Comment: Thank you for your response, sister bear!

(See in situ)

In post: Agape' Forum
In reply to comment: Hi Andrew, (see in situ)

Thank you for your response, sister bear!

I find your response to be very encouraging, for it seems, on the marriage of Christ to his Church, that we agree far more than we disagree. To me, the most basic, and most important, question concerning the Christ/Church marriage is: Is the marriage real, or is it merely a metaphor for something else? I find it heartening that you affirm that the marriage is real (but, as yet, unconsummated); to me the timing of consummation is an important, but less fundamental, question, one that I will address in a response that, hopefully, I will post before the weekend is over. (I clicked on all the links embedded in your post, dear sister, and found the Jewish wedding link to be interesting and informative. Thank you.)

That leaves a third important question: Who are the participants in the marriage? In other words, who does Christ express eros toward? I will eagerly await your answer to that question after you read my Sexuality: Divine and Human multi-post.

I do want to presently address some other topics that you raised in your post:

"I do not look at objects in worship. There are no parades of sacred objects in the worship services I am part of... To be quite honest, I see sacramental worship perhaps as approaching an opportunity to turn man-made objects into idols, worshiping the created instead of the Creator..."

You have raised an important issue, and I absolutely share your position that we should avoid idolatry, and worship none other than our triune God. However, an object can portray Christ, such that one may relate to Christ through the object.

To employ an illustration, suppose that I am at work, and start thinking about my children. I have a picture of each of them in my office; if I pick up one of the pictures and kiss it, what would my intent be? Am I intending to show affection for the picture, or for the child of mine that the picture portrays?

The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. - Exodus 17:5-6 NIV

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. - 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 NIV

While water gushing forth from the rock that was struck was, in itself, miraculous, God would eventually use that to portray the greater work of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf:

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. - Isaiah 53:5 NIV

Similarly, Christ was manifested in the burning bush, such that Moses was commanded show reverence:

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. - Exodus 3:1-6 NIV

Please allow me to explain further, concerning the various objects mentioned in my post...

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. - Galatians 6:14 NIV

Since the early centuries, Christians have seen the cross as both a symbol for Christ and for his saving work. At my liturgy, the congregation bows to show their respect for Christ, and for his sacrifice on our behalf.

I have a cross on the wall near the door of my office at work, and I make a practice, if no one else is in my office, of stopping on the way out and taking a moment to give Jesus a kiss (by touching my hand to my mouth, and then to the cross), bow my head, and think a word or a phrase ("Blessed Love" or some such). This all takes about five seconds -- but it is five seconds that I would not have given to Christ had that cross not reminded me to do so. Five seconds, over and over again, throughout the day, because that cross reminds me that Jesus is there with me at work.

I have another cross on my living room wall at home; as the living room is closest to the front door, I pass by that cross whenever I am coming into, or leaving, the residence. Whenever I pass by, I am reminded to stop, bow, cross myself and/or blow a kiss, and whisper something to our dear Husband. When I prepare something to eat, I will take it into the living room in front of the cross, bow my head and extend my bowl, and say, "Thank you, Lord." As my joints are becoming cranky as I get older, I can no longer sleep comfortably in a bed; I therefore sleep in a reclining chair, in the living room, directly in front of the cross. The last thing I see as I am closing my eyes at night is the cross, so I say, "Good night, Love." In the morning, one of the first things in see is the cross, so I say, "Good morning, Love." If it is a Saturday morning, and I have nowhere else I need to be, I will lay there in my reclining chair and let time pass, praying intermittently but, mostly, content to lie there thinking about things while in his presence.

My wife and I were separated at the beginning of 2009, and that year proved to be the most difficult of my adult life. At times, the loneliness became almost overwhelming, and I had to rely on Jesus for companionship as I had never needed to before. Whether at home, at work, or at church -- and I am usually in one of those three places -- I see the cross, and I know Christ is there.

