Archive for June, 2011

The Deadly Supper

It’s amazing how many people have died over the Lord’s Supper, and how much division it has caused. Countless protestants died under the reign of ‘bloody’ Mary I of England, not to mention the martyrs throughout the rest of Europe, refusing to accept the Mass (the Roman Catholic view of the Lord’s Supper). That’s not to say that a fair number of Catholics didn’t die at the hands of Protestants for the reverse reason. But the Lord’s Supper even divided Protestants, right from the start.
Martin Luther (German reformer) and Zwingli (Swiss reformer) shared some nasty language in Germany over their differences in supper doctrines only 12 years after Luther’s famous 95 theses that kicked off the reformation. This led to a massive and lasting rift between the ‘Lutherans’ and the ‘Reformed’ denominations. This week, though, in preparation for an exam, I had to engage with a tract produced by John Calvin on the topic, and his approach is different both to Luther and Zwingli, and I think also different to mine.
What does Calvin say? He says that the Supper is for our benefit. It physically represents what is happening spiritually in the process, that is, feeding on Jesus in faith. As we eat the bread and drink the wine we are spiritually feeding on Jesus by faith. He also says that Jesus is spiritually present in the supper, but how that works is a mystery. He rejects the idea outright that the bread and wine actually become Jesus body and blood (transubstantiation), but still holds that Jesus is somehow present, or in his words ‘the substance is Christ’. How does he come to this conclusion? He considers the imagery in John 6 to relate to the supper that Jesus instituted. This is not an uncommon view. eg. John 6:51 “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” It’s easy to see here how someone could interpret this in light of the elements of the supper, especially when you take into account that the original readers were used to celebrating the supper and identifying those symbols with the meal.

Should we see John 6 this way, though? Personally, at the moment, I don’t think so. While there is an overlap in imagery, I don’t see any necessary overlap in subject matter. In John 6 Jesus is talking about coming to him and believing in him (6:35). The key image here, really, is the manna in the desert. Jesus is that life-sustaining manna.

The key image in the supper, though, is the breaking of the bread and the pouring out of the wine. Of the four accounts of the supper (Matt 26, Mk 14, Lk 22, 1 Cor 11), all explicitly mention the breaking of the bread, and 3 out of the 4 explicitly mention that the blood is poured out. These are visual reminders of Jesus’ violent death on our behalf. So, against Calvin, I think the supper is a meal of remembrance of Jesus death for us. (Which is actually what Zwingli believed).

The thing we seem to have lost, though, is that it was a meal, not a token gesture. There is something very biblical about sharing a meal together, something we have lost with a ceremonial approach to the supper. One thing I loved at Maffra Community Church (where we used to go, 15 min down the road from Sale) was that we celebrated the supper as a communal meal. Not a ceremony, but a genuine expression of community. A communion.


The Cost of Discipleship

Why Adoption matters

Adoption is one of the most under-preached doctrines in our churches, and the effects of this can be seen in the way that we think and act in the areas of work, possessions and money.  Two important aspects of our adoption are our identity and inheritance.  A correct understanding of these two ideas has a significant impact in the areas mentioned above.  Here’s a sermon I just gave recently on the topic: Adoption Sermon at St. Matts

Let me know what you think.


I’m about to preach a sermon on adoption this weekend.  It is one of the underpreached doctrines in our churches.  And this shows in our churches.  It shows in the way that our attitudes to work, career, house, possessions and money largely reflect the society around us. What does adoption give us?  Many things, but one we don’t often realise is identity.  In the ancient world identity came from your father.  Like father like son.  If your father is God, then how could you be more significant as a person?  You’re not just the son of a noble or even a king, you’re the son of the living God!

In our world we find our identity often in our job.  It’s the religion of winning that I read about recently.  We judge ourselves and others by occupation.  That’s why one of the first questions we ask someone is ‘what do you do?’  Adoption cuts right across that, however, and says that you are valuable regardless of your job.  Not just valuable, but incredibly significant, because God is your father.  If we could comprehend that, we would be a lot more content.  No wonder John says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).

Money again

It’s struck me recently just how often Jesus talks about money. He talks about it a lot. It also comes up around him a lot. Take Judas for instance. I remember hearing all sorts of theories about why Judas betrayed him. People speculated a zealot background, a disappointment at Jesus’ lack of nationalistic enterprise or that he was trying to push Jesus into doing something powerful.

The Bible gives us only two explanations. The first is that Satan entered him (Lk 22:3), whatever that means. The second is that he did it for the money (Lk 22:4-6). Often we want to push back against that idea. How could Judas have been motivated by the money? Well, we know that Judas was a greedy thief (12:6). We also know that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim 6:10).

In fact Jesus held up money as the alternative to serving God: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matt 6:24)

How we treat money says a lot about how we worship God. Often the wallet is the last thing to be converted. That is what Jesus is recognizing here. Your wallet competes with God for your allegiance. Who will have it? Let’s worship God by giving generously. Who to? To the poor and to gospel ministry.