Tuesday, May 31, 2005

New Blogs I Read

In addition to the usual blogs I have been visiting daily (mostly for blog fodder), I'd like to point the readers to some others that I have picked up recently--mostly because they are recent additions to the blogosphere. I will list them in order of their popular exposure:

1. PyroManiac: Phil Johnson--and be duly warned, he will correct you with immediate effect if you get this wrong; not the Phillip Johnson of creation-evolution fame, but Phil Johnson, executive director of John MacArthur's "Grace to You" radio broadcast and curator of The Spurgeon Archive--has recently decided to give us another voice of theological sanity against postmodernists, roman catholics, and sacramentalists gone wild by putting up this new blog. I'm always glad when someone taking Phil's no-nonsense approach decides to jump into the fray.

2. Triablogue: Another no-nonsense blog by Steve Hays. I don't know who Steve Hays is, and there isn't much to go on to get this information; but his blog is usually direct and clear, and he isn't afraid to take on the nonsensical ramblings of the hot-air infested theological blowhards who have much more bandwidth than common sense, insight or wisdom.

2. Pedantic Protestant. I list him last because no one knows for certain who he is--and he's not telling. But if you follow the subtle hints he provides now and then about his identity, you may finally figure it out without his help. His blog entries are precocious if sardonic, and they are filled with sarcasm and irony--which is why he's usually an enjoyable read : ). I don't always agree with his approach to things (an observation that could be leveled against me as well, I suppose), but his observations are usually on the money.

Monday, May 30, 2005

The Kansasian Captivity!

Hat-tip to Jason Engwer for this one. I was unaware of the fact that the Babylonian Captivity has been repeated in our own day. For all those who are thinking about crossing the Tiber, I have very good news. You may not need to make that trek and swim that far since the Kansas river may be much closer to you. The true pope of the Catholic Church is not in Rome--he's in Carneiro, Kansas. That's right, Pope Michael is his name, and he (presumable along with Mary) is waiting for you with open arms to come home to Rome--er, Carneiro. There are several Catholic groups who vouch for his authenticity, including Betrayed Catholics and Vatican Exile, so he must be a legitimate contender.

Now, of course, those who are faithful to the anti-pope sitting in Rome will attempt to discredit this; but that's to be expected given the great apostasy of our day. If you're looking for the true pope, you'll not want to miss out on being among the faithful who bring him back to Rome and see him sit in Peter's chair as the rightful occupant.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Through Faith They Still Speak (5/29/05)

Though his son has, sadly, taken another path, Francis Schaeffer was one of the most influential Evangelicals of the twentieth century:

"It is hard to understand how an orthodox, evangelical, Bible-believing Christian can fail to be excited. The answers in the realm of the intellect should make us overwhelmingly excited. But more than this, we are returned to a personal relationship with the God who is there. If we are unexcited Christians, we should go back and see what is wrong. We are surrounded by a generation that can find 'no one home' in the universe. If anything marks our generation, it is this. In contrast to this, as a Christian I know who I am; and I know the personal God who is there. I speak, and he hears. I am not surrounded by mere mass, nor only energy particles, but he is there. And if I have accepted Christ as my Savior, then though it will not be perfect in this life, yet moment by moment, on the basis of the finished work of Christ, this person-to-person relationship with the God who is there can have reality to me." (The God Who is There [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998], p. 190)

Embryonic Stem Cell Research and Theological Foundations

The May 29 edition of The Washington Post carries an opinion piece on embryonic stem cell research by Jerome Groopman, a professor at Harvard Medical School. It's titled "Beware of Stem Cell Theology".

The article has a lot of problems. After acknowledging some significance of religion in forming judgments about embryonic stem cell research, Groopman writes:

"But it is also foolish, and wrong, to use the founders of Judaism, Islam and Christianity as foils to support the current administration's views on pressing moral questions in medicine. It demonstrates a remarkable ignorance about the diversity of religious thought concerning when life begins, when it ends and what makes it sacred."

How does citing a religious figure or citing the Bible or some other religious document in support of your beliefs demonstrate that you're "remarkably ignorant" of the existence of different beliefs among religious people? It doesn't. Groopman is criticizing Tom DeLay for saying that Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammad were all embryos at one point. How does the fact that Jews, Christians, and Muslims disagree among themselves make it "remarkably ignorant" for Tom DeLay to mention the fact that all three of those men were embryos? DeLay was making a comment about the lives of three significant historical figures. He wasn't claiming that all professing Jews, Christians, and Muslims would agree with his view of embryonic stem cell research.

Groopman goes on:

"DeLay and others who oppose stem cell research on theological grounds might be surprised to learn that it is not Abraham but Adam whose life and circumstances are interpreted by Jewish and Muslim thinkers when they assess the morality of this science. In Genesis, God breathes into a lump of clay to form the first man, Adam. Thus, life is seen as beginning when organs, particularly the lungs, develop, since it is then that the vital spirit arrives. The Talmud states that before 40 days, what is in the uterus is akin to water, not a human being. DeLay would do well to return to the Bible, because rabbis and imams who read it as their source of inspiration would not concur that Abraham's life and Muhammad's life were defined some seven to eight days after their conception, the time when researchers take stem cells from the blastocyst."

How would the breath of God in Genesis 2:7 prove that children in the womb don't become human beings until "the lungs develop"? Why should we equate God's breath with human breath, and why should we assume that the development of all humans is comparable to Adam being created as an adult from dust?

Respiration occurs from the time of conception. The mode changes over time, but the unborn child does engage in oxygen transfer. Even if we were to accept the erroneous concept that we know that life begins with breathing, it wouldn't justify the conclusions Groopman is reaching.

He continues:

"In the Gospels Jesus does not directly speak to when the soul enters the flesh. So, certain Christian theologians have taken the words of the Prophet Jeremiah as a proof text about when life begins. 'I knew you before you were formed in the womb,' Jeremiah says, speaking in God's voice. The Vatican and several fundamentalist Protestant groups interpret this to signify that the soul is inserted at the moment of conception."

People cite that passage in Jeremiah to argue for life in the womb, but other passages are cited for life beginning at conception (Psalm 51:5, Luke 1:36, etc.). And Groopman doesn't address a single one of them.

His distinction between Jesus and Jeremiah is misleading. Jesus considered the writings of Jeremiah Divinely inspired scripture (Luke 24:25-27). He also gave His apostles authority (John 14:26, 15:27, 16:13, Acts 1:8), and the books of the New Testament are derived from that apostolic authority. You can't follow Jesus if you reject the teachings of the Old and New Testaments. To follow Jesus is to follow the Bible, and not just the red-lettered portions.

Groopman claims that "the Vatican and several fundamentalist Protestant groups" interpret the passage in Jeremiah as referring to life beginning at conception. I don't know who all the groups are who so interpret that passage. But I know that far more professing Christians think life begins at conception than those Groopman names. As I document in an article I'll be linking to at the end of this post, Christians have opposed abortion since the earliest days of church history. If "the Vatican and several fundamentalist Protestant groups" were the only ones who believed that life begins at conception today, then they would be the only ones maintaining an ancient tradition. But they aren't the only ones.

Groopman goes on:

"But those who make public policy based on theology would do well to pay attention to their own footing. Scripture can be read in many ways, and verses can be conveniently selected in the Old Testament, New Testament and Koran that condone or conflict with their point of view."

Groopman ought to support making public policy on the basis of theology, since he lives in a nation based on the theological concept that we have a Creator who has given us rights that human governments can't take away. And there are professing Jews, Christians, and Muslims who would deny that we have a Creator or deny that He's given us those rights. But the fact that some religious people disagree on such issues doesn't keep most of us, probably including Jerome Groopman, from being confident about the correctness of these theological doctrines of the Declaration of Independence. Likewise, when an anti-Semite denies that Jesus was a Jew or a Jehovah's Witness denies that Jesus is God, their professed disagreement with my interpretation of the Bible doesn't make me incapable of being confident about the correctness of my interpretation.

I refer to "professed disagreement" because I don't think that all claims of disagreement in Bible interpretation are honest. When somebody like Jerome Groopman ignores passages referring to life beginning at conception, and he suggests that such a ridiculous interpretation of Genesis 2:7 is plausible, I'm not going to grant that he has a sincere disagreement with my view of scripture. To assume that all people who cite the Bible are sincere in doing so would be absurd. All that Jerome Groopman has done is muddy the waters with a misleadingly selective discussion of a small handful of Biblical passages, accompanied by frequent references to how so many people disagree on the issue. That doesn't sound like the behavior of somebody who's approaching this subject honestly and intelligently. And some of his other comments, which I haven't addressed here, are also problematic, such as his misrepresentations of the views of the Bush administration.

For those interested in more information about how past Christians viewed abortion and more Biblical and non-Biblical evidence for life beginning at conception, I posted two messages on these subjects on the NTRM boards earlier this year:

Link 2

For more information on embryonic stem cell research, there are many online sources to consult, such as National Right to Life: Link

And in related news, a recent study has shown that abortion has continued to decline under President Bush, contrary to erroneous claims made by Democrats like John Kerry and Howard Dean: Link

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Research on the Web

Some of you may find this helpful:


Through Faith They Still Speak

I'm going to try to post a quote from a Christian of the past each day that I'm here.

John Chrysostom on God's love for us and our love for Him:

"Let us therefore be stricken with awe at this so great love of Christ. Let us be inflamed with this love-potion. Though a man be low and mean, yet if we hear that he loves us, we are above all things warmed with love towards him, and honor him exceedingly. And do we then love? and when our Master loveth us so much, we are not excited? Let us not, I beseech you, let us not be so indifferent with regard to the salvation of our souls, but let us love Him according to our power, and let us spend all upon His love, our life, our riches, our glory, everything, with delight, with joy, with alacrity, not as rendering anything to Him, but to ourselves. For such is the law of those who love. They think that they are receiving favors, when they are suffering wrong for the sake of their beloved." (Homilies on Philemon, 2, vv. 15-16)

Sources for Intelligent Design

The following comments were posted this past Sunday in an online forum:

If you want to respond to the piece [an article criticizing intelligent design], please respond to the feedback forum provided by TCS at the bottom of the article, not to me. I have given up reading emails about I.D. [intelligent design] Same applies, btw, to emails about flying saucers, Martian canals, the hollow earth, Atlantis, telepathy, dianetics, unicorns, phrenology, astrology, orgonomy, alien abductions, Bridey Murphy, the location of Noah's ark, the fate of the Marie Celeste's crew, and whether or not the bishops of the Church of England should open Joanna Southcott's box. I do not wish to know any more than I currently know about any of these topics. If you believe in one, many, or all of them, I'm fine with it, and wish you joy of your belief -- just don't try to enlist me. And please don't try to dump any of this stuff into my kids' school science curriculum.

The previous day, one of his colleagues in this forum posted a message in which he criticized ID advocates for their "magical thinking", because they want to change the definition of science in Kansas.

What forum am I referring to? An Internet Infidels web board? Perhaps an e-mail discussion list for evolutionists? Maybe a board for liberal Democrats who are critical of religious conservatives?

I'm referring to National Review Online (NRO). The quote at the beginning of this post is from NRO's John Derbyshire, and his colleague is NRO's Andrew Stuttaford. Derbyshire's comments can be found here, and Stuttaford's are here. NRO is one of the most popular conservative sites on the web. It's affiliated with the magazine popularized by William F. Buckley, and some of the best-known conservatives in America contribute to it. The web site is widely read, including by people who work in the government, and it influences much of the conservative media.

After Derbyshire and Stuttaford posted their comments in NRO's The Corner, there was no response posted by any of their colleagues. Derbyshire has made comments critical of ID in the past (refuted here), and every time he's done so I've seen little or no criticism from his colleagues.

Just as there are different types of creationists, there are different types of evolutionists. (And not all critics of evolution are creationists.) John Derbyshire and Andrew Stuttaford are no Richard Dawkins. National Review produces a lot of good material, and Derbyshire and Stuttaford are right on many issues. But that makes their comments on ID, with little or no opposition from their conservative colleagues, even more potentially damaging. Many conservatives who would tend to be sympathetic to ID will be led away from it by what they read at NRO.

What's wrong with these criticisms of ID, whether they come from a Derbyshire or a Dawkins? John Derbyshire's comments were written in response to an article at Tech Central Station by Robert McHenry. Derbyshire called it a "nice piece", quoted from it, then made the comments about ID that I cited at the beginning of this post. But instead of calling it a "nice piece", Derbyshire ought to have called it an "error-filled piece". McHenry's article gives a series of poorly argued common objections to ID that have already been answered many times. The article wasn't even up for a single day before Jonathan Witt of The Discovery Institute had posted a refutation of it. While Derbyshire compares ID advocates to people who believe in unicorns and a hollow earth, he's apparently so ignorant of ID that he doesn't understand some of its most basic premises.

Derbyshire's colleague at NRO, Andrew Stuttaford, accused ID advocates in Kansas of "magical thinking" for wanting to change the definition of science. He was relying on a misleading Associated Press article in reaching that conclusion. As Jonathan Witt explains, ID advocates do want to change the definition of science in Kansas, but that's because Kansas' definition is out of sync with how science is defined in the rest of the nation. If the ID advocates in Kansas are using "magical thinking", then so is the rest of the country. And if Stuttaford thinks that appealing to an intelligent agent is unacceptable "magical thinking" in biology and other fields of science related to evolution, then he'll have to apply the same criticism to other scientific fields that attempt to detect the work of intelligence, such as archeology and SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence).

Arguing that science only studies nature, and that God isn't part of nature, is an insufficient response, since ID is about detecting intelligent design, not detecting God. I agree with those who think that God is the best explanation for the intelligent design we see in the universe, but whether there's a designer and who that designer is are two different issues. There are ID advocates who are agnostics, Buddhists, or non-Christian or non-theist in some other manner. We can detect intelligent design. We do it in other fields of science. To refuse to apply the same reasoning in a field such as biology, because we think that God might be the best explanation of who the designer is, doesn't make sense.

In addition to the negative comments about ID being made by conservatives like John Derbyshire and Andrew Stuttaford, the usual suspects are at work. Richard Dawkins recently wrote an absurd piece for The Times of London, which carries the following misleading subtitle (probably not written by Dawkins):

"As the Religious Right tries to ban the teaching of evolution in Kansas, Richard Dawkins speaks up for scientific logic"

The Times refers to an attempt to "ban" the teaching of evolution in Kansas. No ban is on the table, though. Evolution will continue to be taught. What's being proposed is that more of the weaknesses of the theory be taught, in addition to teaching about the alleged evidence for it.

The rest of the article is typical Dawkins. Though Dawkins has spent years in correspondence with William Dembski, one of the leading proponents of ID, he continues to misrepresent the position. In his Times article, Dawkins approvingly cites a book by Ian Plimer titled Telling Lies for God. It's about dishonesty among creationists. Dawkins' inaccuracies in describing ID and what's happening in Kansas make one wonder whether Dawkins might be telling some lies of his own.

Two scientists wrote letters to The Times explaining some of Dawkins' errors. Those letters can be read here.

On a recent edition of ABC's "Nightline", William Dembski and the evolutionary philosopher Michael Ruse agreed that ID is likely to gain ground in the public school system in the coming years. Dembski recently published part of a letter he received from a biologist commenting that ID seems to be well on its way to winning the scientific battle with evolution. Judging from recent public appearances by evolution's defenders, that assessment seems accurate. One need look no further than Eugenie Scott's recent disastrous appearance on the FOX News Channel, for example. She not only defined "evolution" in a way that a young earth creationist could accept, but also suggested that an inability to explain the origin of life and the Cambrian Explosion are just minor problems for evolution.

Even many conservative sources who are normally trustworthy on other issues are on the wrong side of this one, or they're largely ignorant of it or don't give it much attention. If you want to know what ID advocates believe and what evidence they cite, I would suggest going directly to the source:







For example, the false claim that we can detect intelligent design only if the intelligent agent is a human is addressed here. The false (and largely irrelevant) claim that intelligent design isn't published in peer-reviewed science journals is refuted here. Criticisms like these have been answered for years, but a lot of the media, including some segments of the conservative media, aren't listening much yet. They'll have to, eventually. Some details will change, but the general scientific evidence supporting intelligent design won't go away, and neither will the general scientific evidence against evolution.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Confusio Sanctorum

I will be responding next week to Paul Owen's rather confused understanding of justification and baptism in the NT posted here.

In the meantime, while I won't respond to it at length, it think it is humorous to point out the confusion of another owner of that blog in his response to a recent blog article by Doug Wilson (which, a couple of days ago, I praised here). I think it is rather astounding that when Doug Wilson speaks of . . .

"faithful pastors" who must "fight" against "unfaithful [Roman Catholic] teachers" who lead "lying ministries" that must be "disrupted"; and that those faithful pastors are charged with warning the church against these men lest they be "carried about by every contradictory wind of doctrine to blow out of the magisterium"; and that "true unity" has its basis in "truth" and is "not advanced by an irenicism that tolerates the 'sleight of men'"; and that a shepherd that does anything less is a "shepherd who hates his own sheep"; and that a true shepherd of God "is one who fights the wolves"; and that "the wolves in sheeps’ clothing" (i.e., the "reformed catholic" crowd itself!) militate against this tendency on the part of true shepherds, and "they always raise a great cry—unity!"; and that when a true shepherd of God deals with this threat, he does not speak of "wolves abstractly considered," but instead "name names"; and that it is absolute "treachery to the cause of true unity to refuse to point out obvious departures from the faith—regardless of the honored position of the one departing"; and then cites Galatians 1:8-10 to show the biblical basis for it; asserts that a "faithful minister" must call the Roman Catholic error "deception"; concludes that true pastors are "to labor to this end"; they they must go by what the Word says, and not by what we see"; that they must "necessarily fight false teachers who want to introduce their birth defects into the process"; and that this approach alone represents "standing for the truth in love" and "advancing the cause of unity in truth" . . .

. . . the owner of "Confusio Sanctorum" responds by noting . . .

How "great a question" this is, and "especially since Wilson raises it in the context of the Protestant relationship to Roman Catholicism"; and that the article "is certainly very helpful"; and how he "cannot stress enough [his] agreement with Wilson’s biblical point"; and how Wilsons "exposition on Ephesians" is right on the mark (while not bothering to comment on Wilson's exposition of Galatians); and how much he "agrees with Wilson" that "faithful pastors must name those whom they consider to be wolves"; and that "Wilson is correct to say that Protestant pastors need to warn their flocks about the problems of Rome"--quickly qualifying that statement, of course, with the disclaimer that "Roman Catholic readers of this blog should not take much offense at my agreement with Wilson on the point of pastors warning their flocks about wolves" (even though Wilson himself gave no such qualification--indeed, it is apparent he simply isn't concerned whether the "wolves" might be offended at what he writes); and that Wilson's words are "greatly appreciated," and "quite helpful" . . .

But when I say the same things Wilson has said (indeed, at times not even as strongly as Wilson has stated it), I'm a "GNOSTIC" who, due to his "SLAVERY TO THE ENLIGHTENMENT" believes in "THE MYTH OF PURE OBJECTIVE TRUTH!!!!!!" and who "wants to FLEE FROM THE MATERIAL WORLD!!!!" while judging the souls of all those who are not "REALLY, REALLY REGENERATE!!!!" [caps in the original].

