FOTS #3 – LET’S START AT THE VERY BEGINNING

 

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In the beginning God created the heavens and earth

 

Very few if any Christians these days will regard the opening chapters of Genesis as a scientific account of the creative processes. Even fifth century Augustine was unsure about the six days of creation, siting the deuterocanonical book of Sirach which referred to creation being made in an instant (Creavit omni simul – Big Bang?!); apart from which a “day” is of course a measurement derived from the heavens which were deemed to have been created on “day” #4. But what must not be regarded as purely figurative or symbolic in the Genesis account is the fact that man was made in God’s image (Gen1:26,27). Yet as Paul affirms God is invisible (Col1:15; 1Tim1:17), so that “image” must relate at least in part to God’s Character or Nature. Even fallen man is to be regarded in such a way according to Genesis (9:6). Of course, that image has been besmirched by the Fall but not obliterated. And for the Christian, potentially he/she may attain the mind of Christ (1Cor2:16) and become “like God in the world” (1Jn4:17). God’s nature then cannot be entirely unfathomable to human reason for faithful Christians already partake of the divine nature (2Pet1:4) – it’s God’s ways and methods that the Bible indicates are inclined to be incomprehensible, and so they have been according to this disclosure. But returning to the divine Nature, if man has been made in God’s image, and that is being restored in the Christian such that he/she may have the mind of Christ, it follows that such noble qualities that mankind at his best can possess must mirror, in measure, those same qualities possessed by God as they are delineated in Scripture (my earlier post), and  have also been acted out in the earthly ministry and Passion of the incarnated Word. God’s love, compassion and forgiving nature combined with His hatred of injustice,  debauchery and cruelty may be different in degree but cannot be different in nature from how man understands such qualities, contrary to the teaching of certain influential theologians of the past in order to justify their paradoxical conceptions of God’s “love” within their theology and the dire cosmic outcomes that derive from it. When on the other hand Nature and outcome are seen to tally, regardless of the means to attain it (in view of Is55:8,9), and Scripture finally coheres such that the teaching of Yahweh, His Son and each apostle coalesce, then shall not the mystery of God have been completed?

FOTS #2 – ISRAEL AND THE CHURCH’S ROLE WITHIN DIVINE PROVIDENCE

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That is what my book has endeavoured to unravel. However, understanding the “fellowship of the secret” passage from Ephesians 3 alluded to in its title pertains to the final piece of the jigsaw, it is not the logical starting point for such a study of the “dark matter” of Scripture, by which I am referring to that which is poorly illuminated, not that which is sinister – quite the contrary, it is wonderful news. But there are aspects concerning broader providence that have eluded Christian theologians ever since a comprehensive biblical framework was first established, especially through the efforts and often polemically derived assertions of Augustine (Hippo), and he more than any other individual has impacted upon the subsequent course of theological thought in the West. Consequently, the Roman Catholic Church as well as those who defected from her at the Reformation have understood for much of their history that the Church and faithful Israelites before her are the exclusive grouping that God intended to reconcile to Himself, and only they were to be delivered from perdition. l show in my book that whilst Israel and the Church were indeed to be set apart from the world, that was in order that God, as it were working from within, would enlighten and bring healing to His world through His chosen people, not exclusively for them, and so reconcile all true humanity to Himself.  Like Israel before her, the Church was to be His royal priesthood, but the latter would consist of individuals drawn from every nation elected on the basis of free grace into an exclusive covenant sealed with Christ’s blood. By participating in the sacred mystery (Christ in me, the hope of glory) such could be purged from sin even whilst their souls inhabited “the body of this death”, as Paul aptly described the temporary intellectual vessel inherited from our fallen first parents. The Church would serve as Christ’s mystical Body on earth in the present and its faithful adherents were destined to share in their Master’s eternal reign as His corporate Spouse. The “fellowship of the secret” being my shorthand for what Paul refers to as the fellowship/dispensation pertaining to the secret hidden in God (the Father) through the ages” was that the nation of Israel that had been foretold in earlier prophecy to fulfil such a priestly and kingly destiny was to be supplanted (or in effect augmented) by an international assembly we know of as the Church (cf. Rom11:25). Such was Paul’s gospel (to euaggelion mou Rom16:25) which even fellow apostle Peter had scarcely grasped for it had clearly not been explained to him or any other disciples who had accompanied Jesus during His earthly ministry that the Gentile nations were not only to be enlightened by the Good News of the risen and glorified Jesus but receive an “identical spiritual gift” to that of believing Jews (Acts11:17,18)  so as to share in the “inheritance of the sanctified” (Acts26:18), a fact which in itself has implications to overall providence.

