Tag Archives: communion

Religion/Ritual bad, Relationship good? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s desires for Christians. Part 2]

26 Mar

Is religion automatically bad?  Some Christians are very anti-religion because they feel it goes against the concept of relationship.  But does it? 

Read James 1:26-27, and you’ll see James suggest that religion is not only a viable way to view our connection with God, but that God approves of religion that has a heart for social justice and righteousness. 

Before we study this further, it could be helpful to define the term that James uses. What is religion? The word “religion” is defined as:  appropriate beliefs and devout practice of obligations relating to supernatural persons and powers.”[1] That definition is somewhat different from what we normally think of when we view religion negatively. We think of a ritualistic approach to worshiping God, an approach that is called “dead” or “rote” or “empty.”

Have people ever said to you, “you are very religious”?  In our society, the people who say that usually don’t mean “you are practicing empty rituals”.  They usually mean that you are pious, and maybe even that you have a close relationship with God, or that they wish they could live that way, and that is a good thing.

When we hear someone say to us, “you are very religious,” we might inwardly (or also outwardly) bristle at this suggestion because we evangelicals have made such a big deal of emphasizing that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship.  We can react quickly back, “I do not have a religion, I have a relationship!”  But I would suggest that we hold our tongue.  The people we are talking to might have very little idea of what we are taking about: a religion vs. relationship.  They almost certainly didn’t mean to suggest that we are practicing an empty, dead ritualistic approach to God. 

Instead they probably observed our relationship with God, assumed that it is religion because that is how they conceive of Christianity, and thus they were actually complementing us.  So a proper response on our part, when someone says, “you are very religious” would be to say, “Thank you.”  That kind of gracious response is much more likely to open the door to a conversation about faith in Christ, than if we were to respond curtly, “UH…NO!  I do not have a religion.  I have a relationship.” 

Instead, allow yourself to live with their viewpoint, and take their words as a complement, say “Thank you,” and pursue a line of discussion that is gracious and generous and kind, talking about how Jesus has been so meaningful and life-changing and that you have a real friendship with him. 

The other side of the coin is that a ritualistic approach to Christianity is not necessarily wrong.  That is what James is referring to back in James 1.  As Christians we actually do have a religion.  A religion is simply a word that refers to the set of practices that we engage in.  Think about what you do when you gather for worship with your church family. You sit in a room, practicing gathered corporate worship together.  Jesus even commissioned his disciples to regularly practice rituals like gathering for prayer, teaching, communion and baptism.

Many people in protestant evangelical churches might respond, “But we are not at all like the liturgical churches and all their rituals.” 

That is the impression that we have of ourselves.  That we are completely different, and we are right, and they are wrong.  I totally disagree.  Let me explain.  Yes, our liturgy is different than their liturgy. 

I remember when I was on sabbatical and went to the Orthodox church, and it felt like I was a on a different Christian planet. Nearly every surfaced is covered with religious art called icons, and their worship service could be described as highly ritualistic.  But you know what?  Every church that I visited on sabbatical had their own liturgy.  We do too. 

Liturgy is a term that pops up in the Bible here and there, and it simply means “the work or service of the people.”  This is why we call our gatherings “services”.  Used in relation to worship services, “liturgy” carries the idea of what Christian people do, the work we do, of worshiping God.  When it comes to liturgy, there is no one right way.  High liturgy, which features lots of rituals, can minister deeply to people, enhancing their relationship to God.  No doubt, Faith Church is much more on the side of what is called low church, involving less ritual.  But we still have plenty of ritual too.  We don’t print it in a bulletin, but when I preached this sermon, I asked everyone present to describe the order of service we typically use, and they were able to list it out. That order describes our liturgy, our ritual.

But here’s the important thing to remember about our ritual, our liturgy: it is designed to enhance relationship with God!  So both are true, Christianity is a religion, and a relationship. 

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 530.

The OT Law is not for us [Should Christians Observe the Old Testament Law – Deuteronomy 21-25, part 2]

29 Jan

Are Christians supposed to follows the laws found in the Old Testament? In part 1 of this series on the various in Deuteronomy 21-25, we saw that there are some very curious and bizarre laws, leaving us wondering why God would want his people to observe those laws.  Thinking about all the laws in the Old Testament and how they might apply today, why do Christians follow some and not others?  In part 1, I introduced David Dorsey’s four-part method which helps Christians understand every law in the Old Testament.  Today we look at Step 1.

Step 1: This law is not for us.  This law is part of God’s covenant with the ancient Israelites.  We are not them.  We are Christians, part of the body of Christ, the church, and we are under a different covenant with God.  Our covenant is called the new covenant. 

