Every time I come upon the passage from the 24th chapter of Acts (appointed for the Daily Office today) I am reminded of the resonance between references to the early church as “the Way” to the Rabbinic concept of Halakah: the law as a Way in which one walks.
This struck me particularly this morning because I have been thinking a great deal about the dangers of ideology, and how an ideology or a theory (properly understood as a “way of seeing”) can actually prevent one from seeing a deeper reality. The phenomenon is known as “perceptual set” in some circles, “paradigm blindness” in others. Put briefly, the way you see the world can come to dominate what you see. I referred in an earlier post to the old saying, “If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” If as Thomas Kuhn suggests, we need a shift in our paradigms in order to see changes in reality, it seems to me that across the board in many areas of our lives we need a whole new shift-load of paradigms!
For both in church and state these days ideology is at the forefront and reality has become deeply shrouded in veils of preconception. From conversations on climate change to sexuality, the debt crisis to marriage equality, the verbiage — I cannot in good conscience call it conversation for the most part — appears to be dominated by ideologies and theories rather than fact. (I cannot be the only one who is appalled to see what has become of journalism these days: and there are times I long for a supply of bricks next to my easy chair to toss through the television screen when a “news” program cuts from an actual live speech by a world leader to a panel of pundits even before the speech is finished!) Whatever reality there may be is cocooned in layers of opinion, and there is no sign of a butterfly emerging. Not a chrysalis, but a mummy.
But back to Saint Paul and the rabbis, and this idea of the faith being a “way” — and of course acknowledging that the Jewish tradition had long understood various “ways” as being either wicked or good, depending. (See Psalm 1!)
The major contrast I want to note is the difference between a way and a place. In this case I am particularly thinking about how Paul’s alleged insult to the Temple (in fact baseless) led to his having to defend this new Way. And what is ironic is that the old Way of rabbinic Halakah itself turned out to be the means by which this form of Judaism was able to survive the destruction of the Temple — a Temple which God appears, from the early record, not actually to have wanted all that much; God preferring the Tent and Tabernacle, or the terrifying Chariot, to the petrified establishment on the hill of Zion. (Ezekiel sees a new Temple, Revelation assures us there is no Temple in the New Jerusalem. Take your pick.)
So it appears to me that Christianity itself could well be seen as an emergent non-Temple-based Judaism (among the many Judaisms of the first century) that gets detached and takes on a life of its own; much as rabbinic (rather than Temple) Judaism continued the life of that faith because it had come to see the living out of the Way of God was not dependent upon an external institution but an internalized (both individually and corporately) Way of life under the guidance of a transcendent God.
So does this have anything to say to our current ecclesiastical troubles — say, in relation to a proposed Anglican Covenant or the Indaba Process as “ways” of working? Or to our civic, national, or international concerns — government as institution or government as way of being?
Discuss among yourselves and report back!
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG