Protestants, Catholics, Communion–oh my! (Happy Corpus Christi!)


Today is a Christian Holy Day called “Corpus Christi” (Latin for “the body of Christ”). Today we meditate on the mystery of Communion/Eucharist/The Lord’s Supper.

I’ve mentioned some of my Communion views before and what I articulated is a synthesis and summary of the ideas of many theologians, both Protestant and Catholic. And so today, I want talk to all my fellow Protestant brothers and sisters out there.

In my opinion, the popular Evangelical idea of the Catholic view on the Eucharist is not really right or helpful (as is the popular conception of most of Catholic doctrine). Today I want to argue that Catholicism’s “Eucharist problem” is more historical and rhetorical than theological.

Some History

In the earliest decades and centuries of church history, people were able to simply maintain the simple doctrine that at Communion, they are receiving the true presence of Christ in the Bread and the Wine (source, albeit biased). In the middle ages, though, people starting asking themselves “Wait, what does that actually mean?” Differing answers started forming and a diversity of opinion about the Eucharist began taking place. The leaders of the Church tried to bring some commonality to this. In fact, the medieval Catholic church made a few “errant” teachers affirm these statements in 1078 and 1079:
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John Calvin on Stupid Eucharist Theology (Happy Corpus Christi)


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Yesterday was the Christian Church Holiday of Corpus Christi, where we celebrate that Jesus actually meets us in the Bread and Wine of Communion. It’s not merely a symbol to make us think of certain doctrinal ideas, but there are very real spiritual things happening in those elements. I’ve written elsewhere about this in detail.

Today, however, I want to offer you a funny little rant John Calvin goes on in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. In it, he is responding to those that accused the Reformed tradition of making the Eucharist way too heady and rationalistic of an idea, sapping all beauty and mystery out of it. Here was Calvin’s response, encouraging us all to embrace the beauty and awe of Communion: Continue reading

What is a Sacrament? (Happy Corpus Christi!)


eucharist-bw-wafer

Today is the Church Holy Day called Corpus Christi (Wiki), Latin for “the Body of Christ”, in which the Church takes a few moments to reflect and meditate upon the gift that is the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist, or Communion). In honor of this, I thought I’d share a recent essay I wrote articulating what I believe is happening in the Sacraments. Let me know what you think!

A sacrament is any material thing that God uses to communicate himself within Creation. Yes, this is quite the broad definition for “sacrament” (little “s”). Every single way that God has ever revealed himself in this world has always been in a mediated sense. God has never been revealed in his full “Godness”. It is always through a material means, and mostly clearly in Jesus Christ.

In this sense, I can accept things like marriage and confirmation as sacraments; but I can also see a good beer, TV show, conversation, or even suffering (like the Cross) as a sacrament. Any material means by which God communicates any part of who he is a sacrament.  It has also been quite freeing for me to see all of life as inherently sacramental.

In this sense, sacramentalism becomes a primary filter through which to understand and describe reality as it is and the nature of the Creator/Creation distinction. This collapses the old unhelpfully-gnostic “transcendence/imminence” dichotomies.
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About Heretics: Should they be Persecuted? (16th-century guest blog post)


Supplice_des_AmauriciensToday’s “guest post” is by Sebastian Castellio, a 16th-century reformer, pastor, and theologian from France. He was good friends with John Calvin for quite some time, but if there is one big, black, dark stain on the reputation of Calvin, it is his overseeing the burning of the heretic Michael Servetus. The Reformation years were a time of great strife within Christianity and much blood was shed simply because people held different doctrinal convictions. One of the first widely respected people to vehemently fight against this was Castellio. Today, especially in light of last week’s post on denominations, I want to reproduce a small portion of a pamphlet he wrote right after hearing about Servetus’ execution. This event tore apart his and Calvin’s friendship.

Most of the Christian Church doesn’t burn or kill those other Christians with wom we disagree. But still, our modern forms of “persecution” and labeling as “heretic” remains. Blog posts, message boards, tweets, Facebook comments, and passive-aggressive interviews fill the Christian blogosphere. And yet, in a post-Christian America, I find this to be increasingly unnecessary, silly, and shameful. My favorite Castellio quote is this:

To kill a man is not to protect a doctrine, but it is to kill a man.

I think the same can be said about dumb comments, blog posts, and tweets that aim to take down others that are just as sincerely trying to follow God as we are. As you read this, imagine today’s forms of attack in place of the overtly violent ones mentioned by Castellio, and I think you’ll agree this is a important a read today as ever. (This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity. If you’d like to read the unedited excerpt, you can find it in this preview of Hans Hillerbrand’s The Protestant Reformation.)

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Are Christian denominations good or bad?


luther-95theses-humor-memeI’m currently in a Church History class going through the Reformation period of Christianity. During the Reformation, Martin Luther’s partner in crime (literally) was Philipp Melanchthon. After Luther’s death, Melanchthon carried the torch as a leader of the movement spreading throughout the Medieval world. In the years following the start of the Reformation, there were several different strains of non-Catholic Christianity that popped up.

To withstand the Catholic majorities at the time, these non-Catholic groups started talking about what it would look like to unify under one banner. Believe it or not, even though all these movements were really young and were reacting to the same problems they saw in Catholicism, these groups had really big differences between them that were hard to overcome.

In these conversations, an aging Melanchthon used an old Greek philosophical phrase to suggest a way forward: Adiaphora. Greek for “indifferent things”, he used it to describe how he felt that some beliefs and practices could be considered adiaphora (non-essentials), and could be compromised on for the same of unity. He argued with his fellow Lutherans that some beliefs were more essential to Christianity than others and didn’t require so much division. The others around him, of course, disagreed.

This got me thinking about the trajectory this set for us today. We now feel perfectly free to think a whole host of different things and still call others Christians. And yet still, much of Christianity’s most bitter judgmentalism and cries of heresy, unfaithfulness, sin, and arrogance are directed towards other who are also trying to follow the God of Jesus best they can. This has caused rifts, schisms, splits, and divisions into a huge number of Church denominations. Is this healthy for us? What does Christian “unity” look like? Do we all need to look the same?
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Love your neighbor…even other denominations | Matthew 22:34-40


When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:34:40

I find it fascinating that this opens with the fact that the Pharisees were only respecting Jesus and calling him Teacher because he had smacked down their fellow Jews who happened to be in a different “denomination”. How often do we do this? How often do we latch on to a teacher not because God meets us in their  proclamation, but because they reaffirm our beliefs and/or put down those we disagree with? Fellow family members in the people of God, no less! How dare we?

This is why I find it brilliant that Jesus stresses the vertical in the greatest commandment, but he also throws in the necessity of loving our neighbors as well. Don’t miss this. He essentially adds a human-relational dimension to the Shema, one of the most beloved of Jewish texts! And so he incorporates how we treat others as just as essential as how we love God. When we don’t love those around us-especially the fellow people of God that we disagree with-we break the most important of commandments and fall short in loving our God.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Welcome to Ash Wednesday. Lent begins.


ash-wednesday-pew-lentToday is Ash Wednesday. In just under two months from today we’ll come to the highest point in the Christian Church calendar, Easter. That is where we’ll celebrate Christ’s Resurrection and how God’s perfect world broke into the present and our greatest enemies–sin and death–were conquered and shown to have no more dominion over us and the rest of the world. It’s meant to be the most effusive, overflowing, even ridiculous time of joy.

And yet, when we look at Jesus’ Resurrection, we see that before it ever took place, there was Death. And before that, there was an entire lifetime of loneliness, pain, suffering weakness, and isolation. We see that it was a life surrounded by evil forces and whispers that haunt and hurt Jesus and the people he loved.

And so, our early Church Mothers and Father thought it would be wise to have this time before Easter to prepare, so we might end up celebrating during Easter all the more.

Resurrection was itself a statement against our two greatest enemies: Sin and Death. And so to participate in Resurrection, we take the time of Lent to meditate and press into those things to which Resurrection was the response. We do this not out of morbidity, but out of anticipation.

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Lent begins tomorrow. (Will you just give it a try?)


Jesus & The Cross

I grew up in a church tradition that did not take seriously the Christian Church Calendar. Even as I went to college and moved into communities that took some level of tradition more seriously (which was usually limited to quoting Puritans and Reformers in sermons), the Church Calendar wasn’t that big of a deal. It was seen as something sort-of cool that could be incorporated into the already established life of the Church; a buffet from which leaders could pick and choose some aspects that might be helpful in organizing some sermon series or songs. But it certainly wasn’t seen as something that a church should actually incorporate itself into, or build it’s own rhythm around.

I’ve had the privilege of having this paradigm rocked the past several years at my church, and have fallen in love with the Church calendar. It influences much of the rhythm and timbre of my everyday life–both ecclesial and otherwise. I find such life in living within a stream of thought that was not simply created within the past generation by baptizing modern Western American cultural ideas.

I love finding myself as embedded within the cloud of witnesses that have gone before me as possible–even those I may disagree with passionately and fundamentally. Because, at the end of the day, they are my family, and families have traditions. Sure, you can be “that guy” that does his own thing and doesn’t participate in the family rhythms, but where’s the life in that?

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What is the Proclamation of the Word?


pulpit-church-hdr-bibleFor a class recently, I had to read a bunch of items on the part of a worship service in which the Bible is front and center. This “section” of the service is called “The Proclamation of the Word”, or more generally, the “sermon” or homily”. I ran across this great quote:

The very act of preaching, in fact, sets up questions and problems.  Most people no longer understand the difference between preaching and other types of public speaking…. Many people think of a sermon as an occasion for being entertained, instructed, or inspired in matters of religion — hence the customary comment at the church door, “I enjoyed your sermon.”  Nowadays, it is only congregations who have been engaged in a new way of thinking for a long time who are going to sit expectantly waiting for the Word of God to be spoken — for preaching, properly understood, is the good news that God preaches through human beings.  Astonishingly enough, this is the method of communicating that God has chosen.  This is an offensive idea; there are a hundred complaints to be brought against it.  Most common is the objection, “How can anyone presume to speak the Word of God?”  Or to put it another way, “How can any human being be so arrogant as to think he is a mouthpiece of God?”  How indeed?  It is a very good question.  The validity or invalidity of preaching rests on such issues as these. (Fleming Rutledge, Not Ashamed of the Gospel)

I think Rutledge is right (and not just because she is an incredible preacher–all you complementarians could learn a thing or two from her!): people don’t seem to really see preaching as fundamentally different than any other lecture or other public speaking. Preaching is often (subtly and unspokenly) seen (or at least treated) as “mere” personal edification–similar to a book discussion or philosophical lecture or self-help conference.
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And….We All Have a New Pope! (Catholics Aren’t Crazy)


pope-funny-bigMere minutes ago, a new Pope emerged from the conclave in Rome after Pope Benedict’s surprising resignation several weeks ago. The new Pope is the cardinal formerly-known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

But now, he is Pope Francis.

Now, I am fully and securely a Protestant, as most of the readers of this blog are. But for those of us that find ourselves in that Protestant tradition, we often forget a little detail of that name: Protestant.

It means, literally, “the protesting ones”. We are “protest-ant” about many of the practices and teachings of the Catholic Church. But to “protest” something does not necessarily mean you are no longer a part of it.

This is why I describe myself, denominationally, as a “Protesting Catholic”. (Okay, I stole that from Austin Ricketts.)

And you should to.
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Let the Female Pastor Reformation begin!


luther-95theses-humor-memeOn this blog, I currently have two running series I’m doing: “Reflections on Repentance” and “Women & the Church“. For these series, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research on those topics.

For the Women in Ministry series, I’ve been researching what, for me, is the biggest thing that gives me pause in my own egalitarian view in support of female pastors: the complete dearth of women leaders throughout the history of the whole Christian church. With a couple thousand years now of godly men (and women) looking at the same Scriptures I am, why have the vast majority of them come to the same view limiting women’s role?

Well, that’s another post for another time, but rest assured, as I’ve been researching this, I feel I’ve satisfied my concerns in this area. But that’s not what this (mostly tongue-in-cheek) post is about.

For my research for the repentance series, I keep ending up at the Reformation and its leaders. This got me thinking, and doing some math…

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“15 Glances” at the Crucifix | Lent {11}


In the tradition of giving honor where it’s due, I’ve like to offer up the post that served a the inspiration for this whole series I’ve been doing on “The Lamb Eternally Slain” (which still isn’t done, even though it’s no longer Lent. It’ll be okay, though). The post is by Ben Myers, a thoughtful and thought-provoking theologian who draws from many theological corners for his thinking (much like myself). Here it is:

The Icon of the Cross: 15 Glances | Faith & Theology

Austin Ricketts, who wrote a couple of the posts in this series, sent to me this post of Ben’s nearly nine months ago. I still remember where I was as I read it and was caught up in it’s transcendent, sweeping reflections on the icon of the Cross. (Yes, we are referring here to “icon” as in the artistic representation of religious things for use in meditation or worship. Don’t worry, fellow Protestants, icons aren’t nearly as bad or idolatrous of a thing as we were raised being told.) I had the idea then for this blog series on my blog, but held on to it until Lent, thinking it most appropriate for this time (instead of Advent, haha).

In his post, Myers spends some time jotting down 15 reflections (or “glances”) on this icon. I have copied a few of my favorites below, but please check out the full post–there’s far more beauty in store for you.

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Catholics Aren’t Crazy: Paul Ryan & the 2013 House Budget


Yesterday, House Republicans unveiled their own 2013 budget to counter President Obama’s proposed budget.

Now, neither of these have (or will) become law. These annual budgets are merely proposals and are often political statements of priority. Both the President and the House write their budgets, not realistically, but extremely, hoping that once negotiation begins, they’ll walk away with more of what they want.

But still, like I said, these proposals are expressions of priority and direction to which a party will try and “bend” the nation’s spending. The House Budget Committee Chairman, Paul Ryan, said as much when he unveiled the plan (upon which he bears the final word), calling it “a choice between two futures” (others called it “careless”).

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the political animal in me is stirring…


Here we go again. This usually happens every four years in the summer after the major Party Conventions, and the full-blown presidential campaign is in full swing. This time, though, it’s happening about six-months early in January (I wrote about this quadrennial event back in ’08).

And so, I just wanted to give everyone a quick heads-up that my political self is rousing from his hibernation, and I tell you what–he’s more passionate and (this is new!) clear-headed about what he thinks and why.

(Attached to this post, you can see a picture of my inner “political animal”. He’s been around for a while now. Thanks, Dad.)

So expect a shift in the content of this blog. Yes, there will still be plenty of pastoral and theological musings, but you’ll also see an increasing number of political posts on this site in the coming weeks and months (hey, maybe I can try and start writing for Patrol Magazine again!).

I feel like I’m  finally settling into a cohesive and articulate (and defensible) set of beliefs concerning politics-influenced-by-faith: where we’re off the mark, we’re we need to be, and how to get there. So, expect some ideological posts on that stuff, but also expect some commentary on the unfolding politics as they move forward toward November.
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