During worship at Faith Church on most communion Sundays I read from 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. In this text, written by one of Jesus’ earliest followers, Paul, we find Paul reflecting on Jesus’ words to the disciples at their last supper together before Jesus was arrested and crucified.

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Did you hear that?  Jesus was saying that through his blood shed for us on the cross he was enacting a new covenant.  That means that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we, his disciples, his church, are in a new covenant relationship or agreement or treaty with God through him. 

What is that New Covenant?  The book of Hebrews talks about it a bit more, and I think it is important that we read this.  Turn to Hebrews 8:6, where we are jumping into the middle of a longer discussion about Jesus’ role as priest and how he compares or contrasts with the priests of Israel who were under the Old Covenant.  I would encourage you to read Hebrews chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10 at some point. But before going any further with this post, please quickly glance through Hebrews 8:6-13.

The New Covenant is God’s agreement to transform our lives, as we believe in and follow him, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  What that means is that we have a whole new agreement with God.  As the writer of Hebrews clearly says in 8:13, the Old Covenant is obsolete.  It does not apply to us.  We Christians need to hear that clearly.  We are not bound by the terms of the Old Covenant.  Any and every law in the Old Testament is obsolete for us.  The Old Covenant was in force for Israel, until Jesus died and rose again.  There is not a single law in the Old Testament that we have to follow, simply because it is in the Old Testament.  We follow the terms of the New Covenant, which is the teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament. 

Normally, when Christians here this, their first reaction is, “Well, yeah, that’s pretty much what we were always taught.  What’s the big deal?”  But then they start thinking about it a bit more.  They remember that I said above, “There is not a single law in the Old Testament that Christians have to follow.” 

They think, “Wait, you don’t mean the Ten Commandments, right? We certainly have to follow them.”  And I respond, just as Dr. Dorsey said, that the Ten Commandments were part of God’s covenant with Israel.  We do not have to follow them.  We are not bound by the Old Covenant.  Usually people hearing this are shocked at this point, still not sure if I’m serious.  But I’m serious.  Hebrews 8:13 leaves no wiggle room. The old is obsolete.  And that goes for every single part of the old. 

So am I saying that it is okay to murder or steal or lie, to break the Ten Commandments?  No, I am not saying that.  Here’s why: nine of the Ten Commandments are reaffirmed in the New Testament!  There is one that is not, though.  You know which one?  Sabbath.  Jesus actually gets into an argument with the Pharisees about the Sabbath Law.  He says that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for Sabbath.  Jesus’ point is that, even for Israel, God never intended Sabbath to be some rigid rule that he wanted his people to follow.  Yes, there were some clear specifics, like no working from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. But at the heart of the law was God’s desire for Israel to rest and trust in him.

Christians have no comparable Sabbath law.  If we say that Sunday is the new Sabbath, we are misinterpreting God’s word.  Therefore it was wrong for Christians, now and in the past, to say that it was sinful for Christians to work on Sundays.  If a person chooses not to work on Sunday, that is certainly up to them.  But Christians should not be judging or condemning one another for working on Sunday.  Many simply have job schedules that require Sunday work.  Further, the same goes for doing the laundry or mowing the grass on Sundays.  For some, doing those chores is actually restful. 

So when it comes to any Old Testament law, we simply have to go back to Dr. Dorsey’s Step 1, that every single one of the Old Testament laws are not for us.  They were, however, part of God’s covenant with Israel.  So no matter what rule you are reading about, parapets on roofs, tithing, charging interest, any of the 600+ laws in the OT, those rules are not part of our new covenant simply because they exist in the Old covenant. What Dr. Dorsey says, then, is that we can’t leave it there.  After getting a firm grasp on the idea that these laws were not meant for us, we now go to Step 2. More on that in our next post.

The beginning of the end for Jesus

28 Apr

This is it.  Thirty-three years of Jesus’ life has led up to this moment.  We’ve covered the life of Jesus, as told in the Gospel of Luke, through our sermon series which began on November 30, 2014, with Luke chapter 1.  Nearly 70 sermons later, we have 7 left.

After learning about his birth and early years, we jumped into Jesus ministry years, and we’ve been there ever since.  Ever so slowly Luke’s telling of the story of Jesus’ life has been building to this moment.

During those ministry years, we watched Jesus burst onto the scene starting with his baptism, temptation and his testy early ministry days in his hometown, where he almost got lynched.  But from that dark day, his star shot up.  The crowds grew and grew, amazed by his miracles and his authoritative teaching.  We watched as he chose his 12 disciples, and had a following of close friends, men and women.  Little by little he taught them, gave them behind-the-scenes access into his life and thinking, and eventually sent them on two mission trips.  Somewhere in year 2, we think, he turned southward, moving his ministry focus from Galilee in the North, to Samaria and Judea in the south.  He left the Galilean crowds behind, but rather quickly huge crowds formed in the south.  His ministry had grown nationwide, and Jesus and his disciples had become household names.  We watched the religious establishment as they watched Jesus, jealous of him, suspicious, and not happy at all.

