There are some nutritious and delicious meals that you would never eat if you knew what was in them before you sat down at the table. I would never have had scrambled eggs, for example, if they’d first been described to me as ground-up unfertilized bird embryos.
I had heard bad things about the Jesus Seminar, even though I know it has been influential among the theologians and historians in my own denomination. Nevertheless, my daughter seems to continually accumulate books at our house even though she no longer lives here, and I often glance at them even if I hadn’t intended to put them on my own reading list.
So, about the time I was thinking seriously about the analogies between how people accumulate spiritual wealth and how they accumulate physical wealth, specifically about how people can accumulate wealth by facilitating trade, I saw a copy of John Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus lying on a trunk in our living room, and I looked at the book’s first paragraph: “Overture”.
Now, I care not a whit about the “historical Jesus” unless I come to him with a testimony that He is also a manifestation of the “cosmic Christ”. That’s part of the reason I’d been put off by rumors about the “faithlessness” of the Jesus Seminar in the first place. However, having such a testimony, I want to understand that historical Jesus as closely as I can, not just as disciples interpreted Him decades or even centuries later. And Crossan, who I subsequently realized had co-founded the Seminar, presented a picture of Jesus in his first words that related directly to the question of accumulating spiritual wealth:
“In the beginning was the performance; not the word alone, not the deed alone, but both, each indelibly marked with the other forever. He comes as yet unknown into a hamlet in Lower Galilee. He is watched by the cold, hard eyes of peasants living long enough at subsistence level to know exactly where the line is drawn between poverty and destitution. He looks like a beggar, yet his eyes lack the proper cringe, his voice the proper whine, his walk the proper shuffle. He speaks about the rule of God, and they listen as much from curiosity as anything else. They know all about rule and power, about kingdom and empire, but they know it in terms of tax and debt, malnutrition and sickness, agrarian oppression and demonic possession. What, they really want to know, can this kingdom do for a lame child, a blind parent, a demented soul screaming its tortured isolation among the graves that mark the edge of the village? Jesus walks with them to the tombs, and, in the silence after the exorcism, the villagers listen once more, but now with curiosity giving way to cupidity, fear, and embarrassment. He is invited, as honor demands, to the home of the village leader. He goes, instead, to stay in the home of the dispossessed woman. Not quite proper to be sure, but it would be unwise to censure an exorcist, to criticize a magician. The village could yet broker this power to its surroundings, could give this Kingdom of God a localization, a place to which others would come for healing, a center with honor and patronage enough for all, even, maybe, for that dispossessed woman herself. But the next day he leaves them, and now they wonder aloud about a divine kingdom with no respect for proper protocols…”
Crossan drives the message home in the concluding sentences of his next paragraph:
“You are healed healers, he [Jesus] said, so take the Kingdom to others, for I am not its patron, and you are not its brokers. It is, was, and always will be available to any who want it….Bring a miracle and request a table…”
The phrase “you are not its brokers” stunned me almost as much as the phrase “I am not its patron”. It is almost the exact, egalitarian opposite of everything I’d been taught about the Restoration; we believe we receive the gift of salvation by grace (patronage), and fulfill the purposes of that grace through strict discipline supervised (brokered) by the proper religious authorities and rituals. It was getting the brokers authorized and the rituals right, we think, that the Restoration was all about.
But Crossan is making the argument that “restoring things” (in our terminology) would mean getting back to the Jesus who, for a brief moment, stood against the encrusted religious shell of the established Temple order just as He stood against the encrusted empirical shell of the established political order. The apostasy (again in our terminology) would then have to consist of the very reestablishment of church institutions to broker access to salvation. The problem was the existence of brokers, not the correctness of the institutions or rituals they created to facilitate the brokering.
Indeed, Crossan emphasizes that Jesus did not ask people to support Him or his disciples so that He could work miracles; He inverted the order and gave the miracle first, whether it was repaid or not. So much so that he was first noted as a magician (in the modern sense of sorcerer, not showman) and only then as a wisdom teacher.
Jesus, Crossan asserts, advocated a “brokerless kingdom”. I found that idea, with my modern Western mindset of economics, incomprehensible. But then, the ancient world had found it incomprehensible, too, and so threatening that both religious and political authorities combined to kill Jesus for advocating them.
And then I thought of a subsequent post on the tragedy of the commons by Stephen Marsh. that is really based on a foundational assumption of why economics exist: resources are scarce compared to wants.
