Thursday, June 23, 2011

Living in the Future Backwards

Hebrews 11.

Part of faith is embracing a picture of what life could or will be, but isn't at the moment. That is not to say that what could be is relegated to the distant future, but just to say that it isn't in this instant. In this regard faith is sort of like living currently by rules and reality that don't exist now. Living in the moment as if what isn't in the moment is.

Now that could seem a disingenuous mantra, but I take it (at least in part) to be something of what it means to be in the world, but not of it. Without faith, all one has it what is: with faith, one embraces the sovereignty of God and the possibilities entailed therein. I do not believe Christians are meant to go about spouting positive confessions, that in truth are just false confessions (e.g. one who has a fever who says his temperature is normal is lying, not positively confessing), but neither do I believe that we should sit back and take it as if God isn't in charge and hasn't made promises to those who trust him.

We have been redeemed and translated into a kingdom where there is no sickness or death, no class or gender divisions, no racial divides and no sin. Where the light is the Lord himself and there is no cause for sorrow. Part of being God's people in the here and now is appropriating the earnest of our inheritance in the there and then. In that respect, faith is not just about slugging through the now while looking forward to a better future, but also living in the future, backwards.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Just A Bit More About Communion

Continuing on the subject of Communion...

Guilt for the Body and Blood
One may wonder how the violation of the elements of a memorial meal would rise to the level of weakness and death in punishment. To such reverie, I say let us remember: a simple command to not eat a piece of fruit resulted in the weakness and death of everything. It is not the relative scope of the offense itself (as we would see it) which determines God's response in judgment, but what he can see the offense betrays about the condition of faith in the perpetrator. Our scales can in no way be applied to the justice of God.

A God-given sign of faith, not honored as such, carries notable risk with its dishonor. It's not because the substance of the sign (the elements) was violated, but because of the attitude betrayed toward what is conveyed by them. There is no implication in such punishment that necessitates that it entail an affront to some special presence, or gracious virtue. Guilt accrues over simple bread and wine simply because one who is disrespectful of the sign is disdainful of the thing signified by it. One needs to discern this truth when participating in the Supper.

What God gives us is himself. It's what is at the heart and soul of being born again. The Spirit of God quickens us, and we become living stones, part of the Temple, or habitation of God. It can't get better than that. God, no longer at a distance, but instantly with us and us always with him. To see grace, effectively, as some piece-meal add-on to rebirth fails to understand rebirth. Whatever God wants to demonstrate within the believer springs from his abiding presence within. There are no means of grace, for the only means of divine blessing is God the Spirit, and he is within us before and quite apart from the performance of any ritual.

Stevie Wonder was right, superstition ain't the way. Yet it is all too human, even amongst "believers". Case in point: the Bronze Serpent Moses lifted up and of which Jesus said he was the antitype. A memorial for the power God displayed when that serpent was lifted up became, through the superstitious seating of power in the serpent, idolatry. The hold of serpent superstition had to be broken then, the same is true of sacramentalism in the Lord's supper today.

If history is any guide, that same serpent devolution happened quickly in the early church with the Lord's Supper. I think sometimes folks look to the early church for too much. The NT epistles are filled with corrections, rebukes, astonished acknowledgments of sin and doctrinal error in the earliest church. If believers could mess up that badly when the Apostles were still alive and well, what confidence can be placed in their practice once the bodies of the Apostles were cold? The only reliable, authoritative guide we have for faith and practice is the Bible itself!


There is no biblical rule that tells us how often to celebrate the Lord's Supper. The implication in the NT, it seems to me, is that it was practiced often, maybe even at every worship meeting of the first congregations. Nonetheless, I think that if God would have had in mind the sacramental effect that has been saddled on the practice of Communion throughout most of church history, the Spirit would have commanded it less nebulously than "as oft as you eat and drink." No, the spooky necessity attached to the feast is on the back of man rather than the Son of Man.

The celebration does nothing to forgive sin, tap into the blessings God has provided in Christ, or mysteriously bind us together in the one bread and one body of Christ--it bears no sacramental necessity at all.  Jesus inaugurated the meal with the disciples to serve as a memorial until he could eat and drink it again with them in the kingdom of God.  It is simply a God-given way of remembering the means by which we stand before God accepted, and to proclaim our faith that Christ died for our sins, rose for our justification, and is returning for the consummation of his eternal kingdom.

