Book Plunge: Making A Meal Of It

What do I think of Ben Witherington III’s book published by Baylor University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife has been exploring Orthodoxy later. I find it interesting that yesterday many of us line up so that people can have a small piece of bread and drink from one cup. My wife and I not being part of the Orthodox Church are not allowed to partake, but we get a blessing. After all of that, we go over to a life center and there’s a meal there where people can get what they want and we can all sit at tables and chat with one another.

It’s ironic to think that the latter practice could be closer to the Lord’s Supper than the former is.

Witherington’s book is meant to give us a theology of the Lord’s Supper. I was quite intrigued to start this book since so many Protestant/Catholic/Orthodox debates can take place around this. I have to agree with my wife’s assessment as we discussed it beforehand that what we usually get at churches should be more accurately called “The Lord’s Snack.”

Witherington starts with Passover. Is this a parallel to the Lord’s Supper? Not really. Passover looked back to the past. The Lord’s Supper is meant more to look to the future. Still, we can get a lot out of learning about how Jews observed meals and how that could differ from the way the Greeks did it.

In the middle, you get an interesting look at John where Witherington explains his reasons for thinking Lazarus is the beloved disciple.  The more I see this case, the more I think Witherington could be on to something. The historians among us will be interested in this as well.

Witherington will go on to talk about the text as it is found in 1 Cor. 11 and in the Gospels and various places in the book of Acts. It’s interesting that this is such an important feature to churches, but really very little is said about it. What is tragic the most is what has happened to the event over time.

As we move away from the idea of house churches and we establish public places for people to go to, the meal becomes less of a meal. It becomes more individualized with personal wafers and in our day, personal cups. It is not the host, the head of the household, who presides over the meal, but rather it is a priest or a minister. Of course, anyone who does preside over this event should be aware of how it needs to be done respectfully, but is there a problem with making it the responsibility of the clergy?

The table has also been a place of exclusion many times. Let’s remember that our Lord ate and drank with prostitutes and tax collectors. At the Last Supper itself, Judas was present and Jesus gave him bread specifically. Of course, the church wanted to make sure that people did not come to their feasts to disrupt them, but could the feasts themselves not be an evangelistic opportunity?

Witherington at the end talks about being on tours in other countries where the Lord’s Supper was done. One person who gave a tour was a Muslim who was apparently questioning. The other was a lapsed Catholic. Witherington talks about how he invited both of them to the table to partake of the elements. Conversion took place.

Ultimately, my view of the Lord’s Supper right now is that the meal is largely symbolic, but meant to draw us into the presence of Christ. Jesus is the real host at every event. As the bread is broken, we are to remember that the body of Jesus was broken. As the wine flows, we are to remember how the blood of Jesus was poured out on the cross.

All of this is meant to draw us into the presence of Jesus. Yet at the same time, we don’t have this like a funeral dirge, but we have it as a celebration. We remember that this was not the end. He is coming back and we look forward to when He reigns again in the future totally when the Father rules on Earth as He does in Heaven.

The meal after the Lord’s Supper could ironically be closer to the Lord’s Supper since it is actually a meal and it is actually us communing together and meeting one another. After all, when the supper was had at Corinth, people were gorging themselves and getting drunk. Hard to think of an individual doing that on what’s given out on many a Sunday morning.

If there was any change I would make to the book, I would like more footnotes when later historical events are talked about. I would like to know where I can find these events in church historians. For instance, I know Witherington shares the story about Origen castrating himself, but I am skeptical of this event being a real one instead of just a legend about Origen.

Still, this book really makes one appreciate the Lord’s Supper and it’s hard to not be moved at the last chapter with the stories of conversion taking place. Those wishing to understand the doctrine of the meal are advised to read Witherington’s book. He’s a top-notch scholar that has again brought us great information and it’s easy to understand.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Protestants and Catholics

What do I think of Peter Toon’s book published by Servant Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Discussions about Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism was never something I really wanted to get into. I have been a subscriber of Mere Christianity for several years and been one wanting to look at defending the essentials. What changed is when my wife started asking questions and I realized if she’s doing this, I need to start looking into this. I asked a friend fluent on the issues for a good book on the topic and was recommended Peter Toon’s book.

Toon writes from a Protestant perspective, but his writing is friendly and he shows problems each side has with the other and ways that both could handle things better. There is no hint of anything that says that Catholics are an apostate church or anything like that. There is nothing saying that Protestantism is where the action is and we have it all together on our end. He points to statements made by both Protestants and Catholics that are good and that are problematic He points to honest concerns that both have about the other.

He covers the main issues as well. Not everything, but some of them. Authority is a big one. When I encounter Catholics, many of them say that it’s not really possible to understand the text of Scripture without the magisterium. Protestants reply that the meaning is in the text. Catholics say they gave the canon of Scripture. Protestants say canonicity lies in the books and the church discovered that rather than created it.

