October 17, 2017

IM Book Review: Your Church Is Too Small (3)

By Chaplain Mike

The fact is that the differences between churches do matter. The question is not, “How can we overlook these differences?” but “How can we achieve a church which includes the many facets of the truth?” True catholicity is not obtained by overlooking differences but by accepting them and understanding them as a vital part of the nature of the church.”

Robert Webber

Friend of Internet Monk, John H. Armstrong, president of ACT 3, is an adjunct professor of evangelism at Wheaton College Graduate School, author and editor of numerous books, with over twenty years of pastoral experience.

Here is IM’s third and final review of John’s passionate and provocative new book, Your Church Is Too Small.

The third section of “Your Church” suggests a new paradigm for the future of the church, one that will help us be more unified in Christ and more effective together in fulfilling his mission in the world—what Armstrong calls missional-ecumenism.

Armstrong begins his look into the future by considering what the role of denominations should be. Though Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians do not think of themselves in these terms, the author uses the term broadly so as to include groups like them with identifiable traditions.

  • To start with, Armstrong suggests that we agree that the church includes “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” (Acts 2:21).
  • We should also acknowledge that unity does not mean uniformity.
  • Third, we must practice a “hermeneutic of generosity” as we read Scripture together, recognizing that one person’s “essential” may be another’s “non-essential” as we try to maintain charity in all things.
  • Therefore, the answer is not to take a non-denominational approach (that only serves to create new denominations and further schism), but to challenge false opposites in the debate. We must resist any position of exclusivism (We are the true church). On the other hand, we must reject an inclusivism that seeks to water down distinctives. A fine line to walk, indeed.

Another challenge, on a more personal level, that must be faced in the future, is to deal with differences in judging who is a real Christian. Armstrong deplores the sectarian approach that plays a zero-sum game in trying to answer this question (he cannot be a Christian because he disagrees with my theological position on ____________). He also points out that every tradition has its “nominal” participants. How should we deal with them? He suggests we should recognize that in all the great traditions, those who participate are expected to have a living faith. We should encourage this rather than playing the role of judge. Official judgment and church discipline is a task entrusted to church leaders and should be handled in appropriate ways within well-designed processes.

With these two thoughts in mind, John Armstrong turns to what we should be trying to build—the missional-ecumenical church. As examples, he points to two pioneers in 20th century ecumenism, John R. Mott and Lesslie Newbigin, two men who understood that the church is missionary by nature and must also be of one mind and heart in order to effectively reach the world. He also commends the insights and work of men like J. I. Packer and John Stott.

These men demonstrate that the ecumenical movement had a good beginning and remind us that true ecumenism must always be rooted in mission, holiness, and prayer. (p.169)

How can we continue to foster the spirit and work these men have initiated? While formal efforts toward organizational unity may be important,

The primary progress is still to be made in the trenches of shared life—person to person, school to school, congregation to congregation, movement to movement, and, sometimes, denomination to denomination. Real progress is being made in human relationships, within families and communities, in our cities and towns. This is where I believe the great principle of Christ the center…will show itself once again.” (p.169f)

This informal ecumenism is being seen in seven ways:

  1. A restored commitment to the sacraments
  2. An increased appetite to learn more about the early church
  3. Open expressions of love for the whole church and desire for its unity
  4. Blending of worship practices from various traditions
  5. Interest in integrating liturgical practice with the freedom of the Spirit
  6. Greater involvement of sign, symbol and the arts in worship
  7. Broader commitment to personal faith, Biblical teaching, and the ministry of the Spirit

Armstrong’s chapter, “What Does the Missional-Ecumenical Paradigm Look Like?” fleshes these and other characteristics out by telling inspiring stories of what is happening in various churches and faith communities here and around the world.

In the final chapter of Your Church Is Too Small, John Armstrong challenges us to become part of the story too.

The famous reformer John Calvin said he would “cross ten seas” to further the unity of the church. Would you cross the street? If you share my perspective, then you may have to cross troubled seas. I am sure you cannot do this unless you draw deeply from the whole Christian tradition, search the Scriptures with a renewed vision for the supremacy of Christ and his kingdom, and pray fervently for Christian unity. We must begin by calling individuals to personal responsibility before God. We must work to restore the essential truths of paleo-orthodox Christianity. This will require a fresh vision of the beauty and power of Christian tradition, core orthodoxy, and thoughtful catholicity. I am persuaded that nothing less than a gracious outpouring of the Holy Spirit will ultimately change us.

…All of this will require unusual grace and profound sacrifice. (p.196, 199)

I find myself agreeing heartily with John Armstrong. Jesus prayed in an upper room nearly 2000 years ago, and sadly, God’s people have been fighting against being the answer to his prayers nearly the whole time until today.

I pray that even the humble conversations we have here on Internet Monk can encourage us to engage these issues seriously and be part of the solution, not the problem.

Comments

  1. Anything about bridging the gap with the historically Black church??? I’m all for Missional-Ecumenical work in the church, but doesn’t it often lead to only euro-centric veiw points of Church history & polity??? I have enjoyed the Internet monk site for more than a year now, it has been a great blessing for me, but I have not found any writings on the topic of bridging the gap with the Black Church of America. just wondering. peace

    • That is a great point and question, brian. I hope to do an interview with John Armstrong in the near future, and I will definitely ask him about that.