Go figure.

What's even more humorous is that the blog owner spins Wilson's words in such a way that at the end of the day (surprise!) Wilson's view actually falls right in line with the view of the blog owner himself. Here is what he concludes:

"It is simply not sufficient, nor is it fair, for us to learn to talk like Luther and Calvin on the days when they were most distressed about 'Romish idolatry' or 'Romanist knaves' trying to 'deceive' others and 'overthrow faith' with 'superstitions', and so forth, and leave it at that. (And in fact, in today’s climate, talking like Luther and Calvin might sometimes be more unhelpful than helpful–we should not forget that Luther’s most vicious rants have a more than equally vicious counterpart in those of Cochlaeus). This is not the 16th century, and if after 350 years we have still not learned anything from the open fratricide of the era of the Wars of Religion then we are to be deeply pitied."

These words are in praise of Wilson's article and are stated as though this is what Wilson really said.

Hogwash! Wilson specifically called these Roman teachers "deceivers" and "liars" and "wolves." How could he possibly have missed that?

Read Wilson's article for yourself; and then read the spin from "Confusio Sanctorum," and you'll see that the latter is simply a very sad attempt at trying to "save face" (and dignity, I suppose) over what are real contradictions between his own view and that of his much more biblically reasoned mentor.

Concluding Thoughts to the Lord's Supper Series

This series has set out to show some oft-neglected theological aspect of the Lord's Supper that held significance for the early church. Most of what we know about these things comes from the pen of Paul who defines the Lord’s Supper in a number of very specific ways. At the very outset, the Supper must enjoy the consensual unity of its participants, without which it ceases to be the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:17-22). Yet consensual unity is not enough. The Supper must also visibly express that unity through the singularity of the bread and cup (1 Cor 10:16-17). When this visible expression is present, we find that the singularity of the bread and cup actually causes bodily unity. This unity aspect prevails in the earliest manifestation of the church and finds support in a number of patristic sources as well.

Perhaps the most significant and theologically loaded aspect of the Lord’s Supper is the fact that the Supper was originally a full meal. Indeed, what Paul refers to when he coins the title “Lord’s Supper” is the meal, of which the bread and wine are prominent components, and apart from which the Lord’s Supper cannot properly be called a “supper.” The separation of the meal from the bread and wine occurred sometime after the apostolic age and, contrary to popular belief, was quite unintended by Paul. Whatever may have been the relationship between the bread and wine and the meal in a later age, they belonged together in the New Testament church. This meal, also known as the Agape, is alluded to by both Jude and Peter, and was widely practiced by the early post-apostolic church. The fact that this meal received no fewer than two specialized names (Lord's Supper; Agape) argues strongly for its apostolic endorsement. These two names, in addition to other phrases assigned to the Supper (such as “breaking bread”), show the universal acceptance of the meal in the early church, so that it will not do to postulate that the meal-aspect of the Supper was characteristic of Paul's churches only.

The Supper held a wide range of purposes. First, it served as an expression of concern for the poor in the believing community ("those who have nothing," 1 Cor 11:22). In all likelihood, the Supper was a potluck of sorts provided by the rich to demonstrate their love to those less fortunate. It is probably this practice that resulted in the adoption of the title Agape ("love feast"). A second dimension of the Supper is that it compelled the Christian community to live out the theology of equality of status in Christ (by which I certainly do not mean equality of roles), violating the Hellenistic societal norm to hold homogenous banquets where class distinctions were acutely recognized. Closely related to this, the Supper also erased ethnic divisions between Jew and Gentile, forcing the Jewish Christians to regard as “clean” what God himself has declared clean (Acts 10:1-13; cf. Gal 2:11-13).

Perhaps the most important, yet oft-missed aspect of the Supper is its eschatological focus. The Lord’s Supper prefigures the Messianic Banquet and acts as a means to petition Messiah to come again. The Supper is to be repeated on a regular basis in order to sound this petition and to give the participants the opportunity to proclaim with one voice, Maranatha! This is not far different from the practice of Israel during the hallel of the Passover Haggadah to petition God to send the Messiah the first time. This eschatological focus has direct implications for the form, frequency, and centrality of the Supper. If the Supper is to prefigure the Messianic Banquet, then the Supper itself must have the form of an actual meal. Moreover, if the focus of the Supper is to sound a plea for the parousia, then it is natural to suppose that the church practiced it whenever it met together. As it turns out, the regular gathering of the church in the NT is on a weekly basis, and on the first day of the week. We also find that the very purpose of the regular meeting of the church was to partake of the Supper, entailing that the Supper, too, was practiced on a weekly basis. This is not surprising given that both the "Lord’s Supper" and the "Lord’s Day" have very similar titles, perhaps even by design.

Finally, we found that the physical setting of the church played a significant role in the early practice of the Lord’s Supper. The house church was conducive to the kind of intimate table fellowship demanded by the Supper. Further, this setting helps to answer the question of just who is invited to partake of the Supper. Since the church meeting itself was centered on the Supper (likely occupying the entire length of the meeting), and since we know that in at least some cases unbelievers joined themselves to the early believers for this occasion (1 Cor 14:23-25), it follows that unbelievers also partook of the Supper with the church, and that the church allowed it.

Because this table setting is absent in most evangelical churches today, some of the intended theology of the Supper is lost as well. What is needed is not more adaptation of the Supper to accommodate our modern setting; what is needed is more of a willingness to conform our setting to accommodate the Lord’s Supper as revealed in the New Testament. Until we do, much of the theology of the Supper will remain lost to us—and with it, its benefits to the church.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Weekend Edition of Real Clear Theology

As many of you have no doubt observed, I don't do much blogging on the weekend. Rather than let that time pass by, I thought I'd ask ask Jason Engwer to fill in that slot with his own contributions. Jason has graciously accepted and will be sitting in for me starting this weekend, covering both Saturday and Sunday. Jason's writings are always thought-provoking and comment-inspiring, and I encourage all readers to interact with him through the "comments" section of this blog.

Some Theological Ramifications to Our Lord's Supper Series (Part 2)

One final ramification that needs to be addressed here is just who is allowed at the Supper. Believers only? Believers and their immediate family? Anyone who wants to partake? Is the Lord’s Supper to be “protected” from unbelievers?

The New Testament setting of the Supper as a full meal held in the homes of its members holds significance for just who is allowed at the Supper. Many evangelical churches today actively “protect” the Supper; that is to say, in the moments preceding the Supper they make it a point to invite to the Supper only those who have exercised personal faith in Christ. Churches that practice this “protection” are usually careful to point out (based on 1 Corinthians 11) that one who eats of the Supper in an unworthy manner may very well eat and drink judgment to himself. Hence, no unbeliever or unregenerate child (even of a believer) may partake of the bread and cup.

But there are at least two observations that militate against this view. First, as we noted in an earlier entry to this series, the “unworthy manner” of 1 Cor 11:27-32 refers not to the spiritual state of the eater, but to the manner in which he eats the Supper. In the case of the Corinthians, the culprits who were sick and dying were not so judged due to their inward state (however unworthy that state may have been), but rather due to their conspiring to exclude the poor from the Supper while they themselves partook of it sumptuously—that is to say, they were judged for the manner in which they conducted the Supper.

Second, the New Testament setting of the Lord’s Supper itself would seem to preclude anything like a “protected” Supper. The first-century church did not meet in specially designed public buildings call “churches.” They met together—and ate together—primarily in homes. Moreover, the Lord’s Supper was not for them some incidental activity pushed back to the final ten minutes of the meeting once per quarter. It was absolutely central to the church meeting every Lord’s Day, and indeed, it was the very focus of the meeting. Bear in mind that the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament was a full meal, and participation in that meal was the very purpose for meeting together in the first place. In fact, the entire meeting was very likely conducted while at table, and the eating likely lasted throughout the entire meeting. Hence, part of the purpose of the Supper was to share a meal together, especially to provide for (in the words of Paul) "those who have nothing."

If, then, during those days “some unbeliever walk[ed] in” per Paul’s scenario in 1 Cor 14:23-25, or if some unbelieving spouse decided to accompany a believing spouse to the meeting—and brought their young children along as well—imagine the awkwardness of the church as they partook of a meal together around a table and instructed the unbelievers and children to sit at the table with them but refrain from joining in the meal; the members of the church dine sumptuously, while their children and spouses look on with hunger. Such a scenario is absurd on its face, particularly in light of Paul’s teaching that the children and unbelieving spouse of a believer are “sanctified,” “clean,” and “holy” by virtue of the believing spouse (1 Cor 7:14). Whatever the direct application is of that principle, it seems fair to apply it to this case as well.

The Lord’s Supper needs no protection. No one was denied the Supper in the context of the New Testament church meeting—except, of course, in the case of the Corinthians who were being judged for denying the Supper to some. Indeed, Jesus Himself set a precedent for us in his treatment of Judas. Jesus knew full well that it would be Judas who would betray him, and expressly identifies him as “a devil” (John 6:70-71), “the one doomed to destruction,” who is “unclean,” not “chosen,” and who would betray Him (John 13:10, 18, 21). Yet, knowing all this ahead of time, Jesus still dipped the bread in the bowl and gave it to Judas, and (although inconclusive) Judas likely partook of the Supper (Matt 26:25-29; Mark 14:17-24).

