Sunday, June 30, 2013

7/1/13- Missions without Congregations

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peterand his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them,22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22)

Thoughts: Some are saying that many believe in Christ but do not like church. Therefore we need to find a way to do mission with them.  But if people are not committed enough to worship, are they committed enough to make the sacrifices necessary for missions?  Worship spring from missions and missions are in order to worship.  To continually try to separate belief in God from worship and fellowship is a huge mistake that is unbiblical.  When Jesus called people to follow him- he asked them to drop their nets, to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him.
At the same time, even Jesus did not try to live the godly life alone.  He chose disciples to help him and to spread the word.  If we want to be fishers of men (missions) we must not only believe in Him, but follow Him.  Following Him means leaving other paths.  Missions that teaches people to believe so lightly that they do not have to seek worship or fellowship with no commitment is not worth the effort.
 Some have said that we should aim for a more cyber church where people do not have to put up with others, but can have church on their own busy schedule.  But such a church may be questioned whether it is a church without love shown in commitment for God and a church without love shown in commitment for neighbor.  Perhaps cyber church is a step in the right direction, if you want to see nominal Christianity as better than no Christianity.  Perhaps all the cyber church missional idea points to is that nominal Christianity has receded from being a Christmas and Easter attendance into a facebook/ google+ attendance.  Our call is to follow Him and be a fisher for men. 

Prayer: Lord, I seek to answer your call and walk in your way- the way of fellowship and love. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

6/29/13- Missional Communities

There was a man all alone;
    he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
    yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
    “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
    a miserable business!Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor: (Eccles 4)

14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  (2 Corinthians 5:14)

Thoughts: Church is a team event.  It is fueled by the need for cooperation and love.  While many people want to be alone in their Christianity- love compels us.  Love compels us to be together.  Love compels us to reach beyond ourselves.
    But it is also true that we can do more together than we can by ourselves alone.  There is some synergy created when we help each other (two together get more done that two separately).  They have a good return for their work.  Churches are designed to get things done for our Lord.  To serve, to reach out, to encourage, and to comfort.  The ideal is not to be individually filled and satisfied as a Christian, but to glorify God together in missions.  We are not meant to be cyber-Christians, but communal believers, that fuel our missions from our community.  

We are called to be "Missional Communities."  

Prayer:  Lord, help me to be with others to do your work together. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

6-28-13 The Church is a Missional Society

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) 

Thoughts: John Holt Rice was the president of Union Theological Seminary in Virginia and the moderator of the PCUSA general assembly in 1819.  In 1831 Rice said [The Church] "is a Missionary Society, the object of which is to aid in the conversion of the world, and that every member of the Church is a member for life of said society, and bound in maintenance of his Christian character, to do all in his power for the accomplishment of this object."  The Church is at her best when she is caring for others spiritually, physically and mentally- reaching out in Christ's name.  The Church is dying when she focuses only on itself and how she might survive.  Often it is in the ferment of self-focus that the church begins to raise up heresy and die out in favor of other idealistic thinking.
    The Church is a missionary society- every member is a missionary.  The word "Christian" means literally "little Christs"  and we are the light of the world (Mt. 5:14; Compared to John 8:12).  We are called to bear fruit in our lives-- the fruit of Christ in others.  

Prayer:  Help me to see my time as missionary time, and my work as missionary work, Lord. 

(John Holt Rice)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

6/28/13- The Tie With Heaven

11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength  and honor and glory and praise!”
13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power,  for ever and ever!”

14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5)
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. (Mark 9:2-4)

THEREFORE with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying,
    HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, Lord God of, hosts, Heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High. Amen. (Book of Common Worship- communion liturgy)

"And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won." (The Church's One Foundation)

Thoughts: The Church is struggling now but at rest later.  It is all one body- all who believe- past, present, and eventually future.  This is another emphasis of the invisible church idea.  The church will triumph over sin.  Some have already triumphed, and some are still in the struggle against it.  The old phrase was that the church is militant (in the struggle of life) and triumphant (won in this struggle).  
     Barth says, "It is not only the living who speak and act, but their predecessors, their words and works, their history, which does not end on their departure, but on their departure often only enters its decisive stage among their successors, standing in an indissoluble relationship with the history of the present."  (Church Dogmatics IV/1).  The faith handed down flows through us.
     This is important for people who are isolated as Christians, or who feel all alone in their faith.  There are many- multitudes upon multitudes who have bowed only to God.  We join with them- and in a sense we are part of the great cloud of witnesses.  They are watching us.  

