simply Christian

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

1 Corinthians 1

It seems like it holds true to the present: there are a number of Christian denominations and traditions which remain essentially divided over this and that, sometimes what appears to be significant matters over the gospel, and yet in the end, they would acknowledge that the ones they are dividing from are likely in Christ.

What if we simply got rid of the idea that we have to be united over this or that nonessential? But for many, unless one believes that the bread of Holy Communion becomes Christ’s body, and the wine is blood, then they can’t be in any kind of fellowship and working relationship. Or churches remain divided over this or that. It seems impossible to break the division.

We need to center on the gospel, and live with our differences around that. Maybe challenge each other in the process, but make it a priority to be united, insofar as we possibly can for our witness to the world, as well as the good of our own faith.

Reports from China years back said that the church was growing exponentially until they began to get divergent directions from different Christian bodies in the free world. The simplicity of the power of the gospel, and God’s grace in that was disrupted by human made rules and tradition. The work of the Spirit was thus undermined, if not thwarted altogether.

When it’s not the gospel that is central, or when there are certain aspects of our participation in the gospel which end up dividing us, we have work to do. We need to make provision for all who are in Christ to be united as one in faith and practice.

That is what I’m coming to now. We might want to bring a believer along to understand and practice or even not think they have to practice certain things, arguably, but as long as they have faith in Christ, that should be enough for them to be fully united to us in our church body and witness to the world. The New Testament doesn’t know any believer who isn’t baptized, at least not as a rule, but differences there should not cause us to exclude each other.

What we need to press for is to maximize our oneness in Christ through the gospel. That needs to take priority over other matters. In spite of what differences we have, we ought to make provision for that. In the grace of God in and through Jesus.

the oneness of all who are in Christ and therefore his church

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

John 17

When I read or hear of the divisions within Christendom, or I mean the traditions of Christianity, then I want to think of it as something less than Christianity. Conservative Lutherans within a denomination which ironically is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals don’t consider themselves in full fellowship with Reformed people, since the Reformed supposedly divide Christ in their view of the Eucharist, not accepting the body and blood of the Lord in it. And therefore they won’t participate with them publicly. The Eastern Orthodox Church won’t seriously consider uniting with Roman Catholics, even after the overture for such from the latter. I wonder if all such in reality are the ones who are sinning against the Lord in not discerning his body (1 Corinthians 11).

I might hold myself to something of what Anglicans hold to in Holy Communion, that according to the teaching found in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11, something of the body and blood of the Lord is present in the Eucharist. And I might especially like John Calvin’s explanation of that more in terms of the Spirit’s presence in it, of course the Son and the Father also then being present by the Spirit. So that this presence is indeed spiritual, as opposed to physical. Hence I suppose the Lutheran charge that the Reformed reject Christ’s humanity in the Eucharist. I see Holy Communion myself as a sacrament, and more than just a symbol, and wish the Bible church where we’re taking our grandchildren, and where we’ll probably become members would hold to the same view, and practice Holy Communion once a week rather than once a quarter.

But regardless of our views on the Lord’s Table, all who are in Jesus by faith are one with him, and with each other by the Spirit. We are one, period. How dare we deny that oneness for the sake of tradition, or our interpretation of scripture? I notice that churches like the one we’re attending do not at all deny the oneness of all who are in Christ, and would fully participate with such, or at least let any professing believer participate in Holy Communion with them.

Also while I understand the view by which neither the Lutherans mentioned above, nor Roman Catholics (and I’m guessing neither the Eastern Orthodox) don’t allow Christians who don’t hold to their view of Holy Communion to participate with them in it, I am with the Christians who believe this is a case of tradition gaining the upper hand on scripture, and actually nullifying the word of God. Or what do the Lord’s words in the prayer quoted above mean?