    • I just recently listened to an inteview on Steve Brown Etc. Steve Brown interviewed Dr. Anthony Bradley. He is the author of “Liberating Black Theology.” The conversation was incredible. Very much worth checking out. Dr. Bradley is an incredibly smart individual who has a vision and courage to help unify the Church. There are certainly obstacles as he states in the interview. But it can be done. I heartily recommend that interview.

      http://stevebrownetc.com/2010/04/podcasts/steve-brown-etc/liberating-black-theology-dr-anthony-bradley-on-sbe/

      Peace and blessings.

      PS: Looking forward Chaplain Mike’s and Jeff Dunn’s conversation with Steve Brown this coming week!

  2. “The primary progress is still to be made in the trenches of shared life—person to person, school to school, congregation to congregation, movement to movement, and, sometimes, denomination to denomination. Real progress is being made in human relationships, within families and communities, in our cities and towns. This is where I believe the great principle of Christ the center…will show itself once again.”
    I strongly agree with this sentiment. I believe a grass roots, bottom-up move toward unity will be much more effective in breaking down the policies of exclusivity, competition, and defensive encampment that are still very present in church culture. And it would also help if church leaders actually encouraged interdenominational relationships and cooperative activities, rather than just trying to herd as many sheep as possible into one particular sheep pen.
    But there is still a long way to go. In my neck of the woods (the Bible Belt South), there are far too many churches in which fellowship with believers from other churches or denominations or even attending a service at another church will get you called into the pastor’s office for some stern admonition or even booted out of your church. That policy and the mentality behind it really need to be openly challeged much more often than is presently the case.
    I would also add that I think many churches would truly benefit by expanding the informal dimension of the church. A lot of church fellowships are sorely lacking when it comes to opportunities for free and informal fellowship. Formal services are fine (if you’re into that), but I think a healthy, well-rounded church will also encourage and make space for its people to get together in informal ways and settings — so that they can actually form close relationships, engage in free discussion, and participate in the kind of person-to-person body ministry that the NT writers describe. And it’s in informal church gatherings — much more so than formal services — that Christians of different traditions can comfortably mingle and start to pave inroads toward greater universal unity.

  3. RonP has grasped my point well and understands how a “grass roots” movement of the Spirit will do even more than all our official efforts. But we must first desire for this to happen and then take action steps of faith to see it happen.

  4. “…we must practice a “hermeneutic of generosity” as we read Scripture together, recognizing that one person’s “essential” may be another’s “non-essential” as we try to maintain charity in all things.”

    I think that is the crux of the matter. Looking deeper into that would open up dialogue with other streams of the faith. As Prof. Keith Drury states, which beliefs do we write in pencil, which ones in ink, and which ones in blood.

    • Point well taken; we’ve seen here at IMONK both the good, the bad, and occaisionally the very ugly on this exact point. Sometimes , while preaching against the culture wars, we remain IN the very same wars…..and a true ecumanism waits…..and waits…..

    • Ah, the wonderful, priceless “hermeneutic of generosity”. Or as Dr. Paul Farmer would say, “the H of G”. Wonderful shorthand, that.

  5. My wife and I have recently discerned a call to move to a moderately poor, primarily black neighborhood in our city (Little Rock, AR). We believe that God has developed in us this desire to step outside the comforts of our suburban lifestyles and into a community where there will be opportunities to build friendships with neighbors whose paths we would not otherwise cross in our society. We are making this move with one other family who has discerned the same call, and we met another Christian (white) family who moved to this neighborhood several years ago for the same reasons. My first thought was that we three families should be a part of the same church, but we are all from different denominational backgrounds, so I didn’t see that working out. After thinking about it more, and now reading this post, I certainly see the value in individuals and families from different churches/denominations sharing life and serving together. Maybe we’ll find some answers to briank’s question about bridging the gap with the black church!

    • I pray your work will be fruitful! I have seen this problem in my community – i live only a few miles from the community of Koinonia – started by Clarence Jordan ( an amazing person to read about if you are looking an example of breaking down racial walls). But today the members of the community are largly white —-though they still work with & live around a community of African-Americans. From my perspective from being in “black Churches” the Theology can be border line fundementalism to very charismatic , but usually the problem in bridging the gap seems to be in style more than substance. When I am in a “black Church” I often have trouble focusing on God, due to all the constant pressure to get excited, but I can have that problem in any charismatic Church. really in my experience, I have only seen a truly integrated church in Pentacostal Churches. But I am a firm beleiver in little steps & I think we are slowly seeing Sunday morning no longer our most segregated Hour. peace

      • That’s the point: the separation isn’t necessarily racial. In fact, the most integrated churches are typically charismatic.

  6. The challenge to desiring unity is that we feel so threatened by our differences:

    1) If other Christians don’t agree with my beliefs, might I (not they) be wrong?
    2) If I am wrong, or if most of us are wrong, then what do we have left to offer “the lost”?
    3) If our beliefs are based on absolute truth, then how can we tolerate dissent?

    Unfortunately, we have really painted ourselves into a corner with this kind of thinking.

  7. One thing for sure: I need to buy this book!

    One thought here rings very true for me. We absolutely must stop deciding who is a Christian and who is not. There is only One who will judge the hearts of men and women, and it is not us. Even if I have serious issues with a person’s theology, lifestyle, politics, or church affiliation I cannot be this person’s judge when it comes to his or her salvation and eternal destiny. It’s a kind of spiritual arrogance to think one can be judge of another person in this way.

    It makes me cringe when someone points out that such and such cannot be a Christian because of perceived errors of one kind or another.

    My parents were conservative non drinking revival attending Methodists. Yet they taught me never to judge a person because of denomination, differences in life style, or doctrine. I can hear my mother saying, “we don’t know their hearts.” I believe they taught me well.

    A person can be absolutely ignorant about theology and the Bible itself and yet be a follower of Jesus Christ.

    I could tell a couple of stories to illustrate whey this is true, but the stories are too long.

    Also, the seven points given to achieve an informal ecumenism are excellent.

  8. I don’t think unity is possible because of the Eucharist – the one thing that is supposed to show that we are one body because we all partake from the one loaf.

    Those who guard the loaf and chalice – i.e., the bishops and priests and pastors who restrict communion to the properly-baptized-and-initiated members of their denominations (and I include the EOC and RCC under the rubric “denomination”) – are charged with a trust as part of their ordination to preserve the Lord’s Table from “profanation” by being partaken of by those who aren’t in full and proper communion with their respective denomination.

    But I suspect the average man or woman in the pew doesn’t share this level of concern. In fact, I would guess that most of the “laity” would have little problem sharing the Eucharist across denominational lines. Given a choice of viewing communion as a) Jesus’ body and blood given by Him for us, versus b) the “church” (or particular “denomination” of the church) having custody over Jesus’ body and blood with authority over to whom Jesus wishes or is allowed to give Himself, I think the average Christian would side with a) and let “all who will” come to Him.

    Yes, I know the “clergy” will defend their practice out of their “concern” that persons not take the Eucharist “unworthily” and bring condemnation on themselves. But I ask you: When was the last time you experienced in your church someone becoming weak or sick or dying because they didn’t take the Eucharist “in a worthy manner”?

    I’m waiting….

    Besides, the partaking unworthily Paul is writing about is about creating de facto divisions in the Body of Christ by being self-centered and esteeming some members more than others and thereby excluding “the less worthy” from the feast. And doesn’t closed and restricted communion do this in a sense?

    “But this is the precious body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the “clergy” will say, “and it’s not to be handled by those who are not fit or prepared or sanctified or ordained to handle it!”

    Well, if it’s the same offering that Jesus made of Himself upon the cross, it’s interesting that He let His sacrifice of Himself be handled by and subjected to profane and godless men. In fact, if communion really is a re-presentation of Christ’s death, then perhaps it should be the Gentiles and sinners who confect the elements.

    Or maybe communion is not only a remembrance of Jesus’ death, but also an awaiting of the Messianic kingdom and banquet, which we now, in this mortal and sinful state, eat in hope – “we” meaning all of those who love and await His appearing, or who hunger for food that does not perish and drink that fully satisfies, or simply for something REAL and more than the things of this earth – whether “we” or “they” are “proper” church members or not.

    By excluding other “Christians” from our version of The Lord’s Table, are we not saying that they are not “true Christians” no matter how much we might nicely refer to them as “separated brethren,” or that our unity is found in our particular church rather than in Jesus?

    • I agree with all that. That’s why we Anglicans have an open Table policy (that is, open to all baptized Christians of any tradition), despite our episcopal Polity and connection with the ancient traditions.

    • EricW, you’ve asked some great questions. I don’t have the answers but I share some of your concerns, and I’ll throw more fuel onto the fire:

      At what point does our insistence on a particular interpretation of the eucharist become a heresy?

      At what point does the eucharist become a form of idolatry?

      • Q: At what point does the eucharist become a form of idolatry?

        A: When a piece of consecrated bread is worshiped and adored as being the body, blood, soul and divinity of God? 😕

    • “In fact, I would guess that most of the “laity” would have little problem sharing the Eucharist across denominational lines.”

      Are you for real?

      • Why do you ask?

        Should I instead be against real?

        • Because if you really think most Christians aren’t heavily invested in the doctrines of their denominations, you’re just not paying attention to Christians.

          Which I have to ask, “Are you for real?” because if you’re making a subtle point by putting us on, then I’m missing it..

          • Yes, I agree that most Christians are heavily invested in the doctrines of their denominations, even if they’ve never really studied them but have simply been told them. But I believe that some things that the denomination or hierarchy holds as doctrinal non-negotiables are held less strongly by the average man or woman in the pew in that church, unless the distinctions of the denomination become the repeated main talking point of the sermons. IMO the lack of understanding by the laity of “the fundamentals of the faith (aka denomination)” can be a good thing because it lessens the tribalism that denominationalistic fundamentalism can often yield.

          • “IMO the lack of understanding by the laity of “the fundamentals of the faith (aka denomination)” can be a good thing because it lessens the tribalism that denominationalistic fundamentalism can often yield.”

            Yeah, I don’t know about that.

            It seems to me that the less a person understands about the fundamentals of the faith, no matter WHAT denomination they go to church at, the more sectarian and ridiculous in general they’re likely to act.

            Denominations aren’t a bad thing; if it weren’t for the Michael Spencer and the SBC or the Church of God-Anderson, I probably wouldn’t be a practicing Christian, let alone a Catholic.

    • Do you have a blog or something where you expound on these ideas, EricW? Honestly, as good as some statements sound, they’re hard to get behind 100% without a lot more explanation. Things like:

      “Besides, the partaking unworthily Paul is writing about is about creating de facto divisions in the Body of Christ by being self-centered and esteeming some members more than others and thereby excluding “the less worthy” from the feast. And doesn’t closed and restricted communion do this in a sense?”

      and:

      “Or maybe communion is not only a remembrance of Jesus’ death, but also an awaiting of the Messianic kingdom and banquet, which we now, in this mortal and sinful state, eat in hope – “we” meaning all of those who love and await His appearing, or who hunger for food that does not perish and drink that fully satisfies, or simply for something REAL and more than the things of this earth – whether “we” or “they” are “proper” church members or not.”