The notion that the Lord's Supper is to be "protected" is based on a faulty reading and misapplication of the "self examination" passage in 1 Cor 11:27-32, a passage we've already dealt with at length in an earlier entry to this series. Yet, even if one wants to maintain the popular reading of this passage, the issue of "protection" is still moot since any potential offender still "eats and drinks judgment" only "to himself," and not to anyone else. In other words, if the local church conducting the Supper is itself not conducting it in an "unworthy manner," then the Supper is legitimately the Supper, and their hands are clean even if one among them ends up eating and drinking judgment to himself. The command is for the man to examine himself, not for the church to withhold the Supper from him.

Tomorrow’s blog: the conclusion to this series

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

On "Catholicity" and "Unity"

Doug Wilson has posted some lucid thoughts about what "Christian unity" is and is not, much of which at once mirror my own thoughts in Evangelical Answers, and contradict the thoughts of others who view Wilson a mentor of sorts. I should point out here that while I heartily agree with Wilson's cogent thoughts on unity, faithful pastors and false teachers (which are very well stated), I do not thereby concur with his thoughts (found further down in the article) on "baptismal succession" or postmillennialism.

Some Theological Ramifications to Our Lord's Supper Series (Part 1)

As we wind down this series, I think it might be beneficial to connect some of the dots between the apostolic practice of the Supper and the underlying theology of the Supper, and then to look at some of the ramifications for the church today.

Lord's Supper as Banquet
The Lord’s Supper, as we have seen, looks forward to the coming Messianic Banquet in the kingdom. In fact, it anticipates and prefigures that banquet and is therefore intended to foreshadow it. In that sense the Lord’s Supper epitomizes the biblical pattern of "promise and fulfilment"—the already and the not yet. The most obvious ramification of this principle is that the Lord’s Supper itself should take the form of a banquet. The biblical imagery associated with the eschatological banquet is one of celebration and abundance of food (Isa 25:6-8; Matt 22:4; Luke 15:22-32; Rev 19:9); and indeed, this is just what we find in the apostolic practice of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:46). As we have already shown in a previous entry, the word deipnon in every instance in the New Testament refers to nothing less than a full meal—and arguably always refers to a banquet or feast. Nor will it do to view the Lord’s Supper as a mere symbolic meal, for what Paul calls “the Lord’s Supper” in 1 Cor 11:20 is not the bread and cup per se, but the full-blown meal around which the bread and cup are central.

In spite of this emphasis in the New Testament, some reject the notion that the Lord’s Supper must take the form of a full meal on the basis that the while the Supper anticipates the messianic banquet at the end of the age, it is not itself that banquet. This is true, but the reason it anticipates the banquet is precisely because it prefigures it. A symbolic meal can prefigure the banquet only with difficulty. It would not be too far wrong to say that only a banquet can meaningfully prefigure a banquet. This may be compared to other biblical promise/fulfillment concepts. The sacrificial death of Christ was prefigured by a real death, not a symbolic one. The eternal rest into which we enter when we come to Christ was foreshadowed by a real sabbath rest (Heb 4:1-11). And the evangelical church at large has not done justice to the theological implications of the fact that, historically, the Lord’s Supper was in fact a real meal.

One may still question whether this association of a meal with the bread and cup is a valid one. Could it not be argued, for instance, that a meal was the proper expression of community for the social setting of the first-century world, but that other expressions of community may be more appropriate for social settings of different times and places? It must be conceded up front that this is indeed possible. On the other hand, these kinds of questions are usually asked not by those who are strongly committed to the authority of Scripture, but by those who see cultural relativity as an overarching hermeneutical guide when approaching the Scriptures about any issue. There are many difficulties with viewing it this way. If this view is adopted, one must ask larger questions about biblical imagery in general. Is there really going to be a Messianic Banquet at the end of the age, or is the idea of a banquet merely an illustrative device designed to convey festive joy in the kingdom? (If indeed “kingdom” itself is not merely the first-century expression of God’s reign—perhaps a more appropriate term might be used in non-monarchical societies). Is the culture of the church at this point based on the surrounding culture, or is it based on eschatological reality? If in fact there is going to be a Messianic Banquet at the end of the age, and if that banquet (as we have seen) is rooted in eschatological reality, then we must see the biblical imagery of a banquet as independent of Hellenistic society. But if this is the case, then it is difficult to imagine how one can argue that the meal-aspect of the Lord’s Supper is culturally relative. On the contrary, it seems rather that the meal-aspect of the Lord’s Supper, insofar as it prefigures the Messianic Banquet, is as timeless as the Banquet itself.

The Primary Focus of the Lord’s Supper
The eschatological focus of the Lord’s Supper in the early Christian community can be seen in Acts 2:46 which speaks of the “gladness” (“messianic joy”) with which the early Christians partook of their meals together. This eschatological element of the Lord’s Supper has been wholly excluded from the practice of the supper in modern evangelical churches, who instead have nearly institutionalized solemnity as the proper mood for the Supper. This current focus has acted to minimize the church’s anticipation of the messianic banquet at the second coming of the Lord. This is detrimental to both the church and the theology of the Lord’s Supper. It is axiomatic that once the church abandons the outward expression of a New Testament practice the underlying theology of that practice is also abandoned. This is certainly the case with the Supper. Since anything resembling the eschatological banquet is rarely found in the context of the Supper within the modern church, so too the accompanying eschatological joy is rarely found. Instead, the mood resembles much more that of a funeral. Rather than the early-church practice of sounding a plea for the parousia in an attempt to “speed his coming” (2 Pet 3:12), most churches today focus on the historical reality of Christ’s death and the recalling of personal sin in the lives of the recipients. The eschatological element, it seems, is missing entirely; and the mood that is so prevalent in the evangelical practice of the Supper is badly in need of reform.

Part 2 continued in tomorrow's blog.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion that the Lord's Supper Would Become "Too Common" if Celebrated More Often than Once a Month? (Part 2)

In our last blog we looked at Acts 20:7 and saw that the purpose of the church gathering together in the New Testament was to partake of the Lord's Supper. There we saw the first instance of the purpose clause "we came together to eat." But Acts 20:7 is not the only passage in the New Testament that tells us this.

In 1 Cor 11:17, Paul introduces his discussion about the Lord’s Supper. He begins by chiding the Corinthians because their “meetings” do more harm than good. That Paul has in mind the normal, regular meetings of the church is clear from v. 18 where he speaks of the divisions that prevail when they “come together as a church.” In v. 20 Paul picks up on that same idea, but this time connects it with the Lord’s Supper: “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat.” Paul’s chiding of the Corinthians here implies that when they came together it should have been to eat the Lord’s Supper. In their case, it was not the Lord’s Supper they ate because they were proceeding with it without waiting for the poor to arrive. What is most significant here is that the telic infinitive is again used. The church was to come together kuriakon deipnon phagein—“in order to eat the Lord’s Supper.”

This purpose clause occurs once more at the end of this chapter, again showing that the purpose of the church meeting is to partake of the Lord’s Supper: “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat (phagein), wait for each other” (11:33). This last instance of the infinitive to eat is perhaps even stronger than the other two, for here the telic infinitive is bolstered by the inclusion of the word eis, removing any ambiguity as to the purpose of the meeting: synerchomenoi eis to phagein, which is best translated “when you come together for the purpose of eating.”

Interestingly, these three passages (Luke 20:7; 1 Cor 11:20, 33) are the only places in the entire New Testament that use a purpose clause in relation to the meeting of the church. Whatever other purpose the church may have had for coming together (worship, mutual edification, etc.), no purpose clause is ever used for any activity except the Lord’s Supper. This point is significant because it inextricably links the Lord’s Supper with the meeting of the church. One cannot speak about the frequency of observing of the Lord’s Supper without also speaking of the frequency of the church meeting itself. Put another way, once we have discovered that the purpose of the church meeting in the New Testament is to partake of the Lord’s Supper, then in order to determine the frequency of the Supper we need only determine the frequency of the church meeting. As I. Howard Marshall notes: “In line with what appears to have been the practice of the early church in the New Testament the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated frequently in the church, and there is good reason for doing so on each Lord’s Day” (Last Supper and Lord’s Supper, 155).

Indeed, that reason may very well be bound up in the similarity of titles for both the Supper and the Day. As we have already seen in a previous entry to this series, the church adopted the first day of the week as the regular day of meeting for the church, even assigning it a specialized title—the “Lord’s Day,” likely due to its association with the resurrection of Christ and his subsequent appearances to the disciples, as well as to the belief of the early church that the eschaton and the general resurrection would likewise occur on that day. Whatever the reason for the title, it remains clear that the word kuriakon (in kuriakon hemera, “the Lord’s Day,” Rev 1:10) is found in only one other place (1 Cor 11:20) where it is used in the title “the Lord’s Supper” (kuriakon deipnon). It may very well be the case that the reason the same word is used for both the Supper and the Day—and never in any other context in the New Testament—is precisely because the Supper and the Day are inextricably linked to each other. This seems to be the assumption of the Didache, a very early Christian instruction book: “And on the Lord's own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks” (14:1).

The Lord’s Day is so called because it is the day that the Lord’s Supper—the precursor to the Messianic Banquet—is enjoyed. Conversely, the Lord’s Supper is so called because it is celebrated on the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day commemorates the resurrection of Christ, whose resurrection guarantees the promise of the eschatological resurrection. The Lord’s Supper likewise anticipates the second coming and offers a plea toward that end. The Lord’s Day is the day the church comes together to petition Christ to return; the Lord’s Supper is the means to that petition. As Wainwright notes: “[The] link between the day and the meal is already made in the New Testament and is of importance for the eschatological content and bearing of the [Supper]” (Eucharist and Eschatology, 75). In light of this emphasis on the connection between the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Supper—in the practice of both the New Testament church and the post-apostolic church—evangelical churches must begin to rethink the true purpose for meeting together as a church, and the frequency with which they partake of the Supper.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion that the Lord's Supper Would Become "Too Common" if Celebrated More Often than Once a Month? (Part 1)

It is a common practice in evangelical churches today to hold the Lord's Supper once per quarter, or at the very most, once per month. The rationale for this frequency (truly, infrequency according to New Testament standards) goes something like this: "If we partake of the Lord's Supper too often, then it will become too common. And since we wouldn't want the Supper to become too common, we should limit the participation of the Supper to once a quarter." As noble as this rationale at first sounds, it stands in contradiction to the mindset of the early church in its practice of the Supper.

