The Lord’s Supper and the Church As Family

As you know, one of the metaphors used to describe a church is family. In the best sense, family is a warm and lovely image. So it is with the church, the family of God. Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ, bearing the burdens of each other and supporting one another. But as we all know, a family can also have some stressful moments too. Anyone who has grown up with siblings know that brothers and sisters don’t always play so nice together. And so it is with any local church at any given moment.

Family-Church

Churches are people with a myriad of different personalities, who bring all sorts of different baggage to the table. At any given moment, someone says or does something that bothers someone else, unknowingly causes offense, and may even create some level of animosity and division. How does the church deal with this?

The Lord’s Supper

The Corinthian church had a lot of problems. Among those problems was their participation in the Lord’s Supper. According to 1 Corinthians 11, some of the Christians were stuffing themselves and getting drunk (imagine that!) while leaving nothing for others, leaving some still hungry (vv. 20-21). So what does Paul do to remedy the problem? He tells them about their participation in the Lord’s Supper. Here’s what Paul says in vv. 23-26:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and after 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, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Paul reminds them that this Lord’s Supper involves both remembering and proclaiming.

Remembering goes back to the Passover in which the Jews would come together and remember how God delivered them from Egyptian bondage. So partaking of the body and blood of the Lord is to remember the redemptive grace God has shown us in the death of Christ. Proclaiming is to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” says Paul. The scope of this proclamation is past, present, and future. It is to embrace the grace of Christ, which involves the most unselfish act of giving his own life up for the sake others, as the church’s way of life.

Reading the remaining part of 1 Corinthians 11, we see how effortlessly Paul moves from participation in the Lord’s Supper to how it ought to shape the social-practice of the church. What the church remembers and proclaims (belief) as it participates in the Lord’s Supper must extend beyond the actual meal and transform how the church relates to one another (practice). This has everything to do with being a family.

As Christ, So We

In his book Captive to the Word of God, Miroslav Volf suggests the connection between belief and practice involves an as-so structure saying “as God has received us in Christ, so we too are to receive our fellow human beings” (p. 46). This is a helpful way of understanding how our participation in the Lord’s Supper ought to shape the social-practice of the church as a family. It says that as a church remembers Christ and proclaims his death until he come, so also should every believer grant the same grace God has granted them to their brothers and sisters in Christ. In this way, participation in the Lord’s Supper is a rehearsal of what we believe, which is wrapped up in the grace of God, so that we can act towards each other as we have rehearsed.

So as a family, Christians are going to say and do thing that get on the nerves of each other from time to time. Sometimes the offense has caused enough harm that it creates division and in those cases, with repentance, an apology is necessary so that reconciliation can take place. However, what is also needed is an assumption of grace. Every Christian has a bad day, moments when they don’t put their best foot forward . . . times when they say something wrong. In those moments people need to know that they’re forgiven and that their brothers and sisters in Christ don’t hold what they said or did against them because they’re a family who grants each other the same grace that they have received in Christ.

That’s how the many imperfect churches lives as a healthy family! Families forgive rather than hold grudges. I grew up with two brothers and two sisters in my nuclear family. Sometimes we would say and do things that irritated each other, made each other mad, etc… But we learned to love each other, let things go, and carry on as brothers and sister. That’s how it should be in every church and when Christians participate in the Lord’s Supper, they are saying this is how it will be in their church.

For The Imperfect Churches

One of the metaphors for a church is family, namely the family of God. Thus Christians often refer to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. I used to think that sounded pretty archaic but these days it seems like churches need to recover a more robust sense of being family.

Family-Church

I love the large worship gatherings of the church, whether it’s fifty or so people gathered in a small chapel or a thousand plus people gathered in a theatre of sorts. Yet if that’s the extent of our life together as a church then there is something deeply wrong. Nobody can read the scripture honestly and come away believing that church life is just a cooperate worship gathering, usually on Sunday mornings. However, reading scripture will confirm what we already know based upon our own experience: family life can be crazy . . . sometimes very difficult.

