Article XXIV-The Church-The Lord’s Supper

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶125 The Church–The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death. To those who rightly, worthily and with faith receive it, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ; and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ. The supper is also a sign of the love and unity that Christians have among themselves.

Christ, according to His promise, is really present in the sacrament. But His body is given, taken, and eaten only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. No change is effected in the element; the bread and wine are not literally the body and blood of Christ. Nor is the body and blood of Christ literally present with the elements. The elements are never to be considered objects of worship. The body of Christ is received and eaten in faith.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Mark 14:22-24; John 6:53-58; Acts 2:46; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8; 10:16; 11:20, 23-29.

This Article is one on which, as a denomination, we are actually on shaky ground. The classic Methodist understanding of the Lord’s Supper, also called variously Holy Communion, the Eucharist, or the Sacrament, is that somehow Christ is present in the sacrament. We do not know how he is present, only that it is not the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

John Wesley, who was a faithful Anglican priest through the day he died, believed that the elements of Communion themselves became the means by which God communicated his grace to us. He did not believe that the elements transformed on a microscopic level into flesh and blood, but they were the actual, physical vessels that communicated the body and blood of Christ to those who would receive them in faith. This is the classic Methodist understanding of the Eucharist as well.

This article shows how the Free Methodist Church has a convoluted understanding of the sacrament. The first section is the classic understanding inherited from Wesley, and thus the Church of England. The second section is more anabaptist in its denial of any meaning to the bread and wine. This may sound like splitting theological hairs, but here is the issue: In the first section, the bread and wine are necessary for the sacramental experience of receiving God’s grace. In the second section, only faith is necessary.

In fact, the first sentence of the second section is actually contradicted by the rest of that section. Either Christ is present in the bread and wine or he is not. If the presence is spiritual, i.e. through the Holy Spirit, he is still present. It really does not matter whether we can explain how Christ is present (especially because we can not do so).

Methodists have always been a part of the Church that believed in Christ’s real presence in the Lord’s Supper. It is a mystery how that occurs, but we have always believed it is true. Not only does Scripture back up this interpretation, but so does almost all of the history of the Church’s understanding of the Eucharist. We may have debated exactly how Christ is present, but we have always believed he is present in the bread and wine.

The portion of the Article that reads, “No change is effected in the element; the bread and wine are not literally the body and blood of Christ. Nor is the body and blood of Christ literally present with the elements…The body of Christ is received and eaten in faith,” runs counter to that understanding.

We would do well to stop trying to define exactly how Christ is or is not present in the sacrament and simply state that we believe Christ is present in the sacrament. We would be on much more solid biblical ground, as well as historical ground with the entire Church (not to mention our own Wesleyan heritage).

Advertisements

Article XXIII-The Church-Baptism

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶124 The Church–Baptism

Water baptism is a sacrament of the church, commanded by our Lord, signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ to be administered to believers as declaration of their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.

Baptism is a symbol of the new covenant of grace as circumcision was the symbol of the old covenant; and, since infants are recognized as being included in the atonement, they may be baptized upon the request of parents or guardians who shall give assurance for them of necessary Christian training. They shall be required to affirm the vow for themselves before being accepted into church membership.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. John 3:5; Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-17; 9:18; 16:33; 18:8; 19:5; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27-29; Colossians 2:11-12; Titus 3:5.

If you want to get into some heated discussions with church people, bring up the topic of baptism. There are so many different understandings of what actually happens in the sacrament (or even whether it is a sacrament) that even usually docile people become irate.

The Free Methodist Church affirms and expects older people who become believers in Jesus Christ to be baptized. If a Church exists in communities where people are not yet Christian, and that Church is actually doing what it is commanded by Jesus Christ of spreading the Good News and introducing people to him, there ought to be adult converts. Therefore, there ought to be new believers getting baptized.

The Free Methodist Church affirms and expects Christian families to bring their children to be baptized as well. There are three main reasons for this belief. First, we stand in the main stream of the history of the Church for the past 2000 years in that we affirm and practice infant baptism. That is a position with a strong historical precedent. The Church in the most places in the most time touching the most Christian lives around the globe for the last 2000 years has baptized infants, and we remain faithful to that practice.