The Intended Frequency and Centrality of the Lord’s Supper
Since the primary focus of the Lord’s Supper is an eschatological plea for the parousia (the coming of Christ), one might gather that its practice should be frequent. After all, if it is true that our Lord left his church with the means to remind him to bring his covenant promises to fulfillment then it would seem that those who “love his appearing” (2 Tim 4:8) would want to take advantage of this means of reminding him as often as possible. Does the New Testament give us any indication as to the frequency with which the Lord’s Supper was—or, is to be—practiced?

Some have looked to Paul’s words in 1 Cor 11:25 for the answer: “do this, as often as (hosakis) you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Many interpreters see in this phrase a command of sorts to partake of the Lord’s Supper often. But this is to go beyond Paul’s intent. The command is in the words touto poieite (“do this [into my remembrance]”), and not in hosakis ean pinēte (“as often as you drink”). Put another way, there is no injunction to “do this often” here, nor in Luke, nor anywhere else in the New Testament. The most that can be gleaned from these words is that Paul assumed there would be regular repetition of the Lord’s Supper. Just how frequent this repetition was or should be is not told us here.

But to ask whether there is an injunction that shows the frequency of the Lord’s Supper is perhaps to ask the wrong question. It seems evident that the early church partook of the Lord’s Supper on either a daily basis or a weekly basis. Luke records of the church: “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” (Acts 2:46). This verse traditionally has been understood to mean that the early church partook of the Lord’s Supper on a daily basis, at least at the beginning and at least in Jerusalem. There is an alternative way of taking this verse, however, according to which “daily” is not seen as applying to the verse as a whole but only to “meeting in the temple.” Indeed, the Greek woodenly reads:

According to day, they were continuing with one mind in the temple.”

According to house, breaking bread they were taking their meals with gladness and sincerity of heart.”

The dual use of the word kata (“according to”) acts to coordinate the two parts of this verse, making it likely that “daily” (“according to day”) applies only to the first part of the verse and not the second. We must therefore look elsewhere to ascertain how frequently the early church partook of the Supper.

Perhaps the best place to look is Acts 20:7: “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.” Several observations can be made about this passage. First, Luke likely intends to record more than mere historical narrative here. While it is true that Luke is recording the history of the church, he certainly does not include all the church did. Instead, he is selective about what he records, including only those events that would best meet his theological need of instructing the early churches in the apostolic teaching. He makes a point to mention that it was on the “first day of the week” that they came together and that the activity included “breaking bread.” It is not so much the mere mention of this early-church practice that is significant here; rather, it is the manner in which it is presented. True, Luke mentions the practice only once; but his one mention betrays an assumption that this was an ongoing practice.

The Greek reads this way: “On the first day of the week, our having assembled to break bread, Paul began to lead a discussion with them.” Luke’s point here is not simply that the church met together, and incidentally this week it happened to be on Sunday. Rather, Luke’s statement is more accurately rendered as, “On the first day of the week, when [as normal] we assembled.” More to the point, Luke does not tell us merely that the normal practice of the church is to meet on the first day of the week; he also tells us the purpose of that meeting—“to break bread” (klasai arton). The infinitive here is telic and is more accurately rendered, “in order to break bread.” In other words, Luke is here telling us that the very purpose of the church meeting is to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Since that is the purpose of the meeting, it follows that the Supper would be an integral part of the meeting any time the church gathered as a church. That expresses both the centrality and the frequency of the Supper in unequivocal terms.

This is not the only instance in the New Testament that tells us the purpose for the church gathering together. Tomorrow we will examine another passage that states the same thing.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

ABC's The Resurrection

Having arrived home late in the afternoon on Friday, after having been on the road for a week, I retired early to catch up on some long-lost sleep. It wasn't until my wife reminded me of it this morning that I realized I had missed ABC's special on the resurrection. My wife filled me in on the details, and said she thought the evidence was presented in a surprisingly fair way given the media. She expressed reservations about the evidence the special didn't present (medical, legal, etc.), and the equal weight afforded to the usual untenable views held by liberal scholars (mass hallucinations, spiritual resurrection, etc.). But she thought the program ended on a favorable note and that the evidence of the missing body is inexplicable apart from the resurrection.

Ray Pritchard seems to share a good part of that sentiment and has given a favorable review of it on his blog. Other reviews, such as Jason Engwer's review (which is well worth reading), are much more cautious. Not having seen the program myself, I can't weigh in as I might like. All are agreed, however, that Elizabeth Vargas has proven to be a much more trustworthy anchor for this kind of special than her colleague Peter Jennings; and for that we can all be thankful.

Added: Notable Series

If you scroll down this blog on the right hand side--under my profile, previous posts, and archive--you will find I've added a "Notable Series" section. That section will house all the links to the extended series I have written on any given topic, and is there for the convenience and quick reference of the reader.

Currently my recent series on the Lord's Supper (which is still growing) is there. Over the next week or so I will be digging up the links to past series and placing them there as well.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

More Miscellanies

Limited time and internet access today and tomorrow will result in blog neglect until at least the weekend. I will resume my series on the Lord's Supper next week. In the meantime . . .

I was watching a special on NBC (?) last night which interviewed some of the now-grown-up children who claim to have seem Mary at Medjugorje. One of the "visionaries" now resides part-time in the U.S., and he claims Mary appears to him daily promptly at 6:40 pm. Another claims that when she saw Mary, she had blue eyes. Imagine that. A semite with blue eyes. It didn't contribute much to the credibility of the woman that she has blue eyes as well (too much exposure to the Caspar Milquetoast pictures of Jesus and Mary can have an impact on the hoi polloi, I suppose). Oh well; maybe blue eyes are part of the glorified body, and Hitler was right after all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord's Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 6)

As we saw in our previous installment of this series, one of the main reasons evangelical churches treat the Lord’s Supper as a solemn event is its supposed focus as a memorial of Christ’s death. We looked at the evidence against that view from the Scriptures themselves as well as from the testimony of the early church. The other reason for the solemn mood at the Lord’s Supper comes from an idiosyncratic reading of 1 Cor 11:27-32:

"Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world."

According to the standard reading of this passage, each participant of the Lord’s Supper should be engaged in introspective contemplation before and during the Supper lest he eat the Supper in an “unworthy manner” and thereby “be judged” for failing to “judge the body rightly.” This involves confession of any residual sin, quiet examination of the heart, and somber reflection on the sobriety of the event. Consequently, it seems to make good sense that the mood of the church during this event would mirror that of a wake.

Yet, as we have seen time and again, that kind of mood flies in the face of what we know about the mood of the Supper from Acts 2:46: “Breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.” So then, what can 1 Cor 11:27-32 mean?

As we noted in an earlier entry to this series, the problem at Corinth was that the “haves” were deviously arranging to come together for the Supper at a time when the “have nots” (likely due to employment constraints) could not join them. By the time the poor were finally able to arrive, there was close to nothing left for them to eat. As a result, “one is hungry and another is drunk” (11:21). To engage in such behavior was tantamount to “despising the church of God and shaming those who have nothing” (v. 22). Paul’s corrective is to restore order to the Supper by establishing the received tradition of the Supper (vv. 23-26) and then by commenting on the theological implications of that tradition (vv. 27-32).

It is in that context that Paul states: “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (v. 27). The very first thing to note here is that the Greek word translated “worthy manner” (a very good translation of the word, by the way) is literally “worthily.” This refers to the manner of eating not the state of the eater. In other words, Paul is not saying one comes under judgment for eating the Supper while in an unworthy state. He’s saying rather that one comes under judgment for eating the Supper in an unworthy way; in context, by illegitimately excluding the poor from the Supper—who were, after all, part of the “body” of Christ represented by the “one loaf” (1 Cor 10:16-17). In the words of 11:29, such a person “does not judge the body rightly”; that is to say, he judges the "have nots" in the body of Christ as unimportant. Although the NIV’s “body of the Lord” is without warrant in the Greek text, I’m perfectly willing to concede that Paul may have double entendre in mind with the word “body” (soma) inasmuch as both the bread and the church are referred to as the “body” of Christ in this letter.

The point here is that no one in Corinth died for eating the Supper without first confessing residual sin. No one died for eating the Supper in an unworthy state. Indeed, lest there be any question in the mind of the reader concerning his state of worthiness at the Supper, let me see if I can put that to rest once and for all. You’re NOT worthy to partake of the Supper. I’m not worthy to partake of the Supper. No one is worthy to partake of the Supper. Thank God that Christ has called us to the Supper and accepted us in spite of our unworthy state.

The reason the Corinthians were dying was because they were excluding part of the body of Christ (the poor) from partaking of the body of Christ (the bread) for illegitimate reasons (Peter and the Jews were guilty of a similar offense when they excluded the Gentiles from table fellowship in Galatia, thereby failing to be “straightforward with the truth of the gospel,” Gal 2:11-13). That was the “unworthy manner” by which they partook of the Supper, and for which they were “eating and drinking judgment” to themselves. It had nothing to do with a lack of self-introspection (though, that in itself is not a bad thing). It had nothing to do with the failure to confess residual sin (though, no Christian should ever harbor unconfessed sin, at the Lord’s Supper or elsewhere). It had nothing to do with a lack of personal worthiness at the Table (no one is worthy to partake of the Supper in any case).

