Genuine Christian Discipleship in the I-15 Corridor?

“Is discipleship a commitment to doctrinal beliefs concerning God and Jesus?  Is it a way of life, a way of ‘love’ perhaps, that sets disciples apart from the world?  Or is it an experience, a mystical spiritual encounter that transforms?”


  1. I’m with Gunny on this…seems like it’s all that , or it isn’t JACK…..hey, I made a “double entendre….” how classy…..

    I’m leaning toward parts 2 and 3 more and more…though I won’t let go of part 1….too much a linear thinker, maybe.

    EXCELLENT question, Todd….this is a lot of what the emerging church is hashing out, or trying to…


  2. Definitely all three. However, “mystical” may be too strong a word, one that is associated with an advanced state of spirituality, although not always. Overall, “spiritual” is probably a better word here.

    What are the basic beliefs? The Nicene Creed (without filioque).

    What is the path of love? Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. (See the Sermon on the Mount).

    What is the experience? Initially, “conversion”. The advanced state? Contemplation or “theoria”.

    The context? The life of the Church, the Body of Christ, of which the sacraments, or Holy Mysteries, are an essential and integral aspect.

  3. All three!

    A strong, sturdy stool requires all three legs.

    Let me go find the book that carries this quote to share more of the author’s answer to his questions.

  4. I always fall back on Acts 2:42. What did the earliest Christians do? They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread, prayer, fellowship and the apotles’ teaching. Must of what we have built up around the Body today is ritualistic. We would all, especially me, be better served by carving away the stuff that serves not to encourage true discipleship but rather impedes it.

  5. Yup, Arthur, and “the breaking of bread” took the form of a definite ritual, just as the Last Supper did.

    Humans need ritual. It is hard-wired.

  6. Greg,

    There was nothing ritualistic about the way the early church broke bread together. In Acts 20 we see Paul gathered with Christians to break bread and they were together long into the evening together. It was not a one hour ceremony with a ritualistic passing of bread. In the New Testament, the descriptions of the Supper, including the Last Supper, took place in the context of a meal. There is not a single place in the text where we see anything analogous to a Catholic Mass or even a Protestant passing of crackers and cups of grape juice. We have lost that sense of community in the Body and replaced it with ritual to our deteriment. You cannot have true Christian discipleship without genuine Christian fellowship, and you cannot replace Christian fellowship with manmade traditional rituals. Much of Christian worship is like the white washed tombs of the Pharisees, pretty to look at on the outisde but spiritually dead on the inside.

  7. Sorry, Arthur. You’re reading the New Testament in a vacuum, not its historical context. The roots of Christian liturgy are sunk a mile deep into the Second Temple Jewish worship of the home, synagogue, and temple, all of which was (and, in the two former cases, remains) liturgical. In fact, the earliest Jewish Christian didn’t even stop attending the synagogue until they were thrown out.

    As (now Fr.) Jack Sparks told his then-Evangelical colleagues: “Men, I have bad news. There is liturgy from the very beginning”.

    Speaking of which, I forgot to note that the “prayers” of Acts 2:42 were also liturgical.

  8. Yet in Christianity, liturgy is not my life-saver, Greg.

    Here is the followup on the quote:

    Gary Burge in his commentary on John 15 goes on to say:

    “I believe it is all three: Discipleship is a way of thinking (doctrine), a way of living (ethics), and a supernatural experience that cannot be compared with anything in the world.”

    “John 15 emphasizes that neither doctrine nor ethics can alone define Christian discipleship. It reminds us that remaining in Christ, having an interior experience of Jesus (as a branch is nourished and strengthened by a vine), is a nonnegotiable feature of following Jesus. Many words could be used to describe this: mysticism, interiority, spiritual encounter. But without some dimension of an interior experience of the reality of Jesus, without a transforming spirituality that creates a supernatural life, doctrine and ethics lose their value.”

  9. Arthur and Todd: Gotta agree with Greg here. There was a clearly established practice in Acts and the letters of Paul of meeting to break bread and drink the blood of Christ — as he asked his disciples to do in remembrance of his body and blood in the last supper. There was a clearly established practice of baptism as a means of sharing in the body Christ by vicariously sharing the very death and resurrection of Christ.

    Todd: You miss the point about ritual — it might not be a life-saver, (or it might be as Mark 16:16 teaches), but it is a giver of life-meaning and sharing life in Christ as one grows in sanctification. I’m not sure that Mark 16:16 is even a part of the original gospel, but it was surely established by the early second century.

  10. Todd: REALLY like that last paragraph from Burge. I think he does a great job of underscoring the description of interior life, of connectedness to Christ.

    I think the Orthodox, like the Roman Catholics, and like the Mormons, stumble in trying to make a too specific container for the mystical. Some protestants have stumbled the other way and thrown out everything in that category. I’m thinking that , among other things, humans are ‘hard wired’ to fight like mongoose and cobra over anything not given EXACT description in the NT (which covers a lot).

