Category: Lord’s Supper (page 1 of 13)

From Scattered to Gathered: Part 2

This Sunday at Central will mark the tenth consecutive Sunday we have worshiped together online only. One more time we’re going to livestream the “assembly” from a nearly empty worship center to our scattered church participating in their homes via the marvel of the internet. We’ve added stage lights and changed the camera angles, we’ve manipulated the sound of the praise team  and paid careful attention to start and stop times, we’ve incorporated more videos of our own people from their own settings and been as interactive as we know how.

But it’s just not the same.

Christian author Brian Zahnd writes: “Virtual church is like a virtual beach vacation — it’s just not the same thing. A real beach vacation means sand between your toes. And real church means human contact and sacraments.”

Our online offering is pretty good. But it’s no day at the beach. As a church, we’re not gathered right now. We’re scattered. And, I’ll tell you, it’s not my favorite thing. But it’s not the worst thing, either. Because the Church is God’s scattered people, too.

Yours is not the first church that’s ever been forced to scatter. And this is not the first time in history the Church as a whole has been unable to gather. In fact, it happened early on. The very first church, that Pentecost church in Jerusalem, got scattered pretty quick. Stephen was stoned in Jerusalem for preaching the resurrection…

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church (assembly) in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church (gathering).” ~Acts 8:1-3

Randy Harris says if the Church only knows how to be Church in mass gatherings, then it was never really the Church in the first place. And I agree.

We are, all of us, each of us, saved by God in Christ and called by God in Christ for the sake of others. The Church of God exists as people on a mission, men and women saved and called by God to join God’s acts of salvation for others. And sometimes our assemblies have to be broken up by outside forces, we’ve got to be dispersed in order to remember that the Church is God’s scattered people, too. And he can work in powerful ways whether we’re worshiping together in the same rooms on Sunday mornings or not.

“Those who had been scattered preached the Word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” ~Acts 8:4-8

Think about those followers of Jesus in Jerusalem who had witnessed amazing demonstrations of the presence of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. The worship services at that church must have been over the top awesome. Peter’s preaching the Word as an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ. People are being healed. People are speaking in tongues. The Holy Spirit is there in visible pillars of fire. They’re singing 19-verses of Just As I Am because hundreds of people are being baptized every Sunday. And no announcements! That’s an awesome worship experience!

And they were forced to give it up. But the church didn’t shut down. The church actually expanded.

“Those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch… telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” ~Acts 11:19-21

During the early weeks of the Covid-19 shutdowns, the most loving thing we could do for our neighbors and our community was to stay apart. To not meet. Which is so strange because God always calls us to community, to be together, to be present with each other — bodily, physically, face-to-face present.

But look what’s happened to us. All of us have been forced to not just talk, sing, and pray about the mission. We’ve had to live it. You can’t lean on the crutch, “Well, of course I’m a Christian! I go to church!” No, you don’t. Not right now. And our hearts and our lives have been refocused for the past ten weeks on the mission. We’ve been given the time, space, and circumstances to actually do what we claim to do, what we really want to do. We’re serving our neighbors, we’re checking on the elderly, we’re providing money and meals to the needy, we’re reaching out to folks we know who live alone.

Your church has not been closed, it’s been expanded into all of your neighborhoods. We’re paying closer attention to the vulnerable and weak, we’re all thinking more about the marginalized and compromised. And the Bible says if we’re not doing those things, then our worship stinks and it’s not doing us or God any good anyway.

Worshiping online from our homes has brought other unexpected blessings. Some of us have become more acutely aware that Christians all over the world are doing the exact same things we’re doing. We’re all singing awkwardly by ourselves in our homes. We’re all eating and drinking the communion meal with whatever we can find — Cool Ranch Doritos and a bottle of Pedialyte? Sure! It works! All disciples of Jesus are doing the same things right now, every Sunday, and we feel more closely connected to the global Church.

God has done some very surprising and glorious things while we’ve been scattered. And we praise him for that. He’s helped us be creative. He’s opened our eyes to people who need the Gospel. He’s stirred our hearts to be more generous and kind.

But God’s Church is at a handicap when we’re not meeting together. It’s part of our essential nature.

So how do we make the transition from scattered to gathered? And do we even want to?

If Sunday morning worship is a beach vacation and online worship is not — no sand between the toes; it’s not real — then what’s it going to be like May 31? Or whenever your church reopens for in-person worship? With all the distancing and masks and weird communion kits and a lot of our older brothers and sisters staying home, it’s not going to be a day at the beach. It might be more like sticking your finger in a jar of sand you brought back from South Padre four years ago.

That’s not great. We need to anticipate that it’s not going to be the same for a while. It’s going to feel very different. So do we even want to do it?

Peace,

Allan

From Scattered to Gathered: Part 1

Most churches are beginning to reopen for in-person Sunday worship. Church leaders are taping off pews, sanitizing doorknobs, and trying to figure out what to do with the kids. There are many questions that come as a church transitions from scattered to gathered in the middle of a global pandemic, some of them seemingly unanswerable. All of us are doing this for the very first time, we’re flying by the seat of our pants. But one question that must be answered is this: Why bother?

Central is reopening for public worship next Sunday May 31. And it will not be like it was in February. In fact, it won’t be like it’s ever been in the 112-year history of this congregation. We’re asking our people in the at-risk categories to stay home. We’re blocking off two out of every three pews so we can maintain nine to twelve feet of distance between us. We’re wearing masks. We’re using those individually packaged “Rip n Sip” communion kits (yuk!). No Bible classes for a while, no children’s programming.

What is that going to look like? How is that going to feel?

Eric Gentry is a CofC preacher in Memphis, Tennessee and he wrote an article a couple of weeks ago asking this question: “Is there something about God, church, worship, or community that we are not experiencing now online that we will experience once we return, even under the restrictive conditions? If so, what is it?”

That’s probably the question we need to answer. Whatever “it” is, if we’re eager to experience “it” together at church, we should probably be able to define “it.” I keep hearing how desperate we all are to be back together in the same room, how we can’t wait to meet again as a church. But do we know why? Because when we do come back together, we’ll do so at the risk of compromising the health of our members and guests. It’ll cost us more money in utilities and cleaning than we’ve been spending for the past two months. And with all of us spread out so far apart and wearing masks and the weird communion, it’s going to be a diminished worship experience. It won’t be the same.

So, let’s work through this.

I believe the desire in us to assemble together on Sunday mornings is so deep and so strong because it is the very essence of who we are as God’s people. The Church is God’s gathered people.

In the account of the inception of the Church of Jesus Christ, the Bible makes clear that the people in Jerusalem that day had come from all over the known world. Acts 2:8-11 lists all the foreigners who were there the countries from where they came. The author doesn’t want you to miss it. God had brought these people together from all over and that’s when he established the Church.

Peter preaches that God’s Holy Spirit had raised Jesus from the grave and that Jesus is alive and reigning at the right hand of God and that the crucified Jesus is indeed both Lord and Christ. And three thousand people were baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and they each received the gift of God’s Spirit living inside them. And they responded. Saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, guided by the power of the Spirit, notice how they lived and worshiped and served together.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” ~Acts 2:42-47

Our God, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, has saved us and called us to be a gathered together people. Staying away from each other goes against our nature as Christians. It’s like a bird trying not to fly. It’s like Ted Nugent trying not to cuss. It’s not going to last very long. We must be together.

The literal definition of Church in the Bible is an assembly of people. The original Greek word is ekklesia. It means a gathering or assembly of people. You find it 111 times in the New Testament. Everywhere you see the English word “church,” it’s a translation of the Greek word for assembly.

David Watson writes, “The word ekklesia always speaks of the coming together of God’s people in answer to his call, in order to meet with God in the company of each other, and to meet each other in the presence of God.”

Meeting together — it’s the very definition of who we are. We are first and foremost a gathered people.

