The Other Bridge Illustration: Visual Christus Victor

For all those visual learners who need to see it to understand it. This is the “Other Bridge Illustration.” And yes, I drew these while at Starbucks.

(David Fitch and I did an entire podcast on this topic if you are interested.)

The Original Bridge Illustration

But first we must talk about the Original Bridge Illustration, that staple of evangelism in my corner of evangelicalism.

The Original Bridge Illustration (pardon my drawing)

This is how I was taught to explain it.

On one side is humanity. Humanity sins (Rom. 3:23). And the wages of sin—what you earn—is death (Rom. 6:23). So “sin”, “wages”, and “death” mark the cliff separating humanity from God.

But on God’s side, God chooses to forgive our sin, which is a gift of grace—not earned like wages.  And this gift leads to life (Rom. 6:23).  So “forgiveness”, “gift”, and “life” are on God’s side.

The death of Jesus—his cross—becomes the bridge by which we cross over from sin and death and receive forgiveness and life.

We cross over to God through the cross of Jesus.

Simple, right?

Problems with this Bridge Illustration

Often—but not always—this presentation of salvation emphasizes individual sin and individual responsibility and individual salvation (notice a theme?).  It also assumes a movement from the side of humanity (on “earth”) to God’s side (in “heaven”).

Also, this view, when unpacked, usually holds to certain understandings of God’s wrath against humanity and how Jesus’s death satisfies God’s wrath so that we can avoid hell fire (drawn at the bottom of the chasm—too bad I didn’t have a red sharpie).

And lastly, this view can lead to truncated understanding that “Jesus came to die” or “Jesus was born to die“—which I regularly hear on Facebook or Twitter when I emphasize the significance of Jesus’s ministry or the kingdom of God.

The Other Bridge Illustration

But humanity IS separated from God.
Something needs to be done.
We need salvation.

So here is the Other Bridge Illustration.

The Other Bridge Illustration (the bridge if made of stones, if you couldn’t tell)

On one side is humanity. We are within the kingdom (or reign) of death (Rom. 5:14-17). We are slaves to sin (Rom. 6:17).  And we are captives of the powers (Col. 1:13).

But on God’s side is the kingdom of life, the redemption from sin, and liberation from the powers.

The bridge is made of three stones—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (I don’t know why stones. It’s just what came to me).

God coming to us.

But here is the main twist.
Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God is coming to us.

God comes from heaven to earth. God comes to the damned and the sinners. God comes to the enslaved and captives. God comes to seek and save the lost.

The totality of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection witnesses to this. 

Salvation comes to where we are. And this has always been the case. From Genesis to Revelation, God seeks to dwell with humanity. And God is pursuing humanity, bridging every divide, overcoming every obstacle.

This is the victory of God—not that we leave the place of sin and death, but that God overcomes by coming to our place of need, of desperation, of death.

Both/And…ish

To be fair, parts of the Original Bridge Illustration are true and we shouldn’t ignore them.  But we must place them in the larger context of the Other Bridge Illustration—The Christus Victor Illustration.

What needs to be added?

What would you add to make this better?

(I want to figure out the best was to add the Holy Spirit to this illustration.)


(This post it is part of my “20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days [BUT I WENT WAY OVER TODAY].  So these are quick thoughts as I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here.)

Are Evangelicals White? A Brief History

CEOs withdraw from Trump’s advisory councils because of the Presidents bankrupt statements about Charlottesville—maybe because of their moral backbone, but probably because of the financial bottomline. But so far no evangelical advisors have stepped down.

It makes people ask, “Are evangelicals really are just White?”
For some this is self-evident. Others vigorously deny it.

And statements like this by Jerry Falwell Jr. don’t help the cause of those trying to deny it.

So, are evangelicals white?

1976, the Year of the Evangelical

In 1976, pronounced the “Year of the Evangelicals” by Newsweek, Democrat Jimmy Carter won the presidency over Republican Gerald Ford. With each of them confessing to be “born again” Christians, Carter won with almost half of evangelical voters supporting him.

Only four years later evangelicals abandoned Jimmy Carter for Ronald Reagan. Opening his presidential campaign in the heart of Mississippi, Reagan presented himself as the “law and order” candidate advocating states’ rights, continuing the Republican “Southern Strategy” by obliquely cultivating racial fears while simultaneously courting evangelical voters. As Randall Balmer notes, throughout the campaign, Reagan operatives adeptly used “evangelical code language just as they had employed racially coded language in Mississippi.”