I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name. - Psalm 138:2 KJV

If God has magnified his word even above his own name, should I not nod my head when the book of the Gospels proceeds past me? Should I not seek to assume a respectful posture when the word of God is read? (I am not criticizing my fellow congregants who do not nod and who remain seated; each of us must do as our understanding and conscience dictates.)

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? - 1 Corinthians 10:16 NIV

At the very least, the Communion elements portray Christ as intimately as anything else in the Christian life. Why, then, should I not kneel at the altar rail to receive Holy Communion? Why not bow my head when the wafer is placed in my hands? Why not assume a yielding posture as the bread and wine are placed in my mouth? Would I not do these things for Christ himself?

As you know, dear sister, I see Holy Communion as more than merely symbolic. While various positions have been advanced over the years and across denominations as to how Christ is manifested in the Communion elements, the viewpoints can, in my opinion, be simplified down to three (for brevity, I will refer to "wine," although I view nonalcoholic grape juice as also being valid):

1. The bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Christ, such that Christ is objectively present in the Communion elements, and every recipient, regardless of spiritual state, receives Christ. This view is asserted by the Catholic and Lutheran Churches, along with some Orthodox and some Anglicans.

2. The bread and wine signify, and convey, the Body and Blood of Christ, such that the Christian receives Christ. This view is held by the "Calvinist" Reformed, along with some Orthodox, some Anglicans, and some Methodists. (At least historically, some Reformed Baptists also held this position -- see Questions 98, 99, and 107 of the 1689 Baptist Catechism.) This is my position.

3. The bread and wine merely symbolize the Body and Blood of Christ. This view is held by the "Zwinglian" Reformed and the Mennonites, along with most Baptists, most theological liberals, and, probably, most modern-day American Evangelicals.

While I would consider positions 1 and 2 above to each be "sacramental," I recall reading years ago from some Calvinist source or other that "sacraments are signs and symbols that convey what they symbolize," and I think that this is a good way of looking at it. As applied to Holy Communion, how does this happen? There is another Calvinist saying that comes close to my view: "The faithful believers are 'lifted up' by the power of the Holy Spirit to feast with Christ in heaven."

While I agree that we partake of Christ in heaven, I believe that we, as Christians united to Christ, already are in heaven:

And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places... And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
- Ephesians 1:19-20, 2:6-7 KJV

I believe that, while being here on earth partaking of bread and wine, we are simultaneously in heaven receiving Christ himself. My concern is therefore not with a change in the bread and wine, but rather with our location, as we "act out" our "heavenly existence." I believe by faith that I am in heaven communing with Christ, even though my senses tell me only that I am in a church building consuming bread and wine. I therefore see "dimly" and "know in part," but eagerly look forward to the approaching day when I will see Christ "face to face" and will know him "fully":

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. - 1 Corinthians 13:12 NASB)

While our presence with Christ in heaven is a supernatural reality, it is also an ongoing reality, and I therefore do not perceive my view as requiring an "on the spot" miracle during Holy Communion. Also, while the celebrant is, in a sense, functioning in the role of Christ our High Priest, any Christian can do that, because we are all united with Christ in his priesthood (please recall, dear chosen lady, what I wrote in The Christian Priesthood and Confession). While I view Holy Communion as a corporate activity that should be done in a congregational setting rather than privately, and while there are sound practical reasons why a trained minister who the congregation has chosen as a representative (and we have; my pastor would not be the pastor had not my congregation chosen to call him to the position) should conduct the liturgy, I am not dependent on any particular Christian tradition, any particular religious leader, or any particular liturgical wording to have a "proper" or "real" Holy Communion experience.

Likewise, I do not need the pastor to pronounce forgiveness at the end of our corporate confession in order to obtain forgiveness; Christ himself can do that. However, because Christ, in my view, can and does forgive through Christians (again, because we share in Christ's Priesthood), and because my conscience does not object to Christ doing so, I gladly receive forgiveness through the pastor. To me, the idea that we jointly confess, and are jointly forgiven, reaffirms the corporate aspect of our salvation; we are the Church, the bride that Christ "bought with his own blood" (Acts 20:28 NIV).