Yet we also know that just because something is ancient in its practice does not necessarily make it right. Therefore, second, we affirm that the world is made up of only two kinds of people: those in the Kingdom of God and those outside of the Kingdom of God. There is not a third category of “children of those in the Kingdom who are waiting their turn.”

Finally, we affirm and practice infant baptism for theological and biblical reasons. If all have sinned in Adam, that includes infants. Psychology teaches an age of accountability for our actions, but the Bible is clear that all have sinned. As well, entire households were baptized in Acts, and even Paul baptized the entire household of Stephanus in Corinth. And if baptism is truly the mark of the new covenant just as circumcision was of the old covenant (as referenced by the Colossians passage above), then there ought to be no reason to keep children out of the covenant since the same God instituted both covenants, and he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Theologically, we believe that God is the primary mover in all of our relationships. God’s presence and grace go before us and we react and respond to it. Baptism of infants is our liturgical and ecclesiological way of showing our belief that God is the primary mover in our salvation. God’s grace is already being poured out on us, even in infancy.

Chapel at Central Christian College


I had the honor and privilege of preaching in Chapel on Wednesday morning this week. This is the service. The sermon begins around fourteen minutes into the service. The prayers and the poems before the sermon were really good as well. If you have time for this service, enjoy!

Why Gathering as Church is Necessary

Blog Photo- Church AttendanceI recently read an article entitled Is Attending Church Really Necessary for Christians? I got excited about the title and clicked the link. What I found was woefully inadequate for the actual topic. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people feel like this article, though: Jesus is somehow there, and the Bible says we should gather, so it is important. There is so much more to this issue that I felt compelled to write something on it myself.

First, when dealing with the topic of Church, it is very important to remember that Jesus founded a Church. He did not come and create a group of individuals who gather together every once in a while when they feel like it. He was explicit in Matthew 16:18 when he said that the Gates of Hades will not be able to withstand the Church. He did not say that it would not be able to withstand individuals or believers or disciples or apostles, but the Church. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:22-23, “And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” And again he writes in 1 Timothy 3:15, “if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”  If the Church is what can overcome the Gates of Hades, and the Church is the fullness of Christ, and the Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth, then there is something absolutely necessary about Church in the life of a Christian.

It is true that Christ is uniquely present in the Church. When the people of God gather to worship, the constituent parts of the Body of Christ are together. Ideally, they are all following the guidance and direction of the Head, Christ. When this happens, the presence of God is among us. This ties in to the injunction in 1 Peter 2:5 that we when we are in Christ we are living stones being put together in the new Temple of the Holy Spirit. No one individual stone can be a full temple in and of itself, and no one Christian can be independent of others.

Part of the reason that Christ is present in Church in a unique way is because it is in the context of corporate worship that we celebrate the sacraments. The presence of God and the grace of God are with us in a very real way through the faithful participation of the people of God in the celebration of the sacraments. Christians may debate how, exactly, Christ shows up when we celebrate Holy Communion, for example, but one thing we cannot deny is that Christ does show up. We have 2000 years of experience to prove that fact.

Perhaps the most important reason the Church as a communal gathering is necessary, though, is because we, as Christians, are supposed to be renewed and transformed into the image and likeness of God. You can see this all throughout the New Testament, but especially in 2 Corinthians 3:18. God is Trinity. God is an eternal communion of three persons. God is eternally in relationship among those three persons. This means that if we are to truly be transformed into the image and likeness of God, and if we are to truly reflect the likeness of God in the world, we must be in community with others. We cannot do this as individual believers who come together only when they feel like it, seeing Church as an optional add-on to their faith-walk with Christ. Our very being as Christians necessitates the fact that we be in community with others who are also being renewed in the image and likeness of Christ.

Jesus also said this in a completely different way on the night in which he was betrayed. In John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We can only have love for one another if we are in community and communion with one another. We can only be in community and communion with one another if we gather together on a regular basis. Therefore, if we do not gather corporately as the Church, we can never hope to show the world that we are truly Jesus’ disciples. Not only our very being as Christians in the image and likeness of the Triune God is at stake, but our growth in grace and relationship with Jesus Christ and our mission to the rest of the world is at stake.

