Category Archives: Church/Ecclesiology

The Check Engine Light of Worship – Part 3

 

In our study of the doctrine of the church, or ecclesiology, we have come to narrow our focus upon the practices that occur when believers gather in the name of Christ, usually referred to as worship.  A specific area of worship towards which we have drawn our attention is the observance of the Lord’s Supper.  This particular practice, because of its universality, but also because of its widespread differences, is a particularly good litmus test for the evidence of Scriptural authority, not only in matters of faith, but in practice as believer’s gather together.

In this particular series we have been looking at the key text often recited during observances of the Lord’s Supper, namely 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.  In the first post, we outlined the passage as follows:

  1. A Statement of the Problem (11:17-22)
  2. An Appeal to Christ’s Institution of the Lord’s Supper (11:23-26)
  3. Rebuke (11:27-32)
  4. Exhortation (11:33-34)

In that post, we noted that the Apostle Paul was addressing a particular error in the practice of observing the Lord’s Supper that the young church (ekklesia) at Corinth had fallen into.  Recall that the context for his rebuke was a meal, a common meal, perhaps the agape or love feasts that had become a frequent occasion in the early Christian gatherings (see Jude 1:12).  However, these meals had become opportunities for gluttony and excess for the haves and further deprivation for the have nots.  Rather than having all things in common and sharing a meal, or waiting on everyone to arrive, some of the believers in Corinth were seeing these love feasts as an opportunity to indulge.

In the second post we noted the context of the inception of the Lord’s Supper by indicating that it occurred on the night that Jesus was betrayed, which coincided with their own observance of Passover.  Additionally, we saw that Jesus commanded that this observance take place, as often as you do this and that this practice was to continue until His return.

In this post, we will begin with an examination of the institution of the Lord’s Supper by returning to the night that it began, and continue the focus of it coinciding with Passover.  In doing so, let’s return to the Gospels, particularly Luke’s account, where  we read the following

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13 And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes. 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.

Above we have the full context for the institution of the Lord’s Supper according to Luke’s account (please read and compare the other Synoptic gospel accounts).  Harmonizing what we read and concluded from 1 Corinthians with our passage here, we indeed find that on the night he was betrayed was also the night of Passover.  There is some debate as to whether this occurred on our current Wednesday night, which using the Jewish day/night schedule would have been their Thursday (14 Nissan), the official day of Passover, or whether this occurred on our current Thursday night, but that discussion for another day.  

That aside, we find that Jesus instructed His disciples to make preparations for Passover; prophesied about the location of Passover; desired to eat the Passover, which was a reference to the meal they were about to share; prophesied yet again of His own suffering, which He linked with the Passover; then declares that He will one day participate in the Passover again, when He comes into His kingdom; and finally, we see a reference to the particular components of the Passover, which the mention of the cup, after, they had eaten supper, and the bread, unleavened as per the instructions in Exodus 12, each providing for us the elements in which they observed the Lord’s Supper as an actual Passover meal. 

That said, it is the last statement of our Lord’s regarding Passover that is significant because it speaks to the perpetuity of Passover.  Not only does He state His desire to celebrate Passover with His disciples, in which He associates His own body and blood with the elements of the bread and fruit of the vine in one of the cups, but He indicates that there will be another day to come when He will partake of Passover again, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God”  The ‘it’ in this verse refers to Passover (it is the nearest antecedent).  

As a noteworthy point here, Jesus doesn’t even refer to this meal as “The Lord’s Supper” but as Passover, the annual Jewish feast of remembrance of the rapid Israelite exodus from Egypt, specifically marked by the Spirit passing over the houses of the firstborn who had placed the shed blood of a lamb on their doorposts.  Passover was to be observed annually when the Israelite’s reached the Promised Land.  It’s institution can be found in Exodus 12:1-28; 43-51.  In addition to serving as a reminder of God’s redemption and salvation, it served as evidence of a present participation in the covenant with the Lord.  One final point is that the Passover was clearly anticipatory, or that it looked forward to the death of Christ and the passing over, by the wrath of God, of those who have been covered by His shed blood (propitiation).  These past, present, and future elements of Passover is not to the neglect of the typological aspects, which sees Christ as the Greater Passover Lamb (John 1 and 1 Cor. 5) and the culmination of the Old Testament priesthood, sacrifices, and covenant practices (see Hebrews).   

Following the order of the Passover, our Lord proceeds into the meal and assigns New Covenant symbolism to the elements of the supper as seen with the reference to the cup filled with the fruit of the vine, and also to the unleavened bread, representing his blood and body respectively.  As a side note, do any of the Gospel accounts refer to the substance in the cup as wine?  Or do they all correspondingly refer to it as the fruit of the vine? The Greek word for wine, oinos, was available and widely used throughout the Gospels, but not here. Though historically a cause for debate and a call-to-arms, it’s an unnecessary point of contention and one that is not focused on the central issue at hand.