Paul’s command that a man “examine himself” when partaking of the Supper is intended to prevent the church from excluding members of Christ’s body from partaking of Christ’s body. It was never meant to eradicate the inherent joy of the Supper as recorded in Acts 2:46. Might there be other applications as well? Of course. But no application of this principle should be construed in such a way as to replace the eschatological “gladness” that prevailed at the Supper in the early church.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Miscellaneous Ramblings

. . . at least until I get caught up with things. I'm in the road this week and didn't expect to have the limited internet connectivity I currently have. I'll try to post the next in the Lord's Supper series tomorrow--after I've had time to write it :)

In the meantime, keep your eye out for the TV special on the Resurrection (I believe on ABC, correct me if I'm wrong) this coming Friday. It will no doubt be littered with the usual skeptical views outweighing the biblical, logical, and historically sound view. And it is sure to be more aggravating than informative. But I'll probably end up watching it anyway.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Saving Some Time

I was going to comment on Paul Owen's thinly veiled condescending article, "Some Thoughts on Baptists," but thought I would pass since Steve Hays has done a fine job of it already. The fact that a Presbyterian like Owen can openly state he would rather be part of the Roman Catholic church than a Baptist church not only flies in the face of the sensibilities of most conservative Presbyterians but in fact says much more about Owen than it does about the choices he proffers.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord's Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 5)

Maranatha and the Lord’s Supper
At the end of his first letter to the Corinthians (16:22), Paul makes the somewhat disjointed exclamation, maranatha! (NASB), “Come, O Lord!” (NIV), a statement that parallels one found in Rev 22:20 erchou, kurie Iesou (“Come Lord Jesus!”). Many scholars, including F.F. Bruce, believe on historical grounds that this phrase became prominent in the early church’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

The Didache, a church document thought to have been composed very early in the second century A.D.—perhaps even before the end of the first century A.D.—gives explicit instructions for the activities surrounding the Lord’s Supper (included here are chaps. 9, 10, 14). Remarkably though, in those places where the Supper is most mentioned it is never connected to the death of Christ. Yet, there are at least two places where the instructions for the Lord’s Supper in the Didache have eschatological dimensions. They are as follows:

As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, and became one, so let thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom. (Did. 9:4).

Remember, Lord, thy Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in thy love, and gather it together in its holiness from the four winds . . . into the kingdom which thou hast prepared for it. . . . May grace come and may this world pass away. Hosanna to the God of David. . . . Maranatha. (Did. 10:5-6).

It is likely that the writer understood maranatha in the imperative sense (“O Lord, come!”) rather than in the perfect sense (“Our Lord has come!”) for several reasons. There is a conspicuous absence of anything resembling a historic outlook here—nor, by the way, is there support here for the Roman Catholic understanding, “our Lord is now present.” On the contrary, everything in these passages seems to point to a future hope. An appeal is made to God to “gather together” the church “into thy kingdom.” God is implored to “remember” (mnemoneuo) his church and to “deliver” it from “all evil”—a direct allusion to Matt 6:13, which we have already argued (see our discussion of the meaning of “daily bread” in a previous blog entry) is set in an eschatological context. It is noteworthy that the writer of the Didache connects this with the eschaton in the next and subsequent clauses.

Another appeal is made by the writer that grace would come and that the present world would pass away (an obvious petition for the consumation of all things). The exclamation “hosanna!” is historically tied to the hallel of the Passover (see our previous discussion on this) and means “O, save,” indicating a cry to God to bring to realization what the Supper depicts. The fact that maranatha falls so closely on the heels of all this makes the imperative meaning (“O Lord, come!”) likely. Indeed, the perfect (“Our Lord has come!”) follows awkwardly at best.

The Lord’s Supper, then, is eschatologically focused, not simply (nor even primarily) historically focused. It is intended to prefigure the feast that we will enjoy with the Lord himself at the Messianic Banquet. Until the Messianic Banquet comes at the inauguration of the kingdom we are to prefigure this banquet via the Lord’s Supper, as a petition and a reminder to Christ to return. We petition him by "proclaiming" (1 Cor 11:26) to him that the New Covenant, represented by this meal and based on and initiated by his death, stands unconsummated, and that we long for him to bring it to its fulfillment in the kingdom (maranatha!). Each time the Lord’s Supper is celebrated it "reminds" Christ (anamnesis, 1 Cor 11:24-25) that the Messianic banquet remains in its prefigure form (i.e., as the Lord’s Supper), that he is still “not eating” and “not drinking” with his church, and that the “fulfillment” of the Supper has not yet come. The sound of the maranatha! as a petition to Christ our God, coupled with the excitement and anticipation that that plea just might be answered this time, produced for the early church a messianic jubilation—a “gladness,” in the words of Luke (Acts 2:46), in the celebration of the Lord’s Table.

In the coming days we will look at some of the implications of this future-oriented focus of the Supper. But first, we need to address one other potential obstacle to eradicating the “funeral” atmosphere in the practice of the Lord’s Supper; namely, the command in 1 Corinthians 11 to “examine oneself” during the Supper lest we "eat and drink judgment" to ourselves. No other passage of Scripture, in my view, has suffered more often from eisesesis than this one. We’ll get to that next week.

Pastor Resigns Amid Church Discipline Controversy

Some of you may have read about this already. I've gotten behind in some of the news items due to my recent series on the Lord's Supper. In any case Chan Chandler, pastor of East Waynesville Baptist Church in Waynseville North Carolina, resigned on May 10 amid controversy surrounding his decision to perform church discipline on a few members of his church who voted for John Kerry or against G.W. Bush in the last election. Here are a couple of analysis pieces on it: One by Albert Mohler, the other by Waylan Owens, a former professor of Chandler.

I don't know enough of the details surrounding this situation to make a firm judgment on whether I would agree with the pastor in his decision. However, the ousted members have filed a lawsuit against the pastor for his actions, and I can make a judgment about that action (1 Corinthians 6).

Udate on the Mary Stain

A few weeks ago, I posted an article about salt stains on the wall of an underpass along the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago that supposedly formed an image of Mary. I suppose Mary is besy described as a cloud in that regard--things just always seem to take her shape in the monds of the excited multitudes.

In any case, after Victor Gonzalez wrote "Big Lie" across the image, the highway authorities painted over that area of the wall. But then Rosa Diaz and Anna Reczek took it upon themselves to remove the paint that so as to reveal the image again.

Gonzalez was charged with criminal damage to state property. Oddly, Diaz and Reczek were not.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord's Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 4)

As we saw in our previous entry to this series, Jesus, in his words of institution (“do this into my remembrance”), seems to be instructing his apostles to remind him of something. Just what is not clear from this verse alone. Yet the context bears considerable weight in determining the content of this reminder. Jesus has already told his apostles that he would never again eat the meal or drink the cup until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God (Luke 22:16, 18). The phrase “do this into my remembrance” follows immediately on the heels of this pledge of abstinence (v. 19). It seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that the content of this “reminder” is for Christ to come again and to inaugurate the Messianic Banquet in fulfillment of the Lord’s Supper.

One objection to this view might be to question the need for Christ to be reminded of anything. In light of his omniscience, is there any chance he will forget what he has promised to do? On the surface this seems to be a reasonable criticism. Upon closer examination, however, this criticism loses substance. Of course, Christ (being God) does not forget anything. Yet to reject this view on the basis that God’s omniscience precludes his needing to be reminded of anything is surely to prove too much; for on that basis, any kind of repeated intercession would go by the wayside. David prayed more than once that God would “remember” him or his righteous deeds (e.g., Pss 25:6-7; 89:50; 106:4). Moses himself appealed to God to “remember” his covenant promises and so to spare Israel from divine wrath (Deut 9:26-27). Nehemiah repeatedly appealed to God to “remember” him for his righteous deeds (Neh 13:14, 22, 29, 31). Jesus himself urged us to pray persistently to God: “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” (Luke 18:7-8). Jesus’ point seems to be that God acts as he sees persistence in the petitions of his people.

This persistence is demonstrated in our reminding God of our plight and thereby petitioning him to act in our favor. This is particularly true of God’s covenant promises to his people. In Exodus we read:

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them (Exod 2:23-25).
Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant. Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment’ (Exod 6:5-6).
God “heard” the plea of his people in Egypt when they cried out to him for help. As a result, God “remembered” his covenant he had made with the patriarchs and acted to rescue his covenant people. Other appeals to God to “remember” his covenant relationship include Jer 14:21, Exod 32:13, Deut 9:27, and 2 Chr 6:42. As we have already seen, the Passover served not only as a reminder to the people of how God saved their fathers out of Egypt, but also as a reminder to God to save Israel from all her enemies by sending the Messiah. The Passover was the meal of the Old Covenant that embodied this petition to God.

The petition of the Lord’s Supper is no different. By repeatedly partaking of the Supper (the meal of the New Covenant) we are “reminding” Christ of our plight that we are still without a host at our banquet and that the Banquet itself is still in its unfulfilled state. The Lord’s Supper, then, is an appeal to Christ—a reminder, as it were—to return and bring this meal to its fulfillment; namely, the Messianic Banquet in the inaugurated kingdom.

