Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Significance of Baptism & Communion: A Biblical & Sacramental Challenge

I have been reading the second edition of Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church, by Robert Webber & Lester Ruth.  -  I have read Webber's original volume at least twice and resonated with it greatly.  In fact, I have often identified myself using this very title.  I am an "Evangelical on the Canterbury Trail."  -  Well, that has to be defined a bit, of course.  I really prefer "Wesleyan" to "Evangelical," but most of us in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition have identified with the larger Evangelical sub-culture.  And, then, to be on the "Canterbury Trail," for me, has not meant that I have migrated to a different, Anglican denomination.  Rather, while I have explored many Anglican jurisdictions and, in many ways, feel home in them, nevertheless, I have worked to help my own Wesleyan denomination discover and own John Wesley's "Anglicanism" for themselves.

Well, after discovering that Lester Ruth revised Webber's book (why it wasn't on my radar earlier, I don't know!), I purchased the second edition.  I was interested to see what Lester did with it, since he was my mentor and primary professor during my doctoral studies at Asbury Theological Seminary.  -  I finally got around to reading it!

What I discovered is that the first section, Webber's story, did not involve much of any changes.  However, the middle section, which includes the "stories of other pilgrims," was completely new.  That is to say, all of the old stories were jettisoned, and new stories from new "pilgrims" were added.

Perhaps it was because I made such a connection with the original edition, but, by and large, I have been disappointed with the replacements.  Now, that is not to say that I haven't gained some good insights, or that there haven't been a number of quote worthy lines and paragraphs.  In fact, this blog comes from one of those stories, as you will see in my challenge, below.  -  Still, I have to admit, the first edition struck home for me in a way that this one has not.  (Though, it was good to hear from a former Methodist from Asbury!)

I have not yet begun the third section of the book.  This section is new to this edition as well.  It is called, "The Canterbury Trail and Today's Churches."  I am really hopeful for this section.  I suspect, this third section of the book will determine whether I would conduct a future small group study using the second edition or stick to the first one.

Having said all of that, I found a part of the story of Bill & Linda Richardson to be . . . well, obvious!  And yet, not so obvious for me to have come up with this challenge, before!  That is, I have alluded to this kind of thing, but I have never simply challenged people to take up a simple study like Linda did, concerning the Lord's Supper.

She wrote that, in her Baptist background, she had always been taught that "the Lord's Supper was simply a remembrance of what Jesus had done on the cross."  -  My guess is that many Nazarenes (and others in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition) have, unfortunately, been taught the same thing.  But during a Bible study, a friend shared a very different perspective on the Holy Communion.  -  She continued:

That led me to do a personal study from scripture that was really quite simple.  I took a yellow tablet and drew a line down the center.  One side was titled "A remembrance" and the other side "More."  I proceeded to read through the New Testament; on the left I listed scriptures that pointed to communion being simply a remembrance, and on the right I wrote down those scriptures that seemed to indicate that communion was "more."

He conclusion?  "I had only two scriptures listed on the left side and a full column on the right.  It was the beginning of a shift in my thinking about the Lord's Supper toward a more sacramental view . . ."

How simple! 

And, so, that's my challenge!  Except I want to expand it to include both sacraments.  You see, not only have many been taught that the Holy Communion is "simply a remembrance of what Jesus had done on the cross," but I think that most of those folks have also been taught that baptism is simply our testimony of what God has already done in our lives by faith.  -  So, I want to put forth the challenge that Linda Richardson took up.  -  Take a paper (it doesn't have to be yellow!), and list in one column all of the scripture texts you can find in the New Testament that point to Communion as being "simply a remembrance."  In a second column, list all of the texts that you can find in the New Testament that seem to indicate that there is "more."

Do the same for baptism.  (For this, I mean, Christian baptism; not John the Baptist's baptism).  In one column, list all of the scriptures that indicate that baptism is "simply our testimony" of what God has already done by faith, prior to our being baptized.  In a second column, list all of the texts that you can find that seem to indicate that there is "more" going on in baptism.

