Posts tagged ‘Ben Witherington III’

The Lord’s Supper and Transforming Culture, Part Two

In Part One, I discussed how through the Lord’s Supper we see the transformation of culture.  That post explored the first of two ideas, that Christ Himself is the transformer of culture. In this  post, I’ll discuss the second idea, that the transformation of culture must be something the  Church is before it is something the Church does. This is actually demonstrated in the negative    in the passage found in 1 Cor. 11, being in verses 17-24.

 Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come  together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come  together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I  believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear  who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s  supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper,  and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat  and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who  have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you! For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Paul was writing to the church there precisely because having been transformed by Christ, they were failing to transform the culture in which they lived. There was in fact a detrimental outcome when the Lord’s Supper was celebrated in Corinth, and the issue was quite serious.  According to Paul, the Corinthians allowed the Lord’s Supper to intensify the prevailing social divisions of the Roman culture surrounding them, rather than demonstrating the unity which should be found in Christ. Paul goes so far as to attribute illness and death among the Corinthian church as being caused by their sin in this area.

In the same way he took the cup also, 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. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come. (1 Corinthians 11:25-34)

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III draws a clear picture of what was happening in Corinth.

It appears clear from the outset that the context in which the Lord’s Supper happened was in a home and in the social setting of a meal, perhaps a love feast that was part of an act of worship in the home. The problem was, some of the Christians, perhaps including the host who would set the protocol for the meal, were treating the meal as if it were a private Greco-Roman dinner party followed by a drinking party.

Witherington further states that Paul saw this as “a travesty and sacrilege, a violation of the very meaning of Christian fellowship and the meaning of the Lord’s Supper … there is further division and stratification amongst the have and have-not portions of the Corinthian Church.”

This failure of the Corinthian church to transform the surrounding culture illustrates the  point that a transformation of culture must be something the church is before it something the church does. The power of Christ’s sacrifice, which the Corinthians were ostensibly memorializing, had allowed them to see each other as brothers and sisters rather than rich and poor, or master and slave. Sadly, they had taken the very occasion of the commemoration of that sacrifice to return to their former separation, to celebrate in their former pagan fashion, and to ignore that in Christ they had been transformed into holy people. In this they were offending against God and each other. Hunsinger carefully relates the results of the failure of the church in Corinth to transform the culture, and likening that failure to a sickness.

Although it may seem implausible to modern sensibilities to suppose that weakness, sickness, and death could result from this failure of discernment (v. 31), Paul was essentially making a spiritual point. The body of Christ in Corinth was imperiled by a sickness unto death. By entering into contradiction with themselves, the Corinthians had also entered into contradiction with Christ and the eucharist. They could not undo their baptism, their union with one another and with Christ; they could only offend against it.

Does the failure of the Corinthians to have discerned that the Lord’s Supper is a manifestation of unity in Christ have application to the Church today?

I would suggest there is indeed such application for the Church of today should it fail in recognizing the inseparable unity between its members. There is more to be considered, however, than the simple recognition that the Lord’s Supper demonstrates what Witherington labels “the equality that exists in the body of Christ, without regard to social distinctions and social status.”

The Church today must consider the Lord’s Supper as a proclamation of the Gospel in the form of a deed. We declare Christ’s death with its salvational import, and therefore its cultural relevance in His power to transform us. This point would seem to ring especially true for the Church of the Nazarene, a denomination that places such emphasis on personal sanctification. The Church of the Nazarene must first and foremost be true to its roots in the Wesleyan/Holiness tradition. The denomination must be a church of holy people living holy lives if it hopes to impart the message of God’s sanctification and holiness to others, and in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper this will find tangible expression.

Reading in Biblical Times

Ben Witherington writes a fascinating article on how reading was done in Biblical times, commenting:

“Reading in antiquity involved a different skill set than it does now in various ways, because these document had little or no punctuation, no chapters and verses,  no separation of words—- you get the picture.  Most ancient reading was done out loud, whether it was done by a lector, or you were reading to yourself.”

Witherington goes on to point out that texts, such as the bulk of the Epistles,

“were oral texts in the sense that they were meant to be heard, not silently read— they had oral and rhetorical devices in them which were best appreciated when read out loud,  devices like assonance and alliteration, dramatic hyperobole, onomatopoeia and so on … they were basically orations sent within the framework of letters since they could not be orally delivered on the spot, and they were most definitely meant to be heard— full as they are of rhetorical and oral effects.”

