The PCA and The Nashville Statement

[The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)] endorsing the Nashville Statement was an odd move. The Statement itself is a jumble. It purports to be a broad account of Christian teachings on sexuality, but has nothing to say about divorce, contraception, or biomedical tech, and says very little about procreation as an essential good in Christian marriage. This makes the statement lopsided in its teachings about sexuality in ways that are evangelistically disastrous where the [Tim Keller and Reformed University Fellowship] wing of the PCA tends to be most active.

… The right … needs to recognize that what they confuse for progressive drift is usually the more banal work of finding ways to present the faith to people with minimal knowledge of Christianity, or with some deep hostility to orthodoxy …

Contrary to some hyperbolic claims, there is no serious movement in the PCA to reject historic teachings about sexuality. Those who dissented on Nashville did not do so because they are progressive on sexual ethics, but because of the procedural and pastoral issues cited above—as well as the lopsidedness of the statement itself.

Jake Meador

Apart from garbling a little denominational history (the PCA did not exist in the late 60s when the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy was issued — but then neither did Jake), Jake nails this.

I read the Nashville Statement and many reactions to it when it was issued (I clipped 20 items on the topic), and it was both sloppy (e.g., what’s the “homosexual self-conception” Christians should not adopt?) and lopsided (what about the sexual sins and dubious practices of heterosexuals? [Crickets.])

I often object to “whataboutism” as a rhetorical ploy to defend the indefensible, but the Preamble of the Nashville Statement does indeed promise “a broad account of Christian teachings on sexuality,” whereas the Statement is negative only on homosexuality, with flaws both rhetorical and pastoral, and without coming anywhere near stepping on any heterosexual toes about un-natural practices that have been adopted wholesale and uncritically.

People should not feel compelled to endorse sloppy and lopsided statements to prove their orthodoxy.

[This post is not categorized “lifework” or “deathwork,” just to prove that I maintain some sense of proportion. But had I waded in on the topics about which the Nashville Statement is silent, the “deathwork” category probably would have been invoked.]

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Cultural Marxism?

When I was a conservative Protestant 20+ years ago, I and others developed the bad rhetorical habit of labeling any liberalizing trend we disliked as “Secular Humanism” at work. That term was used every bit as imprecisely as the journalistic “fundamentalist” so often applied to us.

Today, many conservatives, both religious and secular, have developed a verbal tic of calling everything they dislike “cultural Marxism.” I rise to my own defense to note that (a) “cultural Marxism” has no home in my mental framework and (b) at least secular humanism was something that actually existed (and still exists, as does religious humanism of which I’m an adherent), whereas I’m not sure that there exists anything corresponding to the epithet “Cultural Marxism.”

My skepticism was reinforced last evening as I listened to an Orthodox Christian giving a talk at a symposium held at a Russian Orthodox monastery recently. His overall thesis (don’t essentialize the sexual passions) was attractive, and probably could have been stated in just a few minutes. But he was allocated 20 minutes, so he recounted his version of how sexual passions came to be essentialized, and Cultural Marxism kept popping up.

At one point, he said this:

The idea of individual customized sexual identities and rights to the same paradoxically grew from western legalistic tendencies, originating in the emphasis on Original Sin in the west, and the desire to replace in the Church the laws of the fallen western empire.

The type of disembodiment we see in current secular sexual ideology, based on a twisted version of that earlier western sense of natural law, oddly reflects the materialism of both Cultural Marxism and capitalism. Their common ethos encourages us to be what we will, what we conceptualize, to break down boundaries of organic physical form and mortal limitation by technology.

In this lies a utopianism ….

Immediately, the coin dropped. There’s nothing “odd” about materialism producing similar idiocy in Marxist bogeymen and our beloved-but-straying capitalist bretheren and sisteren: Indeed, one could as well describe all the baneful developments attributed to a conspiratorial-sounding “cultural Marxism” to the late-stage eventuality of consumer capitalism — with neither so much as one tin hat nor one hypothesis about smoke-filled rooms (in the Frankfurt School, presumably).

I’m going to be reading and listening critically hereafter to see if my new hypothesis fits the facts, as I don’t think the Cultural Marxism trope has fully run its course yet.

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You can read my more impromptu stuff at Micro.blog (mirrored at microblog.intellectualoid.com) and, as of February 20, 2019, at blot.im. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Running a white flag up the pole?

