Tag Archives: Self-Denial

Humiliation for Exaltation

It seems not only that Christ creates the Church by dying and rising again, but that within Him and especially within His death and resurrection the Church is actually present (Ramsey, 17).

Jesus Christ, in His solitary obedience, is the Church (Ramsey, 18).

Ramsey’s second chapter is titled “One Died for All.”  I remember that this chapter was the hardest one for me to get though–not necessarily because it was complicated, but because it was a time in the semester where I was over-tired and under-slept.   With that in mind, it’s a joy to reread it.  The two quotes above come from the second half of the chapter.  Ramsey’s point is to deepen our understanding of what he discussed in the first chapter: that the Church was not founded by Jesus’ apostles, but by Jesus himself, and that the purpose of the Church is to be discovered in His death and resurrection.

We must search for the fact of the Church not beyond Calvary and Easter but within them (Ramsey, 17).

Ramsey spends the first half of the chapter discussing the place of the “church” or the “assembly” in the Old Testament.

The songs of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12) have been interpreted in various ways: the nation or an individual; a past event or a future one.  Two things, though, are quite clear:

  1. God’s purpose for humanity is in some way coupled with the suffering of a servant.
  2. There was no instance in Hebrew literature, between the exile and the Lord’s day, of any identification of the sufferer with the Messiah (Ramsey, 14).

(If anyone knows if this second point has since been improved upon, please share).

It was in Jesus Christ, in the fullness of time, that these songs of anguish and suffering were identified with the figure of the Messiah.  The very parts of Scripture that his contemporaries had failed to interpret, Jesus the Messiah interpreted and executed, so that the theme of the Suffering Servant was brought right into the center of the themes, more familiar to his contemporaries, of Son of David, Son of Man, Son of God.

Jesus’ apostles and disciples after him would proclaim this boldly (Acts 3:13, 26; 4:27-30; 8:32; 1 Peter 2:21-24).  Jesus died “in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled” (Mark 14:21; Luke 22: 37; Mark 15:34).

Christ’s Passion was a fulfillment not only of certain passages of the Old Testament, but of the Passion which Israel suffered:

Christ’s death was the act of divine power that broke the forces of evil and set up God’s Kingdom among men (Ramsey, 16).

God’s plan for Israel was that it would be the nation through which the entire world would be blessed.  Israel never lived up to that calling.  But Israel the nation was then summed up in Jesus the individual.   It was still God’s purpose to unite humanity through a people; and this people does not mean a loose collection of believers in Jesus, but a new nation to which the characteristic descriptions of the old Israel–the Vine, the Temple, the Bride–are transferred, and which has the same sense of the solidarity of one race, brought to birth by a creative act of God (Ramsey, 16).

In this new nation, of course, its people are drawn from any and every nation, from Jew and Gentile, men and women.  And death is no longer a stumbling block, but the center of its existence, worship, and unity.  What we call “the Church” is a new Israel.  The Church is the unity of all those who, by following Jesus’ solitary obedience, continually choose to die to self and be raised by God to new life, life lived to and for God and His purposes.

Here then is a complete setting forth of the meaning of the Church; the eternal love of Father and Son is uttered in the Christ’s self-negation unto death, to the end that men may make it their own and be made one.  The unity, in a word, means death.  The death to the self qua self, first in Christ and then in the disciples, is the ground and essence of the Church (Ramsey, 22).

The death of Christ contains the Church: he was baptized into our humanity, and he refused the rights of self before God.  But what makes possible the life of the Church is the resurrection: The Cross was to Jesus not a defeat needing the resurrection to reverse it, but rather a victory so decisive that resurrection follows quickly to seal it.  We cannot separate the exalting on the Cross from the exalting to heaven.

As He is baptized into man’s death, so men shall be baptized into His; and, as he loses His life to find it in the Father, so men may by a veritable death find a life whose center is Christ and in the brethren.  One died for all, therefore all died.  To say this is to describe the Church of God (Ramsey, 23).

 

Thoughts?  Ramsey titled this chapter One Died For All.  The following chapter completes the quote, Therefore All Died.  The next post will then take a deeper look into what the “therefore” implies.  What does it really mean to die to self?  And what does that do to the form and life of the Church?

