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!

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