James K.A. Smith published a challenge to the recent use of “orthodox Christian” in polemics. He did so in a blog he describes as “my space for ‘thinking out loud,’ an arena for practice at writing quickly and off-the-cuff.” Comments are not an option, and I had no immediate response to his challenge anyway.

But I’m now ready to respond to this sort of thing:

Historically, the measure of “orthodox” Christianity has been conciliar; that is, orthodoxy was rooted in, and measured by, the ecumenical councils and creeds of the church (Nicea, Chalcedon) which were understood to have distilled the grammar of “right belief” (ortho, doxa) in the Scriptures.  As such, orthodoxy centers around the nature of God (Triune), the Incarnation, the means of our salvation, the church, and the life to come.  The markers of orthodoxy are tied to the affirmations of, say, the Nicene Creed: the creatorhood of God; the divine/human nature of the Incarnate Son; the virgin birth; the historicity of Jesus’ life and death; the affirmation of his bodily resurrection and ascension; the hope of the second coming; the triune affirmation of Father, Son, and Spirit; the affirmation of “one holy catholic and apostolic church”; one baptism; and the hope of our own bodily resurrection.

Contrast this with most invocations of “orthodox Christianity” today. In some contexts, the use of the word “orthodox” seems to have nothing to do with these historic markers of Christian faith.  Indeed, in many cases “orthodox Christianity” means only one thing: a particular view of sexuality and marriage ….

You probably can imagine where the off-the-cuff comments go from there. Smith allows that the “particular view of sexuality and marriage” is “traditional,” but not orthodox, properly speaking.

My own response is two-fold:

First, the use of “orthodox” that Smith complains of is not inappropriate.

Smith’s conception of orthodoxy is unduly narrow. On this, he “had me going for a minute” because of my love of the creed and its importance.

But the Creed is not a comprehensive expression of orthodoxy, and was never meant to be. It (as tweaked at Chalcedon) was first and foremost a repudiation of fourth-century Christological heresies. It is silent on things that were not at serious issue.

But the view of sexuality and marriage in question is “orthodox” because it is within the scope of the Vincentian Canon, that “all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywherealways, by all.” (I cringe when I hear someone say things like sexual morality is “at the heart of the faith,” but that’s a different matter.)

I do thank Smith, however, for giving me at least this one opportunity to feel smarter than him about something, to-wit: the purpose of the Creed, and indeed of the Councils in general.

Second, the people who thus use “orthodox Christianity” are onto something important even if the questioned use of “orthodoxy” were inappropriate or inadvisable. That something is far more important that Smith’s derision allows:

So when people are said to suffer for their “orthodox” beliefs, or when we are told that “orthodox” Christians will be hounded from public life and persecuted in their professions, a closer reading shows that it is not their beliefs in the Trinity, Incarnation, Virgin Birth, or Resurrection that occasion these problems, but rather their beliefs about morality, and sexual morality in particular.  There don’t seem to be any bakers refusing to bake cakes for atheists,* and I’ve yet to hear of Silicon Valley CEOs being fired because they affirm the Incarnation of the Son or the resurrection of the dead.

The important thing they’re onto, that Smith misses or pretends to miss, is related to why Donald Trump is President today.

Smith’s derision suggests that so long as “orthodox Christians” can worship and believe as they wish within their four walls, everything is copacetic. I’m sniffing at least the beginning of a sequel to “keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” and more than a whiff of the cribbed locution “freedom of worship” rather than “free exercise of religion.”

Evangelical voters (and some other religious) knew that the Democrats, at the top levels including President Obama and Hillary Clinton, have taken the unhistoric and subversive “freedom of worship” tack, and opposition to that was a significant factor in electing the non-Democrat narcissist adolescent currently holding forth at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

So even if “orthodox Christian” is inappropriate, something along the lines of “robustly and actively Christian” is surely appropriate — robust and active Christians not being willing to confine their faith to one hour per week and the four walls of a church building.

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So why do I think it’s worth responding to Smith?

Last September, “Richard Swinburne, emeritus professor of philosophy at Oxford University, author of many highly influential books, and among the most eminent of contemporary Christian thinkers,” gave a mild keynote address defending traditional “Christian Moral Teaching on Sex, Family and Life,” to a midwest meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers. That stirred up ugly and even scatalogical controversy because Christian philosophers are wavering before the Zeitgeist.

Philosopher James K.A. Smith’s employer, Calvin College, highly values its reputation for a very strong philosophy department — a reputation recognized not just in Evangelical/Calvinist subculture, but throughout academic philosophy.

