Archive for category Sacraments
Will you practice Lent in 2018? I have practiced in the past; however, it’s admittedly been a few years.
To be honest, Lent (and a strict Christian calendar in general) is something that I struggle to reconcile with apostolic teaching from Paul, who wrote,
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 2:16-3:4).
Paul seems to be instructing that asceticism and calendars are overrated compared to Christ and underwhelming in the battle against the sinful nature. Then, he compels readers to set their minds on their union with Christ in the experience of the gospel; that is, think on heavenly accomplishments rather than earthly shadows for power in the spiritual life.
Before my theological education, I found this liberating. During my education, knowledge of church history, extra-biblical Christian texts, and exposure to a variety of Christians in various traditions caused me to wonder if I was missing out on my historical heritage – I didn’t want to act as if my Christianity was the only Christianity that there ever has been. Having been removed from the academic environment for about 7 years now, I’ve felt pulled in two directions – one existing in my knowledge of the historical expression of the Christian, spiritual life and one existing in my simple, post-conversion liberty found only in Christ and his gospel.
I imagine that some may respond in saying the historical liturgy aims to image the gospel and to orient all of life around it. I can see that, but I can also see how it possibly focuses the mind on shadows of the gospel rather than on the reality itself.
When I turn to the Scriptures for clarity, the only “icons” we’re given are the Eucharist and Baptism. We weren’t given any specific fasts or specific festivals or holy days. In fact, this 2013 article by Nicholas V. Russo casts all kinds of doubt on any solid proto-Nicene Lent tradition. At the most, one can say that the early church employed fasts and certain days as tools to prepare catechumens for Baptism. These lesser things served the people and the true apostolic ordinances.
Today marks the beginning of Lent for many of my brothers and sisters. My hope for them is that they aren’t only living in the shadow but also in the reality of the union we share in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have died. Our life is hidden in Christ with God. I want to know more of this death and life with which I have been united. I’m just not certain that Lent is the way. I’ll remember my Baptism; I’ll sit at the Lord’s table, I’ll hear the word of redemption in Christ; I’ll gaze upon the Head of the church, and try to yield to his Spirit, whose aim it is to conform me to Christ.
7. You Sent Them Out Unarmed
As mentioned in my response to number 8, I think we do a fairly good job with regard to imparting quality doctrinal teaching and biblical literacy to our students. They study the Bible in our student ministry. They study doctrine in our student ministry. However, I think that Marc (the author) errs a bit too much if he indeed thinks that catechesis is THE solution. Catechesis or some sort of intentional discipleship is necessary to any ministry for growing believers; however, I am discovering more and more that a young person also needs to experience God in the spiritual life. I am not speaking of the Schleiermachian feeling based liberal theology that has birthed this hip nuance youth workers now call Moral Therapeutic Deism. What I am saying is that our young people need both to know the Triune God and to meet with the Triune God. He or she needs both instruction about God and his doings as well as to fellowship with him through spiritual disciplines and the life of the church. Personally, I sense that our student ministry is at the beginning of entering into a kind of discipleship that seeks to direct students to know God well and to experience his presence too. Here, there is an embrace of both catechesis and the spiritual life.
Now, I sense that our student ministry has some weaknesses too that we need to strengthen. First, while we dive deeply into the biblical text and doctrine every semester, I feel that the way in which I go about selecting biblical books to teach, theological themes to explore, or doctrines to learn is a bit aimless. This is what I am saying, I have six years with a student, 7th grade through 12th grade. Instead of a somewhat spontaneous selection of teaching content, I would like to see a discipleship plan or map for the whole six years . . . maybe even a couple of maps. The book Sustainable Youth Ministry speaks about the importance of developing a long-term teaching plan. This has been something that I have not yet implemented in our student ministry, but which I need to implement. I don’t want to totally remove spontaneity from the teaching curriculum of the youth ministry – come on, it IS youth ministry – but a plan or a map would give general direction for the six years of discipleship that we have with any given student. What do you think? We have six years with a student. What should be THE things that we cover, knowing that we will have Communities of Bible Study on Sunday mornings, Sunday Night Connect (our evening meeting), and Summer Small Groups, as well as at least 6 weekend retreats? This would be wonderful for our leadership team to help me think through. Second, we must continue to couple the knowledge of God and the experience of God hand-in-hand as a student ministry. I want our students experiencing God by answered prayer. I want them to fast and deepen their hunger for God. I want them to practice silence so that they listen to God in his word and to listen, as well as test, their own hearts and minds. I want them to practice personal bible study. I want them to be faithful in the sacraments of the church. I want them to participate in evangelism, real evangelism, where you actually share the gospel of Jesus Christ. So at Scofield, we are arming our students, but we can still do better. It isn’t simply a matter of them not being ignorant or biblical illiterate – which are not okay either – but it is also experiencing what we know about God to be true in our lives.
