Chrysostom, Judaism, and the Cessasionists

Being born and bred in Pentecostal churches, my ears always perk up when miracles pop up in what I’m reading. I love when God choses to heal bodies, or generally do anything like that. I have plenty of gripes with the charismatic movements, but it’s still my home (and my heritage), and I’m happy to be here for now.

Anyway, here’s an interesting tidbit from John Chrysostom’s Homilies on the Psalms. In this one he’s addressing Psalm 109. It seems that most of the homily is devoted to refuting non-orthodox viewpoints, and he begins by attacking the Jewish interpretation. Here’s an excerpt where he interrogates a rhetorically created Jew:

But if you attack our [beliefs], O Jew,[*] what will you say in defense of the Old [Testament]? If someone were to say to you, “Why are the things of Moses true?” What would you say? “Because we believe them.” Certainly this is not any better than us, for we also believe, and you are but one nation, but we are of the whole world! You are convinced by the things of Moses, just as we are convinced by Christ, and what you make the end, we make the foundation. Do you believe because of the prophecies? But we have many more! So if you do away with ours, you overshadow your own as well. Do you believe because of miracles? But you have none to show except the signs of Moses, and these have come and gone. But we have the miracles of Christ, which are varied and abundant, and which happen even to the present day, and we have prophecies that surpass the brightness of the sun! Do you believe because of the laws? But our philosophy is superior to these. Why then? Because he led you away from the bondage of the Egyptians? But this is not equal at all to the hostile world, which the Egyptians by themselves do not surpass.

John Chrysostom, Homily on Psalm 109 (LXX), from Patrologia Graeca 55.266-267, my own translation.

I bolded the part that jumped out at me. John’s line of reasoning is pretty interesting here. He doesn’t simply cite the miracles of Christ recorded in the gospels, but he cites the miracles that “happen even to the present day,” which is a much bolder claim. This also makes me wonder if the “prophecies that surpass the brightness of the sun” might include more than the prophecies of Christ in the OT. I’d be surprised if he didn’t have Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple in mind. He may even have Christian prophets in mind as well, though that would be difficult to argue from this passage alone. The “but we have many more” would lead me to think he’s referring to prophecies that the Jews wouldn’t accept, which would include anything in the NT, but also extra-canonical Christian prophecy.

In terms of representing Jewish belief, I initially thought that John was being unfair here. After all, there were other miracles in the Old Testament. You had Joshua and the Sun, and Elisha and Elijah come to mind. However it looks like he narrows the comparison from OT and NT to Moses and Jesus as points of comparison. Christ as risen Lord would then be able to perform miracles “up until the present day,” while Moses could not. (Though would John have thought dead saints could perform miracles?). Of course, he does move back and forth quite easily between Moses and the Old Testament in general, because he goes on to say, “I say these thing, not to make the Old fight with the New…” I suppose that’s another sign of John’s great rhetorical skill, that he can slip easily between different referents to draw out the one that is most advantageous to him. We may not care for it, but it undoubtedly made for good rhetoric, and would’ve been fun to listen to.

[*] “O Jew” rings loudly in my ears too. I hate the Christianity has a long streak of anti-Semitism, and it’s certainly a nasty, nasty stain for us to bear. But let’s not judge John too quickly, even if he sounds harsh to post-holocaust ears.

Participation as a Correction of “Dominion Theology”

As I’ve been thinking more about the topic of participation in Paul’s letters, I’ve realized that participation theology (that is, a solid understanding of the believer dying and rising with Christ), may serve as a needed corrected to some aspects of Charismatic theology. Let’s start with a bit of background. Protestantism historically has embraced a pessimistic attitude toward humanity, even toward the believer. Especially for Luther, the believer remains plagued with sin, while still a saint, and must cling by faith to the coming deliverance of Christ. Justification is something God does for the believer, once and for all, in the cross. It is imputed to the believer, but the believer’s is still torn between both flesh and Spirit (à la Romans 7). There may also be a tendency to delay the “good things” about believers into a future age, whether it’s inheritance, sanctification, etc.

What a lot of Charismatic theology has done is reclaim the good things the New Testament has to say about the believer. Charismatics love passages like Ephesians 2:3-10, where the believers are portrayed as being seated with Christ in the Heavenly realms. We love Romans 8, and the triumphant “Life by the Spirit.” We love 2 Cor 5:17-21, where the believer is called a new creation! We definitely love statements like, “As the father has sent me, so I send you.” The miraculous aspects of Jesus’ ministry typically follow. Some Charismatics go so far to promulgate a “Dominion Theology” where Christians are supposed to “reign with Jesus” in places of leadership throughout the secular world. See this for a bit more info.

On the whole, I think this a good progression from Luther’s pessimism, but it does have some problems. First, there are a few practical problems. An exalted view of the believer is an easy recipe for spiritual arrogance and pride. The prosperity gospel probably came from this imbalance. Also, it can lead to some existential quandaries. Sometimes, life sucks. Even if I’m a son of God, I sure don’t always feel like it! Along with this, any struggle is automatically because of demonic oppression. Or, if God doesn’t answer my prayer, my faith is really shaken!

The traditional doctrine of justification actually encourages these, in my mind. The problem is that the cross is thought of primarily (or exclusively) as something that God did through Jesus for us. This is absolutely true! But it’s not the complete story. We are also called to emulate the cross, to participate in the dying and rising with Christ. We Charismatics love to emphasize the power of resurrection without the suffering of the cross, but God calls us to both. They’re definitely linked in Paul’s mind. Philippians 3:10-11 is a very good example of this, “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” This balance is absolutely crucial. It helps us make sense of the challenges of life (which sometimes get downright terrible; but then again, so was the cross!). I helps us make sense of the awesome points of life (after all, we’re sharing in the power of his resurrection!). It helps us remember that the way to exaltation and glorification is through the the Cross, the way of humility. We are heirs with Christ, but this involves sharing in his suffering (Romans 8:17).

Overall, I think that a robust “participationist” reading of Paul will help us live much more effectively. It helps us remain humble in suffering while celebrating the glorious parts in the life of the believer. Charismatics heartily embrace the power of the Resurrection. Hopefully we can embrace the suffering of the Cross as well.

~alex