On the one hand, this quick reversal from Carter to Reagan confirmed the fears of black Christians who see evangelicals as merely a synonym for white, conservative Republicans. According to Anthony Bradley, associate professor of theology and ethics at The King’s College, evangelical leaders “sold out the mission of the church to win a ‘culture war.’”

Is this the Year of the Evangelical?

Thirty years later, 2016 could also be called the year of the Evangelicals. But this designation would be less congratulatory as white evangelical leaders fight with each other about supporting Trump. In the end, 4 out of 5 white evangelicals voted for Trump, prompting many to abandon the label altogether.

But on the other hand, evangelicals like Ed Stetzer contests collapsing the term to only meaning white conservatives. Formerly a Southern Baptist researcher and now the current Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center, Stetzer complains that “it’s not politics that unite all Evangelicals; it’s the gospel.” According to this broader, belief-based definition, many African American, Asian, and Latino Christians should be considered evangelicals.

And as alarming as it might be to some, recent surveys suggest the “evangelicalization” of American Christianity. As “self-identified Christians shrink and evangelicals have remained relatively steady,” says Stetzer, “American Christianity looks more evangelical year after year.”

But this kind of expansive definition seems rather self-serving as white evangelicals seek to distance themselves from the reality that 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump.

A focus on religious beliefs, rather than self-identification, effectively pushes out the far right white segment of the definition—by excluding those who identify as “born-again” but don’t regularly attend church—while also pulling in African American, Asian, and Latino populations who hold evangelical beliefs but don’t primarily identify as evangelical. A focus on beliefs conveniently diversifies evangelicalism but runs roughshod on how people identify themselves.

Pollsters looking at the same data see either a predominantly white religious segment with conservative political views, or they see a multicultural and politically diverse cross section of Christian America. “If we use a big-tent measure of evangelicals,” says Ryan Burge, instructor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, “we don’t find evangelicals to be different from other Americans. But if we use a measure based on what church people attend, then we find that there is an evangelical voter who is more likely to be politically conservative.”

So which definition is best when looking at evangelicals?


See also “Is Trump the End of Evangelicalism?”


 

Classical Evangelicalism

Examining the history of evangelicalism in America—rather than focusing on ideas or beliefs—is the best way to determine whether evangelicals should be considered primarily a conservative white expression of American Christianity.

Evangelicalism in America begins with the spiritual Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries. This classic period of evangelicalism—preceding the rise of fundamentalism by two hundred years—is best described as conservative Protestantism with a “revivalist twist.”

But this hope for spiritual revival also inspired a desire for social reform.

Celebrated revivalist Charles Finney and Jonathan Blanchard—the founding president of Wheaton College, a flagship evangelical institution—were both staunch abolitionists. And an evangelical feminism also flourished in the 19th century as women like Phoebe Palmer and Hannah Whitall Smith led revivals in America and Britain—a development continuing into the early 20th century with the rise of Pentecostalism.

Eminent historian of evangelicalism and professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, George Marsden observes that “in an era when social reform was not popular” it was evangelicals who modeled an impressive record of social service.

Evangelicals, before rise of fundamentalism in the 1920s, seamlessly united spiritual revival and social reform as a centrist movement balancing conservative theology and compassionate politics.

But the rise of fundamentalism within the US pushed evangelicals toward spiritual and social individualism. And the threat of Soviet Union outside the US pressed evangelicals toward a “Christian” nationalism. With the ascension of Soviet Communism and its militant atheism, evangelical-fundamentalists countered by championing a distinctively Christian American Capitalism. The political trinity of Christianity, American nationalism, and free-market Capitalism prompted evangelicals to abandon the work of social reform, leaving such service to the mainline Protestant churches.

This bifurcation of classic evangelicalism led, on the one hand, to evangelical-fundamentalists pursuing the spiritual revival of individuals while mainline Protestants, on the other, sought the political reform of society. As David Moberg notes, to this day each side “accuses the other of being untrue to the essential nature of Christianity.”

