Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Jesus and the Paradox of the Law (II)

In the first post of this series, we looked at a paradox created by the fact that Jesus was both man and God. As a man, he was subject to Jewish law, which forbade blasphemy, or claiming that one was in any way divine. But as the Son of God, he was bound to answer truthfully to the high priest's question: "Are you the Son of God?" -- and thus, in the high priest's eyes, to have committed blasphemy.

Because the Jewish leaders did not recognize Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, they held him liable to the death penalty for speaking what they could only regard as blasphemy. But in so doing, they ensured Jesus' penitential sacrifice could fulfill the law, and provide salvation for the whole world.

This is what I am calling "the paradox of the law." In this second post, I want to explore more of the consequences which its recognition may have for both Jews and Christians. In particular, I wish to employ the paradox to pry into the knotty issue of supersessionism, or (in some eyes) "replacement theology."

In general terms, both versions of the doctrine focus upon the role left to (or, in the stronger versions, imposed upon) the Jews after Jesus accomplished his salvific sacrifice for the sake of all sinners. For some, Jesus fulfilled the multiple promises of the Tanakh. Thus, he was the Jews' Messiah, and they will not get another one. By failing to acknowledge him as their Savior, these people claim, the Jews will suffer the same fate as other unbelievers, unless they end up repenting and accepting Jesus as the Savior of the world -- including (but not limited to) Jews.

Under this version of the doctrine, Jesus' sacrifice abrogated the previous covenants between God and the Jewish people -- hence Christianity is said to "supersede," or replace, Old Testament covenant theology. The Jewish religion has no reason, under this doctrine, any longer to exist, or be practiced.

In milder versions of this same doctrine, the Second Coming will demonstrate beyond all doubt to the Jews that Jesus is their Messiah, and they will thereupon be grafted upon the New Testament's mission of salvation to all the world in the name of Jesus Christ.

And there are all kinds of variations in between these poles -- as befits man's ingenuity.

So what does what I have termed "the paradox of the law" have to do with the doctrine of supersessionism -- however interpreted?

Consider this: if, as I have noted in the first post, the Jews were bound to misunderstand Jesus so that his sacrifice for all could take place while he walked the earth as a man who was the Son of God, then God made the Jews his instruments in bringing about (albeit unknowingly) the means of salvation for all -- much in the same way that he turned the crime of Joseph's brothers into a means of providing relief from famine for the entire Jewish nation.

So God, in having the Jewish leaders of the first century reject His Messiah, was able to make them work towards his larger purpose. But where did that leave the Jews who rejected Jesus as their Messiah? By allowing them to apply the law they had received from Him against His own Son, God did not abrogate that law, but left it intact. Jews still recognize its validity (to varying degrees) today.

Here I think the supersessionist answer fails to acknowledge the two opposing truths that are at the bottom of what I call "the paradox of the law." Just as the Jews thought they were right in applying the law of blasphemy to Jesus -- as handed down to them by God through Moses -- so the supersessionists assert that Jesus as the Son of God introduced a new (and better) law which made that of the Jews obsolete.  Yet without the Jewish law, Christianity as such could never have begun.

How can anybody, therefore, hold Jews responsible for a rejection by their forebears which made Christianity itself possible? Had the Sanhedrin decided to accept Jesus for who he was, the entire history of Christianity would have gone out the window, and we today would be dealing, no doubt, with various sects of Judaism who differ in their interpretation of Jesus' role as Messiah.

No, the Jews were almost bound by their traditions to reject Jesus as their Messiah -- despite the many passages of the Tanakh that predicted his coming, there were others which spoke of a great military king who would deliver the Jews from oppression (e.g., Ps. 2; Mic. 5:1-3; for a passage much closer to the first century, see Ps. Sol. 17:21-45). Jesus did not fit into any such role, and could convince believers only through his signs and wonders. But does the first-century Jews' rejection of Jesus imply that God thereupon must have abandoned his earlier Covenants with them?

Such an outcome is simply not a logical consequence of the Old Testament covenants. The Jewish Messiah was a promise foretold by the prophets, but the Messiah as such formed no part of any covenant. And although God keeps His promises, he also does not break any of His covenants.

God's covenants with Noah, Abraham and Moses therefore still have to hold, as between God and the descendants of Abraham who have not accepted Christianity, but who adhere to the tenets of the Jewish faith. For there to be a "supersession" of those covenants implies a breach of those covenants -- by God himself, which is an impossibility. "For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29).