      It sounds good…but even you throw in a maybe. I’d just truly be interested to hear more exposition on these points. I know this is not necessarily the forum for that, but, again, if you have a blog, etc.

      Also, this passage is problematic to me–

      “Given a choice of viewing communion as a) Jesus’ body and blood given by Him for us, versus b) the “church” (or particular “denomination” of the church) having custody over Jesus’ body and blood with authority over to whom Jesus wishes or is allowed to give Himself, I think the average Christian would side with a) and let “all who will” come to Him.”

      –simply because it’s a false dichotomy. Those things aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. And if you believe they are, again, I just need more explanation to get on board with that.

      Plus, it’s hard not to feel like your argument might carry a lot more weight without the sort of classically villainizing rhetoric throughout…though that could be just me. I mean, are 90% of your quotation marks necessary, except to, without actual words, cast aspersion on the opinions of people who may, in fact, be sincere and have genuine reasons for the views they hold? I mean, even if they’re wrong, they may not be stupid or disingenuous (which is what that punctuation implies to me).

      • Someday I may put these together in writing. For now they’re scattered in and over a number of places, as well as in the corners of my mind, and I’m not sure I’ll ever have the time or interest to go into them in major depth as an apologetic or doctrine of the eucharist/Last Supper.

        And I did sort of create a false dichotomy, but only to make a point (or try to) by making the choice between the two extremes, as well as between two views of what the Lord’s Supper is or can be – i.e., is it more a repetition of the covenant meal He shared with His disciples as His Last Supper, or is it a continuation of the meals He shared with tax collectors and sinners? From the glimses we have in 1 Corinthians, it appears that there may have been a mixture of the two.

      • Yes, my remarks might have been less villainizing without the quotation marks; I’ll try to remember not to do that. Sorry for the needlessly antagonistic tone they engendered.

        (And that should be “glimpses,” not “glimses.”)

  9. Donald Todd says:

    First, I am not clergy, which I believe is important given Eric W’s missive above.

    Reading John 6, it is noted that when Jesus told His followers that they would have to eat His body and drink His blood, a lot of them left stating a question: Who could believe that?. Since communion is an abbreviation of common union, a “shared” position, it would appear that there are a lot of people who disagree with what He said. Taking the Eucharist under those conditions would be an uncommon union, a lack of a shared position or belief, and appears to me to be a lie.

    The Episcopal position is in fact different than Obed says. The Episcopal position is that the Eucharist means whatever the communicant wants believe, with an exception: It is not a sacrifice. Is it the “body and blood of Christ?” You can believe that. Is it a symbol? You can believe that as well, since whatever the Episcopalian (or visitor) wants to believe is how they are free to take it. Does that mean it actually is what the individual wants to believe? There is no formal dogma about the Eucharist in Episcopalianism, except that it is not a sacrifice.

    Do I occasionally go to Churches not my own? I do. Do I ever take communion in those Churches? I do not. It implies a unity that does not exist. It implies common beliefs. It implies a common vision of God, of grace and salvation, of the extent of what God can or is willing to do.

    The old testament if full of types. There are people and events that are presented to us. We find the fulfillment of those people and events in the new testament, in the Person of Jesus. Adam, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David. The shadow of what is coming exists in the old testament, the reality or fulfillment exists in the new testament. Who and what occur in the new testament are greater than what has occurred in the old testament.

    In the old testament, God miraculously provided manna for the Jews. The manna was intended for the Jews to survive in the desert. It was a miraculous event, repeated daily (except on the sabbath with the provision for the sabbath given the day before). The manna in the desert is a preview, a foreshadow, of the bread intended to help us make the trip to eternity. Reducing that to a symbol, it makes the reality we find in Jesus in “communion” less than that of the manna in the desert. At this point, communion with Jesus does not involve a miraculous event if it is merely a symbol.

    If a Church uses the term “separated brothers and sisters,” it would appear that that Church holds those people in high regard. It sees them as Christians, as people called to share in the promises of God. However it also sees them as separated. Could separation involve the Truth?

    Which requirement is higher: God or man? If man is the truth then communion is what one makes of it, if we are actually capable of making something of it beyond our own human powers.

    The desire for unity is notable and good. The assumption that it is a bottom-up thing is risible. People change churches every day. That does not imply that the Truth has changed, merely that those people – for whatever reason – have changed their positions.

    Last item, it is a time of toleration, at least for some people. Politically we are told to be tolerant, often by the most intolerant of people who merely want us to accede or not impede them in their march to wherever it is that they are going. Honestly, it is better dealing with Matthew the Calvinist than with someone into tolerance. Matthew believes something (although one wishes he might be a bit more circumspect in how he presents it). One might be on fire for God and be wrong (think of Saul/Paul) and that is something that can be addressed.

    Think of someone who doesn’t really care. That is hard to cure.

    • The Episcopal position is in fact different than Obed says.

      Just a point of clarification: by “episcopal” I was speaking of bishop-led polity that believes in Apostolic Succession through the bishops, not the Episcopal Church. According to some stuff I have recently read in a paper I’m doing for my graduate class (sorry, I can’t quote exact sources… there are a lot of sources for the paper and I don’t have them with me) the reason for the ambiguity in the Anglican position is that we believe we are echoing Christ’s lack of embellishment and explanation during the Last Supper.