May God's Spirit speak to you through the Word, as you take up this challenge!  -  And I would love to hear your results, so consider posting a comment, below!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Trinity Sunday

Tomorrow the Church celebrates Trinity Sunday. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is one of the mysteries of faith, but the Church, from ancient times, has confessed its faith in the Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The very first Article of Faith for the Church of the Nazarene (as well as for others in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition) confesses our belief in the Triune God. Additionally, in our Manual's "Historical Statement," we state that the Church of the Nazarene ". . . receives the ecumenical creeds of the first five Christian centuries as expressions of its own faith." Along side the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, we find that creed which John Wesley identifies as the best explication of the Trinity he ever saw (cf., his sermon "On the Trinity"), that is the so called Athanasian Creed (or Quicunque Vult) written, most likely within the fifth-century.

The words at the beginning and conclusion of the creed tying the necessity of assent to this faith with salvation have caused much difficulty for many.  However, according to Ray Dunning, "Edmund J. Fortman says that it is not suggesting that the 'Catholic faith' is merely an intellectual assent but rather that it involves the 'worship of one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity'" (Grace, Faith and Holiness, 226). Wesley, himself, said, "I am far from saying, he who does not assent to this 'shall without doubt perish everlastingly.' For the sake of that an another clause, I, for some time, scrupled subscribing to that creed; till I considered,(1.) That these sentences only relate to wilful, not involuntary, unbelievers; to those who, having all the means of knowing the truth, nevertheless obstinately reject it: (2.) That they relate only to the substance of the doctrine there delivered; not the philosophical illustrations of it" ("On the Trinity"). - Whether one still has trouble with those lines, even after Fortman's and Wesley's explanation, the Athanasius Creed is still a wonderfully thorough confession of Trinitarian faith.

Although, it has been said that it is far too long for liturgical use, I know there are a number of churches where the creed is confessed at least on Trinity Sunday each year.

I strongly encourage those who are unfamiliar with the creed to read it by clicking, here. (Sorry, it's a bit too long for me to reproduce on my blog.)

Please join me in this prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, on God, for ever and ever. Amen.

And, join me in the ancient Gloria Patri:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.  Amen, Amen.
And finally, for the fun of it (from our Lutheran brothers):

Friday, May 15, 2015

An Excellent Graduation Gift

This post is not related to anything liturgical or sacramental or even Wesleyan or Anglican.  However, it is pastoral in nature.

Graduation season is upon us.  During this season, pastors are always looking for something appropriate to give to high school (and college, etc.) graduates.  They usually want to give something that is somehow "spiritual" (whatever that means).  After all, it is coming from the pastor!  -  The Christian bookstores have all of those "Devotions for Graduates" books, which are fine.  But, if you are like me, you often see those as the kind of default gift when you can't find anything else.

However, I have a suggestion that I think is especially appropriate for those young ladies who are graduating from high school.  It is an excellent, little book by author and speaker, Missy Helderman.  The book is title, She Believes: Uniquely Designed with Purpose in Mind.

I've known Missy for quite some time.  (We won't say how long!)  We graduated from Floyd Central High School together, and while in high school, we were both active members of the "Good News Club."  She is a good friend and a wonderful Christian woman.

When I first heard that she had written a book, I was the first to sign up to get a copy, and I was not disappointed!  I had my college age daughter read the book after I finished it, and she agreed that this would be very appropriate for young ladies graduating from high school.  -  Now, I don't mean to imply that the book is only appropriate for such young ladies!  In fact I would recommend it for any who are seeking to discover who they are and what their life is all about.  But, as a pastor, I immediately thought, this would be a great graduation gift!

