December 15, 2017

Further Thoughts on The Locally Appearing Jesus

foundjesus002.jpgBe sure and read the original post first. As always, endless gratitude to Robert Capon.

1. The Biblical worldview is one of sacramental reality. The glory of God and his Son fill the universe. The purpose of creation is sacramental. Matter is fully capable of mediating the glory of God in whatever way God determines. Psalm 19:1-6 is true: Day to day pours forth speech.

2. The sacramental view of reality has the effect of making all things holy. Christ comes to us in the poor and suffering. God is with us in depths of the Sheol experience. There is no place where his Spirit does not find us. There is no “secular” world to the person whose eyes and heart are opened by the Spirit. The universe is God’s cathedral. To one who is holy, all things are holy.

3. Not every aspect of the universe or experience equally mediates the glory of God to any person at a particular time and place, but it is the Spirit of God who manifests that mediation as he sovereignly chooses. So, at one time, an insect is a bother and a pest. On another occasion, the same insect is a revelation of the presence, power, design and glory of the creator. A day in a marriage may be common, even tedious. On another day it is a day spent in the presence of Christ. A room at work is just a room; then, in a time of Bible study, it becomes the Holy of Holies. So it is with prayer, creation, experience and all of life. While all things are charged with the glory of God, it is the Spirit of God that sovereignly operates upon our minds and hearts to appreciate and perceive that glory.

4. In each aspect of sacramental reality, it is God who comes to us. We do not discover him unless that discovery is gracious and revelatory. God has so constructed and inhabited his universe that he is constantly coming to us in manifestations of glory. “Glimpses of Glory” are possible in every moment and in any experience. For Christians, the God they know in Jesus Christ and through his Spirit is the God who meets them

5. Human persons are included in this sacramental reality, and even our own selves mediate the glory of God when we know that we are created in God’s image and for his glory.

6. The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are sacramental realities where Holy Scripture defines for us the nature of what is seen, experienced and offered. God has “tied himself” to these sacraments in “dependable ways.” The Gospel comes to us as God comes to us in water, wine, bread and the promises of scripture.

7. The “dependable” nature of these sacraments is not quantifiable, but actual. For example, the fullness of God in Christ is a promise to all who believe the Gospel. I reject the notion that a “greater fullness” of Christ is imparted through the Eucharist. I reject this primarily because it is a quantifiable, local term. I prefer to simply say that Christ comes to us in the Gospel through the Lord’s Supper. In the bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus Christ are given to us to feed upon. The amount of physicality or quantity of Jesus associated with the sacrament is a meaningless concept, because all that God is for us in the Gospel comes to us in Jesus Christ and is the inheritance of any person who is “in Christ.”

8. The “Real Presence” of Jesus is a reality that all Christians should be able to agree on. It is in further defining “Real Presence” into theological and philosophical descriptions “owned” by particular churches or groups that needless division occurs. When someone says I cannot commune because I do not believe in the “Real Presence,” they are saying “Because you do not accept a description of the presence of Christ in the words that we use, then we cannot accept that you confess the same faith we do.” In other words, the real Christ who is really present with his people and dependably offered in the Gospel of the Lord’s Table must be confessed using a particular description of physicality, locality and quantity.

9. Avoiding Baptism and the Lord’s Supper is problematic in a number of ways varying in seriousness, but the full and unqualified availability of Jesus Christ to any person is not one of those problems. The commands of Jesus regarding these sacraments do not create a system of limited, local availability.

10. I reject the idea that we are faced with the problem of deciding which Christian denomination is actually evidence that God is in the business of starting exclusive franchises where we may transact business with him. I’ve written elsewhere of my own shift away from transactional Christianity.

11. Ephesians. 3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family* in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

The “pleroma” or “fullness” that Paul is speaking of is Christ himself. Although this passage is full of “quantifiable” language, the love of Christ is, in fact, the fullness of God. It is important to note that speaking of the “width” or “depth” of God’s love in Christ is an ironic way of speaking of what cannot be quantified or localized beyond Jesus Christ himself.