    Excellent post, makes me put Burge on the reading list.


  11. Greg, you are simply overlaying your church traditions on the text. There is nothing in the text that indicates or even suggests a liturgical or ritualistic aspect of early fellowship and worship. You read “prayer” in Acts 2: 42 and then assert they were liturgical when in fact nothing about Acts 2:42 would imply that. I don’t have any idea who Jack Spark is but if you read in Acts, they didn’t attend the synagogues to worship as Jews but instead to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Read Acts 13, 14, 17, 18 and 19. All speak of the synagogue as somewhere to preach Christ, not to go to engage in Jewish rituals. You have to read in context instead of proof texting.

    Blake, the frequent gathering to break bread does not indicate that it was done ritualistically. Quite the contrary, in context it appears to be communal. You can only see a Eucharistic ceremony or a teenager repeating words complete with “thee” and “thy” off a card if you come to the text with your preconceived notions. The church of course gathered to break bread but agreeing with that point, which is obvious from the text, does not lead neatly into a manmade ritual.

  12. germit, I think you are on to something. I think that where highly ritualistic groups like Catholics and the Orthodox go astray in part is in focusing on the “how” we worship and “what” we do instead of “who” we worship and “why” we worship Him.

  13. Arthur: great to hear from ya, by the way; I’ve changed neighborhoods, a little, it’s good to hear from you.

    I don’t mind so much a fellow believer having a very strong idea as to how they act out the breaking of bread, or how they choose to act out baptism, and we could make a list. What’s problematic is when we try to generalize and make these into ecclesiastical rules. I think that urge is “hard wired ” into us, but this is not always a good thing. I think the list of “have to”s” in the NT is very small, and the expression of those have more flexibility than some would prefer.

    Good to see ya

  14. PS: I’ve seen the same proclivity in “low ritualistic” churches as well… is done THIS way, and no other…… this is not a “high” church vs. “low” church thing….it’s an approach to the wineskin, I think.

  15. How is “what is known historically” different from “tradition”? Ultimately the text does not support a ritualistic view of the Supper or any aspect of Christian fellowship.

  16. Fr. Greg: what history has taught me, and continues to teach me, is that SOMETIMES the transforming spirituality that Burge refers to is connected in a specific believers life to “sacramental” expressions of grace….and sometimes it is not. I’m as sensitive to THAT history as any other. Yes, it’s anecdotal, but at least it’s freshly anecdotal. I’m wary of choosing THIS expression of grace over against THAT one.

    Grace and peace….in all it’s (HIS) expressions.

  17. Arthur, you cannot reduce the discipline of History to “tradition” or vice-versa. However, as it happens, History supports the Tradition. The bottom line is this: the earliest Christians, who were Jews, inherited the liturgical worship of home, synagogue, and temple and adapted it to Christian ends. If you want to verify this for yourself, get a Jewish prayerbook and compare it to the “Apostolic Constitutions”. As it happens, James Charlesworth has already done much of this for you, in Volume II of “Old Testament Pseudepigrapha”.

    BTW, what is this animus against “tradition”? See II Thess. 2:15.

    Blake, you obviously know the history. To the rest of you, his words underscore the fact that the only adequate response to Mormonism is the Apostolic Tradition. Your faith, too, is undergirded, to one degree or another, by some notion of a “Great Apostacy”, and it is this idea, more than any other, that creates the space for Mormonism as well as most other heresies, ancient and contemporary.

    Germit, I think you are somewhat right, especially with regard to minor details, but with a couple of caveats. There is no one right liturgical form, as evidenced by the various historical rites which have developed, largely on the basis of geography on culture (Latin, Byzantine, West Syriac, Alexandrian, Armenian, etc.); however, all of these rites show significant similarities, especially in structure. The problem, I think, is that many contemporary people want to reinvent the wheel. To me, this is akin to wanting to re-write the Bible.

    Todd, liturgical worship speaks to all three: prayer is one of the basic disciplines discussed in the Sermon on the Mount. As communal prayer, it unites the local Church and proclaims the Faith: “the rule of prayer is the rule of faith”. Finally, the sacraments/mysteries are Christ-given means of encountering and entering into communion with Him.

  18. Fr.Greg: well, your post is actually more agreement than I thot I’d get….I’m keen to “there is no one right liturgical form…” but then (IMO) you regress back to a list of Orthodox choices…. our GOD is a GOD of order, and had HIS book written for a purpose, but I’m not staying within any of the catholic containers….again, what I’ve seen with my eyes, and heard with my ears is that GOD has not been offended to be powerfully present in many other groups within traditional christianity. I can’t make light of that. I would no more make the Orthodox container the big deal than the Pentacostal package or the ‘house church’ package.

    I appreciate the push to know HIM WHO saves, and always has…

  19. God is indeed a God of order, and His book was written for a purpose, as indeed His Church was founded for a purpose, its faith codified, and its various liturgical rites standardized for the same purpose: the salvation of humanity.

