Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Deep Church as Third Way 5

posted by Scot McKnight

ThirdWay.jpgJim Belcher’s right about this, and it is one of the deep characteristics about the emerging movement and it emerges from a suspicion about how evangelism works, about how the gospel works, about how conversion actually works:

“What do people have to believe before they belong? What is the role of doctrine? What is the role of community in bringing people to and nurturing them in the faith?” (94). The mantra one can hear at times is “belonging before believing.” People believe in today’s world after belonging.
What is the proper order? Do you think “belonging before believing” is a good strategy today? What do you think is required in order to “belong” to a church community? What are the weaknesses? Is this the old mainline, liturgical “assumption that one is a Christian” or is it a different strategy? How “far in” does “belong” mean: Does it mean Lord’s Supper, teaching, leadership? Where does the “belong before believe” draw the line? Does it draw a line at all?
This can be found in chp 5 of Jim’s new book:  Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional.


Evangelism.jpgThe issue here is using doctrine as the gate and gatekeeper. The abuse by some has given “evangelism” a bad reputation — anway, here’s a picture that sums up what many in emerging think about the way many evangelize. (HT: ST)

The problem here is how far does belonging go without any sense of correct belief or discipleship? Is there a Third Way?
Belcher thinks so.He learned it from a colleague in the structure of the Gospels: Galilean public mission, transitional trip to Jerusalem, and the cross and resurrection. That is, “who is Jesus?” and then “Who do you think I am?” and then the “Take and eat” and either you do or you don’t. Belonging eventually leads to commitment to Jesus himself. Without that latter step, the process is incomplete.


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RJS

posted September 22, 2009 at 7:01 am


It does depend on what we mean by belonging. We want people to come and feel welcome, at home – so in this sense belonging often precedes believing and should be accepted.
But Lord’s Supper? This is a sacred moment in community, and should be taken by believers.
Of course, it also depends on what we mean by believe. If “believe” means follows Jesus as a “Bible Christian” to use a term from a post yesterday, affirming the essence of the creeds, great. But often “believe” is taken much further than this to include substantial additional baggage.
And then there is teaching and leadership – leaders should affirm the basic beliefs of the group. Why would we suggest differently? And teachers – well leaders should at least ensure that teachers are not teaching in conflict with the basic beliefs of the group. Belong then believe just doesn’t seem appropriate here.



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Jim

posted September 22, 2009 at 7:16 am


The first question that comes to mind is the question of where the church is to which one is claiming to belong. While I understand that church is a community, it seems that some of this presupposes attractional biases. The church as a group is “here in this place”…come and belong over here. I wonder how the logic of this flows if the “church” is a gathering in a public place, i.e. where “they” are rather than where “we” are. (e.g. church conceived in a more organic/missional way…Neil Cole)
Second, I think this would require more conversation regarding what constitutes “belonging.” How do we know when “they” are belonging and how do they know they are “belonging”? Is that just a feeling of belonging? Or because we like them and they like us?
Third, I wonder how Jesus would conceive of “belonging”? Does one “belong” at the moment s/he names Christ as Savior and Lord or does one “belong” when one also subscribes to a congregation’s particular doctrinal beliefs and practices? e.g. Is the message: you are a Christian when you make Jesus your Lord/Savior or you are a Christian when you make Jesus your Lord/Savior AND believe X, Y, Z. And, if that, where does it end? Does one have to believe in Biblical inerrancy to be a Christian, the literal 7 day creation story? etc etc



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Rick

posted September 22, 2009 at 7:26 am


Brings to mind a similar approach by the Celtic church (v. the Roman church)as described in George Hunter’s, The Celtic Way of Evangelism.
He states that the Celtic model was: fellowship, then ministry and conversations, then belief and commitment.
The Roman model, on the other hand, was presentation, then decision, then fellowship.
Of course the Celtic situation had more rural communities that centered around a church.
I agree with the concerns of RJS. The early church had such sharp distinctions of advancement and involvement in the church, allowing people to fully appreciate what they were getting into. Today we throw everyone into the same situation.
Is there is a middle-ground (Third Way) community before entering “church-world”?