The entire atmosphere of New Covenant worship is influenced by this. What remained to be done, has been done. What was empty has been filled. What was imperfect is now perfected in Christ. The joy of New Testament worship and life is the “fullness” and “finishedness” of it.

Comments

  1. I wonder– whatever the details regarding how Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist (or Baptism), shouldn’t the benefit of the sacrament come to us because we put our trust in Jesus himself (while humbly participating) and not because we understand a specific doctrine about how it works? (that is–when the Bible does not spell it out exactly). I think it’s good to speculate how God works through things, but when we think we know for sure, I don’t think that’s the time to exclude Christian siblings from the table who don’t quite follow exactly why we think that way.

  2. I swear, I really don’t get this whole “real presence of Jesus” thing in the Lord’s supper. The third member took on flesh and became one of us. He then was crucified, killed, and buried; and on the third day he arose from the dead. But here is the thing: He took on flesh for all time. Jesus didn’t return as a ghost. He returned as a man. The person of Jesus is now locative. Now that he is glorified, I am sure he has all of his power and attributes back. But he is still human! He was still able to consume a fish with Peter and the disciples! What are people saying: on Sunday, Jesus clones himself like a million times and places himself “in” the bread and wine and people eat him?

    Anyways, the Lord’s Supper is supposed to be a sign of unity rather than division. Look at 1 Cor. 10:17, Paul’s ground for prohibiting particapation in pagan feasts is that the church is one body that partakes of one bread.

    And what about the Holy Spirit? The pouring out of the Spirit is central to the NT. When Jesus ascended, the Spirit descended and formed a new people of God who not in man made rules and rituals but in spirit and in truth. Some of the conversation given has just been lost on me.

  3. Nicholas Anton says:

    Michael

    Please define what you believe a sacrament is and is not?
    According to my dictionary, New World Dictionary of American English;
    Sacrament;
    1) Christianity, any of certain rites instituted by Jesus and believed to be means of grace; baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, holy orders, matrimony, and anointing of the sick are the seven recognized by the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox churches; Protestants generally recognize only baptism and the Lord’s
    Supper.
    Then, after listing two more meanings derived from the above we come to point 4).
    4) [Archaic]
    a) a symbol or token.
    b) a solemn oath or pledge.

    As a Bible believing Christian, I can only accept the archaic definition in regards to recognized sacraments. I know of and recognize no rites as a means of grace.

    As I understand it, according to The Gospel and the first dictionary definition of a sacrament, The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the only means of grace. And though I agree with much that you say in regards to transactionalism, it seems to me, that in your discussion of “transactional”, you tend to make the death of Jesus Christ transactional rather than real. In other words, if I read you correctly, Jesus’ atonement is a/the symbol of the eternal plan rather than the eternal plan.

    Please explain.

  4. >Jesus’ atonement is a/the symbol of the eternal plan

    I wouldn’t say that.

    The death of Jesus is the epicenter of the mediation of Jesus between God and man. Scripture interprets it in many ways, but primarily as a substitutionary sacrifice.

    The mediation of Jesus, however, is not restricted to the cross, but includes all aspects of his person and work, eternally and temporally.

    Sacrament is any matter that mediates God. Intentionally designed sacraments for the new covenant are baptism and the LS, though there is a sacramental understanding of all things.

  5. As long as a person simply affirms what Christ says, giving the words their natural meaning, then I know of no altar from which that person will be turned away because he does not believe in the “Real Presence.”

    To put it another way, as best I know, one doesn’t need to believe in an abstract doctrine called “the Real Presence” that means anything other than affirming the words of Christ, “Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you.”

    There may be other reasons, rightly or wrongly, that a church might still deny a person the Supper — fellowship or membership requirements, or other doctrines that you have to affirm as well, e.g., the trinity, etc., but it’s not because of a failure to affirm the “Real Presence” that you’re being turned away.

  6. Michael,

    Thanks for the post. I have a couple of thoughts that may clear things up…or not, but I’ll try.

    You wrote:
    The “dependable” nature of these sacraments is not quantifiable, but actual. For example, the fullness of God in Christ is a promise to all who believe the Gospel. I reject the notion that a “greater fullness” of Christ is imparted through the Eucharist.