The Spirit of God is an inexhaustible resource. And when a resource is truly inexhaustible, and easily obtainable by anyone, it can not be overused, and there is no need for a continuing price mechanism. It can be shared for whatever little is given in return. It does not need to be hoarded for fear our physical needs will go unmet. That applies to all of us, but the example of those who lead may be especially important in convincing the rest of us.
For if there is no need for a price mechanism, there is no need for market makers (brokers) either. Indeed, the only way to create the need for spiritual brokers again is to restrict the flow of the Spirit artificially. If Crossan’s view is correct on the “brokerless Kingdom”, apostasy is exactly the process of artificially restricting the flow of the Spirit for the benefit of the established religious order — regardless of the correctness of the views of the religious order.
Great post. Each kingdom broker is simply a business unit for an open source product.
If Crossan’s view is correct on the “brokerless Kingdom”, apostasy is exactly the process of artificially restricting the flow of the Spirit for the benefit of the established religious order Or so they would have you believe.
Great post. I can see why people say you an Mike S are “compelling” writers. 😉
I like Howard’s software analogy translation too:
“Each kingdom broker is simply a business unit for an open source product.”
You have said in very few words what it took Crossan 500+ pages to convey. Although there were many more details in Crossan’s book. 🙂 Your distilling it like this and connecting it to the Restoration is helpful to my continued thinking about all of this.
Guess I should continue to leave books around at your place.
Buddhist philosophy is an example of a “brokerless kingdom” with inexhaustible spiritual resources available to everyone equally–although teachers can be useful guides to recognizing the resources within.
I look forward to hearing Mike S. comment on that similarity between Buddhism and Crossan’s view of Christianity.
I don’t know whether sharing books is saving the environment or hindering the economic recovery, but I appreciate the book.
Awesome post, Firetag. Crossan is one of my favorite theologians, and I think you’ve done a great job at distilling the crux of his and other “historical Jesus” scholars’ focus on Jesus not as the organizer of a new religion, nor as a substitutionary sacrifice for the world’s sins, but as a teacher who challenged the economic, political, and religious domination systems of his day, encouraging others to partake in God’s Kingdom in the present tense, unmediated through an institution that would be prone to corruption.
In some ways, I see Joseph Smith’s efforts to give the authority of the priesthood to all men as an attempt to disintermediate the concentration of salvific power into the hands of a few, typical of many of the churches of his day. Using the best information he had about Jesus’ life and work as presented in the Gospels, this is perhaps one of the best solutions to the problem of references of authority found in the gospels, and the subversive alternative wherein Jesus seems to grant all people, men, women, and (especially?) children access to the same power and life-giving and life-sustaining spirit. (Aside: sadly, Joseph didn’t live long enough to extend priesthood power to women, although perhaps he might have done so, and was indeed moving in that direction?)
In the institutional Church, however, the granting of priesthood and the right to its exercise was sadly subsumed into an increasingly rigid hierarchical structure of leadership and control, characteristic of most religious domination systems. The result was greater normalcy of worship behavior, and less radical religious expression, but at what cost? If only a few are authorized to receive the mind and will of God, we’re right back to what Jesus seemed to be struggling against, if Crossan’s interpretation is to be accepted. If many of the Jews of Jesus’ day had gone astray, as Jesus often seems to suggest or explicitly state, have we too come to that point in our own church(es)?
I think Crossan would suggest, in his textual studies, that that process was well underway by the time of the earliest gospels in the mainstream Christian canon.
But I don’t think thinking of Jesus as a wisdom teacher exactly gets it either. What he describes in the prologue as the most important chapter in his book makes the REALITY of the miracle essential to anyone listening to the teaching, as I try to emphasize in the selection from the “Overture” in the OP.
He points out that the conflict between religion and magic is often mere bias of the established culture: OUR attempts to interact with the Divine are religion and good; THEIR attempts to interact with the Divine are magic and, therefore, frauds or evil. After a detailed textual analysis of the stories of the miraculous healing of a blind man in which a folk magic ritual is clearly present from the earliest story, Crossan concludes: “In the beginning was the spittle.”
He even goes so far as to use the term “religious banditry”, saying that it is the Robin Hood equivalent of asking in what sense the monopoly of force by a king is different from the alternative monopoly of force employed by a gang (i.e., the Merry Men of Sherwood).
Today, of course, establishments are inclined to say, “We use science; they use religion.” But the sociological carry-over of the argument certainly applies, IMO.
I find equations much more impressive than incantations, after all, but my culture has trained me that way.
Freely give as you have recieved. The wrinkle is how to maintain clarity and accuracy, much likd preserving the kernal in open source.