      It is true that Anglicans historically do not believe in Transubstantiation (according to the 39 Articles). However, Anglicanism would affirm “Real Presence.” It just doesn’t explain how Christ is present.

      • Oh, my initial point on the Anglican position is that it affirms an open table for all baptized Christians.

    • Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

      I don’t think you understand the Anglican position.

      We do think of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. But it’s not a propitiatory or expiatory sacrifice, but a thanksgiving sacrifice. That’s why the priest says every week: “We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts.” The rabbis expected that only thankgiving sacrifices would be offered in the age to come. Since the age to come dawned in the resurrection of Jesus, we only offer thanksgiving sacrifices. Eucharist literally means “thanksgiving,” so most Anglicans would argue that our position is actually closer to the early church.

      Also, some Anglicans do affirm transubstantiation (usually Anglo Catholics). However, the general position of the Anglican church seems to be that it’s not so much that transubstation is outright wrong (though some believe this, and the Articles say this), but that transubstatiation is trying too hard to solve a mystery that is supposed to remain mysterious. So it’s not that transubstatiation is wrong, but it is too specific, more specific than the scriptures or tradition of the early church.

      • Considering that the earliest liturgies made no mention of the change of the elements, the Anglican position seems to have a good basis. Also, the Didache’s eucharistic prayers tend to argue against what the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches did with/to the Eucharist. But the point is that these various communions have so solidified and aligned and identified themselves and their members with their Eucharistic and ecclesiastical doctrines that real unity with other bodies of Christ is nigh near impossible. And this is visibly exemplified by the Eucharistic restrictions they maintain and impose.

        • “Considering that the earliest liturgies made no mention of the change of the elements, the Anglican position seems to have a good basis.”

          The earliest liturgies also earned Christians the reputation (on which was grounds for the staking of how many unashamed martyrs?) that we practice cannibalism, too.

          Isn’t it just as likely that they were persecuted, not merely on the candidacy of some ugly slur, but because they did quietly insist upon the corporeality of the elements and assumed the insult as a boast, demurring to deny an implicit article of the faith?

          Just a thought.

        • @ EricW. I think that was one of the points made by the early 16th-century Anglican theologians. Much of what they were trying to do was find a way back to what Robert Webber calls “Ancient Christianity.” They perceived “Romish Papery” (which I hope is not an insulting phrase, though now that I think about it it ma be … I just think it’s a very funny expression) of their time as having departed from those faith roots. Of course, Catholics and Orthodox would disagree about that “departure” in their respective traditions.

          Lacelot Andrewes (one of those 16th Century Anglican Theologians) put it this way: “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of fathers in that period – the centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.”

        • Donald Todd says:

          This is My body. This is My blood. Transubstantiation is a Greek word attempting to explain that the underlying reality, the breadness of bread and the wineness of wine are no longer breadness or wineness but but are in fact Jesus under the guise of bread and wine.

          It is an attempt to understand something of great importance. If “transform” were the right word, you’d see flesh and blood and properly be repulsed. Rather our Lord chose the items offered by Melchisedec and imbued them with a new meaning, a fulfillment of the Passover occurring at the Passover meal, and associated both the consecrated bread and the consecrated cup with His sacrifice – the fulfillment of Passover.

          That is what the synoptics, 1 Cor 12 and John 6 see. That is what the early Church fathers, at least some of whom were trained by the apostles, understood and passed on. That is the background of a Greek word.

          • Actually, “transubstantiation” comes from Latin, not Greek. 🙂

            And, the foods eaten at the Passover don’t change. When the head of the Seder says, “This is the bread of affliction…,” neither he nor the participants believe or are expected to believe that it’s the same matzah that the Israelites took with them out of Egypt or that it miraculously or supernaturally becomes a piece of that very same matzah.

            Failure to understand the Passover context of the Last Supper and the words and practices of Old Testament feasts led to the misguided belief that the bread and wine are or become Jesus’ body and blood in some special or supernatural or mystical or sacramental way.

          • The Eucharist isn’t the Seder.

            We’re not the Jews.

            What’s your point, again?

          • My point(s) is that 1. “Transubstantiation” is Latin, not Greek, and 2. The Seder setting for the Last Supper and Jesus’ words argue against the concept of transubstantiation re: the elements.

            So, while you don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s, it does help to be Jewish to understand why the doctrine of transubstantiation is a misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the eucharist. 🙂

            l’chaim!

          • To reiterate my point – you’re perfectly right to be a Jew and think Jesus was presiding over his little heretic passover ceremonial as a kind of rabbi, but the Christian realizes (first and foremost in his profession of the faith) that Jesus is God, and as God’s role during the first Passover was a little more… let’s call it ‘active than merely priestly’, the Christian sees Jesus Himself declaring Himself to be High Priest and Offering a perfect sacrifice as no priest could do, when at the Supper table he says what he says.

            Which is why the Last Supper was always taught as integral to the theological circuit of salvation history, rather than as some kind of commentary on the escape from Egypt. His little collective was already pretty far outside the mainstream by that night – before Jesus even spoke that night, for the men in that room, it was going to be anything but a mere calendrical solemnity. The fact that He said what He said is why we’re Christians today.

            What the Jews believe and what the Christians believe – about the point of the Seder and so much moreso about the Last Supper – aren’t about Christians’ presumed “failure to understand the context”, but about whether or not Jesus has the authority to edit and complete the Jewish context Himself. Is Jesus or isn’t He the end of history?

