On July 24, 2013

Sacred: Only the Saved

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 “Receive what you already are.”-St. Augustine presiding over Communion

So every July the Shepherds at Highland give me a month to get away and study and plan and pray for the coming year. It’s always a great gift, but it makes me miss Highland and the regular routine. So while I won’t be blogging as regularly for this month, I want to try and stay connected with what is going on at Highland.

This past Sunday, Jeff Childers preached during our Summer Series Sacred, by talking about Communion. He did a great job, and you can hear it here, but you should know, this is not a message for the faint of heart. But then again, neither is communion.

Did you know that back in the 4th century, after Constantine had converted the Roman Empire, the church had a very difficult time figuring out who they should let convert to Christianity? They had a legitimate problem. Now people wanted to belong to the church because it was the socially acceptable thing to do, Jesus was cool, and cross jewelry was just around the corner.

So now the church had a problem…how could they make sure that someone would take following Jesus seriously?

The Road to Communion

So the church developed a plan, that began with something called catechumenate, which was basically three years of hearing the “word of the Lord” and then the candidates who had done well with that, were taken on to the next round where they had their lifestyles examined and went through “daily exorcisms.”

Because let’s be honest, once a week just isn’t enough.

And then, if you went through that round successfully, then they would let you get baptized and take communion. Meaning that in the 4th century it was slightly easier to become the next American Idol than it was to convert.

Now chances are, we hear that and we think how primitive, and exclusive. communion

But then we get upset when we hear about that pastor having the affair, or the minister stealing or embezelling money. It’s all so cliche, which is a fancy word that just means, it happens so much we are tired of hearing about it.

But the sad truth is that Christians in America are very accepting and inclusive, but we aren’t that different.

A Different Kind of Discipleship

I read last year that in China, when someone becomes a Jesus follower, they are asked 7 questions:

  1. Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your father?
  2. Are you willing to lose your job?
  3. Are you willing to go to your village, to those who persecute you, forgive them and share the love of Christ with them?
  4. Are you willing to give an offering to the LORD?
  5. Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny Jesus?
  6. Are you willing to go to prison?
  7. Are you willing to die for Jesus?

Now that’s a welcoming packet.

The churches that I’ve worked at, make following Jesus as easy and non-threatening as possible. And rightfully so, but never forget that the questions that Chinese Christians are asking now, are the kinds of questions that Christians have been asking for thousands of years. It’s not enough to just have a dynamic student ministry and great programming and the right facilities. When the Church gathers it is to make us into different kinds of people.

The ancient view of communion, was that through this moment God gives Himself to His people.

And in order to do that, for thousands of years, Christians have excluded those who weren’t ready to make that kind of sacrifice.

There’s lots of ways to be ugly about excluding people, in fact, I think most of us have experienced both sides of this. But the question isn’t whether or not your group excludes, every group does!

And if you doubt that, just find out how your group responds to someone who is exclusive.

The question isn’t whether or not your group excludes, it is how you treat the people that are on the outside,

That is the uniquely Christian virtue, we are not called to just love our neighbor, we are called to love our enemy.

If you want to make a difference in your town or city, than the best place to start is to commit to become a different kind of person.

It’s time to stop just talking about Jesus, it’s time to follow Jesus.

And then you can eat with Him.

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  • Richard

    One interesting tension here is how Jesus shared the Lord’s Supper with Judas, let alone Peter and the others who were soon to betray them. Jesus doesn’t seem overly concerned sharing his meal with the faithless, weak and uncomprehending.

    So I’m not sure what to do with these tensions. I get very much the high call to discipleship–the vision of costly grace–but I balk a bit when human beings start restricting access to Jesus, even for very good reasons.

    And for what it’s worth, I think baptism rather than the Lord’s Supper is better suited to sorting out the committed from the uncommitted.

  • Richard

    Another note, while I’m thinking about this.

    If the elements of the Lord’s Supper, bread and wine, represent–symbolically (Protestants) or actually (Catholics)–the body and blood of Jesus then we should note that the body and blood of Jesus was given and broken and poured out for us unconditionally, while we were yet sinners. Isn’t that, at root, what the Lord’s Supper symbolizes?

    If so, to exclude “sinners” from the body and blood of Jesus–his outpouring love–and reserve it for the “saints” seems to set into motion a legalism that I worry about.

    Regardless, I do want to say great post! As my boys start considering baptism the catechumenate tradition of the early church is something I’ve been thinking a great deal about and I’m grateful for your sharing the witness of the saints in China.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Hey Bro. Richard, thanks and thanks! I actually probably land much closer to where you are in this tension as well. I think hospitality is the most Christian of virtues. I’ve started thinking of it more like layers or levels of engagement. The table is open for all, but for the saint who has laid down her life it might mean more.

    With that said, like you said, one of the interesting things about covenant meals that God is involved in, there was always an unconditional promise to it, that invites people to go deeper.

    Hope the Beck’s are doing well, and that y’all are having a great summer!

  • Richard

    The deeper issue, as I puzzle about all this, is what exactly does it mean to be a member at Highland (or any church like ours)? Churches like ours are basically built around affiliation rather than the covenant aspect that Jeff spoke about in his sermon. In the former membership is defined by simply getting on our attendance rolls, and in the latter it is defined by being a part of a virtue-forming and accountable community.

    Structurally speaking, how do we create and sort between the two? And should we?

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    That is the million dollar question! We could go back to the old Token system that Jeff talked about for more structure…but those kinds of structures, easily lean toward the kinds of abuses you were talking about earlier. I think in our world we have to have an open table, but high expectations for what and why we gather.

    A couple of examples…

    Right after I sent the first response, I went down to the Hotel pool that we are staying at, where the SouthEast Turkey Hunter Convention was having a theme banquet. True Story! And there were hundreds of them dressed up in cowboy, Native American and saloon dancer outfits. It felt like I was in the Calamity Jane movie. They never invited me to eat with them, but they were very peculiar.

    Most of the time the Shepherding couples and staff get together we pray and take communion together. I love taking communion with the broader church, but that time is extremely special because I know that I’m rubbing shoulders with people who have a lot of skin in the game. They, like the meal, are breaking themselves open and pouring themselves out. And they do that because they have an acute awareness of how they are serving God by serving the people in Abilene.

    And that is one of the responses I think for how we should think about participation at Highland/Church. The call when the whole church is gathered is for us to live certain kinds of lives toward the world and each other, it is to be peculiar, but for some, they’re not ready to be strange yet. That’s okay too, but the call is there.

    As far as the local church?Highland and most local churches have to be able to break down into smaller groups for discipleship/friendship/covenant kinds of relationships to be able to happen effectively. Without that we almost always become those legalistic hypocrites that we are often known as.