Tag Archives: theology

Communion

communionI grew up in a very “low church” worship environment.  Our Nazarene Manual directed us to receive the Lord’s Supper at least once a quarter and, apparently, we saw that as a maximum rather than minimum frequency.   As a young pastor I followed that same schedule but over time I moved to a monthly observance, trying to find a middle way between seeing the sacrament as the featured act of worship at one extreme, and as a mandated add-on at the other extreme.

While I don’t think there is a right or wrong approach in how most churches observe the sacrament I do think that the freedom to vary the emphasis and approach and even mechanics of observing it can be an advantage for less liturgical churches.   Whether or not you agree with me here, I hope you’ll find some of these thoughts helpful.

Communion is more of a celebration than anything else.  We don’t believe Jesus dies again each time we receive communion and it isn’t only about shed blood and broken body.   Mainly, we’re celebrating the amazing love the Lord has for us.   Jesus willingly went to the cross because “God so loved the world.”  There, on that old rugged cross, he conquered sin and death.  His victory has become mine.  We don’t celebrate the brokenness and bleeding but we do celebrate the reason for it and what it has accomplished in and for us.  “We come today to celebrate the greatest act of love, the most beneficial sacrifice ever accomplished….”

Communion is the perfect platform for inviting people to come to Jesus.  As a young person I somehow had the idea that the Lord’s Supper could be hazardous to one’s health.  We were to examine ourselves and if we had experienced any spiritual failure we might be wise to skip communion that quarter.  Over time I began to understand that, while it was possible to receive communion in an unworthy manner (that is, without showing proper reverence) that, honestly, no one is worthy of receiving these emblems of the Lord’s body and blood.  Had we been worthy, he would have never had to go to the cross in the first place.  With that in mind, I began to see the sacrament as an invitation to Christ.  As I examine my heart and realize that there are spiritual failures I’m not disqualified from the bread and wine.  Rather, I’m being given an opportunity to avail myself of the mercy and grace of the Lord in a fresh way.  If I come, viewing my receiving communion as a substitute for repentance and faith I’m moving into the “unworthy” territory.  If I come seeking forgiveness and restoration, though, I find life in that sacrament.  “The Bible says we’re to examine ourselves before receiving communion.  So let’s do that.  If, as you consider your relationship with the Lord and find that things aren’t what they ought to be, that doesn’t mean you can’t receive communion today.  Instead, this is an opportunity to make things right with the Lord.  As you receive the bread and wine, receive Jesus into your life all over again.”

Communion is a great way to introduce your child to Jesus.  Honestly, I think our liturgical friends with their emphasis on “first communion” have a great approach.  However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t advantages to a less structured, low church approach.  As a pastor I allowed parents to bring their children forward to receive communion provided the parent agreed to have a discussion with that child about allowing Jesus to be their Lord and Savior before the day was over.  Symbols are powerful and children can grasp spiritual realities earlier than we might think.  I let parents decide if their children are “there” yet.  “Parents, I’ll let you decide when your children are ready to receive communion.  If you do allow your child to come today, I ask this of you: let’s agree that before this day is over you will sit down with your child and talk about the meaning of communion and how it is that a person places their faith in Jesus.”

Communion ought to be the focus of at least one service a year.  Baptism has been called the “entry sacrament” to our life in Christ.  Communion is the “continuing sacrament.”  One Sunday a year the church service should be all about the Lord’s Supper (World Communion Sunday is the first Sunday of October).   Sing songs about it, read the appropriate scriptures, and preach a sermon that reminds us why we celebrate communion.  Talk about our unity with believers across the ages and in the various traditions of Christianity.  Talk about God’s love for us and Christ’s willingness to die for us.  Remind people of its connection to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  Tell them why the Lord’s Supper is called a “means of grace.”  Then, invite people to the table of the Lord.  Pastor, on this Sunday, you do all the serving, taking the role of Jesus, himself.  “Today is World Communion Sunday and we’re going to join Christians of many traditions around the world in receiving communion.  Before we do that though, let’s think about the meaning and purpose of this sacrament of the Church.”

Church Website Advice

These days Jackie and I are enjoying visiting lots of different churches.  Every week or two we are in a different place and ready to join some congregation in worship.  Being Nazarenes our first choice is one of our own tribe although I am quick to add that we’ve enjoyed fellowship in a variety of groups.

Sometimes we’ve driven past a church nearby and have stopped to check out any church sign for information, but most of the time we head for the internet.  The results are a real mixed bag.  I’ve seen church websites that looked terrific and I’ve hunted for church information only to come up empty.  I’ve found lots of good, current information and I’ve found some nice looking websites that are horribly out of date.

