WHAT IF – #4 …

monkey_thinkingMusings from my lawn mower …

We are mulling over some ideas I was thinking about the other day while I was mowing my lawn. It was a beautiful day and my mower was doing a fantastic job of manicuring the large area of grass I mow and I got to putting together some ideas I had been thinking about for some time. That is how it is with Bible study. The more you open yourself to what the Bible really says the more there will be opened to you – that is, if your study is not just a “creed rehearsal.”

The way most Christians have viewed the Bible is that there is a great gulf – a disconnect – between the Old and New Testaments. Actually while there are obvious differences, those differences are not as great as we may have supposed them to be. The Old Testament is indispensable to our understanding of the New. The story God is telling us flows from one into the other. What connects them is not just the prophecies of the Old fulfilled in the new, but the overall story of God’s good creation, what happened to it and what God is doing to remedy all that is wrong.

In the middle of it all is the story of the cross. The gospel, the good news of what God is doing and how we may participate in it is where we fit into the story. What that gospel is about is something far greater and of far more immediate application that most have ever realized. Most churches preach a reductionist gospel. Pray a prayer or take a few “steps” to “obey the gospel,” join a church and be good and you will be snatched away to that great home “beyond the bright blue” in the “sweet by and by.”

Actually when Jesus began preaching his message was the “gospel of the kingdom.” (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Mark 1:15). Jesus’ teaching, particularly much of that done in parables, was to explain the kingdom which he repeatedly said was “at hand” or “has come.” When Peter stood before the multitude of people gathered in Jerusalem on that Pentecost not long after Jesus had ascended to the Father, his message was that Jesus was King (Acts 2:36). Those three thousand who were baptized that day and the thousands more in the following days were inducted into the kingdom. We have been steered wrong for a long time because of the erroneous addition of the word “church” in Acts 2:47. The word “church” was not in the original text – that does not appear until Acts 5:11. The comment from the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary on Acts 2 has it right on verse 41. “…the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls” — [a] fitting inauguration of the new kingdom, as an economy of the Spirit!” It was the kingdom to which the saved were added. That is what they were seeking on Pentecost. They were added by the Spirit by virtue of the fact that through faith they had submitted themselves to obey the King – to be ruled by him.

With this inauguration of the kingdom, with Jesus, the first human resurrected to immortality, upon the throne, man came under the rule of God. That kingdom is not something new or never before seen in the story of the Bible. What it is is simply a return to the ideal that was built into the creation from the beginning. God’s rule – heaven’s rule – over his creation with man as partner with God in its operation.

We have argued in these articles that the original creation provides an understanding or is normative for man’s conduct before God. This includes our individual lives and also the life and mission of the church. While Jesus walked the earth he fulfilled God’s purpose for man in his own life. He lived up, not to the demands of the law of Moses alone, but to the fundamental design built into the universe as the way man was always intended to live.

The church, ideally, is the one place in the world where the rule of the king is recognized and honored. That is our mission. We are to live and work together in such a way as to show to the world what God always intended for the creation to be. And since the kingdom has come into the world it is the church’s mission to show the world what it will be like when that rule will be extended over all creation again. What we have made the church to be, however, is a pale, confused, divided, sectarian, reductionist substitute for the glorious kingdom of the good Creator/Ruler of all the universe.

What the kingdom (rule of the king) consists of is not a complex set of laws or rules and regulations, of rites and rituals, but really a return to the original creation mandate. The law of the king – the royal law – is very simple. You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” (James 2:8). Apparently human beings think this too simple, so they spend their lives poring over collections of scriptures, commentaries, concordances and various other books and manuscripts, searching for minutiae that they deem “essential” to faith and, like the Pharisees of old, bind them on others while they will not attempt to bear them themselves.

Now, let me illustrate the simplicity of what we might call the “creation model” to which we are referring. In our last post we referred to the recognized fact that the earliest Christians gathered in the homes of other Christians. Those who had a house large enough to accommodate a gathering – some guesstimate anywhere from 15 to 30 with the family who lived there being the nucleus of the group and providing the hospitality for the gathering. It is a mistake to suppose, as did one commentator I read, that the earliest churches were too poor or too small to build their own buildings and this was why they met, seemingly exclusively, in homes for the first two hundred years.