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Andrew Kenny

posted September 22, 2009 at 7:31 am


I remember many years ago I was part of a very authoritarian fellowship group which had ‘committed’ (signs of insanity?) meetings for those who were not merely Christians but who were committed to the beliefs and purpose of the group. I was always felt ill at ease with this. Firstly it gave the impression to not only Christians who went to the ordinary meetings that there was a sort of elitism within the church but also to interested non Christians who were wanting to learn more about God. Even if it had been done more discreetly it could have been better but it was always publically announced.
The belong, behave, believe idea (and vice versa ) can be a slippery concept in that none of them are ever static as people are forever wavering in each one. For instance our belief in certain doctrines many change and may also differ between churches; as also our behaviour may not be pleasing to the group we belong to if they knew we went out to a distant bar for a quiet drink, or did something secretly that the Bible condemned. Sometimes we may also feel we belong to a particular church though we have not signed membership papers but does that really matter?
After three years under the direction of the Son of God were the disciples still believing the right things, behaving in the right way or still keen to belong to the group or still accepted as members by Jesus?
As regards belief they were still asking questions such as :”Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” As regards behaviour, one of them had betrayed the Master for money and the rest scattered when he was in trouble and regards belonging , Peter decided he’d had enough and took them off fishing!
My understanding is that the conversion process is very much a process, with those on the fringe of the Christian life often making two steps forward and one step back. We of ourselves can not manipulate people into being Christians. To follow the example of Wesley we should extend the hand of friendship ‘being a friend of all and an enemy of none’. We first and foremost are the living letters that people read and by being patient with those whom we see God working in, we may produce some good fruit like a beautiful pear or peach rather than a little withered up sour grape when we have sought to manipulate and force people into the kingdom.There are obviously different approaches or bringing people to Christ but for many postmoderns we must aim to be Christlike and become a true friend of sinners.
Not only by the words you say,
Not only by the deeds you do, but in the most unconscious way
Is Christ Expressed
Is it a calm seraphic smile,
a holy frown upon your brow?
Oh No, I felt his presence when you laughed just now.
For me, it was not the truth you taught
To you so clear, to me so dim
But when you came to me
You brought a sense of Him
And from your eyes He beckoned me
And from your heart, His love was shed
Till its no longer you I see , but Christ instead.



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Randy

posted September 22, 2009 at 7:31 am


I recommend Joseph Myers “The Search to Belong” when talking about belonging. Very informative.
With the Lord’s Supper, in practice, it is impossible to know who is believing and who is belonging. Even “members” might be unbelievers for all I know. I emphasize thant communion is for believers, but I don’t stress about who takes it. To the unbeliever it is only bread and wine, to the Christian it is so much more. I always caution that communion is not some magical rite because I don’t want unbelievers to get the idea that this is their ticket in.



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Frank Emanuel

posted September 22, 2009 at 7:59 am


I started out with pretty traditional notions on this, closed table and a respectful distance between the saved and unsaved in my sphere of influence. However, in practice I’m a pretty open and inviting guy – so my indoctrination into traditional notions frayed over time. Three things really concretised the change in thinking for me.
1) The fruit was categorically different. I used to be a street preacher and saw many people guilted into making religious professions. But this didn’t translate into discipling relationships despite our best efforts and intentions. However, when I was just hanging out with people I was building natural discipling relationships that often turned into deep religious committments. It took me years to realize what the difference was.
2) George Hunter’s Celtic Way of Evangelism. This book made sense. It connected the dots for me allowing me to understand why intellectual assent was so important in the traditional models of evangelism. It also helped erode how these notions translated into my evangelical pastoral practice.
3) A challenge from a friend about the nature of the Lord’s Table. If the model for the Lord’s Table is the table fellowship Jesus had throughout his incarnation then why do we exclude sinners and tax collectors (or worse say that we do and really just turn it into an insiders club)? In the paraphrased words of John Fuellenbach, “The Kingdom of God means finding ourselves at the table with people we never would sit with in any other context!”
When all was said and done we began to craft a church experience that is both unabashedly liturgical (in a traditional way) and at the same time open and inviting. A good example is that we recently had a Wiccan lady attend a service (she is an old friend of one of our people) and loved it. She had so many great questions. And when we came to the part of praying for each other – we invited her to jump right in and pray how she feels she should. When we do that we are allowing folks to feel valued, important and able to fully participate no matter where they are at. In that they experience the love and acceptance of God and our experience is that over the long haul that love wins them – and wins them in a way our arguments never could.



