Category: The Church

Word or Deed Ministry?

Should a Church focus exclusively on the Ministry of the Word or on a Ministry of Deeds? As the news of Jesus’ authority over nature and disease spread, soon there were overwhelming crowds gathering in wonder of what Jesus would do next. As the crowds impeded His ability to preach and their needs consumed His time, He would move to another town or even into the wilderness so that He could continue to freely preach the Good News about the Kingdom.  Jesus sought and found a beautiful equilibrium of word and deed in ministry. His Deed ministry was always about compassionately giving relief to people and families from their suffering, grief, misery, and distress. While His Word ministry was always about compassionately calling people and families to Faith and Repentance dealing with their deepest suffering, grief. misery and distress: their sin. In the ministry of Christ there was a synergy and integration of Deeds and Words working together so people would believe the message of the gospel. He saw ALL people as sick, all people as sinners and it was only those who admitted their need for the Doctor of their Souls who qualified for a place in his kingdom.

What is Holy Saturday?

Solitude

Holy Saturday is the time in between John 19:41-42 and John 20:1:  Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there…(INSERT HOLY SATURDAY HERE)…Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb…

Holy Saturday is the day between the Good Friday Dusk and Easter Sunday Morning Dawn. It consists of over 30 Sabbath hours of time between Friday Sunset and Sunday Sunrise in which the gospel writers give us no details, it is just EMPTY SPACE and DEAD AIR. We know what Good Friday feels like: despair, darkness, defeat and hopelessness. We know what Easter Sunday feels like: joy, light, victory and hope. But does Holy Saturday have a feel?

Recognizing that the Passion Week represents a continuous historical narrative, churches typically pause to enter into emotion of Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday or Tenebrae) and some pause to remember the journey of our Lord on the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday. But then we enter into Holy Saturday, a time when the sanctuaries of the old churches are stripped bare and lay in darkness. No services are scheduled, no sermons are preached, no one gathers for fellowship and there is no Lord’s Supper in order to commemorate the non-event of Holy Saturday. Holy Saturday is a dead intermission, an empty void between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ when His body lays in the tomb. I’ve never heard a message preached about Holy Saturday and I don’t recall singing a Hymn where Holy Saturday is given more than a sentence. But in the sentence of Holy Saturday (or more accurately, the parenthesis) there is an eerie feeling of familiarity to me.

I see that we live every day in a similar yet post-resurrection tension as we wait for the King to come back to consummate the Kingdom he inaugurated 2000 years ago. In between His two advents, we sin, we feel guilt, anxiety, shame, restlessness, we deny Him, sometimes betray Him, life sometimes feels dark and we often wonder what to do next just like the disciples on that First Holy Saturday. The difference living parenthetically on this side of Easter is that we can always turn back with understanding to the significance of the Cross to find forgiveness and mercy and embrace the life and certain hope imparted to us through the Resurrection.

(Inspired by Alan E. Lewis: “Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday“)

Second Chance Psalms

Torah inside of the former Glockengasse synago...

Image via Wikipedia

A.W. Tozer said, “We weren’t given the Bible as a substitute for God; rather it is supposed to lead us right to the heart of God.” And God’s heart is one that woos us back to Himself to give us the Second Chance. He holds out mercy and forgiveness to us continuously while calling us back to a lifestyle of repentance, holiness and love and His Heart is on display in His Word. The Psalms have a unique quality in that they display the heart of God while simultaneously they become windows into our own souls. As John Calvin comments “we are certain that God puts [His] words in our mouths, as if He Himself were singing in us to exalt His glory.The Psalms of Repentance (aka The Second Chance Psalms) is a name designation dating from the sixth century A.D. given to Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143  which are specially expressive of godly sorrow for sin and rich in God’s heart of mercy and consolation to draw us back to be satisfied in His love.

Psalm 130 is one of these Second Chance Psalms and was probably Martin Luther’s favorite. Here the Psalmist finds himself overwhelmed with adversity and passionately begs the Lord for deliverance. As he prays, he acknowledges that he is being justly chastised by the hand of God. He doesn’t innocently find himself in trouble instead, he is in a mess of his own making. This is not a trial which came out of nowhere. Conventional wisdom and sadly even many churches would say to him, “you’ve made your bed and now you have to lie in it.” He passionately begs the Lord for deliverance and finds hope because God is the everlasting deliverer of His people and has always shown Himself ready to extend mercy and rescue even from the worst of self-inflicted circumstances. Take a moment to savor this Psalm.