The Book of Hebrews, ch. 7, states that in Jesus, God has given His people a "new [and better] covenant." And in ch. 8, the author points out that in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (click on note "g" to read), God stated His intention to give Israel that new covenant at some future time, because "they did not continue in my [old] covenant." This implies that it will be the people of Israel who break the old covenant, and not God. Whether and when God may consider them to have broken it is nothing for Christians to decide. (The passage speaks of God giving his new covenant to Israel, and not to the Gentiles.) But the passage from Jeremiah indicates that until that time, God's old covenant remains in effect.

In Romans 10:1-4, Paul (speaking to Roman gentiles) gives vent to his exasperation with his fellow Jews who "have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge," since they reject out of ignorance the new offer that God has made them:
Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

But in ch. 11, Paul is emphatic that God has not rejected his people -- he has only hardened their hearts, while extending by grace (and not by merits) His salvation to a chosen remnant of them:
God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God's reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened . . . . (Romans 11:2-7 ESV)
He goes on to express his firm conviction that their hearts will later be turned to accept Jesus as their Savior.

In Paul's view, then, Christ's new covenant based on faith does supersede God's covenant based upon the law, but only for those Jews who come to Christ. (Gentiles who do so have no covenant to be superseded.) Meanwhile, "God has not rejected his people" -- it is instead for them to reject him (by breaking their covenant with him). According to Romans 11:23-27, the Jews' hardness of heart will continue only until "the fullness of the Gentiles has come in," at which point God will "graft them back into their own native olive tree."

What Paul calls "the fullness of the Gentiles" has yet to come in to the body of Christ, and so the time for the Jews to make their final choice evidently has not yet arrived. Until that time, therefore, they must (if they do not accept Christ) continue in their old covenant -- which God will not abrogate on his own.

Here, then, is my main point: unless God's earlier covenants remained fully in place, there would have been no basis, under Jewish law, for condemning Christ to death. For if the Jews were expected, at one and the same time to recognize Jesus as their Messiah and to perceive that he set aside, or superseded, the ancient covenants of God with Israel, then more was demanded of them than of any other peoples alive at the time of Christ.

No one -- not Jesus, nor Paul, nor any of the disciples -- has ever given the slightest indication that God laid such a burden upon the Jews, to require them to decide on the spot, and on pain of eternal damnation, whether Jesus was who he said he was. No, God's laws given to Moses dictated the punishment which a man making the claims of Jesus must be given. The Jews in punishing him were faithful to God's law as they then understood it applied -- and thereby gave birth to Christianity.

How, then, are we to deal with the situation where Christians who accept Jesus as the crucified Son of God live in a world side-by-side with Jews who deny Christ's sonship, and who insist that their promised Messiah has not yet come? Let Paul have the last word (Rom. 11:28-36):
As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Jesus and the Paradox of the Law

At Jesus' trial before he faced Pontius Pilate, as reported in ch. 14 of the Gospel of Mark, Caiaphas and the other Jewish elders charged Jesus with violating the law against blasphemy (see Leviticus 24:10-16):
60 The cohen hagadol stood up in the front and asked Yeshua, “Have you nothing to say to the accusations these men are making?” 61 But he remained silent and made no reply. Again the cohen hagadol questioned him: “Are you the Mashiach, Ben-HaM’vorakh?” 62 “I AM,” answered Yeshua. “Moreover, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of HaG’vurah and coming on the clouds of heaven.63 At this, the cohen hagadol tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You heard him blaspheme! What is your decision?” And they all declared him guilty and subject to the death penalty. 
(Because of its faithfulness to Jewish tradition, I have quoted this passage from Mark ch. 14 using the text of the Complete Jewish Bible. "Cohen hagadol" means "the high priest"; "Mashiach" is "the Messiah"; "Ben-HaM'vorakh" translates as "Son of the Blessed" i.e., "Son of God"; and "HaG'vurah" is Hebrew for "the Power" -- a euphemism for the Divine Name which Jews were forbidden to pronounce. And notice how Jesus' answer to the High Priest's query echoes what God told Moses to say to the people of Israel when they asked who had sent him to them [Exodus 3:14].)