The Christian faith is an embodied faith. Coming together to share the same space, to breathe the same air, and to eat and drink the same meal embodies our incarnational God. In Christ Jesus, our God joins us in physical bodily form and calls us to also come together in community in one another’s physical, bodily, face to face presence. The things we do together like baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and congregational singing are communal acts meant to be shared and experienced in community. We don’t baptize ourselves. We break bread together. We believe the Church, the assembly of God’s people, is a spiritual reality that is manifest and given its power in physical acts done by physical people in physical proximity.

Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I’m right there with them!”

I think that’s the “it.”

That’s what is so special about Sunday mornings together. It’s the unique presence of our God with us when his people all physically come together. It’s the powerful presence of God with his people on the Day of Assembly. It’s God himself eating and drinking with his people when they come together at Mount Sinai. It’s the Lord’s glory appearing in the midst of his assembled people during the appointed times. Being together in the same physical space in the presence of God — that’s the deal! That’s what we’re craving.

And you can’t get it online.

Peace,

Allan

Clearly in the Wrong

“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” ~Galatians 2:11

Peter? Clearly in the wrong? Seriously? I mean, we know Peter’s got a big mouth and he’s a little impulsive, but clearly in the wrong? Peter’s one of the original twelve apostles, part of Jesus’ inner circle. He’s like the captain of the apostles. He’s a pillar, a foundation stone of God’s Church. He’s clearly in the wrong? Well, what in the world is he doing?

He’s refusing to share meals with Christians who have not been circumcised. He’s “drawing back and separating himself” from the Gentile Christians because some of the other Jewish Christians were starting to talk.

Apparently, the Jewish and Gentile Christians were all eating together. They were ignoring circumcision and food laws and Jewish holy days — they weren’t worried about the Law of Moses, they were all one in Christ. They ate together all the time. And when Peter came to Antioch, he joined in. He’s good. He participated in the practice of these fellowship meals, these symbols of unity. But then these “certain men from James” show up and Peter excuses himself from the table. Either the presence of these men or the message they brought — something — shook Peter up and he stopped eating with the Gentile Christians. He drew back and separated. And his actions were so obvious and so influential that “even Barnabas was led astray” and stopped attending the fellowship meals.

What Peter is saying by his actions is that Gentile Christians are only second-class Christians. If they want to eat with Peter and the other Jewish Christians, if they want the full benefits of God’s salvation, then you have to belong to a certain group: MY group. You have to conform to OUR rules, you have to adopt OUR practices, you have to embrace OUR traditions. What Peter is saying is that salvation and the unity of God’s people is based on circumcision and law and not on grace and faith.

And when Paul shows up at Antioch and sees what’s going on, he can’t handle it. It’s too much. “There is neither Jew nor Greek!” That’s Paul, right? “We are all one in Christ Jesus!”

So Paul opposed Peter to his face, “in front of them all.” This is a public rebuke because it was a public problem, I guess — because he was clearly in the wrong. This is strong language. Most scholars agree that Paul is saying more than “You’re wrong.” He’s saying, “You’re condemned by God.” Peter is perverting the Gospel with his behavior.

This isn’t just a minor disagreement over a trivial part of the Gospel; this is the very heart of the Gospel! It’s not a little squabble over an interpretation; this is about who you are in Christ, your identity in the Lord!

Peter and these Jewish Christians are withdrawing and separating from the Gentile Christians. They’re claiming to be better, to be more saved, to be more correct, and to be closer to God’s will because of their Jewish culture. Paul says they’re “not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel.”

Hmmm…. do we see any parallels today? I wonder about making application, particularly with those of us in Churches of Christ.

Tomorrow. I’ll finish this up tomorrow.

Peace,

Allan

Expressing the Gospel

If the table is the place to experience the real presence of Christ and the real fellowship and community we have together with God’s people — if the purpose of communion is, well, communion — then the way we do it matters. The form of the Lord’s Meal serves the function. In fact, I’ll suggest the form is the function. In many ways, the medium is the message.