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The Passion of the Church

If you aren’t into languages, don’t worry–only the first paragraph is a little technical.  (Bear with me in a little technicality; do bear with me)

The word “church” does not occur frequently in the four accounts of the Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  In the New Testament, “church” normally translates the Greek word ekklesia, which is “a secular term for an assembly of people and is derived from the verb to call” (Avis, 1).  Ekklesia is also the word used to frequently translate the Hebrew qahal in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible).  I don’t want to get any more technical than that, so I’ll follow Avis’ conclusion:

In both Hebrew and Greek, then, the Church is the assembly of those who are called–called together (to worship God) or called out (of the world, to serve him).  It is worth noting in passing, however, that the English word ‘church’ (cf. Scottish ‘kirk’) comes from a different source: the Greek kuriake, ‘belonging to the Lord (kurios).

As I began, however, ekklesia only  occurs three times in Matthew (out of all the Gospel accounts): Matthew 16:18; 18:17.  When most of us try to put church and Scripture together, the first place we’ll look will be Paul.  It’ll be 1 Corinthians 12, or Ephesians 4, or Paul’s various greetings to the churches in other parts of the Roman Empire  We might think of the Revelation to John, with the seven letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor.

Granted, in some circles, perhaps Roman Catholic circles especially, Matthew 16:18 has had quite the history of interpretation.

But with these few references to the church made by Jesus himself, why does Ramsey begin by stating

The underlying conviction…is that the meaning of the Christian Church becomes most clear when it is studied in terms of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (xxiii.).

And,

It is the contention of this book that in this dying and rising again the very meaning of the Church is found… (xxiii.)

The first time I’d read this, I was baffled.  I didn’t see the connection, let alone understand it.  BUT: if we understand the mission of the Church in the world, if we understand the part which Christians play in the drama of redemption, then we might ultimately see why Ramsey puts it this way.

I wouldn’t be writing all this if the church were a neatly ordered, unified, simple organism or institution.  Questions surround it, as questions surrounded Jesus.  He became a puzzle for others to figure out.  Those inside and outside the church would agree that Jesus seemed to make himself a puzzle for others to figure out.  Even his disciples asked him to speak plainly (though they still didn’t get it).  Finally Jesus “abandoned His useful and intelligible works in Galilee in order to bring God’s Kingdom by dying on the Cross” (Ramsey, 4).

What we’re still left with, then, are questions which surround him.  And questions now surround the church that he established: why follow a man who gave himself up to death?  Why call ourselves by the same title?  Why be Christ-ians, “little Christs”?

Yet precisely there is the power of God found, if only the Christians know whence they come and whither they go.  They are sent to be the place where the Passion of Jesus Christ is known and where witness is borne to the Resurrection from the dead.

The faith that Christians live by is founded–created, even–in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  His Passion in Jerusalem and on the Cross is what won salvation.  “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

In many ways, the church looks like a messed up place: it’s scandalous, it’s formed of sinners whose sinfulness is exposed by the light of the one Christians worship, and there are so many questions which have no clear-cut or easy answer.  But if the Church is the Body of Christ crucified and risen from the dead, how can its life be different than that of Christ himself?

The church is full of those who claim to be baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ.  “Philanthropies point to the conditions of men’s lives, the Church points to the deeper problem of man himself” (Ramsey, 5).

Jesus taught his disciples that they would not understand his death or resurrection except by sharing in it

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Mark 8:43)

Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? (Mark 10:38)

Always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:10)

The words of Jesus are spoken to the disciples, the twelve who were to be the refounded Israel of God.  This was only possible by being founded in death and resurrection.  The words of Paul went out to those who were persecuted, ridiculed and confused as to the faith they held fast to.

While it is true that the Church is founded upon the Word-made-flesh, it is true only because the Word was identified with men right down to the point of death, and enabled men to find unity through a veritable death to self (Ramsey, 6).

We could discuss indefinitely the meaning of ‘death to self,’ but perhaps another time.  The point for now is that in this death to self we are united in a unique way which nothing else can imitate.  As we continue to die to self, we enter into the death of Christ and are united to each other in this act.  The Church is the Body of Christ, made of the bodies of those who have themselves died to sin and evil, and are raised to new life through grace.

If you’re reading this, and if you’ve not experienced the Church this way, you aren’t alone.  I haven’t always encountered the Church in this way.  If we are truly engaged in a death to self, I think the Church as a whole would be in a much better shape.  I recognize immediately that the Episcopal Church is no flagship for reform or death to self.  I won’t go into it here, though I’ll eventually have to.  I will say that if any church wants to flourish, its foundation must be in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ made real and true within its own walls.

This is how Ramsey could make the subtitle of his book, “Recapturing a Biblical Understanding of the Church as the Body of Christ.”  This is how he finds the meaning of what the church is in the Passion of our Lord.

What does this have to do with Sunday morning worship?  I urge you, brothers and sisters, to stay tuned and read on.

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