Today during the chapel service (during my drill weekend), I saw Easter in action. I know that is a bold statement but I really believe it was what I was seeing. While I don’t know the denominational heritage of everyone present, I do know the denomination of my my brigade chaplain, my fellow chaplain candidate, and of course myself. I know we have theological differences yet we could put those aside and share in the worship of God for a time. In fact, those differences didn’t even matter in the course of the worship service.
What is the outcome of this, brothers and sisters? When you meet together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. All these things must be done to build up the church. You can all prophesy one at a time so that everyone can learn and be encouraged. -1 Corinthians 14:26, 31 (CEB)
You may be saying what does all this have to do with Easter and I am glad you asked. You see, I believe that Easter marks the breaking in of God’s kingdom. It is here and it is coming. Part of the kingdom is the people will be united in the worship and praise of God. Today was evidence of that. We put aside our differences to praise and worship God. Now, I still believe that we can have our differences and there are beliefs that I will hold strongly to no matter what. However, that does not mean that I cannot look past them and gather with my brothers and sisters to worship God.
But in the days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house will be the highest of the mountains; it will be lifted above the hills; peoples will stream to it. -Micah 4:1 (CEB)
Imagine the possibilities of what could happen if we could learn to set aside our differences and focus on glorifying God. It happened t0day in an Army chapel in Nashville and I am sure it happened all over the world in military chapels. Easter would happen before our eyes because we would be focused on worshiping God and committing our resources to worship rather than arguing among ourselves. It is an incredible vision and one I pray happens as we continue to break down the things that separate us. As Paul writes:
Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, We are being put to death all day long for your sake. We are treated like sheep for slaughter. But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created. -Romans 8:35-39 (CEB)
There is so little that separates us that I believe we should work past for God’s glory.
Below is my second guest blog post. To think this all started because I shared my experience of sharing in Friday prayers at a local mosque. God is good!
(What follows is a guest post written by Rev. Tim Baranoski, who hails from Cameron’s hometown. We came across Rev. Tim because of a post he wrote over at Non-Prophet Status, and are delighted to have him here at FLP. Please see his bio at the end of the this post for links to his own blog and Twitter. The second part of Cameron’s “What does it mean to be evangelical?” will be posted later this week, as will the end to Greg’s “Kingdom” series. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy FLP’s first guest blog!)
What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in our country? This is a question that is bound to elicit a variety of answers depending on whom you ask. Possible answers would include: the mass media, popular culture, materialism, bad government policies, other religions, etc. A missionary had the occasion to put this very question to the great Mahatma Gandhi, “What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in India?” His answer was swift and decisive: “Christians.” It is said that the world would be a more Christian place today were it not for the Christians. The Christians that constitute a hindrance to Christianity are not the real and committed ones, of course, but those who bear the name Christian but, judging from the way they talk and behave, no one would suspect they have anything to do with Christ.
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” – Mark 9:50 (NIV)
I like to think of the numerous Christian denominations as simply flavored salt. We all have the same goal and the same basic beliefs – though we do tend to argue over minor nuances of things like baptism and the Eucharist. We are the same faith but then we are simply different flavors.
But then I have to wonder – are we really the salt of earth? Our theological differences lend themselves to exclusion from churches and public criticism of one another. It is no wonder Christians are criticized from those who the outside – if I was an outsider I am not sure I would want to be part of this group either.
Worse than how we treat each other is how we treat people in faith traditions. Of course, I am referring to Muslims especially. For reasons that stem from the events of September 11, we have lumped anyone who prescribes to the Islamic faith as a “terrorist”. We shun them, criticize them, and exclude them from as much as possible. We work hard to prevent Mosques from being built in our communities out of fear and ignorance. Is this what Jesus would want?
Now before you begin to stone me for being a heretic, I need to clarify that I am a Jesus-follower. I am an ordained minister in a Presbyterian denomination. I believe the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I will not waver in this belief. It is a conviction and the one according to which my life is lived.
However, that does not mean I need to hate non-Christians. Jesus went out of his way to reach out to sinners and non-Jews. He ate with them. He talked with them. He loved them. I can do the same as well. In my ministry, I have had the opportunity to share in Friday prayers at a local mosque. It was an incredible experience but I do not think for one moment that I compromised my beliefs. Instead, I believe I planted the seed that as a Christian, I am willing to engage in conversation and to learn from one another. I believe showing respect to other beliefs is important because it allows a dialogue to continue. If I am too busy hating people for what they believe then I cannot show the love of Jesus to them. Mother Teresa once said, “If you judge people, you cannot love them.” We as Christians are too busy judging others rather than loving them.