Psalm 130

A Song of Ascents.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

The Savior of Second Chances

There are not many second chances in the Church or in the World, as the rules apply it’s most often ‘one and done’ and then you get ‘tossed under the bus.’ Many Christians even live out of a theological framework which believes that God offers mercy and forgiveness for even the most heinous sins committed before the point of personal conversion but there are new rules that apply after conversion. The New Rules are that you are expected to get it right after that and there is no mercy for sins committed after conversion. This false system leads churches to even celebrate the most dramatic conversions of the most rebellious lifestyles before salvation but extends no forgiveness or second chance to a believer who messes up. Another problem with the aforementioned erroneous system is that it typically views sin as merely outward and tolerates the sins God despises most like pride, arrogance, harshness, selfishness, ignoring the needs of the poor while living in excess. Could it be that God offers only forgiveness to those coming out of unbelief? Is there mercy for non-Christians but not for Christians?

Thankfully Jesus is the Savior of Second Chances and the framework represented above is the opposite of the gospel of Jesus Christ who holds out mercy and forgiveness to us continuously while calling us back to a lifestyle of repentance, holiness and love. Second Chances are only possible if the mistake made during the first chance was paid for and absorbed by another. This is what Jesus does, he pays for the sin and does not make us pay. The Second Chance then becomes a new lease on life, a new freedom, a new opportunity to experience a richer sense of His grace and to live as if we have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. When living within the Second Chance, we know that at some point we will need a third chance which He will graciously extend. This is what Jesus does: He restores the fallen! This is what He did for Simon Peter, a full-fledged Christian and Church leader who denied any connection with Jesus on three occasions. He gave him a Second Chance.  Remember the Prodigal Son was a “Son” when he rebelled against his Father who extended a second chance and the Wandering Sheep belonged to the Shepherd and His flock before he became disoriented and was carried back to the fold for his second chance. This is the gospel program: Jesus extends mercy to His own whom He expects will need second and even third chances.

The Church is full of patients not hypocrites

A widely stated reason for rejecting Christianity is that many believe that ‘the church is full of hypocrites.’ (See 2008 U.S. Survery). My answer to this challenge has been, “Yes, you’re right, the church has many hypocrites.” (See: The Church is full of hypocrites). By design the church is a “mixed body” of both authentic and fake christians like lettuce and weeds growing in the same garden which will be sorted out in the end. The rest of my answer is, “No, you’re incorrect, the church isn’t really full of hypocrites.” (See: A “Hypocrite” or A “Work in Progress.”)  While some in the church are pretending to be something they’re not, others are just a “work in progress” being slowly crafted into the people God wants them to be.

The Visible Church, the one we see with our eyes, is a mixed body of sinners gathered together while the ultimate responsibility for her judgment rests in a gracious, merciful and sovereign God. It is His exclusive right to decide who is real and who is not.  Likely the best comparison for the church today is of a hospital where some await diagnosis of their condition, some hear yet don’t accept their diagnosis clinging only to illusions of health while others are diagnosed, treated and move toward health.  The only people who reside in a hospital are those who are sick and those who are healing from sickness. Commonly, people go to the hospital when they cannot help themselves, desperate to have their condition diagnosed and to receive treatment and care that will nurse them to health.  Ultimately when our time comes, all patients who have received and believed their correct diagnosis, have sought and received the only cure for their condition and continue to trust the Physician will be completely cured in their discharge.

A “Hypocrite” or A “Work in Progress?”

A 2008 U.S. survey of unchurched adults found that 72% of them believed that the church ‘is full of hypocrites.’ I blogged yesterday, (see The Church is full of Hypocrites) that the design of the church is a “mixed body” consisting of both the righteous and the unrighteous like wheat and tares growing and coexisting side by side in the same field (the church) that will ultimately be separated from each other at the time of harvest (judgment).  But the charge given by the 72% in the survey is still unfair for lots of reasons. Here’s one:

While some in the church are pretending to be something they’re not, others are just a “work in progress” like me and perhaps like you. I am under no illusion that I am perfect and am quite aware of my shortcomings and my need to grow into the image of Jesus Christ who saved me. While my goal is to be like Christ, He is engaged in this chiseling, refining work on me that takes a lifetime and is not completed until glory. I often tell friends that there should always be a circumference of orange cones and yellow warning tape surrounding me with a sign saying, “Pardon My Progress,” for the snapshot reality of my life is actually quite messy. I am a “work in progress” but not a hypocrite.

