A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Reading Revelation as Wesleyans #5: A Challenge to the Church and a Critique of the World

Joel Green's fourth theme he gleans from the Book of Revelation in his Reading Scripture as Wesleyans is: "Revelation challenges the church just as it critiques the world-at-large." With the emphasis on empire criticism of late in New Testament studies, what can be neglected in interpreting the Book of Revelation is the fact that it was written first and foremost to the church "which so easily finds itself cozy in the world" (p. 163). Green writes,
Notice in the opening letters of chapters2-3 the presence of the Nicolaitans in Ephesus (2:6) and Pergamum (2:12), and of followers of Jezebel at Pergamum (2:20) and of Balaam at Thyatira (2:18). With those references, John identifies the twin problems of idolatry and immorality--inside the church. This is nothing less than the result of the church's willingness to lose itself through assimilation into the world defined and orchestrated by Rome (p. 163).


Too often Christians fail to employ the kind of ecclesial hermeneutic that understands that throughout most of the Scripture it is first and foremost the people of God that are being addressed. Too much focus on empire in Revelation has almost muted the fact that John is addressing churches pressured by the world into taking up the values of the world. The commands and admonishments of Scripture in the Old Testament are, by and large, directed toward the people of God Israel, and that the New Testament writers shift that focus to God's people the church, while not rejecting that they still apply to Israel. It is the people of God that is to embody the prophets' concern for justice and the Torah's concern for morality and purity. In the prophetic tradition of Israel, John is calling the churches of Revelation to do the same. Contrary to some modern expositions of Christian interpreters, seeking justice is not contrary to the law. There can be no justice apart from law. The prophets never call the people of God to forsake the law; indeed, they call them to return to the law which is the only way to keep the covenant.

And just so in the New Testament, law and grace are not to be interpreted as polar opposites. I am after all a Wesleyan and not a Lutheran. The law itself is a gracious gift from God and grace cannot be embodied without the law. When law excludes grace, law becomes an end in and of itself; when grace excludes law, there can be no order or accountability in the community of faith. Those who make law and grace mutually exclusive misunderstand the nature of both.

The only way that the churches of Revelation can avoid the temptation of submitting themselves to Rome's agenda of assimilation is to be faithful to the "faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 1:3).
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Previous Posts:

Reading Revelation as Wesleyans #1: Introduction

Reading Revelation as Wesleyans #2: Seeing and Responding to the World

Reading Revelation as Wesleyans #3: The Worship of God in All of Life

Reading Revelation as Wesleyans #4: The Need to Resist Competing Stories

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