Two classes of Christians after all?

by Narkissos 36 Replies latest jw friends

  • Narkissos

    First, as I am just back online, happy new year to everyone!

    Totally unrelated to the above (or maybe not), it just occurred to me that the unscriptural WT doctrine of "two classes of Christians" might have some faint pars veritatis after all as far as the NT is concerned.

    Of course it is not about "anointed or not," "two hopes," "heaven vs. earth".

    Yet several segments of early Christianity did seem to allow for a huge difference in levels of requirement, vocation, or fate among believers. On the one hand, the high and hard way of the apostles, disciples, missionaries, evangelists, martyrs; on the other hand, the minimal requirement of the rest. And those two "ways" are not left unconnected.

    In Pauline Christianity, the connection is often made through the notion of vicarious suffering -- a notion obscured by Protestantism which relied heavily on Paul but swept this aspect of Pauline theology under the carpet in its attempt to struggle against the Catholic concepts of communio sanctorum, transferrable merits, etc. However this notion is evident in many Pauline texts, e.g. 2 Corinthians 4:7ff (notice that the "we/us" doesn't include all Christians):

    But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

    This echoes (albeit without the ironical ring) 1 Corinthians 4:11ff (here the criticism does not mean that all Christians should live as the apostles, but that all should respect the hard way of the apostles):

    Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.

    Nowhere is the idea of vicarious suffering so clearly expressed as in (the probably post-Pauline) Colossians 1:24:

    I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

    Although the logical connection is far less obvious, one can't help notice a similar difference of requirement in the Synoptic Gospels: the disciples have to forsake everything to follow Jesus, while nothing is required from the multitude that Jesus feeds and heals -- except kindness and respect to the disciples -- even handing them a cup of water would bring everlasting reward. There is a strong debate around the scene of final judgement in Matthew 25 -- whether the "brothers of Christ" mean all poor, thirsty, hungry, needy persons in a humanistic perspective or the disciples, which would be more consistent with the Synoptic outlook, although reminiscent of the WT perspective. Whatever the case, there are clearly two standards. This Robert M. Price, in The Uncredible Shrinking Son of Man, called the "Hinayana Gospel vs. Mahayana Gospel" -- the narrow vs. broader way of salvation.

    Of course the WT GB in its cosy headquarters has little to do with the early Christian radicals; to put themselves in the place of "apostles" or "brothers of Christ" they require too little of themselves and way too much of the others. But this should not obscure the original difference among early Christians.

    If we step out of doctrinal issues, I think this is an interesting way of approaching the difference of fate and vocation between people. Back to Paul: "For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another." "We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living." (Romans 12:3ff; 14:7ff)

    Any thoughts?

  • Van Gogh
    Van Gogh

    Did it ever occur to you to check out what Jesus himself had to say on the subject?
    Considering Paul's background it should not come as a surprise that he'd be the first to volunteer as the first member of this freshly re-invented "priesthood" for Christianity. Or should I say "Christendom" in WTS newspeak? Just look at the way Paul talked about women as opposed to the way Jesus did.
    Quite a contradiction isn't it...?

  • LittleToe

    It's too late to reply properly to this, but I enjoyed what I read before my tired brain melted. I've bookmarked it for later

  • Narkissos

    Van Gogh,

    When I mentioned the Synoptic Gospels I was referring to the sayings ascribed to Jesus -- whether they are actually older than Pauline material is another matter.

    We have a very interesting juxtaposition of high / low requirement in Matthew 10:37ff for instance:

    Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple--truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.
    The "low requirement" expression, in effect, puts the "prophet / righteous / disciple" (a "little one," just as in chapter 25) in a vicarious position to the one who hands him a cup of water. The latter one is not required to give up his family ties, take Jesus' cross and follow him. One cup of water is enough...

    Ross, See you tomorrow...

  • Euphemism

    And a Happy New Year to you as well, Narkissos!

    This high/low differentiation was one of the things that perplexed me when I was trying to develop a sane Christianity within the framework of Witness teachings. (Thankfully, I am no longer involved in such a futile endeavor.)

    It strikes me that all three of the Pauline or pseudo-Paline passages you quote are in the context of the author attempting to establish his authority (cf 1 Cor 1:14-21; 2 Cor 3:4-6; Col 2:1-5). He connects suffering and authority more explicity in passages such as 2 Cor 11:21ff. ("Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods ...")

    The Catholic church seems to embody this dichotomy (between ordinary Christians and special "suffering Christians") to some degree in its concepts of religious orders and of saints. The explicit connection to authority, however, is missing. That makes sense, since a hierarchical, bureacratic organization cannot allow people to claim authority based on their individual holiness.

