple conspiracy theories because of how they see themselves, the world, and their place in it. Typically, they are drawn to conspiracy theories because they tend to be more suspicious, untrusting, eccentric, may need to feel special, and see the word as an inherently dangerous place.

When we see that conspiracy theories may actually serve to meet some people’s most basic needs – safety in an unsafe world; order in chaos; survival; freedom; belonging – we need to be careful of falling into ‘shortest distance’ strategies ourselves. Bombarding people with more evidence is a shortest distance approach. For many, there is a profound mistrust in the source so it is not received as ‘evidence’. For many, appealing to rational argument ignores the fact that the amygdala may be the major player. For many, there is a deep foundation of insecurity, fear and powerlessness to be considered. For some, there is a history of trauma. In the light of this, ‘shortest distance’ responses would rarely be effective or respectful.

Greg then invited us to split into small groups and explore the Do’s and Don’ts of engagement with those in our family or community who hold conspiracy theories. We concluded there was no quick fix. Rather, we reminded each other of the following rules of engagement:

  • Don’t mock or ridicule, adopting a stance of moral or intellectual superiority
  • Don’t assume that providing more hard data will change minds as they might be immune to ‘evidence’
  • Do demonstrate curiosity and respect for their point of view
  • Do share stories rather than data
  • Do make it about different perceptions rather than identity
  • Do encourage critical thinking
  • Do seek to maintain relationship

Finally, we were reminded that in our own frustration, confusion or fear we could succumb to ‘shortest distance reactions’ ourselves, and were encouraged to bring our learning, rather than our surviving, brain to the ongoing discourse.

[Submitted by Explorers Convenor IWB – 18th November 2021]

[1] Greg Brown:  B.Bus (HR), M.A. (App Ethics), Grad Dip Couns, Dip Past Sup.

Meryem Brown: B.A., Dip Ed, M.Ed St., Grad Dip App Sc, Dip Past Sup.

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A Religious Discrimination Bill Must Protect All

The Uniting Church in Australia is concerned that the revised Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 introduced to Parliament this week does not achieve the balance needed to protect the rights of all people.

The third and final draft of the bill was introduced to Parliament by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday morning.

The national Assembly of the Uniting Church notes and welcomes improvements made to the proposed laws but, like many other civil society groups, remains concerned by significant elements.

“The Uniting Church is committed to the right of every person to a robust freedom of religion,” said Rev Sharon Hollis, President of the Uniting Church in Australia. “However, we maintain any permission given to individuals or religious organisations that allows them to discriminate on the basis of religious belief must be carefully balanced against the rights of people to be free from discrimination and live with dignity.”

“It is our view that the Religious Discrimination Bill does not achieve that balance.”

“The Uniting Church is concerned for vulnerable people and groups who are most likely to be adversely impacted by the legislation should it be passed into law in its current form.”

“We particularly fear that members of the LGBTIQ+ community, those of minority faiths, women, and people living with disability may be subject to additional discrimination under this legislation.”

Such discrimination could take many forms including in public statements and employment.

“We encourage the government to continue to consult and listen to the concerns of groups expressing their genuine fears about the proposed legislation.”

“In the Uniting Church we believe that all people are created in the image of God and are loved and valued by God. The ministry of Jesus emphasised welcoming all, especially people who were vulnerable and marginalised.

“Our approach to religious freedom is that such freedoms are never to be self-serving, but rather ought to be directed toward the Church’s continuing commitment to seeking human flourishing and wholeness within a healthy, diverse society,” said Rev Hollis. “Any legislative provisions for religious freedom should be driven by an overriding focus on enabling and maintaining a society which encourages mutual respect and is free from discrimination that demeans and diminishes people’s dignity.”

UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little said, “As a provider of community services across Australia, including hospitals and aged care services, the Uniting Church is concerned certain provisions within this Bill could undermine our ability to ensure safe and inclusive workplaces and may act as a barrier to vulnerable people accessing essential services or seeking employment.”

“Uniting Church community service providers do not discriminate in the employment of staff or access to services. We do not seek additional powers in this regard and will not use them even if the Parliament passes the Bill,” Ms Little said.

The consistent position of the Uniting Church has been, and continues to be, that legislative provisions for religious freedom would best be made through the mechanism of a comprehensive Human Rights Act, within which the competing claims and values inherent in this discussion may be grounded in a holistic approach to human rights.

After the Bill is voted on in the House of Representatives, the bill will go to a Senate inquiry over summer. It will not be decided in Parliament until early next year, depending on election timing and when the Parliament resumes.

The Assembly will make a full response to any inquiry and share this with our members. We encourage members to familiarise themselves with the new Bill and express any concerns they have to us on email and to their local MPs.

