Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | February 20, 2008

How does our view of the “ladder” affect our Christian life? (Lesson 5: Question 9 Answer)

9.  How does our view of the “ladder’ affect our Christian life?

If our examination of the significance of the final verses of this passage was not enough, we will continue to study the implications of its meaning on the Christian life.  As a result, we will continue to focus on the last three verses of our text as follows:

49Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

In our last section we discussed the inherent tendencies of man-made religion, which is to seek God where He is not found and where He has not revealed Himself. (For the sake of this work we will hereafter refer to this religion as Babel.)  As we conclude the first chapter of John’s Gospel we have learned that after the Fall, God is most comprehensively encountered through the incarnation of the Son of God the Word who became flesh (John 1:14-18).  It is God who descends to reveal Himself to us in the Word; we do not ascend to Him through our inventions or efforts.  Unfortunately, this clear distinction between Babel and Christianity has been blurred by many well-meaning people.  Consequently, the natural inclination to confuse, ignore or reject this paradigm of God’s revelation has resulted in many man-centered approaches to the Christian life.

    

The affects of Babel on the Christian religion are seen early on and in various ways throughout history.  The less difficult examples are found in the monastic and mystic movements that developed in the ancient Church and continue on to this day.  In more subtle ways, however, it can be found in the Scholastics and in pietistic movements.  As we observe monasticism first, we see that it was manifested through the rigorous ascetic practices that evolved into a way for men to earn their own righteousness and disregard the righteousness of Christ.  In some forms the “truly righteous” sought solitude in the desert to escape the temptations of the world.  These “hermits” sowed the seed for the formation of monasteries that emerged later.  Consequently, a distinction began to emerge between the really “serious” Christian and the “normal” everyday Christian.  Rather than seeking to love God and neighbor as a sign of gratitude for the grace given, piety began to turn inward on “spiritual disciplines”. Celibacy, penance, pilgrimages, fasting, and even self-flagellation became the signs of Christian piety and the means to ascend the ladder to achieve the beatific vision.

These affects are found in the mystics or “enthusiasts”, from the Greek εν θεος for “God-within”, who persistently sought God through ecstatic experiences and “extra-biblical” revelation rather than in the Scriptures.  Not satisfied with the means that God had already revealed Himself through, they sought direct and immediate revelation elsewhere.  In order to transcend the ordinary constraints of Word and Sacrament, mystics would often employ ascetic practices similar to those mentioned above to “acquire” contact with the divine.  This craving to satisfy their appetite for new revelatory experiences caused them to disdain God’s true revelation that had already come down to man.  In their quest to gratify this innate desire, either consciously or unconsciously they were employing Babel’s approach of ascending on their own apart from Christ to achieve the beatific vision.

  

In critiquing these errors in the sixteenth century Martin Luther (second quote in second bullet) made an insightful observation, “All of you scholars and monks are in the same category. You want to climb up and see God in the nude. OK, you’ll see him naked, go to the top of the ladder, you’ll have your beatific vision with blinding light and majesty because the devil disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). But let God get dressed and clothe himself in our flesh and come down to us. Then we can survive the encounter.”  This was a remarkably perceptive commentary that identified the major problem with this evolution of Christianity. These views had incrementally replaced the biblical view of revelation and the Christian life.  As the ideals of Babel began to creep into the theology it was incapable of preserving a Christ-centered framework to faith and practice.  As Luther poignantly indicates it is through Christ alone that “we can survive the encounter” with the thrice holy God.  The views espoused above, abandoned this essential component of encountering God, which could only result in error (or worse).  Luther categorized those who attempted to assimilate Babel with Christianity as having a theology of glory in contrast to a more biblical view that would be characterized by the theology of the cross.  These will be helpful distinctions to keep in mind as we continue in this entire study.

   

In becoming aware of the distinctions between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross, we can assess how much Babel has influenced the Christian life.  Are we seeking God where He has revealed Himself (the cross, the incarnation, the Scriptures)?  Or are we seeking God through our own imaginations (glory, ecstatic experience)?  The way we answer these questions will have a tremendous influence over our doctrine and practice.   Moreover, it is essential that we carefully consider how these questions are answered, since the invariable repercussion of the theology of glory is nothing else than idolatry.

In the theology of the cross, Christ is a sufficient mediator for salvation (the cross) and revelation (incarnation).  This two-fold sufficiency provides the orthodox response to monasticism and mysticism.  As we consider the sufficiency of Christ for our salvation the biblical solution to monasticism is found.  The ascetic seeks to control his own destiny when it comes to salvation through the manifestation of rigorous practices.  To the external observer these rigorous practices give the appearance that the individual “has it together” spiritually speaking.  Although, these external acts may demonstrate an outward righteousness they provide no reflection of what is going on internally.  The apostle Paul teaches that these practices have no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:20-23).

Although, they may have the appearance of wisdom and piety, the view that man’s motivations and intentions are pure in implementing these practices is naïve.  As manifested during the height of the monastic movement in the middle ages the ascetic practices had more to do with manipulation than with piety.  Asceticism is just another attempt for men to climb the ladder to their own salvation, rather than rely on Christ.  Seeking to take control of their own salvation through a system of works righteousness they only diminish the efficacy of the cross (Galatians 2:20-21) and provide grounds for man to boast in his own efforts (Ephesians 2:5-9).