The Corinthian church is an easy example because they had so much wrong but there example also gives us hope. For all the problems, all the doctrinal error, sin, and dysfunction among the Christians in Corinth (and there was a lot), Paul still wrote saying,

to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! – 1 Cor 1:2-3.

Yes it’s just a greeting but it’s wasn’t necessary. Paul certainly didn’t offer the such a greeting when he wrote to the church in Galatia (cf. Gal 1:1-4). So the fact that Paul could still see the Corinthians through the grace of God is, I believe, good news for a many of churches today.

Most churches today are not that large vibrant and growing community with opportunities bursting forth, led by a group of dynamic shepherds and talented ministry staff. And if you’re reading this blog, the chances are that you don’t belong to one of those churches either. This is not to say that your church is bad or that the leadership of your church is a failure. Nor am I trying to mitigate the problems that exist, which must be courageously addressed by the leaders of the church. It’s simply to say that most churches are like the churches we read of in scripture, churches with problems. So maybe the place to start is by reading Paul’s greeting to the Corinthian church as a greeting to your church.

I plan to follow this post up with another post on the Lord’s Supper and family life as a church because I believe the Lord’s Supper is a remedy to many of nagging conflictual issues a lot of churches lives with. However, I wanted to begin with Paul’s greeting to the Corinthian church because I believe there are many less-than-the-ideal churches that need to hear that they are still the church, sanctified believers, living in the grace and peace of God.

Because Jesus Says “Come!”

I don’t know what it would be like to walk on water as Peter did but according to the story, doing so led Peter to Jesus. Well, that was until he became afraid and took his eyes off of Jesus. That’s when he stopped walking on the water and began sinking. You can read the entire story of Peter in Matthew 14:22-36.*

Stepping Into The Chaos

Most people who remember the story do so thinking of Jesus. But we shouldn’t forget about Peter because in many ways we are Peter. We here Jesus say “Come!” and that means we must step out of the boat and walk. But stepping out of the boat is scary business because to do so means stepping out and on to the sea, the great symbol of chaos throughout the Bible.

Chaos is difficult and frankly, nobody wants it or needs it. Not I. Not you. The boat is a much safer place. Though it may be surrounded by chaos as it sails on the sea, staying in the boat gives us the illusion that everything is ok and will be ok. Whatever danger staying in the boat may pose, it seems manageable. Faith is unnecessary, we just need to keep sailing until we reach the shore. The only problem is that Jesus isn’t standing on the shore . . . he’s walking on the water, telling us to get out of the boat and come to him.

Peter did the right thing when Jesus called. He got out of the boat and with his eyes fixed on Jesus, he began walking on the water towards Jesus. What got Peter into trouble was taking his eyes off Jesus. That’s when he began sinking. Yet even in sinking, he still did the right thing. That is, he still reached out to Jesus.

Perhaps we would do the same when we feel ourselves sinking in the chaos. But I also know that the boat remains a few yards away. So we might just try swimming back to the boat, thinking that if we can just get back to the boat and get control of the situation ourselves − or at least get things back to manageable situation − then everything will be okay.

It won’t! Jesus isn’t there. Jesus is out on the water bidding us to come join him. Peter did. Even cowering in faith, he reached out to Jesus. And Jesus saved him and sent on to become a founding apostolic witness for this kingdom of God movement that has now gone global.

But Peter never got back into that boat!

Eyes Upon Jesus!

Of course, I’m not really talking about a boat! I’m talking about the church. Your church. My church. Our church.

Jesus is calling but to step on the water and go to him, we have to step out of the boat and that is full of risk. Yet the boat, as we know it, appears safe. It’s surely more convenient. It appears more manageable, as we know how to row this boat because we’ve done it for some time. And if we step out on to the water and find ourselves sinking in the chaos, which seems normal, the temptation is to swim back to the boat, grabbing for a life-preserver, a boat oar, or anything else to feel safe again. But doing so loses focus on Jesus because he isn’t sitting in the boat . . . he’s out walking on the water.

