Sunday, April 20, 2008

Repairing the Torn Veil

Part I: The Bad News First

“… only one conclusion is possible… religion that human beings must get right in order to have a correct relationship with god – is a subject that shouldn’t be given Christian houseroom… There were no works of any kind we had to get right to achieve the relationship; we had only to trust him and be pleasantly surprised at the light burden he had substituted for the iron yoke of religion” Fr. Robert Capon

“Therefore, when Jesus would say to people “your sins are forgiven” (see Matthew 9:2; Luke 7:6-50), he was not just being a source of encouragement to hurting people. He was completely bypassing the religious system of his day and helping people connect with God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness, directly… So offering forgiveness to sinners directly was, in a way, both a creative and destructive gesture. Creative for the human spirit; destructive for the religious system. At the same moment he was building people up, Jesus was also tearing religion down.” Bruxy Cavey, The End of Religion, pg. 135.

Bruxy Cavey quotes William C. Plancher as saying,
“’If you couldn’t buy the right kind of animal, then how could you sacrifice? If you couldn’t sacrifice, why have a Temple? By his actions, Jesus seems to be challenging the very basis of religion’”

Herbert Haag, in his book “Upstairs Downstairs: Did Jesus Want a Two-Class Church?”, shares this same opinion:
“Jesus’ threats of the imminent destruction of the Temple should not be overlooked… When Jesus announces that he will rebuild the destroyed Temple in three days, this can only mean the absolute end of the Jerusalem Temple and of any earthly temple at all, and indeed not just of the Temple as a building but of it as it functioned in the way Jesus had experienced it… [D]riving the traders out of the Temple [and] the expulsion of those selling animals and the action against the money-changers… can only have been directed against the Temple practice of sacrifice…If Jesus drives out those buying and selling animals and overturns the tables of the money-changers – all of which was necessary for the conduct of sacrifices – then he makes the whole traditional ritual of sacrifice impossible, he proclaims it to be over and done with… One should indeed bear in mind “that the Temple ritual was genuinely for Israel a heavenly gift through which God wished to save his people from the consequences of their sins and trespasses… When Jesus started driving the traders and buyers out of the Temple and when he overturned the tables of the money-changers and of the pigeon-sellers, then he was offending against the only thing that could secure the continued existence of the people of God’.” Herbert Haag, “Upstairs Downstairs: Did Jesus Want a Two-Class Church?”, pg. 52-53.

Its interesting that the book’s title questions a two-class system – or more specifically, a priesthood-class; Clergy and laity. It made me question, what exactly did Jesus ‘banish’ at the temple?
“…he was upset with the institution’s financial practices, charging too much money for their services and the like. But the meaning runs deeper than that. A den of robbers is not a place where thieves go to rob people, but where they go to hide out after they have done the robbing. The religious system of Israel (like any religious system today) was repeatedly used as a spiritual hideout for people with a guilty conscience. Rather than change how they lived, the people of Israel simply added a little religion to their lives to keep everything balanced. Like the godfather going to Mass on Sunday morning or going to confessional before returning to his life of crime, religious systems make it all too easy for self-centered people to find comfort in familiar rituals without experiencing a change of heart or committing to a life of love.” Bruxy Cavey, The End of Religion, pg. 136-137.

I cannot help but think of Roman Catholicism because of the references to the Mass and the Sacrament of Confession. It has also made me think that the Temple System that Jesus was so set against is very similar to Sacramental Theology. And Sacramental Theology requires a priesthood-class.

It would seem to be that those denominations that subscribe to Sacramental Theology also adhere to the need of those who administer the sacraments. This would specifically be the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and most Orthodox Churches. They would seem to be attempted to repair the veil Jesus torn upon his death. The symbolism is very important because it would be an attempt to undo what Christ had done.

However, before we begin taking the splinter out of our brothers’ eye, maybe we should also check to see if we’ve a log in ours.

Protestantism has done away with the priesthood-class. There are no Protestant priests. Ministers and Pastors, yes, but Ministers and Pastors are not Priests. The difference may be technical or even semantic to some people, but they are not the same thing.
“Some Christians not only call the building they meet in their “church” but they also call a special room where they hold Sunday services the “sanctuary”, a word that means the sacred place where God dwells. And, to confuse our minds just a little bit more, at the front of the sanctuary is often a big table called the “altar”, a word that refers to the place of animal sacrifice in Old Testament ritual.” Bruxy Cavey, The End of Religion, pg. 139.