Authority I think could be the biggest issue. Where does the authority lie? This is the issue that leads to Sola Scriptura. Protestants say that the tradition cannot be known to be accurate, but we can study the Scripture and know that this is what the apostles said. Catholics see the tradition as being based in apostolic succession and thus reliable.

Other issues come up too such as justification. This is likely also before the understanding of the New Perspective on Paul so that isn’t a big debate in the book, but it was a major issue. Fortunately, I do think Protestants and Catholics are starting to come together to discuss these issues more.

Sacraments are also an issue. Protestants tend to only recognize baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Catholics recognize more. There are also differences on how the Lord’s Supper is to be seen. Is it transubstantiation or real presence or is it something else?

Mary is one of the last topics covered. Catholics often see themselves as defending the mother of God and upholding her honor and such. Protestants look more and say that it seems to border on idolatry to them. Unfortunately, Protestants then go and don’t seem to pay any attention to Mary. While we can think Catholics give too much honor, let us not be guilty of giving too little.

One nice appendix also in the book is a letter John Wesley wrote to a Roman Catholic. It is a letter seeking reconciliation and focusing on what is agreed on. Many of us do hope that one day there can be reconciliation. I am not sure how it is possible, but I can hope.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Thoughts On The Eucharist

Do we think about what it means to say the body of Christ is broken for us? Let’s see as we dive into Deeper Waters.

I have a job on the night shift now and on my job, I can listen to the radio or a podcast while doing something else, so last night I was listening to some N.T. Wright, and I was thinking about what he said about Christian unity. At one point, he brought up the Eucharist, also known as Communion, and I started thinking about that.

When I got back from my honeymoon, the first Sunday that we had was Communion Sunday and I remember my wife had hurt her leg somehow so we were in the back room of the church watching the service on a projection screen and then Communion was served. One of the deacons came back with the bread and juice each time for us and I remember that I took it from him and used it to serve my wife. I remember how much that spoke to me then realizing that I was in charge of a family now and that I had to use that position to raise my wife up in Christ as well as any future children we might have.

So last night, I thought about Communion again and I thought about what Christ says in that his body is broken for us. We all know that this happened in the crucifixion. It was there that Christ was made subject to the evil of the world in the form of the Roman Empire and of the Jewish authorities at the time.

Then you think about how we constantly hear about unity in the epistles. Christ tore apart the wall to unite Jews and Gentiles as one. You think about how Jesus prayed that we would have unity. Yet by contrast, you see in 1 Corinthians that some say “I follow Cephas.” Some say “I follow Paul.” Some say “I follow Apollos.” Others say, “I follow Christ.”

We can be tempted to think of Paul just randomly picking prominent names at the time, but Ken Bailey in “Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes” sees the text differently. Cephas would refer to Peter, who would be known as having a Jewish role. Cephas was a Jewish name after all. Apollos was a Greek name and would be a leading Greek seeing as he was from Alexandria. Paul of Tarsus had a Roman name and was a Roman citizen. You have allegiance then to Jewish culture, Greek society, and Roman heritage. Of course, there are also still the super-spiritual types who say “I follow Christ” and like many who say that today when popular teachers are mentioned, there is a lot of arrogance in that as the point is not to lift up Christ, but to show one’s self as superior in practice.

Divisions in the body. They’re a sad reality. Now that does not mean there is never ground for disagreement. That does not mean there is no chastisement. The purpose of such is to lead to healing. What we must remember is that we are all one body and that is the body of Christ.

Thus, when we speak about how in Communion the body of Christ is broken for us, then we should realize that when we bring about division in the body, that we are in fact crucifying Christ all over again. When we have bodies that attack themselves, then those bodies do not survive. So if the body of Christ attacks itself, it is in bad health. We do know that body survives however due to what Scripture says, but that does not justify our attacking that body.

How far are we willing to break the denominational lines? Am I willing to go to a soup kitchen in the name of Jesus if the person I’m with is a Calvinist or Arminian? Can I raise funds for the poor with an old-earther or a young-earther? Can I do street evangelism with a dispensationalist or a preterist? Can I visit those in the hospital with a charismatic or non-charismatic? Can I do Bible study with a Baptist, a Roman Catholic, or an Eastern Orthodox?

Some of us might say “I feel uncomfortable with some of those people.” If so, then do you want to spend eternity with God because being with Him eternally will also mean being with some of those people. They will be redeemed and renewed truly, but God will never destroy them. He will destroy what is not them. Them, the people themselves and not just their belief systems, are the ones you will spend eternity with. If that is the case, then ought you not to prepare for that now by learning to love your fellow brother and sister in Christ, no matter how wrong you might think their doctrine is?

Communion is meant to be for unity and meals are often times of unity, but what are we united in? We are united in the belief that Jesus Christ is the Messiah who died and rose again that we might be justified in the sight of God and bring about the restoration of creation to its full redemption. We are united on the question of Jesus and who He is and His relation to God. All else is secondary. Let’s keep it that way and be a unified front today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters