Gay Wedding Cakes and Christian Duty

On a December 19 website posting, Skye Jethani provides “A Christian Case for Gay Wedding Cakes”.  In his article, he responds to three objections by conservative Christians who have protested a recent court ruling.  The gist of the ruling is that refusal of a Christian cakeshop owner to provide cakes for homosexual weddings constitutes violation of a Colorado anti-discrimination statute.  Jethani states that Christians must move beyond a “culture-war” mentality to consider how “Scripture and Christian values would have us live beside our LGBT neighbors.”  Jethani notes three typical Christian objections to such a ruling:

  1. Providing a wedding cake is participating in the celebration of a same sex wedding.
  2. A religious business owner should not be forced to serve customers his faith disapproves.
  3. If Christians don’t stand against this ruling, the government will soon force churches to perform same sex marriages.

However, I’d like to suggest that these objections are best considered by first asking two questions to frame the issue:

  1. What should be a Christian’s responsibility toward God in the current pluralistic milieu?
  2. What kind of political arrangement gives the best chance for harmonious living within a pluralistic society?

Continue reading Gay Wedding Cakes and Christian Duty

Does Kierkegaard Have Something to Say to Today’s Church?

I don’t know what you think of Søren Kierkegaard.  He has his good points and bad points, I suppose.  On the positive side, he conveys in his writing a strong sense of the critical importance of encountering and responding to Christ as an individual.  On the other side, he goes too far, I suppose, in bashing reason as playing a legitimate role in leading someone to faith.  From my point of view, though, Kierkegaard, when he is good, is really good!

In his essay, “On the Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle” (written in 1847), Kierkegaard counters Adolf Peter Adler, a Hegelian philosopher.  Adler had been deposed from his position through claiming to have had a personal “revelation”.  However, he later changed his story and claimed that his work was that of genius, not revelation.  Kierkegaard’s view was that a “genius” and a conduit of “revelation” are qualitatively different things.  Adler was confusing the two.

On a higher level, Kierkegaard made two statements in his essay that really stand out to me for their truth and their relevance to today.

Here’s the first:

“If the sphere of paradox-religion is abolished, or explained away in aesthetics, an Apostle becomes neither more no less than a genius, and then – good night, Christianity!”

For Kierkegaard, the figure of the Apostle stands for authoritative revelation from God, which is in opposition to the mere genius, who only speaks for himself.  The real strength of the Christian revelation is the powerful confrontation that is made in the Incarnation of God in Christ.  The paradoxical nature of omnipresent God “confining” himself into a human body is something that no one in their so-called “right mind” would make up – it challenges our capacity to believe, too greatly.  No, it is a paradoxical revelation that the Church is called to preach.  Kierkegaard’s point, and a daring point at that, is that Christianity stands or falls on the ability to keep the lines drawn clearly between revelation and aesthetic concerns.  When the emphasis is on the aesthetic rather than revelation, different questions come to mind.  With revelation, the questions are: what is true?  Do you believe?  With the aesthetic, you encounter questions like: isn’t this profound?  isn’t he a good speaker?  isn’t this a gorgeous sanctuary?  Aesthetics is not an illegitimate concern, but it must keep its place.  When Christianity becomes a contest for the ability to sell someone on something through rhetoric, charisma, etc. at the expense of the declaration of truth, then you’ve got a problem, and, in Kierkegaard’s words, it’s “good night, Christianity!”

Here is a second quote from Kierkegaard, applying the same theme as above to the Apostle Paul:

“St. Paul has not to recommend himself and his doctrine with the help of beautiful similes; on the contrary, he should say to the individual: ‘Whether the comparison is beautiful or whether it is worn and threadbare is all one, you must realize that what I say was entrusted to me by a revelation, so that it is God Himself or the Lord Jesus Christ who speaks, and you must not presumptuously set about criticizing the form.  I cannot and dare not compel you to obey, but through your relation to God in your conscience I make you eternally responsible to God, eternally responsible for your relation to this doctrine, by having proclaimed it as revealed to me, and consequently proclaimed it with divine authority.’”