A theology of the cross recognizes that Christ alone is our mediator, our redeemer and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  In relying on Christ alone as our righteousness and our salvation, we can then attempt to respond in a life of gratitude for the free grace we have received.  A proper response is to participate in rightly ordered worship, love and serve our neighbor.  Rather than focus our good works on ourselves in order to attain a righteousness of our own (celibacy, fasting, penance, self-flagellation) we are liberated by the righteousness of Christ to focus outside of ourselves. Since the Fall we have been curved in on ourselves and this self-centered tendency was the fuel for the monastic movement. This was a perversion of a proper response of gratitude in the Christian life.  The motivations for the schemes employed in asceticism were to manipulate God into rewarding our self-righteousness.  However, as we look to Christ alone who provides this righteousness (Colossians 1:22) in the Gospel we are relieved of the unattainable burden of producing our own resting solely in Him and His work (Matthew 11:28-30).

     

As we consider the sufficiency of Christ as our mediator for revelation the biblical solution to mysticism is found.  The root problem with mysticism is an essential dissatisfaction with the way that God has revealed Himself.  The dissatisfaction is more than likely due to the affects of Platonic dualism that values pure spirit over the flesh. Thus, the mystics begin to look for God in other places outside of the areas prescribed.  This quest leads to other sources for revelation, deviations to rightly ordered worship and a disdain for the prescribed elements.  Upon abandoning the prescribed elements not holding fast to the Head the journey may lead wherever the imagination goes (Colossians 2:18-19).  Analogous to the ascetics, the journey of the mystic is also another attempt to climb the ladder of salvation apart from Christ.  Unfortunately, the journey may sometimes arrive at the dark intentions of man’s heart in the end (Muntzer’s Rebellion).

This error is avoided when we maintain the theology of the cross, which acknowledges that the Word has become flesh, He was seen, He walked on the earth, He was brought forth from a womb, experienced hunger, and fatigue (1 John 1:1-4). In the incarnation we have the fullness of the Deity dwelling in bodily form (Colossians 2:9).  The Word that was spoken by the prophets of old became a man in Jesus of Nazareth.  The Word was then proclaimed by the mouths of the apostles after His death and put to writing for a lasting testament for the generations to come.  This was the climax or culmination of revelation in history and it is sufficient until Jesus returns for His sheep.  Being the climax of redemptive history there is now no other information that we need or require.  For in Christ we now possess all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-3).  Although, the mystic may not be satisfied with this revelation, this is the means that God has chosen to reveal Himself.  It is only through the foolishness of the preached Word that man will be saved from his sinful estate.

It is truly ironic when we consider the distinctions between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross.  Naturally we would not expect to find God in a backwoods town of Nazareth as a man born to impoverished parents.  We would not expect to find God in a feed trough nor being executed among common criminals (WSC Q27).  The “logical” place to find God would be in the high places, in the places of power, glory and honor (1 Corinthians 2). Nonetheless, God was revealed in weakness and humility, which was not even expected among the covenant community during the first century.  The religious in Israel expected a conquering hero who would liberate them from the political oppression of the Roman Empire.  However, what they were seeking is not what they found and as a result they rejected Him and delivered Him over to be crucified on a cross. The result was that God was found by those who were not seeking and those who were seeking did not find Him (Romans 10:20).

   

As we continue our study throughout this Gospel we will encounter the effects of Babel in the hearts of men.  It is evident from the text that the Pharisees were the ultimate theologians of glory.  Moreover, we will also find that the disciples, as well, were infected with this thinking and will demonstrate a continual resistance to the theology of the cross.  As our Lord approached Jerusalem when His time drew ever closer, Golgatha was the furthest thing from the disciples mind.  Thus, when our Lord was being apprehended He was abandoned and denied by those who were His closest friends.  It had appeared from the perspective of the world that He was defeated, yet in the midst of this humiliation the victory was being secured eternally.  On Easter morning our Lord was vindicated as manifested by the resurrection, which is now the basis for our justification.

Therefore, we do not need to erect towers into the heavens in order to gain access to God nor do we need to seek some secret knowledge to obtain entrance into God’s presence.  We are not required to achieve righteousness through our own efforts with an endless pursuit of “spiritual disciplines”.  Our desires to achieve God through the theology of glory as Luther stated will only result in the discovery of the Devil at the top of the ladder.  However, when we look to the cross and settle for the accommodated revelation that God has already provided in Jesus Christ, we will be saved.  We will be saved as we trust in the promise of a perfect righteousness provided by our Savior who is the gate of heaven and the ladder of Jacob’s vision.  God took it upon Himself to stoop to our level and bridge the gap that was the source of alienation between us.  As we focus on the theology of the cross, we center our attention on the Gospel, which is a free gift and it is ours through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone.  Until this, the Gospel of free grace is understood and becomes the focus of our Christian life we will not be able to provide the proper response of gratitude.

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Responses

  1. How does our view of the “ladder’ affect our Christian life?

    Yes that’s true, Ladder/Babel is already nullify because it symbolize boastfulness.

    what we should do is to go down, because those who want to be up will be down and those in the down will be up.

    and that’s what Jesus said, so we should find Jesus

    http//eyes2eyes.wordpress.com

  2. Interesting comment…however I don’t really follow how the last part relates to the post above?

  3. […] their innate tendency to endeavor towards self-salvation is reminiscent of tower builders at Babel who incessantly corrupt true religion.  Furthermore, the intentions to reinstate the Mosaic […]

  4. […] and authority to ascend into heaven (Romans 10:4-10).  All attempts by men to ascend up the ladder into the heavens by works apart from Christ will fail.  Moreover, those who seek to ascend up the […]


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