(In the course of church history, certain individuals have made their stand against ecclesiastical orthodoxy. For their temerity, many like the Bohemian Hus and the Italian Savonarola ended up in the flames. Others like Athanasius and Luther though contra mundum (against the world) escaped this fate, but political protection was prominent especially in Luther’s case. In the event, Luther was enabled to defy the pope and, taking his stand on Scripture, declared his famous “Here I stand”.
So far as I personally am concerned living in these more “civilized” days, I have simply been ignored by friend and foe alike. As George Orwell remarked on one occasion, a blanket of silence can prove remarkably effective. For all that, I wish here to make my own stand and issue my challenge to the church as a whole and not merely to the Roman Church. I first attempted to do this almost forty years ago while I was still in England. Fortunately, I was forewarned that formidable barriers would be erected to prevent a mere David from throwing down an effective gauntlet to a powerful Goliath. For all that, hoping for more success, I here present a mere ten theses to begin the battle.)
1. Like the Jews and the Orthodox, I totally reject the Augustinian dogma of original sin which states that when Adam sinned, we all sinned (as Bengel put it: omnes peccarunt, Adamo peccante) and that we are sinful not merely as infants but even as embryos. This latter absurd idea is based largely on a highly questionable interpretation, and sometimes translation, of Psalm 51:5. That innocent children should be regarded as sinners on account of sin either transmitted (Catholics) or imputed (Protestants) is implicitly contradicted by Scripture time and time again (e.g. Dt. 1:39; 24:16; Ezek. 18; Rom. 4:15).
(See further my articles on original sin including the imputation of sin. See also Have We Inherited Lies?, Augustine: Asset or Liability?)
The Good But Imperfect Creation
2. The idea that God originally created a perfect world which was cursed on account of Adam’s sin and “Fall” is unscriptural nonsense. Throughout the Bible from Genesis 1:1 to the book of Revelation the difference between the perfect Creator and his manufactured creation is maintained (Ps. 102:25-27; Mt. 24:35; Heb. 1:10-12; Rev. 6:14; 16:20; 20:11). Augustine manifestly misunderstood the word ‘good’ in Genesis 1. In fact, creation was no more perfect than the “exceedingly good” Promised Land (Num. 14:7, cf. Heb. 3 & 4). According to Paul, creation is still ‘good’ (1 Tim. 4:3f.). It is imperfect by nature.
3. The idea that Genesis 3:17-19 lies behind Romans 8:18-25 is constantly asserted but to my knowledge is and never has been substantiated. It is based on bad exegesis and, worse still, on the theology of the sin-obsessed Augustine. Truly is Scripture nullified by tradition (Mark 7:13).
4. I believe strongly in recapitulation. This doctrine was advanced by Irenaeus (c.175-c.195), the so-called father of theology, in the early church but seems to have been almost completely eclipsed by the influence of Augustine. Recapitulation teaches that we all re-cover the same ground covered previously by our parents (cf. Gen. 5:1-3). Thus, for example, a girl like her mother before her is conceived, gestates, is born, becomes an infant, a child, a teenager, develops breasts (cf. Ezekiel 16), menstruates, falls in love, gives birth, ages, declines and dies like the rest of the animal creation (cf. Ps. 49; Eccl. 3:18-21). Man’s intellectual and spiritual development or perfection (maturation) is covered by covenant theology.
According to the Bible two things are said to be the way of all the earth. They are procreation (Gen. 19:31) and death (Josh. 23:14; 1 Kings 2:2). Clearly the one counteracts the other (cf. Heb. 7:23).
The Way of All the Earth
5. In case the reader has missed the point, procreation and death are literally ‘the way of all the earth’. Since we all like the animals emanate from the earth, we are as flesh creation in miniature. Just as creation begins, matures, ages and dies by nature, so do we as its product (Ps. 102: 25-27; Heb. 1:10-12). Arguing from what we know for certain to what is somewhat less clear (the analogy of faith), we can infer that if the individual and even the race progresses or evolves from immaturity to maturity (perfection) and then declines and dies, so does creation itself (Ps. 102:25-27; Isa. 34:4; 51:6; Heb. 1:10-12). As the apostle Paul says, as those who are made in the (potential) image of God, we are first (animal) flesh and then spirit (1 Cor. 15:46).