But standing up for robustly and actively Christian sexual morality, the morality held ubique, semper et ab omnibus, is becoming worse than unfashionable. It may leave all the cool philosophers saying you’re ugly and your mom dresses you funny, or even stealing your accreditations out of your lunch box as you gape helplessly:

The expansion of the scope of Title IX legislation by the Obama administration makes colleges that hold to traditional Christian moral positions on homosexuality and transgenderism vulnerable to loss of government funding and to damaging legal actions. We might add the related matter of accreditation: Failure to conform to Title IX will be punished with notations and probable loss of accreditation. Perhaps even more deadly than these threats is the role of the NCAA, as schools that are not “friendly” to LGBTQI students will find that they are unable to compete in sporting events. Sadly, while the choice between sport and one’s faith should not merit a second thought, I expect that this will be the point at which many colleges crack.

How Christian colleges respond to all this will be critical. The desire expressed by some to dialogue with their opponents on this matter is not a good sign. At worst, it represents the cynical prelude to capitulation: “We listened, we heard, we changed.” …

I do not trust Calvin College, which I respect, to stand firm. I do not trust Wheaton College, which I have loved, to stand firm. I do not trust any Evangelical college to stand firm, including Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University (on the fundamentalist end of the Evangelical spectrum) inasmuch as Jerry Falwell Jr. has shown himself a man of poor judgment and flexible moral standards in his Bromance with Donald Trump.

And I do not trust James K.A. Smith to stand firm.

I think he knows the context and purpose of the creeds better than he’s letting on. I think he knows that the sexual standards he’s backing away from are “orthodox” in a non-trivial and unequivocal sense.

If not, I hope he reads this. The Comments are moderated, but on.

I can only hope that this really was an off-the-cuff quickie, but I fear it’s a white flag running up the pole, looking for folks to salute it.

I can only pray that many Roman Catholic educational institutions and our few Orthodox institutions will stand firm, even at the cost of accreditation.

UPDATE: After a good night’s sleep, I re-read Smith’s off-the-cuff challenge, word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase, and I now think I was too gentle, giving him too much benefit of the doubt.

UPDATE 2: I’m glad I’m not the only one who has registered and objected to Smith’s trial balloon. Had I been, it’s unlikely I ever would have noticed it, since I don’t follow the blog where it appeared (though I first encountered it somewhere other than a blog praising or objecting to it). Anyway

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* “There don’t seem to be any bakers refusing to bake cakes for atheists” is inapposite to the facts of actual cases where Christian bakers have refused not to serve “homosexuals” but to use their creative skills to help celebrate “same-sex weddings.”

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Fiat justitia ruat caelum

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Ascension Day

We observed Ascension Day “by anticipation” yesterday evening. (Our liturgical day begins at sunset, and we sometimes stretch it a bit, as an evening liturgy is better attended weekdays than a liturgy at, say, 6:30 a.m.)

My former Church, the Christian Reformed, took Ascension Day seriously, as did others in the Reformed tradition. That was on paper, at least. On the ground, the three Reformed Churches of generally Dutch background would typically pool resources, as not one of them could get a credible showing on its own for an Ascension Day service. (I assume it was otherwise a century or so ago.) That puzzles me now, more than ever.

I have noticed for decades the tendency of people to say things like “I grew up in X Church, but I never heard the gospel until my lovely wife Boopsie, then my fiancé, invited me to Y Church.” I may blog on that notion some day, because I have heard it said of the Orthodox Church — of which Church I know such a claim is false. The reason I know it is false is what may be worth blogging.

But as for Ascension, I can say that I grew up evangelical, then spent 2 decades in the Christian Reformed Church, but never apprehended until I was Orthodox that our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ not only sits at the right hand of the Father, from where he intercedes for us, but that He sits there in glorified human flesh!

The incarnation was no mere temporary expedient, so that the Son could take on crucifixion and death for us and thus placate the anger of the great sky bully (His Father) and get us (who actually deserved and were destined for such treatment) off the hook. That view of the Atonement is troubling on many levels.

But perhaps the most decisive proof of its inadequacy is that 40 days after the Resurrection, Christ did not go to the mountain and there shed his body, rising wraithlike to the Father before his disciples’ eyes. No, He rose in the body, taking it with Him.

So the Atonement — frequently broken down into separate word, “at one -ment”— has to do with reconciling humanity, flesh and blood as well as spirit, with the Holy Trinity.