Prayer: Lord we do not believe in a vacuum.  Help us to recognize the saints and those who have gone before.  

(Francesco Botticini- Assumptino of the Virgin)- notice angels above, believers below- both dead and living together- all in a circle pointed toward God.  

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

6/26/13- Outside the Lines

47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 
(Mt. 13:47-50)

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:(1 Cor. 1:2)

The Church is not Bound to its signs.   Nevertheless, by the signs of the true Church mentioned above we do not so narrowly restrict the Church as to teach that all those are outside the Church, or in whom some errors due to weakness are found; For we know that God has some friends in the world outside the commonwealth of Israel...We know moreover, what kind of churches the churches were in Galatia and Corinth were in the apostles' time, in which the apostle found fault with many serious offences; yet he calls them holy churches of Christ. (Second Helvetic Confession)

Thoughts: There are true churches in denominations that are straying or have strayed from the truth, and there are true believers in churches that are straying or have strayed.  There are also non-believers in churches whose doctrine is very scriptural.  In other words, the caveat to the signs of the church is that they are not exact, but give general ideas and principles.  Life is complex.  The visible church is not the same as the invisible.
    One of the problems is that we confuse discipline with division.  Never in the Bible was a church told to divide.  Many times it was told to discipline the immoral.  While we strive for a perfect church that will meet all the signs perfectly, we also recognize that we need grace- even grace to put up with each other.
    One of the sad days in the Presbyterian Church was when the Orthodox and the Bible Presbyterian churches pulled away from each other.  The original split (about 1938) from the PCUSA occurred over allowing liberals to be in control.  They split over differences in piety (like whether alcohol was allowed), and the way they viewed the end times.  But it became clear it was a personality difference.  The Bible Presbyterian Church went on to split three more times- each time looking for a pure church where everyone agreed.  Today the church numbers only 30 congregations.  The other balance, however, is seeing the PCUSA decline from a once great denomination that sought to be true to God to a denomination where almost anything goes except intolerance.  In a growing population the PCUSA has lost over a million members since its North-South merger in 1983.  There is a balance that has been missed.  Division is simply not biblical but is often done in the name of being biblical.  Paul condemns division (Eph. 4:3; 1 Corinthians 1).  Jesus prays that the church be one (John 17) and there are much more admonitions to love than to separate.  But there are also admonitions in scripture to discipline.  Grace and holiness are hard to balance.
     There is no perfect church.  Often I hear someone who was very happy and comfortable in their previous church refuse to go to church anywhere else.  They are looking for a "true church" and think it was only found in the last place they lived.  Every church has blind spots and weaknesses.  Every church is disobedient- and no church is perfect in doctrine and practice....yet.  Because of this, some either seek to form the perfect church by continually kicking out those it disagrees with or other simply give up altogether asking, "What's the point?"  While many times taking part in a church can be heart rending and hard, it is similar to taking part in a human family.  No family (or country) is perfect.  Yet, the best families have learned to be gracious and kind to each other, and gently guide those who are weak or straying away.  If it has to be "my way or the Highway" then we have lost Christian love.  Love is the reason we stay together and put up with each other.  When we leave love out as a reason for the church, then we have headed downhill quickly.
    The visible church's lines are not the same as God's lines.  We try to make them the same, but we must hold the truth in humility and love.