The Eschatological Focus of the Supper in Paul
But what of the obvious connection of this anamnesis ("reminder") to Christ’s death in 1 Cor 11:23-26? Paul writes:

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 (anamnesis) 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 (hosakis) you drink it, in remembrance (anamnesis) of me.” For (gar) whenever (hosakis) you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim (katangellete) the Lord’s death (thanaton) until he comes.
Here Paul makes a direct connection between “remembrance” (“reminder,” anamnesis) and “the Lord’s death.” The word “for” (gar) in v. 26 is likely used to show that v. 26 serves as an explanation of this reminder in vv. 24-25. The pivotal term here is “whenever” (hosakis), found in both v. 25 and v. 26. In v. 25 Paul seems to include this word to introduce the purpose of drinking the cup: “When you do it, it is to be done into (eis, “with a view to”) my remembrance (or reminder).” He uses “whenever” (hosakis) again in v. 26 to explain that purpose—“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes."

The anamnesis ("reminder"), then, is a “proclamation of the Lord’s death.” But does this not suggest (as the memorial view holds) that the anamnesis has a historical rather than eschatological focus? On the contrary; Paul gives us many indicators in this very passage that his focus of the Lord’s Supper is no different than what we have argued is Luke’s focus—which is not all that surprising given that Paul and Luke were traveling companions (indeed, Paul’s account of the Last Supper tradition mirrors Luke’s account).

For instance, the question “To whom are we to proclaim Jesus’ death?” gains relevance here. The answer to this question is difficult to adduce if we view anamnesis as our remembering Christ. Are we proclaiming Christ’s death to unbelievers? I. Howard Marshall (Last Supper and Lord’s Supper, 113) thinks so. He holds that this is a verbal proclamation of the gospel and that the Lord’s Supper is a set occasion for preaching the good news: “The action of the church in celebrating this meal is a proclamation of the gospel to all who are present to see and hear what is happening” (ibid., 148). But this betrays a contemporary view of the church as a place where unbelievers are commonly present. This was probably not the case in the first century. While Paul does entertain the possibility of an unbeliever walking in during the meeting (1 Cor 14:23-24), it is unlikely that this was the norm given the fact that the normal place of meeting for the first-century church was in private homes, not public buildings (cf. Acts 2:46; 5:42, 16:40, 20:20; Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15; Phlm 1-2; 2 John 10).

To whom then do we proclaim Christ’s death? To ourselves? While that seems possible, neither is it without difficulties. It would seem strange that Christians are to “proclaim” to each other that Christ died. Moreover, just what form this proclamation would take is not readily apparent. The view advanced by F. F. Bruce (1 Corinthians, 113-14) that the “proclamation” here refers to the symbolic act of the breaking of bread is unlikely since katangello (“to proclaim”) always seems to be associated with a verbal proclamation in Paul. While neither of these objections is conclusive, both of them militate against the memorial view to some degree.

In light of Luke’s eschatological focus, Paul’s words make equally good sense if we view this “proclamation” as one directed to Christ himself. After all, the mention of Christ’s death in the Lord’s Supper texts is essentially synonymous with the initiation of the New Covenant: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor 11:25; cf. Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20). It does not seem too far a field, then, to say that this “proclamation” acts as the “reminder” (anamnesis) to Christ; that is to say, whenever we partake of the Lord’s Supper we are “proclaiming” to Christ (reminding him, as it were) that whereas he has initiated the New Covenant by means of his death, he has yet to bring it to its consummation by returning and inaugurating the Messianic Banquet in his kingdom. In the words of Joachim Jeremias:
The proclamation of the death of Jesus is not therefore intended to call to the remembrance of the community the event of the Passion; rather this proclamation expresses the vicarious death of Jesus as the beginning of the salvation time and prays for the coming of the consummation. (The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, 253).
This may be a bit of an overstatement on Jeremias’ part. It very well could be the case that the reason the phrase “into my remembrance” is so ambiguous is precisely because both ideas—a historical looking back and an eschatological looking forward—are intended (although the eschatological element may well be prominent).

Whatever historical element is involved in this "reminder," it is clear that Paul in 1 Cor 11:23-26 intends an eschatological element as well. This may be seen in the phrase “until he comes” (achris hou elthê) in v. 26. The Greek construction achris hou, used with the aorist subjunctive and without av, always denotes an eschatological goal. Here it produces the awkward “until the goal is reached that he comes,” and means, “until the goal of the proclamation is reached—namely, his coming.”

Hence, the purpose of celebrating the Lord’s Supper is to sound a plea for the second coming: “As often as the death of the Lord is proclaimed at the Lord’s Supper, and the maranatha rises upwards, God is reminded of the unfulfilled climax of the work of salvation ‘until (the goal is reached, that) he comes’” (Jeremias, 253). In the words of Geoffrey Wainwright: “At every eucharist the church is in fact praying that the parousia may take place at that very moment” (Eucharist and Eschatology, 67). Each time the church comes together for the Lord’s Supper, Christ is reminded that he is still not “eating” and still not “drinking” (Luke 22:16-18), and that the heavenly banquet which the Lord’s Supper prefigures has not yet been “fulfilled in the kingdom”:
This means that the command to repeat the rite is not a summons to the disciples to preserve the memory of Jesus and be vigilant ("repeat the breaking of bread so that you may not forget me"), but it is an eschatological oriented instruction: "Keep joining yourselves together as the redeemed community by the table rite, that in this way God may be . . . [regularly] . . . implored to bring about the consummation in the parousia" (Jeremias, 255).
Tomorrow’s Blog: Maranatha and the Lord’s Supper.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord's Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 3)

Yesterday we saw that the Lord’s Supper was viewed by the New Testament writers as a prefigure of the messianic banquet of which we will partake at the end of the age. As a result, the Lord’s Supper was an occasion for expressing second-coming expectation and jubilation—in a word, “gladness” (Acts 2:46). So just where does the emphasis on solemnity and self introspection experienced at most Lord’s Supper observances today originate?

One source of this solemn mood is found in the words of institution themselves: “do this in remembrance of me.” From that phrase (along with one other which we will address in a future installment to this series) there has developed in most evangelical churches the “funeral” atmosphere described in part one of this series. So we need to ask the question, What does Luke mean by the phrase “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19)? As I’ve already intimated, the focus of the Supper has traditionally been derived from this phrase, which in turn has been interpreted to mean that the Supper is to be a time during which we are to focus on the death of Christ; a conscious reliving of what Christ had to suffer in order to redeem us. This suggests that the Supper, by extension, be a time of solemn reflection. The focus then is historical; a looking back, as it were, to the horrors of the cross.

The question is, Does this interpretation fit well with all that we know about the Supper? Indeed, does it fit even the context of Luke 22:14-20? If the focus of the Supper is a looking back to the death of Christ per se, then there is no question that the general mood surrounding the Supper should be one of solemn reflection. There are, however, several problems with this understanding.

First, as we’ve already noted, one such problem may be found in Acts 2:46. Here the same author (Luke) recounts the practice of the early churches; namely, that they “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” It is noteworthy that Luke here describes the general mood of the early church as they partook of the Lord’s Supper, since this is the only passage in Scripture that actually describes the mood. It was not with solemn reflection, but rather with “gladness” (agalliasis) that they ate the Supper.

Second, the context of Luke 22:14-20 itself hardly favors an interpretation which views the Lord’s Supper as a naked focusing on the past. On the contrary, the tenor of this passage is eschatological. We have already noted that Luke twice records Jesus’ eschatological prospect of eating and drinking again in the kingdom (Luke 22:16, 18). In light of this, it seems odd that Jesus would then abruptly shift the focus of the Supper to a memorial of Him (i.e., a looking back) that does not also include an eschatological element.

But then what did Jesus mean by the phrase “do this in memory of me”? Jesus’ words must be viewed in their Passover setting. It was (and is) the belief of the Jews that the Passover itself was not only a looking back at what God had done for Israel, but also a looking forward to future deliverance by the Messiah. A common saying of the rabbis during the Passover was, “On this night they were saved, and on this night they will be saved” (R. Joshua Ben Hananiah, Mekhilta of R. Yishma’el on Exod 12:42). This same sentiment is echoed in the Midrash:
On that same day, too, Joseph was released from captivity; for this reason did this night become one of rejoicing for the whole of Israel, as it says, “It was a night of watching unto the Lord.” In this world the miracle was performed at night, because it was of a transitory nature, but in the Messianic Age, night will become day. . . . Why does He call it “a night of watching”? Because, on that night, He performed great things for the righteous, just as He had wrought for Israel in Egypt. On that night, He saved Hezekiah, Hananiah and his companions, . . . and on that night Messiah and Elijah will be made great. . . . So Israel has eagerly awaited salvation since the rising of Edom [i.e., Rome]. God said: “Let this sign be in your hands: on the day when I wrought salvation for you, and on that very night know that I will redeem you; but if it is not this night, then do not believe, for the time has not yet come.” (Exodus [Bo] 18:11-12, The Midrash Rabba, ed. and ETr. H. Freedman and M. Simon [New York: Soncino Press, 1977], 227-28).
Let’s return for a moment to our text in Luke 22:19: “do this in remembrance of me.” The wording in the Greek is rather vague; literally “do this into (Greek eis; for? toward? with a view to?) my remembrance.” The question becomes, Who is to remember whom? The Greek allows for at least two options: (1) our remembering Christ (the traditional view), and (2) Christ remembering us. In other words, the phrase can be translated alternatively as “do this in order to remember me,” or “do this as a reminder to me (so that I'll remember you).” Everything turns on the meaning of the word anamnesis, translated here as “remembrance.” This word occurs in the present form only four times in the NT (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24, 25; Heb 10:3), three of which are parallel sayings of Jesus at the Last Supper. The single instance where that context is not in view is Heb 10:3, which states, “But in them [the sacrifices of the Levitical priesthood] is an annual reminder of sins.” Here the meaning is clearly “reminder,” not “memorial” (see BDAG). Its usage in Heb 10:3 is sufficient to establish the meaning “reminder” as a viable option for anamnesis in the NT, including the Last Supper texts. Indeed, if the meaning “memorial” to the death of Jesus is what the Gospel writers had in mind, their purpose would have been better served by using the word mnêmeion, which means quite literally “token of remembrance,” especially for one who has died (BDAG).