    There are pentecostals and then there are pentecostals, many of whom are RC, and the “house church” category is even more vague: I preside in a “house church,” quite literally. The altar at which I celebrate the Eucharist for “two or three” at least weekly sits in a chapel which is a dedicated room here in our residence.

    The essence of tradition, as GK Chesterton noted, is giving our ancestors a vote. While there is development, the Church is continuous in time and space. If it is not, Christ’s promise to be with the Church “until the end of the age” is void.

  20. hmmm, I love the post, but think we’d disagree as to what constitutes “continuity”. Also, the necessity of having a particular liturgical package in order for our faith to continue and go forward. I’m more convinced that the tighter the restriction on this package, the LESS that Jesus is there in our midst. I’m not arguing against specificity, just the “have to” part. This, to me, is going where scripture just doesn’t go…and in that I guess I’m more on Arthur’s page, though probably not as vehemently. As to history, we do well to have it help us and shape us, but this devolves quickly into “my historian is bigger than your historian”. I love the application of Kalistos Ware’s teaching to today’s church, but his use of history to give all things Orthodox the pre-eminent status , to me, is over the top.

    then again, I’m ex-RC….so maybe it’s just my baggage dragging me down… 🙂

    a surviving altar boy

  21. Saw this over at I-Monk this morning and thot of this thread;

    it’s from a Chaplain Mike

    “My two cents: Please listen, everyone. Liturgy is not a style. It is the way the people of God approach God. We gather, we hear his Word, we feast at his table, we are sent into the world. Style is another issue, and secondary.”

    I think there are MANY ways to do this that please the LORD, high church ways, and low church ways… my goal is to major in the majors


  22. “a surviving altar boy”

    I’m glad you survived (and I hope you didn’t experience some things that many did).

    I too am a survivor, but of an eclectically Evangelical environment, in many ways similar to what Frank Schaeffer describes in “Crazy for God”. (I am also a survivor of an encounter with a predatory mainline Protestant layman – let the reader understand).

    Style is indeed secondary. Liturgical structure is not. I like what Chaplain Mike has to say.

    Perhaps the underlying question here is: is the Holy Spirit active outside the bounds of the visible Apostolic Churches? Of course. I wrote the following some time ago:

  23. Tozer’s was a flame that burnt quite hot…and of course still does. He is one my pastor’s all time favorites, maybe because his wife came from a missionary alliance background, and was a missionary to Africa (raised in Africa, actually). His words are as telling today as the 70’s. I was a huge fan of Francis Schaeffer, and curious about his son’s doings since he went Orthodox. Any news there ??


  24. Fr.Gregg,

    May I kindly ask you what is your faith tradition now?
    I hope that is not too personal to ask.

    Kind regards,

  25. FR.Gregg,
    I clicked on your name and was led to your blog — I had no idea that ther was an Antiochan Catholic Church. So I guess I answered my own question!
    Kind regards,

  26. Fr.Gregg: thanks for the link to the Frank Schaeffer article. I actually agree with much of what he said. I think he’s dead wrong about Obama, but this is a case where I hope he is right and I am wrong. Two concerns from the interview are:

    1) wow, there’s a LOT of anger there….we always want to see OUR anger as Jesus overturning the money tables….usually, it isn’t

    2) it’s easy to make some kind of caricature of evangelicalism and treat it as some kind of monolithic whole….as you well know, it’s anything but…. LARGE parts of it ARE the dog and pony show that he describes…but I’m hoping he ‘get’s out’ a bit, and visits those outside the circus tent….

  27. Greg: Maybe you could explain what you mean by the Apostolic Tradition. First, the New Testament isn’t limited to the apostolic tradition. Just what constitutes an “apostle” that qualified in your view? For instance, how does Paul qualify as an apostle on your view?

    Further, when you refer to “His Book” I’d really like to know the basis for apostolic authority to decide what was apostolic and what wasn’t since none of them were around to use their apostolic authority to make such a decision.

    Third, I’m sure that you are well aware that many of the books attributed to “apostles” in the NT are in fact pseudonymous writings — with little doubt about 2 Peter, Jude, Revelation, the gospels of John and Matthew and so forth. Are you claiming that Mark and Luke were apostles in some sense? How?

    I really quite confident that your criterion of apostolic tradition is not going to hold water when scrutinized.

  28. Germit: “Blake, the frequent gathering to break bread does not indicate that it was done ritualistically. Quite the contrary, in context it appears to be communal.”

    Well, actually the frequent repetition of an action is excellent evidence of a ritual action. Jesus’s command to do it and that it was repeated is even better evidence. The fact that such actions were done communally is also great evidence of ritual since it isn’t just an individual’s action but the action of a body of people that constitutes an organization overseen by bishops and elders and so forth. Pretty hard to avoid the implications of such compelling evidence — but I have no doubt you’ll try.