So here are a few words of advice concerning your church web site:

  1. If you don’t have a web site get one!  Listen, whether or not you are interested in the Internet, most people are.  Not having a website today is equal to not being in the phone book 10 years ago.  You NEED a website.
  2. If you post current events keep them current.  Listing last year’s Christmas party as current says bad things about your church.  Compare it to not having the grass mowed at the church – it speaks of not caring, not being organized, and of neglect.
  3. If you aren’t going to keep the site current then DON’T post any current events.  Turn the website into a billboard for the church with only static information including some of the things I’m about to list.
  4. Post your service times and make them easy to find.
  5. Post your church address and include directions.  It’s amazing how many church websites never bother to name their state.  Put complete directions, and make them easy to find.
  6. If you want to do more, a really nice thing to do is include some photos, especially of the church in worship.  My wife often wonders what the ladies wear to church.  She knows that we will be welcome even if we don’t quite meet the local dress code, but she wants to fit in.  Photos of people in a regular worship service help a lot.

Remember, people DO look you up on the Internet.  Don’t just have a Facebook page – not everyone can see it.  DON’T let someone’s nephew who is a whizbang at doing fancy webpages do yours.  It needs to look on purpose and grown up.  Simple with relevant information is better than impressive and out of date because no one who actually cares about the church’s image has a clue as to how to update the page and the nephew is long gone.  You can have a reasonable, easy to maintain, easy to Google website for very little money.  Really, trust me, you NEED a website that meets at least certain minimum standards.

 

Why I don’t believe in hell

The subject, “Why I don’t believe in hell” is really just an attention grabber. What I mean is that I don’t think belief in hell is necessary for salvation. You see, I believe IN Jesus. I trust him to be my Savior and I’ve made him Lord of my life. Without him I’m hopelessly lost.

Beyond that, I really don’t want to believe hell exists, at least as a destination for human beings. Really, I’ve tried to not believe it exists but I can’t find a way to do so without abandoning Scripture on the topic and I’m not ready to do that.

Still, I don’t think believing in or doubting the existence of hell has any direct bearing on one’s salvation. I’m saved because I’ve believed in the right Person, not because I’ve believed all the right things. I don’t think I should use one’s views on hell as a sort of litmus test as to whether or not I think they’re saved.

I do think that, in some very specific cases, warnings of hell can cause a person to rethink their life and turn to Jesus for Salvation from that place. If a person believes hell exists and that they can potentially go there, then offering hope of being “saved” from that destiny can have a real influence on their response to the Gospel message.

On the other hand, if a person doubts hell exists then threatening them with hell is going to get me nowhere. They’ll probably think of me as quaint, superstitious, and hopelessly out of touch. At that point I can either spend a lot of time and energy trying to prove the reality of hell to them or I can try to prove something else to them; maybe that God loves them and has sent his Son into this world to make it possible for us to have a genuine relationship with him. I think that’s the more reasonable approach.

My denomination believes hell exists and that people are going there. Our church Manual states:

We believe in the resurrection of the dead, that the bodies both of the just and of the unjust shall be raised to life and united with their spirits—“they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”

We don’t rejoice in that fact. We’d rather that people come to know the Lord, letting him transform their lives. We’re a lot more interested in helping people realize God’s transforming grace than we are in telling them they’re bound for hell. Again, in some cases, the warning might help a few seriously consider responding to the Lord’s offer to “save” them.

So, I don’t believe IN hell – that believing it is a part of my being saved. Still, to “be saved” means being saved from something doesn’t it? On the other hand I believe IN Jesus. My eternal hope is in him and nothing else and no one else.

Please note: there have been a number of nice comments to this article, but for some reason when I changed blog addresses they didn’t transfer. You can see them here.

Battle for the Bible

For years now I’ve watched from the sidelines as some church groups have fought the so called “Battle for the Bible.”  I say I’ve watched from the sidelines because I’m a part of the Church of the Nazarene and Nazarenes, from the beginning, refuse to enter into the fray.  Our founders arrived at the wise stance that the Holy Scriptures are inspired and inerrantly reveal “the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation.”  By making this one of our Articles of Faith it removed us from the endless debates about whether thus and so “really happened.”

Still, I can’t claim that we aren’t impacted by the issue.  Some of our folks get their theology as much from Christian radio and TV as they do from their local church.  Since we do “believe the Bible” arguments framed as “do you or don’t you?” cause us to unknowingly drift into the raging waters of this debate.

We Nazarenes have a Wesleyan view of Scripture.  That means, as our forefathers stated, we believe the Bible has been given to us for the purpose of revealing God’s will concerning our salvation.  Some folks read the story of Jonah and the big fish and think they have to prove Jonah really was swallowed by such a fish or the whole Bible is placed in doubt.  A Nazarene reads it and asks, “What does this tell us about God and his redeeming grace?”  The big fish may or may not have existed (personally, I’m on the “did exist” side), we’re free to believe however we conclude.  It’s what this story tells us about God and salvation that matters.  That, for us, is the inerrant part.

For some folks “believing the Bible” is about proving whatever they think the Bible is saying is factual.  To them, it’s a science-history-math-theology book.  For Wesleyans, it’s a book about God and man and salvation.  We believe everything it says is about that is hard fact, inerrantly pointing us to God and his redemptive purposes for us.