Note: This summer I have the privilege of conducting an independent study with Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old, professor of reformed liturgics at Erskine Theological Seminary as well as a visiting lecturer at Princeton Theological Seminary. As part of that study, I will be reading a number of books related to our studies of Christian worship. I will attempt to post my summaries of those books as I complete them. Here is the second.
Lord of the Temple by Ernst Lohmeyer
Lord of the Temple is a short but very insightful exploration of what the subtitle describes as the “relation between cult and gospel.” Beginning with a presentation of the basic complexities and tensions surrounding the person and work of Jesus in the gospels and the Jewish cult centered in the temple, Lohmeyer seeks to survey the literature of the synoptic gospels (with passing comments on other New Testament texts) examining how the words and actions of Jesus challenge, confront, and transform the ritual system of sacrifice, ceremonial cleanness and purity, as well as reaffirming the very central aim of communion with Israel’s God prescribed in the Old Testament.
Lohmeyer begins by describing what he calls “The Problem.” The “Problem” or tension which exists in Lohmeyer’s estimation is found at several levels of the interaction between cult and gospel. First, Lohmeyer points out that after the advent of the gospel, not only did the Jewish cult die out but all cultures widely impacted by the gospel saw the gradual dwindling of cultic practices. At the same time, it is recognized that there grew up a certain Christian cult which in some sense “preserves” certain elements of that old Jewish cult while roundly rejecting a large portion of it. Thus, there is tension between the Christian cult and its Jewish roots. Secondly, Lohmeyer suggests that there is a distinction to be made between faith and cult, between the historical and particular and the eternal and universal. He points out that cult, as an institution from God, is already seeking to join these realities as the eternal, universal reality of God is intervening into history at a particular time in a particular place in the specific form and action of the cult. Lohmeyer says that in “this way the sacred becomes history and history becomes sanctified, yet in both a fulfillment is required which is not history” (p. 8). The point seems to be that the sheer fact of the transcendent particularizing in history always necessarily points beyond itself and ultimately looks for an eschatological fulfillment. Thirdly, and related to the previous point, Lohmeyer describes the tensions resident within the three-fold identity of God’s people: their birth, law, and sacrificial system. Here, he explains that all three of these elements exhibit the gracious actions of God, and yet there is still a tension that exists between “the particularity of outward cultic forms and the universality of its inward sacred reality” (p. 17). Another way of saying this is that there is a moral element woven throughout the cultic landscape which must always be reckoned with. While the cult has moral elements to it, if the two become absolutely identified then morality is reduced to mere outward cultic acts. Nevertheless, there is an element of the outward cult that always demands more, looking beyond itself to some greater fulfillment, and this itself is a balance to self-congratulatory moralism. To these questions, problems, or tensions Lohmeyer asks, how does the gospel confront, answer, and challenge these concerns? Given the prophetic literature in particular where both a hearty denunciation of cultic abuses and hypocrisy are combined with a number of Messianic prophecies foretelling the renewal of the temple, one expects to find these tensions and problems addressed in the person and work of the Messiah.
Lohmeyer proceeds in the following chapter to the gospels themselves and begins examining the various ways in which Jesus takes upon himself the form and function of the Temple cult. Jesus makes people “clean,” a cultic category in itself, and furthermore, a cultic action and pronouncement that only the High Priest might make. With the titles “Holy One” and “Son of Man” Jesus forgives sins, heals the sick, and casts out demons. And in all of these things Jesus is clearly challenging the traditional cultic system of the Jews, even that which was explicitly commanded by God. Where God had established the sacrificial system and the priesthood to forgive sins and establish cleanliness, the “Son of Man” is now taking upon himself these tasks and doing so by his own authority. Thus, a new tension, a new problem arises in the gospel, and it only increases. His famous activities of association with “sinners” and “tax collectors” and his regular feasting with such outcasts also challenge the Jewish cult. Furthermore, not only did his actions challenge the cult, but they did so on the basis of Jesus’ own certainty that he was ushering in the “kingdom of God,” the eschatological fulfillment of the Old Testament cultic system. Jesus also challenges the definitions of “clean” and “holy,” insisting (contrary to Moses) that purity and holiness were tied to “the inner world of the human heart” (p. 31). Given Jewish cult, it is a revolutionary statement for Jesus to say, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Lohmeyer moves on to the Triumphal Entry of Jesus in Jerusalem and points out that he enters the city not only as the King spoken of by Zechariah, but given his destination (the temple), he enters as “the Lord of God’s Temple” (p. 34). This is confirmed by the fact that his immediate action after entering the city is to go into the temple and “look around.” He inspects the House of God with the authority of the High Priest. Of course the following scene, the “cleansing of the Temple,” famously continues all of these themes. Lohmeyer points out that Jesus’ words and actions are curious in several ways. First, the actual area that Jesus cleanses is the “Court of the Gentiles,” not an area of the temple particularly concerned for cleanliness or purity at least as far as the cultic “purists” would have been concerned. In fact, Lohmeyer suggests that this Gentile Court would have been viewed as a serious compromise by many of the strictest Jews. Their hopes for the eschatological deliverance of Israel would likely have included the destruction of such elements “contaminating” the pure worship of Yahweh. Secondly, Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah’s prophecy calling the Temple a “house of prayer for all peoples” is strange given that the Temple was largely used for sacrifice and cultic ritual. There is also an interesting tension within Jesus’ own ministry where he on the one hand instructs his disciples to “go nowhere among the gentiles” and on the other his various references to the coming inclusion of the nations of the earth (and this cleansing of the court of the Gentiles at the Temple). Finally, Lohmeyer examines Jesus’ own words regarding the coming destruction of the temple and his establishment of a new or “Christianized” Jewish feast in the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Lohmeyer closes this section by comparing the synoptic gospels and their appreciation or critique of the Jewish cult.
