Posts tagged ‘Eucharist’

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.


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The Lord’s Supper and Transforming Culture, Part One

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus shares the parable of a man who holds a banquet. When it is time  for the meal to begin, the man’s servant is sent out to tell all those invited that the festivities are to begin. Astonishingly, each of the invited guests has an excuse for not attending: one must  view a field he has purchased, another is tending to his oxen, and another is newly married. When the servant reports this   to his master, then man grows angry and instructs him, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.” When this has been done, there is still room for more guests and so the servant is told,  “Go out to the highways and the hedges, and compel people to   come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:16-24 NRSV)

The parable has much to reveal about the character of God. His house is immeasurably large, and His invitation to sit down and celebrate is universally inclusive. He wishes to see His house filled with the sick, the lame, the blind and the broken, that they might be transformed by His grace and live holy lives. Both God’s invitation and His grace are present when we in the Church participate in the Lord’s Supper. Whether we call it communion, the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper is irrelevant … it is an act in which God’s invitation to come to the table with Him is accepted, and His grace is served to us.

George Hunsinger has proposed that the Lord’s Supper is not just an act in which we as Christians are transformed into a community, but one which has the power to transform culture at large: “Christ’s sacrificial sharing of himself, under the eucharistic forms of his body and blood, had social implications. It required believers not only to conform to Christ in his sacrificial self-giving (cf. Eph. 5:2), but also to rise above cultural antagonisms of religion, ethnicity, status, and gender: “for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)”

This implies that through the Lord’s Supper, Christ uses the Church as an agent of transformation of the culture that envelops it. It’s all-important to keep in mind that Christ Himself is the transformer of culture, not the Church itself, which I’ll discuss in this first post. It’s also important to realize that a transformation of culture has to be something that the Church is before it is something the church does. To explore both of these ideas, I’ll turn to the Apostle Paul’s discussion of the Lord’s Supper in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

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.” (I Corinthians 11:17-24)

 A brief summary of the history and background of Corinth and the church located there will help to  understand how Christ can be seen as the transformer of culture. Corinth was a prosperous  commercial  city during the Roman era, located on an isthmus approximately 50 miles southwest of  Athens, and a  seat of government for the Roman in which it was located.  Corinth was a very  wealthy city, but its  notoriety in the Roman world was not due to financial success but rather its  reputation as a destination  for pleasure-seekers. Corinth offered any form of entertainment or vice  conceivable, and was a city filled                                                with shrines and temples to every pagan god and goddess imaginable.

The Acrocorinth in the background

The primary attraction that brought those seeking gratification was associated with the Temple of Aphrodite, perched atop a mountain named the Acrocorinth. Attached to the temple were over 1,000 consecrated prostitutes, both men and women, who serviced the wealthy who resided in or visited Corinth. The city was so infamous for an expensive lifestyle that the geographer Strabo commented, “Not for every man is the voyage to Corinth,” and the phrase Korinthiazomai, “to act like a  Corinthian,” was synonymous with being corrupt and decadent.

Into this pagan, immoral city the apostle Paul came during his second missionary journey and with the help of Aquila, Priscilla, Silas and Timothy founded a church there (Acts 18:1-11). The Christians who composed this church were from very markedly different classes of society; some were wealthy merchants or officials, others were the poorest of the poor, and others were slaves or former slaves. Such a group of haves and have-nots would never – in the course of normal Roman life – have sat at table together. In the joining together of such a diversity of social strata, it is possible to see Christ at work as the transformer of culture. Through His sacrifice on the cross, the members of the Corinthian church were called out of sexual immorality and paganism and transformed to live a holy life.

Eduard Schweizer also wrote on the transformation Christ accomplished in those formerly steeped in the immoral culture of Corinth, observing, “According to Paul, in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the church is constituted as the one Body of Christ. Of course the church continues to be the Body of Christ when it is not celebrating the Supper; nevertheless, Paul uses this term in connection with the worship of the community, because only there does the Body of Christ manifest itself concretely.”

Hunsinger echoes this, saying, “Christ has caused a social transformation by his blood that finds its initial expression in the community of faith. The church is essentially a fellowship of reconciliation, which (despite its failings) stands a provisional sign of that which is promised to all.”

The cultural transformation that took place in Corinth didn’t involve merely the fusing together into one community individuals who had been of widely separated social classes and religious backgrounds, but also the integration of those who had previously been segregated by a wide economic gap. Christ’s transformation of the culture as seen through eucharistic celebration points us towards the coming Kingdom of God, which prompted John Howard Yoder to comment: “Its context is good news and the work of Christ, which is being experienced already in its first fruits. The grounds for equalization is not (as in much modern Christian concern for economic justice) the vision of an original wholesome order already present in creation and needing only to be restored. It is rather the beginning fulfillment of the promises of the messianic age.”

Christ’s role as the transformer of culture, then, leads you and I as His followers into the age to come, when His Kingdom shall reign over all the earth.

In part two, I’ll discuss the second idea: that transformation of culture has to be something that the Church is before it can be something the Church does.

Passover and Holiness, Part 4

To wrap up this series on Passover and holiness, I want to reflect a bit on some historic connection between the Passover story and the Holiness Movement.

The story of Passover is contained in the book of Exodus, and although when we talk about Passover we most often think of God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, we should not forget that the Passover is merely part of the tale of Exodus. The early proponents of the American Holiness movement did not miss this, and they were able to use the story of the 40 years that Israel spent wandering in the desert as an analogy for the spiritual journey that the individual Christian took to get from justification –their initial salvation experience — to entire sanctification.