I would encourage you to take a look at Missy's website.  There you can read about Missy and take a closer look at her book.  Or you can go straight for the purchase for just $9.99, here!
 The promo. for the book says:

Are you feeling like a round peg in a square hole but dream of more? …a life a purpose?
Have you wondered why no matter how hard you try to be what others expect, there are things you just can’t seem to change?
She Believes takes you on a journey that leads to freedom to be who God created, dream the dreams placed within you, and do what only you can do…what you were created for.
Discover, Embrace & CELEBRATE the design God intentionally tailored within you for purpose & destiny.
Your Design Matters !
And here is what people are saying about the book: 

God takes each of us through a journey of discovery, a journey of connecting with our heavenly Father and growing into who He has created us to be. I firmly believe God has created each of us as a beautiful daughter with a unique and fulfilling destiny. Missy does an excellent job of guiding the reader of She Believes into a graceful and anointed process of personal growth and spiritual encounter with destiny. I highly recommend this book to all women who desire to live a life beyond the limits and kingdom adventure.
~Rebecca Greenwood
President, Christian Harvest International, Strategic Prayer Action Network
If you truly desire to discover, understand, and embrace your God-given design, then this book is the key to unlock that process for you. She Believes takes you on a transformative journey that will challenge and inspire you to draw closer to God in order to reflect His glory and to live out your purpose. With practical and powerful insight, that can only be gained by going through the fire and emerging refined + renewed, Missy shares tools, strategies and prayers that work! Her heart for seeing women experience true freedom, healing, and wholeness is evident on every page.  I have no doubt that God is going to use this book to encourage, uplift and launch His daughters into greatness.
 ~Ilesha “CoCo” Graham
Speaker + Founder, Flourishing Women Ministries
Missy Helderman’s “She Believes” is an inspiring small book with big concepts about the journey we all face. A journey that brings us to the heart of who we are and what we were  destined to be.  A delightful quick read that will encourage and inspire! I found it enlightening and thought provoking.
~ Dr. Dallas Eggemeyer
Lightbearers International, Atlanta, GA

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ascension Day

Today (Thursday May 14) is the fortieth day of the Great Fifty Days of the Resurrection (i.e., Easter) Season.  It is the day that Christians refer to as Ascension Day.  Many Churches will celebrate this day on this coming Sunday, Ascension Sunday.

As the name indicates, it is the celebration of the risen Christ's ascension into heaven where He is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

In celebration of Ascension Day, I offer the following Scriptures, a (rather lengthy) Wesley hymn and a prayer:

Christ's Ascension
After Jesus' suffering, he showed himself to the disciples and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.  He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?
He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky?   This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."
Remember Jesus' words:  "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." 
(Acts 1:3-11; Matthew 28:20b, from "Sing to the Lord")

Hail the day that sees Him rise, Alleluia!
To His throne above the skies, Alleluia!
Christ, awhile to mortals given, Alleluia!
Reascends His native heaven, Alleluia!

... There the glorious triumph waits, Alleluia!
Lift your heads, eternal gates, Alleluia!
Christ hath conquered death and sin, Alleluia!
Take the King of glory in, Alleluia!

Circled round with angel powers, Alleluia!
Their triumphant Lord, and ours, Alleluia!
Conqueror over death and sin, Alleluia!
“Take the King of glory in! Alleluia!”

Him though highest Heav’n receives, Alleluia!
Still He loves the earth He leaves, Alleluia!
Though returning to His throne, Alleluia!
Still He calls mankind His own, Alleluia!

See! He lifts His hands above, Alleluia!
See! He shows the prints of love, Alleluia!
Hark! His gracious lips bestow, Alleluia!
Blessings on His church below, Alleluia!

Still for us His death He pleads, Alleluia!
Prevalent He intercedes, Alleluia!
Near Himself prepares our place, Alleluia!
Harbinger of human race, Alleluia!

Master, (will we ever say), Alleluia!
Taken from our head to day, Alleluia!
See Thy faithful servants, see, Alleluia!
Ever gazing up to Thee, Alleluia!

Grant, though parted from our sight, Alleluia!
Far above yon azure height, Alleluia!
Grant our hearts may thither rise, Alleluia!
Seeking Thee beyond the skies, Alleluia!

Ever upward let us move, Alleluia!
Wafted on the wings of love, Alleluia!
Looking when our Lord shall come, Alleluia!
Longing, gasping after home, Alleluia!