However, Protestantism – for the most part – maintains the tithing system. Tithing is directly linked to a priesthood-class. Although I don’t personally agree with Sacramental Theology, and by implication those that would administer sacraments (a clergy or priest-class), I have to admit, at least the Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox aren’t playing both sides of the fence. How can the modern Protestant church seriously justify tithing?

“It is biblical”
No, actually, it isn’t. It was biblical for the support of a priest-class, which Jesus did away with.

“It is necessary to support the Establishment/Institution”
(This sounds dangerously close to attempting to repair the torn veil). This reasoning becomes justification for the price of admission. Therefore church would become a show, a stage, entertainment, a spectator sport. I can understand this logic to a certain point. If I were to frequent, let’s say Good Life Fitness, I should expect to pay its fees or membership fee at least. I am, in essence, a member of a club. Now this is fine and fair, however, this is not tithing and under no circumstance should be called such. Also there is the issue of the exclusivity of being a club member. This would seem to fly in the face of some of Christ’s core teachings.

Or, this “It is necessary to support the Establishment/Institution” argument must be some sort of insurance premium paid. If I don’t buy the insurance policy, I shouldn’t expect to benefit when in trouble or in need. Again, this isn’t tithing. In fact, this is closer to blackmail.

Now, I’m not suggesting that this is actually what Protestant churches are actually doing. What I am saying is that you cannot justify tithing once the priest-class has been abolished.

My point being the “Bad News” is religion itself.

Part II: Now the Good News
“Jesus seems to be saying that God’s presence is best experienced in the sacred space that exists between people when love is offered and received rather than in special buildings or pious places.” Bruxy Cavey, The End of Religion, pg. 137.

Now, many of you may be familiar with the aversion I have to what I usually call The Evangelical One-Two-Punch; First the Bad News and only then the Good News.

The first ‘punch’ is the Bad News – “you’re a sinner and you’re going to hell!” Then the second ‘punch’, the Good News – there’s hope in Jesus Christ. Just come to church and… etc., etc., etc.,… you get the idea.

However, I’m going to come across as a complete hypocrite and actually use the One-Two-Punch method of first the Bad News and then the Good News. However, I am going to use the definition Fr. Robert Capon uses for the Bad News.
“In spite of the fact that the Good News of Jesus Christ (to give Christianity one of its own titles of preference) has been seen as a religion by outsiders and been sold as one by its adherents, it is not a religion at all. Rather, it is the announcement of the end of religion... far from supplanting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul actually rescued the Good News of Jesus from the danger of being converted into the bad news of religion... That is why the Gospel alone is Good News and all the religions of the world – whether they're about God or some lesser thing – are bad news.”

Religion itself is the Bad News, and it is Religion itself that Jesus saves us from. Not necessarily from our sin.

But the issue that should actually force us into some serious thought, is when we look at the Bad News as religion itself (and Christianity is a religion), then what exactly does the Good News looks like now?

I will again quote from Fr. Robert Capon:
“...our baptisms (to come finally to the root sacrament of the Good News) do not divide the world into the saved (us, inside) and the lost (them, outside). Baptism – and the church it constitutes – is simply the authentic, effective sign of the mystery of the Christ who has already saved all, whether in or out.”

Once successfully freed from Religion, the Good News becomes a celebration! It becomes a mind-opening experience. It forces us not only to admit, but to legitimately see how 'big', how incredibly huge and magnificent God really is. God's love and mercy and grace no only breaks through the man-made boundaries of Religions – it decimates them!

I realize this concept terrifies many Religionists. I like what passinthru from TheOoze had to say about this:

“Once I realized my box was woefully insufficient, I started to discover that God is in so many places I once thought impossible for him to be. I discovered that when a human being helps another human being out of compassion, that regardless of the face of their faith, God is there. That when a father is utterly devoted to his family and treats them with genuine love, tenderness and respect, that regardless of what name he calls God, God is also there. God is in every true act of charity, in every landscape of breathtaking beauty, in every bar of uplifting music, in every drop of life-giving rain, and in every word on behalf of one who is defenseless, in everything of beauty and worth.

“I'm not saying I'm necessarily a Universalist. But I am saying that I don't believe that all of the actions and words of non-Christians are completely devoid of His nature and His truth.”

This topic can be engaged in conversation at TheOoze's Repairing the Torn Veil.

- continued on Misconceptions

1 comment:

T-chan said...

I would like to know the connection between the destroyed temple, the torn veil and the cross of Christ.

Great article Seth