As a human and a Jew, Jesus was subject to Jewish law. At the same time, Jesus as the Son of God was himself the very end-point and object of Jewish law ("I came not to change the law, but to fulfill it" - Mt 5:17). Thus we come to the ultimate paradox of Jewish law: it was blasphemy for a man to claim to be the Son of God, but at the same time, only Jesus could truthfully make that claim -- and when asked directly, he could not truthfully deny it.

Jewish law, therefore, uniquely condemned to death the man who was the only Son of God. While it would put to death any true blasphemers who falsely claimed divinity, it also inescapably trapped God's Son in its mesh.

Jesus must have known this from the days when he first began to study the Torah as a youth. He was indeed destined to "fulfill the law", as the only one who could.

And God, of course, must have (fore)known this when he gave the law to Moses.

Had the high priest recognized Jesus as the Messiah in Jerusalem, he could not have imposed the penalty of the law, because it was naturally intended to punish only those who falsely claimed to be divine. But then the law would not have been fulfilled by Jesus' unique sacrifice.

So we have a true paradox to ponder: God gave the law to the Jews, so that in abiding by it they would keep His covenant, and avoid sin; but also so that in abiding by it (literally, but mistakenly) they would see to the deliverance of all of mankind from its sins -- while condemning to death, for "violating" the law, His only Son.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Making Sense of the Trial in South Carolina

In trying to make sense of the trial in South Carolina (which I did not attend, but know only from the reports of those who did), I noted certain pervasive themes.

First, the trial was a clash of diametrically opposed camps. Bishop Lawrence, his parishes and his Diocese were focused on going forward with their evangelical mission; the lawsuit was a drag on their ability to do so. Bishop vonRosenberg and his Episcopal Church (USA) were obsessed with looking back – to what they viewed as a hierarchical structure from the outset; to the prerogatives of national power that are concomitant to such a structure; and especially to the power wielded collectively by the House of Bishops, and by the Presiding Bishop in their absence.

Second, the trial was a clash of legal strategies dictated by the law of South Carolina. This case came to trial against the background of the South Carolina Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in All Saints Waccamaw Parish v. The Episcopal Church, a case I analyzed in this earlier post. The Court held two things: first, that a religious body who followed its own procedures, and South Carolina law, in amending its governing documents could not have those amendments declared void in the absence of superior church laws or rules forbidding such amendments, and which were in place before the dispute arose; and second, that the only kind of a religious trust that could have any effect under South Carolina law was one declared in a writing signed by the owner of the property being placed in trust – and not by the national church unilaterally, in its role as a putative beneficiary of any such trust.

Both holdings were premised on the declaration that South Carolina courts were to follow “neutral principles of law” in resolving church property disputes, and not by deferring automatically to determinations made internally by church bodies or personnel who were not the “highest judicatory bodies” in that church.

Given this backdrop, the strategy pursued by Bishop Lawrence and his attorneys was to emphasize the absence of any language of limitation or deference in the governing documents of either the diocese, or of its member parishes, and to show how they followed their own governing procedures in voting to leave the national Church. But the strategy pursued by ECUSA and its attorneys was designed to try to fool the trial court into thinking that this was not a dispute over property at all, but was instead a fight over opposing religious doctrines. (The First Amendment prohibits secular courts from getting involved in such disputes, and so ECUSA hoped that by painting the matter that way, the court would be forced to accept ECUSA’s designation of who were the true successors in interest to Bishop Lawrence’s diocese, once it voted to leave.)

To her great credit, Judge Goodstein refused to be baited into the trap which the defense steadfastly set for her with their objections, arguments, and proffered witnesses and testimony. Time and again she emphasized that her hands were bound by the All Saints Waccamaw decision, and that she could proceed upon no other ground except that dictated by neutral principles of law – which is to say, the ground upon which each and every other kind of property dispute is resolved in South Carolina courts of law. The remarkable thing is that I see no possible advantage to the strategy pursued by the defense, whether on appeal in the state or federal courts. One cannot get around the Waccamaw decision; on can only confront it head-on. By failing to do so during the fourteen days of trial, ECUSA pretty well conceded its own case.

Third, the trial was a battle over image. ECUSA was fighting over its brand as the church of America’s wealthy and powerful elite, whose roots go back to before the Revolution; Bishop Lawrence’s diocese was fighting for its place in the traditions of Anglicanism – which equally go back to before the Revolution. For ECUSA, other Anglicans must simply get used to what it does, because it claims to be the only legitimately Anglican franchise in America; for +Lawrence and his Episcopal (“bishop-led”) Diocese, ECUSA’s brand of Anglicanism is no Anglicanism at all – one needs to distance oneself from it as fully as possible, by claiming solidarity with GAFCON and similar Anglican groups.

