I’ve been thinking a lot about the lack of depth and experience in our personal relationships as well as the lack of experience in our relationship with God. Evangelicals have basically coined the phrase, “personal relationship with God,” but when pressed further about its experiential meaning, the answers merely revolve around the forensic (legal) language of substitution, atonement, imputation and propitiation (all of which I hold firmly). I understand that Christianity has been a battle for ideas, especially in the early years and during the time of the Reformation but we have become polemicists (masters of disputation and debaters of ideas) instead of children of God who deeply experience our Heavenly Father and so there is no one there for our hearts. So, because our leaders and teachers are great at defining the battle over the ideas of the gospel, we have learned and followed but the results have been that we have largely missed the God of the Gospel. Oh how easy it is so easy to accept ideas about God as a replacement for an experience of Him. Even the language of the Scriptures is rich with experiential language calling us to koinonos (an intimate companion, mutual sharer and partaker) and its derivative, koinonia (communion by intimate participation) with Him.
Listen to and experience the intimate language of John’s first epistle,
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship (koinonia) with us; and indeed our fellowship (koinonia) is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
Earlier this week, I heard from a missionary friend overseas who privately commented regarding my blogposts from Monday and Tuesday. With his permission, I will relate some of our conversation. He said that he has seen that particularly the generation of younger 20’s and early 30’s seem to be struggling with an inability to build true relationships with others. He and his team felt that young people are substituting social networking for real relationships and that because of this they lacked the real ability and skills to connect with each other on a personal basis. The effect of this substitution is that so many more young people are feeling lonely and isolated. He also said that the irony seems to be that this generation craves community but they turn to social media as their source of community which is no real community at all and they are left wanting.
This is not to completely debunk the social media phenomenon which has great potential to connect people in ways that we were never connected before. (i.e. – my friend reads my blog from a link on a social media website and sends me a message about it via the same social media.) But my friend and I agree that social media is not intended to replace normal relationship building and emotional bonding. It is not the primary way to connect us to others, it is only an add-on or a layer of connection.
I love technology and I love social media. They are not the problem. The problem is that our hearts turn these media into a counterfeit for koinonia so when we look to facebook to be our relationships, we miss the real thing. Could it be that once again our own hearts are our downfall and that we are naturally moving to lesser desires not greater ones? Could it be that we are becoming satisfied with the “relational connections” and “friendships” that social media provides and we are losing our appetites for the real thing? Likely this is one more example of what CS Lewis said in His Weight of Glory address,
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Today I am more connected than ever before. You can contact me via my three phone numbers, my four email addresses, instant messenger and my skype account. Did I mention that you can also facebook me, send me a tweet, or even comment on my blog? Oh, and I am also available for lunch today. But while there is this 360° communication field about me that is available 24 hours of every day and there is more information about me, the way I think and my preferences available for public consumption than ever before (just google john estorge or request me as a friend on facebook) I struggle more to be truly known and to truly know others than previous generations. Could it be that my virtual connectedness has become a substitute, even an unrecognizable counterfeit for true connectedness to others and to God?
As I talk and counsel with folks in their forties down to their teens, what lies behind all of their struggles is a lack of healthy inter-connectedness to God, self and others. What is missing is an experiential knowledge of God, self and others. A.W. Tozer comments, “We have substituted theological ideas for an arresting encounter; we are full of religious notions but our great weakness is that for our hearts there is no one there.” While I may know facts about God, do I really know Him? And when I need Him, which should be daily if I really knew myself, does my heart even know how to find Him? Once again in our relationship with God and others we have substituted the knowledge of ideas and facts for true experiential knowledge. Maybe I’m weaker than most, but my heart can’t survive in a world where ideas are substituted for experience. Johann Arndt adds, “There are many who suppose that Theology is merely a science, or an art of words, whereas it is a living experience and practical exercise. Every one now aims at acquiring eminence and distinction in the world; but no one is willing to learn how to be devout.”