This was the original plan. This was the eventuality of God’s little chats and walks with Adam and Eve in the Garden.  And this original plan is what our Blessed Second Adam has restored.

No wonder we have sacraments and relics as well as prayers and meditations. Salvation is for the whole person, and all persons. Reconciliation at all levels is so important that the Eternal Son, being fully God, humbled and emptied Himself and joined our race for eternity.

A Church that can’t spark interest in Ascension Day must be missing something huge about that.

Franklin Graham

There is a kerfuffle about Franklin Graham being excluded from some upcoming government-sponsored events because of his criticism of Islam as “evil” (not my scare quotes; I unequivocally believe in evil). For instance, testosterone-crazed Doug Giles rails here against the political correctness of it all.

I doubt not that Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse is a reputable enough charity, but the younger generation Graham, like the younger generation Frank Schaeffer, far surpasses his father in delusions that he has been given a prophet’s mantle, rather than the more modest platform of an evangelist. His mouth too frequently shoots off about matters of which he is ignorant.

He has, for instance, gently calumniated Orthodox Christianity, as in his 2007 Ukraine crusade, with charges of which it is entirely innocent. The gist was that the Orthodox Church, despite its antiquity and grandeur, doesn’t teach a personal relationship with Christ. (I believe, but cannot track down, that he has said much worse of Orthodoxy in the past.)

His comments about Islam are certainly undiplomatic. I’ll leave it to others to debate whether Islam is evil – the kinds of people who get suckered into other debates where the key terms are too equivocal to invite anything more than a shouting match. But on Orthodoxy, Graham is deeply wrong.  As is so often the case, Father Stephen Freeman says it better than I:

The salvation into which we are Baptized is a new life – no longer defined by the mere existence of myself as an individual – but rather by the radical freedom of love within the Body of Christ. To accept Christ as our “personal” savior, thus can be translated into its traditional Orthodox form: “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” And this question is more fully expounded when we understand that the Christ to whom we unite ourself is a many-membered body.

Read the whole article.

Greetings, Masson’s Blog followers

There’s no explanation for the traffic spike today besides Doug Masson’s kind words at his blog. Welcome to you all.

I’ll see if I can come up with something new to say, but meanwhile those of you converging from the left coasts should like “Places not worth caring about” from last night. James Howard Kunstler posits, among other things, that if we keep building places not worth caring about, we’ll soon have a Country not worth caring about – a point on which there should be ample ground between thoughtful liberals and conservatives, I’d think. We’re embodied creatures, after all, and the space we inhabit affects us powerfully.

Like a lot of young men, I once thought I’d be an architect. I quickly learned that I did not have what it took, so I thought I’d be a homebuilder. I abandoned that for different reasons – heck, it was the 60s and early 70s and everything was unsettled – and eventually landed in the disreputable profession of law, having tired of making an honest living. [Note to self: locate smiley-face icon. Or winky-face.]

Doug described me as a true conservative, which I’ll take as high praise. Religiously, I went off the scale 13 years ago, embracing Eastern Orthodox Christianity – which it’s critics fault for not changing with the times. To that, I say, “Damn straight!” That’s as conservative as it gets religiously, though you’ll find some Obama bumper stickers in our parking lot on Sunday. Religious and political conservatism are not, except for perhaps a few issues, a package deal.

Back to places worth caring about. I’m Chairman of my Church Building Committee as we plan a new building that we intend to be very much worth caring about. Here’s a few thoughts I shared along with two key renderings. [Note to self: incorporate PayPal button for friendly Church Building Fund donations.]

We’ve hired a Charleston, SC designer to lead in the design of an Orthodox temple and site to cherish for centuries. His sensibility is New Urbanist, but we’ll be building at 43N and 225 just west of Battle Ground, on 8 acres currently supporting corn or soybeans.

As important as the temple itself – which will even have real plaster walls to receive iconography in the future – is the site plan, creating a fitting sense of both invitation and separation, with a courtyard that will serve a fairly important purpose at “Orthodox Easter.” The idea is not alien to the points Kunstler is making about urban spaces in “Places not worth caring about.”

Again: welcome, visitors/newcomers.

To Change the (Barbarian) World

(This posting may be of limited interest to non-Orthodox readers.)

I just discovered a new Orthodox blog that looks somewhat promising, Koinonia. The owner/host has completed a very manageable 3-part series, Barbarians at the Gate, where he takes to task not the barbarians (he just identifies them fairly trenchantly), but the indifference or capitulation of the Orthodox Church to those barbarians. Part of his solution is that we cease and desist from bashing Western Culture and get down to the work of transforming it.