You wouldn’t raise money to fight the sexual exploitation of women by having a car wash at Hooter’s. You can’t hold a Weight Watcher’s meeting at Furr’s Cafeteria. We don’t ask people to pay for Financial Peace University with a credit card. That defeats the purpose. The form matters.

That’s what’s wrong with the Lord’s Supper in Corinth. That’s what the apostle Paul is so concerned about: the form, the way they were eating the meal. The form of their meal was working against the purpose of the meal. In fact, Paul tells these Christians, the way you’re eating it, it’s not the Lord’s Supper at all.

“When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for each one eats his own supper without waiting for anyone else.” ~1 Corinthians 11:20-21

It’s important to remember that the Church’s Lord’s Supper started out as a full meal. For almost the first 300-years, the Lord’s Supper was a potluck. The Greek word “dipenon” is translated as dinner, feast, meal, banquet, main meal. It most commonly refers to the main evening meal. And, according to Paul, if the church eats the meal one way, it’s the Lord’s Supper; if you eat it another way, it’s your own supper.

So, what’s the problem Paul’s trying to correct? What are these Christians doing wrong?

“When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for each one eats his own supper without waiting for anyone else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the Church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!” ~1 Corinthians 11:20-22

The problem at this church was the breakdown of community during the Lord’s Supper. You’re not waiting for others, you’re not sharing your food with others, people are going hungry, people are being humiliated. The rich Christians are getting stuffed and drunk while the poor Christians are starving and being singled out as not belonging. People are going back for seconds before others have been through the line once. They’re saving seats. Members are on one side of the room and visitors are on the other. New members are eating by themselves. Division. Selfishness.

Even if they had no idea what the Lord’s Supper is all about, common courtesy demands they refrain from getting stuffed and drunk while their brothers and sisters are hungry. But their meal was being shaped by culture instead of Christ. The Gospel is all about breaking down barriers and uniting together in holy community. Only thinking about yourself, only worrying about your own needs at the Lord’s Supper denies the Gospel the Lord’s Supper is intended to demonstrate. Paul says it makes a mockery of God’s Church.

So, that’s the problem. What’s the corrective? How does he fix it? By pointing to Jesus. He reminds them of Jesus.

“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.’  ~1 Corinthians 11:23-25

The table is shaped by the salvation work of Jesus. The Church’s Meal reflects and demonstrates the Gospel values of sacrifice and service. The Lord’s Supper expresses the way of Jesus: selflessness, giving to others, considering the needs of others more important than our own.

“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” ~1 Corinthians 11:26

The Lord’s death broke down all the barriers between us and God and between us and each other. The Lord’s death unites all God’s people together. Around the table on Sundays and anytime we eat and drink together in his name, we’re proclaiming and practicing all the salvation things Jesus died for. The meal proclaims everything that was accomplished at the cross: acceptance, fellowship, unity, forgiveness, peace, love.

And when Paul uses the term “Lord” and when he says “until he comes,” he’s reminding us that Jesus is alive and he’s coming back! And until he comes, we express and experience the realities of our salvation with him and one another in holy community around his table. How we eat the Lord’s Supper matters.

Peace,

Allan

Experiencing the Gospel

Some of us say the communion meal is the most important part of our Sunday assemblies. That’s the whole reason we come together. In fact, some people leave church right after the Lord’s Supper: the crumb, the sip, we’re good, I’m gone! Our actions betray us: We take communion to the hospitals and preside over a lady in a wheelchair breaking a cracker while three men stand by and watch. Our language betrays us: We say we offer the Lord’s Supper on Sunday nights or in our small groups to people “who need it.”

The Lord’s Supper is not a binding duty or a mechanical ritual. It’s not a box to check or a magic pill to swallow. It’s about love and unity and fellowship.

We’ve done everything we can to mess it up. For several centuries now the Church has gone to great lengths to make the meal as private and personal and individual as possible. The joyful communal meal of the early Church has become a crumb of cracker and a sip of juice in quiet, somber, introspective, individual bubbles: “Don’t distract me!” We’ve removed ourselves from the transforming character of the meal.