There we shall with Thee remain, Alleluia!
Partners of Thy endless reign, Alleluia!
There Thy face unclouded see, Alleluia!
Find our heaven of heavens in Thee, Alleluia!

- Charles Wesley

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Monday, May 4, 2015

New Sacramental Ware

This past month, my wife & I took a vacation to Pigeon Forge in the Great Smokey Mountains.  We had a fabulous time.  The vacation took place the week leading into my birthday, and my wonderful wife, Bobbie, took the opportunity to buy my birthday present while we were there.

We picked up a great set of sacramental ware at The Old Mill Pigeon River Pottery.  The artist at the Pottery place is Tommy Bullen.  He is a 3rd generation craftsman from Gatlinburg. 

Now, I confess, the items we bought were not specifically sacramental ware, but that is why we bought them.  We purchased a chalice, a paten (plate) & a baptismal bowl (the "shell" is something I already had).

I have had the opportunity to use the chalice & paten for the last two weeks at Heartland Church of the Nazarene, but I have not yet had the opportunity to use the baptismal bowel.

So, what do you think?  Pretty great, huh?

The Old Mill Pigeon River Potter is located at 175 Old mill Avenue.  Their number is 865-453-1104, and their website can be view, here.   -  (If you are visiting Pigeon Forge, we also recommend the Pottery House CafĂ© & Grille.)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Good Friday Hymns & Prayers

Today, as we observe the sacrifice and crucifixion of our Lord, through which He has taken away the sin of the world, I commend the following two Wesley hymns followed by the prayers for Good Friday from the Book of Common Prayer.

Would Jesus Have the Sinner Die?
Would Jesus have the sinner die?
Why hangs He then on yonder tree?
What means that strange, expiring cry?
Sinners, He prays for you and me:
"Forgive them, Father, O forgive!
They know not that by Me they live!"
Adam descended from above
Our loss of Eden to retrieve,
Great God of universal love,
If all the world through Thee may live,
In us a quick'ning Spirit be,
And witness Thou hast died for me.
Thou loving, all-atoning Lamb,
Thee - by Thy painful agony,
Thy sweat of blood, Thy grief and shame,
Thy Cross and passion on the tree,
Thy precious death and life - I pray:
Take all, take all my sins away.
O let me kiss Thy bleeding feet,
And bathe and wash them with my tears!
The story of Thy love repeat
In ev'ry drooping sinner's ears,
That all may hear the quick'ning sound,
Since I, e'en I, have mercy found.
O let Thy love my heart constrain!
Thy love for ev'ry sinner free,
That ev'ry fallen soul of man
May taste the grace that found out me;
That all mankind with me may prove
Thy sov'reign, everlasting love
O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done?
O love divine, what hast Thou done?
Th'immortal God hath died for me!
The Father's co-eternal Son
Bore all my sins upon the tree;
Th'immortal God for me hath died
My Lord, my Love is crucified
Behold Him, all ye that pass by,
The bleeding Prince of life and peace!
Come, sinners, see your Maker died
And say, was ever grief like His?
come, feel with me His blood applied;
My Lord, my Love is crucified.
Is crucified for me and you,
To bring us rebels back to God.
Believe, believe the record true;
Ye all are bought with Jesus' blood.
Pardon for all flows from His side;
My Lord, my Love is crucified.
The let us sit beneath His Cross
And gladly catch the healing stream.
All things for Him account but loss
And give up all our hearts to Him.
Of nothing think or speak beside:
My Lord, my Love is crucified.
Almighty God, we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross, who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.  Amen.
Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified; Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before thee for all estates of men in thy holy Church, that every member of the same, in his vocation and ministry, may truly and godly serve thee, through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.
O Merciful God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothing that thou hast made, nor wouldest the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted, and live; Have mercy upon all who know thee not as thou art revealed in the Gospel of thy Son, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of they Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one Shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, One God, world without end.  Amen.
Epistle:  Hebrews 10:1-25
Gospel: John 19:1-37

Maundy Thursday

Today is Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday.  The term Maundy comes from the Latin, mandatum novarum, which means, "a new commandment."  It is a reference to John 13:34-35, where Jesus says to His disciples, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (NRSV)  -  This, of course, takes place on the Thursday prior to Jesus' crucifixion.  It is in the larger context of Jesus washing the disciples' feet.