But the lesson that God is there for everyone, that there is a personal spiritul line that is mediated only by Christ is an important one.
Great post. Without that direct line, you can not have a holy people.
Isn’t something that both of our denominations used to teach is that continuing revelation STOPPED in Christianity because continuing revelation posed too much risk of error unless it was limited to the most spiritually mature — in the eyes of the spiritually mature?
very interesting synopsis of crossan. this makes it clear why so many religious institutions don’t like crossan.
Anything that interrupts the status quo is generally looked upon as a problem by those in power. Even the Jesus Seminar created that problem simply for asking the question, “Who was Jesus?”
In many ways the Restoration did the same thing. And now, there are some who are question what the restoration has morphed itself into.
It’s all good.
And don’t forget the horizontal oppression of ideas too. I would say that is more of a problem than the “higher ups”. It’s the horizontals that keep people on the farm.
In a comment, you mentioned Isn’t something that both of our denominations used to teach is that continuing revelation STOPPED in Christianity
Perhaps someone here can help me with a question I have had to which I’ve never really had a satisfactory answer.
From the time of the initial church (2000 years ago), we talk about how various teachings changed. Policies were modified as time went by and different things were emphasized. We call this change apostasy. We also claim that as a result of these changes, the “original” gospel had to be restored, hence the need for Joseph Smith to restore things to how they “should be”.
Since Joseph Smith’s time, things have changed drastically in our own church. Things which Joseph Smith and Brigham Young originally taught and practices themselves will now not only keep you out of the temple, but will get you excommunicated. Fundamental doctrines changed with regards to blacks, polygamy, “Celestial marriage”, etc. We accept all this because of a belief in continuing revelation.
So, how come if things change in the LDS Church, it is because of continuing revelation or inspiration, but when things changed in the original church it was apostasy. Are the converse things possible?
1) Could the changes made to the original church ALSO have been a result of inspiration or revelation? They were certainly apostles and leaders just like we have. There were certainly God-fearing men. There were some who had foibles, but we have had our share in the LDS Church.
2) There is probably as much difference between the LDS Church now and the Church in Joseph Smith’s time as there was between early Christianity and middle Christianity. If that was because of “apostasy”, could the fundamentalist LDS folks be right and could the same thing have happened to us?
Just a few thoughts.
Good questions. I think we have to judge whether the changes made are inspired or apostasy by whether they seem to take us closer to or farther away from the standard we profess to hold. Is the light in our souls brightening or dimming?
In physics, we have conserved quantities in any interaction (e.g., energy) that help us keep track of how things are really changing.
In the Community of Christ, we say repeatedly that we are to give up sectarian uniqueness in order to better follow Jesus Christ as a church, but what we often seem to be doing in reality is “conserving” the church. Crossan’s views are so challenging precisely because they suggest Jesus felt no need to conserve the church because there was “always more where that batch came from”.
This will definitely make for interesting reading of the scriptures for the NT and BoM when I go through them again. In the OT it seems that the hierarchy was encouraged to a certain extent.
The BoM did talk about the people that thought they had to go to the top of the tower to worship God but then learned that they didn’t really need to. It also makes me think of Alma the younger. Been a while since I read the BoM so it will be nice to get that perspective again, once I get through the OT.
As I’ve gone back and reread the OP, thinking about various things, this line stood out for me: The apostasy (again in our terminology) would then have to consist of the very reestablishment of church institutions to broker access to salvation.
I wonder. A couple situations:
– According to the latest CHI, an otherwise worthy Melchizedek priesthood holder (having the power to act in God’s name) is not allowed to give his son or daughter the gift of the Holy Ghost after baptizing him/her UNLESS he is TR-worthy including, among other things, being current in his payment of tithing to the institution of the LDS Church.
– Wine was instituted by Christ himself for use in the sacrament. This predates the existence of the LDS Church. And for decades in the LDS Church, wine was still used for the sacrament, including in the temple into the 1900’s. Around prohibition, the institution decided that the ban on all alcohol was even inclusive enough to change the fundamental ordinance Christ set up to remember Him. (And ironically, there is probably more alcohol in a dose of cough medicine than someone would get in the sacrament) Have we changed a fundamental ordinance between a person and God to satisfy an institution?
I have always felt a distaste towards these and other situations, but I could never quite articulate why until now. Are these examples of a religious institution brokering access to salvation?
If Crossan is right, and we think about the artificial restriction of the flow of the inexhaustible Holy Spirit as the brokering to which Jesus so objected (Remember, the overturning of the moneychangers in the Temple is the most dramatic example we have of Jesus “taking names”.), then we have to try to discern what the effect of those positions was. Jesus, according to Crossan, gave the miracle first, with or without repayment, so the burden of proof would seem to be on showing why restricting the flow would be in the interest of the recipient. Blessings are NOT a scarce resource.