  • Van Gogh
    Van Gogh

    Narkissos, you're right, I did not answer you on the gospel bit.
    But as you conceded already, the logical connection in the Synoptic Gospels is far less obvious.

    Something always strikes me though: Jesus apparently came all this way from heaven to earth to be present in the flesh in order to get his message across personally, yet the only one he did not meet in person after all this effort runs away with his Christian message as the foremost apostle who consequently starts bragging about his own "vicarious" suffering. Paul uses a lot of words and interpretation in the process. I think it would be possible to read the gospels in way that is not colored by the influence of what Paul wrote. Leave Paul's Gospel "commentaries" out of it and you could IMO read the Gospels for what they are.

    Jesus avoided all this verbose and exegesis because he knew his example said it all. It had a magical effect on the "multitude." In the end they would, however, all to some extent be required to forsake everything and follow him. We just don't read about it as much, as Paul is so busy writing about his own project so we don't get any report on any obscured "needy widow" giving her own two cents. Christ probably couldn't ask the multitude to forsake anything because they didn't have much more to forsake.
    Mathew 10:37- 40 talks about putting Christ first in loving him. This would be a very relative thing - indeed offering a cup of water would suffice for some, but all of them were still required to take up their cross to some extent. Sounds like vicarious suffering? Same goes for the rich man in Mathew 19/Mark 10/Luke 18. He owned a lot of possessions, so he had a lot to forsake if he wanted to enter the kingdom. Christ knew he put those possessions before loving him so they stood in the way. Vicarious suffering? He would certainly be a lot more like the multitude after donating his possessions to them.

    Besides, not everybody could follow Christ and stay with him till his death literally - Christ himself always necessarily avoided the multitudes in the end - nor could they be required to die literally at their respective crosses. Everybody did what he could - Christ wasn't a drill sergeant nor was there any special separate class to work your way into. In fact, you could work your but off in order to work your way up, only to be rejected after all: Mathew 7:21.

    As far as Mathew 25 is concerned, I believe it is clearly a parable, perhaps involving two standards. That's all I can say - who knows who the "brothers of Christ" signify? At least we figured it isn't the GB or the FD&S, another elusive "class" concept cooked up from the parable bit in the previous chapter 24.

    That's all I can cook up.


  • Narkissos

    Thanks for those interesting comments.

    I agree with Euphemism that in Paul's case acknowledgement and authority are the big deal, all the more central since (1) his authority is seriously questioned by his Judeo-Christian rivals and (2) he boasts about his financial independence, contrary to the Judeo-Christian missionaries who rely on the material support of their hearers (it is still an important issue in the Didachè). On the other hand the financial support for the Pauline "mission" and churches rests on the benevolence and generosity of a few wealthy "patrons" or sponsors, especially the hosts of the "home churches" who are naturally given respect and authority. No wonder that "giving up all one's belongings" is no part of the Pauline Gospel, which on the other hand is bound to be socially and politically conservative (subjection to husbands, masters, and Roman authorities). This social infrastructure of the Pauline and the post-Pauline churches will be the main target of the epistle of James, which criticises its logical tendency to discrimination between rich and poor. Btw EpJames offers an interesting variation on the principle of exchange, right from the beginning (1:9f):

    Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field.

    My main disagreement with Van Gogh, I guess, is that I hold the Synoptic Gospels to be actually much later than Paul. They partly reflect his influence (especially through Mark), as well as the distinct Judeo-Christian missionary structure which rests on the collective support of lower middle-class congregations rather than individual wealthy sponsors. Yet the very structure of the Judeo-Christian mission implies, too, that not everybody becomes an itinerant radical. There must be settled people to receive the wandering preachers, and those too must be offered a somewhat "cheaper" salvation. The connection is not explicitly "vicarious" as in Pauline theology but does imply some sort of hierarchy, e.g. Matthew 19:23ff (just after the rich man episode):

    Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, "Then who can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible."
    Then Peter said in reply, "Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?" Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.
    Still this hierarchy of salvation is not consistently maintained, as the parable of the workers in chapter 20 suggests (the first will be the last by ultimately receiving the same reward). This imo shows that the Gospels themselves are far from internally consistent, echoing a number of pretty different theologies in a complex and unstable synthesis -- with both egalitarian and hierarchical trends for instance.
  • LittleToe

    I guess I have a different way of looking at it.

    All are equal, life is a gift, but each has different "gifts", purpose, and role in life and none should judge the other in that. Suffering and avenues of service are by degree, and the execution therein is due to providence. Regardless, the main focus is Christ and a life of faith and love.