It’s one thing to criticize and another to share solutions. I think there are many things we can do as Christians. I strive to live my life according to words that St. Francis of Assisi is purported to have spoken, “Preach Jesus always and when necessary use words.” As I said earlier, I have participated in Friday prayers at a local mosque on several occasions. I look forward to participating them in the future. The result of my participation? An open dialogue between myself and Muslims. I have learned more about the Islamic faith through these conversations then I ever knew. I appreciate their faith to the point that I have developed a new respect for their beliefs. Earlier, I stated clearly my beliefs but that doesn’t mean that I cannot respect another person’s beliefs either. Instead, I have a better understanding in which to engage in conversation.
It is the conversation that is the key to the whole issue. If we talk with one another, we begin to see as others see and we can no longer judge them in our ignorance. A remarkable thing happens – we understand them and we see that others, though they may believe differently, are really not that different from us.
The passage from Mark I quoted earlier comes in a larger pericope in which Jesus is teaching that it is okay if other people cast out demons in his name. After all, we are all salt just different flavors. What if we begin to see other faiths as yet another flavor of salt. I know there is only one way to God but there are many ways to Jesus.
In my mind interfaith relations are loving people – all people mind you – as Jesus did. It is through that love that we begin to let the light of Jesus shine (the other part of the salt) and we begin to truly do the work of God in this world. Let’s not judge others but love others. Let our love shine as a light and let our salt of faith flavor all we do.
This morning I was reading the lectionary texts for Easter. I am not sure why but I flipped open my book and there they were and so I read them. Part of the text from John caught my attention.
The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down and saw the linen wrappings lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. -John 20:4-6 (NRSV)
As I read this passage, I had to smile because Peter was being Peter. He stumbled into the tomb to see for himself because he is never satisfied with someone else’s words. Then I realized that Peter represents us and we would be the ones doing the same thing. But wait, before we shake our heads at Peter and write him off as an idiot, think about what he does – he is bold in his actions and in his faith. He stumbles into the tomb because he wants to see. Are we really like Peter afterall?
In the early days of the church, Christians were bold in their beliefs and their actions. They knew they were most likely facing persecution and death but they worshiped anyway. People joined the church because they saw the boldness of the believers and despite the odds against them, they continued to grow in faith and love for one another. They were bold.
Today, we do not face persecution or death (okay not in the United States but in other parts of the world they do) and we could be openly bold about our faith because we have Constructional protections but yet we are the most timid lot of people I know. We simply accept things as they (yes I am making broad generalizations) and lament about it. I had a discussion yesterday with someone who was concerned about the growing number of Muslims in this country (not necessarily immigrants but converts). He couldn’t wrap his head around why people would be attracted to Islam. I suggested that it is because Muslims are bold in their practice of their faith (not intended as a negative). I shared that my dry cleaner invites me to Friday prayers and frequently answers my questions and enjoys a discussion of faith. Many Christians I know will push Jesus but not have a discussion about their beliefs or things in their beliefs that trouble them (that is being bold).
When I was 17, I had some serious faith questions and I went to my parish priest (I was a practicing Catholic then) and he dismissed my questions and suggested I go someplace else. I spent the next 5 years searching for answers and stumbling through things I shouldn’t have. Imagine if he had been bold enough to answer my questions. Martin Luther had questions and he boldly stood up and demanded answers to his questions. He was not timid and yes he caused an uproar but he also set off a series of discussions, councils, and reforms that caused people to reflect on their faith and their beliefs.
Back to my discussion yesterday, my colleague continued to grieve over the growing number of Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, and humanists. If I look back to the groups he mentioned, they are willing to share and talk with people who have questions. They are willing to look at the weaknesses of their faith/beliefs and address them. I admit there are parts of Christianity that trouble me – there are scripture passages that trouble me, there are days when I have doubts about my faith and I am willing to discuss them.
What is missing today is a boldness to have a conversation about our doubts and our beliefs. We would rather guilt people into believing or dangle hell in front of them than sit down and have a serious discussion about what troubles us with Christianity. We won’t admit that we have doubts in our faith and we simply push people away because we appear to be strong and not willing to discuss questions and doubts. What do you think happens? People feel that they are wrong or different or unfaithful and wander off to seek out the answers they have.
It is time we begin to have dialogs about what we believe and what we question. Let’s be bold in our faith and bold in our questions and bold in our doubts. Afterall, we are only human – just like Peter.
The Heidelberg Catechism is a Protestant confessional document taking the form of a series of questions and answers, for use in teaching Reformed Christian doctrine. Translated into many languages, the Heidelberg Catechism is one of the most influential of the Reformed catechisms. For the purposes of this paper, I will focus on Q. and A. 80: How does the Lord’s Supper differ from the Roman Catholic Mass?