Concerning liturgical wording: While it is true, as I quoted in my prior post, that the Episcopal liturgy includes the following statements...

"Recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts. Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him."

... and that many Anglicans (the general, worldwide name for Episcopalians) believe in an actual transformation of the Communion elements (position 1 above), I do not so believe. I believe that the Communion elements themselves remain bread and wine, but that these earthly things correspond to the heavenly reality of Christ's Body and Blood such that, when I receive the bread and wine on earth, I am also receiving Christ himself in heaven. This is so only because I am in "heavenly places" as part of my unity with Christ. If a non-Christian, therefore, were to partake of Holy Communion, he would only receive bread and wine, and not Christ himself, because he is not united to Christ in heaven.

Furthermore, since I consider the elements to remain bread and wine after Holy Communion ends, I personally would not engage in Eucharistic Adoration, although I recognize that a Christian, in terms of the intent of his heart, is not committing idolatry if he believes that the fullness of Christ is present in the post-consecrated host. Dear sister, I share your concern that we not slip into idolatry, and recognize that there is the potential for that. I believe that my "position 2" (Calvinist/Orthodox) sacramentalism guards against the potential for idolatry in a way that a "position 1" sacramentalism does not.

------------------------------

"I see an ecclesiastically controlled governing and worship system as having the ability to maintain control over me and my relationship with my God. I see no human as my priest or standing in the gap between me and my God. Only His Son, has the credentials to represent me..."

In our dialogue (which I enjoy very much, chosen lady), you have returned more than once to the concern that sacramental theology can correspond with ecclesiastical tyranny, and I grant your point. However, I have also found the following scenario to be more than hypothetical: A recent Bible School graduate (let's call him Mr. Jones), starts up a new "church plant" and (of course) becomes the pastor. It is a "nothing but the (King James) Bible" congregation that is strongly opposed to all "doctrines of men" and to all "worldliness," including alcohol consumption, modern praise music, and women wearing pants (in fact, women are not allowed to wear pants in this church).

Years pass, and the church grows; Pastor Jones retains firm and unchallenged control over the congregation (after all, its his church, since he planted it); the members are expected to share his doctrinal and moral views and, if you don't agree with him about something, you are free to leave. Pastor Jones is quite dynamic as a preacher, and is able to hold the congregation's attention over the entire hour of his sermon; the sermon tends to be quite negative, however, being filled with barbed attacks on other (supposed) Christians, and especially on Catholics. Pastor Jones puts a heavy emphasis on evangelism, and so the church has an ongoing Friday evening street preaching ministry; the members shout the Gospel at passing motorists, and, when engaging pedestrians in conversation, seem instinctively suspicious, quickly categorizing those who don't say the "magic words," or who disagree concerning some point of doctrine, as "not saved."

While the scenario above is, to an extent, a composite, it is, for the most part, a description of a real-life congregation that you and I discussed a few months ago. The name of the congregation is "The Bible Baptist Church" and its members make up the "Corner Group" that I interact with on Friday evenings (the interaction has dwindled, as it appears that the majority of them have concluded that I am "lost," and should simply be ignored).

Please understand, dear sister and friend, that my point is not to insult you or your faith tradition, but to say the following: Heavy handed, controlling ecclesiastical leadership can spring up out of "non-sacramental" soil, too. I have sat through three sermons by "Pastor Jones" (not his real name), and conversed with him on a few other occasions, and it is my opinion that, though his congregation is about as far from "sacramental" as one will find, he is nowhere near as kind, caring, and pastoral as my congregation's Father Brian is (or as Father Mark, my Orthodox pastor, was). And the attitudes exhibited by Pastor Jones seem to infect his entire church; I have little doubt that if I began to regularly attend his "non-liturgical" congregation, and started, during worship, to cross myself and "blow kisses" toward the bare wooden cross behind the pulpit (as I do toward the stained glass window depiction of Jesus at my own church) that I would be greeted with hostility and soon asked to either desist, or leave.

Dear sister, you were, as you put it, "quite honest in [your] words," which were not "softened." Please allow me to, in turn, write rather plainly for the next few paragraphs...