Media contact: Rebecca Beisler, 0450790218

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More on ‘What is a Progressive Christian?’

Another member of the UCFORUM has put the most recent post on this topic through a filter of simplification with a few extra thoughts. Thanks Bev Floyd for this contribution to the conversation:

By calling ourselves Progressive Christians, we mean we are Christians who…

 1.  Follow the teaching and example of Jesus. Show compassion and selfless love, feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit widows and those in prison.

 2. Take the Bible seriously but not literally and learn also from indigenous people.

 3. Acknowledge a role for continuing scholarship in the field of progressive Christianity.

4. Search for ‘truth’, question, listen carefully to others and try to understand their point of view.

 5. Stand up for justice and honesty; care for the environment; spend time in prayer, meditation or contemplation.

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Too good not to share

The ongoing project of the PCNQ looking at what it means to be a progressive Christian has had some wonderful input since our seminar on this topic. This came in from one of the members:

Progressive Christianity

By calling ourselves progressive Christians, we mean we are Christians who ….

  1. Follow the way of the radical teachings of Jesus that leads to healing and wholeness that brings each person to Sacredness, Oneness and Unity of Life. These new sources of wisdom including the Earth enhance our spiritual journey.
  2. Seek to create community that is inclusive of all people including but not limited to:
  • Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics
  • Believers and agnostics
  • People of all races, cultures and nationalities
  • Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities
  • People of all classes and abilities

3. Live our lives as Jesus did showing radical compassion, inclusion and a willingness to challenge radical injustices.

4. Commit to life long learning and contemplation as we search for discernment with an open mind and an open heart.

Warren Rose  29SEP2021

Your thoughts are always welcome. Just hit Reply.

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Revisiting the “8 Points of Progressive Christianity”

When Progressivechristianity.org revised its “8 Points” in 2020, they invited further recommendations. Their intention has always been to keep the ‘list’ open to modification as we move forward on an evolving discovery of our relationship with and knowledge of Jesus. At a recent gathering of the Progressive Christianity Network (Qld), Dr Steven Nisbett, OAM, conducted a facilitated brainstorming exercise with 25 of our members. We see this as still continuing to evolve as we gather the thoughts of others in our networks and call for our many members to add more thoughts before we send it off to our friends in the USA.

The 2012 version can be found here.

The current 2020 version can be found here.

We came up with the following suggestions and invite further critical comment:

By calling ourselves progressive christians, we mean we are christians who…

  1. Commit to a life of contemplation, learning, compassion and selfless love, following the teachings and example of Jesus as we journey with an increasing awareness and experience of the sacred and the interconnectedness of all life. In doing this we seek a spiritual way through which the one who touched the untouchable, healed the unhealable, fed the unfeedable, and taught the unteachable, may be reflected.
  2. Are gracious in our search for new understandings and recognize the importance of questioning and sharing understandings with an open heart and an open mind. We take the Bible seriously but not literally and seek to also learn from our indigenous peoples. We acknowledge there is a continuing role for the church to play in the provision of a safe environment for exploring new understandings and scholarship in the field of progressive christianity.
  3. Strive for peace and justice for all people and all life.
  4. Strive to protect, care for and restore the integrity of the environment and life in all its diversity.

Comments (not included in the Points and just to show how our discussion went):

  1. We thought that a better word than ‘points’ might be ‘essentials’ or ‘affirmations’.
  2. There needs to be a reduction in words and repetition.
  3. There also needs to be  some reference to the church and its value to society and individuals.
  4. Some people were for including ‘God’ in brackets after Sacred.
  5. The updated version of Point 3 (2020) differed from the earlier version only in some additions that suggested a nod towards racial inclusiveness and a recognition of the importance of ecological awareness. In the ‘header’ to this section ‘and create’ was added after ‘Seek … community..’ We felt it was going a bit far to suggest that ‘we are Christians who … seek and create communities….’ as subsequently described. A more humble and modest approach might be that we ‘encourage [or ‘work towards’] the development [or formation of] ….’ such community.The addition of ‘Those of all races, cultures and nationalities’ is OK but (as was pointed out during the discussion) rather superfluous, given that the header has already highlighted ALL people. If we take ‘ALL people’ as being totally inclusive, there’s probably no need for any of the sub-classes of person listed, but I think we were comfortable to leave them in.However we were not comfortable with the addition of ‘all creatures and plant life’, as it is  doubtful whether anyone could imagine that the phrase ‘all people’ could cover animals, plants, bacteria, viruses etc. This particular category should be deleted and incorporated into Point 4 (2020), which has more of an ecological flavour with its reference to Earth. And why not just say ‘nature’ rather than ‘creatures’ which implies the existence of a creator and by extension an acknowledgement of the literality of the genesis myth, from which we are trying to distance ourselves.
  6. Points 1 & 2 (2020): These are saying much the same thing, and should be collapsed into one statement. The words ‘a mystical connection to “God” are of doubtful value and probably would raise concern from the uninitiated reader to the quote marks. Aren’t we as self-styled progressives trying to unravel the mystery of how and why humankind has felt it necessary to have something we refer to as ‘god’?
  7. Point 8 (2020): The addition of ‘on this journey towards a personally authentic and meaningful faith’ presents a few issues. One is that I’m sure there are many fundamentalist Christians and Muslims, as well as Buddhists, Baha’is, and other ‘people of faith’ (to use that awful term) who would also claim that they are on a journey towards a personally authentic and meaningful faith. In this context ‘faith’ is a rubbery and not very meaningful term, and we think this point would best be left as it was in 2012.