Our alliance with barbarism has happened because we have rejected the Christian roots of Western culture in a misguided effort to (1) keep the Church Greek (or Russian, or Arab, or Serbian) or (2) to distinguish “True Orthodoxy” from “false Catholicism” or (3) because, like Frank Schaeffer, we are simply cultural-despisers who have found that the Orthodox tradition is a convenient cudgel with which to continue waging our political or cultural battles. Whatever the reason, this amounts to a refusal to engage in any meaningful way with the cultural marketplace of ideas. As a result, it leaves the public square utterly naked – even as we moan and complain about it privately. Worse, it makes us the tools by which Nietzsche could proclaim that God was a non-factor (“dead”) in modern life. Itputs us in a position where we not only fail America – to be salt and light for our neighbor and our country – but also Christ and ourselves.

The spiritual genius of the Orthodox Church has always been the ability of the Church to take on and transform the dominate culture. This means that just as Jesus was the authentic Jew among Jews, the Church has been – in turn – authentically Greek among the Greeks, and authentically Russian among the Russians, so too we must be authentically American among the Americans. While have rarely done this perfectly, we have largely done this without sacrificing the Gospel or the communion of the various local or ethnic churches.

Is there any reason, other than sloth or despair, why we think we cannot do this in America as well?

It hit a nerve. My posts in the short life of this blog have been relatively heavy on culture-bashing. I bash because I really do care – like an inarticulate father who doesn’t know what to do with a sick child except to yell.

Part of the challenge in Barbarians at the Gate is that there are people outside the Church with whom we can and must make common cause. He suggests, among a handrul, the Catholic Church.

I suggest that James Davidson Hunter, author (coiner?) of the influential Culture Wars in the 90s, is also one with whom we can make common cause. I highly commend this paper he gave at Trinity Forum 8 years ago. That “briefing” finally has grown to a book of the same title. I am greatly looking forward to reading it (if I can moderate my blogging long enough to fit it in).

Davidson’s main points from the briefing eight years ago:

  1. Culture is a resource, and as such, a form of power.
  2. Culture is produced.
  3. Culture production is stratified into a rigid structure of “center” and “periphery.”
  4. Culture changes from the top down; rarely if ever from the bottom up.
  5. World-changing is most intense when the networks of elits and the institutions they  lead overlap.

Another with whom we can make common cause is Ken Myers at Mars Hill Audio Journal, who has been inspiring me for several decades now. I think we have some examples to emulate as well from the folks at Front Porch Republic.

The work at hand is not revolution, but the slow permeation of salt and the absorption of light. We need to be about it sooner rather than later.

The Gospel Reading for Pascha

The passion narratives having been read during the week, we come on the Day of Resurrection to read … not an explicit Resurrection narrative, but  John 1: 1-17.

The choice of John 1 (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God ….”) might seem an odd one, but:

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

Given the Orthodox emphasis on the Resurrection as Christ’s conquering of death (not – or not exclusively – a vindication of his “His message” or even of the deity of “His person,” as if to say “See? I’m God. I can do anything? Got that, dummies?”), the inability of light to “comprehend” the light takes on added power.

Another reason, however, may be the tradition of receiving Catechumens on Great and Holy Saturday. In other words, their formal catechesis having been completed, adults are received into the Church. We had no litany for Catchumens in the Liturgy today.

But what has that to do with why we read from John today? When I was a Protestant, we passed out the Gospel of John, separately printed, as a veritable evangelistic tract because of what we considered its warmth and accessibility. I believe it’s still the case that Wycliffe Bible Translators will translate and publish the Gospel of John in a new (to Wycliffe) language before any other Scriptures.

But it was not so in the early Church. The early Church actually withheld the Gospel of John from Catechumens, having them learn the facts of Christ’s life from the synoptic gospels. The Gospel of John was considered too theological for a novice. That’s right: the superficially warm and fuzzy Gospel of John is heavy theology!

Therein, no doubt, lies a rather large tale about how historic Christianity and Evangelicalism even conceive theology. Obviously, we’re seeing something more in John than its heart-warmingness. Something, even, that might be missed or misappropriated if John is read to early in a spiritual pilgrimage.