This is also the time when our Lord instituted the holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper.  This sacrament is known by a number of names emphasizing various aspects of the sacrament. 

It is referred to as Holy Communion.  The Greek word, here, is koinonia.  It is a word that speaks of fellowship, communion, participation and sharing.  In connection with the sacrament we find it in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, where St. Paul says, "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing (NRSV) / participation (NIV) / communion (KJV) in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."  -  And so, in the sacrament, more than just remembering what Christ has done (though we certainly do that), we really and truly commune with the blood and body of Christ.  -  Verse 17 indicates we also have fellowship around the Table with our sisters and brothers in Christ.  As the invitation in the Nazarene ritual indicates, ". . . we are one, at one table with the Lord."

The sacrament is also often referred to as the Eucharist.  This term will be familiar to most who read this blog, but for many in evangelical circles, this is often an unfamiliar term.  It is, therefore, treated with suspicion by some and outright condemnation by still others!  Nevertheless, such suspicions (and certainly condemnations!) can be put aside when we realize that this term, unlike the others, is actually found in all four New Testament accounts of the Last Supper (Matt. 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-20; and 1 Cor. 11:23-26).  You see, the Greek word eucharistein simply means "to be thankful."  The sacrament, and the major prayer for it in the liturgy is understood as "the Great Thanksgiving."  -  Jesus took, gave thanks, (broke the bread), and gave the sacramental elements to the disciples.

The New Testament also refers to the sacrament by simply speaking of "the breaking of the bread."  For example, in Acts 2:42 we hear those famous words, "(The disciples) devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers."  -  Unfortunately, many have misunderstood this to mean nothing more than the disciples committing themselves to having pot luck meals together, when, instead, what is being referred to is the holy sacrament.

This raises the point that the New Testament Church was committed to the sacrament of Holy Communion.  "Day by day," Luke tells us (in Acts 2:46), ". . . they spent much time together in the temple . . ." (Service of the Word), and ". . . they broke bread from house to house . . ." (Service of the Table).  St. Paul chastises the Church at Corinth when he says, "When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper" (1 Cor. 11:20).  In other words, when they come together it was supposed to be to eat the Lord's Supper.  -  Such seems to be the apostle's understanding of Jesus' instructions.  Such is the pattern of the New Testament Church.  It is the pattern of the Early Church.  It is the pattern of the Church throughout the ages.  And, for us Wesleyans, it was our spiritual forefather's instruction that we should celebrate the sacrament every Lord's Day.

Why?  -  Is it because of some legalistic command?  Do we have to do it like that?  Won't it lose it's specialness?  -  No, no, no!  That's missing the point altogether!  -  Instead, we gather at the Table of the Lord, when we gather together in the name of the Lord, because He has explicitly promised to meet us at the Table!  It is at the Table that we have the explicit promise of communing/sharing/participating in the body and blood of our Lord!  God's grace is poured out to us through this holy gift!  -  Thanks be to God!

"Listen" to the wonderful words of this Wesley Eucharistic Hymn:

1. Glory to Him who freely spent
His blood, that we might live,
And through this choicest instrument
Doth all His blessings give.
2. Fasting He doth, and hearing bless,
And prayer can much avail,
Good vessels all to draw the grace
Out of salvation's well.
3. But none, like this mysterious rite
Which dying mercy gave,
Can draw forth all His promised might
And all His will to save.
4. This is the richest legacy
Thou hast on man bestow'd:
Here chiefly, Lord, we feed on Thee,
And drink Thy precious blood.
5. Here all Thy blessings we receive,
Here all Thy gifts are given,
To those that would in Thee believe,
Pardon, and grace, and heaven.
6. Thus may we still in Thee be blest,
Till all from earth remove,
And share with Thee the marriage feast,
And drink the wine above.

Thanks be to our God!
(This article originally appeared in 2012 & was repeated in 2014)