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dopderbeck

posted September 22, 2009 at 8:29 am


RJS (#1) asks some good questions. I like the “belonging before believing” phrase in some ways. If “belonging” means, “we trulyaccept and love you where you are right now as a person,” then this is wonderful. Yet, from the very beginning of the Church, it was clear that only those who had undergone some sort of catechetical process leading to a public confession of faith and baptism could participate in the Eucharistic meal.
In my experience in independent Bible churches, we get things kind of backwards. We have no process of basic catechism in the “Great Tradition” leading to baptism or confirmation, and anyone is free to participate in communion according to his or her own conscience. But when it comes to becoming a “member” of the local body, we often add very distinct glosses on the Great Tradition before accepting people into full fellowship (such as a particular view of Biblical inspiration or eschatology, or a particular experience of the Holy Spirit).
This is a place where the “Great Tradition” emphasis can be very helpful, I think, and where the mainline / liturgical churches have something very valuable that we independents lack. Bring people in and welcome them unconditionally, except to the Eucharistic meal. When they sense the desire to participate in the meal, train them in the basics of the Great Tradition — the Trinity and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus — and ask for a public confession of personal faith in Christ and baptism if they haven’t been baptized.



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Frank Emanuel

posted September 22, 2009 at 8:46 am


The reasoning for keeping the Eucharist separate in the primitive church had more to do with preventing infiltration than a closed table. Prayer was another thing reserved only for the baptised. This was the norm during times of persecution. But I think you are right about the need for a catechetical process, we’ve adapted the RCIA that came out of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. So folks who decide to pursue baptism need sponsors (intentional discipleship) and get to find out what it is that becoming part of the ecclesia means. BTW I love the celebration of first reception of the gospel – so profound. But in our community when a person gets to that point they have been part of our community and full participants in our liturgical celebrations.



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Joan Ball

posted September 22, 2009 at 8:49 am


This conversation leads me to questions I have asked and continue to ask since coming to faith – what does it mean to be Christian and what is the meaning and purpose of church? If we are saved by Grace, can one actually “make a decision” and immediately become Christian or does the decision merely put one on the road toward Jesus? That said, in my own story I can see that I was on the “road toward” long before I knew I was on this journey. Church raises more questions. Is it a place for fellowship? For learning? Discipleship? Service? Of course I ask these questions rhetorically, because I know that there are learned and devout people with leanings in each of these directions who can (and do) make compelling arguments for any number of “truths” using scripture and tradition as their justification — which raises even more questions about the scope of God’s truth and what it means to believe and walk in that faith on a daily basis.
When I contemplate these things and find myself at this kind of an exasperating impasse, I try to remember that I am called to seek wisdom and knowledge of God and the Kingdom, but that I am to come as a little child. A followers who have much to learn no matter how long or how far I have come. What a challenge it can be to remain teachable in the midst of information/knowledge and flexible/humble enough to make changes in response to new learning…



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Jim

posted September 22, 2009 at 8:51 am


Andrew: May I ask the source of the poem you quoted. Wonderful!



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Fr. Lee

posted September 22, 2009 at 9:29 am


One thing that I think is important to add to the debate is that it is God through the Holy Spirit that gathers the Body of Christ together. In this sense, when we think of ways in which we belong to the body of Chrsit, the Church, because we are human, tends to think in linear terms….one thing must lead to another….baptism leads to Eucharist and the full belonging in the Body. God, however, is not limited to our linear ways of thinking so I believe that the process of belonging is much more fluid…Eucharist can lead to baptism, baptism can lead to Eucharist….people are different and God will speak to each person in ways that are meaningful to them….what we do need to insure is that there is a process in which people understand the sacraments and their meaning….if a person comes to the Body through their experience of Eucharist….they should understand that it should eventually lead to baptism….



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dopderbeck

posted September 22, 2009 at 9:38 am


Frank (#8) and Fr. Lee (#11) you make some great points. So I guess my own thinking on this is more fluid than I realize. It’s hard for me personally to address this kind of question without the baggage of my fundamentalist past. I inherited from that a strong inclination to seek out who should be excluded — including unfortunately over-examining myself all the time! Still, even while wanting to get past an excessive focus on “who’s in and who’s out,” the NT rings with the fact that there will always be false teachers and such – so some discernment process at various levels of “belonging” is needed.



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Travis Greene

posted September 22, 2009 at 10:51 am


Does he get into centered vs. bounded set thinking in this chapter?
To me, there are appropriate contexts for both kinds of sets. A marriage should be a bounded set. Leadership/teaching should probably be a bounded set. The overall church community, however, I think works better as a centered set, with a core of beliefs and values at the center, and maybe a fuzzy boundary at the edge, rather than the traditional in/out binary that a bounded set creates.
I know this isn’t really what the post is about, but I have to say I disagree with RJS and others re: closed communion. Mike Morrell recently had a good post on this:
http://zoecarnate.wordpress.com/2009/09/21/open-or-closed-table-eucharistcommunion-wwjd/



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Jim Belcher

posted September 22, 2009 at 10:53 am


Hey Everyone,
It is just 7:45am here on the West Coast and I am getting my kids through breakfast and off to school. I was up really late reading a paper on epistemology and Scripture sent to me by Michael Horton.
I hope to jump into this very interesting conversation soon! Thanks everyone for participating. This was one of my favorite chapters to write and so very important for this conversation between emerging and traditional. BTW, for those who have read this chapter, my daughter Meghan (who is now 3) is doing well. Her scars have begun to fade already. We are relieved. I will try to post a picture of her on my fb page today.
Shalom,
Jim



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dopderbeck

posted September 22, 2009 at 11:58 am


Hey Jim — can you give us a cite to the article? I’d like to see it too before we talk further. Scot McKnight — how about another thread to pick up again on the discussion of the connection between epistemology and scripture and the “third way”? IMHO this is really one of the key points of tension that somehow we have to find our way through.



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Jim Belcher

posted September 22, 2009 at 12:06 pm


Hey Everyone,
Great stuff. It is interesting that so far the comments have been centered around the Lord’s Supper. I guess that makes sense. It is a hard issue to figure out in light of our desire to be hospitable. Travis (#13), thanks for the link to Mike Morrell’s blog and the resources on open vs closed communion. I have downloaded a bunch of the articles to read and put some of the books into my cart at amazon.
A few years before we planted our church in the PCA denomination, my wife and I attended a wonderful episcopal church in San Gabriel, Ca. They had an open table. That was the first time I had to think about a different way of doing it. I liked parts of it but other things did not sit well for me, particularly Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor. 10:14-22.
Travis #13, I do discuss “bounded and centered” set thinking in the chapter. I make the case for a centered set church over against a bounded set and “fuzzy set” church when it comes to the overall picture. But you are right that in different contexts of the church we might need to be all three. As you say, we are bounded in our leadership, centered set in our overall church community, and fuzzy set out on the edges where people are welcomed into the community. Good point.
The question everyone is asking is what “set” is the Lord’s Supper? Is it part of belonging or belief? How has the Great Tradition with its years of wisdom (Tom Oden calls church history “the history of the Holy Spirit), thought about this topic. We want to take this seriously before we make any changes or reforms.
Another question, “at what point in the life of the believing community do we want to see people move from simply belonging to belief?” That is the tough question. Besides the Lord’s Supper are there other areas that are “bounded”?
Here is another question. Is it possible that we are called to restrict the Lord’s Supper to believers but learn how to practice radical table hospitality to the outsider throughout the week? What if we were having people outside the fellowship of believers over once or twice a week to our house for dinner? How would that revolutionize the evangelism of the church? Is that closer to Jesus’ model–eating with sinners and tax collectors but only serving the Lord’s Supper to his disciples? Just wondering. What to you all think?
Shalom,
Jim



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Tom Feliciano

posted September 22, 2009 at 12:09 pm


I’m new to this “conversation” and have just ordered Jim’s book, I’m already somewhat confused. It seems to me that everyone is getting bogged down in details that are of little importance to the people we’re trying to reach, the unsaved! From my view up here in Alaska, its really pretty simple. First we must acknowledge that the church in America is in a pretty big mess. George Barna says from his research it is 37th in what infulences America culture. Please help this old guy up hear in Alaska understand how “Having a conservation” about if we should have a closed communion or an open one is going to change that!
The simple fact is people come to church for a lot of reasons that stay for one, RELATIONSHIP! They want to feel loved and accepted. We need to let the main thing be the main thing! Everyone, and I mean everyone has their doctrine wrong. I promise you the unsaved could careless about an open or closed communion.
My son (former youth pastor) lives in Seattle, he and his wife spent a year looking for a new church, they found a church that on their web site stated very bodly “The friendliest church is Seattle” they attended there 3 sundays not one person spoke to them!
You should consider reading Larry Crabb’s new book “Real Church”. Larry admits that he dosen’t like going to church much, because its not giving him what he needs and that is community!
I attended an Emergent church conf. a couple yrs. ago and to say the least was very underwhelmed, and left early. They had no interest at all in discussing (having a conservation) these issues I have just raised. I got in big trouble because I made (at dinner) a very suttle suggestion (to one of the movements leaders wife) that maybe women were part of the problem.
Maybe we should have a conservation about how the church in America got into this mess, and who lead it there!?



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Travis Greene

posted September 22, 2009 at 12:32 pm


Tom,
If Eucharist/Communion/Lord’s Supper is one of the central practices of the church, then it’s important to get it right (not in some final, “everybody else is wrong/bad” sense, but in the sense of being as faithful as we can manage). I disagree with those who practice closed communion, but I understand and respect their desire to protect the sanctity of the table, as well as the fact that (as Jim points out) there is the weight of history behind doing it this way.
Jim @ 16,
Good questions. I like your idea of table hospitality as evangelism. I would put Eucharist in the belonging category, with baptism as more of the boundary marker. But I suspect the Eucharist issue is one that we simply have to bracket until kingdom come.
As for when people move from belonging to belief…I think that will vary greatly depending on the individual or family. It’s probably a pastoral call. Not in the sense that a pastor specifically has to make it, but that somebody should have gotten to know that person well enough to know when it is appropriate to invite them to “take the plunge” (since I still believe in believer’s baptism, I mean that part literally). The community around that person should be leaning heavily on the Spirit to discern when is the right time. I agree, though, there will be a right time. A third way will find somewhere between the constant barrage of altar calls and “decision times” (even when the only people present are already church members! “…we’re going to sing all four verses of Softly and Tenderly one more time…”) of my SBC youth, and the equal and opposite reaction into some kind of nebulous, hang-out-in-the-metaphorical-lobby-all-day laziness.



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Andrew Kenny

posted September 22, 2009 at 12:57 pm


Hi Jim,
you asked for the source of the poem. I have found two variations of this poem over the past 30 years in three different books, namely, ‘I believe in discipleship’ by Davad Watson, ‘Evangelism through the local church’ by Michael Green and (I think) ‘Spiritual Maturity’ by Oswald Sanders.Sadly no one knows who wrote it! It challenges us to let Christ’s life really transform us so that men and woman would be drawn to Him.Words are good but if our life portrays Christ (including the words)it is much better. As the old saint E.M. Bounds said: The church is looking for better methods:God is looking for better men.



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dopderbeck

posted September 22, 2009 at 1:50 pm


Joan (#9) raises an interesting question that I think reflects a tension for all of us who are not Roman Catholics. For Catholics, the Church mediates salvation. Therefore, being baptized and confirmed are not just symbolic markers for Catholics – they are among the key ways in which the Church mediates the gift of salvation to people. In this ecclesial context — which was uniformly the context of the Church Fathers — the “gatekeeping” functions of baptism, confirmation, and eucharistic participation are visible, tangible markers of one’s standing before God; they are, in fact, the only way in which one belongs to God.
Our discussion here necessarily suffers from ambiguity, I think, because as Protestants we hold to an “invisible” unity of the Church and therefore reject these sacraments as truly objective vehicles of the mediation of grace.
So, I think, the short answer is that for any Protestant, there is absolutely no way in which there can be any sure, objective knowledge of who is a “member” of the universal Church and who is not. We can endlessly debate various requirements for membership in a local church body, or for visible expressions of unity, but these debates have no real status in the economy of salvation. Only God knows for sure who belongs to Him.



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Pat

posted September 22, 2009 at 2:51 pm


This post is really relevant as my church is currently struggling through this issue. It’s funny that we get all bent out of shape about people believing before belonging, when in fact, many unbelievers and nominal believers have sat in churches for years. So, were we really getting people to believe before they belonged or we simply sending the message that people have to parrot certain words and actions to belong? I think we did the latter. I think the approach is to allow people to belong before belief, provided there are no serious issues, and walk the road with them and help them to work out their belief. As hard as it for some to believe, for some people it’s not as simple as believing that Christ died for their sins. Oftentimes, people have serious baggage to overcome in order to believe and we, the Church, need to be patient with that process. Finally, faith is a process. My faith has evolved over the years, so what version of the faith do we want people to believe prior to them belonging to our churches–one that WE define and say is acceptable? What is those beliefs change? Should we now start ramping up excommunication procedures when we stray from the “acceptable” beliefs?



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Travis Greene

posted September 22, 2009 at 3:59 pm


dopderbeck,
That’s a good point. The other tension is the continual one of what is the role of the worship gathering? Is it primarily for those in the community (leading to incomprehensible-to-outsiders liturgies), or outside it (leading to musical concerts with motivational pep talks at the end)? What’s the third way there?



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JMorrow

posted September 22, 2009 at 4:52 pm


(#22) Travis, I agree with you. The question of the role of worship and its eucharistic and baptismal elements is a perplexing and important one on which much of this conversation hinges.
It also seems another invisible tension in this conversation is between affirming infant or believer baptism. The place of children in the congregation has a parallel with the ambiguous place of outsiders. The belief of children, whether intellectual or psychological, is difficult for adults to ascertain. Yet, we embrace children in fellowship, worship and mission. Even if they don’t want to be. They belong only in that ambiguous way until either confirmation or believer baptism yields more public ownership of faith. It seems to me that at least when it comes to children, we have already been in a belonging before belief paradigm ever since believers started having children.