Q. and A. 80 was not in the first edition of the Heidelberg Catechism, published sometime in February 1563, but it did appear in the second edition. No one is certain why it did not appear in the first edition, however, speculation leans towards a direct response to a statement on the Mass adopted by the Council of Trent in September 1562.
There is a movement to delete the part of Q. and A. 80 that describes and rejects the Roman Catholic teaching on the Eucharist because this particular section “describes and negates the faith expressions of others” rather than offering “a confessional expression of the Reformed faith” (4). Despite repeated attempts, Synods reject this movement because the Roman Catholic Church has not repudiated statements on the Eucharist made during the Council of Trent. For the moment, Q. and A. 80 remains intact as written in 1563. A movement continues to press and look for dialogue regarding the future of Q. and A. 80 in future versions of the Heidelberg Catechism.
Q. and A. 80 address the Eucharist in several sections that focus on key differences between the Heidelberg Catechism and Roman Catholic doctrine and recommendations and conclusions. I will address and summarize each of those sections as they present themselves in the Heidelberg Catechism.
Differences over Sacrifice
The Catechism states that the redemptive work of Christ was a once-for-all event that occurred in the past. Support for this statement comes from Q. and A. 66-67: “the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ which he himself finished on the cross once for all.” Because this sacrifice was once for all, the Catechism emphasizes that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a visible sign and pledge to follow Christ and to acknowledge his work in the past. Our salvation rests solely on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the Lord’s Supper is a testimony of the sufficiency and finality of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
The Roman Catholic understanding of the Lord’s Supper differs from the Heidelberg Catechism. The Catechism seeks to emphasize that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that Christ forgives sins only by the continual offering of the Mass by priests. From the perspective of the Catechism, Christ’s death was insufficient for once and for all forgiveness of sins and to secure forgiveness of all sins requires the daily sacrifice of the Mass.
The Roman Catholic Church rejects this understanding of the Lord’s Supper and insists that Q. and A. 80 misconstrues the understanding of Mass as a sacrifice. The Roman Catholic Church offers four arguments against the Catechism’s view of the Mass: (1) One sacrifice – different forms or the Mass is a sacramental representation of the one unique sacrifice. (2) The Eucharist is a sacramental perpetuation of the one, unique sacrifice. (3) The Eucharistic sacrifice completes the purification of those who die in Christ or this is the equivalent of the Protestant process of sanctification. (4) The Eucharist is more than just sacrifice. The Roman Catholic Church states that to limit the Mass to solely a sacrifice is to deny the richness of the Mass as worship.
In Reformed worship, doxology and thanksgiving (eucharistia) surround the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The entire event is celebration of the Lord’s Supper and it is clearly our celebration. In essence, the celebration is not a sacrifice but a “thanks-offering” to God.
Differences over the Presence of Christ in the Sacrament
The Heidelberg Catechism teaches that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a feast of nourishment and refreshment of the soul given to the church as a sign and seal of God’s gracious promises. Jesus Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper to assure the believer of salvation in and through Jesus Christ. There is a great emphasis that “even though it [the bread] is called the Body of Christ in keeping with the nature and language of the sacraments, it is not changed into the actual Body of Christ” (Q. and A. 78). There is a teaching that Christ is in heaven and not on earth and the ascended Lord is the host of the meal, which nourishes believers through the Holy Spirit (Q. and A. 76).
In contrast, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that Christ is bodily present in the form of the bread and wine “where Christ is therefore to be worshiped” – an idolatrous practice (Q. and A. 78). Roman Catholic theologians who met with the committee affirmed that the Heidelberg Catechism is essentially correct in its presentation of the Roman Catholic teaching of the bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Roman Catholic Church explains the bodily presence of Christ through the doctrine of transubstantiation – affirming the real presence of Christ and the change of the elements of bread and wine. The Council of Florence, the Council of Trent, and the most recent Catechism of the Catholic Church stat that Christ is bodily present by virtue of a change in the substance of bread and wine. The most recent statement begins:
At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that by the words of Christ and invocation of the Holy Spirit become Christ’s Body and Blood in a way surpassing understanding (par. 1333).
The statement continues with the longevity of presence of Christ in the elements:
The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins in the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist (par. 1377).
The response of the Roman Catholic Church to the Heidelberg Catechism affirms the doctrine of transubstantiation and the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine. However, in the modern ecumenical atmosphere, the Church no longer insists on veneration of the elements stating, “the polemical tone of those statements are more appropriate in the 16th Century” (21).