What are your thoughts?

Paul Inglis October 2021

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God and Kingdom – further from Len Baglow

A response to God and Kingdom by Wally Stratford which was a response to Theology and Advocacy by Len Baglow.

Dear Rev Stratford,
Thank you for taking the time to make a detailed response to my article “Theology and Advocacy”. I enjoyed thinking about your approach.

We do I think differ on several important points. However, hopefully this discussion will help us both deepen our understandings.

Firstly, I would question your claim that “The Old Testament has little to say of the kingdom of God.” I agree with John Bright (1953, 7), the Old Testament scholar who wrote nearly 70 years ago, “For the concept of the Kingdom of God involves, in a real sense, the total message of the Bible. Not only does it loom large in the teaching of Jesus; it is to be found, in one form or another, through the length and breadth of the Bible.” A few pages later he comments cogently, “But ideas are ever larger than the words that carry them” (Bright, 1953,11) I think this is particularly true of the words, “The Kingdom of God’.

Secondly, I am not sure that the most relevant text for understanding the Kingdom of God is Lk 17:20/21: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look here it is’ or ‘there it is! For in fact the kingdom of God is among you”. While Lk 17:20/21 is an important text, there are around 120 other texts dealing with the Kingdom of God. My position is that we must grapple with all of them. Impossible? Yes, but no less important to do. As one grapples with all the texts, one comes to realise more and more, how Jesus’ teaching subverts, challenges, undermines any Kingdoms/Reigns/Estates/Empires that are based on injustice.

Related to this second point is that overemphasizing Luke 17:20/21 can lead to an over spiritualising of the Kingdom of God, as something within our hearts alone or on another plane (spiritual experience) and not something that has existence in the things we do. I think this is highlighted in your comments on Exodus where the actions of Moses are sidelined.

Thirdly I found it difficult to understand what you meant by “I think that, with the advent of Christianity, presence became absence with God relocated to a heavenly place.” Perhaps it makes some sense to me if you mean by Christianity, the form of Christendom that followed from Constantine and which was forming earlier. However, if you mean that with the coming of Jesus and his message “presence became absence with God” that would make no sense. An important assumption of my article is that Jesus’s proclamation of the Kingdom/Reign/Estate/Empire of God makes possible an even closer relationship with what we might call God in the midst of our present world.

Finally, I would answer your question, “Was the real beginning of the Kingdom of God, the start of Christendom in the fifth century?” with a resounding No. The growth of Christendom was for the most part a retreat from Jesus’ radical teachings on and exhortations about the Kingdom of God.

Len Baglow 19/09/21

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Opinion: Suggested Amendments to the QLD VAD Legislation

A PERSONAL RESPONSE TO THE PROPOSED VOLUNTARY ASSISTED DYING (VAD) LEGISLATION SOON TO BE DEBATED IN THE QUEENSLAND PARLIAMENT

The great majority of people in Queensland support some basic form of VAD being endorsed in legislation. I believe it would be politically futile to oppose such a public endorsement.

However I believe we must gather strong support for critical amendments which are listed below:

1.

All VAD legislation must be complemented by an accountable commitment for high quality palliative care, especially to regional Queensland where provision for significant palliative care is virtually non-existent.

2.

Non-government hospitals must be given an ABSOLUTE right to deny any provisions for VAD services in their hospitals. This basic right is fundamental to respect the religious, philosophical and values of all peoples in the Australian constitution.

3,

In the light of serious breaches of initial legislation in some European countries where VAD has been implemented in previous years, no legislation should be enacted until the investigated experiences in other countries be analysed to prevent such happenings in Queensland legislation. Legislation must cover those provisions of the Act where these breaches did occur in those countries.