10. The Church Is Relevant
I do like this statement by the author,
You didn’t misread that, I didn’t say irrelevant, I said RELEVANT. We’ve taken a historic, 2,000 year old faith, dressed it in plaid and skinny jeans and tried to sell it as “cool” to our kids. It’s not cool. It’s not modern. What we’re packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world we’re called to evangelize.
Maybe I am a little blinded because I am an insider at Scofield, but I don’t think we struggle much with being Relevant; that is, we don’t try very hard to be Relevant. I have heard out of the mouth of our Worship Pastor, Daniel Jordan, that the goal of our worship ministry at Scofield is not to become slaves to one particular generation’s preference or experience of worshiping God. Instead, we are part of a global, ancient, culturally diverse movement of worshipers, who have always worshiped the one, true God. Our worship should reflect our connection to the past, our experience of God in the present, and our hope for the future.
If our youth ministry was too worried about Relevance with regard to our meeting areas, the Garage would have been remodeled into a hipster coffee bar, with X Games activities throughout instead of foosball tables, air hockey, and a chalkboard. Now don’t get me wrong, the Garage (i.e., one of our meeting rooms at Scofield) is cool, but it’s like late 90’s early 2000’s cool if we are dating it on the “Trendy Calendar.” Now, there is nothing wrong with remodeling rooms or buildings for better aesthetics and accessibility, but there is something wrong if we obsess over such things. Our weekly meetings have historically and will continue to be (if I have anything to do with it) primarily focused on biblical teaching. Sometimes, we spend up to an hour teaching the Bible on Sunday evenings. The time spent in the Scriptures is one of the author’s criticisms about most youth ministries. One student, who moved away sometime ago, has struggled in his new youth ministry because of the minimal focused on in-depth biblical instruction.
I could also go into our events and other activities, but I won’t. Let me just say that I feel like even our larger events flow more out of “the family” and “the tradition” that we have here at Scofield more than out of some attempt to be Relevant to every young person. Now, let me say this. Just because the things that I mentioned above don’t necessarily reflect a “Quest for Relevance” does NOT mean that deep, deep down in our hearts as a community there isn’t a desire to be more Relevant, and perhaps even sometimes a jealousy of others who may have the finances or resources to give the appearance of heightened Relevance. Lord, test our hearts; keep us from the sins of jealousy and envy. Lastly, let’s be careful about ALWAYS throwing Relevancy under the bus. Everyone at some level seeks to be Relevant. Shoot, in our day, to say something like, “I’m fleeing Relevance!” automatically makes you Relevant! However, thankfully, there is a biblical model and approach to Relevance. Consider the sermons of the book of Acts. They are always contextualized for preaching the gospel to particular audiences. Just think of Paul in Athens in Acts 17. Consider when the Apostle Paul says, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). So, may God help our ministry to seek the Holy Spirit and how he might have us proclaim the truth about Jesus to all people everywhere without forsaking who we are.
I am blessed to be able to worship on Good Friday (2012) with my friends who are associated with OurCalling. In preparation for this special worship meeting, I have been reading in Horton’s theology on The Lord’s Supper.
He explains and develops the concept of the covenant meal. Let me share with you some excerpts from this chapter of his book.
Clearly, these covenantal actions are not merely illustrations. Yet they are also not a magical transformation of earthly substances into divine substances. Rather, they are performative actions that do what they say. In and through the act of consecrating bread and wine as his body and blood, Jesus hands himself over to death as the sacrifice for the sins of those who eat and drink in faith. He offers them the “cup of salvation” because he will drink the “cup of wrath” to its dregs, a cup that he will dread in Gethsemane but will accept for us (782).
In a covenantal understanding, sacraments involve a giving of gifts from one person to another, not an exchange of substances. Its interest it not in what happens to the signs but in what happens between persons through them, not how Christ is present in the sacraments, but that he is present in saving action toward us. Grace is God’s favor, and the sacraments ratify God’s favor toward us. Their purpose is to reconcile enemies, not to elevate nature beyond itself (784).
The Heidelberg Catechism relates to us,
First, as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the lord broken for me and the cup given to me, so surely his body was offered and broken for me and his blood poured out for me on the cross . . . Second, as surely as I receive from the hand of the one who serves, and taste with my mouth the bread and the cup of the Lord, given me as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood, so surely he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood (785).
Lastly, this may be one of my favorite comments,
Each time the Word is preached and the sacraments are attached as signs and seals, we receive our own answer to Abram’s query, “How can I know that this will happen?” Since God’s presence is not always felicitous (since he also frequently comes in judgment), we need the assurance that he come to us now in peace. The focus is not on what the water, bread, and wine really are whether Christ is substantially present in them but whether through these particular actions Christ is really giving himself to us (785).
Tonight, I hope to lead folks to find the grace of God in the Lord Jesus irresistible because he drank the “cup of wrath” for us and in its place he extends to sinners a cup of grace and salvation in his blood.