We both have to learn to read faster. 😀
Mike, you asked several questions I thought were interesting. I hope this isn’t a threadjack.
1) Could the changes made to the original church ALSO have been a result of inspiration or revelation?
I think the whole idea of circumcision could be termed under this idea of ‘is it apostasy or revelation?’ For some jews, not requiring circumcision was apostasy. Fortunately for gentile Christians, this was emphasized as revelation.
could the fundamentalist LDS folks be right and could the same thing have happened to us?
Prior to this question, you referenced several items. I believe the FLDS church still observes the priesthood ban, but I don’t believe this is a fundamental doctrine for several reasons. I did a post a few years ago about Early Black Mormons who held the priesthood. I don’t believe the priesthood ban was ever a revelation for several reasons, and I will outline a few of them here.
Reason #1: Six black men have been documented with the priesthood prior to Joseph’s death by Connell O’Donovan. Their names are Black Pete (baptized others into the church), Joseph Ball (branch president in Boston), Elijah Abel (served 3 missions and received the Kirtland endowment), Isaac Van Meter, Walker Lewis, Enoch Lewis (son of Walker), and William McCary.
#2: The RLDS and Strangite churches never had any sort of a ban (because Joseph never voiced such a ban).
#3: David O. McKay said the ban was ‘policy’, not doctrine. See Was Priesthood Ban Inspired?
So, I would say that Brigham was part of an apostasy with regards to the ban, and that was finally rectified in 1978 with a restoration of the former policy.
Now on the other hand, I don’t want to throw Brigham under the bus completely. It seems to me that some fundamentalist Mormons practice Consecration and United Order. It is my belief that Brigham’s implementation of this policy was much more inspired and successful than anything Joseph put forward. Brigham’s revelation and inspiration for implementing Consecration was far superior to anything Joseph did.
Finally, let’s address polygamy. I think the sealing ordinance was a real stroke of inspiration and revelation by Joseph. Tying it to polygamy was a mistake, IMO. It appears to me that Brigham did an admirable job of implementing polygamy in Utah, and used it to “share the wealth” for poor women. But I think the whole idea of polygamy was either wrongheaded from the start, or was only to be practiced for a short time as the Book of Mormon says “If the Lord commands it.” It is my belief that the brethren weren’t listening to the Lord on this, and so the U.S. government was inspired to coercively stop the practice. In the process, the government also stopped consecration.
In summary, the sealing ordinance is a wonderful revelation, but polygamy is a sign of apostasy, IMO.
So, the fundamentalists have consecration right, but that’s about it, IMO.
I actually with all of your points, including your summary about fundamentalists and consecration.
But your arguments actually support what I was trying to articulate. We have had doctrines that changed all over the place – fundamental ones of eternal significance to many people.
Blacks COULD have the priesthood. Blacks could NOT have the priesthood. Blacks COULD have priesthood. Going to the temple is the capstone of the LDS experience and has true eternal significance. And people were denied this.
And polygamy. JS practiced it secretly, even hiding it from his wife. BY more openly. People married other men’s wives. Leaders taught that monogamy was evil and lead to the downfall of empires. But polygamy is wrong. Polygamy will get you excommunicated. Who knows?
Again, if our own practices are ALL OVER THE PLACE and if, as you suggest, even the US government needs to “correct” our own prophets, why are we so quick to label the exact same things happening in the meridian of time as “The Great Apostasy”? Aren’t we doing nothing more or less than the same thing?
If I may reemphasize the point of the original post, see how easily we fall into the habit of discussing apostasy in terms of correct or incorrect beliefs and rituals?
“For if there is no need for a price mechanism, there is no need for market makers (brokers) either. Indeed, the only way to create the need for spiritual brokers again is to restrict the flow of the Spirit artificially. If Crossan’s view is correct on the “brokerless Kingdom”, apostasy is exactly the process of artificially restricting the flow of the Spirit for the benefit of the established religious order — REGARDLESS OF THE CORRECTNESS OF THE VIEWS OF THE RELIGIOUS ORDER.”
This makes me think of trying to live the law of Christ regardless of the wickedness around us. Very difficult indeed. It’s easy to make up excuses for the wickedness around us to say that we need not live the law of Christ.