This leaves me with an empty feeling as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation when Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the Roman Catholic church in Wittenberg. And it makes me less apt to want to attend a Roman Catholic service. And in some ways even less interested in attending an Eastern Orthodox one. And I feel sad over all of this. Because I believe every person who by faith, and we might add baptism (the New/Final Testament essentially does not divide the two, but I would settle for by faith) are one with Christ, period. And therefore ought to be treated as such, especially in the sacrament in which this oneness is celebrated, remembered, and in a sense renewed, Communion. Christian traditions ought to figure out how to lay aside their tradition in honor of that oneness, yes, during the Eucharist, so that all in Christ can participate in that. The only explanation needed would be the reality of the grace of God in Jesus.

Until they do, I for one have a hard time taking them completely seriously. They see other Christians as sinning against the body and blood of the Lord, when the great sin in 1 Corinthians 11 was the failure on the part of some Christians to act as if other Christians were members of Christ’s body. Enough. Christ is not divided, period. Nor his church. They should adopt grace as overriding the letter of their tradition, even while they still hold to it. Are traditions set in stone? I believe in the gospel, and in the written word of God. I’m sure some Christians would pick at that statement. Regardless, let’s quit doing this, would be my plea, and let’s fully accept all who name the name of our Lord Jesus, and hold to that gospel as given to us in scripture (example: 1 Corinthians 15). Otherwise we fail to live according to our Lord’s words in his great high priestly prayer prayed on the eve of his crucifixion and death.

continuing in the word in the Word: “in Christ” and “in Christ…crucified”

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

John 14

Regardless of what happens in the unexpected twists and turns of life, the Christian, or follower of Christ is grounded in the faith: dependent on Christ, but also calling one to faith. I would like to say, calling us to faith, since it’s a community endeavor. Being in the word in the Word is key.

Perhaps Greg Boyd is getting at some vital, even though I’m not sure I would end up agreeing with some of his conclusions (see his tome, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. I await the shorter version due, I read, in August). But I am confident that at least there’s something to be said for the idea of reading all of scripture through the lens of Christ, and Christ crucified. As Christians, we endeavor to read the text in its original context, and ultimately as something fulfilled by Christ, so that in a certain sense the text is in Christ, or to be read in the light of Christ. And at the heart of Christ and his coming is his crucifixion, his death on the cross, and the God who is love being revealed in that light.

While scripture doesn’t talk explicitly about being “in the Word,” “in Christ” is repeated over and over again in the New/Final Testament, especially in Paul’s letters. It is shorthand for what is most essential in understanding the faith for our faith. So that no matter what I’m facing, or what we are facing together, the reality of remaining “in Christ” remains intact. And an important aspect of that is to remain in scripture, in God’s word. I take it that we feed on Christ both through the word and through the sacrament, Holy Communion/the Eucharist. For those of us (and I live among them) who don’t accept the view of the church at large since early times that somehow Jesus is especially present in the bread and the wine (not in the way the Roman Catholics suggest, but perhaps more like the Eastern Orthodox, or better yet for me, the description of that given by John Calvin), we at least acknowledge that we can feed on Christ by being in the word, in scripture. As we read it in the light of Christ’s fulfillment, in our union in him.

All kinds of things change, we get older, new problems and sometimes grave difficulties face us. But one thing remains for us, whatever else happens in our world, and in the world: In the faith by faith we are “in Christ,” and in that union both as individuals, and together, dependent on God through his word. Each of us must do this, but part of that is to do so in communion with all the saints, in the fellowship of the church. In and through Jesus.

a living faith

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

Hebrews 11

Philosophical Nominalism is said to have plagued part of the church before and into the Reformation and beyond. Simplistically stated, it’s the idea that reality is in the words themselves apart from that actual realities themselves. And ends up actually putting a kibosh on the realities, even questioning their existence. This is said of those whose faith puts a priority on words, and precisely on the written word instead of the Word himself, Jesus. Those are the ones who deny the Real Presence in the Eucharist (Holy Communion) and count it merely symbolical.

Suffice it to say that I consider such a charge mistaken. Faith is in God’s word counting on the realities themselves to be true. So that we base our entire lives on them. One might partake of Holy Communion every week, believing that in doing so, they are partaking of the body and blood of Christ, of Christ himself. Others might partake of it once and awhile, and see it as only a rememberance, the wafers and juice being symbolic. But if they have faith, they will receive and even now have the result of what that ordinance represents, a new life in Jesus.