  29. Blake: I’m inclined to think that ritual is the deal will find it historically; I don’t mean “fabricate it” but for those whose spiritual life stands or falls on certain ritual, these will find support for it historically. Those who place much less importance on it (I’m obviously in that camp) will look at histroy and ….wonder of wonders….find something else. This is what I meant by this road quickly devolving into “my historian can kick your historians you-know-what”. I’m saying this as someone who appreciates history, and seees its value…but not likely to solve this argument, as far as I can see.

    the shalom of GOD on you and yours

  30. Greg: “I also wrote the following, critiquing the Wesleyanism underlying much of today’s Pentecostalism:”

    Greg, it is clear to me that you do not understand either Wesley or Wesleyanism from your post. The fact is that Wesley taught that the deification of the believer begins with justification and the life of growth in God’s nature continues in the process of sanctification throughout this life for the believer.

    Your claim (in that post) that baptism for the dead is mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:29 and never mentioned again until Mormonism takes it up is vastly misinformed. It is mentioned the late 1st century writing the Odes of Solomon, taken up against at some length in the Pastor of Hermas about 150 A.D. and numerous gnostic sources as well from about 120 to 350 A.D. Both the Odes and the Pastor were well within the ongoing tradition of Pauline Christians and the late first to early second century churches of Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp.

  31. I have no problem with tradition per se. What I have a problem with is suggesting that tradition is the lens through which we must view Scripture, instead of the other way around. I have an issue with tradition being used to create rules and rituals where none exists. If tradition says one thing and Scripture another, Scripture must rule. Otherwise we are just making it up as we go and prooftexting to support our conclusions.

  32. I eat three meals a day, like clockwork. But I sometimes eat at my desk at work, sometimes in the morning in front of my computer, sometimes with all ten of us around the table, sometimes dare I say it is a bowl of Lucky Charms on the couch. Does that repitition every single day make it a ritual? Not hardly. You haven’t presented any evidence, just made some baseless assertions.

    The early church was communal so when they gathered together, they broke bread with one another. It is an enormous leap to turn that into a tray of oyster crackers or a torn up loaf of Bunny bread in which each person gets a nibble after it has been ritually mumbled over. The Supper is not about some magical event or checking a box on the religious checklist, it is a communal celebration.

  33. Sweet, so Blake is going to quote the gnostics to support a mormon practice. Quoting a heretical sect to support another heretical belief is not evidence of anything except gnostics and mormons both holding heretical views. You have successfully demonstrated something we all know, people have held errant beliefs since the earliest days of the church.

    What next, President Obama quoting Karl Marx to as support for his economic policies?

  34. Arthur: You really ought to be more careful — especially since I’ve correct this kinds bull pucky from you before. The Odes of Solomon very likely came from the same community of Christians that gave us the gospel of John. The Shepherd of Hermas was used widely in the mainline or traditional churches that followed Clement and Ignatius — the supposedly orthodox guys that gave us Ireneaus. These writings are not gnostic — I merely noted that there are also a number of gnostic writings (like the Apocalypse of John) which also mention baptism for the dead as an established practice. The gnostics were doing their best to mimic the ancient rites as they saw them.

    Finally, are you calling Cor. 15:29 from a heretical sect? What next, an Ev who thinks that Paul was a heretic?

    But I’m not surprised that you would simply ignore all contrary evidence no matter how well established. I’ve come to expect it from you.

  35. Forgive me, but your comment is just thoughtless. Jesus commanded the action. Christians did it ritually in remembrance of him as he commanded. They met as an organized group under Bishops and Elders to do so. It wasn’t magical — it was simply doing what Jesus taught.

    And you are entirely correct, your breakfast of Lucky Charms is nothing like what what the early Christians did. I suspect that your own observations show that u already knew your response was inane.

    A communal celebration –u mean like a birthday party? You really know how to trivialize the significant don’t you? But then again, that is the entire point of Protestant rejection of ritual — trivializing the sacred and significant.

  36. Perhaps I have missed something about Wesley; as far as Wesleyanism goes, well, I spent a great deal of time as a child and young adult in the Church of the Nazarene. So while Wesley may not have been a Wesleyan, I do indeed understand the latter, and I stand by what I have written, as applied to Wesleyanism. When I google “Wesley” and “Second Blessing”, I find a variety of opinions on the subject.

    Regarding your other allegations, cites please. I am quite familiar with the Odes, and off hand, can think of nothing in them that would indicate support for Baptism for the dead. The Hermes passage is quite ambiguous (as I suspect whatever cite you pull from the Odes will be as well). I am not interested in Gnostic sources.

  37. Arthur, WHAT lens would you choose? None of reads anything without doing so through some lens. And I will flat out: there is no contradiction between Scripture and the rest of the Tradition. If you find one, you’re misunderstanding one or the other.

  38. I pray for Frank. AFAICT, his baggage is less about the dog and pony show experience and more about his early childhood. His mother sounds like quite the piece of work! (So was mine, but in a very different way, but I knew several women, growing up, that were a lot like Frank’s description of his mother.)

