July 4th, 2015| Topic: RaMbLeS | 0


For most of May, I was in the Holy Land with a bunch of enterprising students from Dallas Seminary. “Enterprising” because this was a three-week course: Biblical Geography and History. Which meant they had lectures, quizzes, finals. Which meant they had to take notes while sightseeing. Which meant that after grueling days, averaging 5–6 miles a day on foot under the hot sun of the Middle East for three whole weeks, they had to return to their hotels and study! Enterprising!

But it was all a lot of fun.

We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem. Supposedly Calvary/Golgotha is located therein, where Jesus was crucified. Some also believe the church contains the place where Jesus was buried and resurrected.

It is said to have been constructed by the Christian emperor, Constantine the Great, in the early fourth century. While it was being built, Helena, Constantine’s mother, is said to discovered the cross of Jesus. In any case, it has been a major pilgrimage site for Christians for close to two millennia.

The control of the edifice is shared between the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, and Roman Catholics, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, and the Coptic Church having a lesser role than the others. Which brings us to a curious problem.

Fights. That often require the Israeli police to intervene. In fact, so bad has been the fighting that the key to the Church is entrusted with a Muslim man who unlocks the edifice each morning—Muslims have been doing this task since the twelfth century! Christians fight, Jewish police intervene, and Muslims control entry.

In order to keep things under control, in 1853 an agreement was signed by the respective church factions: “The Status Quo” agreement. Everyone has their own area of control within the church, but some areas are designated common territory. Nothing in this common territory may even be rearranged without consent from all parties.

Somebody (likely a workman), for some unknown reason (likely for restorative work), had placed a ladder on a window ledge over the entrance to the Church, before 1853. The 1853 Status Quo defined doors and window ledges as community property. Which meant that the ladder couldn’t be moved without common agreement. Century-old photographs have shown the ladder in exactly the same position; there is even a 1728 engraving that depicts said piece of wood in said location. The Case of the Immovable Ladder.

This tool thus serves as the measure of how Christians get along. To be sure, the six churches in charge of the Church disagree on ritual, liturgy, and theology, and not just the ladder. But the ladder is a manifestation of the differences that have riven the various sects of Christianity, in Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant communities.

Jesus prayed:

“Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me,
that they may be one even as We are.
… that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You,
that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
John 17:11, 21

And Paul exhorted:

Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you
to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus,
so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify
the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, accept one another,
just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
Romans 15:5–7

But we fight!

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