Prayer: Lord, keep me from thinking of myself as righteous.  Give me gracious hearts toward those who believe.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

6/26/13- The Mark of Love

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34,35)

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)

Thoughts: So some have said that the way you tell the church is really there (a "mark" of the church) is by the true preaching of the Word, the right administration of the sacraments, and the discipline of the church.  Others have said that the marks of the church are being "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic."  But there is a mark that is missing from these traditional views.  It is the mark Jesus gave, and said everyone will know you are the church if you practice it- that is love.
     The "Love" spoken of here is not eros- (sexual love); or phileo (friendship love).  It is agape- (unconditional love).  When we learn to turn the other cheek, to love our enemy, to love our neighbor as ourselves- then we have learned the kind of love Jesus was speaking of.  This kind of love is rare among groups, and that makes the church that much more distinguishable.  Paul agreed when he said "Faith, hope, and love- abide these three- but the greatest of these is love."  Churches that are consumed with the Law may be missing this kind of love.  You can have all the right doctrine- but if you don't have this Jesus kind of love it means nothing.  If a church administer the sacraments correctly and has balanced discipline- but has not love it is nothing.  The world does not need a perfect church- it needs a church that loves God, each other, and neighbor.  In fact, no church does this perfectly- but the more we do this the more we are witnessing to our true faith and our reason d'etre.  It might be said that church is the place where we grow in love.  It is the place where we are supposed to learn to be patient, kind, not boasting, not proud, not self-seeking (all the things 1 Corinthians 13 speaks of when it mentions love).  Churches grow, not because they have right doctrine alone, or the latest fashionable thought.  We do not argue many into the kingdom.  Rather, it is love that melts through the arguments.  Love is the mark that the Holy Spirit is at work- casting out fear, comforting, encouraging. If God is love, then it makes sense that this is a true mark of His body- His church.  Love is what the world needs, what the church needs, what we need, and what God needs. 

Prayer: Help me to love as you have loved me.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

6/25/13- The Apostolic Church

Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.(Ps. 71:18)

I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 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.” (1 Corinthians 11:2,23-24)

I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. (Nicene Creed)

Thoughts: The church is apostolic in the sense that it shares the same faith as the apostles.  It is not apostolic in that it is ruled by an apostle of his direct successor any more than the Apostles' Creed had to be written by each of the 12 who followed Christ.  As the Creed is apostolic in the sense that it shares the faith of the apostles, the Church is apostolic in the sense that it shares the faith and practice of the apostles.
    There have been some who try to maintain the church is apostolic by a succession of bishops or ordination/laying on of hands going back to the apostles.  But it is not an organizational or institutional succession that counts, but a succession of faith and obedience that counts.  True apostolicity is found in that we, like the apostles, follow the living Lord.
    If it is the obedience and faith that is more important than the institution or organization, then we, like Paul above, need to make sure we pass the faith on properly.  We are called to "tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord."  One generation needs to commend the Lord's works to the next generation.  It is vitally important to tradition the faith- to pass on to the next group.  The baton is always in danger of being dropped, and the church is always one generation away from extinction if we do not do our duty.  The church continues to do in the steps of the apostles because someone has told us the story and we have responded in faith and obedience. 

Prayer: Give me grace to pass on the faith that was passed on to me, Lord. 

Father reading Bible to his children

Sunday, June 23, 2013

6/24/13- Catholic Church

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9) 

Jesus drew near and said to them, "I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age." (Mt. 28:19-20)

"I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church" (Nicene Creed)

Thoughts: The word "Catholic" originally is a contraction of kata holou ("according to the whole") and refers to the worldwide orthodox (as opposed to heretical) church.  In affirming this, we are saying that one particular church is not all there is- and also that our particular church doesn't have a corner on truth.  It is an important recognition that the church is bigger than us.  When we get to heaven there will be people from every language, nation and people group, and denomination.  it is also a recognition that the family of God is around the world.  We may get on a plane from someone in a different hemisphere and quickly recognize they are our brother or sister.  In fact, Christianity is the only religion with adherents in every single nation in the world today.