    I think I see what you’re saying here. The fullness of Christ comes to us in excepting, believing, and living the Gospel. To add something to this thus suggesting one can then have “more Jesus” is meaningless. Sure, I can certainly agree here. The point of disconnect, however, is our understanding of the Gospel. To live the Gospel in its fullness suggests that one is to partake in the Eucharistic meal. You see for some reason protestants have taken the Eucharist (eating the Flesh of Christ) out of the Gospel.

    So perhaps thats the issue. You see the Eucharist as something Catholics add to the Gospel. Whereas Catholics (and history as well as the scriptures will attest) that the Eucharist has been a part of the Gospel sense the beginning (ie. the apostles, the fathers, and henceforth).

  7. Spell Check above…

    third paragraph:
    “excepting” should read “accepting”

  8. I wouldn’t say Catholics have added the Eucharist to the gospel. Much of what I hear in the Eucharistic prayers and in Eucharistic theology is what I believe. But I don’t believe the New testament teaches Transubstantiation. I don’t believe it teaches the “its just a symbol” view either. I accept that the LS is a sacrament, but I don’t think a sacrament is an exclusive contact with God that goes beyond the “fullness of Christ” in the Gospel as anyone believes it and receives its benefits.

  9. “The glory of God and his Son fill the universe. The purpose of creation is sacramental. (…) There is no “secular” world to the person whose eyes and heart are opened by the Spirit. The universe is God’s cathedral.”

    Wrote Paul to the Church at Ephesus:
    For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

    Father Capon, you are a treasure. May your tribe increase among e-monks and other assorted wanderers.

  10. Thanks Joel. A grand thing to take hold of and be held by.

  11. Nicholas Anton says:

    Some more questions;

    Is the word “sacrament” a Biblical term?

    Is the concept/definition of a sacrament (any of certain rites … believed to be means of grace) a New Testament concept instituted by Jesus?

    I would suggest, No! to both of the above.

    God has not instituted any processes to gaining access or knowing Him. The only means to grace is by faith in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ.

    Article 3 bothers me somewhat. I cannot Biblically justify measuring the degree of the manifestation of the Glory of God according to sensual or extra sensual stimuli. We are to perceive and appreciate the Glory of God by faith, in whatever form presented, in whatever situation we are in, however God chooses to seemingly withhold or reveal Himself to us.
    Psa 139:7-17;
    Heb 11:33-40;
    After all, God is not a physical being but a Spiritual one. As the church is the spiritual offspring of Abraham, it is the Spiritual body of Christ.

  12. “Sacrament is any matter that mediates God.”

    Well said. Sacraments are often referred to as means of grace. This is true (IMO), however, the language seems to connote that grace is a substance seperate from the Triune God. Sacraments are means of grace because, as you say so well, they mediate God — who is gracious!

    Thanks for the post.

  13. God has “tied himself” to these sacraments in “dependable ways.”

    … says who? Why would I believe that? What does “tied himself” mean and where does the particualr phrasiology of “dependable ways” come from? What does that mean? Who gets to define the terms and state their effects within the sacramental economy of God? Certainly, not all Evangelicals believe in unison “the bible says” of the sacramental efficacy (my husband certainly does not) of baptism and of the Lord’s Table.

  14. Jenny….

    With all due respect, if you want to take my post(s) out and interrogate them with your views of authority and Protestant errors, then I’m sure you could pen a small volume. Anything I write can be subjected to “Sez who?” and found to be error because I’m not accepting the authority of what you consider to be the only legitimate authority. Since you know I don’t submit to that authority and you know I’m writing my own thoughts and not attempting to convert anyone to them, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say. I don’t want a debate over Roman Catholicism and I’m not inviting one.

    Dependable ways means that the Lord’s Supper is always tied to the death of Jesus. Baptism is always tied to the Baptism/resurrection of Jesus. And as for “efficacy,” that’s a word that needs considerable explanation when used. Your church uses it in a way I would not, which again, you’re quite aware of.

