Monday, February 18, 2008

Jesus died in order to ...make the church

Mike Bird has a recent post in which he suggests that a primary goal of Jesus' death was the creation of the Church as a movement.

I believe that thesis to be fundamentally correct.

Mike in his post mentions only a couple of reasons for his holding this view (and they're not very good ones IMO). However there are numerous reasons for holding this view. I recommend Paul on the Cross: Reconstructing the Apostle's Story of Redemption by David A. Brondos, 2006, for a really good analysis of Paul's soteriology which argues that Paul's view was primarily that Christ's life and death were focused on creating the Church movement.

In such a view, the church is a movement founded by Christ which has the role of spreading his teachings to transform people's lives and the world. That role is seen as so important that one of Christ's purposes, perhaps his only purpose, was to create the church movement. In such a reading, Christ's death is no longer a supernatural event which atones for the sins of the world, but rather a historical event in which Jesus dies as a martyr for the sake of the movement he is trying to found - a movement that he hopes will change the world. History shows that the church movement has affected the lives of billions of people.

The view that Christ gave his life and was resurrected for the purpose of founding the church is attested in post-biblical literature as early as the writings of Ignatius (~110AD), and Jesus is depicted as a martyr in the Martyrdom of Polycarp (~150AD). Such a view, as Brondos demonstrates in the book referenced above, has a great deal of explanatory power when it comes to the writings of Paul. Paul says things like "in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church." (Col 1:24)

Also important in my view is that such a view ties the story and theology of the gospels to the story and theology of the NT epistles. If someone heard the gospel accounts they would never guess that Jesus had died a Penal Substitutionary death for the sins of the world unless someone explicitly explained this to them - which makes me wonder where the NT church could have got the idea of Penal Substitution from if they believed it (which I don't think they did). But a person reading the gospels would say that Jesus had died for his cause to found his movement - scholars who focus on the gospels seem to be in widespread agreement that the gospels depict Jesus death as a martyrdom. Recent research has also demonstrated that the "Christ died for us" phrases that Paul loves using have their background in the milieu of Greek martyrdoms - Christ's martyrdom was done in order to found the church and through it help us. This view thus ties Paul's theology into the gospels - they have the same message: Jesus teaches, dies and is resurrected with the purpose of founding the church movement which now has a mission to go out and change the world doing "greater works" than Jesus (John 14:12).


Blogger Katherine said...

Hi Andrew. This was very helpful.

Blogger EONsim said...

I take it your using church in that it means, a group that follow Christ's teachings. Rather than in church being the actual organisation as such.

Blogger Jim said...

What then is the purpose of his resurrection in this view?

Given one of my personal gripes with penal subsititution is that it focuses so much on Jesus' death and is a model that does not require a resurrection... (along with ignoring anything he said/ did/ taught before being crucified)

Blogger Andrew said...

The resurrection is God's vindication of Christ. It is God's public statement that he endorses Christ's life, teachings and movement, and an implicit promise of reward to those who follow Christ.

In short, it is demonstrative proof by God that there is life after death in which God acts to reward those who are Jesus', thus encouraging people to be prepared to make sacrifices to join Jesus' movement.

Blogger Christina said...

Ha, I've never heard that one before :D I'm wondering if our idea of 'church' is different than Christ's or the early church?

We seem to see it as a large organisation (sort of like a modern, capitalistic corporation or business), and they saw it more like a virus or meme that affects small groups or individuals at a time.

I've started reading bits and pieces about the Orthodox church, and it looks a lot like that's how 'the church' was heading (partly due to hard-out torture, which may have limited membership a bit) until good old Constantine hijacked it and turned it into a state religion. Makes me wonder if we should give the meme thing a go.


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