The Roman Catholic Church refers to the worldwide church that follows the bishop of Rome (the pope).  Hopefully today Protestants can appreciate the Roman Catholic Church as an ally against atheism and immorality.  The Reformation came in part because of some over-reaches of the Roman Catholic Church in terms of selling indulgences (which most Protestants viewed as selling forgiveness), some immoral practices among the clergy yet the clergy were seen as above reproach (sacerdotalism), the over-veneration of the saints (which Protestants have under-venerated), a view that saw the mass as turning the bread and cup into the actual body and blood of Jesus, and a restriction of the Bible to the clergy (and along with it an ignorance and disobedience of scripture in the populace and local clergy).   Many of these things were corrected over the years.  Protestants and Catholics alike share the basic beliefs of the faith- found in the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds.  This includes important ideas like the Father as the Creator; Jesus as divine and human; the importance of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the importance of the Holy Spirit for encouragement, comfort, and fellowship.  Many Protestants recognize the baptism of the Roman Catholic Church in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  For baptism is not into a denomination but into the name and person of Christ.  Most Protestant Churches will allow anyone who believes and are baptized (including Roman Catholics) to have communion- but it is not the other way around.
Protestant Churches need to be more careful in not only keeping to orthodoxy as defined in scripture, but orthopractice.  Changing the time-honored tradition of the church should not be done lightly, and when it conflicts with the clear prohibition of scripture it just should not be done.  Where tradition, experience, or an individual conflict with scripture- scripture is to be followed.  This is the lesson of the Reformation that we too easily lose.  The unity-oneness of the Church and the orthodoxy of the Church are more important than an idealism that would contradict what the scriptures say.

Cyril of Jerusalem has the ultimate quote on the catholicity of the church: "The Church, then , is called Catholic because it is spread through the whole world, from one end of the earth to the other, and because it never stops teaching in all its fulness every doctrine that people ought to be brought to know: and that regarding things visible and invisible, in heaven and on earth.  It is called Catholic also because it brings into religious obedience every sort of men, rulers and ruled, learned and simple, and because it is a universal treatment and cure for every kind of sin whether perpetrated by soul or body, and possesses within it every form of virtue that is named, whether it expresses itself in deeds or words or in spiritual graces of every description."

Prayer: Lord, help me to understand the importance of your world-wide family.

6/23/13- The Holy Church

“Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. (Leviticus 19:2; quoted in 1 Peter 1:15,16)

you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood,offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)

"We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church." (Nicene Creed)

Thoughts: The church is distinguished by its holiness.  Holiness means differentiated, marked off, "other" than the world. It is related to the idea of goodness (Old English "Godness").  When the Church has lost its idea of holiness, it has lost not only its balance (love and holiness balance each other), but it loses its ability to define itself-and eventually its reason for existence. 
    Saying the church is holy does not mean it is perfect, nor does it mean that someone has to be holy before they join the church or perfect once they join.  Even Paul admitted that the things he knew he shouldn't do he did and things he knew he should do he didn't do.  In other words, even Paul admitted he was a sinner after he believed (Romans 7:15).    Nor does it mean that the ministers of the church are perfect or holy.  In the fifth century some (Donatists) said that baptisms and communion were not valid if a minister/priest had at one time denied the faith.  But after study and debate the church universally decided that the grace of God in the sacraments and church overules the sin of the minister.  While the goal of the church is holiness, it is holy because it is on a holy path but it is primarily holy because the Church has the Holy Spirit in it.  The Holy God calls the church to be like Him- different from the world (see passages above, John 2:16,17 et al).  

Prayer: Lord, let the church be holy.  Holy Spirit enable me, call me, put me on the holy path.  

Friday, June 21, 2013

6/22/13- The Oneness of the Church

21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.(John 17:21-23)

Thoughts: Jesus prays the church would be one.  In some ways that prayer has gone unanswered.  In other ways it is answered.
    The classical marks or signs of the true church are "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic."  We will look at these signs now. 

