it take a church

Nowadays there seems to have been a backlash against what was used by a political candidate here in the US some years back: “It takes a village.” Actually that has plenty of truth in it, just as does the idea that we can’t depend on others to do for us what only we can do. They can’t live our lives for us. Nor should we expect others to do for us what we can do ourselves. True. But the prevailing emphasis on individual rights and freedom nowadays perhaps is the idea that we can get along just fine on our own, that we need no one else.

God’s word and its fulfillment in Jesus tells us something entirely different. Humans are made for community. Yes, some of us like our space, and need more separation than others. But none of us were made for isolation, for solitary confinement. As God says in Genesis: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make one corresponding him,  as complements to each other” (Genesis 2; my paraphrase).

Sin divides us from God and each other. At its core sin is a violation of love for God, and for neighbor, which really ends up being all humanity, especially in the world in which we live today, a shrinking globe due to our ability to traverse so well. God’s saving work in Christ is at heart a reconciliation to God and to each other. That reconciliation is front and center in the church. Through the gospel: baptism and the Lord’s table being central in enacting and displaying it.

“It takes a church” we might say. Yes, made up of imperfect, broken, yet being put together people like you and I. Just ordinary people, and often struggling to one degree or another. But our lives are meant to be lived not in isolation, but with others. If we’re “in Christ” by faith, then we’re in Christ’s body, the church. Our identity then, is not only in Christ, but in his body, the church.

That seems often minimized in evangelical Christian circles, with an emphasis on people’s individual response to the gospel and God’s word. But it is not minimized in the very Scripture we evangelicals hold as central to our faith. We need to acclimate ourselves to something different. The life of God we find in Jesus is especially made known in the church. And imbibed and then lived out yes even in the church through what we might call the sacraments, and our lives lived together in communion with each other. And from that sent out on mission. 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.

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).

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.

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.

the church is one in and through our Lord Jesus

I am not sure I would care to join a local church that divided themselves to be the church unlike other churches in the world. Okay, I will name examples: the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church unfortunately are prime examples of what I have in mind. They are like cousins, but they won’t even worship with each other, at least the Eastern Orthodox priests teach their congregants to share in the Eucharist only in their churches and not in any Roman Catholic Church, even though the Roman Catholic Church permits them to partake with them. Of course all other churches are out of the equation because they don’t agree on what happens at the Eucharist, also called Holy Communion or the Lord’s Table. Or they don’t accept the reality present there (as one commenter said on this interesting post).

The Lord doesn’t seem to be on board with this determination, decree, however you want to put it, if that is getting at an acceptable way of saying this. I mean when I look at the New Testament, at Jesus’ prayer for the oneness of all who follow him (John 17), at the diversity evident in those pages, and when I consider how the Spirit is moving today, it does make me wonder. The fastest growing church worldwide is not the Roman Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church, but the charismatic/Pentecostal expression of the faith. People are coming to Christ in large numbers especially in the southern hemisphere through their witness. And churches are being established. And the Lord doesn’t accept them as genuine churches because they don’t hold to his Table the way the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox do?

I believe the bread and wine are more than symbols, that in some sense the partaking of them is sacramental, even if I’m at a loss to explain well how. I like the Eastern Orthodox insistence on mystery here over the Roman Catholic explanation steeped in philosophical Aristotelian thought, even if there might be something to say for the latter. I like more the thought as I understand it that N. T. Wright suggests, that somehow we are taken back to the original meal and fast forwarded to the meal to come in the present by the Spirit through Jesus’ once for all sacrificial death on the cross. I also simply accept it as a member of an Anglican church without thinking I have to understand it.

The church I take it is where at least two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, committed to regularly meet both for the sacramental and common life in Jesus by the Spirit. There is much more that needs to be said around that. But I like to say that the church is one, period. That all churches who hold to the gospel are one in spite of their differences and let me add, in spite of their errors. Not all who call themselves church are church. Some really do not hold to the gospel as set forth in scripture. If Pope Francis says we are genuine Christians and therefore those who by the power of God through faith have been saved, then why can’t we all share in the Lord’s meal together, if indeed we are one?

judging ourselves

1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is a passage about the Lord’s supper or meal which the Corinthian church was failing to practice in a way that was fitting or honorable to Christ. In fact, the meal itself, symbolic of the oneness that was theirs in Christ, was instead turned into a debacle in which the rich ate (some even getting drunk) up before the poor arrived late (probably from their work). Paul makes it clear that there was sickness and even death among them, because of the failure by some to recognize the Lord’s body. Referring not so much to the breaking of the bread, but to what that symbolized in their gathering. That they themselves are the body of Christ. Paul said that if they would judge themselves, God would not have to judge them. But that since they failed to, God would, so that in the end they wouldn’t be condemned with the world.

I think it is easy for us to excuse what amounts to out and out sin. We may not allow for a moment what we once excused or rationalized in years past. But sin is sin. And at the heart of sin most often is the failure to love: certainly to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

We need to ask God to search us in this, and to reveal to us what’s not pleasing to him (Psalm 139:23-24NLT). And we need to judge ourselves in what we ought to know better and know already. We can’t excuse wrong attitudes toward others, particularly toward our brothers and sisters in Christ, and expect to get away with it. God will judge, if we fail to. Sometimes we need to do it together as  body, but it is good when each of us takes on themselves to judge themselves. To refuse anything, no matter how justified it may be, that is displeasing to the God and not according to his will in Christ Jesus.