  39. If the “Apostolic Tradition” were limited to the New Testament, we wouldn’t be having this discussion, would we?

    Paul’s apostleship is grounded in his encounter with the Risen Christ on the Road to Damascus.

    From your comment, it is clear that you have yet to come to grips with a)that Apostolic authority was and is communicable: see Clement of Rome, and b)what the NT has to say about the authority of the Apostles and, by the extension of that authority, the authority of their successors in the Church, “the pillar and ground of truth,” and “the fulness of [Christ] who fills all in all” among other things. I speak specifically of the authority to “bind and loose”.

    In other words, Apostolic/priesthood authority never left the Church: there was no “great Apostacy”. The Bishops of the Apostolic Churches are indeed collegial successors to the Apostles, and hold their authority.

  40. Greg: I haven’t “come to grips with” the so-called apostolic tradition because it is historically unsustainable. I’m still waiting for some idea as to what the “apostolic tradition” is supposed to be. If it is some unbroken chain of “collegial successors to the apostle,” I have little idea what you could possibly have in mind. Care to let me in on what you regard as this “collegial” succession and how you determine who is and who is not such a collegial successor? I’m betting that your notion is rather vacuous — but I’ll wait to hear from you before commenting further.

  41. Whether you are interested in gnostic sources or not is beside the point. You asserted that there weren’t any! Ode 42 speaks of the sphragis and the sign given in the baptismal rite to those who are ushering forth from sheol. I don’t regard it as ambiguous:

    15 Sheol saw me and was made miserable:
    16 Death cast me up, and many along with me.
    17 I had gall and bitterness, and I went down with him to the utmost of his depth:
    18 And the feet and the head he let go, for they were not able to endure my face:
    19 And I made a congregation of living men amongst his dead men, and I spake with them by living lips:
    20 Because my word shall not be void:
    21 And those who had died ran towards me: and they cried and said, Son of God, have pity on us, and do with us according to thy kindness,
    22 And bring us out from the bonds of darkness: and open to us the door by which we shall come out to thee.
    23 For we see that our death has not touched thee.
    24 Let us also be redeemed with thee: for thou art our Redeemer.
    25 And I heard their voice; and my name I sealed upon their heads:
    26 For they are free men and they are mine. Hallelujah.

    For those who are knowledgeable about the baptismal rite, it is represented by the seal on the forehead given after the rite of baptism. Notice that it is administered to the dead who come out of sheol with Christ.

    The Shepherd is not ambiguous, and the seal has the same significance there as in the Odes. See, e.g., Sim. 9.16.3-7; see also The Third Book of Hermas, Sim. 9, vs. 152-160]:

    “So these also who had fallen asleep received the seal of the Son of God and ‘entered into the kingdom of God’. . . . This seal, then, was preached to them also, and they made use of it ‘to enter into the kingdom of God.'”

    “Why, Sir,” said I, “did the 40 stones also come up with them from the deep, although they had received the seal already?”

    “Because,” said he, “these apostles and teachers who preached the name of the Son of God, having fallen asleep in the power and faith of the Son of God, preached also to those who had fallen asleep before them, and themselves gave to them the seal of the preaching. They went down therefore with them into the water and came up again, but the latter went down alive and came up alive, while the former, who had fallen asleep before, went down dead but came up alive. Through them, therefore, they were made alive, and received the knowledge of the name of the Son of God. . . . For they had fallen asleep in righteousness and in great purity, only they had not received this seal. You have then the explanation of these things also.”

  42. Uh, Blake:

    Ode 42 depicts Christ IN Sheol, freeing the captives, and I rather doubt “the seal” here is a baptismal reference. Hermas depicts the Apostles, baptizing the dead directly in Hades. There is nothing here about proxy baptism for the dead.

  43. Blake:

    You seem to be conflating the Apostolic Tradition and Apostolic Succession when, in reality, the latter is a component of the former. I’m not sure what is incomprehensible about the Apostolic Succession of Bishops. The Apostles ordain the first bishops, as attested in the New Testament. The original bishops in turn ordain other bishops, and so on, right down to this present moment.

    As for the Tradition as a whole, I think Greek Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware’s description is worth linking here:

  44. It’s not an either/or situation, my friend. Christ commands baptism and states, “Unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Adam, you shall not have life.”

    Obviously, the sacraments/mysteries do not exhaust grace, communion with Christ in the Holy Spirit. We are also told to pray “without ceasing”. However, the participation in the Mysteries ground this grace and drinking at the well of those who have come before us, especially those who are recognized as being “Fathers” and Saints go a very long way in keeping us from going off the track. It is also true that we need the input and mutual accountability is part and parcel of life in Christian community. Again, since we are members of Christ, we are members one of another. If we do not life the latter, we risk losing the former as well.