4.

Public media campaigns for discerned amendments to proposed VAD legislation insist that such a position is founded on basic religious and human rights and is extremely compassionate to alleviate suffering and terminal illness. To imply that those seeking critical amendments lack compassion to the proposed legislation is highly offensive to such committed individuals and groups.

Dr Kevin Treston  September 2021

Kevin has taught and lectured for many years in 14 different countries. He is the author of many books, and a highly respected presenter among Catholic educators. He is also a subscriber to the UCFORUM and a regular participant in our seminars and conversations. Details about his publications can be found by following the link to Book Reviews on this site.

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God and Kingdom – Wally Stratford

I read Len Baglow’s comments [Theology and Advocacy] with interest. Two words stood up for me – namely God and Kingdom. Gods in a variety of shapes have dominated the life of humankind as far back as is possible to trace.

Concepts of God now take me back to two Old Testament stories, one about the beginnings of life, and the other the beginnings of a revamped covenant and a relationship re-established.

The beginnings of life for humankind occurred when God stooped down and breathed into the man’s nostrils. All stories require imagination and reading this story I am led to claim that with the breath we find the spirit. Of each other, they are together the one continual activity that begets and maintains constancy in the business of living. (Gen. 2:7)

The Moses story reintroduces the spirit, but in this story, presence is revealed and then affirmed in the words I AM. An element of the verb to be, it reveals an active attendance of the invisible spirit. This is further sealed in the events that lead the Israelites to freedom and stands by them as they enter their desert journey. (Exodus 3)

I think that, with the advent of Christianity, presence became absence with God relocated to a   heavenly place. Creeds, and words of worship and prayer seem to reinforce this notion.

The Old Testament has little to say of the kingdom of God. Oblique references only can be gleaned. Certainly, God is supreme, sacred, the name of God can never be spoken. It appears to me that the essence of the Old Testament is in God’s sacred presence, ample evidence for this is to be found in the Psalms and among the prophets.

In the New Testament, Kingdom of God appears many times but perhaps Jesus’ comment as reported in Luke’s gospel (Lk 17:20/21): “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look here it is’ or ‘there it is! For in fact the kingdom of God is among you” is most relevant for understanding. It suggests that the thing being searched for is already present within. The claim of ‘kingdom’ always contains a claim of a monarch reigning, so perhaps it all makes more sense if we connect with the alternative reading which presents Jesus words as “The reign of God is within you”. These words recall the sense of presence powerfully present at the beginning of life, and reiterated in the conversation with Moses as I AM.

The kingdom of God may therefore more sensibly, and with greater meaning, be rendered something like – the presence of God as YHWH-spirit is always with you, riding the wind and contained in the breath that keeps one alive.

It may not be as straightforward, but makes more sense, than “Our Father in heaven – thy will be done on earth as in heaven …”

The first four hundred years of the church were tumultuous, with a host of claims and counterclaims about the shape of the faith. Among these, tradition became most important as a safeguard against heresy. Irenaeus claims that “the original revelation is guaranteed by the unbroken succession of bishops in the great sees going back literally to the apostles. Secondly, an additional safeguard is supplied by the Holy Spirit, for the message was committed to the Church, and the Church is the home of the Spirit.” (Kelly p.37).

Allied to tradition as a demonstration of the truths of the church, an “absolute authority was accorded to scripture as a doctrinal norm … as interpreted by the church, it was the source of Christian teaching.” (Kelly p.42). The scriptures were those of the Jews – our Old Testament.

In those years the church suffered persecution, Christians endured martyrdom with an entrenched belief that their soul was safe. Gnosticism became a force to be reckoned with, eventually becoming muted by the many forcefully argued refutations.

The church, after argument and discussion, conferences of bishops, and theological musings, committed to an after-life, and to a Son of God destined to be a king. It was all cemented into place with the conversion of the emperor Constantine, and his declaration of the truth of the Nicene Creed.

Hailed as a Christian Emperor, Constantine’s “death was received with universal manifestations of grief, and his reign was regarded as continuing after his death: his funeral, conducted after the arrival of his second surviving son Constantius, was a magnificent spectacle,” (Stevenson 396).

“By the middle of the fifth century the Roman church had established, de jure as well as de facto, a position of primacy in the West, and the papal claims to supremacy over all bishops of Christendom had been formulated in precise terms.” (Kelly 417).

Is this, I wonder, the real beginning of the Kingdom of God.

Kelly. J.N.D. (ed) Early Christian Doctrines. London: Adam & Charles Black 1960.

Stevenson, J. A (ed) A New Eusebius. London: S.P.C.K. 1960

Rev Walter Stratford, 2021

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