Fourth, the immediate stakes were the money and the property – but in the final analysis, the real issues were power and authority. Bishop Lawrence and his diocese confined their initial lawsuit just to a claim against ECUSA to quiet title to their property, and prevent infringement of their seal and trademarks. Later, after the rump group (“ECSC”) formed, it was added as a defendant, because it was calling itself the “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.” Because of statements from 815 that the Church would seek to oust all of Bishop Lawrence’s congregations from their individual parish properties, thirty-five of those parishes joined as co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit to quiet title. True to form, ECUSA and ECSC then counterclaimed against each of the parishes, plus against each of their rectors and vestry members individually.

The naming of all those individual counter-defendants was a brazen attempt to intimidate them, by showing that ECUSA would spare no expense in forcing them all into court, and in trying to ruin them financially. There were no good legal reasons for multiplying the number of individual defendants, as ECUSA showed when it failed to update the status of each of them as old members rotated off their vestries, and new members came on. (Those who were no longer members still remained as named parties, while those who became new vestry members were not added.) The sole point was to name a whole bunch of individuals, and inconvenience them, and not to ensure that they had anything actually to do with the parishes.

By filing first in the State Circuit Court, and by obtaining a temporary restraining order at the outset, Bishop Lawrence and his attorneys had seized the initiative, and had placed ECUSA’s attorneys on the defensive. The latter sought to regain the initiative by filing a trademark infringement lawsuit in federal district court, and by noticing the removal of the main action from State to federal court. Once again, these moves multiplied the legal costs enormously – for no good legal reason other than to resort to sheer power in an attempt to gain the upper hand.

This made the defeat of ECUSA’s federal strategy even more significant, when Bishop Lawrence’s attorneys slowly but steadily persuaded the federal courts that they did not need to intervene, and to send the whole matter – trademarks and all – back to State court. At that point, ECUSA’s strategy became one of delay, delay and more delay, in an attempt to continue to run up the legal costs for Bishop Lawrence and his parishioners. And by deliberately and transparently seeking to delay the actual trial, ECUSA and its attorneys began to lose any credibility they may have had in the trial court.

Thus the trial had to open a day late, all because ECUSA delayed taking the parish depositions (remember those parishes they considered it so important to sue individually?) until the last possible minute in an effort to force the judge’s hand. Needless to say, that tactic earned them no points in the judge’s eyes. Yet the trial began on Tuesday, July 8 with Judge Goodstein energetically delving into the details of the dispute with Bishop Lawrence’s first two witnesses: his Chancellor Wade Logan, and his Canon to the Ordinary, the Rev. Jim Lewis.

After the opening witnesses laid the ecclesiastical and canonical framework for the lawsuit, there followed four days of testimony from witnesses for the individual parishes. Their questioning quickly fell into a pattern of going through their deeds, articles and bylaws, and Judge Goodstein had the parties expedite the testimony by stipulating to the admissibility of all the documents.

On Day 6 of the trial (July 15), ECUSA and its rump diocese finally got to begin their portion of the case, and the mood shifted almost immediately. They called three irrelevant witnesses – irrelevant, because their testimony was all directed toward the conduct of Mark Lawrence as the bishop of the Diocese. The case was not about Bishop Lawrence’s conduct; it was about the acts of the diocese and its parishes in deciding to leave ECUSA. But the dissidents had begun this sorry affair by personalizing their disgruntlement with Bishop Lawrence, and they just could not let it go.

On Day 7, ECUSA finally got to the meat of the matter by calling an acknowledged expert in South Carolina’s religious and non-profit corporations law, Professor Martin McWilliams of the University of South Carolina law school. He offered an elaborate theory as to why the diocese’s vote to secede from the national Church was invalid under South Carolina law: according to him, the diocese incorporated the national Church’s constitution and canons into its articles by reference, holus bolus, when it simply mentioned them in passing. Then, because the national governing documents (as amended from year to year) were part and parcel of the diocese’s corporate articles, it could not change those articles in any manner that was inconsistent with the Church’s governing documents.