  45. Greg: There just is no evidence anywhere to suggest such a succession for the first thee hundred years! Like I said, it is historically vacuous. Show me where it is claimed that a bishop ordained another bishop as his successor to the office of bishop in the New Testament. Such a practice simply isn’t attested. In fact, show me such a practice even in the writings of Clement, Ignatius or Polycarp! It just isn’t there. This so-called ordination is one that was made up in the 4th century whole-cloth.

    I am aware of Ware’s suggestions regarding a tradition — vague and undefined. It also seems vacuous and without any content to me. There is no continuity of tradition that is discernible from the 1st century to the third and Ware certainly doesn’t identify one. I believe that your claims for such a tradition are sadly lacking in any backing — in evidence or otherwise.

  46. You of course can doubt what you want regarding Ode. The reference to the seal as baptism is well-understood from sources in the time-period documents — including the Shepherd of Hermas which very clearly uses the reference to the seal to refer to baptism as well.

    The Apostles are baptized for the dead who die without baptism while are dead. The passage says that the apostles went down “alive” and came up alive, whereas the dead before them went down dead and came up alive – i.e., reborn to life thru “the seal” (sphragis) of baptism. Thus, I believe that your exegesis of this passage in Hermas is rather lacking because the apostles had died by the time Heras was written, but it refers to a time when they were alive when they performed these vicarious baptisms for the dead. Further, the notion that dead are baptized vicariously by the apostles is clear as can be — and that is what you said there was no evidence to support.

    Frankly, by the time Hermas was written the passage in Paul’s writings about baptism for the dead (1 Cor. 15:29) was well-known and this practice was fairly familiar. Hermas is not creating a new doctrine that the dead are baptized — he refers to it as something already established in practice and well-known.

  47. Mildly interesting thread here, but why should I care what the gnostics have to say about my beliefs, other than maybe
    1)oppose them when needed 2)gain some bit of historical insight that might help me understand the early church

    Generally, though, what WEIGHT do they bring to the theological table, for ME ?? Very little. Fr.Gregg was blunt, but on the point, I think he said “I’m not inerested in gnostic sources”

    a modern analogy would be “I”m not that interested in what OPRAH tells me christianity is all about……or weight loss….”


  48. BLAKE; you wrote

    A communal celebration –u mean like a birthday party? You really know how to trivialize the significant don’t you?

    I don’t know what YOU mean by “communal celebration”, but I’ve had a chance to know this every once in awhile, and it’s a taste of heaven, as far as I’m concerned. I think Arthur is on to something here (and I go to a church that regularly ‘breaks bread”, which is a ritual that you are referring to). Different perspective, I guess, I dont’ see this as trivial at all, though less formal, definitely.

    celebration to all who know the good news

  49. AAAahrrrh! I am not quoting gnostic sources! I cited mainstream tradition sources! Please note one and all . . . not gnostic. Say it with me, the Odes and Shepherd of Hermas and 1 Cor. 15:29 are not — repeat — not gnostic.

    For the record, the division into heretical gnostic and “orthodox” is an invention of the third century by Ireneaus. But the sources I cite are mainstream in any event and they simply refute the claim that there was no baptism for the dead mentioned or discussed between the time that Paul wrote about it in 1 Cor. 15:29 until Joseph Smith came along as Greg claimed. His assertion is simply false and misinformed in my view. Citing gnostic sources in addition to these “mainstream” sources shows that such a claim is false.

  50. Blake wrote:

    AAAARRRRHHH etc….. hey Fr.G, do you want to weigh in on the Odes, given it’s possible origin in your ‘back yard’ so to speak ?? hang around Blake, and some of this history will rub off on a troglodyte….or at least I’m hoping so.

    So far I stand corrected on one source: Shepherd of Hermes, sure seems a legit source to me.

  51. Back to the original post for a second:

    Todd , this question is so good, I think I’ll copy and paste it on my desk at home to reflect back on again and again. I love your analogy of the 3 legged stool, and am inclined to think that many movements in church history started off by making a better, stronger leg (or at least a different style of leg)….and then devolved into some kind of two legged stool. Crash….

    Currently, the lifestyle, ‘love of Jesus/praxis’ leg is very much in vogue….but let’s see where that takes us. John Ortberg has written some really good stuff about the transformative nature of real christianity….that is such a key point. Anyway, love the post and the question.


  52. Fr G; thanks for the link to the Payton/Weslyan article. I’ll thoroughly agree that the notion of sanctification being “an event” is a veritable petri dish of all kinds of evil, psychological, spiritual, liturgical, just say “big fat mess”. I would love to read a good (fair) biography of Wesley: any faves ??

  53. I’m back. I had a good time with a group of pastors in Wyoming, Monday through yesterday.

    Germit, how about this for a starter?

    I have The Heart of Wesley’s Journal (Kregel, 1989). I have the paperback version.