            Christians say He does and is, so we take Him at His word, and realize that the Jews don’t have much to teach us about Christ. If he says that bread is His body, who are we to argue? He’s Christ, come back from the dead.

            Jews say he doesn’t have that authority and didn’t make it back from the beyond to tell us anything, so they politely insist on what facts about God and our dead messiah and Judaism that their piety will admit.

            So no, for Jews, Jesus did not – and could not – preside over “the very same Matzah” – but Christians believe that Jesus is God, and therefore, BY DEFINITION, He did just that. HE was the one who gave those wandering Jews the bread in the wilderness in the first place. And He manifestly wasn’t being ironic in the Gospel of John when he claimed that He HIMSELF, Jesus H. Christ, was the bread of life – so when he repeats Himself on the night before He died, (to his hearers and to the ages) we shouldn’t be surprised that suddenly the context of the Seder as ritual meal and sacrifice as He gives it is now magnified into a Mystery. It was always that, but so long as the Passover was necessary both once in History and yearly as an atonement, no Jewish person could have ever known it up until Jesus came to show us that it was so.

          • PL:

            Your argument still doesn’t substantiate the doctrine of transubstantiation nor disprove the contention that many of us make that He did not nor did He intend to say or mean that the bread and wine of the Last Supper and/or future Eucharists become his Real body and blood in the way taught and understood by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches and even perhaps the Lutheran Churches, even if you remove all references to or thoughts about what Jews think or know or believe or did or do.

            Shalom aleichem

          • I’m not defending trans-substantiation so much as addressing this part of your statement:

            “Failure to understand the Passover context of the Last Supper and the words and practices of Old Testament feasts..”

            We can disagree on whether or not Jesus COULD perform a trans-substantiation, but we can’t sustain on blithe declamations about what the first Christians did or didn’t know about the Passover. The idea, again, goes right back to his purported divinity – which, splice the Scripture owever you want, but you’re not going to convince post-Resurrection Christians that post-Exilic theology is the true key to understanding what Jesus “really meant”.

            It’s the opinion of every Jew that Jesus couldn’t, and the opinion of (almost) every Christian since Easter Sunday that He could and did.

          • á½… τι…

          • to Pat Lynch:

            What the Jews believe and what the Christians believe – about the point of the Seder and so much moreso about the Last Supper – aren’t about Christians’ presumed “failure to understand the context”, but about whether or not Jesus has the authority to edit and complete the Jewish context Himself. Is Jesus or isn’t He the end of history?

            Good stuff here, bro…..wish some of my messianic Jewish friends understood this better, it would make our working together a lot easier;
            again: well put sir

            Greg R

  10. Kind of interesting timing, since our congregation just left the ELCA to join a small Lutheran body that’s only 10 years old. As the post said, the hard part is defining the essentials. In our case the ELCA said our objections were non-essential, and we disagreed, so we left. Despite my lifelong Lutheranism, I am more likely to trust the orthodoxy (small o) of Baptist, Pentecostals, Catholics, and Orthodox(capital o) than my Lutheran brethren. As a result, though I differ from them on many theological points, at a personal level I still feel kinship with them, because I trust them on the essentials. MY essentials, anyway.

    • I dont mean to sound rude here but your essentials really mean diddly squat –

      What you percieve to be essential unless they are founded on the proper interpretation of Scripture mean little to nothing……

      There is no way a fully perscribed Catholic has kinship with a Christian.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Reformation Wars ended in 1648. Treaty of Westphalia.

      • Not usually in my nature to be the “tolerant” one :), but when I see universalism and assaults on the authority of Scripture and even the veracity of the Resurrection, I flee to the company of the like-minded, even if they’re clutching a rosary (eek). No, I’ll never be a Catholic, but I deeply respect the faith of my Orthodox cousin and friends, and of many Catholics I’ve known (shout out to Joanie D), and I KNOW they believe in the Resurrection and aren’t universalists. Low standards???

        • When we were Orthodox, our priest told us that we were not supposed to attend prayer meetings or Bible studies with non-Orthodox Christians.

          One time we were at a friend’s house for dinner, and some people also came over and it became sort of a Bible study, and the priest heard about it and talked with us to get assurance from us that we were innocent in terms of not knowing that it was going to be(come) a religious meeting.

          As I said, real unity among denominations and churches will be thwarted by the denominations’ clergy and ecclesiology, even apart from their Eucharistology.

          *sigh*

          Keep company with the like-minded – yes. That’s true in business, politics, wars and religion. But unity as in Eucharist/communion-sharing unity? I’m afraid Jesus will return before that happens (and maybe He has to to bring it about).

        • Awww, thanks, Kozak, for the “shout out.”

          I haven’t prayed the rosary since I was a child. I think it is a great thing for folks to do, but my prayer life is just not focused that way. I still may get one from Alan Creech though. I can tell from his website that he makes beautiful ones and he gets great reviews from folks on this blog.

          And yes, I DO believe in the Resurrection. There are times when I consider myself to be be a “hopeful Christian universalist” but I am not solidly there yet. I won’t get off on the track, though, and derail the topic at hand. (But maybe I already did!)

      • “The cavil that Roman Catholics believe in and teach ‘works righteousness’ is just that–a cavil. It is not to be taken seriously except as a commentary on many Catholics’ lack of theological understanding and many Protestants’ lack of awareness of Catholic theology.”

        This is from The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform by Roger E. Olson. Olson is a Protestant theologian/historian (Baptist, I think). My experiences with Catholics and Catholicism (having been on both sides of the Tiber) affirm Olson’s take here. With all due respect, MJ, you may want to look deeper into your understanding of Catholic theology.

      • Christopher Lake says:

        Matthew Johnston,

        You write, “What you percieve to be essential unless they are founded on the proper interpretation of Scripture mean little to nothing……

        There is no way a fully perscribed (sic) Catholic has kinship with a Christian.”

        How you do know what is “the proper interpretation of Scripture”? Is it that which agrees most with your own view? Is that which uses the “right exegesis”? If that is the case, how do you know which is the right exegesis?

        As for fully prescribing Catholics not being Christians, I have seen the issue of justification by faith alone from the Arminian side (where I was first was as a Protestant Christian), the Calvinist side (where I later was, and stayed for years, convinced that it was the “proper interpretation” of Scripture), and now, from the view of the early Church, including the early Church Fathers. The early Church simply did not have the same understanding of many, many Biblical teachings that you do– and some of its members lived within the lifetimes of the original apostles! Do you truly think that you understand Scripture better than the Christians of early apostolic times? I’m asking these questions of you, as a person who once believed almost exactly as you do.

        • David Cornwell says:

          Exactly. Nothing is ever as clear as we would like it. And the earth is no longer flat.

  11. Well seeing as I am referred to in this comment thread – I thought I’d chime right in! 🙂

    Even if I am referred to as ‘Matthew the Calvinist’ – of which I take a ‘Spurgeonist’ view who said;

    “I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.”

    As for ecumenicalism – sure it’s great – when it is biblical and God -glorifying. By that I mean, a Christian is not to merely embrace all under the banner of ‘Christendom’ [of which contains much heresy]…….I really feel many in the more nominal camp are just too tolerant and undiscerning……

    • As a five point Arminian – I am not so sure that I agree with you. Right from the days of William Carey, Calvinism has been a hindrance to the Gospel.

      • Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

        I dunno man. I’m not a Calvinist, but that’s a little harsh, and untrue. It’s the Calvinist folks with Acts29 and Redeemer Pres who are planting the most churches right now.

        • Harsh. You don’t think maybe that “Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.” was a little harsh. Give me a few minutes to justify my statements.

          • “At a ministers’ meeting in 1786, Carey raised the question of whether it was the duty of all Christians to spread the Gospel throughout the world. J. R. Ryland, the father of John Ryland, is said to have retorted: “Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid and mine.””

            Spurgeon himself said: “[Calvinism] has chilled many churches to their very soul, for it has led them to omit the free invitations of the gospel, and to deny that it is the duty of sinners to believe in Jesus.”

            Where I live in Canada I see the Reformed churches have done an admirable job of seperating themselves off from society, forming their own schools, universities, and even sports leagues. That is the problem of “the elect”, it leads to isolationism. Study the roots of apartheid in South Africa, and you will find a church that wanted to seperate “the elect” from the heathen.

            My apologies if I over reacted up above, but when someone makes at statement like “Calvism is the gospel” then I am going to get a bit defensive.

          • It was Spurgeon who said all that you know?

            I quoted him – but yes i certainly agree with him when he said ““Calvism is the gospel”…..

            I think you may annoyed at the hyper-Calvinist..?…and rightly so if that is indeed the case.

          • Matthew, aren’t you a hyper-Calvinist?

            No disrespect intended.

          • Hi Patrick,

            None taken- but eager to here just why you would think I am a hyper- Calvinist?

            Thanks

      • WOW.

        A hinderance to the Gospel?

        I am a defender of no man – as we are all sinful but that is a HUGE statement.

        Tell that to Charles H. Spurgeon adn the rest of the most influential preachers ever – when [and if – as I dont know you] you get to glory.

        • Matthew, as we’re using the word “harsh,” don’t you think that your comment to Michael Bell was along those lines? –“when [and if – as I dont know you] you get to glory.”

          If Michael is holding up William Carey and the Great Commission as models I wouldn’t question his salvation. What happened there?

          • Apologies in part, Matthew. In reading the time of the comments, I see that Michael Bell’s essay on Carey came in after your comment (but you were a little harsh…).

            And I’m with MB that a statement like “Calvinism is the Gospel” is grounds for dispute.

            Is Christ divided? Was Calvin crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of the Five Points?

          • to TED

            Is Christ divided? Was Calvin crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of the Five Points?

            double amen to this, you can have strong convictions on the five points, without making this a hill to die on (wow……unintentional, but powerful analogy there…..)
            there is , with some calvinists, a concrete certainty about ALL these points that is just death to the ecumanism offered on this trhread.

            nice post(s)
            Greg R

          • You both would be interesed [perhaps] to know I place a whole lot of my Calvinistic leanings on this;

            I read this most days –

            “And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature, and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit. Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.”

            -John Newton, “amazing grace” and a Calvinist, as I.

    • Donald Todd says:

      Side 1

      God came to save the world, not to condemn it.

      Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Woman, does no one condemn you? Neither do I. Go and sin no more.

      Forgive us our debts as we forgive those in debt to us (sounds conditional).

      Father forgive them. They do not know what they do.

      For there is one Lawgiver and Judge Who is judge of all.

      And of course there is the adage, hate the sin but love the sinner, which seems to be consistent with the gospel.

      Side 2

      And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. Acts 7:58

      Pick a side.