Charles Spurgeon commented,

The Church is faulty, but that is no excuse for your not joining it, if you are the Lord’s. Nor need your own faults keep you back, for the Church is not an institution for perfect people, but a sanctuary for sinners saved by Grace, who, though they are saved, are still sinners and need all the help they can derive from the sympathy and guidance of their fellow Believers… The Church is the nursery for God’s weak children where they are nourished and grow strong. It is the fold for Christ’s sheep—the home for Christ’s family.

The Church is Full of Hypocrites

He was a chameleon who lived under the pretense of virtue and faith. Publicly, he was one of the Twelve, faithful and devout following the King, but privately his only love was money. And nobody saw it coming, nobody except the One who sees everything. Jesus knew from the beginning that His betrayer would come from among His inner circle. Should we be surprised that one from among the inner circle was a hypocrite? This is likely the most popularly stated reason of unbelief given by those who reject the Christian faith, “The Church is full of Hypocrites!”

Augustine referred to the church as a “mixed body” consisting of both the righteous and the unrighteous. His interpretation of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30) saw the church like a field where good seeds of wheat along with the bad seeds of weeds are sown and grow side by side.  They would ultimately be separated from each other at the time of harvest (judgment) but until then, the weeds and wheat would coexist together in the same field (the church).

There is no such thing as a perfect church, one only with righteous good seed. There will always be people in the church with bad motives, those associating for wrong reasons and those whose relationship with God is only outward. There will always be people who claim to love Christ but whose heart is far from Him. Some are in church for show, some to be seen by others as spiritual, others are there for a social outlet or a business network. Many, Jesus says, will say on that day, did we not do this or that in your name? Jesus will say, “I never knew you.” Those of whom Jesus speaks are people who sat in local churches, many of whom are  baptized, have made professions of faith and have personal testimonies. But the mere existence of such hypocrites in the church is neither an excuse for disbelief in Christ nor rejecting His Church.

To those who like to base their claim of unbelief on the existence of hypocrites in the Church, I would say, “You wouldn’t deny the existence of lettuce just because there are weeds in the garden, would you?” Or perhaps I would ask a person with such reasons for unbelief, “Do you carry money in your wallet? Don’t you know that there are people who create counterfeit money yet you still accept that genuine dollars still exist? We need not deny the existence of the authentic based on the evidence of some counterfeits. In fact, the presence of a counterfeit is, in some ways, evidence of the existence of the genuine article because no one counterfeits the invaluable or inherently false. The entire concept of counterfeiting is based on the reproduction of a reasonable facsimile of something that is both genuine and valuable.

Heaven breaks into earth during the Lord’s Supper

The presence of the Lord’s body and blood in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper is real though spiritual and mysterious. This koinonia, communion by intimate participation (Cf.1 Cor. 10:15-17), with the body and blood of Christ  is not a mere object lesson or heightened remembrance about a gift, it is the body and the blood.

When we gather for Lord’s Day worship, we have a mystical experience with our union with Christ. In worship we are ushered into the heavenlies by the Holy Spirit having come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem where innumerable angels gather festively, this is the assembly of all who are enrolled in heaven (Heb 12.22-24). This is not a spatial transportation of our disembodied souls into heaven, but a breaking in of the age to come upon this present age by the Holy Spirit who indwells and maintains our union with Christ in heaven. Already we are mystically united to the body and blood of Christ through faith so our participation in His body and  blood in the supper is an experience of this mystical union.

In the Lord’s Supper, we feast on Christ by the person of the Holy Spirit, partaking of Him not by the mouth, but by the Spirit through faith. But make no mistake, we really are partakers of His true body and blood by the working of the Holy Spirit. Now you might ask, how does this exactly happen? Well, with John Calvin, we will say, “It’s a mystery. We cannot explain it, but we believe it.” Our partaking of the Lord’s Supper is a spiritual connection with the past work of Christ on the cross but also with the present spiritual work of Christ, alive in Glory. So while Christ is not bodily or locally present in the Supper (His Body is only locally in heaven since His Ascension), the entire person of Christ is yet spiritually present and His Body and Blood are enjoyed in true fellowship with Him.

The Lord’s Supper is a life-giving, grace-imputing influence to the believer by the  power of the Holy Spirit which is accessed by the believer’s faith recognizing the Body of the Lord in the elements and accompanied by real cautions against a casual or indifferent attitude (cf. 1 Cor. 11:27-29). While it is quite a mystery something very real, spiritual and efficacious is happening in the grace received in the Supper of an ever closer fellowship with Christ and ever increasing assurance of Salvation.

Four Views of the Lord’s Supper

We’re all familiar with the words instituted by Christ on the evening of the First Lord’s Supper. Paul gives these words in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26,

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

Historically, the church has developed different understandings of the meaning of Christ’s words, “This is my body.”

  • The Roman Church teaches a view called transubstantiation where the substance (what the thing is in essence) of the bread and wine transform into the physical body and blood of Christ. In Rome’s view the essence of the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ while its accidents or appearances to our senses remain like bread and wine. So, even though it looks, smells, and tastes like bread and wine, it is, according to Rome, in its essence the physical body and blood of Christ, miraculously transformed.
  • In his view of the Supper called Consubstantiation, Martin Luther attempted to describe the nature of the bread and wine in concrete metaphysical terms by saying that the fundamental “substance” of the body and blood of Christ are present alongside the substance of the bread and wine, which remain present. In this view, the substance of Christ’s body and blood exist in, with and under the simultaneously-existing substance of regular bread and wine. Thus, the body and blood of Christ are truly received in the Lord’s Supper making it a means of grace for the Christian’s sanctification.
  • Most evangelicals hold to a view espoused by Swiss Reformer Huldrych Zwingli which is called the Memorial view. This view denies the bodily presence of the Lord in the Lord’s Supper and seeks to give a figurative interpretation of the words of institution. The Lord’s Super is seen primarily as a commemoration or a heightened remembering, but is virtually an empty memorial. It is not an experience with the body and blood which are in heaven and therefore not a means of grace.
  • Most don’t realize that there is at least one other important and widely- embraced view of the Lord’s Supper that just might capture the real intentions of the Savior’s words. This is the view articulated by French Theologian and Swiss Reformer, John Calvin called the Real Presence which is more of an intermediate view between Rome and Luther on one side and the Memorialists on the other. Importantly, Calvin’s view of the Real Presence keeps Christ’s body in heaven at the right hand of God until His glorious return therefore rejecting that there is a transformation of substance or essence of the elements. But he also rejects that all we are doing is remembering a past event using merely empty symbols and figurative language. Calvin’s view insists on the real, though spiritual presence of the Lord in the Supper. The Lord’s Supper is an actual means of grace which is a way or agency that the Lord uses to impart His sanctifying grace to the Believer who in faith enters the Lord’s Supper. The Real Presence teaches that the believer does receive Christ’s body and blood in the Supper as Scripture plainly teaches. This is not a mere figurative or metaphorical receiving, it is a REAL RECEIVING. Only Real Faith can conceive That the Holy Spirit unites Christ’s body and blood with the elements even though they are separated by space.

More on the REAL PRESENCE tomorrow….

The Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine

The Lord's Supper

Image by WELS.net via Flickr

Most evangelicals underestimate the meaning, power and purpose of the Lord’s Supper. The Apostle Paul calls the Supper, a koinonia in the body and blood of Christ, a communion by intimate participation (1Cor. 10:14-16). Our partaking of Christ is described in the Supper as “eating” and “drinking” so that we’d never think that the life that we receive form Him is received by mere knowledge. And Jesus calls Himself the Bread of Life, to teach us not only that salvation for us rests on faith in his death and resurrection, but also that, by true partaking of him, his life passes into us and is made ours just as bread when taken as food imparts vigor to the body.

Christ presents to us a sign and symbol of His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper which He wants for us to intimately experience, to show us that we partake of Him with our whole being, not just believe in Him with our heads. But many today have so little regard for signs that we have a tendency to divorce them from their mysteries. The only question we ask is: “Is it Christ’s body and blood physically or is it just bread and wine?” But there is much more meaning between those questions. A Sign or symbol can be REAL even if it doesn’t transform in essence. When we partake of the Lord’s supper, we mysteriously share and participate in the REAL presence of Christ.  It is REAL, it is not pretend. In the Supper we experience Christ in a deeper way and are spiritually nourished by the benefits of redemption and we find that there is a new working of grace in our hearts that makes us want to flee from sin and idolatry. We find that we want to make new commitments to Him in our hearts to resist the devil, to seek the Lord and to love others better.

In the Lord’s Supper we are sharing and participating in everything that Christ has done for us that those elements represent.  When Christ shed his blood and gave his body for us, God was removing guilt and shame and forgiving sin. He was becoming reconciled to those who would believe and making peace with them. So it is the purpose of the Supper to be strengthened to obtain this peace and joy while our souls feast on Him. In the Lord’s Supper we can actually feel and taste the gospel.

Christ’s words “This is my body” has several interpretations… that’s tomorrow’s blog.