  15. Beautiful, Michael. Thank you. Your view sounds very much like that of Martin Luther who did not accept compartmentalization of our lives/God’s creation into sacred versus secular.

    Blessings.
    Ivy

  16. Michael,

    I am appreciating the dialog here, but I am still not grasping just what you mean to say concerning the Eucharist and the protestant celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

    In point 8 you seem to suggest that both protestants and Catholics mean the same thing in what they do, but not what they say. You write:
    When someone says I cannot commune because I do not believe in the “Real Presence,” they are saying “Because you do not accept a description of the presence of Christ in the words that we use, then we cannot accept that you confess the same faith we do.”

    Do really mean to suggest that the only difference is the language that is used to describe the event? I would imagine your answer is no because you said yourself you do not believe in Transubstantiation. I also imagine that I would not find you on your knees before, processing with, or exulting the bread used at your church service proclaiming, “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

    The difference beside the language used is the reverence given to the Eucharist. I have not seen this in Protestant Services because I don’t know any Protestants that claim their celebration is a sacrifice, the experience of Calvary.

    As I said though I do appreciate your post and I don’t want to make it just about the Eucharist as there is good stuff here to be discussed, but I’m racking my brain trying to understand you with no avail. What am I missing?

  17. Joseph….

    Unless I am hearing something wrongly, are my Catholic friends adoring Christ or bread? They may be adoring Christ as bread, but they aren’t adoring bread.

    All of us believe in the real presence of Christ. All of us do not localize it, but find me a group of Christians who will sit in the presence of the elements and not say “Christ is real and Christ is here. Amen.” If the discussion continues on “how” or “where,” the differences will emerge, and the confessional division is because of that discussion, not the affirmation that Christ is real and fills his universe and offers himself to his people.

  18. Michael,

    Thanks for the response. Of course, you are correct in that Catholics do not adore mere bread…I’m sorry if I was unclear on that. I only wished to highlight the difference between how Catholics celebrate the Sacrament and how Protestants do. Catholics treat the Eucharistic Host like Christ whereas Protestants treat the bread as bread.

    I think though I am understanding you better now. Is it your belief that Christ’s “real presence” in the Eucharist is the same as Christ being present in a tree, an insect, or the bread used in a protestant service? Is that the overall point you are trying to make here?

  19. Christ is present and given to all believers through faith. Fully and completely. That is the promise of God in the Gospel.

    The LS is the Gospel and Christ is offered to us in the LS. Christ promised that this bread and cup are fellowship with him.

    Christ’s presence in all the universe is not tied to the same promises, but to Christ’s lordship and God makes the universe holy through Christ, but our experience of that is a matter of the sovereignty of God.

  20. Nicholas Anton says:

    To me the sacramental system appears to be part of a system in which the body of Christ, the Church and its function becomes departmentalized, stratified, exclusivized, and bureaucratized through humanly delegated/designated people, designated processes and designated objects as the substitutes of, dispensers of, mediators of and edifices of both Primal/ultimate authority, function and grace.

    Since that is my impression of it, even though I may misunderstand its actual meaning, I shy from using the term.

  21. I find the debate on the meaning of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist interesting but ultimately futile. But I will contribute to it anyway.

    In one of the comments above someone speaks about the eating of the “flesh” of Christ which Protestants have removed from the Gospel, and Michael in a comment asserts that he does not accept the “transsubstantiation” view of the Presence.

    A Roman Catholic friend of mine, a married deacon and professional theologian responsible for the training of permanent deacons in his diocese (thus not an uninformed layman) tells me that the term “transsubstantiation” is very commonly misunderstood by Protestants but also by many Catholics. He says the word “substance” as it appears in this term refers not to physical substance, but rather to the “essence” of the thing; thus, “transsubstantiation” means the consecrated bread becomes “essentially” the Body of Christ, not “physically” as the modern usage of the word substance suggests to many of us, and likewise of course the consecrated wine becomes essentially the Blood of Christ.

    I find that an interesting explanation which totally wipes out the ludcrous “cannibalism” charge made by the former Fr. Charles Chiniquy in the classic “Fifty Years in the Church of Rome”.