The significance of this institution of the Lord’s Supper occurring on Passover is not trivial.  Our Lord takes all of the history, meaning, symbolism, even typology of the Old Covenant, which reaches its zenith with the Passover celebration, and brings it to the threshold of the New Covenant.  In this sense, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a touchstone of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants.  Has that point been brought out during modern observances of the Lord’s Supper?  Hardly, if ever, because we completely ignore that this occurred on Passover and disconnect the New Covenant meal from the Old Covenant meal.  The practical ramifications of this are that it makes us as best, modern Dispensationalists and at worst, guilty of a Marcionite view of the Lord’s Supper (one that disregards the Old in favor of the New), not to mention the danger of falling into the same category error as the first century Corinthians, that of failing to correctly observe the meal and assign it the historical significance that it demands.  We will re-examine this again in a subsequent post.

Returning to our questions raised from earlier, how would first century believers have observed the Lord’s Supper and interpreted the phrase, as often (1 Cor. 11:25)?  Would they have maintained the association with Passover, or would they have deviated from the established pattern and done what seemed good and expedient to them?  Regardless of the answer, it’s clear that a deviation of the practice had taken place by the time the Apostle penned the letter to Corinth, a sobering reminder of the danger of slipping away or losing sight of Scripture’s authority.

The Limit of Authority

 

Having looked recently at the nature of leadership, established by Christ for His kingdom, we saw how the authority of the Pharisees and scribes was limited insofar as they were representing Moses faithfully, or we might say teaching faithfully the Law of Moses.   This principle of limitation on authority is not isolated to Jesus’ rebuke of the Jewish religious leaders of the day, but may also be subtly seen in His ‘Great Commission’, “teaching them all I have commanded you” as it likewise provides boundaries on the nature of authority.

In keeping with this principle, the Apostle Paul, writing to the troubled community of believers in Galatia**, rebukes them for quickly deserting the word of the gospel that was preached to them and, similarly, provides the guardrails of authority.  After introducing the letter by establishing the divine source of his apostleship, Paul turns toward the central thesis of his writing

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

In this passage we find the motivation of the rebuke in verse 6, that the Galatians were turning away from the true gospel to another gospel (as though there was another gospel) and that there had arisen among them those who claimed to be teachers of this false, distorted gospel.  As the letter unfolds, we gain clarity and insight into the nature of this false gospel and find that it is a works-based gospel resting on works of the law, most notably circumcision.

In his rebuke, instead of staking a claim on the exclusivity of his apostolic authority, the Apostle places the emphasis on the authority of the true gospel

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

Here we see that neither an apostolic messenger, nor a messenger from heaven holds authority, rather the authority is from the Gospel itself, the good news that God has proclaimed.  For emphasis, Paul reiterates this point in verse 9 to make sure that his purpose has been delivered with clarity, “if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received.”  Again, the authority is placed on the message of revelation, not the messenger, while the wisdom needed to discern a false gospel from the true gospel is placed in the hands of the people.  In practice, this is precisely what we find taking place in Acts 17:11, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

This brings up some important questions on the nature of authority within the ekklesia(s) (churches) of Christ, particularly in light of the kingdom leadership paradigm that we recently looked and the limits of authority that our Lord has established.

  • Why doesn’t the Apostle, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, appeal to the authority of his own office? He introduced his letter by establishing his apostleship from God, yet we do not see him defer to it in the rebuke, i.e. listen to my message because I am an apostle.
  • Why doesn’t he defer to the ecclesiastical church officers, i.e. elders, pastors, bishops, of Galatia and instruct the people to simply submit to their authority and rule?
  • More pointedly, why isn’t the letter addressed to the ‘leaders’ of the Galatian congregations with the message to straighten out the people?

The answer is really quite simple.  Authority does not rest in man, either by position or status.  All authority is Christ’s (Matt. 28:18) and He mediates that authority through His Word, the very revelation of God.  When one believer speaks truth to another believer, whether for correction, rebuke, training, or exhortation, the limits of that truth are confined to God’s Word.  Certainly we may take human wisdom into consideration, particularly as God has gifted men and women with levels of faith, maturity, and discernment, and has placed them in various contexts where they can communicate that wisdom.  But human wisdom is by nature fallible and the communication of it is not binding or authoritative, rather it is subordinate to the Word of God, indeed it must be derived as well as always point back to God’s Word.

Aware that perhaps those who had been teaching or preaching this distorted Gospel might object on the basis of their self-assumed, human authority, the Apostle defends his bold statements by revealing his motives as seeking the approval of God.

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

One has to ask here, why would the approval of man vs. God enter into the equation?  Why would Paul even assert this as a question?  It seems reasonable to conclude that because Paul is elevating the message above the messenger that their would naturally be push-back.  Their could be those, either claiming positional authority or claiming relational authority, as though being from Jerusalem gave them authority.  Whatever the case may be, clearly Paul is uninterested in pleasing man, but all the more interested in pleasing God.

Barnes comments on this passage, “The great system of salvation had been taught; and no other was to be admitted, no matter who preached it; no matter what the character or rank of the preacher: and no matter with what imposing claims he came. It follows from this, that the mere rank, character, talent, eloquence, or piety of a preacher does not of necessity give his doctrine a claim to our belief, or prove that his gospel is true. Great talents may be prostituted; and great sanctity of manner, and even holiness of character, may be in error; and no matter what may be the rank, and talents, and eloquence, and piety of the preacher, if he does not accord with the gospel which was first preached, he is to be held accursed.”

In concluding this introduction, before he moves towards expounding this thesis, the Apostle concludes with a word on the gospel that he preached

11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Again, this places the authority of the message above man, resting it squarely upon God.

Stepping outside the bounds of Scripture’s authority always leads to abuse.  The abuses of authority have been the cause of many reformations throughout history and of course, the central cause of THE Reformation from the 16th century.  Let this be a reminder to us in our day.  The moment we begin to accept assumed authority, is the moment we begin retracing the steps to Rome.  All authority belongs to Christ and He has chosen to mediate that authority through His written word – Sola Scriptura

 

**It should be noted that most translations use the phrase, “to the churches of Galatia” in Galatians 1:2.  There were multiple gatherings in Galatia, and these are the audience; not elders/pastors and not a general, universal concept of church.

Kingdom Leaders – Part 2

 

In the first post from this short 2-part series on Kingdom Leadership, which is part of a larger, ongoing study on the Doctrine of the Church (See the Doctrine Tab above – Ecclesiology), we looked at the request of the mother of James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, to have her sons sit on either side of His throne in His kingdom.  We saw how this was part of a repeated pattern of the disciples to aspire to positions of authority, which oddly enough followed prophecies of Christ suffering and death.

The passage under consideration in that post was Matthew 20:20-28, where the request for authority was made and subsequently rejected by Christ, who then countered with a rebuke and held up gentile authority as a negative example of authority/leadership.  As we may recall, our Lord pointed out to His disciples not only the dysfunctional nature of gentile leadership, “they lord it over them”, but counters with an example that goes against the structure of worldly leadership altogether, 26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave”  This was then followed by the ultimate example of Kingdom leadership, our Lord Jesus Christ, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In this post, the subject is once again kingdom leadership, but this time it is not the gentile structure of leadership that draws the condemnation of Christ, but the Jewish leadership, ensuring that nothing apart from the new reality of Jesus’ pattern of Kingdom leadership will suffice.

Matthew 23:1-12 – Religious Leadership

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

In the passage above, our Lord is beginning His discourse of “woes” against the scribes and Pharisees, the unquestioned religious leaders of the day, with an exposition on the nature of the Jews’ religious leadership.  This section builds upon a question posed to the Pharisees concerning the nature of Jesus’ authority (Matt. 22:41-46), bringing the attention and focus upon the present religious structure of leadership.  The fact that the target of much of Christ’s ire was the religious leaders of His day, should cause us to sit up and take notice.

The introduction of this rebuke begins with the recognition that the scribes and Pharisees sit on the Seat of Moses.  This is followed by an apparent commendation of their teaching and a command to obey their leadership.  But this would be an incorrect conclusion.  By stating that the scribes and Pharisees sit on the Seat of Moses, Jesus is not commending them personally, nor their office, but is commending the seat of Moses, which either literally refers to a seat from which teaching took place in the synagogue (probably not) or that in so much as they taught correctly the Law of Moses, do and observe these things (more likely).  Was Jesus instructing the people towards unquestioned obedience of the scribes and Pharisees?  Absolutely not, in fact, just the opposite, in so far as they were correctly teaching what Moses had instructed, this was to be obeyed by the people.  This statement implicitly sets limits on the nature of authority for the scribes and Pharisees, in that it rests not in their person, nor in their position, but from an outside authority, more correctly God’s Law/Word.  Understanding these limits helps provide clarity in our day, as well as further illuminates an oft-abused passage such as Hebrews 13:17.

However, despite teaching the law of Moses, they failed to be an example for the people to follow.  Recall that in a recent post, Follow the Leader,  we looked at Hebrews 13:7 and concluded that the recipients of this sermon were exhorted to remember their leaders, particularly in their teaching of the word, consider their life, and imitate their faith.  They were godly examples of the Christian life which were to be emulated by those surrounding them.  In remembering their leaders, we saw the Hebrews had been taught the word, but that these leaders were not only teaching the word of God correctly, but were putting into practice what they taught, thereby becoming and example to the flock.