Both of these quotes strike to the heart of what may be needed greatly today in the churches of the land.  These are not concrete proposals; they are merely impressions I am formulating in my thought process:

  1. A refocusing on the Christian gospel as “revelation from God” in its essence, rather than a message whose success is dependent on being conveyed through the right medium
  2. Less of a dependence on “genius” (tactics, marketing, strategy, etc.) for the bearing of spiritual fruit; more of a dependence on truth-telling in a spirit of grace
  3. A move away from recruiting spiritual “geniuses” (pastors, leaders, etc.) as critical to church growth toward encouraging the emergence of leaders from within an existing community.

So, what do you think?  Is Kierkegaard on to something?

Christ – The One and Only Sacrament (Part 5 of 5)

I have written on the previous three occasions of Markus Barth’s thoughts on the Lord’s Supper: its Jewish connection, its joyful fellowship centered on the sacrificial death of Christ, and its relevance to social ethics in the life of the church.  The final chapter of his Rediscovering the Lord’s Supper takes a look at perhaps the strongest biblical text for sacramentalism, John 6:26-58; sacramentalism being understood simply as a strong attribution of spiritual efficacy to the consumption of bread and wine.

John 6:26-34     Jesus’ discourse on working for food that does not perish

John 6:35-51a   Jesus’ affirmation of himself as the substance and the giver of the bread of life

John 6:51b-58   Jesus’ teaching on eating his flesh and drinking his blood

He begins by setting forth three areas where John appears to diverge from the perspective on the Lord’s Supper that the rest of the New Testament has:

  1. John is thought to most vividly emphasize the conflict between Jesus and the Jews.  While the Synoptics embrace Christ as the Jewish fulfillment (e.g. linkage of Lord’s Supper and Passover), Jesus attacks the Jews in the strongest language found in the Gospels , e.g. “You are of your father, the devil!”
  2. John is thought to create a different impression of the Lord’s Supper than 1 Corinthians 10-11.  For Paul, it’s a communal proclamation of the Lord’s death that should manifest a concern for the poor among the church. However, John 6 seems to indicate that individual consumption of bread and wine brings individual salvation.
  3. For John, the criterion of the faith in Christ that the rest of the New Testament announces seems to be faith in the sacramental meal.  One cannot have the former without embracing the latter.

To begin to assess John 6, Barth distinguishes four schools of thought on the chapter as it relates to the Lord’s Supper: Continue reading Christ – The One and Only Sacrament (Part 5 of 5)

The Lord’s Supper is an Ethical Act (Part 4 of 5)

I have shown over the past two posts that the Lord’s Supper has continuity with the Jewish Passover and it is an enjoyment of fellowship which finds its source in the historical, sacrificial death of Jesus.  Now New Testament scholar Markus Barth addresses the question: What does ethics have to do with the Lord’s Supper?  In my Christian life, I have viewed the Lord’s Supper from such an individualistic focus that I failed to appreciate how it relates to Christian behavior, especially within the community.  I would like to share some summary bullet points from the third chapter of his work on the Lord’s Supper, Rediscovering the Lord’s Supper.  The text in focus is 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. Continue reading The Lord’s Supper is an Ethical Act (Part 4 of 5)

Communion with Christ: Is It Caused or Signified by the Lord’s Supper? (Part 3 of 5)

Rediscovering the Lord’s Supper consists of a four-part analysis: three chapters on the subject of the Communion and a final chapter evaluating the relationship of John 6 with sacramental theology.

The chapter titles are as follows:

  1. Communion with Israel: Learning from the Passover How to Celebrate the Lord’s Supper and Learning from the Jews How to Serve God
  2. Communion with Christ Crucified and Risen: Public Joy Based on Christ’s Death
  3. Communion among Christ’s Guests: The Honor of Those Despised
  4. The Witness of John 6: Christ – the One and Only Sacrament

In the first chapter, “Communion with Israel”, Barth argues for essential continuity between the Jewish Passover and the Christian “Lord’s Supper”.  He focuses mainly on the so-called institution texts in the Synoptic Gospels, in effect, to view the Lord’s Supper through the lens of the Passover.

In the second chapter, Barth shifts his focus to the Pauline letter of First Corinthians, with emphasis on 10:16-17 and 11:26 as pre-eminent verses for understanding the significance of the Supper. Continue reading Communion with Christ: Is It Caused or Signified by the Lord’s Supper? (Part 3 of 5)

The Unity Between the Jewish Passover and the Lord’s Supper (Part 2 of 5)

Markus Barth, the author of the book Rediscovering the Lord’s Supper: Communion with Israel, with Christ, and Among the Guests, was the son of renowned theologian Karl Barth and a fine New Testament scholar himself.  He had keen interest in the topic of the Lord’s Supper and wrote and spoke of it: including The Last Supper (1945) and a series of lectures in 1986 at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, where he had served as professor of New Testament for ten years.

I appreciate Markus Barth because of his commitment to the work of exegesis.  As did his father, he had courage to approach the Scriptures in a fresh manner, while maintaining respect for their authority.  It is this fresh approach applied to the Lord’s Supper that caught my attention a couple of years ago.  It is also what has led me to post a review of Rediscovering the Lord’s Supper at this time.

The title of the book suggests that the significance of the Lord’s Supper has been lost to some degree.  Thus, Barth returns to the Bible for a bold look at this ceremony of the church to reconnect with its intended meaning. Continue reading The Unity Between the Jewish Passover and the Lord’s Supper (Part 2 of 5)

Markus Barth on the Lord’s Supper (Part 1 of 5)

I made reference in a previous post to Markus Barth’s collection entitled Rediscovering the Lord’s Supper: Communion with Israel, with Christ, and Among the Guests.  Taken from lectures given in 1986 at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, this work is a treatment of the theological significance of the Lord’s Supper.  I have not seen a review of this book online and think that it would be worthwhile to present a review of Barth’s study, made available for those who have interest in this topic.

Rediscovering the Lord’s Supper consists of a four-part analysis: three chapters on the subject of communion and a final chapter evaluating the relationship of John 6 to sacramental theology.

The chapter titles are as follows:

  1. Communion with Israel: Learning from the Passover How to Celebrate the Lord’s Supper and Learning from the Jews How to Serve God
  2. Communion with Christ Crucified and Risen: Public Joy Based on Christ’s Death
  3. Communion among Christ’s Guests: The Honor of Those Despised
  4. The Witness of John 6: Christ – the One and Only Sacrament

In his introduction, Barth provides four examples of how the Lord’s Supper observance over the years has been corrupted to some degree:

  1. The overshadowing of the meal by “a somber and depressing mood”
  2. The lack of clarity and persuasiveness in language describing the Supper (e.g. sacrament, transubstantiation, consubstantiation, etc.)
  3. The exploitation of the doctrine and observance of communion for the purpose of excommunication
  4. Church divisions brought on by controversies concerning the Supper

I’ll begin in the next post to discuss how Barth understands the relationship between the Jewish Passover and the Lord’s Supper.  In my view, the value of this study is that Barth develops his thoughts with a clear, exegetical approach.  His treatment combines attention  paid to the Scriptures with a desire to be a practical help for the church in its observance of the Lord’s Supper.

Should the Lord’s Supper Be Observed as a Meal?

In his highly thought-provoking, reproduction of lectures on the Lord’s Supper (Rediscovering the Lord’s Supper), theologian Markus Barth made this insightful comment:

A language has been fabricated for describing the mystery of the Lord’s Supper, a language that is certainly learned, deep, mysterious, but hardly clear and persuasive.  The Bible itself does not speak of sacrament, transsubstantiation, consubstantiation, transfunctionalization, transsignification, or symbol (a sign that shows what it effects and effects what it shows)…The Supper has been wrapped in a smokescreen of very difficult language.