    But what bothers me much more about the Catholic understanding of the Real Presence is the way it is objectively tied to the consecrated elements — permanently and regardless of the actual faith of celebrant or participants.

    In my own understanding, which seems pretty compatible with the Lutheran and Anglican views, the Real Presence is in the act of celebrating the Eucharist and receiving the elements in a believing manner; in keeping with the rubrics in the classic Book of Common Prayer I believe that any remaining bread and wine should be reverently consumed after the communion service to show respect for the holy use to which they have been put; but I don’t believe that somehow they are still Body and Blood of Christ once the celebration of the Eucharist is over.

    I find it interesting, too, that many of the newer Eucharistic prayers in the Roman Missal seem compatible with this non-Catholic view: their epiclesis asks the Holy Spirit to let the elements become “to us” the Body and the Blood of Christ — there is that element of subjectivism in that wording which I miss in the official explanations of their view of the Presence.

  22. On the same theological real estate, I’d recommend:

    Alexander Schmemann’s ‘For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy,’

    Walker Percy’s ‘The Second Coming,’

    And if you’ve only got time for a poem:
    Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur.’

  23. Heteroclite says:

    “Glimpses of Glory…The universe is God’s cathedral” Aye, Michael. Aye, indeed.—The “glimpses” make you hanker after the fullness, and at the same time, they help you “wait patiently” for it (ROMANS 8).

    Jeremy mentioned “God’s Grandeur.” Add GMH’s “Pied Beauty” to that, Jeremy! Very much another example of Michael’s “The sacramental view of reality has the effect of making all things holy.”

  24. Heteroclite says:

    ODD! After “ROMANS,” there’s a smiley with shades, but I typed the number “eight” there. Beats me why it turned into a smiley!

  25. Nicholas Anton asked “Is the word “sacrament” a Biblical term?”

    While the exact word ‘sacrament’ doesn’t necessarily appear in the bible, in the sense that a sacrament is “Sacrament is any matter that mediates God.”, the bible is full of them. That afterall is the original understanding of the commandments in the Torah. In fact, the word ‘mitzveh’ which we translate commandment has its root in a term meaning ‘to draw near’ – thus each commandment was a way of drawing near to God, of being mindful of ‘sacramental reality’ and seeing God’s glory in all things. (Of course, much like the Christian church has done with its sacraments, the righteous folk of Jesus’ day had reduced them to technicalities of observance).

    Nicholas also said: “After all, God is not a physical being but a Spiritual one. As the church is the spiritual offspring of Abraham, it is the Spiritual body of Christ.”

    But, God made us physical beings that respond and connect through physical means. Therefore He gave us ways of worshipping and connecting that are both spritual and physical. I imagine that’s a good thing since being the Designer He understands us better than we understand ourselves.

  26. I like way you say “Sacrament is any matter that mediates God.” That seems like a healthy, non-dualistic way to look at the world.

    Would you say then that difference in “any matter” and the elements in communion is that God has promised to always come to us in communion? Whereas that’s not so with other things?

    I realize this my seem plainly stated above but sometimes I need to clarify for my own benefit.

    I come from a memorialist background that would seriously balk at this kind of language. But the reason it appeals to me is that it seems so much less me-centered. With the memorial view, it’s up to me to come to God – remembering with enough force what has happened in the past. But what you’re talking about seems like an invitation to participate in what’s happening right now. And in that right now God is coming among us. I like that.

    I may have this totally whacked so correct where you see fit.

  27. I have no problem with the idea that matter may mediate God’s presence and his grace, the ultimate example being the incarnation. But, a question that comes to my mind about what you have written is: if all of creation is sacramental, why the need for the sacraments?
    Perhaps there is an even bigger truth here, to wit the elusive presence of God in and through his creation.
    In this fallen world, God remains hidden God, Deus absconditus, and his presence as a gracious God for us is on his terms, not ours. The next thought is tangetial, and I don’t want to offend anyone, but I often wonder whether the craving for signs of God’s presence in pentecostalism is not related to a difficulty with the hidden God.