Evangelical Great Reversal

This rupture resulted in the “great reversal” of evangelicalism. Historian Donald Dayton notes how the previous champions of abolition came to resist the Civil Rights Movement, how an earlier evangelical empowerment of women came to oppose 1960s feminism, and how an original egalitarianism impulse succumbed to celebrity elitism. Dayton laments that since the 1920s a “great heritage of Evangelical social witness was buried and largely forgotten,” while its spiritual descendants reject as unbiblical activities clearly aligned with the early spirit of evangelicalism.

The abandonment of the Civil Rights Movement by self-described (white) evangelicals triggered the abandonment of black churches identifying as evangelical, creating the general impression that evangelicals are predominantly white conservatives.

But the spirit of classical evangelicalism—uniting spiritual revival and social reform—has not failed to haunt its children. There has always been a “moral minority” within post-fundamentalist evangelicalism promoting such integration. And even if they avoid the label, a growing number of mainline Protestants—and even Catholics—use evangelical terms to explain their faith.

This spirit of classical evangelicalism has always hovered between the extremes of conservative and liberal Christianity. Amid the chaotic waters of our bifurcated society, will this radical center emerge again?

The Spirit of Evangelicalism

Will this spirit breath life back into a three centuries old movement of multicultural and trans-denominational revival and reform? Or will it exhaust itself as the civil religion of white conservative Americans?

Are evangelicals white? It depends on which version prevails within the American religious landscape.

Subordination and #AltonSterling

I was about halfway through another post talking about theology and the Trinity and why claims for the “eternal subordination of Son” makes for bad theology.

And then I saw the new about #AltonSterling, another black man shot by white police.

And so I wrote this instead, because I couldn’t finish the other post…(it is 1am, Wednesday morning)

___

I’m mad. I’m really mad. I tried to go to bed but I just couldn’t.

I’m mad at my people, the evangelicals. I’m mad at conservative evangelicals who think they are just talking about a doctrine of God when they speak of the Son submitting to the Father. They think they are just (just?) talking about gender differences between women and men and why women should submit to men.

But conservative evangelicals, YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT POWER!

Every time you talk of authority and submission you are talking about power, and you therefore are not just talking about gender but also race, race relationships and racism. When you talk about power in any way you must understand that you are talking within a culture of white power, white privilege, even white supremacy.

I read a Bible where authority is always giving itself away. God hands over creation to his image bearers, giving them authority in all things. And when we screwed it up God does not demand obedience again, but entered as a SLAVE (Phil. 2:7) and became obedience himself (he who was Master would rather become a Slave than forcefully assert his rights as Master, so that all could be free and become children of God). That is the story I read.

From the conservative while male theologians (who I believe are not outright racists) to the pastors conferences they plan, to the pastors they teach, and then to the people (who often are racists) these ideas of authority and submission take shape and create a culture, a culture of expected deference to authority by “equal” people who are nonetheless expected to be “submissive”. And this expectation of submission to authority then blames the victims like #AltonSterling when something happens by the authorities, by the police.

I am angry about all this.

I am angry that white conservative theologians are so numb, ignorant, or blind to the fact that these ideas of “authority/submission” are continually used to denigrate women and minorities as they hide behind walls of abstraction and Biblicism (and I’m all for the Bible, but I see a very different story than they do). It is not enough to say “We are trying to be biblical” when those made in God’s image are being shot those in “authority”, especially when He who is the Image of God would rather himself die so that all might live.

Like it or not, these doctrines ARE causing incredible amounts of social apathy among white conservative evangelicals who are tempted to say “Well, if you just submit to authority then you won’t get shot.” Are we supposed to think that just like the Son submitted to the Father so too every black man should submit white police officers, or more likely, white police officers feeling like a black man should submit to them in every way, in excess of the law and trampling their rights?

“We are trying to be biblical by affirming authority and submission in the Trinity.” That is convenient that you are placing yourself as the authority of Scripture and not submitting to 2000 years that are in direct contradiction of your position. Why not submit to the church? And even those white conservative evangelicals who do not support this position of the Trinity, you still have fallen under the spell of submitting to authorities and turned a blind eye to our fellow black brothers and sisters. We (evangelicals) are all complicit! (Please see Divided by Faith and Disunity in Christ)

And so I am sorry.

I am sorry that I haven’t been more angry and more outspoken.

I am sorry to my Black friends, colleagues, and students that I haven’t been more urgent in exposing the dangerous theology and practice of the white evangelical community. That I haven’t been more bold in naming what is so obvious.

As one who claims an evangelical heritage, I often attempt to call evangelicals back to their better selves, their true traditions of spiritual conversion linked with social transformation. I am sorry that I have been too timid with the faults of persistent racism and white privilege.

I am sorry. Please forgive me.

Let our orthodoxy be known through our orthopraxis, otherwise we are noisy gongs and clanging symbols.

 

God’s love is coming; and so is his justice.

Lord, have mercy on us

Christ, have mercy.

 

Amen.

Deeper than We Thought (1): Our Society’s Sin

The Journey of Redemption 0e1140859_blog-racial-reconciliation

I’ve found in my journey of redemption that I don’t necessary sin egregiously in every category. Rather I’ve found I often keep struggling with the same two or three sins that seem to go all the way down to my core.

Every time I think I’m done with that sin God will gently tear off the Band-Aid and reveal just how bad the infection is. Over and over again this process goes on.

On a different level, this is true of our American society when it comes to race.

The Reality of Race

It seems that majority (white) people are often tired of talking about race (just like we are tired of dealing with that pesky sin of ours).  This is especially true of white evangelicals, where 69% think that the best way to improve race relations is to stop talking about race! It is as if we as a society think that because we acknowledge racism that we can now move on to our other sins.

But I would say this is probably one of the two core sins of our American society, and there is not easy movement beyond it.

And are we really working on it anyway? Or just managing it, like we manage having a short temper or indulging in too much dessert?

Aren’t we just managing “racism” when every so often we acknowledge the need for a “national debate”, or that those “real racists” need to be punished, or that perhaps the police are a little harsh on minorities, but never diving in to see how deep the sin goes?

These questions and concerns have directed me toward a book by Michelle Alexander called The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

This book rips off the Band-Aid and shows how and why the problem of racism persists in a post-Civil Rights era of colorblindness.

The Questions

As any good pastor would, this books asks deeper and different questions about our sin, overlooking the “obvious” as it searches for the true causes.

For instance,

  • Why did the “War on Drugs” begin in 1982 (by Reagan) when drug use was on the decline, not considered a national problem, and a good 2-3 years before crack cocaine became broadly available in major US cities?

(Anybody remember this add?)

 

incarceration_1-800x510

 

And more specifically,

  • Why is that when people of all racial backgrounds use and sell illegals drugs at a similar rate, that people of color are disproportionately imprisoned for drug crimes?
  • Why does America imprison a larger percentage of its black population the South Africa did at the height of apartheid?

Notice the drift of these questions?

This is about our criminal justice system, not the proclivity of racial stereotyping by people or racial slurs spoken in the parlors.

Alexander’s questions seek to reveal the links between a new form of racism and our criminal justice institutions, forged through what has become known as the War on Drugs (all that is for the next post).

The Plan

So I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks reading through Michelle Alexander’s book and posting about it (mostly for myself but also in the hopes it will provoke some conversation among those who have and haven’t read it yet…acknowledging I’m a late comer to the party as the book came out four years ago).

In the next post we’ll look at her what she means when she says,

“We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

The poor you will always have with you.

jesus-whipping-bankers

For the poor you will always have with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish:
but you will not always have me. (Mark 14:7) 

From crude realism to hopeless resignation, this quote from Jesus is confusing at best and disheartening at worst.

What? So poverty and inequality are just a fact of life?  Things really aren’t going to change?  In Kingdom of God is really so ineffectual?

But Nicholas Perrin has helped me see a different perspective on this saying that revolutionized how I read it and how we should see the vocation of the church (in his excellent Jesus the Temple).

Counter-Temple Movement

Perrin understands Jesus and his movement as a “counter-temple movement”, and by counter-temple he doesn’t mean against the temple all together, but against the current sinful administration of the temple.  Jesus is against the temple as it is because it isn’t participating in and pointing toward the true eschatological temple to come (Ez. 37:26-27).  Jesus was seeking to establish a true and living temple centered on himself and his movement outside the jurisdiction of the current temple establishment (just think of the temple sayings and activities of Jesus and the temple imagery applied to the early church… I’ll post on this more latter).

In light of this, part of what it would mean to establish the true temple would be to instituted the jubilee practice of forgiving debts (Deut. 15:7-15; Lev. 25), an action that was supposed to be regulated by the priests through the temple treasury, which rarely, if ever, happened.

Jesus and his movement, through living with and as the poor, and as those who attempted to be a clearinghouse for the redistribution of wealth, was in fact functioning like the temple as it was supposed to.

“The Poor You Will Always Have With You”

So when Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you” he isn’t making a broad social observation about the current and future state of the world, certainly not one based in crude realism (as if he were saying, “There just is and always will be poverty in the world.”)  Rather, he is naming part of the inherent calling and purpose of his movement: “You will always have the poor with you because you will be the place that poverty is being overcome through the alternative economy of grace as the new temple”. 

Jesus is really naming a vocation for the church, not a reality in the world.

The church will have the poor because part of being the church is being with the poor.  If the church is not with and among the poor it is in danger of encountering the prophetic critique of Jesus himself through his Spirit, the same critiques he directed toward the temple establishment of his time.

The Work is With

This could mean all sorts of things for a local congregation: working in homeless shelters, educational programs, debt relief, or other practices of living an alternative, Kingdom-economy.

But we must remember this vocation is not just for the poor, it is with the poor.  This is not a vocation from a distance, but a work that is with the people.

Is your local church with the poor in some tangible way that makes sense in your community? If not, then perhaps you are not being built into the temple of God’s dwelling, a place in which God dwells among the fatherless and the widow, the downtrodden and the poor.

The Forgotten Lesson of Bonhoeffer, and the American Church

I am worried about the rising popularity of Bonhoeffer in the United States.

Very worried.

I’m worried not because of his theology, or his political views, or his activism.

I’m worried because so many people are interested in him…so many different people.

Some people laud him for his non-violent pacifism, and other for his violent attempt at activism. Some laud him for his commitment to community, and others for his religion-less Christianity. Some laud him for his non-metaphysical theology, and others for his pastoral care. Some laud him from the far left, and others from the far right.

When this happens we have to dig deeper and ask, “Is there something we are missing here?”

The Forgotten Lesson of Bonhoeffer

We often think of Bonhoeffer as a hero of the church, but I think of him more as a cautionary tale.

The forgotten lesson of Bonhoeffer is not that we should all strive to be more like him, but that we should strive to be a church that wouldn’t need him!

article_images-3_8_Pastors_Does_the_American_Flag_Belong_in_Your_Church_766070041I worry that people will either look for the next Bonheoffer or try to be the next Bonhoeffer in some heroic protest, rather than entering the more humble protests of daily life. I worry that people will think that large gestures of protest are the way to change the world, rather than entering on the difficult daily path of ordinary resistance.

You see, Bonhoeffer had to be Bonhoeffer because the national church in Germany failed to be the church at all.

This is the forgotten lesson of Bonhoeffer: The Church in Germany had failed!

Headed toward Failure?

So I’m worried that everyone interested in Bonheoffer might not be learning the real lesson: that we in America might be the type of church that, in a time of crisis, will capitulate to preserving the American Dream rather than living as a Kingdom Reality.

During this 4th of July weekend, are we Christians in America more American than Christian? How would we know? Does that distinction even makes sense? And if it doesn’t, then I worry that we have turned to Bonhoeffer into an inspirational story rather than a cautionary tale.

Let us not make Bonhoeffer merely into a Christian Celebrity…

Mastering Objectivity? Or Subject to the Bible

Tim Challies ended a recent post criticizing the practice of Lectio Divina by saying, “This, then, is a danger in Lectio Divina, that it may teach us to approach the text subjectively rather than objectively.”

But what is the big deal about reading the text subjectively as opposed to objectively?

man-inserting-memory-card-in-brain3 Subjects of Scripture

It is a typical concern of those defending expository or expositional preaching that they are seeking “objectivity” in their study as opposed to others who are succumbing mere “subjectivity”, but beyond the concern that such a simple opposition is wildly naïve philosophically and practically, this dichotomy often does the reverse of what it hopes to do (secure the authority of scripture from human manipulation).  

To understand this we need to remember the three ‘subjects’ of Scripture.

1) The subject matter = the text of Scripture.  This is the written word which is often equated with the “Word of God” without further reflection.

2) The subject (as person) = God who spoke and speaks through the text.

The true subject of Scripture, toward which our study ought always to lead, is God, who in Christ through the Spirit, is making all things right.

We read the first (subject matter = Scripture) so that we can encounter, know, and experience, the second (subject/person = God).

And all this leads to the third subject:

3) The subject = the reader, who is made subject, or is subjected to, or subjugated by, the text to God so that as to become slaves to God rather than to our own passions, desires, and deaths.

I believe those advocating for the ‘objectivity’ in study and preaching desire that we would be slaves of the text, and God, rather than masters of the text, but through this opposition of objectivity and subjectivity, which all to often relies on faulty philosophical assumptions, this perspective ends up becoming masters of the text rather than slaves of it.

“Although I wouldn’t have known how to talk about it then, slowly but surely the Scriptures were becoming a place of human striving and intellectual hard work. Somehow, I had fallen into a pattern of using the Scriptures as a tool to accomplish utilitarian purposes rather than experiencing them primarily as a place of intimacy with God for my own soul’s sake.” Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms

So perhaps we should stop striving for a mythical “objectivity” through which God will speak to us, and instead embrace all the processes which we might become “subject” to the text, especially the meditative practices that lead to our own subjective un-mastery of God.  Indeed, this is to understand Scripture within the God’s power to save rather than just God’s information to teach.

And tomorrow, on the Missio Alliance Blog, I’ll be posting about why I’m “Against Revelation” because it obscures the power of God behind the desire to know stuff about God. Stay tuned.

And see Mark Moore’s great response to Challies in his “Is Lectio Divina Really Dangerous?

Culture vs. Society, (Or Not): An Older Evangelical Mindset

evolucion_tecnologicaIn the older evangelical (and fundamentalist influenced) mindset there was often a split between “culture” and “society” (albeit, not a conscious one).  Culture was usually viewed with suspicion leading to separation or withdrawal.  But society was viewed neutrally leading to capitulation.  Let me explain.

Culture

Culture is often viewed by older Evangelicals as the field of values and worldview, of messages and meaning.  Culture is where one must battle over a Christian worldview and Christian values.  Culture is where the battle for the hearts and minds of the youth is won or lost.  This understanding leads to a “Culture War” mentality based around key issues public prayer, the meaning of Christmas, marriage, abortion, evolution, global warming.  This mindset often leads to suspicion and separation in regard to culture.

Society

But society is usually viewed more neutrally as the structures and institutions of culture, but which are mostly benign in themselves, but could be used well or poorly depending on the people in charge of the institutions.  The structures of society (politic systems, economic policy/practice, healthcare, military, police forces, prison systems) are either good or bad. This mindset lead to accommodation and capitulation about the ways in which these structures and systems of society are themselves possibility at odds with the kingdom of God.

In my class last week on “Church and Culture” I raised this distinction between culture and society in order to erase it because we are going to be talking about systems and structures of meaning production all of which fall under a broad understanding of culture understood as the the total human endeavor to live and make sense of this very living.

Have you seen this distinction between ‘culture’ and ‘society’ in your churches, church leaders, or church experiences?

Telling the Story: The Eucharistic Prayer

eucharist1
Last month, at the Ecclesia National Gathering, I had the privilege and honor to preside over communion for the whole group. I led through the time as we usually do here at Life on the Vine, but many people not from a more liturgical background asked about the prayer leading into the Table.  Many commented on how they really “liked how I re-told the story of salvation” leading into communion.

So I want to explain a little bit of the Eucharistic Prayer (of “Great Thanksgiving”) that I used.

The History

The idea of the Eucharistic prayer (and remember, “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving” which indicate that Communion or the Lord’s Table is meant to be a celebration of God’s great gift in Christ, not merely a somber remembrance), the idea is that as Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me” that the this didn’t just mean the taking of the cup and bread, but the whole process of giving thanks to God during the mealtime prayer.

Following Deut. 8: 10 (“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.”), at every meal a devout Jew would thank God the creator for the gift of land which was a promise of the covenant.  They would affirm God as the creator of all things who has covenanted especially with Israel by giving the land, and the fruits of this land now eaten come from the promises of God and therefore call for thanksgiving.  But now for Christians, in Christ, the Creator God has covenanted with all people and the entire world becomes the land of blessing.

Do “to this in remembrance of me” is to pray a prayer similar to Jesus’ when he prayed over the cup and the bread during the Last Supper, a prayer assumed by all those familiar with Jewish practice and not mentioned in the Gospel texts for that reason (although the very early Didache indicates such a prayer).

This prayer of thanksgiving to God becomes the first part of the “Eucharistic Prayer”, with the second part being the words of institution (action of the Son) and the third part being the epiclesis (action of the Spirit), making this prayer Trinitarian in structure.

The Structure

So basically there are three parts corresponding to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

743px-Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld_Bibel_in_Bildern_1860_001
“God the Father” by Julius Schnorr (Woodcut,1860)

Part One: Thanks to the Father

The prayer begins with thanking/praising the Father for all of creation.  But creation is corrupted, but because God hasn’t abandoned creation, we thank the Father for the promise of salvation.  This can take many forms from the promise in the garden, to the calling of Abraham, the people of Israel, etc.  But whatever is said this first section ends with thanking God for sending the Son (Gal. 4:4 “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law”).

This is where “telling the story of salvation” comes in, and depending on the liturgical calendar and the sermon you can emphasize different elements.  See the Book of Common Worship, beginning on page 126 for several different types of prayer to inspire you.

As a way of tying together the cosmic and eternal significance of such a salvation in Christ, this section is often concluded with the Sanctus from Is. 6:3 (Rev. 4:8): “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Example (I usually do this extemporaneously):
From Book of Common Worship, Prayer D

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is indeed right, our duty and highest joy,
that we should at all times and in all places
give thanks to you, O holy Lord,

Father almighty, everlasting God.
You created the heavens and the earth
and all that is in them.
You made us in your own image;
and in countless ways you show us your mercy.

We praise you for Jesus Christ,
who was tempted in every way we are, yet without sin,
and who, having overcome temptation,
is able to help us in our times of trial,
and to give us strength to take up the cross and follow him

Therefore with angels and archangels
and the whole company of heaven,
we worship and adore your glorious name,
praising you forevermore:

 Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.

"Last Supper" by Jacopo Robusti
“Last Supper” by Jacopo Robusti

Part Two: Thanks to the Son

The second part focuses on the words of Jesus in commanding us to repeat his Last Supper, and is often called the words of institution.  The purpose is to remind us that this is what Jesus commanded us to do.  For many traditions it is these words that make Communion be Communion, the Eucharist a Eucharist.

It must be remember that these words are still part of the prayer (we are not just teach the congregation about what we are doing).  We are still thanking the Father for the gift of the Son and for the Son’s sacrifice.

Example (I usually do this word for word, as best I can):
From Book of Common Worship, Prayer D

We give you thanks that the Lord Jesus,
on the night before he died,
took bread,
and after giving thanks to you,
he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying:
Take, eat.
This is my body, given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.
In the same way he took the cup, saying:
This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood,
shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
Whenever you drink it,
do this in remembrance of me.

Part Three: Petition to/for the Holy Spirit

"Pentecost" R. De Cramer
“Pentecost” R. De Cramer

The last part is a petition to the Father that the Holy Spirit would come for otherwise all is in vain.  It is the work of the Spirit to that makes us into the Body of Christ. Without the Spirit we would not have life.  It is prayed that the Holy Spirit would take the bread and the cup and make them into the Body and Blood of Christ so that we (the Church) would be make into the Body of Christ.

Sometimes it is thought that the main purpose of the Holy Spirit is to miraculously change the bread and wine.  But really, the whole point is that WE would be change!

Example (usually word for word):
From Book of Common Worship, Prayer D

Merciful God,
by your Holy Spirit bless and make holy
both us and these your gifts of bread and wine,
that the bread we break
may be a communion in the body of Christ,
and the cup we bless may
be a communion in the blood of Christ.

Now, I have left stuff out (the Acclamation and other parts), but this is roughly what we do at Life on the Vine and why we do it.

Summary

So basically we give thanks for the gift of God three times:

We thank the Father for the Son.
We thank the Son for his sacrifice.
We thank the Father for the gift of the Spirit.