All in all, we have seen the words, works and way of Jesus.

The Jewish people in those crowds, including his disciples, thought they were witnessing the rise of their long-awaited political Messiah who was going to save them from the Romans.  Jesus was a very different Messiah, however, with a very different salvation message, for the whole world.

The Jews hoped a Davidic warrior King was entering Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday.  But Jesus wept, knowing that Jerusalem, the temple, the religious establishment and the people had him figured all wrong.  So in his last few days of ministry he fended off their attempts to trap him, and he taught them, or at least tried to teach them, who he really was and what he was really about, the mission of God’s Kingdom.

Now this Sunday we reach the end.

Or rather, the beginning of the end.

Jesus has left the temple, never to return.  No more crowds.  No more teaching.  No more miracles, except one.

Luke tells us that it was a holiday, the Passover, the day the Jews celebrated the miraculous act of YHWH as he interceded for them, freeing them from slavery in Egypt thousands of years before.  A fitting historical context for what is about to happen.  Jesus gathered with his disciples to celebrate Passover, just as all Jews across the nation would be doing.  Except that Jesus injects a new meaning into that celebration. A new meaning that had life-changing implications for the disciples, and still does for us.

Join us at Faith Church on Sunday as we study Luke 22:1-38 to learn more.

How and Why we surprised our congregation on Sunday – 1st Corinthians 11:17-34

30 Jul


We surprised our congregation during worship on Sunday!  It was great!  At the beginning, I set up the congregation for coffee break.  Once or twice each month, after worshiping God through singing, instead of having our open mic sharing time and prayer, we open the folding divider between our sanctuary and fellowship hall and ask people to grab some refreshments and share a bit of life with one another.  Then they return to the sanctuary for the remainder of the service.  This past Sunday, we had a surprise in store during coffee break!

Instead of returning to the sanctuary for the rest of the worship service, we invited everyone to stay in the Fellowship Hall.  There we had a brief sermon, we had communion around the tables.  We had never done this before, and it was so good to experiment, so get even a sliver of a feel for the kind of worship going on in Corinth.

In some ways, what Paul gives us in 1st Corinthians 11:17-34, is pretty cool to get a glimpse into the life, admittedly the messed up life, of the early church at worship. But what does that matter for us? We don’t ever have out of control celebrations of communion. It is always very orderly and respectful.

True. But there is much that we can apply to our lives: the principle of self-examination, of self-judgment is vital. Anytime we come to worship, especially including the Lord’s Supper, but anytime we worship, we can and should have a spirit of self-evaluation.

This is an important spiritual discipline Paul is teaching the people. It is a discipline in which we say to the Lord “I need you.” Much like Jesus taught us to pray “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” It is an essential attitude to the disciple of Jesus. An attitude of humility, an attitude that embraces self-examination, an attitude that invites the Spirit to do the work of examination.

David would pray in the Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  Disciples of Jesus have hearts that beat for that kind of holiness. Disciples of Jesus have hearts that beat for restored relationships. Disciples of Jesus are quick to admit their faults.

They want others to go first. They want to cross over the cultural boundaries that divide us. They want church to be the most inclusive place in the world. They want Sunday to be the most integrated day of the week. In Christ there is no man or woman, no slave or free, no rich or poor, no black or white, unlike the Corinthian church whose messed-up communions seem to have been motivated by Greco-Roman socioeconomic traditions that had infected the church.  When the Corinthian Christians met they most likely had a full meal, only one part of which included The Lord’s Supper.  What happened, though, was that the haves got all the good food and wine in the special room, while the have-nots got the leftovers or none at all out in the foyer.

And so disciples of Jesus search their hearts for prejudice and ask God to help them eradicate it.

Disciples remember what Jesus did, how he crossed over the boundaries of eternity into mortality, how he did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on servitude, and was even willing to lower himself to death. Disciples remember how he gave his body and his blood. Disciples remember how he gave of himself so sacrificially, and they want to give of themselves the same way.

As Paul would say in Romans 12 “Therefore, in view of God’s mercy, offer you bodies as living sacrifices, this is your spiritual act of worship.”

By doing that, this little symbol, this bit of bread and small cup remind us that we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes. This little, but incredibly powerful, symbolic ritual launches us forward into the mission of God. It refocuses us to think about our true calling. That we carry in our actions and in our words the good news that the one who gave his body and blood in death for our sins did not stay dead, but he rose again victoriously! And he wants everyone to experience the power of resurrection new life in their lives as well. What a message!