As such the ordinance should not be entered upon callously. One should examine himself before participating and ensure within his own mind that he participates with Christ in view, in a way that honors what Jesus did and taught. That means not eating to satisfy physical hunger or appetite; nor eating self-centeredly, ignoring the body Christ bled and died for. To participate in an manner unworthy of Christ is to eat and drink judgment upon oneself.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Bit More About Communion

Continuing on the subject of Communion...

Participation, or communion (koinonia), can occur at several levels in regard to the Lord's Supper. There is taking part in the actual ritual, there is the reminiscence of the referent of the symbol, and there is an organic connection to other partakers. None of these levels of participation require  special spiritual presence or grace to be effected. In fact, anything that one could posit as an effect of participation (at any of these levels) is actually stated elsewhere in scripture to be ours just through faith or the Spirit (rebirth).

What one already has through faith and rebirth is not subsequently participated in through ritual. If it were, the ritual would be the efficacious source of whatever grace is envisioned to come through it, regardless of how carefully one may attempt to formulate the concept to make it seem otherwise. NT rituals (baptism and the Lord's Supper) are merely a symbolic and/or memorial celebration of what one already possesses--an outward sign of an inner reality possessed apart from the sign.

Paul's comparison of believers' communion in the Lord's Supper to pagans' participation in the sacrifices of idolatry goes a long way in proving the point. Pagans were participating in their altars by eating the meat sacrificed upon them, much in the same way OT saints did with their altar in Jerusalem. The basis for pagan belief was non-existent--idols are nothing and can produce no aftereffect in what is sacrificed to them--but what the pagans were doing was worship, and therefore sin. Demons were the force pulling the strings behind the scene, so even though there was nothing to idols, even less to meat sacrificed to a nothing; what pagans were doing was, nonetheless, a "joining of hands" with demons and therefore forbidden to Christians.

Rather than substantiating the thought that there is "something going on" in the elements eaten from the table, Paul's argument actually undermines it. By comparing the Lord's Supper to the nothingness of idol sacrifice, Paul locates anything substantial in such participation in the faith it betrays in the honoree rather than in the elements of that honor. The problem with eating meat one knows is sacrificed to an idol is not in any heeby-geebies in the meat, but in what it says about one's faith in the false god (really, the demon) behind it.

Our participation in the Lord's Supper is actually of a similar sort of sharing as the pagans are "experiencing" at their altars. Substantially, spiritually, it's not about the bread or wine or the eating of it--its about faith and worship. The participation of the pagan idolaters in their altars did not require any reality of presence or substance in order for it to be real participation (and incur just condemnation), the same holds true for believers and the Lord's Supper. What makes the practice is not the presence or the substance, it's the faith the participant has in the God it celebrates.

With a bit more to follow...

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Bit About Communion

Biblical Development
From Jesus' institution of the memorial until Paul's exposition of it as the Lord's Supper, the ritual known as Communion seems to have developed significant qualities. For Jesus the rite was associated with the tradition of Passover in what appears to be a type/antitype relationship. The OT solemn ritual prefigured the sacrifice of Christ within its symbolic rehearsal of the Passover miracle. Though the entire ritual can be shown to point to Christ, Jesus recast those elements within the meal (bread and wine) which in particular served to reference his sacrifice over and above the Exodus miracle.

Only the elements Christ recast were mandated as the Christian memorial. The rest of Passover's symbology was jettisoned, the Jewish feast not carried over into NT practice. Some twenty years later, Paul seemingly strengthened the spiritual nature of the meal, invoking a mysterious (rather than merely sacred quality), by claiming that unfortunate consequences result when one mishandles it. The offense involved is against the body and blood of Christ, not against mere decorum, and could result in death.

Symbol, Metaphor and Memorial
It is obvious that the feast from which the Lord's Supper derived was a symbolic ritual. Only in the actual occurrence of the Passover on the last night in Egypt was efficacious blood painted on the lintels and doorposts, only then was death to the firstborn actually avoided and freedom secured. All the celebrations of Passover since that singular event were symbolic retellings, including that which Jesus gave new meaning to. What was eaten, in the way it was eaten, pointed back to an actuality that had happened long before without any hint that the retelling secured freedom or redemption or in any way mysteriously connected to it after the fact. It was memorial.

Though Christ was giving new meanings to elements, and pointing the retelling to a different redemptive act (his own death and resurrection), there is nothing that can change the fact that it was symbolic. When first initiated, the act referenced had not even occurred! Were the Disciples and Apostles in that upper room mysteriously in the presence of Christ through partaking those elements? Were they made part of the one body through it? Were they spiritually connected to the benefits of the cross thereby? It would be anachronistic at least and ridiculous at worst to envision any of those kinds of things as occurring in that first, really last, Supper. And if not in the first, with Christ, then why in any of those afterward remembering him?

