Alice C. Linsley
"Perhaps you have noticed that the creeds speak of the birth of Jesus and then of his death. There is no mention of the life of Jesus, no mention of the teachings of Jesus, no mention of the healing power of Jesus.The heart of the gospel is missing. The creeds are defective and need to be taken out of service. Instead, let us proclaim clearly the gospel of the Resurrected Jesus, "The seed of true humanity is within you. Follow it!" Gospel of Mary (Magdalene) 4:5
The Rev. John Beverley Butcher (Hat tip to Stand Firm.)
John Butcher, an Episcopal priest in Pescadero, California, wants to do away with the historic Creeds of the Christian Faith because they are incompatible with what he regards to be the heart of his religion. That is because his religion isn't Christianity. Butcher is a Gnostic.
It isn’t simply that Gnostics hold convictions and practices that are incompatible with Christianity. They hold different views of justice, language, truth, love, in short, a different view of Reality.
Yet there is but one Reality and Christians should know it better than any. St. Paul writes of this Reality as the pleromic “mystery of Christ” and he identifies this as the heart of the Gospel. It is, in fact, the central message of the Apostle’s writings and the Reality of which the Creeds speak.
The Apostle Paul explains that Jesus Christ is the fullness (“pleroma” in Greek) of all things in heaven and on earth, both invisible and visible. The term “pleroma” was used among the Gnostics to describe the metaphysical unity of all things, but Paul uses the term to speak about how all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ in bodily form (Col. 2:9).
Paul’s use of pleroma, as well the appearance of this idea in other New Testament writings, suggests that the term was widely circulating in apostolic times. Against the Gnostics, the biblical writers used it to explain that the mystical Body of Christ fills heaven (glorified Saints and Heroes of Faith) and earth (militant Saints). Reality, then, is the depository of the fullness of all things hidden and revealed in Christ. Paul wants his converts to understand that they are “entrusted with the mysteries of God”, so that they may faithfully proclaim Reality so that hearers “may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (I Cor. 4:1, Eph. 3:9 and Col. 2:2).
There is a significant difference between the Gnostic application of “pleroma” and Paul’s application. For the Gnostics, the pleroma is vague and undifferentiated, but for Paul the pleroma is the manifestation of the benefits of the “blood of Jesus.” Paul never allows the churches he planted to wander far from the Blood of Jesus that brings eternal life to all who receive this spiritual transfusion.
Paul articulated his understanding of the pleroma as early as his second missionary journey when he preached to the Athenians that, “in Him [Jesus Christ] we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) However, Paul’s thoughts on this developed further as he continued to reflect on the Hebrew Scriptures, prayed and fasted, and received greater illumination by Christ. We find the fullest expression of the pleroma in his latter writings, especially in Romans and in Ephesians:
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times, He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10)
While not yet fully developed in the Church, the Trinity underlies Paul’s understanding of the pleroma. He speaks of the distinct Persons of the Trinity and of the oneness of the Body of Christ in the language of Shema: “There is one Body, one Spirit, ...one hope ...one Lord, one Faith, one baptism, and one God and father of all, over all, through all and within all” (Eph. 4:4-5).
These words follow Paul’s explanation of the saving work of Jesus Christ. He explained to the Ephesians:
But now in Christ Jesus, you that used to be so far apart from us have been brought very close, by the blood of Christ. For He is peace between us, and has made the two into one and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart, actually destroying in His own person the hostility caused by the rules and decrees of the Law. This was to create one single man in Himself out of the two of them and by restoring peace through the Cross, to unite them both in a single body and reconcile them with God. In His own person He killed the hostility… Through Him, both of us have in one Spirit our way to come to the Father (Eph. 2:13-14).
Paul effectively and convincingly moves the Christian faith toward a Trinitarian comprehensiveness that forever distinguishes it from polytheistic dynamism (Hinduism), henotheistic animism (tribal religions) and the liberal mushiness of post-Christian Episcopalians such as Father Butcher.
The Pleromic Blood as Reality implies that there is but one eternal Kingdom. This is the corrective to the tendency of Christians to think that the Church and the Kingdom are one and the same. The Church is part of the Kingdom of God, but not the sum of the Kingdom. Christian historicism sees separate dispensations before Christ and after Christ. But there is no "before Christ" since He is eternal. This two-dispensations theology causes many to misunderstand Jesus' teachings about the Kingdom. The Pleromic Blood means that there is but one dispensation throughout all time, found in Christ from before the foundation of the world.
Are there two dispensations or one Kingdom? Are there two bodies or one Body? Are the heroes of faith before Christ’s Incarnation one dispensation and those in the Church another? Where is this found in Scripture?
There is only one dispensation, one Reality: The Pleromic Blood, of which St. Paul speaks. One is either in Christ or not in Christ; connected to the Life-giving eternal Reality or not connected. Was Abraham not connected? Was his Faith a symbol of a different dispensation or the Faith into which we are grafted?
All the things of God are realized in Jesus' Blood. All suffering, which many religions attempt to explain apart from Christ, or to avoid through asceticism or philosophy, are made meaningful by His Blood. All worldly striving is shown to be futile by His Blood.
So it is that the Apostle Paul refers to the Blood of Jesus no less than twelve times in his writings. Because God makes peace with us through the Blood of the Cross, he urges “Take every care to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together” (Eph. 4:3). Paul's confession of the saving Blood of Jesus informs his understanding of the Body of Christ. He continues: “There is one Body, one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God. There is one Lord, one Faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, over all, through all and within all” (Eph. 4:4-5).
Lest we presume that the pleromic understanding of the Blood of Jesus is an invention of St. Paul, we should consider also these words from St. John:
Who can overcome the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? He it is who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with water alone but with water and blood, and it is the Spirit that bears witness, for the Spirit is Truth. So there are three witnesses, the Spirit, water and blood, and the three of them coincide." (I John 5:5-8)