    One- while the visible church may be diverse. spread out, divided by language, culture, theology, or personality, the invisible church is united.  John Leith says, "The unity of the church is easier to confess than conceptualize."  It is a matter of faith- more than a matter of geography, or the ability to recognize each other.  Just as a one dollar bill or a twenty dollar bill are all different but are all the same money- just different denominations. So the church is one though many- and is often labeled different denominations.  Each congregation is united to the next- not by a creed, or by a label,or even by recognized mission- but by God.
     It is very important in this post-denominational age that we recognize the oneness of the church.  This is not something that may happen in the future- but is happening now.  Today more than ever before a minister from one denomination may preach in another denomination's church (so Lutherans have agreements with Episcopalians and Presbyterians).  On the mission field ministers from various traditions have worked together for the common good for years.  "Non-denominational" churches look beyond an affiliation to obtain a minister.  Today there are more non-denominational churches in America than denominationally affiliated churches, and this trend is growing. Many old divisions came from the country-state churches people came from in Europe (Germany and Nordic was Lutheran, England was Episcopalian, Scotland/ Netherlands/ Switzerland was Presbyterian). Some of the things that divided Christians- whether there were elders or not; whether we sprinkled, poured, or submersed in baptism; exactly how old someone was when we baptized- have become what they should be- secondary.  New divisions center around ethics and basic beliefs- which are more substantial, but still not worthy of division. When we get to heaven- the invisible church will be seen for what it is- one.  We would do well to "make every effort keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3).  May His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. 

Prayer: Help me, O Lord, to recognize the tie that binds us all- your self.  May your Spirit unite me in love with other believers.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

6/21/13- Discipline as a Mark of the Church

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Mt. 18:15-18)

11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you. (1 Corinthians 5:11-13)

Thoughts: Discipline is not a word used much in most churches today.  Yet in these passages we see Jesus telling his disciples to treat someone as a pagan or tax collector who refuses to listen to the church.  The second passage has Paul writing that the church needs to expel someone specifically (in the context) who is unrepentant of sexual immorality.  Discipline is really hard.  It brings out hard feelings and controversy, and causes a loss in attendance and money.  Perhaps it is this hardness, and the prominence of immorality that has kept most of the American church from disciplining the way it should.  But leaving the yeast in the dough makes the whole dough sour and fermented (Mk. 8:15; Gal. 5:9).
     There are three basic purposes to discipline: 1) To glorify God; 2) That evil should not corrupt the good; 3) that those who are fallen might be helped. 
      The danger of discipline would be that it be abused and issued out arbitrarily, inconsistently, or as a personal vendetta. The Second Helvetic Confession cautions it should only be done for the edification of others and the church.  The other danger is that no one is perfect who issues the discipline.  As Jesus said to a group of Pharisees about to stone and adulterous woman, "Let him without fault throw the first stone."
    But the balance is that a church without discipline is a church without rules.  What good does it do to have laws if they are never enforced?  If there are no boundaries to truth- then there is no truth.  If everything is holy (set apart)- then nothing is holy.  While self-righteousness is a danger, no righteousness is devastating.  So Jesus on the one hand warns the men to not cast the first stone if they are not perfect, he also tells the woman to "go and sin no more."  

Prayer: Rebuke me, Lord, when I stray.  Help your church also to keep the sheep from becoming lost.  

(Shepherd herding sheep- notice the rod in his right hand)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

6/19/13- The Number of Sacraments

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Thoughts: Disciples are meant to be baptize and the Word is to be spread with baptism.  Baptism is the initiation rite of the church.  Communion or the Lord's Supper is a regular reminder and sustainer of the Church. 
     The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church came up with seven sacraments- five in addition to baptism and communion.  Those were: confirmation, Penance, Orders (Ordination), Matrimony, and Extreme Unction (last rites/anointing the sick).  There were other means of grace also considered to be sacraments in some traditions- like prayer or foot washing or preaching.  The idea of a sacrament was to be a visible sign of God's invisible grace or love.  A sacrament was to be tied to the presence of Christ.  So  baptism has water and the promise, "Lo I am with you always."  Communion has the bread and fruit of the vine- with the promise "this is my body" "this is my this in remembrance of me."  

    The Protestant critique given by Luther and agreed to by Calvin and the Anglican church is that some of the seven sacraments are not for everyone.  So "orders" or ordination is not for everyone, and marriage is not either.  Luther said that Christ had to command it to be a sacrament of the Church.  The only ones that Christ commanded were baptism (Go therefore and baptize); and communion (Do this in remembrance of me).
     In the end, these are not man-made rituals as some would say, but are promises of the presence of Christ.  They have been proven as events that, when combined with faith, bring spiritual experience of God.  