So keep our eyes focused on Jesus and we’ll walk on water, joining Jesus and following him in this Kingdom journey. Just like Peter did . . . who never got back in that boat!

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* This article was originally published in Connecting 29 (October 15, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.

When Fear and Faith Collide

Ebola!

ISIS!

Ferguson, Missouri!

And _____!

It all evokes fear. Perhaps lots of fear. And the fear is somewhat understandable. After all, if you find yourself in the middle of a bad storm, a little fear is expected.  Yet…

Last Sunday I preached on the story of Jesus stilling the storm in Mark 4:35-41. I’ve preached on the passage before but this time was different because unlike before, I understood why the disciples became afraid. The text says that the storm on the sea was so fierce that the winds were blowing waves up into the boat. I’d be scared if I was on that boat . . . and I’d bet you would be too.

So what is Jesus thinking about when he questions his disciples about their fear and loss of faith? Maybe Jesus is speaking into something much deeper than just a severe thunderstorm. Maybe Jesus is taking the occasion to speak about the deeper issue of discipleship in those moments when faith and fear collide, where we allow one to drive the other away.

You see, when faith and fear collide, like they will later on for Jesus and his disciples when they enter Jerusalem for the Passover, our response speaks. Fear seems natural but those who let fear dictate the agenda will abandon the way of life Jesus calls us to embrace in attempt to assuage the fear on our own. With the fear of Ebola, we’re tempted to demand secure national borders rather than recalling how God expects his people to treat foreigners (read Deuteronomy lately?) much less care for the suffering should we encounter them. With the fear of ISIS, we’re tempted to champion the idea fighting fire with fire in another war rather than stopping to pray for them (read the Sermon on the Mount lately?).

But Jesus silences the storm, rebuking the win as he says to the sea, “Peace! Be Still!” The story in the Gospel of Mark leaves us with the question of who is Jesus? It’s meant to refocus our faith in the midst of fear.

Who is this Jesus but the Messiah, the crucified and resurrected King of Kings, Lord of Lords! The storms cannot and will not destroy us. Keep our focus on Jesus. Silence the profiteers of fear posing as news stations like CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and so forth.

Listen instead for the voice of Jesus and follow him. Together we will weather the storm!

Believing In Jesus and His Way

A Farewell to MarsI’m currently reading through Brian Zahnd’s book A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace. The book is about the peaceful, non-violent way of Jesus Christ, which is often ignored and even dismissed as irrelevant by many Christians living in America. In other words, American Christianity believes in Jesus as the Savior but does not necessarily follow Jesus as Lord… at least not when it comes to putting down the sword and picking up the cross. This is why Zahnd says quite clearly and convincingly that, “It’s not enough to believe in Jesus; we also have to believe in the Jesus way!” (p. 142).

To illustrate his point, Zahnd does a little historical work regarding southern culture and the Christian revival throughout the southern states that preceded the American Civil War. Here’s the quote:

In seeking to preserve an economy dependent upon slave labor, Southern churches had embraced a fatally distorted faith. Probably without even knowing what they were doing, these Christians had quite effectively used Jesus and the Bible to validate their racist assumptions and protect their vested interests. They went to church on Sunday. They got saved. They loved Jesus. They waved their palms and shouted hosanna on Palm Sunday. But like the crowd in Jerusalem eighteen centuries earlier, they didn’t know the things that made for peace. And Jesus wept over an America headed to hell. The churches were full and slavery continued—until the Civil War, that is. Then 750,000 people died for the sins of America (p. 146).

My question is how long will Christians keep dismissing the non-violent way of Jesus as irrelevant and how much more carnage will we suffer as a result?

Blessing The Children

Yesterday the Columbia Church of Christ had our blessing of the children. Besides singing songs and reading scripture about the abundant blessings of God, the message was about the role parents and the church plays in raising children as faithful followers of Jesus. At the end of the message, the parents brought their children and committed to raising them as followers of Jesus, with the church lifting each child up in a prayer of blessing. After blessing our children, we shared in the Lord’s Supper together.