An excellent reminder to us today that when considering the written Word, it is important to remember the oral nature of the period in which it was first set on the page.

The Challenge Jesus Makes

From a Ben Witherington post on Cross-Carrying vs. Burden-Bearing:

Some preachers have thought that the way to get more people into the pews is by making it easy— Gospel lite— less filling, tastes great.    In fact Jesus suggests just the opposite.  He takes the approach of the Marines.   He tells one and all, it’s going to be hard to follow, hard to live up to his demands, indeed it may even lead to one’s demise and then he exhorts his audience—-‘whose up the challenge’?

How about it? Are you up for the challenge?

Are You a Lukewarm Laodicean?

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation: I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”  Revelation 3:14-22

Christ’s indictment of the church had to due with the church’s complacency. Christ used the physical nature of their life situation to make a metaphor regarding the spiritual condition of the Laodiceans. Laodicea’s water supply traveled 6 miles through an underground aqueduct before it arrived at the city foul, dirty, and tepid. It was neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm — just as Christ describes the church there. This was in contrast to other nearby cities. The city of Hierapolis was noted for the soothing, healing properties of its hot springs, while Colossae was esteemed for the fresh, cold waters of the springs that supplied it with water. The metaphor is that cold or hot water is good for something, but lukewarm water is not. The point of Christ’s rebuke was the utter worthlessness of what the congregation had done and was doing. The Laodiceans  lacked any true passion for Christ.

The church in Laodicea proclaimed themselves to be wealthy and in need of nothing, when in reality they suffered from spiritual destitution. Laodicea was a wealthy city; it was known as a banking center, it was famous for its textile industry, which produced soft, black wool, and it was the location of an ancient medical school which produced an eye salve. The Laodiceans had placed more trust in the creature comforts which came from material prosperity than they had in the Lord. They were so contented and smug that they couldn’t see that they actually lacked everything important, and thus Jesus had to remind them that only He had what they needed: gold refined by fire (spiritual currency), white robes (to cover their spiritual nakedness), and salve for their eyes (so their spiritual sight might be restored).

Now all this is fairly condemning stuff, yes? Yet there is a promise of redemption in this for the Laodiceans. Jesus’ reproof and discipline are for those whom He loves. Despite the church being neither hot nor cold – of no use to the Lord – and despite the church’s misplaced trust, Jesus still loved the Laodiceans. He still loved even the most “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” of his people. And thus He calls them to “be earnest, therefore, and repent.”

The last sin that any Christian or any church wants to admit to is that they are Laodiceans, that they are — as New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III has put it — “complacent, lacking in zeal, self-centered in behavior, and accommodate too much to the secular culture outside the Church.” And yet that is the state of many of our churches today, and many of the Christians that sit in the pews inside them. The fact is that too many churches are comfortable with mediocrity, and sadly that is why many churches – in many denominations – are in decline.

Are we in the Church of the Nazarene ourselves Laodiceans? To the extent that we are complacement about certain things, I believe that we are. When we fail to confront injustice, when we tolerate and condone gossip, when we do not challenge spirituality that is at best mediocre, when we stand idly by during the slow, painful death of some of our churches, when we do nothing to minister to our local communities, when we do and say nothing when other peoples’ dignity is stripped from them … then we are neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. We don’t stand on or for anything in the midst of such complacency, certainly not for Christ.

It’s certainly appropriate to ask if we as individual Christians and as the Church as a whole are being obedient to God. If not, then may our repentance be earnest and sincere, and may He show His love through mercy extended to us.

A quote that grabbed me …

From an interview posted here, on Ben Witherington’s blog:

Myron Augsburger, the former president of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, once said:

“I believe in justice: but I am not a preacher of the gospel of justice, but the Gospel of Christ who calls us to justice. I believe in love, but I am not a preacher of the gospel of love, but the Gospel of Christ who calls us to love. I am committed to peace, but I am not a preacher of the gospel of peace, but the Gospel of Christ who calls us to peace. I believe in the value of the simple life, but I am not the preacher of the simple life, but of the Gospel of Christ that calls us to the simple life. Let us beware of the ultimate plagiarism of borrowing some great concepts from Jesus then running off proclaiming these concepts and not sharing the Christ that empowers these concepts.”

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