According to the passage, the beginning of which is quoted above, faith is the difference maker. And it comes down to faith in God’s word, ultimately God’s word about Jesus, faith in Jesus himself. That’s what the Bible clearly calls us to again and again. Specifically the Final/New Testament.

What we all need– regardless of our church, and where it stands on some of the theological debates and differences, and where we might stand on such issues– we all need faith. A living faith which takes God at his word, and receives Christ as God’s final Word. A faith which enables us to hear and obey that word, remembering the Pioneer and Perfecter of such faith, Jesus himself. Our confidence and assurance ultimately resting in him.

a meditation for Maundy Thursday

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

John 13:1-17

Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him,God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:31b-35

Jesus instuted the Last Supper as part of the Passover meal. He was indeed to be the Passover Lamb not only for God’s people, but also for the world.

I miss being a part of a church which recognizes that this partaking of the bread and the cup is both a memorial, as well as an actual participation in our Lord’s body and blood (1 Corinthians 10:16). And that it should be celebrated regularly. The table has been central for centuries in the Christian church and helps keep the gospel front and center.

We do well today to meditate on both what happened around the time of the meal, our Lord washing the feet of the disciples, as well as on the meal itself. But with the readings such as they are today, I will choose to reflect more on the texts at hand. And how we’re to in love serve one another before the world, as a demonstration of our Lord’s love to us, ultimately seen in his death soon to follow, for us and for the world (1 John 2:2).

prayer for Maundy Thursday

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

the body and the blood

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Whether we see it as only a memorial, or in some sense an actual participation in the body and blood of our Lord (1 Corinthians 10:16), this is a practice which the church made central for centuries, and I would argue ought to be practiced in some form, weekly in our churches. Due to a needed (I think) emphasis on scripture, and an interpretation which denied anything of the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and the wine, one of the unnecessary, even unfortunate (in my opinion) outcomes of the Reformation, especially so later was to decentralize the Lord’s Table, so that the preaching of the word became central.

The proclamation of the word, and always so in relation to the gospel ought to be central in our church gatherings, as well as in our lives and witness. We are people of God, under God’s authority through the word given through and to the church. The word is essential for our life in God and in this world.

But the point of the word is what must always be kept front and center. The church has been led by God, I believe, or at least has wisely chosen to make the gospel front and center through the Lord’s Table being the climactic end of each service, after which the church is given it’s mission: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

Good liturgy helps keep the gospel/good news of God in Jesus central, and that is why I can appreciate a liturgy driven service. The sermon contributes to that, but is not the centerpiece itself. We need to hear the word proclaimed and taught, of course. And its context is always the gospel, as well as our response to the gospel in faith, hope and love.

And so this institution which the Lord established on the night he was betrayed, is to go on until he returns, as a proclamation of his death, as well as a participation in his life. At the heart of our faith and witness.

not spiritualizing earthly promises

Father Michael Cupp pointed out to us that promises made to Israel, now fulfilled in Jesus, with the end result still future, is very much into, for and about this world (Joshua 5:9-12). Even as it brings another world not only into the picture, but somehow into the reality of life. That was realized then with the promise of land, actual land on earth, fulfilled during Joshua’s time beginning with Moses, the initial promise made to Abraham. And the manna rained down on them daily, except on the Sabbath, God’s provision for them on their journey to the Promised Land. Literal food for them on earth from heaven. And how we now partake of the body and blood of our Lord through the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Not in the sense described by the Roman Catholics (nor the Lutherans), but in some mysterious sense. The point being that the heavenly from God in Jesus by the Spirit is very much for earth, for our existence in this life, as well as in the life to come when heaven and earth become one in Jesus.

We are victims of a Modernist mindset which demotes heaven into some upper story, surreal existence, which is quite okay for those who want to participate in that, but has nothing to do with the lower story where we actually live: reality. But just as Jesus came down from heaven as the Bread of Life to give life to the world, so we in Jesus receive spiritual sustenance to live that same life in Jesus and Jesus in us even here and now.