The earliest mention of this gathering in homes is found in Acts 2:46, where in addition to attending the temple functions in Jerusalem, the disciples also were “breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” What is described here is a family gathering. It was an extended family with there being some in attendance to these family meals who were not blood related except through the blood of Christ, who through the Spirit had brought them together in the great family of God.

But some object that that couldn’t have been a gathering of the church because they were eating food! Well, of course they were eating food! Why shouldn’t they? They were behaving just like a family. That is what families did before the 20th – 21st centuries. And with their food they were also “breaking bread.” That, to us, is inconceivable. We don’t understand it for two reasons. First is the way we “do church” today with the Lord’s Supper being a symbolic “pinch and a sip” ritual, taken in silent, individual meditation which is about as far from a family gathered for a shared meal as we can make it. To us today this is the only way we can conceive of the Lord’s Supper being done because that is all we have ever known. The second is that families seldom eat together in our gotta-go-gotta-go-rush-here-rush-there-hurry-up-or-you’ll-be-late kind of lifestyles. Every member of a family goes in their own direction and family members see one another only now and then in passing. Today a family is simply a bunch of people who happen to sleep under the same roof!

In two other places in the New Testament record there is evidence that the gathering of disciples was of this same order. In the passage that is most often used to “prove” the necessity of partaking of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of every week (which I have no objection to) there was food on the premises which makes this passage, Acts 20:7-11, very much like Acts 2:46. It is argued that the breaking of bread in vs. 7 in the upper room at Troas was different from the breaking of bread in vs. 11. The first is the Lord’s Supper and the second is a common meal it is argued. There is absolutely no textual evidence that requires such an interpretation. Commentators are not agreed on either this or Acts 2:46. It seems to me that those who rule out the breaking of bread in Acts 2:46 and in Acts 20:11 as being the Lord’s Supper do so arbitrarily, perhaps on the basis of the usual and customary ecclesiastical observance as a “sacrament.” This is actually reading back into the text our traditional interpretation and not sound exegesis at all.

If we look at the breaking of bread as a family event including the observance of the Lord’s Supper as part of a meal much like the Passover meal, this would be more in keeping with the circumstances under which the Lord instituted it to begin with. While the Passover Seder was a special event, it was a meal. It was observed in a family setting. It did, under some circumstances (when a family could not eat the whole Paschal lamb), involve neighbors who became the extended family for the observance. At those feasts the Jews would tell and retell their story. The Exodus story was not something that happened to some people a long time ago who just happened to have been related to them. They told the story as if it had happened to them – as if they were there and walked through the Red Sea and saw the Egyptian army drowned. It was their story and it bonded them together and held them within the story and made them who they were.

That is what the Lord’s Supper is intended to do for Christians. It is a family event for the family of God. When it is observed as a family meal in a family setting with the bread broken and the cup poured it becomes more than a ritual to be done as a commanded observance. It becomes a sharing of life. It is a communion – a declaration of their union held in common through their sharing in the body and blood of Christ.

(1 Cor 10:16-17)The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

Many would argue that having the Lord’s Supper as part of a meal would destroy the sacredness of the Supper. I would contend that it would do just the opposite. This thinking reveals our dualistic, dichotomous approach to the understanding of life where life is compartmentalized into the material and the spiritual, the sacred and the profane, the heavenly and the earthly. It is just that splitting of creation that the new creation addresses and that will be finally and fully healed with the ushering in of the new heavens and the new earth.

Sin has separated man from God, the heavenly from the earthly. Consequently man sees the present creation as worthless, fraught with evil with no value to be redeemed. But the divine purpose is to redeem all his creation – to bring it all together into one holy relationship with everything being cleansed and purified. Isaiah, looking to that time, prophesied …

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”
(Isa. 25:6).

Figurative? Sure. But why use the figure of a sumptuous feast if it is wrong for the family of God to eat together before the Lord now?

The consummation of the divine purpose is seen in Revelation 19:7-10 as the marriage supper of the Lamb when Christ takes his people unto himself forever. If that event can be characterized as a feast of epic proportions, why can we not see that the family feast which includes the Lord’s Supper should not only be acceptable before the Lord, but a foreshadowing of that grand event?

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