Wednesday, June 14, 2017

City Notes '17 | Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three (1 of 3)



How do we abide in Christ as Christ abides in us? By enjoying being Jesus' Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal Church together.


Gordon T. Smith has written a book in Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three that I have been desiring to read (or write) for some time. However, being a young pastor and still having very much to learn, I'm thankful that he published this wonderful new work far ahead of me in order for many more to chew on and consider.


In 2017, this has been the book I have recommended the most to people (alongside Gospel Fluency and Adventures in Saying Yes), and now I recommend it to you. Below are some notes for you to consider if this 130+ page work would be beneficial for you in your walk with Jesus and His Church.



Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal | City Notes '17 1 of 3


Introduction

In 1953 Lesslie Newbigin published one of the most important books on ecclesiology in the twentieth century, The Household of God. In this publication he speaks of the church, in distinct chapters, as Protestant, Catholic, and pentecostal. By Protestant, he meant the Lutheran and evangelical tradition of stressing the importance of faith in response to the Word preached. By Catholic, he meant the perspective that grants the sacraments pride of place in religious life. And by pentecostal, he meant that perspective that stressed, in his words, "experienced effects." Or, put differently (still Newbigin), in the first, the church is the gathering of those who hear and believe the gospel; the second, the church is found in sacramental participation in the community that is in historical continuity with the apostles; and in the third, the church is the fellowship of those who receive and abide in the Spirit. + pg. 3


The goal and dynamic of the Christian life is to be "in Christ." Or, as Paul puts it so eloquently in Colossians 1:27-28, this is the mystery of the gospel, "Christ in you, the hope of Glory." And thus Paul therefore concludes, "It is (Christ) whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ." The goal of the church, its reason for being, is to live in dynamic communion with its Living Head: growing up into Christ, maturing in Christ, living in real time, organically in the grace of Christ Jesus. By "the grace of God," we mean the liberating assurance of forgiveness. We mean the capacity to live in peace, love, and joy – the huge longing of the human soul. We mean actual divine strength that infuses our human frames and makes us capable of living the Christian life. Most of all, by "grace of God," we mean the capacity and experience of life in Christ – for the individual Christian and for the church. And this assumes, of course, that the Christian life is not self-constructed, but lived in response to the grace of God and in dependence on the grace of God. + pgs. 4, 7

| 1 The Extraordinary Invitation of John 15:4: 

"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me." + Jesus, John 15:4

Jesus' disciples find in Christ their true home even as they learn to be the one in whom Christ dwells. And Christ dwells individually – personally, as the dynamic of their faith and experience – and collectively, for the church finds its true identity as the community that abides in Christ as Christ abides in the church. As Jesus abides in the love of the Father, we are to abide in the love of Jesus. As Jesus lived by the word and will of the Father, so we are called to allow his word to abide in us and to live as those who do his will. In other words, in some mysterious way, the phenomenal intercommunion of Father, Son, and Spirit sets the stage for the fellowship that we have with Christ. And our appreciation or understanding of the Trinity is the lens through which we are to consider our relationship with Christ. We enter into fellowship with Christ – abiding in him – and we are drawn into the life of the triune God, individually and corporately, as the church. + pgs. 10, 12

How can heaven and earth be transcended? How can we, mere mortals, be in dynamic fellowship and union with Christ, Lord of heaven and earth, one with the Father and the Spirit? In the history of the church there have been three defining and paradigmatic answers  – three answers that in their own right each had a profound influence on the church and what it means to be the church. Three answers: the evangelical, the sacramental, and the pentecostal. + pg. 14