Jesus our Pioneer
6. On the assumption that recapitulation is true, then clearly ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Gregory Nazianzen (330-389) maintained that what is not assumed remains unhealed. If it were not so, the atonement would be impossible (1 John 2:2), as Irenaeus even before Gregory apparently recognized. Alternatively expressed, in view of Adam’s failure, at his incarnation Jesus, the second or last Adam, had to recapitulate the history of the race up to his time (cf. Gal. 4:4; Eph. 4:9). Then after his baptism, he had to “precapitulate” or pioneer new covenant or heavenly life here on earth as he was led by the Spirit till, having died on our behalf, he ascended into heaven (Eph. 4:10) to regain his former glory (John 17:5,24). We follow in his footsteps (Heb. 2:10-13; 12:1-2; Rev. 3:21, etc.).
7. Perhaps the best known chapter in the Bible is John 3, but because Augustine taught that it related to sin, original sin in particular, it has been massively and pervasively misunderstood. In simple terms, what Jesus tells Nicodemus in verses 1-8 without even hinting at sin is that as physical or natural creatures we cannot enter the kingdom of God (which is our ultimate goal) but must be born (again) from above in preparation for heaven above. Why?, it may be asked. The answer is, as Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 15:50, that flesh and blood by nature cannot inherit the kingdom of God nor can the intrinsically perishable inherit the imperishable. If it could, then all the animals and implicitly even the material creation itself would find a place in heaven too!
The Flesh and Marriage
8. Contrary to what the Greeks and Augustine the ex-Manichee and neo-Platonist apparently believed, the flesh is not evil. After all, it was created by God and was the earthly tent of the sinless Jesus himself. This being so, there is no warrant whatsoever for the celibacy of the clergy which has caused so much trouble even in the 21st century. Genesis makes it abundantly clear that man and woman both were created in the image of God and intended to come together in a fleshly union. While individuals like Jesus did not marry for what ought to be obvious reasons quite unrelated to sin (cf. Mt. 19:12), all others should in the normal run of things marry as the Jewish priests did. Failure at this point suggests bad theology and constitutes a catastrophe waiting to happen.
9. The Roman Catholic Church in particular (along with Protestant Churches to a greater or less extent) has scarcely extricated itself from the old covenant. Approaching the issue from a sacramental point of view we may say that it has simply (a) substituted infant circumcision (boys only) with infant baptism which reflects massive theological and covenantal error, and (b) repeated animal sacrifices with the repeated sacrifice of the mass quite contrary to the clear teaching of Hebrews 9:25f., etc.
10. Traditional covenant theology in all its forms known to me is false. First, it needs to be noted that in the Bible there is definitely no covenant with creation and hence with its product Adam (mankind) who symbolized the flesh (1 Cor. 15:45-49). The first dispensational covenant is with Noah who was justified by faith. It is temporary (Gen. 8:22; Isa. 54:9-10) and, though it embraces all creation guaranteeing its continued existence and productivity until the plan of salvation is completed (cf. Jer. 31:35-37; 33:19-22), it is obviously not understood by the animals. The second dispensational covenant is also temporary (2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8). It is established with Moses and involves the law. Strictly speaking, it applies only to the Jews but is nonetheless reflected in other societies. The third covenant was inaugurated by Jesus and embraces all those who believe in him. However, its effects also clearly spill over to others especially in what might be termed a Christianized society. In contrast with the other two covenants which are temporary, the new covenant established by Jesus is eternal (Heb. 9:12-15; 13:20). The same may be said with regard to the covenants with Abraham and David. They are promises which are partially fulfilled here on earth but will culminate in eternity (cf. Gen. 12:1-3,7; 2 Sam. 7; Ps. 89; Heb. 11:39-40). The only place in the Bible where all five covenants appear together, admittedly somewhat obscurely, is in Romans 1:16-4:8.
So during childhood and the rest of our earthly lives we are blessed under the covenant with Noah (cf. Acts 14:17; 17:25-28, etc.), as adolescents we are as the KJV happily, but not entirely accurately, puts it under a schoolmaster, and then through faith in Christ we graduate to the new covenant and attain to spiritual perfection (maturity) as Jesus himself did (cf. Rev. 3:21). Our evolution or pilgrimage from flesh to spirit is then completed when we finally enter glory and the presence of God (cf. Heb. 2:10; 12:23).
(See my Covenant Theology in Brief, Covenant Theology, Covenant Continuity and Discontinuity, Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?, Have We Inherited Lies?, The Journey of Jesus, The Ascent of Man.)
Without going further, I conclude that the motto of Roman Catholicism semper eadem (always the same) should be changed, and that the motto of the Reformed Churches semper reformanda (always reforming) should be put into practice.