Advent: Jesus coming to die

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

Advent is a time to reflect on why Jesus came. In a sense he did come to die, but more precisely, he came so that God might become King in a very down-to-earth way, and at the heart of that kingship and kingdom is death and resurrection.

This is why in liturgical churches: in churches of the Great Tradition, and in Protestant Reformed churches, the Lord’s Table, or the Eucharist (also called the Mass, and Holy Communion) is front and center, and the climax of every service. And this is also why the church alone is the political entity of lasting, eternal hope for the peace that the world’s governments will never and could never bring. That doesn’t mean world governments should simply fold tent and give up. Or that the United Nations should be dissolved. It simply means that the only unfailing, everlasting hope for the world is in King Jesus himself, and through his person as the God-human, and his work on the cross— death and resurrection. What the world needs has already begun in the church in and through Jesus– the good news of the gospel (which means, good news). That reality should and inevitably does to some extent spill out into the world and impact people and governments. But it can never be exported into some nation state or political party, so that the entity becomes something of God’s kingdom come in King Jesus. No, that can be found only in the church through the gospel.

And make no mistake: at the heart of that reality is Jesus’ suffering in his death, followed by his resurrection. Death and resurrection in and through Jesus is the necessary means to the end: God becoming King on earth, so that God’s will can be done here, as it is in heaven.

words and acts being holy

We hear of those churches either rooted in the Great Tradition, or closer rooted to it of the importance of the ministry of the word and the sacraments. Of course referring to scripture and at least to baptism and the Lord’s Supper (or, Meal, referring to the Eucharist or Holy Communion). I would agree in the sense that both the words and the acts are holy, not only in terms of the human participation in them, but of no less than God’s participation in them as well. We can say they’re symbolic, but we can’t stop there. The sign is imbued with the reality, in other words something of the reality accompanies the sign I take it– by the Holy Spirit of God. Just how all of this happens, take for example in the Lord’s Meal, I don’t think we need to know. Except that both the past and the future is brought into the present by the Spirit in and through Jesus. N. T. Wright in this little book makes a good case for that.

Good, well thought out liturgy such as we find in the tradition Thomas Cranmer began in the Book of Common Prayer carries with it both a beauty and power which reaches deep into the human experience, indeed into our humanity bringing into that nothing less than the divine in and through Jesus. And by that a working toward the fulfillment of our true humanity made no less than in the image of God. The prayer book takes one through scripture along with prayers and song and opportunities to pray for a host of things, good and important reminders.

In so many evangelical churches while there is some good liturgy by virtue of the songs sang and the scripture that is read and preached, it is often hit and miss in terms of the gospel remaining front and center in it all,  I’m supposing. The words and acts in such services are certainly no less holy, and there’s not one way of meeting together in corporate worship. But I am thinking there are certain basics which need to be covered which are the usual common fare in the churches of the Great Tradition.  And we do well to learn from such in this regard. There is a Roman Catholic church in our neighborhood which I attended (a 5:00 pm Saturday service) once. So rich in liturgy both in the reading of scripture and in prayers and song. Only about 5% I’m supposing was Roman Catholic, the rest being common to us all. I have also been impressed from what I’ve seen of the Eastern Orthodox tradition in this regard. Symbols being treated as they really are: holy. Because through such we are taken into the very presence of God in and through Jesus by the Spirit.

We could say adoration of God in praise, confession of sin, thanksgivings, along with supplications meaning petitions in prayer to God should be basic in all of corporate worship. Along with the proclamation or preaching of the word. And I think it is good to leave open room for the unusual, what is nowadays called the charismatic, movings of the Spirit in God’s people outside the normal rhythm, yet in harmony and resonant with that. The good order and normal flow and work of the Spirit may at times be accompanied or temporarily suspended by a needed holy interruption. Before getting back into the normal flow.

Our church is good at incorporating something of this into each service. So that we have a good balance between the liturgical and what might be called free or spontaneous. Again there is no one way of being church in the corporate worship setting. But it does seem essential to acknowledge and remember that our words and acts are especially marked out as holy in those places and times.