    When I read the gospels and the letters of Paul in that context there appears to be little inconsistency.

    To that end there aren't just two classes at all, but a multitude of classes ("gifts"), all having the same Divine connection and receiving the same gift/reward/life.

    LT, of the "minimalist" class

  • Terry

    The whole JESUS MOVEMENT was a Messianic Jewish continuation of historical Judaism. When Jesus was put to death the focus of the Messianic hope would have faded from his cult of personality and simply transferred to the next likely charismatic teacher. Except!.......

    Saul of Tarsus comes along with an innovative idea!

    Saul claims JESUS IS ALIVE! Not only that, Jesus has transferred power to HIM, PAUL as a new personally chosen apostle who will now EXPLAIN EVERYTHING!

    Why anybody bought into this is beyond my ability to understand--but, suffice it to say they did.

    Now a hybrid of two separate streams of religious thought were suddenly confluent (they flowed together).

    Neo Platonic ideas (from Tarsus) appealed to the Gentiles. Jesus ideas were appealing in a pacifistic way because Rome had had one too many wars and every household was bereaved by some loss in violence. The historicity of ancient Judaism gave credence to a template of belief.

    Now what was most admired about the ancient religion of the Jews? THEY HAD A BOOK!

    Paul's extravagent claims struck a chord with imaginative mystic-minded believers both as natural Semites and as Gentiles fed up with the many gods of paganism who never seemed to provide hope.

    There was a NEED and Paul filled the need with his invention of CHRISTianity.

    It is really PAULianity.

    The friction between two hopes and two classes of people in the New Testament are the inherent friction of welding two entirely different philosophies together into one religious program of orthodoxy. PROTO-CHRISTIANITY was lame duck Judaism dressed up by Paganism. (The monotheistic strain of Paganism!)

    The historical fact of the matter is this. THERE WAS NEVER A GENUINE CHRISTIAN ORTHODOXY. It was always the desire of various believing groups (who could never agree) to make their ideas work that led to stories, embellishments, writings and redactions under authoritative apostolic star-studded names.

    The Roman Emperor Constantine was simply the very first AUTHORITY with enough power to be the first to FORCE an orthodoxy among the arguments and embellishments. It was by FORCE of ROMAN POWER this orthodoxy was enforced and made established canon. But, be it noted, this did not stop the battles between so-called devout Christians in various locations throughout the empire. The losing side was labelled APOSTATE and persecuted into silence. The war against Heresy became the violent means to the end. That end was a thriving CHURCH OF ROME. But, never was there a "correct" side who had "pure" Christianity. This is the stuff of imagination.

    Even while Paul was still alive this polite (and not so polite) fighting for understanding and orthodoxy was waged over Paul's weird slant on Jesus and what he was and what he preached. Paul was a clever fellow and sneaky too. His idea of being "all things to all people" was to allow him the freedom to seem to agree and be let alone while he was with one faction so that he could turn around and seemingly agree with the next contrary group.

    Paul's imprint was made simply by his unprovable claim of Apostleship and the subsequent authority of Rome.


  • Euphemism
    Narkissos wrote:On the other hand the financial support for the Pauline "mission" and churches rests on the benevolence and generosity of a few wealthy "patrons" or sponsors, especially the hosts of the "home churches" who are naturally given respect and authority. No wonder that "giving up all one's belongings" is no part of the Pauline Gospel, which on the other hand is bound to be socially and politically conservative

    That connection hadn't occurred to me, but it makes a lot of sense. I guess you could call it the Mark Felt school of theological inquiry: "Follow the money."

    Little Toe... I'm just curious how, as a thoughtful Christian, you reconcile texts such as Matthew 16:24,25 and 7:13,14:

    Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
    Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

    with others such as Matthew 10:41,42 and 25:40:

    Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.
    The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

    Don't these seem to be espousing very different views of the requirements for salvation?

    Of course, the difference between these two views is most directly embodied by the famous contradiction between Luke 9:50 and 11:23:

    "Do not stop him," Jesus said, "for whoever is not against you is for you."
    He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.

    (As a side note, as far as I can tell, Matthew only contains the latter saying, and Mark only contains the former. Luke is the only one to include both contradictory sayings.)

    I guess this is actually a two-part question:

    1) Intellectually, how can you deny that there are two very different ideas about salvation embedded in the gospels?

    2) Theologically, if you are a universalist (or at the very least, if you believe that atheists like me can be saved), what meaning--if any--do passages about the 'narrow way' and other limitations of salvation have to you?

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