Next is an examination of what the gospels teach regarding cult in general. Given that there can be no faith without cult (p. 62), Lohmeyer examines the words and actions of Christ in terms of cult itself. Jesus places a significant importance on the “kingdom of God” in his teaching and often in particular “entering” the kingdom of God. Given the fact that the temple was itself the throne of God, the place were God ruled and judged his people, it is not strange to see a parallel between the entrance regulations of the Temple and this new proclamation of “entering” the kingdom of God. This “kingdom” (basileia) is closely connected with the “assembly” (ekklesia), and indeed Lohmeyer says they are “interchangeable” ideas. He explains that “Basileia means from God’s point of view that which the word ekklesia describes from the Master’s point of view” (p. 67). Additionally, Jesus says that he will destroy the Temple and “build another”; Lohmeyer connects this “building” with his words to Peter concerning the Church which he intends to “build.” Thus we see that in the “house of God” motif, the Temple, the Kingdom, and this new ekklesia are all bound together, and Jesus insists by his words and actions that the people who will make up this household are those who were formerly outcasts, sinners, and unclean (i.e. excluded from the cult). This insistence challenges and transforms those three identity markers of the Jewish people. Birth is no longer the issue but re-birth. Law is also challenged in Christ’s contradiction of the sacrificial and cleanliness laws but also in His use of the prophets. Lohmeyer suggests that prior to Christ the prophets had not received the same canonical status as the Torah. Lohmeyer writes: “What Jesus did was to replace the cult by the prophets, and to treat them not as mere interpreters of the Law as the Jews had done, but as themselves bearers of the word of God in their own right” (p. 72). The gospel transforms the cult in this sense by insisting as the prophets had that there was something deeper that all the sacrifices and purity rituals pointed to. The love of God and neighbor had been what they always aimed at, and now with the coming of the eschatological kingdom, Jesus insists that this is what God wants: a sacred fellowship binding himself to his people and his people together. Ultimately this is what is established in the Eucharistic meal. The Son of Man who “combines in his person this trilogy: king, judge, priest,” those old functions of the Temple and its ministers, establishes a new center, a new fellowship and communion. Thus, the answers to “The Problem” of the cult found in the gospel seem to be found largely in the reality of the eternal, heavenly holiness truly breaking into history in the form of once-for-all baptism and the communion meal. This in itself fulfills what the ancient cult always pointed to and simultaneously establishes a new cult but one that embodies and reveals the fullness of the eschatological reality of forgiveness and fellowship with God.
Lohmeyer’s study has many things to commend it. His in-depth and meticulous analysis of the gospel literature is invaluable for its attention to cultic references and assumptions. While this limits his study in many helpful ways, his modernistic assumptions show through in places where he discounts other New Testament literature (e.g. John and Hebrews) as less than reliable, and thus handcuffs his inquiry unduly in other areas (see pp. 68-69, 110). His broad understanding of “sacrifice” to include more than mere expiation for sin or cleansing but also the end goal of fellowship and communion was an excellent insight and one that is not nearly emphasized enough (e.g. p. 14, passim). Yet in places, one is left wondering how Lohmeyer understands the need for “forgiveness” and “holiness.” While he recognizes the need for the inward and outward realities to match and coincide according to the revealed word of God, his temerity and unwillingness to regard the death of Christ as sacrifice suggests that he holds a less than biblical view of sin and the Fall. Nevertheless, given the New Testament descriptions of Christian worship in cultic and sacrificial categories, it is hardly surprising that the historic Church has not shied away from using such language to describe its work. Lohmeyer’s study is a welcome contributor to this discussion.