That is the overall picture. I intend in subsequent posts, complementing the methodology employed in my book in which I started with Paul’s revelation regarding the role of the Gentiles and considered its past and future implications, here to go more concisely and sequentially through the Old and New Testament, identifying the various interpretative “glosses” that have led to the mystery of God’s munificent providence being sustained for so long*. This will appear subversive to conservative Christians, at least until it is recognised that such has been God’s intended journey for the Church, i.e. that the mystery I am alluding to and its final resolution is itself cryptically inferred in certain scriptural prophecy; also that an incomplete understanding of such matters has not prevented the apostolic churches in East and West from fulfilling their gospel mission throughout their history.

 

*Alternatively just read the e-book, its free to download from Smashwords!    HERE

FOTS#1 PERCEIVING GOD’S MUNIFICENT PROVIDENCE

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Once the apostle Paul’s reference to “the fellowship of the secret” is understood, the rest of the Bible fits into place. A multi-racial fellowship (the Church) has, contrary to earlier revelation (Eph3:9 Greek), been established to replace a nation (Israel) to act as God’s royal priesthood for the world (Ex19:5&6 cf. 1Pet2:9). These special or “peculiar people” (1Pet2:9KJV) are the first-fruit of God’s harvest (Jam1:18), the mystical Body of Christ on Earth; they are not the totality of “sheep” who retain the divine imprint of humanity demonstrated by their compassion towards others (Mt25:31-46); but then there are the “goats”. These are the providential mysteries and apparent biblical tensions I will be endeavouring to resolve in subsequent posts, to complement what has been set out topically in my book.

FELLOWSHIP OF THE SECRET (3rd edition)

 

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A new (third) edition of “The Fellowship of the Secret” has just been released. In the event it has been only slightly modified, yet in the spirit of my previous penitent blog I would have liked to have been more conciliatory, but I’ve had to remain faithful to what I believe has been revealed to me by the Spirit. That includes the more contentious aspects relating to the nature of the sixteenth century Reformation and the need to dismantle key aspects of Augustinian and “Reformed” theology that has influenced so many for so long. Only then can the joyful prospect of God’s broader benign providence – what my adoptive Church refers to as God’s Plan of Loving Goodness – be discerned. And just as importantly, particularly from the perspective of the  many outside the Catholic Church, it has to be solidly underpinned from Scripture. Theologically speaking, that has been the primary purpose of the book, although its author has still broader aspirations, to set out a possible path to church unity. That would especially be needed in the context of  the end-time script, so that a coherent witness to the Good News of the Kingdom can be provided to the world before the current arrangements upon it are concluded at our Lord’s return (cf. Mt24:14).

ACQUIRE FREE DOWNLOAD OF E-BOOK  OR PDF FILE FROM SMASHWORDS          HERE

SAMPLE OR PURCHASE PAPERBACK AT AMAZON       HERE

 

“THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE SECRET” – ITS AUTHOR’S NEED OF REPENTANCE

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The current version of the book this website was created to promote is still available but I am not actively promoting it just at the moment for reasons I will now explain. The writing was a result of what I would describe as a prophetic insight three years ago. That resulted in my coming to a new understanding of certain biblical prophecies, gospel narratives and especially the writings of St Paul which affirmed to me that God’s benign providence towards humanity was not restricted to His covenant people, i.e. Israel and the Church, rather these were His own special people (Deut26:18; Tit2:14; 1Pet2:9); a royal priesthood for the world (Ex19:5, 6 cf. 1Pet2:9), the faithful of whom would  forever be united to Christ as His corporate spouse and joint inheritor of His Father’s Kingdom, i.e. the heavenly realm and the physical universe (Dan7:18; Rev19:7;Rom8:17). The new understanding brought me great joy at the time but also trepidation as I recognised it was my task to put into print what I had learnt; trepidation because I did not regard myself as a writer or theologian, but more especially because I was aware the new understanding undermined the traditional teaching of many churches, especially those that had remained faithful to the theology of the Reformers,  a mindset with which I am very familiar having converted to the Roman Catholic faith sixteen years ago after 28 previous years as a staunchly Calvinist Evangelical. My adopted Church does acknowledge such benign providence towards all “people of good will”, more explicitly so since the 1960’s Second Vatican Council (cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium”) but such a position has hardly been underpinned from Scripture, nor can it be without controverting the teaching of earlier Ecumenical Councils and the biblical theological system developed in the 4th/5th century largely through the influence of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, who a thousand years later became the darling Father of the Reformers.