Though I believe literal interpretation is the way to handle the scriptures, taking figures of speech literally means apprehending the referent of the figure. The Bible identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God doesn't mean that Christ is specially present in ovines (even sacrificial ones) any more than identifying us as sheep means that we are. Christ is not made of wood and hinges though he is called a gate, nor is Christ in any way present in or with bread and wine though the scriptures say that they are the body and blood of Christ. The spilling of Christ's blood and the breaking of his body was a singular historic occurrence: the feast is a symbolic way of retelling, remembering, and celebrating that occurrence. As it was in Passover, so it is in the Lord's Supper.

A bit more to follow...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lead With Sin

When Christians engage the educated and urbane evangelistically and/or apologetically, they often make a mistake of order, as I see it. They will engage the unbelieving on some issue they think will bear fruit, like the existence of God, the historicity of the resurrection, the founding of the church, etc.. More often than not, they end such entanglements having convinced their "opponents" of nothing more than that Christians are idiots who accept flimsy evidence, and who, with flawed conscience, follow an immoral figure as god.

It irks me beyond measure to see and hear the arrogance of this new class of atheists who seem everywhere at the moment, and who appear on the ascendancy culturally. They willingly engage Christians in debate along the manner limned above, and smugly toss away the challenge to their views--even though on the basis of sheer forensics, they've gotten their clocks cleaned. They're heroes to the young, brain-washed, and uninformed, who follow them like lemmings to their inevitable plunge into hell.

Why do these unbelieving, self-inflated blusterers seem bullet proof? I think that as long as the issue is God in general, or even Jesus Christ in particular, these blind guides and their rodent trains will continue to the precipice undaunted. They can be out debated and argued under the table until the cows come home, and it won't change a thing. A change of heart and mind is desperately needed, but it isn't going to come by arguing about things that are outside of themselves.

You see, change is wrapped up in the notion of repentance. Jesus has not come to call those who see no need for repentance but those who do. If any headway is to be made evangelistically with the growing horde of the educated, urbane, and unbelieving, the argument will have to be about man, not God. The man in them has to be humbled, shown that he is sinful, that he may be able to think a noble thought but lacks the self-control to live a noble life, that as a species he is tied up with the death of everything.

If something doesn't snap the pride of man, he marches unheeding into the fires of doom. An awakening must arise in each one, individually, deep inside. Something has to break the gaze upon self, so that the head can turn to see that the Redeemer is near. Christians have attempted to engage the unbelieving with every argument imaginable, and found their punches landing without impact. Perhaps it's time to lead with sin.

It is not like a logical, even a factual argument is going to bring anyone to salvation. That cannot happen apart from that unseen work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did clue us into what the Holy Spirit is convicting people of, and it's not forensics. So, if one wants to flow with the Spirit, and see their witness have supernatural affect, the effort to concentrate on is to help the unbeliever realize he is a sinner. Apart from that he'll never be saved.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Good Musings

Jesus said that God alone is good, which is interesting on a number of levels, but ontologically, I find it a bit of a puzzle. Is God godly because he is good, or is good, good because it is descriptive of God. I cannot see that anything, ultimately, is capable of confining or circumscribing God. To say that God is what he is because he can be pinned down by a quality somehow doesn't make sense to me. I think he always spills over the container.

God is the ultimate being, perfect in every respect, completely self-sufficient. How can such a being be made "finite" by a mere description? I have no argument with Christ that God is good, that is absolutely true. The question is whether or not that is so because God is confined by the description and meets its parameters, or whether the word itself finds its definition in what it is describing. Good is good, in other words, insofar as it describes God.

The consideration is not mere semantical puffery, the Bible gives me some leeway to explore such a claim. Jesus said that God is unknowable apart from self-disclosure. And he also said that God is uniquely good. It seems to me, then, that God is also the only one who knows what is good, and does so on the basis of his self-knowledge.

Good, by this reckoning, is whatever God is, and whatever God is, is good. I think we waste time arguing with the uninformed that God is only good, when they cite what they consider is evil behavior (like the slaughter of the Canaanites). They don't know what good is and therefore are clueless as to what evil is. God is the measure of good, and by extension, anything that which is not aligned with God is not good: evil, simply, is the un-God.