Now that it is the eve of Christmas for those who follow the Gregorian calendar, let us turn to look at how the Orthodox understand the Incarnation. First of all, the Word of God incarnate is ‘meek and humble of heart’; the Word of God came to seek the lost sheep to put it on his shoulders to take it back to the flock; he came to minister to the traveller who has been beaten by robbers and left for dead on the road to Jericho. He did not come to institute a political program: ‘So you are a king,’ Pontius Pilate said to him. ‘You say so,’ Jesus replied. ‘But know that my Kingdom is not from here…’
We have been trying to learn a little about two tendencies in Evangelical Protestantism: Premillennial Dispensationalism, the energizer of the ‘Left Behind’ series; and Reconstructionism, either allied to or the same thing as Dominionism.
Reconstructionism is the easier of the two doctrines to understand in its basics: it is a radical reinterpretation of Calvinist doctrine through the American Puritans that seeks to institute a Christian polity in the
But in other matters, the death penalty (by stoning?) would return for a number of transgressions against the Mosaic Law. It is not that we dispute the validity of the Mosaic moral law; we don’t. We do wonder, however, if today death by stoning or even lethal injection is an appropriate punishment for a number of transgressions of the Mosaic Law. We don’t see the early
When the Orthodox Church became the
Slavery was permitted until quite late in
The Reconstructionists also understand the Mosaic Law as supporting their own particular understanding of free-market economics.
The most radical aspect of Reconstructionism is that it would mandate a particular interpretation of Christianity (Reconstructionism) as the law of the land in
One of the problems with this sort of political program is what we find in places like
Although Reconstructionism does not believe in Premillennial Dispensationalism, we have the impression that some of its ideas have been adopted by some Premillennial Dispensationalists, for example the notion that the laws of the
To understand Premillennial Dispensationalism, it is best to start with Dispensationalism. This is a complicated doctrine that was developed in the 19th Century by a certain J. N. Darby. Darby was an Anglican priest who became the founder of the Plymouth Brethren once he had left the Anglican Church. His ideas were promoted in the
The key idea in Dispensationalism is that we can discern in the Bible a series of dispensations from God to Man that govern God’s relations to
A key concept in Dispensationalism is the role of
As we understand it, Darby also taught that his own people, the English, were descendants of the lost tribes of
Now, the Premillennial part of it. Part of Darby’s theology was an analysis of the prophetic texts of the Bible as concerns eschatology—the theology of the last things and Jesus’ return for his people. Darby developed a doctrine of two Second Comings of Christ. The Orthodox Church teaches only one Second Coming, at the end of time when Christ will separate the sheep from the goats and the sheep will enter into eternal life. Darby’s analysis, however, requires two Second Comings. The first is a secret Second Coming, secret because the Son of Man does not come in the clouds with the angels in glory. In the first Second Coming the pious members of the Church (as understood by Darby) are raptured from the earth to be with Christ as the Bride of Christ. This first Second Coming closes the dispensation of the Church. The age of the Church is over at this point. At this point there will commence a Tribulation for those left behind at the Rapture. This Tribulation is to last 7 years, Darby interpreting literally the numbers in certain prophecies. Then Christ will physically establish his earthly kingdom in
Now what does all this have to do with us? Premillennial Dispensationalists believe that the first Second Coming of Christ is nigh; they are persuaded that only one generation of men can intervene between the founding of the State of Israel and the first Second Coming of Christ, or Rapture, to be followed immediately by the seven-year Tribulation. However, there is a certain flexibility introduced as to the date of the founding of the State of Israel: since the years since the actual founding of the State are passing, other more recent milestones in the history of the State of Israel are sometimes selected as the true founding of the State of Israel, so as to keep less than a generation between the founding of the State of Israel and the first Second Coming.
Now what does this have to do with our topic, love and authoritarianism? And Christmas in the heart?
We are not sure that we have all the details either of Reconstructionism or of Premillennial Dispensationalism correct. We find the details to be very confusing, although we found an historical treatment of Darby’s own development of his doctrine to be quite helpful. However, let us look at some aspects of these two doctrines.
It should be obvious that Reconstructionism is in its
In the case of Premillennial Dispensationalism, we would hazard the guess that a concentration on such an elaborate—and false—eschatology creates the presuppositions for a very disturbed spirituality. We would hazard the guess that this disturbed spirituality is what we see when we observe the rage and hatred of Premillennial Dispensationalists for those whom they consider to be secular humanists or otherwise their opponents.
By contrast, let us look at how the Orthodox Church understands the Incarnation of the Word of God. The best explanation of the attitude of God to the Incarnation is to be found in a very famous icon, the Holy Trinity of St Andrew Rublev. In the icon we see the three angels who visited Abraham on their way to destroy
The Fathers of the
Hence, we might find this to be the meaning of Christmas in the heart: it is the love of Christ that is given to us when we communicate the Body and Blood of Christ. Someone said to us after we had received communion this morning on the Eve of Christmas: don’t you celebrate Christmas? We didn’t reply.