All of this rises and falls on the very reality that Jesus created a Church, a community, through which he chose to transform the world.

Hebrews 6:1-3 and Deepening Faith and Growing in Christ

Have you ever met someone who was a Christian, or at least claimed to be one, and never really changed? They never grew in their faith. They never seemed to have more love of God or neighbor in their hearts. And they always seem to talk about the same subjects when it comes to religion?

This is not what Christianity is supposed to be about. Christianity is about being recreated in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ one step at a time. It is about changing from the inside out, through the power of God, into the person we know we ought to be. It is about allowing God to live in us so that his love can be shed abroad in our lives and the world around us.

Interestingly, the Bible knows it can be difficult for people to get past the initial stages of the faith and grow in Christ. Hebrews encourages Christians:

So let’s press on to maturity, by moving on from the basics about Christ’s word. Let’s not lay a foundation of turning away from dead works, of faith in God, of teaching about ritual ways to wash with water, laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment—all over again. We’re going to press on, if God allows it.

Faith. Not trying to earn our salvation. Arguments over baptism. Arguments over ordination. What the resurrection is. The end of the world. This is like a laundry list of topics most churches and denominations argue over and discuss. Frequently. As a matter of fact, if the majority of Christians stopped preaching, teaching, and discussing these topics, I do believe most pastors would be silent and most congregations could hear a pin drop in them.

Perhaps the reason we do not have so many more people living out the Christian faith in such obvious ways as to be considered salt of the earth people or living saints is because they are not moving past the basics about Christ’s word. Perhaps if we spent more time trying to grow deeper in our faith and less time talking or arguing about these topics, we would see more changed lives. Perhaps if we tried to seriously become disciples of Jesus and less time trying to prove why other groups of Christians are wrong, we would see the Kingdom of God come with power.

Just a thought.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 and The New Covenant

Passion_of_the_Christ_Last_SupperThis is probably my favorite passage of Jeremiah:

31 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 It won’t be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant with me even though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 They will no longer need to teach each other to say, “Know the Lord!” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord; for I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins.

The new covenant had to be made because the old covenant did not work. Not even God could legislate morality with the Ten Commandments and the rest of the covenant. The people of Israel still broke the laws repeatedly. In fact, the entire Old Testament is the story of Israel breaking the covenant God made with them with a few brief periods of faithfulness interspersed in between.

Jesus initiated the new covenant, this time written on our hearts and souls rather than stone and paper. Now, with the presence of the Holy Spirit within us as Christians, we can be transformed into the holy people God has called us to be from the inside out. We receive this grace, this transforming grace, every time we offer ourselves to be closer to God. Every time we receive his grace in our lives through true repentance from our sins (repentance that means turning away from the sin, not just feeling sorry about it), we spend time with God in prayer and study of Scripture, we worship with the believing community, and we receive Holy Communion in faith, we grow closer to him and have his new covenant written ever deeper in us.

It is only through this new covenant that we will be saved. The old one did not work. Allow God to write his covenant upon your heart or deepen it through his grace. It is nothing short of miraculous.

Psalm 23 and A Different Interpretation

psalm-23-1-the-lord-is-my-shepherdThroughout my years in ministry, I have usually read Psalm 23 during a funeral service. In fact, I have almost exclusively used this psalm for funerals, mostly because that is our cultural interpretation of the psalm. And, I might add, I almost always use it in the King James Version (which is not the version below) because that is how most people remember it.

The Lord is my shepherd.
    I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;
        he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
    for the sake of his good name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
    they protect me.

You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
    my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
    will pursue me all the days of my life,
    and I will live in the Lord’s house
    as long as I live.

I have heard another interpretation of this psalm, though, that adds meaning and depth to it. The darkest valley (the valley of the shadow of death, for those who know the King James) is life, and this psalm is a sacramental explanation of how God meets us in life. We are led to restful waters (still waters), which is baptism. A table is set or prepared, which is communion. Our head is bathed or anointed with oil, which is confirmation or chrismation.

Just further proof that there is more than one way to understand some passages of Scripture that are still valid.