My heart longs for a greater inter-connectedness and mutual experience of koinonia with God and others. I desire to participate with God and others in genuine, experiential ways. To have communion by intimate participation, to know and be known by God and others. This is what He desires for us. This is what is wrapped up in koinonia. And I’m afraid we’ve settled for less.
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.
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.
On the Festive Day of Rest, called the Lord’s day there is a standing invitation to all those who love the Lord to share in His Fellowship and Worship. And on this day, He often hosts a spiritual banquet for us to experience a greater intimacy with Him. We call this banquet The Lord’s Supper.
But what’s going on in the Lord’s Supper? Is it simply a heightened remembrance of what Jesus did for us 2000 years ago or is it something else? When it comes to the Lord’s Supper, the biggest mistake that most evangelicals make is that we underestimate its meaning, power and purpose. Paul writes to the Corinthians,
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1Cor. 10:14-16)
Interestingly, the Greek word translated “participation” is a familiar one to many, but perhaps we our familiarity has bred some boredom with it. The Greek word is
koinonia which means “communion by intimate participation.” Paul is saying that in the Lord’s Supper we commune by intimate participation with the Body and Blood of Christ. We have koinonia with Christ’s Body and Blood in the Supper. It is a mutual sharing and an intimate experiencing. So the, the Lord’s Supper is an intimate banquet of koinonia with the body and blood of Christ, a spiritual banquet whereby we are refreshed by partaking of Him. The Lord’s Supper makes our secret union with Christ as certain for us as if we had seen it with our own eyes. In The Institutes, Calvin describes the Lord’s Supper as,
“This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us.”
In the Lord’s Supper, we have the full witness of everything that Christ has done for us and it gives us the opportunity to experience them as if Christ were present Himself, sitting right before our eyes and touched by our hands.
This Spring will mark a special occasion in my life when on my physical birthday I will turn 44 and on my spiritual birthday I will turn 22. It might not mean so much to you but it means a lot to me because 22 years ago the Holy Spirit chased me down to execute a plan of grace that was made at a Triune Table before the creation of the world. The occasion is also significant because it marks exactly half of my life in personal communion with Jesus Christ as well as a passage into Christian early adulthood.
I would define my early Christian life as one of ACTIVITY including disciplined scripture memory and initiative personal evangelism while my adolescent years were about IDEAS including the study of systematic theology, Greek and Hebrew, attaining a seminary degree and climbing a rigorous denominational ordination process. Reflecting back to my early years, I saw how easy it was for me to substitute spiritual activity for God in the place of a relationship with God. Now since the collision of middle age in my physical life and early adulthood in my spiritual life I see how easy it was for me to accept ideas about God as substitutes for an experience of Him.
Sadly most of us call ourselves Christians based on our belief system more than our experience. Even the celebrated Gospel Coalition movement in which I have participated and appreciate, speaks primarily of the Christian experience and even the Gospel in the forensic language of ideas and philosophy. I am struck by the words of A.W. Tozer who still speaks to our Reformed and Calvinistic churches today,
“We have substituted theological ideas for an arresting encounter; we are full of religious notions but our great weakness is that for our hearts there is no one there.”
We can even treat God’s love as an IDEA while being void of a personal experience of the heart that encounters His love. God doesn’t just want us to have correct views about him, He wants to make Himself Known to us Personally and Up Close. His heart through the Old and New Testaments was not just to be objectively known ABOUT. His self-revelation to the Israelites was always in the most personal and intimate language (Cf. Exodus 34:5-7). The God of the Bible, can’t be known from a distance which was why He bent down from heaven to send His Son to live among us so we could see Him, hear Him and touch Him (Cf. 1 John 1:1-4).
My heart’s desire for my life and the lives of those who will listen is to help navigate an authentic Christian journey that finds a direct, personal experience of God which results in a deep generosity to others.