So recognising that the book could not be endorsed by the Catholic Church I nevertheless went ahead and published it last year, originally through a self-publishing company but later independently in order that the e-book version and PDF could be made free on most outlets. Distribution and sales to date have been modest, approximately 350-400 downloads although the e-books and files may well have been disseminated which I positively encouraged on my publication rights page. Indeed, I know of one individual in America who informed me on Facebook how excited he was by the book and that he had tried to promote it amongst his (Evangelical or possibly Universalist?) friends. They were less enamoured; so was he once I explained to Him I was advocating one united visible Church, ideally in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Apart from that I have received very few responses and quite remarkably no negative ones in view of the ecclesiological content.

So what’s the problem?

The reason I am currently not actively promoting the book in its present form, and the reason I suspect for its limited distribution is a  further revelation I have received during the last couple of weeks that nearly resulted in a nervous breakdown. Again I am clear the Spirit was involved but this time it did not result in joy or excitement but dire trepidation and sense of shame resulting from a deep conviction of my own sinfulness, inadequacy and unworthiness to be involved in such a task.  It did not relate to a particular action that from a Catholic perspective could be confessed and absolved but to the whole course of my life as a Christian to date, including the plans I was in the process of making for my retirement (I’m 65 next year). This particular “disclosure” did not concern the mysteries of the Kingdom or the complexities of the Pauline epistles but the simple basics of the gospel and my failure in so many ways to live up to them. It was especially hard to take for one who believed that in view of what had been revealed to him and the nature of the work he understood himself to be involved in he must have surely been “in a good place” before His Lord. But I was not in a good place, rather as I now recognise I was in need of the severest chastisement which I duly received. Now (I trust) that the worst is over I would not have it any other way for I know it was for my own good and it affirmed the Lord’s love for me, showing He had received me as a son (Heb12:6; cf. Rom8:19).

Unsurprisingly such an experience made me question the book itself, and re-reading it from this chastened perspective I became uncomfortable, especially with the more polemical, speculative and wilfully cryptic passages in the opening chapter which I am in the process of revising. However, as I recover from this self-inflicted ordeal and reflect more carefully on the matter, I recognize the problem all along has been the writer, not so much what has been written. For as I re-read the New Testament I can see that the new interpretations set out in the book do result in unprecedented biblical coherence, whilst the broader providence it portrays suitably reflects the God of the Bible: awesome in  majesty and sin-hating yet compassionate by nature –  Love personified (1Jn4:8). As for His Son, in the words of the great apostle, the breadth, length, height and depth of the love of Christ simply surpasses all knowledge” (cf. Eph3:18). The “Fellowship of the Secret” theodicy (final chapter 7) provides a bible-based yet seemingly novel explanation for the suffering that God has permitted in the world as well as the divisions within His Church. And the overall theme is certainly hopeful and joyful, anticipating the time when not just His elected faithful Jews and Christians but all people of good will shall benefit from God’s promise to “wipe away every tear from their eyes for there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things will have passed away (Rev21:24)

So as soon as suitable revisions have been made, promotion in the form of regular blogging and a re-instated website will resume. In the meantime, if you have already downloaded the book or wish to obtain it in its current form, please bear this penitential blog in mind. The revised version will hopefully be more suitably clothed in humility and seasoned with grace, yet it will still be problematical for many sincere bible-believing Christians and at variance with some of the teaching of my adopted Church. For I have concluded we have all been in error to one degree or another, albeit that has been in accordance with God’s permissive will. Acknowledging such will I believe be the means by which unity may at last be achieved such that Christ’s mystical Body be no longer divided; whilst in the context of the end-time script  it is the only way a faithful and coherent rendering of the Good News of the Kingdom can be witnessed to all the nations before the end comes (Mt24:14). That happens to be the verse (more particularly its location within the context of end-time tribulations) that started my voyage of discovery three years ago and is the focus of the opening chapter of the Fellowship of the Secret: the key indeed to an understanding of the role of Israel and the Church within divine providence.

"Fellowship of the Secret" by Richard Barker