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Mike Morrell

posted September 22, 2009 at 11:31 pm


Hi all,
I’m honored that my recent blog post @ http://zoecarnate.wordpress.com/2009/09/21/open-or-closed-table-eucharistcommunion-wwjd has gotten tossed into the discussion about Jim’s excellent book, which I’ve just delved into this week.
Jim (in response to #16), thanks so much for your openness. I was involved in a PCA church for several years, including in leadership, but was put in a very uncomfortable position when raising certain questions that you do, and advocating certain changes that you have – I ultimately left that church to be part of an intentional house church community. I have no regrets about that decision, but who knows? Perhaps if you were my pastor, I would’ve still been a Reformed guy today. :)
I appreciate your candor in raising the question(s) you’re raising about an open table Eucharist in light of Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor. 10:14-22. I think, though, that this point of uncomfortably is both enforced and addressed in keeping with an open table easily enough if we consider Corinth’s narrative context.
As I mention in the last sentence of my blog post, I think that Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Agape Feast was originally celebrated in the context of (or even as) a full meal – eating and drinking together was an integral part of worship for congregations in the first century. These meals were eaten both in accordance to and in defiance of local customs of their day – there were continuities & discontinuities between the Eucharist meals and the neighboring Jewish and Greco-Roman meals. The discontinuities primarily lie in the radical openness of the table to Jew & Gentile as well as people of different social classes, rich and poor, free and slave alike eating. This eating was a central part of early Christian worship because it depicted – in flesh and living color – the community of reconciliation in Christ that was one of the earmarks of the new creation that was dawning.
At least this was the ideal. But in reality the rich folks were showing up earlier with the best food and eating it to engorgement, leaving only scraps for their brothers and sisters who had little to eat at home, mirroring the cultural and class stratification that existed in society at large.
So Paul, in addressing those “not discerning the Body,” is introducing a kind of literary double entendre about their not getting the flesh & blood of Jesus as well as not discerning the local body of believers meeting there to feast on the living Christ’s presence among them. This callous regard was dangerous indeed for the social and spiritual cohesion of the church gathered, and Paul spares no effort in warning against such blatant disregard for the Body – echoes of his own Damascus road double-meaning warning by Jesus: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” (in pitch-perfect King James Victorian)
So what do we do with this today? We make it about meticulous introspection before we sip a cup (or down a shot glass of grape juice) and eat a crumb. How atomized, individualized, and modern! I don’t mean to diss personal introspection for personal sin, but I feel like it’s become – literally and morally – “Honey, I shrunk the Eucharist.” It’s become a notional meal, a gesture of a meal, and our interpretation of Paul’s warnings in 1 Corinthians have likewise become individualized and not communal.
What might this have to do with guests at the Table? Everything. If they’re guests, they indeed might not be ‘discerning the Body’ either – but it’s with a kind of curious ignorance, and not deliberate disregard as the Corinthian believers were doing. This kind of holy ignorance is how *all* sinners approach Jesus to dine with him – saints included. Plus you can’t tell me that if the Eucharist was a full meal, and ‘outsiders’ were present (and they seemed to be, considering other parts of the letter where Paul addressed the edification or lack thereof of certain practices for outside guests), you can’t tell me that they weren’t allowed to eat. Unless you posit there was a ‘common’ and then a ‘cultic’ aspect to this full table spread, but I don’t think there’s any evidence of that.
(My scholarship on this is primarily informed by Australian scholar Robert Banks; his ‘Paul’s Idea of Community’ and ‘Going to Church in the First Century.’ Also BW3’s ‘Making a Meal of It,’ and for contemporary autobiography, Sara Miles’ ‘Take This Bread: The Story of a Radical Conversion.’)
So for today: If we’re to have a redacted ritual (which I recognize is a practical necessity in many cases), it should be real bread (preferably baked by a congregant) and real wine, the Table should be open to all, but with increased responsibility placed on those who are known by the community, that the Body be properly discerned. This would doubtless extend to the Body partakers as they moved from curious to committed, and became better known themselves. But ideally – once a month maybe? – mission third way communities should host block parties, Love Feasts, that are healthy locally-produced potlucks where the neighborhood is invited. It’d be a come-as-you-are affair, but with Eucharist – thanksgiving for God’s bounty and gratuitous presence in our midst – as the center.
That’s what I’m working with these days anyway…Lucas Land has many more developed thoughts on this all the time via his What Would Jesus Eat? blog… http://wwje.wordpress.com



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dopderbeck

posted September 23, 2009 at 9:03 am


Mike (#24) — what a great discussion, and thank you for pointing to those resources! I need to think more carefully about my views on this.
So let me suggest that this is one interesting test case for “third way” thinking. Mike’s comments here are obviously deeply informed by scripture, tradition, reason, and his own experience. But likewise, Jim and others, including Roman Catholics, who advocate a closed table, make arguments that are deeply informed by scripture, tradition, reason and experience. There does not seem to be a single, clear “right” answer for how to do this.
It seems to me that a genuine “third way” ought to celebrate this plurality rather than obsessing and wrangling over it. Apparently, in His Wisdom and by His Spirit God leads different incarnations of His body to think differently about this question. Maybe we need to trust that God knows what He’s doing in this regard?



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Mike Morrell

posted September 23, 2009 at 11:05 am


Quite true! We are free to disagree. And I’d rather people celebrate open OR closed table after careful, prayerful, and compassionate consideration, than doing either out of a kneejerk ‘progressive’ or ‘conservationist’ impulse, respectively.
And BTW, a beautiful telling of the early (1st thousand years) church’s practice of cathecumen practices – closed table and all – is in Saving Paradise by Brock & Parker. Check it out: http://savingparadise.net I think it’s one of the most important church history books of the past 15 years.



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Scott Morizot

posted September 23, 2009 at 11:38 am


Mike, while I hear a lot about the ‘original’ context of the Eucharist within a meal or love feast, I rarely hear such comments include the fact that we know Paul was already beginning to curtail that practice in the 50s in Corinth because of abuses within the church. While the practice lingered in places for a time, but the second century it was pretty much gone. This is not a case of the church wandering from apostolic tradition, but the church actually following and adhering to apostolic guidance in its practice. Clearly it was the Eucharist and not the ‘love feast’ that was important to the apostles. Those seeking to regain a ‘purer’ practice seem to me to be imagining something that never really existed, at least in any sort of ‘pure’ state proposed.
On the idea of belonging and then believing, I was recently reflecting on these words by Athanasius in ‘On the Incarnation of the Word’.
“But just as he who has got the asbestos knows that fire has no burning power over it, and as he who would see the tyrant bound goes over to the empire of his conqueror, so too let him who is incredulous about the victory over death receive the faith of Christ, and pass over to His teaching, and he shall see the weakness of death, and the triumph over it. For many who were formerly incredulous and scoffers have afterwards believed and so despised death as even to become martyrs for Christ Himself.”



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Mike Morrell

posted September 23, 2009 at 2:30 pm


Really Scott? According to Ben Witherington III the practice of full-meal agape feasts continued ’till the 400s, when they were finally banned by some Church council.
But you’re right about there being more and more ‘fencing the table’ – tracing out BW3’s historical trajectory, it seems that there were more and more restrictions in the late and post apostolic eras, first restricting who can speak from ‘everyone’ to sanctioned leadership, and then who was even allowed to be present. It seems to me that BW3 traces the development of a separate clergy caste from this desire to hedge the table from heretical influences.
I have no desire to idealize a pristine, Puritan past, but I do want to ask questions about how we got to where we are. It seems to me that if the post-apostolic Fathers, as well as Reformers, had the freedom to prayerfully re-formulate practice in a way that was appropriate to their time, then so do we.



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Givati

posted September 26, 2009 at 11:12 am


Hi,
I feel some what like a fish out of water in this discussion seeing that I am completely unchurched. I was raised Catholic, spent 25 years in a Non-Denom Mega church, another 4 in a small non-Denom and now have no desire to ever step foot in another church again. I have spent much of my life studying the hebraic heritage of the church and feel strongly that the church, no matter what discipline has rolled far from the tree.
I agree with much of what is being said here but have this nagging feeling that much is archaic as well. And before I comment I beg your forgiveness to those I might offend as I know I will be scrutinized by your interpretation of scripture and possibly dismissed out of hand as at least unlearned and at most a hieratic. As for the Lords Supper, from a hebraic perspective it was simply a seder/shabbat dinner. I know Paul elaborated on it contextualizing it for those gentiles coming to faith however, I feel again it has become what it was never intended to be. IMHO :)
Every friday eve for years now my wife and I open our home for a shabbat dinner. We have been blessed to regularly have gracing our table homosexuals, Buddhists, atheists, Lutherans, and yes even an occasional right wing fundamentalist. This is to me is the “Lords Supper”. Nothing is off limits, nothing is looked down upon, life is celebrated. Our goal is not to evangelize, nor to bend their way of thinking, it is simply to love them because God first loved us. These strangely different people call us weekly to make sure they are invited to come again.
They certainly Belong, the belief is up the the Holy Spirit.
Love you all,



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Givati

posted September 26, 2009 at 11:42 am


Oh, and,
I wanted to edit my remarks but, can’t seem to find a way to do this so,
Let me add this so you wonderful people don’t think I’m totally off my rocker. I don’t want to trivialize this seder dinner Jesus was having with his disciples. This one seder was different than any and all others. It was revolutionary in scope and nature. It changed everything, bless His Name! I know you all know this.
Thanks!



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