  54. Blake: nice catch, it’s probably GOD telling (uh…SUGGESTING….) that I get the wife flowers…isn’t the FTD guy/thingie Hermes, or is that some other Greek speedo dude ?? ahhh… many gods, so little time….

    I had never heard of the Odes, they look like an interesting mix of Syrian-I-don’t-know-what… not exactly Greek, not exactly Jewish…

    TODD: thanks for the ref on “The Heart of Wesley’s Journal”, I’ll look for that … glad to have you back to whatever you call this place…. 🙂


  55. Well said Fr.G:

    Also, Frank is demonstrably a great deal less angry than he once was. Orthodoxy usually has that effect.

    yes, I remember reading “Addicted to Mediocrity” many years ago and thinking “wow……….this is guy is perceptive, and articulate…and in need of blood pressure meds….but it seems he found some.

  56. Ireneus is late second century, not third century. And, BTW, he, along with Clement of Rome, has something to say about Apostolic Succession.

    Also BTW, I found this online:

    There is little here that speaks directly to the current LDS practice of proxy baptism of biologically living persons on beshalf of other who are not currently in that state; rather, much of it has to do with baptism OF the dead in Sheol, which is what the material from Hermes and the Odes is about, the first perhaps metaphorically, the second doubtfully about baptism at all. Given that, I am understandably skeptical about your claim that this practice, seemingly attested -without approval, I might add -in I Cor. 15:29 is also discussed in certain gnostic sources (unless you are thinking of the Marcionite practice mentioned in the above link: Marcionism, BTW, is usually classified as “gnostic” and signficantly predates Ireneus. In any event, even this is, as with the marginal Coptic practice mentioned in the above link, is apparently not systematic: I doubt that any Marcionite was baptized by proxy for the late J. Caesar, for example).

    Regarding Ware’s analysis of the Tradition: for him the “outer forms” include: the Bible, the Creed (“the rule of faith”), the Liturgy (“the rule of prayer”), the decisions of the Councils, especially the ecumenical councils, and ikonography. To this list could be added, the asketic practices of personal prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, along with apostolic succession. While this list may or may not be exhaustive, it pretty much covers the bases. Vague? I don’t think so.

  57. Germit: We in the ACCA use the Odes liturgically -as Communion anthems and occasionally elsewhere. Anthem 42, describing the “harrowing of hades” is used at Pascha.

    I don’t really have a favorite bio of Wesley, but I’m going to see if I can find one. Given how I was raised, I am most fascinated, at this point, by his incipient Anglo-Catholicism as well as the career of John Fletcher who, as it turns out, may have been more responsible than Wesley for turning “the second blessing” into “sanctification by faith”.

  58. Greg: Once again, it is HermAs, not HermEs. (Have you read it?) I have written a fairly long article about its interpretation and how the Odes share the same view of acts for the dead to be published in a book of essays. In context of the writings of the time it is not ambiguous at all. I’ll forward it to if you like.

    Ireneaus wrote about 210-20. That is the third century. 0-100 is the first, 100-200 is the second, and 200-300 is the third. See, third century.

    With respect to Ware’s analysis, here is what I have to say about his definition of “Apostolic Tradition” which you believe is definitive of Christianity. It excludes Protestants and Roman Catholics from Christianity because it includes ikonography which Protestants eschew as idol worship and RCs reject in thought but practice in adoration of saints and Mary. It also excludes Jesus the first two hundred years of Christians because they had no creeds or councils, they didn’t have the Bible as we know it, the liturgy or rule of prayer, or anything like the notion of apostolic succession.

    I’m unclear about what you believe the ascetic practices and liturgy must amount to, but one thing I am sure of: any list of requirements to be in the “proper tradition” that doesn’t include Jesus and the first two hundred years of Christians just ain’t a good or valid criterion. Jesus didn’t affirm any of the creeds, especially the ecumenical creeds. He surely didn’t adopt any iconography.

    I have asked for just one passage — just one — where a bishop ordains another as successor or even recognizes another as a successor — and you have pointed to nothing. There is a good reason for that. There isn’t anything! This notion is historically vacuous. Nothing in the Bible about it. Nothing in Clement (either 1 or 2 Clement) about it. Ireneaus does have “something to say” about it, but not that the bishops were ordained as successors as leaders of a church. This notion of apostolic succession int he bishopric is simply a dogma that is historically inaccurate.

  59. Didn’t Wesley believe that Fletcher had possibly reached a state of sanctifying perfection?

    Blake, would you consider any N.T. statements as appearing creedal? Confessional?

  60. Greg: For the record, Wesley was very influenced by the Eastern Orthodox tradition, especially in the development of his rather fascinating view of theosis. I’m sure that you were already aware of that fact.

  61. Blake, this conversation is already above me, but could you in laymen terms tell me what the difference is between “creedal”, “confessional”, and “assertive”. I’ll probably just be an onlooker here, but thot I’d learn more about what’s on the program.