If the Gospel is that by the death and resurrection of Jesus we can be totally forgiven of our sins and be completely cleansed and pure and can come right into the very presence of God; if the Good News is that we can have a holy and righteous relationship with God and one another; if the Gospel is that we are united with Christ and united with one another in Christ, where do we experience that? How does that become real for us? How do we feel it and know it’s true?

At the table. We experience the Gospel at the table.

Let’s remember our big picture understandings of the communion meal. The Lord’s Supper is eating and drinking a celebration meal with God. Remember, that’s God’s goal. That’s what God is after, it’s what all of salvation history is about: God eating and drinking with us. Because sharing a meal together means there’s relationship. You’ve got things in common. No barriers. There’s acceptance and understanding and trust and friendship around the table. When we’re all dipping our chips into the same bowl of salsa, all the walls are down. There’s community. That’s what God wants with us.

What makes the communion meal a sacrament is that by God’s Holy Spirit, we actually are participating in the reality it represents. We are literally eating with Jesus. Somehow, mysteriously, he meets us at the table and eats with us. All of us.

The table is where we experience what it means to be saved. The oneness, the forgiveness, the community, the relationship, the unity, the acceptance, the fellowship, the common ground. The blood of Christ is what makes us righteous and clean. And the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 10 that when we drink the cup together, we participate in those benefits. Eating the bread together is a communion or a sharing in the unity we have in Christ. We are the body of Christ together. And we experience that around our Lord’s Table.

The people of Israel eat the sacrifices and so receive the benefits of forgiveness and community that’s achieved at the altar. We eat the meal and receive the gifts of forgiveness and community that are achieved at the cross.

By faith, our baptisms make us one people in Christ. No divisions, no differences, no distinctions — we are one body in Christ. And we experience that around the table. The peace, the reconciliation, the community with God and one another.

You want to feel like you really belong? You sit down to a meal with your family.

Peace,

Allan

Unworthy Manner

“Therefore, 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. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” ~1 Corinthians 11:27-29

Boy, we have latched onto these three verses, haven’t we?! Our distortion of these three verses, maybe more than any other passage in the Bible, has irreversibly changed the dynamic of the Lord’s Supper from one of joyful and communal participation in salvation and life to one of somber and individual reflection on sin and death. And the key phrase in these key verses is “unworthy manner.”

The Greek word in the original text we translate “unworthy manner” is “anaxios,” and it’s an adverb, not an adjective. In this context, “unworthy” doesn’t describe you. This is not about the state of your soul or the status of your salvation or what you’re thinking about during the meal. “Unworthy” describes the way you eat and drink, the “manner” of your eating and drinking. “Unworthy” is describing the verbs, not the nouns.

Whether or not you are unworthy to eat and drink with the risen Christ and his holy people isn’t the concern. That question has already been answered: No, you are not worthy! None of us is worthy! We are unholy sinners who have no right to be in God’s presence, eating with him at his feast.

Or…

We are all worthy! By the death and resurrection of Jesus you and I are worthy! We’ve been made worthy by grace through faith in Christ. You see what we’re saying? The question of our worthiness is not the issue at stake in this passage.

The concern is, now that you’re at the Supper, how are you eating and drinking? Are you only concerned about yourself? Are you isolating yourself and others at the table? Are you paying attention to the people around you? As you eat and drink, are you recognizing the body?

The main point of the Lord’s Supper is to share it with one another, not satisfy your own needs. That’s the core of Paul’s instructions in this section of his letter to the Christians in Corinth:

“So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for each other.” ~1 Corinthians 11:33

Some translations say “welcome each other.” The point is that we eat together.

The joyful communal meal of the early Church has become a crumb of cracker and a sip of juice in quiet, somber, reflective, individual bubbles: “Don’t distract me!” Scripture says the focus during the meal, of our bodies and our brains, should be on one another.

Peace,

Allan

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