The following was part of the prayer of blessing offered for our children:

As the family of God, a congregation of whom Jesus is the head…We ask for you God, our Father in heaven to bless these children…

Lord, we praise you for the life of these children and ask you to surround everyone of them with your blessing, that they each may know your love and may be protected from all evil, knowing your goodness all the days of their lives.

Lord, we ask that you bless the parents of these children, giving them the grace to love and care for their children with patience and faith. As they stand before us as a profession of their commitment to teach their children to be followers of your Son, Jesus, may your Spirit grant them wisdom and guidance to live as Jesus, setting an example of what it means to be a Christian!

And Lord, as we give these Bibles to the newest born children among us, we pray that as they grow up, they will receive the scriptures as your word, shaping them and becoming their story… our story…your story, Lord! Amen!*

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* Adapted from an Anglican prayer of blessing for children.

Do We Have To Go To Church?

“Do we have to go to church?”* said most everyone of us at some point in our life. I’ve asked that question before and I’m sure other minister have done so as well.

I get the question. People are asking if attending a Sunday church assembly is necessary. Part of me wants to whip out Hebrews 10:25 as a prooftext, where the writer of Hebrews warns against forsaking the assembly. If were looking for a law, which a question like this often assumes, then the instruction in Hebrews appears sufficient. Having said all that, something else has already gone afoul when we have to ask the question of whether it is necessary to assemble with our church… on Sunday or any other time when the church assembles.

What Are We Asking, Saying, and Doing?

The question of whether we have to go to church also assumes a view of church that is widely accepted but still wrong. The assumption is that church is where we go and what we do rather than who we are as a community of disciples. Hence, we speak of church in the third-person singular rather than the first-person plural voice. Church is no longer thought of in terms of who we are − our identity as a community of disciples − but as an independent part of our life.

The problem is deeper though. As I pointed to earlier, the question assumes a legalistic approach to the Christian faith. This legalism holds that there are certain laws that must be kept in order to remain a faithful Christian and the question wants to know if going to church is necessary to remain a faithful Christian. However, most of the time it seems as though the person asking is looking for an out… a legal loophole, so to speak. Perhaps the person wants to justify sleeping in on Sunday morning, heading out to the golf course, the deer stand, etc… Because church is already regarded as just a part of life, something the person goes to do rather their way of live, church is now becoming even a lesser part of life.

In reality, the question of whether or not we have do go to church says much about our relationship with God. Since church is only a part of our life and is becoming a lesser part of life, God is no longer first. God is replace with something else, which is now more important and that is a deeper issue.

A Spiritual Disease?

As I think about the deeper issue, I am reminded of the story in the Gospel of Luke about the rich ruler (Lk 18:18-29). The man’s problem is not his wealth, it’s putting his wealth before God! Trying to justify himself he comes to Jesus inquiring about what is necessary for eternal life, so Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. Of course, this wealthy man is already keeping the commandments. There’s still one problem and Jesus calls him on it… This man loves his riches more than he loves God and so his riches, rather than God, are his top priority. So he left, unable to follow Jesus into the kingdom because he loved his riches more than he loved God.

We can’t and don’t go to church because we are the church! Yet as the church, we gather together as an assembly in various formats and these gatherings are important. There are times when we cannot assemble and have legitimate reasons for not being able to do so. But when we begin to see the assembly as the church and separate that into just one part of our life, we inevitably do the same with God. For our relationship with God is bound within the community (church) of God’s people which God has made us a part of. When we relegate this relationship into one part among other parts of our life like family, work, hobbies, and so on, those other parts have the potential of becoming more important.

When this happens we end up asking questions like “Do we really have to go to church?” It’s a spiritual disease because what we really seem to be asking is “Do we really have to put God first?”

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* This article was originally published in Connecting 29 (October 1, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.