Old Testament Parallels
The nominal form of anamnesis in the LXX is rare in comparison to such words as mnêmeion . Moreover, many of the instances of anamnesis are obscure as to their precise meaning. Lev 24:5-8 reads: “Along each row put some pure incense as a memorial (anamnesis) portion to represent the bread and to be an offering made to the LORD by fire.” Although on the surface anamnesis seems to be referring to the bread as a “memorial,” it need not be taken this way. Many scholars think that the “memorial offering” is the part of the offering that was burnt in order to bring the sacrifice to God’s mind. The memorial offering acts as a perpetual reminder of the covenant whereby Israel appeals to Yahweh to maintain his covenant faithfulness. In other words, these sacrifices provide God with a “reminder” of his covenant people. This same God-ward “reminder” is found in Num 10:9-10:
When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the LORD your God and rescued from your enemies. Also at your times of rejoicing—your appointed feasts and New Moon festivals—you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am the LORD your God.
What the NIV has translated as “remembered” (v. 9) and “memorial” (v. 10) in this passage is (respectively) the verbal and nominal forms of anamnesis. It is clear that v. 9 refers to a God-ward anamnesis (man remembered by God). The reference in v. 10 is less certain; does it refer to God remembering man or man remembering God? It can be rendered either way, and perhaps is a combination of both. Nevertheless, as Brown notes, “the expression ‘before the Lord’ coupled with the context of the previous verse suggests that the remembering here too has a God-ward reference which indeed is primary, although the man-ward reference is implicit” (“Remember,” NIDNTT, 239).

The idea of anamnesis as “reminder” is seen even more clearly in other OT passages. The LXX heading of Psalm 69 (Psalm 70 in English translations) reads literally, “For the end, by David, for a reminder (eis anamnesis), in order that the Lord might save me.” Here eis anamnesis likely means “for a reminder [to God].” In this case it is a reminder to God to save David. Other passages that carry this same idea of reminding God to act include Pss 24 (25):6-7; 73 (74):2; 118 (119):49; 131 (132):1; and Exod 32:12-14 where God is called upon to “remember” his covenant mercies (though in each case mnemoneuo is used instead of anamnesis).

Passover Parallels
The eschatological idea of the rabbis that God would send the Messiah on the Passover (as we noted earlier) probably stems from the fact that the Passover was “a feast to the Lord” (Exod 13:6), which served to put Yahweh in mind of His people. The rabbinical understanding of the Passover was a looking forward to the future deliverance of Israel as final “fulfillment” of the deliverance from Egypt. The Passover, then, served as a venue to issue an anamnesis (i.e., a reminder or petition) to God to send the Messiah.

But just what does it mean that God “remembers” to send the Messiah? This is where the Passover Haggadah is helpful for our understanding. The hallel portion of the Haggadah reads: “We beseech Thee, O lord, save now! We beseech Thee, O lord, save now! We beseech Thee, O lord, make us now to prosper. We beseech Thee, O lord, make us now to prosper.” The hallel is based on Pss 113—118, and esp. 118:25-26: “O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you.”

Now, since the Last Supper was likely a Passover meal, it seems certain that Jesus’ words were meant as a play on this customary petition to God. All their lives the disciples had learned that the Passover was an opportunity to petition God to send the Messiah—now here he was, eating the Passover with them! Jesus is in effect saying, “You have been petitioning God to send the Messiah? Very well, here I am. Now I am going away, but I will be back once again to eat this meal with you in my kingdom. In the meantime, continue to eat this meal as a reminder (anamnesis) to me that this meal is yet unfulfilled.” The anamnesis is therefore a petition to Christ himself to return and to bring the Last Supper/Lord’s Supper to its fulfillment in the Messianic Banquet.

The early church believed that the Lord's Supper was a petition to Jesus to return (Maranatha! Come, O Lord!) and "fulfill" the meal they were observing as a prefigure to the banquet over which he would preside in his kingdom. Indeed, they fully believed that this petition would "hasten his coming." With that as the focus of the Supper, it is easy to see why the mood of the Supper was one of second-coming anticipation and "gladness" rather than solemnity.

Tomorrow’s blog: Since God is omniscient, why should he need to be “reminded” about anything? Also, the meaning and occasion of Maranatha; and the future-looking focus of the Supper in Paul's writings.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord's Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 2)

Yesterday, I mentioned that there would be only two additional articles in this series. As is usually the case when estimating these kinds of things before I have a chance to flesh them out, that estimate now seems a bit optimistic; the series will be longer than three parts, though I can’t say how much longer.

Yesterday we compared the mood of the Lord’s Supper as found in the NT church to that of the observance of the Lord’s Supper in modern evangelical churches. We saw that the latter is characterized by solemn introspection while the former is characterized by second-coming “gladness.” It remains to be seen just why there is a difference in these respective moods, and just what accounts for that difference. One primary reason for the difference in moods is the difference in the focus of the Supper in the ancient church and the modern church.

In Matt 8:11 Jesus says: “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” Luke records a similar saying: “People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29). Jesus here is referring to a feast that will occur at the end of the age. This feast, properly called the “Messianic Banquet,” is found throughout Jesus’ teachings (cf. Matt 22:1-14; 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 14:16-24; 22:16, 18, 29-30). The Jews were intensely aware of this feast, and Jesus’ mention of it in these texts presupposes a general anticipation by the Jews; with the exception, of course, that they themselves would be excluded and the Gentiles would occupy their seats. Of interest here is its inclusion in the Last Supper texts. It is significant that wherever the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper are found in the Gospels, they are never without reference to this messianic feast.

As Jesus institutes the Supper, he says: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God. . . . Take this [cup] and divide it among you. For I tell you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:15-18). Both Matthew (26:29) and Mark (14:25) include this saying in their accounts, but only with reference to the “drinking”; Luke alone applies it to the “eating.” Yet all three writers link the Last Supper to a future (eschatological) prospect. What does Jesus mean by the saying, “I will not eat/drink it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God” (or, “until the kingdom of God comes”)? At the very least, the inclusion of “until” (heôs hou) indicates that Jesus intends to partake of a meal again someday. It may be assumed with reasonable certainty that Jesus has in mind the Messianic Banquet already mentioned in Luke 14:16-24. Jesus mentions this meal again, at least in Luke’s account, immediately after his words of institution; to his disciples Jesus says, “I grant you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (22:30). Not insignificantly, the setting of this promise to “eat and drink” in the kingdom is while they are still at the table.

But then the question becomes, Why does Jesus include reference to the Messianic Banquet in a context which deals with the institution of the Lord’s Supper? What relationship does the Lord’s Supper have with the Messianic Banquet? In Jesus’ own words, this eschatological meal (the Messianic Banquet) is the “fulfillment” of the meal he is instituting as the Lord’s Supper. This means, conversely, that the Lord’s Supper is a prefigure of the Messianic Banquet. So then, the Lord’s Supper that is being instituted by Jesus has an eschatological element; it is an anticipation and foretaste of the Messianic Banquet to come. As D. A. Carson notes, “Just as the first Passover looks forward not only to deliverance but to settlement in the land, so also the Lord’s Supper looks forward to deliverance and life in the consummated kingdom” (Carson, Matthew, 539). This notion becomes even clearer when we note that the same terminology is used for both the Lord’s Supper and the Messianic Banquet; both are called the “Supper” (deipnon, 1 Cor 11:20; Rev 19:9), and the “Table” (trapezês, 1 Cor 10:21; Luke 22:30).

This concept, however, was not conceived in a vacuum. Old Testament references to this banquet, although somewhat sparse, are nevertheless there. Included here is Isa 25:6, which gives us a picture of the Messianic Banquet: “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines.” There seems to be little question that this is a reference to the eschatological meal. Even v. 8 intimates that this would be the meal to consummate all meals: “he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces.”

The New Testament is replete with allusions to an eschatological feast. In addition to the ones already mentioned at the beginning of this article, we might mention a few others. Luke 12:35-38 speaks of the parousia parabolically as a wedding banquet (the parable of the master/servant), as does Matt 25:1-13 (the parable of the ten virgins). Luke 15:22-32 recounts how the Father will celebrate by holding a feast when his prodigal son returns. Jesus gives us a preview of this provision in the feeding of the crowds (Matt 14:15-21; 15:32-38 and parallels). He demonstrates his messiahship here (as in the Messianic Banquet) by virtue of providing an abundance of food. Indeed, the very first sign which Jesus performs is replete with eschatological and messianic significance (John 2:1-11). The wedding banquet setting, the miracle surrounding the wine, and Jesus’ statement that his “hour” to supply an abundance of wine had not yet come.

There is also a possible allusion to the Banquet in the Lord’s Prayer; namely, in the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread” in Matt 6:11. The phrase translated “daily bread” is arton epiousion, a phrase which likely carries the meaning, “bread for the coming day.” Whether what is meant is the chronological next day or the eschatological messianic day is unclear. But is the prayer itself is eschatological (“may your kingdom come”), the eschatological meaning fits nicely. At least Jerome (Comm. in Ezek. VI), Peter Chrysologus (Sermon 68, 70, 71, 72), and John of Damascus (The Orthodox Faith, Book 4, 13) read it this way. On this view, the Lord’s Prayer must be seen as a petition to God to bring about the consummation.

Continued in tomorrow's blog