If you’d like to discuss further, please comment below.

Have you ever thought communion is a bit strange?

26 Jul

Recieving Communion #2A little tiny piece of bread.

An equally small cup of juice. 

Most often, that is how we take communion at Faith Church.  We also practice intinction, where people rip off a piece of bread and dip it in a cup.  Since I am usually holding one of the cups, I have to admit that it is humorous when people, trying to make sure there is enough bread left for others, rip off the smallest flakes of break you ever saw.  When they attempt to dip their crumb into the cup, the realize it is too small, and they accidentally dunk the tips of their fingers.  Then the juice starts dripping on the hands, shirt, floor, and they get quite embarrassed.  To avoid this, I have taken to whispering “it’s okay…take a big chunk!”

Have you ever thought that communion is strange?

Is this what Jesus really intended that ominous Passover night when he at the Jewish Seder with his disciples, and he said “Do this in remembrance of me”?

Christians through the ages have debated what is the appropriate meaning and practice of communion.  Confusing words like transubstantiation and consubstantiation get flown around, along with memorial, spiritual presence, mass, Eucharist, and a curious one…viaticum. (That is actually one of my favorite!)

As we continue our series in Corinth, we’ll see that the Christians in Corinth were quite confused about the meaning and practice of the supper, and they had allowed themselves to make a mockery of it. I very much wish I could have witnessed that scene with my own eyes!  It was wild.

Want to get a sneak peak?  Check our 1st Corinthians 11:17-34

I personally have thought that communion is strange, but the more I look at it, the more compelling it becomes! 

Join us tomorrow at Faith Church to learn more!

Chalices, Clipboards, Graduation Books – The Monday Messy Office Report – June 9, 2014

9 Jun


Every week my tidy Friday office is mysteriously messy on Monday.  Here’s what I found today:

1. Communion Chalices – Yesterday was Worship in the Park, and it was a beautiful day!  I can’t tell you how many people come up to me asking if we could please have worship in the park more often.  Every week, if possible.  One of the elements of worship yesterday was communion, and at Faith Church, once per quarter, we have communion by intinction.  That is people come forward, break off a piece of the bread, dip it in the cup and partake.  We bought chalices from Ten Thousand Villages a couple years ago, made of simple colored glass, and I brought them back to my office after worship yesterday.  The leftover bread, I’ll admit, made it to our house, and not much past lunch at that…  Over the years I have become more interested in communion.  When I was a boy, the church I grew up in had communion once/month, and I remember we would sing a song after communion as the ushers collected an offering for the needy.  It always seemed that song was more rousing and heartfelt than the others we would sing, as if the images and truths communion symbolizes would fill hearts with joy. As it should!  One word many traditions use to describe communion is Eucharist, Greek for “Thanksgiving.”  Giving thanks is a part of the communion story because we read that Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it.  And so, too, we though somber in our remembrance of his broken body and shed blood, burst forth with thankful joy at his victorious resurrection from the dead.

2. Clipboards – I found a few empty clipboards on my counter.  I’m pretty sure they are the clipboards we used to hold sign-up sheets for the Summer Lunch Program.  I’m really excited that Faith Church is once again participating in our ministerium’s Summer Lunch Program.  Starting next week, for ten weeks of summer vacation, we’ll host people from the community for a free meal.  The food is donated and prepared by our local food bank, Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services.  Not only Faith Church people are signed up to help, but also a number of other churches in our area.  It is going to be excellent!

3. Box of stuff from Worship in the Park – It takes a team of people working together to pull off Worship in the Park, and I am grateful for every one of them.  Thanks to Becka and the praise team for transporting instruments.  Thanks to Elijah for the use and set-up of his sound system.  Thanks to Marcus & Melessa for setting up all the drinks and snacks.  Thanks to Kevin and Ken for handling offering and communion elements.  Thanks to Jim for printing song sheets.  Without all of you, Worship in the Park wouldn’t be possible!  I had a box of a few odds and ends like leftover bulletins and reports we distributed, as we have a special congregational meeting coming up.

4. Books for Graduates – I also had books that we are giving as gifts to our graduates.  We got them books by authors like Brennan Manning and Henri Nouwen, our prayer being that as they move on to their next stage in life they would give attention to their soul.  It is so easy to get caught up in the nuts and bolts of what has to happen next, whether that is starting college (admissions, dorms, loans, classes, roommates, etc) or starting a career (interviews, health insurance, co-workers, meetings, etc).  In the busyness, we can lose focus on what it means that we are disciples of Jesus.  We hope our graduates take a few moments to read those books.  Maybe you have lost focus on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  If so, I’d be glad to talk with you further if you’re interested.

Now it’s time for me to clean up this mess!