On Church gathering: preaching, rights, the sacraments, and authority

Hopefully this is the last in a series of long posts responding to John Dickson’s book “Hearing Her Voice.”

The other posts include:

If none of this interests you – have you watched this lip reading of NFL players? It’s funny.

A tl:dr;* introduction/summary of what follows

*too long, didn’t read

In what follows I argue that if the sermon is preaching (not teaching), and preaching, in the context of the gathering (not preaching outside the gathering – essentially to non-believers), is:

  • a piece of cross-shaped persuasion proclaiming the crucified Lord Jesus and the message of the gospel,
  • something of greater magnitude than the sacraments, in that the sacraments support the preaching,
  • where God speaks through those he provides with gifts,
  • so long as they too submit to the authority of Scripture, and their sermon is based on the authority of God’s revealed word.

If these points are true, then the sermon is the ultimate act of authority in the church, and at the center of preaching – which is a corporate activity of the church (not an individual act).

So if one is a complementarian the sermon should be:

  • a clear proclamation of the gospel,
  • based on the authority of God’s revealed word,
  • given by a man who meets the Biblical ethos guidelines for a preacher (assuming they’re the same as those for an elder),
  • who is appropriately gifted to carry out the logos and pathos elements of the delivery of a sermon,
  • which sits in the context of a church gathering where all the members sacrificially exercise their gifts, as one body,
  • to preach the gospel, corporately (in an act of worship).

And therefore, those who preach should be:

  • Sacrificial in their approach to preaching,
  • not speaking as an ego exercise, but a genuine act of service to others,

which means being mindful of who they are preaching to, and how their preaching style and content relates to and serves those in the gathering.

While the structure of the gathering, and the life of the church outside the gathering, should be such that all members of the church can function as part of the body and use their gifts in the preaching of the gospel (outside of the context of the gathering).

If you disagree with any of that, and want to tell me about it – feel free to jump to the comments and tell me why – this is another pretty big post. I feel like I can justify most of these positions from the Bible, and from various “authorities” throughout church history – but I haven’t always done this because some of the points assume things I’ve argued previously, and other times it’s just too hard to list all the proof texts, and I prefer proof vibe, and theological coherence and cogency, anyway.

Thinking about this issue has been fun because it has forced me to consider some things that appear to be contradictory in my thinking about church and ministry. I’m trying to reconcile the beliefs that all people are equal, but genders are inherently different, and all believers are “priests,” while some specific roles exist, and some of these roles aren’t available to sets of equal people.

On a simplistic level – if you’re comfortable with the idea that somebody who is tone deaf but passionate about singing shouldn’t be leading the singing at church, and that they might willingly forgo this role because they understand it’s for the good of others without losing any sense of their own value or the value of their singing to God, you’ve already started reconciling these tension.

Want to read more. Like 5,000 words more… then click the “read more” link…

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Church History 101: Justin Martyr on Christian Practice – Baptism, the Eucharist, and Sunday gatherings

Justin Martyr provides a bit of a look into how things were done in church in the 150s, and gives his views about what’s going on in the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Views that have always been hotly debated (and have since spawned different denominations).

Some modern scholars have suggested the gospels weren’t written until the mid second century. But you can see from the bit on Baptism (where he quotes John) and the bit on the Eucharist (where he quotes Luke, and refers to the gospels) that that’s a bit bollocks.

Baptism
He starts with Baptism, which he treats as a dedication that comes after being made new through Christ, that does have some part in the remission of sins – a pretty confusing view that’s not quite Biblical.

I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, Unless you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers’ wombs, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Isaiah the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, says the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if you refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.

And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the laver the person that is to be washed calling him by this name alone. For no one can utter the name of the ineffable God; and if any one dare to say that there is a name, he raves with a hopeless madness.

And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed.

Then he talks about the church service that occurs around a baptism, which leads to a discussion on the Eucharist…

But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

The Eucharist
Justin believes Christ is physically present in the elements of the Eucharist, another pretty hotly contested subject that marks a distinction between Catholics and Lutherans (who agree), and other protestants. I’ll get to learn about that later, but since the Reformation I think you basically have to choose between Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. And Calvin is always right. Because I’m a Presbyterian.

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone.

The Weekly Gatherings (on Sunday).
And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.

From this online copy of the First Apology of Justin Martyr.