Robin Blount: ecumenical notes, cruise ship chaplaincy and lots more

Orthodoxy / orthopraxis

9 February 2023

I've been wondering recently - a thought struck me while reading something from the American Patheos website - what if Jesus was never crucified? Now let me be clear that I have no doubt whatsoever that the crucifixion took place, there's far too much proof about that event, from outside the Bible as well. But what if Jesus had continued to travel around his country, preaching and teaching? After all, he had made quite an impact around the towns and villages, he'd collected a band of disciples, and he had aroused the Jewish hierarchy to fury. If he hadn't chosen Passover weekend to make his presence felt in Jerusalem, might he have got away with being just a troublesome fanatic?

So let's imagine that he had carried on with his preaching and teaching, lived to a ripe old age and then died peacefully in his sleep. And here's the interesting question: what would his disciples have done then? Indeed, what would they have been doing while Jesus was still preaching? They were all practising Jews, well schooled from childhood in Jewish faith and practice, and most probably regular attenders at the local synagogue. But here they were, followers of a reformer who had shaken the very foundations of what they had grown up with.

When I was a lad in Edgware, there was a synagogue at the top of our road, and a sizeable Jewish population which we used to say was overspill from Golders Green, itself known as Little Israel. I remember well, while walking past on a Friday night, being asked to turn the lights off inside because the Sabbath had begun. Anyway, at some point in the 1950s (maybe 60s, I can't remember) a Reformed Synagogue was built about 300 yards from the existing one. Might this have been the way the disciples of Jesus would have gone - setting up a Reformed Synagogue following the teaching of Jesus? Most of his confrontations with the Jewish hierarchy of his day were to challenge their traditional approach to the Law of Moses, reinterpreting the Law in the light of Yahweh's kingdom both present and to come.

The one thing that would not have come down through the ages to us in the twenty-first century is the long, drawn-out argument and warfare that centred around the person of Jesus. Just think of how much time and energy throughout church history has been taken up with arguing about who Jesus was and what he accomplished that first Easter. Ever since the Council of Nicaea in 325, Jesus has been the second Person of the Trinity, a doctrine that has resisted all attempts to understand or define it. Here's another question: when did Jesus become Christ?

The article in Patheos, referred to earlier, sets the following question: Is true Christianity an orthodox ("right belief") or an orthopraxic ("right action") religion? Let me repeat something I may well have written previously. The Council of Nicaea produced the first version of the Nicene Creed, which says much about what we should believe and nothing about how we should live, whereas the Sermon on the Mount says much about how we should live and nothing about what we should believe. That's a bit too neat, but you'll get the point. Both are important, orthodoxy and orthopraxis. The problem arises when one overbalances the other. We must aim at keeping our balance and understanding why.

Robin

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