In The Order Of Melchizedek

The meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek. (Dieric Bouts the Elder, 1464–67)
The meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek. (Dieric Bouts the Elder, 1464–67)

Another late night here. I’m just getting in from bible study (a.k.a “small group”). I have to figure out a way to get home sooner most nights of the week. It seems that I get home in just enough time to unwind for half-an-hour before heading to bed. It’s not enough time to spend with myself, especially when I want to update the blog.

Tonight’s bible study topic was the book of Hebrews, covering chapters 6 and 7 in particular. It was interesting to me on several levels. Chapter 6  is an exhortation to the audience to keep the faith and deals specifically with apostasy, a subject covered in brief previously on this blog.

The big question, theologically speaking, is whether or not a true Christian can ever be truly lost or permanently separated from God. Is Christ’s sacrifice efficacious in the forgiveness of sins only once or is does that sacrifice cover a true repentant, even if they’ve fallen away from Christianity previously?

I’m sure these questions have been debated in greater and more philosophical ways than I’m prepared to delve in this space at this time so I’ll give you a link to an interesting article I found whilst preparing for the discussion. The gist is that, even while Christ’s sacrifice remains effective for those who repent and seek him in humility, the warning against “falling away” cannot be wholly discounted. If it could be wholly discounted, it need not have been made in the first place.

While I find that interesting, the more interesting part of the study to me dealt with Melchizedek.  Hebrews 6: 20 declares that Jesus “has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” and chapter 7 goes on to tell about Melchizedek and his relationship to Abram and the Aaronic priesthood.

Many people probably know little to nothing about Melchizedek and, if you don’t, the whole subject is fascinating. Melchizedek is the high priest of God in the time of Abraham an, according to various and sundry traditions, is either a.) Shem, son of Noah, aged 500 years, b.) the son of Noah’s brother (presumably equally aged), c.) without genealogy entirely  or d.) Jesus.

I read through the article on Wikipedia and can recommend it highly to anyone with an interest in biblical subject matter. You can see the various traditions grow from the relatively mundane to the almost wholly mystical. My personal favorite is the take from the Dead Sea Scrolls:

In this […] text Melchizedek is seen as a divine being and Hebrew titles [such] as Elohim are applied to him. According to this text Melchizedek will proclaim the “Day of Atonement” and he will atone for the people who are predestined to him. He also will judge the peoples.

Sounds a lot like Jesus to me.

You should go read the article. Even the Mormons have a take on Melchizedek. Who knew?

The other interesting point from tonight’s discussion revolved around the “certainty of God’s promise”. As any Christian will tell you, God is ever faithful and keeps His promises to us. The question becomes, then, what have we been promised? As heirs of the blessing of Abraham, what can we expect from God?

Obviously we can’t expect a life full of happiness and sunshine from beginning until end. What we can expect is that God’s son Jesus will be present in us and will share with us all life’s joys and sorrows. He will be our ready support through all that comes our way and, if we bear with Him faithfully, we will come to the place that He has prepared for us in His Father’s house.

Other than that, God’s promises to each of us are hard to discern. I do believe that God promises each of us things in this life and the next. We just have to take it as a matter of faith that God is active in our lives and that He can and will keep the promises made.

Until then, we lay hold to the hope set before us and, like Abraham, patiently endure

Wikipedia “Confessions”

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

I got exactly one paragraph into St. Augustine’s “Confessions” before I came across tonight’s Wikipedia entry.

The edition that I’m reading starts with a timeline outlining “the world of Augustine and the Confessions”, beginning in 313 A.D.

Emperors Constantine and Licinius agree on a policy of religious freedom for the whole Roman Empire: The Edict of Milan marks the end of the period of intermittent state persecution of Christians. In Africa, there is growing schism between Christians who continue to identify strongly with the tradition of the martyrs, and those who take a less heroic view of how the church should henceforth define itself. The hardliners, as followers of Donatus, bishop of  Carthage, will be known as Donatists.

Reading this got me geeked up in the extreme and I had to run off to Wikipedia to find out more.  I give you a sample:

The primary disagreement between Donatists and the rest of the early Christian church was over the treatment of those who renounced their faith during the persecution of Roman emperor Diocletian (303–305), a disagreement that had implications both for the Church’s understanding of the Sacrament of Penance and of the other sacraments in general.

The rest of the Church was far more forgiving of these people than the Donatists were. The Donatists refused to accept the sacraments and spiritual authority of the priests and bishops who had fallen away from the faith during the persecution.

On the surface of it, my sympathies lie with the Donatist. I don’t know why exactly. It may be that I have not always been fond of the theology of the Catholic church. It may be that I rebel against the hierarchical nature of the Catholic church. Maybe I just like underdogs and heretics. I dunno.

The Donatist sentiment does seem to jibe well with at least one passage in Hebrews 10, which deals specifically with apostasy.

26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,

27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.

28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.

29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?

30 For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.”

31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings,

33 partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated.

34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.

35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.

36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

37 For yet in a very little while,
He who is coming will come, and will not delay.

38 But My righteous one shall live by faith;
And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.

39 But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

Reading the above passage, it seems that it proscribes falling away due to persecution and denies the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice for those who had accepted and then denied it. I can certainly see the point of the Donatists in this light.

However, I’m a believer in big Grace. We all fall away from God time and again, through our own wilfullness and disobedience, even after we’ve accepted Christ’s sacrifice as payment.

In this light, we all trample Christ underfoot and woe to us all if his sacrifice be insufficient to cover multitudes of sin. I’m more likely to accept the Catholic position that righteousness comes from God no matter the state of man. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Anyway, it seems that the Donatist were not of God but were of man and faded away under the onslaught of the Muslims. It’s an interesting line of inquiry though and one I’ll probably spend more time with in the coming days. Maybe I’ll share additional thoughts here.

Pop, if you’re out there, I’d love to get your input via the comment section. What do you think? Can you shed a little philosophical light on this debate?

Until then, I’m off to read the second paragraph of “Confessions”. At this rate, the blog will be full of Wikipedia commentary by the end of chapter one.

Wikipedia Of The Night

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

Wikipedia is by far my favorite source of information. When I come across something I’m curious to know more about, I turn to Wikipedia. It’s a great way to educate yourself about any particular topic and you learn something new every day.

For example, did you know that the great Jewish teacher, Hillel the Elder, lays claim to the invention of the sandwich, some 1500 years before the Earl of Sandwich? (John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, according to the site.)

I did not know that.

I knew of Hillel only in passing reference, mainly because his famous quote in regards to the Golden Rule: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Law; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” The quote was mentioned as part of the discussion surrounding “The Greatest Commandment” from Mark 12: 29-31, which can be summed up in two parts as love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and, the Golden Rule, love your neighbor as yourself.

It’s funny because we’re not even studying Mark. We’re studying 1st John and were at the tail end of chapter 3. I guess it’s an appropriate discussion to have as Valentine’s Day approaches.

At any rate, it struck my curious nerve so I went digging on Wikipedia to learn more.

And now I’m thinking that the sandwiches we had for dinner should perhaps have been called hillel’s. Pretty sure mine had ham on it. It definitely had bacon on it. Would a ham and bacon hillel even be legal?

It’s probably better than John Montagu got credit for layering food stuffs between two slices of bread. The world just wouldn’t be the same without the BLT.