The cumbersome language has to do with the strange and curious questions that have been asked about the Lord’s Supper.  One who asks a wrong question is most likely to get a wrong answer.

This last quoted sentence is pregnant with meaning.  I have been on a quest to ask some very basic questions concerning the Lord’s Supper.  The most basic question is this: is the Lord’s Supper a meal or not?  Scholar I. Howard Marshall asserted the following: “The Lord’s Supper in the New Testament is a meal. The appropriate setting for the sacrament is a table…To describe the central piece of furniture as an altar is completely unjustified in terms of the New Testament understanding of the meal.”

I have come to the same conclusion as Marshall.  However, the central challenge to this conclusion from the perspective of many is the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.  Matthew Henry’s view is typical: “They [the Corinthian assembly] were to eat for hunger and pleasure only at home, and not to change the holy supper to a common feast.”

So, what do you think?  Is the Lord’s Supper to be maintained as a meal?  Or is it best to see it in the established manner (a sole liturgical function with bread and cup alone)?

For those who are interested, here is a brief verse-by-verse commentary on this passage. Continue reading Should the Lord’s Supper Be Observed as a Meal?

Interpreting “Lord’s Supper” Texts: More There Than Meets the Eye

Alan Streett kicks off his work Subversive Meals: An Analysis of the Lord’s Supper under Roman Domination during the First Century with the following questions:

What actually took place when a first-century church gathered to eat the Lord’s Supper?  Did its members, like their twenty-first century counterparts, take a bite of bread and a sip of wine, in memory of their Lord?  In recent times, scholars have taken a fresh look at how and why the early church met around the Lord’s Table.

I have been on a personal quest to understand the central biblical ideas behind the Lord’s Supper and to analyze the manner in which the vast majority of churches in my own time and place have participated in the Supper.

It seems like everywhere I turn, I come upon texts which stop me cold in my tracks, calling me to question my hidden assumptions and my open presuppositions.

The “breaking bread” texts in Acts 20 and Acts 27 are the latest to do so. Continue reading Interpreting “Lord’s Supper” Texts: More There Than Meets the Eye

Lord’s Supper: Ancient and Modern Practice

When we come to the Acts of the Apostles (thought to be written by Luke), we read in 2:42 that the new church devoted herself to “the breaking of the bread.”  The definite article before “breaking” most likely indicates that this was a practice well-known to the early church.  Yet something interesting happens: four verses later, in verse 46, we see a somewhat parallel text:

verse 42

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching

verse 46

And day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple,

verse 42:

and fellowship, in the breaking of bread

verse 46:

and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart,

verse 42:

and the prayers.

verse 47:

praising God

Some commentators have drawn a distinction between “the breaking of the bread” in verse 42 and “breaking bread” in verse 46.  Arguing that the verse 42 reference is probably liturgical Communion, they distinguish it from the verse 46 reference to common meals in the home.  But this distinction cannot stand.  It is unlikely that discussion of breaking bread would have wholly different referents within a span of only four verses.  The most natural interpretation is that verses 46 and 47 explain verse 42.  Again, verse 42 is not liturgical; it is a snapshot of life for the church.

What can be concluded from our treatment of the passage?

1.  The fellowship of “the breaking of the bread” at the Last Supper was the pattern of the gathering of the church as she collectively remembered her Lord and enjoyed his abiding presence among them.

2. The well-known “breaking of bread” in the early church occurred in homes as they made remembrance of Jesus part of their common meals together.  There is no indication at this point that the “Lord’s Supper” was understood to be a cultic act performed in what we now call “corporate worship”.

How great a distance is there between the modern practice of the Lord’s Supper and its ancient beginnings?