This is precisely the opposite of what was occurring with the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day.  Instead of being an example, they were authoritarian, “they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders.”  These burdens were the man-made traditions that they had developed which they tacked on to the God-given law. Additionally, they prided themselves in their authority and elevated status as leaders, “they do all their deeds to be seen by others as evidenced by outward symbols of phylacteries and fringes, the former referring to leather boxes containing scrolls of the law and the latter referring perhaps to displays of self-piety.  They enjoyed the privileges that came with their position, “they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues.”  They loved the attention that came with their position, “greetings in the marketplaces.”  And they loved the title that came with their position, “being called rabbi by others.  

This classic example of narcissistic, authoritarian, and abusive leadership is then contrasted with the scriptural model of Kingdom leadership in verses 8-12.

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

First, we see Jesus spurning the use of titles, you are not to be called rabbi.  It is noteworthy that this follows upon the statement of condemnation for the scribes and Pharisees love of being called rabbi.  The justification for this is rooted first in the authority of God, you have one Teacher and second in the equality among the brotherhood of believers, “you are all brothers” (note: brothers and sisters).  The hierarchy is not God, then clergy, then laymen, rather it is God then man.  

The familial language of brothers leads our Lord into mention of the Fatherhood of God as the basis for not calling any man father on earth.  It is doubtful that this is a reference to genealogical father’s, as in calling your dad, father, because clearly the context is religious.  While it could in fact be applicable to use this as a condemnation of the Roman Catholic notion of “father”, it could also be a reaction against the notion of spiritual lineage or offspring, apart from God the Father.  In other words, the family tree of God’s children all have direct descent from God the Father, not through descent from other men (note that Acts 7:2; 22:1 are not likely references to ecclesiastical offices).

Next, the title of instructor draws the ire of Christ, as He counters those who would bestow this earthly title on someone with Himself as The Instructor.  The ESV translation of the word instructor could also be guide or master.  While the reference to teacher from earlier likely means one who communicates information, here we have more the idea of a positional leader or guide.  It is beyond dispute that those who function as teachers, or even as leaders, is permissible in Scripture, but what seems to be in the cross-hairs is assuming these positions or having the honor of the title bestowed upon oneself.  It seems then that the elevation of one man above another, within a religious context – including instruction, spiritual progeny (1 Cor. 3:4), and master/guide – is prohibited as the position for each is already held by God.

After condemning the titles of rabbi, father, and instructor, our Lord again responds with a nearly identical statement on Kingdom leadership as the one from earlier in Matthew 20,

The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

As with the previous statement, here again Jesus means that those among you who are serving, literally deaconing, shall be the greatest.  Those who are exalted, as in the titles and positions of honor previously mentioned, shall be humbled or brought low.  Whereas, those who humble themselves will be exalted, though likely this would be by exaltation from God and not by man.

In our modern day society of Christendom, leadership is often determined by placing a man into a position of leadership, which implies that he is a leader, that he is capable of leading, and that in that capacity he actually leads.  Said differently, you’re neither considered a leader or in leadership until you have the official title as such, i.e. pastor, elder, shepherd, deacon, etc.  The most that could be hoped for is the designation of ‘lay leader’.  However, Scripture presents a different concept.  It suggests observing those who are already leading by their service, functionally we might say, and subsequently recognizing that they are the leaders.

Additionally, here we find a note of warning against our modern propensity to elevate men to an official status and title within our churches.  Commenting on this is R.T. France

Jesus thus incidentally asserts his own unique authority: he has the only true claim to ‘Moses’ seat’.  Over against that unique authority his disciples must avoid the use of honorific titles for one another (‘Christian rabbinism’, Bonnard) – an exhortation which today’s church could profitably taken more seriously, not only in relation to formal ecclesiastical titles (‘Most Rev.’, ‘my Lord Bishop’, etc.), but more significantly in its excessive deference to academic qualifications or to authoritative status in the churches. (Tyndale, pg. 325)

Given these two passages, we can now summarize the Kingdom Leadership Paradigm:

  • Leadership is not taken, it’s given.
  • Leadership is not ruling, it’s serving.
  • Leadership is not domineering, it’s submissive.
  • Leadership is not positional, it’s functional.
  • Leadership is not exalting, it’s humbling.
  • Leadership is not authoritarian, it’s exemplary.

Whatever else we read and conclude in the New Testament concerning ‘ecclesiastical leadership’, as such, must flow down stream from both Matthew 20 and Matthew 23.

Who are your leaders?   Look around, it may not be who you think.