Thursday, June 15, 2017

City Notes '17 | Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three (2 of 3)

Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal | City Notes '17 2 of 3

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, 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
From previous City Notes:

| 2  Luke – Acts: The Spirit and the Life of the Church

Jesus and the Spirit: Ecclesiology (i.e. study of Jesus' Church) and pneumatology (i.e. study of the Holy Spirit) are intimately linked. The Day of Pentecost is the day of the church. The experience of the Spirit in the life of the early church (as seen in Luke's book of Acts) is an echo, a counterpart, to the experience of the Spirit of Jesus that is described for us in the Gospel of Luke. In the Gospel, the Spirit plays an intimate, dynamic, and powerful role in the life of Jesus. Indeed, from the conception of Jesus to the promise of the Holy Spirit at the end of Luke, there are eighteen specific references to the Spirit. Luke speaks of Jesus filled with the Spirit, empowered by, guided by, and rejoicing in the Spirit. And Luke stresses that this Spirit is granted to Jesus' followers. + pgs. 23-24

Ascension-Pentecost: The Counterpoint of the Cosmos: If we take Luke-Acts as one narrative – in two parts, certainly, but still a single narrative – it rest, pivots, on the ascension. The ascension is the triumph of God – Jesus is made Lord and Christ as he returns to the right hand of the Father. But it is not the culmination. Pentecost follows, and it must follow for the purposes of the ascension to be fulfilled. The grace of God for the church through the ascended Christ is effected in the life of the Christian and in the life of the church through the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who equips and empowers the church to live in the fellowship with the ascended Christ, and it is by the Spirit that the mission of Christ is fulfilled in the world. The primary work of the Spirit is to draw us into the fellowship of the Holy Trinity. Through Christ and in glory to Christ, we are brought into fellowship with the Father – Abba Father. And the primary evidence of the Spirit in the life of the church is that Christ is lifted up, to the glory of God the Father. The meaning of worship is that the ascended Christ is adored, preached, and encountered in the Holy Meal. In worship we meet Jesus. + pgs. 25-27

Two Fundamental Ecclesial Practices in the Gospel of Luke: In Luke 24:13-34, with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we read, Jesus was present to them in two ways, through two distinctive acts. 

| 1 Were not our hearts burning within us ...  while he was opening the scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32). Jesus had been present to them through the exposition of the Scriptures.
| 2 He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. (Luke 24:30). And later the two who were with Jesus would say to the other disciples that Christ had been made known to them – they recognized him – in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:30-31, 35). + pg. 31

Two Fundamental Ecclesial Practices in the Book of Acts: In Acts 2:42-47, with the church beginning to grow, we read:

| 1 They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship (Acts 2:42). They were a community of the Word, a preaching, teaching, and learning community; they were the fellowship of the Word. The apostles' teaching was located within the fellowship.
| 2 They devoted themselves to the Lord's Table within and as part of their common prayers (Acts 2:42). The language of prayer likely speaks to their shared worship, very possibly, as some have contended, worship expressed through the Psalms.

Christ Jesus was and is present to the church and to each Christian through the Word – the Scriptures, the apostles' teaching – read, proclaimed, studied, and obeyed. And Christ Jesus is present to the church in a Holy Meal, the Lord's Table. The language of "devoted" suggested these were defining actions or commitments. They were the practices that made the church the church. + pgs. 32-33

Two Fundamental Ecclesial Practices: 

| 1 Evangelical (Protestant) Christians read Luke and Acts and come to the conclusion that the church is a community of the Word. Jesus was the quintessential preacher: he came on the scene as a preacher, opening the ancient Hebrew texts and proclaiming the Word. Luke 5 opens with the crowds pressing in to hear Jesus, who spoke the word of God (Luke 5:1). He taught in the synagogues (Luke 13:10); he taught from two fishing boats (Luke 5:3). And when he set his face toward Jerusalem, we read, he went through the towns and villages teaching as he made his way to the city (Luke 13:22). And then when we come to Acts, we can see how the remarkable movement and growth of the early church was carried by the preaching of the apostles. It begins with Peter on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 to the conclusion at the end of Acts 28 where Paul is described as "proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 28:31). When a season of the life of the early church is summarized, it is captured by the line "the word of God continued to spread" (Acts 6:7) and with this, a report that the number of disciples increased significantly. 
| 2 Sacramental (Catholic) Christians conclude that the church is fundamentally a Eucharistic community. Without discounting the importance of Scriptures and preaching, they observe that the most crucial event leading up to the Cross was the Last Supper. Jesus, we read, was eagerly looking forward to this event (Luke 22:15): he broke the bread with them and then shared the cup with the phenomenal words, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). And then, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant of my blood" (Luke 22:20). The bread, the cup. And this meal, as we see in Luke 24:30-33, becomes then the means by which the ascended Christ meets his church, sustains his church, and empowers the church. And what becomes clear in the book of Acts is that the church is a community that eats together. The book of Acts actually opens with a reference to a meal; we read that Jesus was at Table with them when he told his disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the baptism of the Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). Then moving into the Acts narrative, early on at least, it would seem that they were meeting daily for "the breaking of bread," Luke's way of speaking of the Lord's Supper (see Acts 2:42, 46). Toward the end of the book of Acts, the practice seems to shift to weekly, as suggested by the phrase in Acts 20:7 that they "met to break bread" on the first day of the week (from the sacramental perspective, this is what it means to gather: we meet at Table; the Table brings the church together). One of the most fascinating meals is that described in Acts 27, where, facing shipwreck and the potential loss of life for the entire crew on the ship taking them to Rome, Paul urges his fellow travelers to be of good cheer. And more precisely, he encouraged them through a meal. The text reads that "he took bread" and gave thanks to God, broke the bread, and urged them all to eat (Acts 27:35). + pgs. 33-34