This theory, however, had a hole in it so wide that one could drive a truck through it, and it was a simple matter for Bishop Lawrence’s counsel, on their cross-examination of Prof. McWilliams, to discredit it completely. First Prof. McWilliams conceded that there was no language in the national governing documents – even if they had been incorporated into the articles by the brief reference to them – which forbade a diocese from seceding, or from amending its articles in any manner whatsoever. And with that concession, any effect Prof. McWilliams might have had with his testimony was finished. For he next had to concede that the Diocese was wholly within its rights under South Carolina law when it amended its articles so as to remove its language of accession to the national Church.

After that major concession, the case for ECUSA and its rump group never regained its momentum, and their attorneys became ever more desperate in their tactics as they tried to recoup lost ground. On Day 8 they tried to call an expert witness they had not bothered to disclose by Judge Goodstein’s deadline, and she blocked the testimony after giving the hapless attorney trying to introduce it a good tongue-lashing for disregarding her rules.

Then the attorney compounded his offense by trying to sneak the excluded witness’ report (which addressed the supposed confusion brought about by the use of the name “Episcopal” in connection with both groups) by attaching it to the report of the next expert who was disclosed, and who was therefore allowed to testify. Judge Goodstein ordered him to take the report out from the exhibit, and not to refer to or mention any of its contents – for which I understand ECUSA had paid the expert approximately $1 million – ever again in her courtroom.

Still another undisclosed expert – the well-known South Carolina historian, Prof. Walter Edgar – was prevented from opining about any significance of the innumerable facts and documents about which he did testify. This left his testimony unexplained and unhelpful, like a map without place names or a legend.

All went downhill from there. Witnesses called to discredit Bishop Lawrence further (Bishop Clifton Daniel, Thomas Rickenbaker, and Bishop vonRosenberg) ended up adding to the credibility of his case – by again admitting that no language in the governing documents prohibited what his diocese had done, and by casting aspersions on his character that were easily deflected on cross-examination.

On Day 12 (July 23), the defense rested, and plaintiffs commenced their case in rebuttal, which was scarcely necessary after the immateriality of the defendants’ proffered case. Perhaps the nadir of the defense attorneys’ relationship with Judge Goodstein came on the next to last day of the trial (Day 13), when ECUSA co-counsel Mary Kostel tried to lecture Judge Goodstein about how she was “bound to accept” the truth of the Church’s preliminary certification that Bishop Lawrence had “abandoned the communion of this Church”. In proffering the exhibit during the defense case, Ms. Kostel had characterized it as a “final” decision against Bishop Lawrence.

But on Day 13, she made the mistake of crossing swords over the document with Bishop Lawrence’s Chancellor Wade Logan, who knows his canon law. He explained to the court that the document was only a preliminary finding on the route to deposition, and that only the House of Bishops could find actual abandonment after a hearing on the charges. When Judge Goodstein finally understood how Ms. Kostel, as an “officer of the court,” had misrepresented the nature of the document to her – a mischaracterization she had the temerity to repeat in her arguing the effect of the document – the steam began to come out of Judge Goodstein’s ears. She abruptly banged her gavel and ordered local counsel to take Ms. Kostel out of the courtroom and instruct her in her duties as an officer of the court, admitted only as a courtesy for the duration of the trial.

The next day, the trial finished without further incident, and with the testimony of Bishop Lawrence. He was easily able to refute the charges that he had plotted all along to take his diocese out of the Church (as though those charges were even relevant to the issues Judge Goodstein has to decide). It was perhaps a mark of how low the defendants’ mood and energy had sunk when his cross-examination by the Presiding Bishop’s Chancellor, Mr. David Booth Beers, ended on a pleasantry after a mere ten minutes of fencing, and without scoring any points.

Judge Goodstein now has the case on hold while the parties submit simultaneous opening and reply briefs over the next sixty days. After the briefs come in, she will take the matter under advisement, and probably issue her written decision within another thirty to sixty days, i.e., by Thanksgiving or thereabouts. For the multiple reasons I have summarized above – but especially because the gist of those reasons appears wholly to have gone over the defense’s collective heads – I expect Judge Goodstein to find in plaintiffs’ favor, and award them their properties, trademarks, and bank accounts free and clear of any claims by EC USA or its rump group. Indeed, ECUSA has yet formally to admit the latter as a full-fledged diocese under its much-touted Constitution and Canons. Why, indeed, should anyone respect those rules, when ECUSA cannot do so itself?