| 1 The Evangelical Answer: How can Christ abide in us even as we abide in him? The evangelical response is simple: Christ abides in us through the Word of God, most notably through the Scriptures read, studied, preached, and meditated upon. It is the Word that transcends heaven and earth; it is by the Word that we are drawn into fellowship with Christ and thus with the triune God. From a reading of the Gospel of John, the word spoken by Jesus is a redemptive word: it is nourishment for the soul; it is the very means by which the salvation of God, the grace of God, is known. The disciples of Jesus, he says, are those who "continue in my word" (John 8:31). They know the truth and the truth makes them free (John 8:32). A disciple of Jesus is one who hears the teaching of Jesus, leans into and believes this teaching, and then obeys and lives the teaching. A disciple is drawn into the very life of Jesus by this intimate living of Jesus' teaching. How can we envision "abiding in Jesus" and then move into and live in this dynamic relationship of union with Christ, the ascended Lord? The evangelical answer is, through the Word. The Christian is one who feeds upon the Word, the Scriptures, and the church lives by the preaching of the Word. The faith of the church is sustained and strengthened by the Word. + pgs. 14-16
| 2 The Sacramental Answer: How do we abide in Christ as Christ abides in us? The sacramental responses sees a different thread – well, not a thread but a river – that runs through the Gospel of John. The sacramental Christian (alongside the evangelical Christian) is equally taken with the grand opening of the Gospel of John: in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1). But from a sacramental perspective the great and climactic moment comes later in the first chapter of John with the stunning declaration of John 1:14 that speaks to the moment when everything changed radically, thoroughly, and permanently: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us ... " When we ask how we can be in dynamic communion with the Lord of glory, abiding in Christ as Christ abides in us, the sacramental Christian sees a one-to-one link between John 1:14 and John 15:4. God in Christ assumes, that is, takes on, materiality. Our physicality becomes his home, his tabernacle. He took on our flesh so that, as Paul puts it, we might become children of God (Galatians 4:4-5). God became one with us so that we might become one with him. The genius of this event is that the stuff of creation – the physical, the tangible – becomes the very means by which God unites us with himself in Christ. For the sacramental Christian, then, physical and tangible things can be and indeed are a means by which we are drawn into the life of God. This is possible only with the incarnation, of course. And that is precisely the sacramental point: with the incarnation, the very matter that God created is a means of grace by which creation is healed. Thus the sacramental perspective comes to John 3 and reads that we are born anew, born from above, "of water and Spirit" (John 3:5). And for this perspective, Jesus' words are clearly and obviously a reference to water baptism. Water, the very stuff of creation, becomes a means by which we are drawn into the life of God and rebirthed. The water itself has power, or more properly speaking, the water has power as linked with the ministry of the Spirit. As the words of the Gospel of John make clear, it is water and Spirit. For the sacramental Christian, while fully affirming the vital role and place of the Spirit and how the water is a means of grace with the Spirit, water is yet very much a means of God's grace. Then also, the sacramental perspective comes to the phenomenal words of Jesus in John 6 – troubling words to the original disciples and perplexing for many on first reading, when Jesus uses rather graphic language to speak of what it means to live as his disciples. "I am the bread of life" Jesus insists; the bread that he gives, for the life of the world, is, as he puts it, "my flesh" (John 6:48, 51). And then in words that for the sacramental perspective clearly anticipate John 15:4 we read, "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them" (John 6:56). In response, many if not most evangelical Christians have insisted that this is all metaphorical speech and that it speaks only an interior "spiritual" eating. But the sacramental Christian responds with perplexity and not little consternation, insisting that to the contrary, the language of John 3 is clearly the language of water baptism, and the language of John 6 clearly speaks of the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist. For the evangelical, the church is a teaching-learning community that lives by the Word preached. For the sacramental Christian, the church is a sacramental community, the gathering of the baptized, who live – are sustained, and abide in Christ as Christ abides in them – by the bread and cup of the Holy Meal. Furthermore, they are organically linked to one another as a community by the apostles. In other words, our sacramental connection is not only to bread and cup but in the shared communion at the Table, there is a fellowship with the rest of the Christian community, the church, and with the apostles who founded the church. Thus the incarnation becomes the means by which we live the words of John 15:4, and this finds continued expression in the church through baptism and the Lord's Supper. + pgs. 16-19
| 3 The Pentecostal Answer: How can we abide in Christ as Christ abides in us? Those of a more pentecostal or charismatic perspective observe the following: the great means of connection  between heaven and earth, between God and humanity  is the gift that Christ gave the church and each Christian, the gift spoken of in both John 14 and 16, the gift of the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit, they note, bookends the call of John 15:4. It is the Spirit who will lead the disciples into understanding and truth (John 15:26; 16:12-13); it is the Spirit who will glorify Christ in the life of the disciples (John 16:14). This emphasis on the Spirit is also a thread that runs right through the book of John, beginning with the opening chapter. The sacramental Christian looks to John 1:14 for the great turning point of John 1: the Word become flesh. For those of the pentecostal persuasion, the pivotal moment of John 1 comes later in the stunning words of John the Baptist when he declares, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit'" (John 1:32-34). In the parallel passage to this, Luke 3:16, John the Baptist speaks of how he baptizes with water but that there is one among them who will baptize with Spirit and fire. For the pentecostal, the whole point of the coming of the Messiah is Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit upon one and all. But more, the Spirit is then the very means by which believers know the grace of God. In John 3, the salvation of God is known when one is born from above, born of the Spirit  which for the Gospel of John is one and the same. The intervention and gracious power of the Spirit makes God's salvation known. So then it follows, at the grand conclusion of this Gospel, that we come to the stunning moment when Jesus commissions his disciples with the call: "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you," and he empowers them to fulfill this very call with his own breath. He breathed on them, we read, and then declared," Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:21-22). Thus for the pentecostal, if we ask the question, how do we abide in Christ as Christ abides in us? The answer is simple: by receiving the Spirit, being born from above by the Spirit, and being led into truth by the Spirit, Christ abides in us. + pgs. 19-20

It's All of the Answers: Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal. 

So, how do the church and the individual Christian dwell in Christ? How does this dwelling, both call and invitation, actually happen?

| 1 Is it through the Word  the ancient text, made present and effective through teaching and preaching? 
| 2 Is it through the sacramental actions of baptism and the Lord's Supper, as it would seem to be the case from a reading of John 3 and John 6?
| 3 Is it through the immediate presence of the Spirit in the life of the church and filling  breathed upon  the individual Christian?  

The Spirit, Word, and Sacraments  all three in tandem are the divinely appointed means by which God's people live in union with Christ. All three, taken together, are the means by which the benefits of the cross are known and experienced. The three  Spirit, along with Word and sacrament  are then the means by which the intent of the cross is fulfilled in the life of the church, the means by which we abide in Christ as Christ abides in us. 

Jesus makes the specific point that his disciples will only bear fruit, fruit that would last, insofar as they are grafted into the vine. Thus it only makes sense that we would embrace every possible and God-given means by which we could be living in the vine and bearing the fruit to which we have been called  individually and in the life and witness of the church. Each is essential if we are to embrace the words of Christ: in and through him our joy is made complete (John 15:11). + pgs. 20-21


City Notes are meant to provide you with direct quotes from some books I've read this year, so you can get a taste of the overall theme of the book and then begin to chew on what your life might look like if you applied what you read.

Here are links to previous City Notes books:

+ Sully

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