  62. Blake,

    I’m curious as to where you got your dates for Irenaeus. I’ve just never seen a source that puts his writing that late. His major work, Against Heresies, always seems to be dated around 180, and his life ending before 210.

  63. Steve: The dates regarding Irenaeus are somewhat uncertain — as you probably know. You might want to check this out:

    However, your point is well-taken to the extent that some place his death about 202 — though it is very uncertain. I base my dating on the work Hatch and others and based on when others like Clement of Alexandria seem to be interacting with his works — which would place his works about 210.

  64. Germit: Creeds are a studied attempt by a group of clerics to come to some resolution of the accepted doctrine on a disputed point and who vote to accept the precise documented language as definitive of the catholic (universal orthodox or proper) faith.

    Confessional language is merely that, a confession of faith by an individual or congregation. It isn’t a definition but a statement or assertion of what is believed. D&C 20 probably qualifies as confessional in this sense.

    Assertive language is what I am doing here. I am asserting that such and such is the case.

  65. Germit, I think you’re right. God could use even me to inspire you to get flowers from FTD whose symbol is indeed Hermes or Mercury (depending on whether you eat Roman or Greek food).

  66. Then, of course, there is the “Apostolic Tradition” of Hippolytus. While indeed written in the EARLY Third Century, the author is writing in reaction to what he considers to be innovations, describing the way things were done in the past, and, in his mind, should continue to be done.

    You will note here the consecration of a bishop by other bishops, with a prototypical prayer of consecration for the bishop, along with a proto-typical anaphora, or Eucharistic Prayer, the structure of which is largely the same as one still finds in the rites derived from Antioch (even though Hippolytus was Roman).

    Note also that while a confessor -someone who has survived persecution – may be made a presbyter without the laying on of hands, he may not be made a bishop without the laying on of hands.

  67. Like I said, Greg, the evidence as to exact dates for Irnaeus is disputed and not clear. Did you miss that there are different datings for his life and works? See my comments above. Perhaps the problem is that the “Reply” function of this blog makes it difficult to keep a cronological track responses.

  68. Chris: As I noted above, the dates for Ireneaus are not really known. There are different dates given by different expositors and the citation you give fails to account for that fact.

  69. Yeah Greg, like I said. You have not cited anything in the NT or scriptures at all. It isn’t there.

    If you have something in mind in I Clement about ordination of bishops as successors to bishops, I’m not seeing it anywhere in chs. 42 and 44.

    Ireneaus had a notion of succession of bishops — but I don’t know any scholar who takes his line of succession seriously as history. By the time he wrote (late second or early third century) the basis of his assertions seems to be mere tradition and a need to answer arguments gnostic arguments for which he creates a novel list of episcopal succesors. There is certainly nothing in the book of Timothy referred to by Ireneaus (or more accurately 2 Timothy) to suggest that Linus was a bishop or somehow a successor to a bishop. Further, Ireneaus’s argument requires that Paul is the first bishop, not Peter. However, neither are recognized as bishops in the NT. In fact, not even Ireneaus goes so far as to refer to either Paul or Peter as bishops.

    While not scholarly, this post at least shows why the notion of a single bishop as successor is anachronistic and shows that Ireneaus misrepresents the evidence:

    Critically, you’ll note that Hipplytus’s list of bishops differs significantly from that given by Ireneaus. Like I said, the argument is historically vacuous.

  70. Perhaps the problem is that the “Reply” function of this blog makes it difficult to keep a cronological track responses.

    Seriously. Todd, maybe you should survey your readers and see how they feel about threaded comments. I say down with them.

    To turn them off, get into your WordPress control panel and go to Settings > Discussion and under “Other Comment Settings,” uncheck the box for “Enable threaded (nested) comments.”

  71. It is a good consideration, BJM. Clicking the replies throughout a thread do make things a bit confusing.

    And now for another good quote by Burge:

    “One should be able to look at a branch, see its fruit, and say, ‘This branch is living, it is attached, it is vital and growing from the vine.’

    “This means that Christianity is not simply about believing the right things (though this is important). Nor is it simply a matter of living a Christ-like life (though this is important too). Christian experience must necessarily have a mystical, spiritual, non-quantifiable dimension. To be a disciple means having the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living in us (14:23-26). It means having a supernatural, interior experience that is completely unlike anything available in the world. It is a way of believing (doctrine) and a way of living (ethics), but these are nurtured by the life-giving connection with Jesus Christ.”

  72. Blake,

    Your position regarding apostolic succession in the nascent Christian Church raises, I think, an important question regarding the structure of the LDS church. It appears to me (as an outsider) that the LDS Church is structured to perpetuate itself through a line of apostolic succession, but if there was no such thing in the early church, then what church was *restored* by Joseph Smith?

  73. Sorry, I haven’t been back to check on this thread.


    When have you ever corrected me on anything? You making one of your assertions is not analogous to “correcting” me or anyone else. I notice that you sidestep the fact that the gnostics were heretics and as such are irrelevant to Christian doctrine.

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