Once upon a time there was a church leader who thought that the Christian cause was much better served without the baggage of the Hebrew tradition. Marcion was a suffragette bishop in the year 140 or so who left his father’s (!) Asia minor bishopric at age 30, with the missional intent to usher in a better Christianity. In his view, only the Pauline epistles were needed for a true knowledge of salvation. He thus proposed the first biblical Canon we know of. The entire Hebrew Scriptures were nixed as mere baggage. He proved to be right in thinking that this would help the growth and mission of the church he envisioned. Well into the fifth century almost every Church Father had to busy himself with explaining that this proposal, though seemingly always promising and tempting to many, was seriously flawed on theological, historical and pastoral grounds.
In the current theological underpinnings of the RCA’s newly cast ‘missiological’ underpinnings I find long shadows of Marcionism, by default.
The Reformed Church explicitly holds itself accountable to reform ‘according to the Scriptures.’ Most of those Scriptures are found in what we call the Old Testament.
I cannot believe that the Reformed Church, even in the form of a denomination, would willfully diminish the Ancient Testament for the sake of making the Newer Testament more palatable to a present culture.
One of the most publically and culturally engaged Reformed theologians of the previous century was A.A Van Ruler. His particular emphasis was on the Missio Deo and the Kingdom of God. Does not every RCA pastor have his little gem, ‘The Christian Church and the Old Testament’ on his or her shelf? I did not come to the USA until the late seventies, and found copies (Eerdmans, 1971; retail price $2.45!!) in a Baptist seminary bookstore. (If you cannot find it, go to Perspectives issue of Nov. 1989 for an article by Eugene Heideman as a quick introduction to the Role of Mosaic Law in Modern Life).
I am writing this just before Holy Week, and the sacrifice of Jesus makes no sense without the theological language and the religious practices of God’s people in the OT.
Of course, Marcion already preferred an atonement without sacrifice and God as a concept without history. But need it to be said that the RCA cannot be part of that line of thought, nor spend any efforts to propagate such an approach to salvation?
I think that the ethos of the Eastern churches by and large has stayed closer to a realization of the values of tested OT theological notions, even though it often is poorly expressed and often articulated as ‘tradition’ and ‘history’ in old-line churches rather than an acutely living daily discipline.
Here is work to do for those who truly desire a Reformed articulation of ‘missionality’ needed for today’s culture and context. But I hope we can avoid the Marcionite trap of skipping the deep reality of the People of God and the Body of Christ and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit in concrete and continuous corporate forms through space and time.
Our Western culture is like the once fertile land of the Mid-West: the good soil has all but eroded, and the commoditization and mercantalization of values is all but endemic. Both long-time urbanized and more recently established populations recognize the importance of sustainability, especially when contemplating newer ventures.
The East coast RCA churches know a thing or two about sustainability. We need to share it with the rest of the denomination. And I am convinced that a missionality that takes the OT as indispensable has to be part of that.
What say you?