  12. Michael Spencer wrote a number of times about his desire for there to be an “open table” where all were welcome to partake of communion. (I think he was talking about all baptized Chrisitians, but I am not sure now.) He and I emailed a few times and closed communion was one of the things that bothered him about Roman Catholicism. (If I am remembering this incorrectly, someone can correct me.) I told him that upon reading Sara Miles’ book Take This Bread, I could see how having an open table could be a wonderful thing. In Sara’s case, she was not a baptised Christian when she walked into an Episcopal church and took communtion. She was not even Christian at all! But she took part in communion and her life was forever changed. I realize she may be the exception and that many denominations would want people taking communion to know what they are doing, so to speak. And yet, if the priest or minister said even a couple sentences prior to the beginning of communion, then he or she could make it clear (briefly) what participation means. I know that different denominations will say it different ways. From http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac1086.asp “What Catholics Believe:
    A Popular Overview of Catholic Teaching” by Leonard Foley, O.F.M., a Catholic priest could say, “The greatest action we perform as Church is to celebrate the death/resurrection of Jesus, which is made present in the Eucharist, the sacrifice/meal we call ‘Mass.’ It is not just the living body and blood of Jesus replacing the bread and wine: The actual death/resurrection of Jesus is made present for us to enter into. The ‘outside’ of the Mass may sometimes be dull and boring—much of life can seem that way too. But this is the heart of Catholic life—the essential family gathering.” And by the way, that “What Catholics Believe” webpage that I gave the URL to above is excellent, in my opinion. Short enough to not bore everyone; long enough to give good info.

    • Like Baptism – Communion is for believers…..

      Open table / Closed at the same time.

      I dont’ care what you are, as in what ‘ism’ or denomination you come from – if you are born again, we have the same Father and we can eat and drink together , in a worthy manner [1 Cor 11].

      The issue lies in people a) thinking they are saved when they are not [Matthew 7] and b) weak, ignorant and comprimising types thinking its a free for all.

    • What a strange coincidence. I just finished reading Take This Bread yesterday. Definitely don’t agree with all her ideas, but an interesting read considering that she lived a completely non-religious, secular lifestyle until she was in her mid-40s. (Her grandparents on both sides had been overseas missionaries, but her parents raised her to completely ignore God and the Church.)

    • “The greatest action we perform as Church is to celebrate the death/resurrection of Jesus, which is made present in the Eucharist”

      As an Anglican, I’d totally agree with this! In fact, it is the Eucharist that brought me back to my Liturgical Christian roots after hanging out in generic Evangelicalism and Messianic Judaism for all of my adult life. When I had lunch with the parish priest a couple months ago, he wondered why I didn’t find the liturgical worship of Messianic Judaism sufficient for my spiritual needs. The Eucharist is the #1 reason. If for whatever reason I miss a Sunday, I find that I feel “spiritual hunger pangs” throughout the following week because I didn’t partake in the Eucharist.

  13. Nice show of unity in this thread, eh?

    Come, Lord Jesus:

    1. After we straighten out this mess?

    2. In order to straighten out this mess?

    3. Regardless of this mess?

    I’m betting on …. 3.

    • Whilst Arminian & Calvinism differences mean very little in the scope of things worthy of divison and non fellowship [Similar to Infant Baptsim, The Gifts having ceased or not, differing Eschatological views etc] ..

      I would rather take Martin Luthers stance on this which was –

      “It is better to be divided by truth than joined by error”

      rather than a stance like “regardless of whatever goes on – lets just all be ecumenical”….

      • And we’ve been dividing ever since. Just in America, over 100 different families of churches and 250 denominations! Each of them thinking, “We’re right.” All of them “divided by truth.” It’s craziness.

        • And all of them impressing the lost by their “rightness” and by their No Compromise stance with fellow believers. No wonder we can’t keep up with the flood of newcomers begging us to know what it is that we have found, what it is that makes us so different from the self-centered, me and mine, unsaved world.

          Now if we could just do something to get rid of those “idol meat” passages….

        • True, but……..this is actually one positive aspect of Evangelicalism (or at least much of it)- the reaching across denominational boundaries. There are levels of essentials. Many para-church ministries demonstrate this well.

          This brings to mind 3 mega-church pastors here in town: one is non-denominational, one PCA, and one Southern Baptist. They are (or at least used to be) small group and accountability partners. Denominational lines are not an issue for them, nor for many (most?) evangelicals.

          • I don’t think this is either unique to or typical of evangelical churches. Sadly, it isn’t true of those near where I live.

            Yes, parachurch ministries sometimes are better about this, though it doesn’t do a lot of good if the denominational churches won’t participate. A friend of mine tried to organize some real no-brainer service projects through a parachurch ministry. As soon as the local churches heard that it wasn’t going to be through their own denominational channels, all interest in participating evaporated.

            My own college experience with a non-denom campus ministry was excellent. I wasn’t even aware of what denomination many of my friends were. To this day, that memory sticks with me as the ideal for how my Christian relationships ought to be.

        • Again –

          I would rather take Martin Luthers stance on this , rather than a stance like; “regardless of whatever goes on – lets just all be ecumenical”….

  14. David Cornwell says:

    I wouldn’t claim that John Wesley was a great theologian, but he believed that the Lord’s Supper was at times a converting ordinance. He cited the examples of his converts saying “Ye are witnesses. For many now present know, the very beginning of your conversion to God (perhaps in some, the first deep conviction) was wrought at the Lord’s Supper.” He said of his own mother that she knelt at the table and
    “The Father there revealed His Son,
    Him in the broken bread made known.”
    This, he claimed, was her true conversion to Christ and out of legalistic religion.
    Historically Methodists have believed in an open table.