My impression, (and please correct me if I am wrong), is that your fear of spiritual tyranny -- and who is likely to perpetrate it -- comes from the history books, rather than from modern-day, real life experience. There is no question that the Inquisition (both Roman and Spanish) tortured and murdered a great many, and that the Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Calvinists have all engaged in deadly persecution at one time or another (you Baptists are to be commended, as you are one of those Christian traditions -- along with the Mennonites, Quakers, and some others -- who do not have a significant history of persecuting others).

As someone who has attended (in ascending order, from less to more sacramental/liturgical) Amish, Baptist, non-denominational, LDS (not by choice, but because my kids were attending there), Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal, Orthodox, and Catholic churches over the course of my adult life, it has been my experience that the keys to avoiding spiritual and other forms of abuse are the same as in the civil realm: liberty and equality. I have found that those congregations that choose their own leaders and that adhere to the priesthood of all believers tend to be safer and healthier than those with installed, unaccountable leaders and an exclusive priesthood.

The fundamental prerequisite for the abuse of any population is that the system in place must allow for the abuse to happen. "Government by consent of the governed" and "all men are created equal" have protected us, as Americans, from the sort of tyranny that reigns in countries like North Korea and Saudi Arabia (and groups such as the Native Americans, Blacks and WWII Japanese have suffered precisely because our foundational American principles were, shamefully, not truly extended to cover them).

Concerning churches, it is no coincidence that the predatory doctrine and practice of polygamy arose within a tradition that has a "Divinely appointed" leadership that the rank-and-file are expected to unquestioningly obey, and that views women as being fundamentally unequal to men. More recently, the clerical pedophelia scandal arose within a tradition that gathers all ecclesial power to one man, and that considers the laity to be, by definition, spiritually inferior to the clergy.

My point, dear sister, is that, while differences in liturgical practice and sacramental understanding may reflect ecclesiastical oppression, they do little to cause it. While I share your concern about spiritual freedom, please believe me when I say that I am, with my "Jesus loves me through Communion and forgives me through Confession" perspective, just as free as the "Bible only" Christian next door. (I also suspect that I perceive Christ's love in my life just as much as my "Bible only" brother does, and perhaps even as much as my "Bible only" sister does as well.) Please be willing to keep an open mind and evaluate my theological ideas -- as I should yours -- on their own merits, and not preclude them because the history books say that the "bad guys" held to those ideas. (That is not to say that we shouldn't learn from history, and I will continue to try to clarify my position to avoid misunderstanding.)

Eventually, dear lady patriot, I may run out of things to say about sacraments (or DP may be shut down, and end our discussion). When that day comes, it may be that we will have to "agree to disagree" on some issues. To "pre-quote" a section from my upcoming Holy Communion multi-post:

"I freely admit, however, that sacramental theology is not for everyone... If this is the case for you, dear reader, I suggest continuing to participate in the Lord’s Supper, but with an understanding that does not pose the theological conflict that my perspective does."

Please understand, dear sister and friend, that I consider you to be a wise, mature Christian who has obviously immersed herself in Scripture for many years. In short, I do not at all consider our differences of opinion to spring from any Biblical ignorance on your part, and I hope that you, likewise, do not attribute such ignorance to me (that is not to say that I couldn't develop much better devotional habits; that is definitely something that I should improve upon). Sometimes, two Christians who each love God's word will simply disagree on some issue of interpretation.

Speaking of disagreement, my sense is that we really don't diverge on issues that sharply (nothing like the situation between many members of the "Corner Group" and I). I sometimes get the impression, as I did when first reading the post to which I am now responding, that you do perceive us to be in sharp disagreement; I am attributing that to my needing to state my position more precisely, so I have attempted to do so.

If I wounded you in anything that I have said above, please let me know so that I can attempt to make amends. Please know that I consider you a dear sister and friend and would not deliberately disparage you in any way. As always, I welcome your observations and questions. God bless, chosen lady.

A Constitutional, Christian conservative who voted for Ron and stands with Rand