In the first we thank the Father for the historical body of Christ.
In the second we thank the Son for the gift of his sacramental body of Christ.
In the third we thank the Holy Spirit for the gift of the ecclesial body Christ.

Honoring Your Church

Acts 2:1-4. When the day of Pentecost came. Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.
When the day of Pentecost came Mark A Hewitt, Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.

Headline news is usually bad news.  Viral blog posts are usually polemical.  And those “way-too-long” conversations on Facebook and Twitter are often based in controversy.  Pain, division, and anger drive on-line traffic and often directs the content.

And church news is little different: pastor so-and-so is embroiled in a moral failing;  church such-and-such fired its pastor over leadership differences; and the seminary down the street let go a professor over theological issues. The list goes on and on.

Isn’t it time for something different?  

How about a little good news? What about a viral campaign about churches doing well?Well, here is my modest attempt to say a good word about our church community.

Honoring My Church Community

Let me just say it loud and clear: I love my church. And when I pause to think about it much it brings me to tears.

Last week our congregation gathered for an ordination and consecration service for myself and my wife.  You see, I managed to squeeze a 2-year ordination process into 10 years (Cyd did it in the allotted 2 years, so that tells you who is more on top of things).

During the service there was a time of affirmation so that people could say how much they love and appreciate Cyd and I as people and as pastors.  And of course it was very nice (thank you all who were there).

At the end of the service I got up to say a word of thanks, because that is the good and proper thing to do.  But I was so overcome by gratitude (more precisely, I was choking down tears) that I couldn’t get the words out (I know this is very hard to believe for those who know me, but there were witnesses I promise).

And why was I so choked up?  Well, let me tell you.

I forget…

My church community makes me forget that many pastors (and members) have been abused, neglected, and all around beat up by their communities.  I forget that this is the reality for many people when they think of “church”.  Over the years I have known many of these pastors in my Emerging and Missional church networks.  And I have heard their heartache and frustration caused by their church communities.  I have talked with them about their longings for a more holistic ministry and how they have been shut down by their leadership.  But my church makes me forget this (in a good way).

Being let down, dominated, neglected, and controlled has not been my experience here at Life on the Vine. I have never felt overworked and underappreciated. I’ve never been shutdown or controlled aggressively by people that disagree with me.  I have never felt like people were just putting a smiley face over a conversation in order strong conflict.

I know this might sound weird, but for the most part I have had such a positive experience as a pastor of this local church that I forget that many people have a very sour view of the church.  If often shocks me that people hate and mistrust the “church” in general (often coming out of a specific bad “church” experience).

I’ve even been called a naïve idealist because I have such high hopes and beliefs about the church.  But this is because my local church has been such a healthy experience for me.  In fact I don’t believe I’m either naïve or an idealist.  It is just that I haven’t been deeply wounded by my church (and I think that is just how God wants it to be).  I have been nurtured by my church. And isn’t that how it is supposed to be?

I remember…

Through my church community I remember God’s grace, God’s love, and God’s patience.  I know that I’m loved and accepted for who I am and not what I do (for the most part, the identity issues I have come solidly from my own sin and not because of passive-aggressive tendencies from my community).

I remember through my church community that God really is making a new people here in the world, a peculiar people (strange & weird) for sure, but a new people out of the old.  We don’t all act alike, believe alike, looks alike, or love alike. And yet here we are living our lives together.

For sure it hasn’t been easy. In fact, it has been hard work living into the reconciliation of God.  But it has been worth it! I’m a totally different person because of it.  And I wouldn’t trade those lessons learned for just about anything.

Not Perfect…

This is not to say our church is perfect. And certainly I’m not perfect. And that is the whole point! We aren’t perfect. NO CHURCH IS PERFECT.

But it is how we all deal with our imperfections that really matters.  Or better, it is how we are all allowing God to deal with our imperfections that matter.  We are all going to blow it.  But can we live in patience and forgiveness? Can we live toward reconciliation and justice?  Can we live toward love and faith?

I, for one, believe our church community is pretty good at being imperfect in these ways.

Therefore, I want to honor my church community in seeking God’s kingdom in the midst of all our messy imperfections, and somehow, for having put up with all my messy imperfections for the better part of 10 years.

What about you? Are you able to praise and honor your church?  Let’s get some good headlines going out there.