Tuesday, December 01, 2009

What local churches are missing

I think that local churches are missing out the whole chunk of socio-political setting within the canon as well as Christian history, especially the Reformation. To think the Reformation was essentially a religious reform is a historical mistake.

Take Martin Luther as an example. At that time he was the professor of theology in University of Wittenberg, which owned by Frederick the Wise who was one of the princes that governed Saxony (a state in east central Germany). The church under the pope has taken many of Saxony's finances through the church's sale of indulgences. And Frederick who owned many holy relics was losing his business to the indulgences.* When Luther attacked the church's sales of indulgences, naturally Frederick saw Luther as a harbinger of incoming fortunes. If Luther's denunciation of the indulgences is widely accepted by the public, then people will turn to devote on Frederick's collection of relics for penance**. This contributes to the reasons, along his political ambition to establish more independence for his territory, why Frederick helped and protected Luther from the pope. What we see here is the intertwined relationship between theology with economy and socio-politic, where certain theology is preferred due to its economic and political benefits. (Since devotion to relics is also bad theology. But that did not matter to Frederick, as right religiosity was not his primary concern then).

(Now a question worth asking concerning Luther's 95 theses is this: Since Frederick was Luther's employer, could he had any influence over the latter's 95 theses? If yes, was it dictated or suggested or 'inspired' by Frederick?)

Besides, in ancient cosmology, 'salvation' is always intertwined with socio-politics. Not to mention 'theology'.

Douglas Harink wrote in Apocalypsis and Polis: Pauline Reflections on the Theological Politics of Yoder, Hauerwas, and Milbank:

"Paul's mission... must be understood as an announcement among the nations of God's new empire, established in the crucifixion and resurrection of God's Son, Jesus Christ, an empire which infiltrates and undermines Roman imperial order, including its cultic, political, social and economic manifestations."

James R. Harrison wrote in ‘The Ultimate Sinner’: Paul & the Antichrist in Political Context:

"[Paul] is a highly adaptable political thinker who engages the ‘powers that be’ in the differing pastoral and social contexts of his house churches and who critiques the alternate imperial gospel in light of the gospel of the risen and reigning Lord."

Richard Beck wrote:

"We generally think the Old Testament writers were monotheists. It is true that there are Old Testament passages that seem to support a strict monotheistic cosmology, where one God and only this one God exists in the heavenly realm. But there are many more Old Testament passages that suggest that the Hebrews held a polytheistic cosmology. In this cosmology Yahweh was the patron god of Israel while other nations had their own patron deities. Consequently, wars between nations were also viewed as cosmic conflicts, as a fight between the two nation gods. And the war on "earth" was determined by the outcome of this war in "heaven," won by the nation with the stronger god. Take, as an example, the Exodus. Pharaoh wasn't just a king. Pharaoh, according to Egyptian cosmology, was a god. Thus, the conflict in the book of Exodus isn't between Moses and Pharaoh. The conflict is between Yahweh and Pharaoh, between two nation gods. This is why we have the ten plagues. The plagues show Yahweh to be the greater god."

That's why I'm so eager to read 'A Political History of Early Christianity' by Allen Brent. But no credit card to get it from Amazon.com, so have to wait TTC library to ship the book in, IF & only IF they do ship it in.

*Geoffrey Rudolph Elton, Reformation Europe, 1517-1559 (UK: Blackwell, 2nd ed., 1999), p.4.

** It was recorded that Frederick possessed a total of 19,013 relics. 'Frederick III of Saxony', in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, vol. 2, Hans J. Hillerbrand, ed., (UK: Oxford University Press, 1996), 139.

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