Roman Catholic theologians assert that Reformed traditions take an impious view of the Lord’s Supper in their worship. The Zwinglian view of the Lord’s Supper was in line with the Roman Catholic teaching on the Lord’s Supper. However, this was not the view adopted by the Reformed tradition. The Reformed tradition, as emphasized in Q. and A. 80, views the Lord’s Supper as eating living bread but not through the mouth but through the Spirit through faith. It is in this manner, that Reformed traditions receive the Lord’s Supper with all humility and reverence. The primary difference between Reformed and Roman Catholic understanding is not in terms of reverence but in terms of veneration. The Roman Catholic Church insists on veneration of the bread and wine because they are sacramentally the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Reformed teaching, as stated in the Heidelberg Confession, requires believers to receive the sacrament in humility, reverence since Jesus Christ is spiritually present in the elements, and this is an act of faith.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Given the above explanations, Q. and A. 80 offers the following conclusions of the Roman Catholic understanding of the Eucharist: (1) The Eucharist, while spoken of as a sacrifice, is much more. (2) The difference between sacrifice on the cross and sacrifice of the Mass is one sacrifice offered in different manners. (3) The Eucharist sacrificially represents and perpetuates the one unique and unrepeatable sacrifice of Christ on the cross. (4) In the consecration of bread and wine, the substance of the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. (5) In the Eucharist, the real presence of Christ is a bodily presence in the form of the consecrated bread and wine and worshiped as such. (6) The consecrated bread and wine deserve veneration due to the ascended Jesus Christ. (7) Offering Mass for the dead does not detract from the finality of redemption accomplished on the cross.
An additional statement notes if the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges the above statements as true and accurate of Roman Catholic teaching, then there are serious questions regarding the Heidelberg Catechism’s representation of what the Mass teaches. A committee working on this report notes that further dialogue is necessary to study the accuracy of the understanding of Eucharist within the Heidelberg Catechism. They recommend that representatives from both bodies look at Q. and A. 80 to evaluate further its accuracy and its future.
To this end, the committee offered the following questions for additional study: (1) What is the proper understanding of the nature and direction of the sacrament? Is the Eucharist primarily a sacrifice we offer or as a gift we receive? (2) What is the relationship between Word and sacrament as a means of grace? (3) What is the role of the church (and its ministers) in mediating God’s grace? (4) Given that both Reformed and Roman Catholic believers affirm the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, what is the significance of the differences of understanding about the nature of that presence? How should we understand the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper? (5) For Christians who do not believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, does Roman Catholic veneration of those elements constitute improper worship? (6) What implications do the differences and agreements regarding the Lord’s Supper have for the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and Reformed churches?
In considering the document and the report above, I draw some conclusions of my own. Since the early days of the Reformation (and quite possibly before), there was a strong misunderstanding of the Roman Catholic Church’s view of the Lord’s Supper. The doctrine of transubstantiation while valid for the Roman Catholic Church is difficult at best in explaining what happens during the Eucharist. Misunderstanding leads to mistrust. Thus, we have a divided Church that separated over various doctrinal issues. That the Reformed Church, a body with a different view of the Lord’s Supper, continues to engage in dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church regarding an understanding of the Eucharist offers hope for continuing ecumenical relationships.
Today we celebrate World Communion Sunday. All around the world, Christian churches will come together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Communion, Holy Communion, or whatever words they use to describe the celebration of the eucharist. It is a powerful image in my mind to think that despite all of our theological differences, we can find some common ground together as we share in this sacrament.
Today at Grace CP Church, we are taking a little different approach to our worship. In lieu of our traditional sermon, we are following the Great Thanksgiving with a twist. We are using the Great Thanksgiving to set apart communion today as a special event. We have decided to incorporate stories of God’s working in the world (or communion with humanity). This is an attempt to show that God is always present in the world when we least expect it. While every worship service should be about God’s presence in the world, we are really trying to point it out for this service.
Of course, I can’t help but think of lessons that we can learn from this experience. I wonder if the church can come together and celebrate a common day, why can’t we come together on other things. I know we work together in disasters and so forth but why can’t the church overlook theological differences. The Body of Christ is so much stronger when we all are joined together. A good example are the three churches on Lewisburg Pike in Franklin. We all have different theological and denominational beliefs yet ever 60 days we work together to sponsor a blood drive and help our community. We use those things that make us a “church” to hold the blood drive. We may not agree on everything but we agree on the importance of this. Amazing what can happen.
In the end, while today is about celebrating communion, I think it is really about remembering that we are all connected together as the church. We all have common ground through Jesus Christ and we should use that common ground to serve him rahter than fight. Oh, I know we don’t fight like we used to but there is still tension among churches and denominations over what makes them unique.
For today, at least, let’s throw away our uniqueness and embrace all that makes us the same – Jesus Christ – and use our common ground to serve him and bring him glory.
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” –Mark 12:29-31
If you judge people, you have no time to love them. –Mother Teresa.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father [God] and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you [as in loving God and your neighbor]. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” –Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV) *italics my additions*