I shouldn’t bring politics but you guys know that’s how I make sense of the world already. But when I conjecture that the millennium will be more of an anarcho-capitalistic society people say, but Jesus will be our King, how is that anarchy? I answer, but isn’t he our King already? Did not Joseph say that he teaches the people correct principles and then they rule themselves? Likewise, I think in the end we are responsible for our own salvation through Christ and we seek for guidance from Him and not man. He gives us angels (others around us, like prophets) to help guide us in the path back to him and we can use the HG to help discern truth, if but we are as little children, willing to listen.
A question that I have is how can truth only come from the Prophet but not from prophets all around us? I think revelations come to more than just the hierarchy. Just as Moses’ people prophesied truths, it wasn’t just for Moses alone.
It will be interesting to read the scriptures from this point of view. I think there is an hierarchy that is given from God but why does it corrupt (assuming a corruption) so? I guess in the end we are all imperfect instruments.
Just some thoughts out loud.
mike, I never disagreed with your premise of apostasy/revelation. one man’s apostasy is another man’s revelation. but I am disagreeing about whether the fundamentalists have it right.
crossan has an interesting take of the parable of the mustard seed in the documentary ‘the first christians.’ he says that when jesus compares the kingdom of god to a mustard seed, it is an odd reference because mustard was more like a weed. why would jesus compare the kingdom of god to a weed?
crossan indicated that many would try to control or contain it, yet christ’s gospel would spread like a weed. at the time, I thought he was referring to the roman empire trying to control or contain christianity. in light of firetag’s post, it seems crossan was sending a different message.
Great point. I hadn’t thought of it in that way, but it makes a lot of sense. I think I’m going to look into Crossan – sounds interesting.
Were you going to respond to #6? I would be interesting in reading about that too.
FireTag that wasn’t the reason revelation stopped, apostasy was.
I should probably have said “revelation stopped being accepted”; the religious leaders thought their flocks would be too likely to make religious errors unless correct doctrine was “filtered” first. Cutting people off from direct access to the Spirit was for their own good, you know. 😀
I’ve thought about this, and hope for some clarification… but isn’t this preaching the essence of Romans 14?
In other words, according to this passage in Romans, the best way to live life is to live it for yourself – stop policing behavior, stop enforcing rules… start allowing people to live life as they see fit, and not as you, or the institution or whomever else is in your way sees fit.
If this brokerless kingdom is predicated on the flow of the Spirit, and not the correctness of our beliefs, then it would seem to suggest that allowing people to follow the Spirit – even AND especially when we think they’re wrong – is the appropriate course.
To take this a step further and apply it to the here and now, single men and women over a certain age are restricted in their ability to serve a mission for the LDS church. For men, I think that’s in their late 20s, for women a little later one. So if a guy, age 28, decides to get baptized and wants to serve a mission… the church forbids him from doing so because of some arbitrary age limit.
For that man, it would seem that that decision is limiting the flow of the Spirit, especially if he has a testimony that he should be serving a mission. The age limit may have some very valid reason for being there and may be of no good/bad… but for this person, it restricts the flow of the Spirit…which would put an “apostasy” meter on a personal level.
Institutions act as they do, but sometimes that’s good for some people and bad for others. Is “apostasy” an individual thing, where individuals must open access to the SPirit to flow freely irregardless of what the Institution does?
After reading this, it would seem that the whole structure of the LDS church restricts the flow of the spirit.
When the Prophet speaks…
Denied access to blacks and other groups.
The list goes on.
What are we to think of this?
I didn’t write the post to pick on the LDS, in this regard. I can see the same thing in the CofChrist, and in all of the organized religions with which I have acquaintance.
I increasingly see restoration and apostasy as constant opposing processes — perhaps relating to that fundamental decision spoken about in the JST of Genesis. Does God make man in His image by freeing him to make mistakes and healing them from the consequences of those mistakes (Jesus), or by preventing the possibility of mistakes in the first place, thereby promoting oneselve to a higher place of “glory” (Satan)?
Did you ever see pictures of pillow lava erupting under water? The hot flow gets encrusted over by the water until it stops, but as long as the source continues, the heat breaks through somewhere else, and the flow is restored.
That’s a good point about personal responsibility in restricting the flow of the Spirit.
I think your point about Romans is also valid, and shows the process Crossan speaks of continuing in the church during the Pauline era and the next generation of those he converted. The early writings of Paul show more of this “let the spirit flow” attitude than do later writings that are of doubtful attribution or that show evidence of later editing.
Rich Brown, who was editor for the CofChrist’s magazine for a number of years, has written a short book on “the New Perspective on Paul” that I’ve found useful in understanding these issues.