In the early 19thcentury, the holiness teachings that American Methodism had received from John Wesley had begun to be abandoned. Timothy Merritt, a Methodist Episcopal minister in New England, was an early voice to reaffirm the doctrine of entire sanctification as essential to those seeking holiness.

In his The Christian’s manual, a treatise on Christian perfection: With directions for obtaining that state, Merritt drew parallels between the Exodus and the spiritual journey a Christian must make to achieve entire sanctification. He posits the connection as being obedience to God:

“The distance between justification to sanctification is not great, and it is soon passed over, if we be obedient to our spiritual guide, and do not fall into idolatry, nor turn back in our hearts to spiritual Egypt. The children of Israel came to the borders of Canaan within a year and a half from their leaving Egypt …But those who could not trust the Lord were easily discouraged by the difficulties which lay in their way … God was displeased and ordered them to turn again to the wilderness, where they were doomed to wander forty years. This was not in the original design of God concerning them. Had they been obedient to his command, they might have been in their possession of the promised land forty years sooner.”

As the Holiness revival bloomed fully in the 19th century, the Exodus continued to have meaning to those who sought to be sanctified. This was particularly important during the era of the holiness camp meeting. The first such meeting, labeled the National Camp Meeting, was held July 17-26, 1867 in Vineland, New Jersey, and resulted in the birth of the National Camp-Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness. In years to come, this ecumenical organization would oversee a transformative movement that grew rapidly and fruitfully. Seizing upon a tide of interest in holiness, the Association formed a publishing venture, the National Publishing Association for the Promotion of Holiness, which launched the Methodist Home Journal and a host of other inexpensive holiness literature.

A dominant image preached at the camp meetings and promoted through literature was that the sanctified Christian might encounter a small piece of heaven while still on earth. Drawing from Scripture and the writings of John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress, the camp meetings developed a metaphor in which, according to Charles Edwin Jones, “holiness writers established between the pilgrimage of Bunyan’s Christian and the Exodus; between the Wesleyan theology of salvation and Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan; and between the experience of entire sanctification or perfect love and the believer’s residence in the Promised Land, also referred to as Canaan or Beulah.”

Holiness songwriters seized on this metaphor, most notably in Edgar Page Stites’ “Beulah Land” (1875):

O Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land,
As on thy highest mount I stand,
I look away across the sea,
Where mansions are prepared for me,
And view the shining glory shore,
My heav’n, my home, for evermore!

These are metaphors that are seldom heard in holiness circles these day, but should perhaps be revived. How does your journey of sanctification relate to such metaphors? Have you been obedient, or have you had to tarry in the wilderness with the Promised Land in sight?

Spreading Holiness

Wesleyan scholar Theodore Jennings has written, “Wesley was committed to the realization of  holiness of life…this was the aim of his life, the organizing center of his thought, the spring of all  action, his one abiding project. For Wesley, sanctification meant becoming a creature worthy of the  Creator, a finite representative and image of the divine subject.”

John Wesley believed that the process of sanctification – becoming more and more holy in one’s life  – should the main goal for those who followed Christ. Thus, the purpose which Methodism gained from its found was to “spread Scriptural holiness.” The means by which Wesley saw this as being achieved were complex. They involved:

  • bible study
  • regular, constant practice of the sacraments (God’s means of grace) – including prayer, worship, the Lord’s Supper, Bible reading and study, fasting or abstinence, and
  • regular, constant practice of Christian conference – meeting with other Christians for the purpose of conversation, teaching, accountability, mutual encouragement, and support for discipleship
  • acts of mercy (i.e., visiting those in prison and giving food or clothing to the poor and needy)
  • intelligence/reading
  • accountability
  • intentionality
  • class meetings
  • missionary work

When Methodism spread to colonial America, initially the focus on holiness remained central. However, when the Methodist Church in America experienced numerical growth beyond what Wesley might ever have dreamed, it was accompanied by an abandonment of the teaching of holiness and entire sanctification. During the 19th-century holiness movement, there was a revival of Wesleyan teaching, and as holiness denominations formed in the post-Civil War period, they shared Wesley’s desire to see holiness spread.

The Church of the Nazarene was founded in this period, and it is interesting to examine the methods that  the Nazarene Church founded by Phineas F. Bresee in 1895 used to spread holiness. Some of the primary methods were:

  • publishing
  • public preaching
  • neighborhood evangelism
  • increasing membership

This last bullet point should not be confused with the church growth movement of today, where a focus on “increasing membership” equates almost solely to increase in attendance numbers (usually without regard to committment to the Christian life). Rather, the early Church of the Nazarene identified with the early Church in the Book of Acts, and sought an increase in numbers of those truly committed to following Christ and living holy lives.

So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.  All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47)

What methods are we using to spread holiness today?

    2011 Reading List

    I am astonished to realize that the first month of 2011 is already halfway done. One of the things I hope to accomplish this year is to become more widely read in the area of holiness and Wesleyan theology/history. With that in mind I have some specific books on my reading list.

    1. H. Orton Wiley’s Christian Theology, volumes 1-3, which Thomas Jay Oord reviewed here.

    2. Lorna Khoo’s Wesleyan Eucharistic Spirituality. I actually picked up a copy of this book last year after reading a post on Rich Wollan’s blog, and simply haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

    3. Richard P. Heizenrater’s Wesley and the People Called Methodists

    4. J. Gregory Crofford’s Streams of Mercy: Prevenient Grace in the Theology of John and Charles Wesley

    5. H. Ray Dunning’s Grace, Faith and Holiness: A Wesleyan Systematic Theology. This has been recommended to me for some time, and I’ve decided I can’t get past 2011 without checking it out.

    This is a short list, which I will certainly be adding to as the year progresses. Any one else have a reading list, or want to make some recommendations?

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