For both the evangelical with the emphasis on the Word and the sacramental Christian with the emphasis on both baptism and the holy meal, the crucial thing to remember is that the verbal and visible declaration and demonstration of the Gospel are accomplished by the ministry of the Spirit pointing to Jesus. Our ultimate longing is not to know the Word, but the one who is revealed to us through the Word, the risen Lord. Then also, at the meal, the meal is not an end in itself but a means by which we enter into fellowship with the risen and ascended Christ, who is the host at the meal. And our experience of the Spirit is not, ultimately, about an encounter with the Spirit. Rather the Spirit is the one by whom and through whom we live in dynamic union with Christ Jesus. The church is a community that lives with the same immediacy of the Spirit as that witnessed to in the experience of Jesus and the early church; the church is a community of the Word, devoted to the apostolic teaching; and the church is a community of the Table, the gathering of the baptized, who, when they gather, "break bread" together. + pg. 35

| 3 The Grace of God: Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal

If the church is to live in dynamic communion with the ascended Christ and know the transforming grace of Christ, who is redeeming all things and who calls us to maturity, indeed to sainthood, we need every way to appreciate this grace.

| 1 For evangelical (Protestant) appreciation, preaching is nothing less than the careful exposition of a text, making plain the meaning of the text so that it is understood, but more, so that those who hear grow in faith, hope, and love.
| 2 | For sacramental (Catholic) appreciation, in the sacred meal, we actually meet Christ in real time; we, in the exquisite words of the Book of Common Prayer, feed on him in our hearts by faith. It is communion; it is the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. It is the meal without which the church cannot live.
| 3 | For pentecostal appreciation, we live with a sensible awareness of the Spirit in our lives. The awareness of the Spirit and the Spirit's power infuses our individual lives. But more, we know that to be the church we need to live in the fullness of the Spirit who, in the words of the Nicene Creed, is "the Lord, the Giver of Life." The church – in worship and in mission – lives by a real-time responsiveness to the Spirit: walking in the Spirit, led by the Spirit, guided by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25). + pgs. 37-39

What is the relationship between the three dimensions of divine grace? 

| 1 The evangelical (Protestant) Christian, so taken with the power of the Word and the call to faith – trusting faith in the Word – would appreciate that faith must be embodied, grounded, to truly take effect. Without this sacramental embodiment we so easily confuse faith with cerebral acknowledgement, belief with (mere) understanding. But more, we need to affirm that without the immediate witness of the Spirit in our reading, study, and preaching, Scripture is nothing but words on a page, ink on paper. When the Scriptures are preached, they certainly do illumine the mind, rekindle the heart, and strengthen the will. But the Scriptures only empower and equip in the power of the Spirit. Thus we always read and preach with attentiveness to the Spirit and a deliberate humble dependence on the Spirit. There is indeed a pentecostal hermeneutic that would inform the evangelical reading of Scripture. And more, the sacramental tradition would help the evangelical interpret the Scriptures within and as part of the living tradition of the church.
| 2 The sacramental (Catholic) Christian would recognize that what gives meaning or content to baptism and the Lord's Supper is the Word preached; that we come to the waters of baptism and to the Holy Meal with hearts and minds that have been attentive and responsive to the Word. But more, we must stress that both baptism and the Lord's Supper are supremely pentecostal acts, acts of the Spirit. Christ is truly and fully present in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, but it is a presence that effected through the Holy Spirit. Thus we must insist on the epiclesis – the prayer for the coming, anointing, and empowerment of the Holy Spirit – when we participate in the celebration of this sacred meal.
| 3 The pentecostal Christian, so taken with the immediate awareness of the Spirit, needs to appreciate that Word and sacrament are the God-given means by which the Spirit's ministry is anchored and communicated to the church. It is Word and sacrament that establish the Spirit's ministry as precisely the ministry of the risen Christ. Without Word and sacrament, our experience of the Spirit easily descends into sentimentality and self-indulgence. 

Arising from and leading to the experience of Christ, in union with Christ, these three means of grace are a tremendous provision by God – of God's very self in the person of the Holy Spirit, and then the remarkable gifts of Word and sacrament – and when in dynamic connection, when taken together, they have the potential to be a means by which the church and the world know the transforming grace of God. Together they are the ecology of grace. + pgs. 41-44

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

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:

2014 | A Meal with Jesus; The Art of NeighboringA Praying LifeBuilding a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church; Family on Mission; Encounters with JesusOne Thousand Gifts 

2015 | The Rest of God; Everyday ChurchRhythms of Grace

2016 | Letters to a Birmingham JailA Field Guide for Everyday MissionNotes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering FaithThe Pursuing GodYawning at Tigers

2017 | Gospel Fluency; Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal (1 of 3)

Other City Notes Specials | 13 Marks of a Faithful Missional ChurchBaptism: The Water That UnitesMoving Towards Emmaus: Hope in a Time of Uncertainty

+ Sully

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