Prayer: Lord, may I seek your presence, and may I grow in love for you.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

6/18/13 Right Administration of the Sacraments

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15,16)

27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.
(1 Corinthians 11:27-30)

Thoughts: Many Reformers spoke of the right administration of the sacraments as a sign or mark of the true church.  The word "sacramentum" means mystery.  The classic definition-given by Augustine of Hippo is "a visible sign of God's invisible grace."  
    There are two extreme beliefs about the sacraments.  One is that the sacraments are magical or miraculous and then the other is that there is nothing special that occurs in or with them at all.  In the latter we would take part in them only as a command.  But there is a balance between the supernatural and the legalistic natural.  The balance is recognizing the spiritual presence of Christ that occurs when he promises to be there- as we remember him and as we go and baptize others.
     In Europe before World War II many abused the sacraments- and it was simply a ritual that everyone did- almost like a magic charm or a social norm.  It meant so little.  Barth pointed out that while Hitler and Stalin were certainly not good professing Christians they both had been baptized. The passage above from 1 Corinthians is a warning to such people who would use the sacraments for their own promotion. But while people can utterly turn from God and His ways, this does not define or limit the means of grace. Someone may abuse the love of a parent or friend- or the gifts of a parent or friend- but this does not mean that the love of that parent or friend was wrong, unreal or unacceptable. So, many abuse God's love and grace- and the signs of that love and grace- His sacraments.

     There is also something missing in our Christian life when we do not take the sacraments seriously.  The ongoing participation in the sacraments shows itself in our witnessing baptisms, remembering our own baptisms, and taking part in the Lord's Supper.  The cyber church cannot have cyber communion.  The feel of fellowship, the taste of the bread and cup are empty and meaningless for those who do not practice the sacraments together.  In a much smaller way, it is like watching a man eat a meal versus actually smelling, tasting and taking in the meal. Sacraments are meant to be done together- with the whole local church.  In some ways sacraments define church.  In fact- baptism by oneself is just a bath.  Communion by oneself is just eating bread and drinking a little fruit of the vine.  Jesus promised where two or three are gathered in His name- there He is in the midst of them.  The sacraments are meant to be done together- ideally in worship and in a place of worship.   

Prayer: Help me, Lord, to savor the mystery of your invisible presence symbolized and elicited by the visible signs of your love.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

6/18/13- True Preaching of the Gospel

The Mark of the Christian Church: "True Preaching of the Word of God"

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! (Romans 10:14,15)

Thoughts: The Church is a community of belief- or faith.  Belief comes when we hear, and hearing comes from preaching.  Preaching is important to belief and to hearing.  Luther often spoke as the "ear" as the organ of the gospel.  While we may come to faith by someone else "telling" us the message, it is rare for someone to believe without hearing the message at all.  Knowledge about God is normally a precedent to knowing God. Preaching not only gives us information to clarify our knowledge, it is a means of grace by which the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts- thus preaching is in a sense, the word.  Preaching classically has been defined as taking the text and expounding on it- making it clear (Nehemiah 8:8).  Preaching is not simply psychologically or experientially based- or it is not the preaching of the Gospel. The Good News (which is what "gospel" means) of Christ is based on the story of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  The Gospel is not human ideas of how to get along, or even how to be a better person.  This is certainly a part of our hope and message, but the grace and love of God that reaches us before we can reach Him- is the great news.  Many are continually seeking meaning, hope, purpose but we can never get there on our own.  We are called and sent to proclaim the good news that God became human and offers us forgiveness, hope, and love.  

Prayer: Lord, let me hear your preaching right; Let me have ears to hear and a heart to respond.  May the preaching that I hear be true to your word.  

Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 158. By whom is the Word of God to be preached?

A. The Word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted,w and also duly approved and called to that office.

Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 159. How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?
A. They that are called to labor in the ministry of the Word, are
to preach sound doctrine, diligently,  in season and out of season;plainly,
 not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power;  faithfully,  making known the whole counsel of God;  wisely,
 applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers;
 zealously,  with fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely,
 aiming at his glory, and their conversion,  edification,  and salvation.

(John Calvin preaching)