Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Is it really that difficult?

http://242devoted.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Devoted-LOGO-Retina.pngThe four-fold shape of the Christian life is not so difficult to imagine or to understand.  Acts 2 puts it so very succinctly and yet this little passage is so easily and often overlooked.  These four facets of the Christian life are worth more attention than they get.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and we do well to follow their example. While we often think of teaching in a variety of ways, the teaching spoken of here is doctrine.  Doctrine matters.  The right doctrine saves and the wrong doctrine condemns.  This means knowing the Word of God and confessing the ancient faith in the creeds of the Church.  It means living together under that Word, captive to that Word.  It means living within the catholic tradition and not some sectarian fringe.  What has been believed, taught, and confessed in every place and time.  This is not a modern idea.  St. Paul wrote:  So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings [tradition] we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess 2:15).  Again, we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us (2 Thess 3:6).  If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed (1 Tim. 4:6).  Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing (1 Tim. 6:2-4)For truly it is the call of every Christian and of every age to guard the deposit [of doctrine] entrusted to you (1 Tim. 6:20).

What a sad little word fellowship has become!  What we imagine is but a weak and pale translation of the Greek τῇ κοινωνίᾳ (te koinonia).  Most of us think coffee and donuts or a pot luck in the fellowship hall after church.  Fellowship here means living in communion with the Church and with those who with us are members of the Body of Christ.  This means we are instructed in the faith and teach others, we are encouraged in the faith and we encourage others, we are held accountable and we hold one another accountable, and we find help and aid when struggling even as we come to the aid and help others within the Body of Christ. Such communio is the fruit of a faith commonly confessed, of a life together fed and nourished at the altar, and lived out in lives of prayer and intercession on behalf of others. It is cheap and pale imitation of this communion when we substitute a few bites to eat and something to drink.  Fellowship begins at the altar rail, not in the fellowship hall, and it is strong enough to bear the burdens of others as ours have been borne in Christ.  Fellowship is the life together met in the weekly Eucharist where we feed upon Christ's body and blood and flows from that communion in His flesh and blood into our life together as members of Christ's body in the world.

The “the breaking of the bread” in the New Testament does not mean sharing a baguette or a sandwich or a nice dinner but the reception of Holy Communion, the Eucharist.  It is the worthy communion of those who have examined themselves, who discern the Body of Christ, who live in repentance, and who confess the faithful doctrine of the Scriptures.  As Luther said, worthy means having faith in the words given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  It is not a standard of minimums that must be met but living in the fullness of that life together as the baptized people of God.  We have turned the Sacrament into my private time with Jesus but nothing could be further from the nature of this blessed communion.  We are united with Christ.  He abides in us and we in Him.  We are joined together as the people of God, sharing a common faith, making a common confession, and living together the common life as those declared righteous and living this righteousness out in the world by baptism and faith.  Those who absent themselves from the Lord's Table are missing out and there is something wrong with our spiritual lives when we no longer yearn or long for the blessed food of Christ's body and blood.  Equally wrong is when this becomes a casual communion, individualized and spiritualized to the point where the Words of Christ and His gift in this sacrament have no earthly consequence or identity.  The reverence of the Lord's Table is the solemn acknowledgement that Christ is the host, priest, and food for His Church, extending to us in this sacred communion the fruits of His saving death and life-giving resurrection.

The last facet of life identified here is prayers.  It means so much more than just saying our prayers, repeating words in a perfunctory way. The Greek word is προσευχαῖς (Proseuchais), and is translated simply: “prayers.” Here the Lord demonstrates this life of prayer in the garden with His disciples when he prayed so deeply and earnestly that He sweat like blood.  Prayer is the fruit of our communion with the Father made possible by the Son and taught by the Spirit.  We intercede on behalf of all people as they have need, the Church and her mission, the servants of the Church (pastors and all church workers and vocations to church work), nation and the world, the sick and those who suffer, the dying and the grieving.  The prayers of the ancients passed down to us instruct us in this life of prayer and and our whole life of prayer is summarized and culminates in the Our Father.  For Lutherans this means praying the Catechism as well as reading it and being instructed by it.  It means the ancient collects, the Litany, and Prayer of the Church.  Our hymnal is filled with prayers to help us pray, to teach us to pray, and to give us words to pray when our hearts and minds are too empty or too full to find the words.  The Spirit is at work in this life of prayer -- not only delivering the prayers that rise like incense to the Father but prompting prayers and putting into words the sighs and groans of our hearts struggling to find words.  Prayer is not something small or weak but profound and powerful as pray the good and gracious will of God to be done for us, among us, and through us.  It finds its greatest peace when we learn from Jesus to prayer without fear or regret, "Thy will be done."

Do you want to see the shape of Christian piety and our life together as the people of God?  In Acts we see this piety profoundly and beautifully expressed in a few words too rich to be quickly dismissed.  It is really not that difficult to know what the shape of Christian life looks like.  Acts makes it both clear and plain.  May the Spirit work in us these words that they may be part of us and we part of them.


Anonymous said...

So I guess ALL the warnings against subversion of ALL that Christ has commanded and ALL things taught by the Holy Spirit [ spelled D+O+C+T+R+I+N+E ] are a clarion call to every Christian man, woman, and child.

Matthew 28:20a
teaching them to observe ALL that I have commanded you.

John 14:26
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you ALL things and bring to your remembrance ALL that I have said to you.

Mark said...

Among other things, Communion in the Lord’s Supper is also a public outward confession of unity in doctrine, practice, faith and repentance; a fellowship and confession to which we acknowledge ourselves to have been pledged and which we gladly profess.

Carl Vehse said...

"It is the worthy communion of those who have examined themselves, who discern the Body of Christ, who live in repentance, and who confess the faithful doctrine of the Scriptures."

"We are joined together as the people of God, sharing a common faith, making a common confession, and living together the common life as those declared righteous and living this righteousness out in the world by baptism and faith."

Oh dear. That doesn't look good for the "early communion" (here the euphemistic “early” means any pre-confirmation age down to post-baptism) heteropraxy in the Missouri Synod.

Lutheran Lurker said...

Early communion is a relative term. Infant communion? No. Early communion? Well, Luther and those within the next 100 years after him were certainly accustomed to a much earlier age for confirmation and first communion than our usual 8th grade or even later.

Carl Vehse said...

Again, in my use of "early communion" the definition of "early" means any pre-confirmation age down to post-baptism. That would include paedocommunion, advocated by some Lufauxrans.

There is no Scriptural or BOC-mandated age for confirmation. However for the edification of the church and in walking together, congregations in the Missouri Synod may agree on a uniform age for catechesis and confirmation.