So – or so it seems to me – the Gospel for today from John may be appointed not just for its evocative power, but to continue the instruction of the “Newly Illumined” who were received the day before – and are now “ready for meat” in more than one sense. I wish I were equipped to flesh out this little epiphany better than this, but there it is.

Can these bones live?

I sometimes have trouble focusing. My mind careens around like a pinball. I see connections between X and Y and my mind races off to how Y connects to Z and so forth. Or it can be as simple as “what’s the next thing to sing in this long Good Friday service?” So I sometimes miss things.

I have it on pretty good authority that I’m not alone in this, by the way, and that single-mindedness is part of that toward which our salvation – our spiritual healing and restoration – tends.

But last night, my mind stopped racing for a moment. John nearby was chanting Ezekiel chapter 37 – “the Spirit of the Lord … set me in the midst of the plain, which was full of human bones ….”

I thought that was a prophecy of the restoration of Israel! What’s it doing in a Good Friday service!?

The Fathers taught that it prophesies the Final Resurrection:

Great is the lovingkindness of the Lord, that the prophet is taken as a witness of the future resurrection, that we, too might see it with his eyes … We notice here how the operations of the Spirit of life are again resumed; we know after what manner the dead are raised from the opening tombs … And finally, he who has believed that the dead shall rise again ‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump (for the trumpet shall sound) … shall be caught up among the first in the clouds to meet Christ in the air’; he who has not believed shall be left, and subject himself to the sentence by his own unbelief.

(Ambrose of Milan via the Orthodox Study Bible.)

Again, this except from the daily Dynamis devotional:

Ezekiel 37:1-14    (4/3-4/16)     Prophecy at Lamentations Orthros of Great &Holy Saturday

The Mystery of Resurrection: Ezekiel  37:1-14 SAAS, especially vs. 3: “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ So I answered, ‘O Lord, You know this.’” God speaks through His Prophet Ezekiel to show us …a great multitude of bones on the face of the plain.  They were very dry (Ezek. 37:1,2). We confront bleak death. Can it be undone?

Archpriest Georges Florovsky faces the vast plain of dry death, and he adds a notable disclaimer: “Human death did not belong to the Divine order of Creation.  It was not normal or natural for man to die.”  Death is not according to the will of God.  It is alien, an enemy in league with the father of lies, the purveyor of death.  Father Florovsky recalls that in Scripture death is “the wages of sin” (Rom. 6:23).  Therefore, he stoutly refuses the conception of death “…as a release of an immortal soul out of the bondage of the body.”  Rather, he counters with the great truth that “…death is not a release, it is a catastrophe,” following the world-view of Scripture.

By bringing us into the valley of dead, dry bones, God sets a mystery before us:  “Can these bones live?” (Ezek. 37:3).  Cancer, heart attacks, tsunamis, suicide bombers, earthquakes, and the graves of our war dead press us to say, “Unlikely!”  But the Prophet does not answer this way.  He defers to the power, mercy, and boundless love of God.  “O Lord, You know this” (vs.3).  Yes, death defies us and the image of God within us.  We cry out, “What of death, O Lord?”  Is the end just weathered bones on the valley floor of hades?

But, the word of the Lord stops the mind to arrest our attention: “Thus says the Lord to these bones: ‘Behold, I will bring the Spirit of life upon you. I will put muscles on you and bring flesh upon you.  I will cover you with skin and put my Spirit into you.  Then you shall live and know that I am the Lord’”(vss. 4-6).  The Prophet Ezekiel was a deported slave. The life of Israel was virtually ended by conquest and deportation.  Still, God promised, “Thus says the Lord: Behold, I will open your tombs, bring you up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel” (vs. 12).

God’s promise was no less incredible for the disciples scattered at the arrest and  crucifixion of the Lord Jesus.  He died on the cross.  He crossed into the plain of dry bones. Where was God with His promise?  Learn from Ezekiel.  The Prophet obeyed God: “So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the Spirit entered into them and they lived and stood upon their feet, and exceeding great assembly” (vs. 10).  Likewise, the Lord Jesus kept His promise as well: “They will scourge Him and kill Him.  And the third day He will rise again” (Lk. 18:33).  “Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep….even so in Christ all shall be made alive” ( 1 Cor. 15:20,22).  Ezekiel discloses the way. The Lord Jesus’ Resurrection is just the beginning.  And many shall follow!

The gates of Hades didst Thou shatter, O Lord, and by Thy death Thou didst destroy death.  And Thou didst free the race of man, granting life and great mercy to the world.