July 2, 2015

Ministry: sharing in what Jesus is doing

This post continues a series looking at the book The Shape of Practical Theology by Trinitarian theologian Ray S. Anderson. For other posts in the series, click on a number: 1, 2, 3.

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman by Giacomo Franceschini
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Previously in this series we've noted Anderson's emphasis on the unity of theology and mission---when fully Christian, both are grounded in the person and work of the incarnate, resurrected and ascended Son of God, Jesus Christ. In Jesus there is no separation between being (from which flows theology) and doing (from which flows mission). All fully Christian mission (ministry) is centered on the person of Jesus and is actual participation in what Jesus is doing, by the Spirit, to fulfill the Father's mission to the world.

It is thus vital that the church keep at the forefront of its thinking the truth that it is Jesus (the living Word) and not someone or something else, that constitutes the interpretive key (hermeneutic) by which the church is able to rightly understand Holy Scripture (the written Word), determine doctrine, and define its mission/ministry. In short, Jesus must be the Center of the center of all the church believes, teaches and does. Jesus, in union with his Father, and at work in the world through the Holy Spirit, must set the agenda for the church. This Christological, Trinitarian approach has two important benefits:
  • It rules out utilitarianism (which tends to create ministry out of needs), and pragmatism (which transforms ministry into mere marketing strategy).
  • It focuses the church on the reality of God's ongoing ministry, which is one of revelation and reconciliation.
Note how Anderson defines ministry as one entity with two integrated movements: revelation and reconciliation. God reveals himself to humanity in the person and work of Jesus, then through that revelation he brings forth a response by which the person is conformed to the Word. The revelation is creative of the human response (leading to reconciliation). Note that God is involved in, integrates and upholds both movements: "Reconciliation, as a movement initiated by God, does not originate outside of the event of revelation... God's word of revelation involves the ministry of reconciliation" (pp.66-67).

Anderson also notes that this ministry of revelation and reconciliation includes both judgment and grace. Despite misconceptions to the contrary, these two are not at odds---God's judgment always is for (never against) the person in order to lead them to reconciliation with himself, which brings forth healing and holiness (wholeness). In judging a person and their situation, God closes one door and opens another, making possible a new possibility---bringing forth, by grace, the new creation which has occurred already for all humanity through the vicarious humanity of Jesus. It is thus an actual reality (2 Cor. 5:19) and the ministry of the church is participation in what Jesus is now doing through the Spirit to make this objective actuality a personal (subjective) reality.

How then should the church conduct this ministry of revelation and reconciliation? Anderson comments:
The ministry of disclosing the Word to the world [revelation/proclamation] is upheld by the reality of the incarnate presence of Christ in the world. All exegetical, hermeneutical and homiletical work as the proper theological activity of the church is supported and made possible by this incarnation. The ministry of reconciling the world to this word of revelation is upheld by Jesus' incarnate life of obedience and faithful response to this word. All of the healing, teaching and saving ministry of the church is supported and made possible by the incarnation (p.73).
May we as church leaders examine all our ministry programs asking whether or not they are genuine participation in what Jesus is now doing in the world. And may we examine what we believe and teach (including our doctrines and policies) asking whether or not they are obedient responses to our Lord's present ministry. It's all too easy to think only of what Jesus did historically. But Jesus is alive! He is present and now at work, through the Spirit, in our world. We certainly want to carefully study what Jesus once did (we have Scripture to tell us). But we also must discern what he is currently doing. Some worry that this line of thinking will lead to bad doctrine and practice where current cultural norms and preferences set the agenda. But that need not be the case---indeed it must not be the case---what Jesus currently is doing often is quite counter-cultural, though always it is for the purpose of revelation and reconciliation in the current (here-and-now) set of circumstances.

A key principle here (addressed by Anderson in chapter six) is that Jesus, through the Spirit who forms the church for mission, is working to move people toward a deeper experience of the reconciliation he has accomplished already for all humanity with God. This is a progressive journey of transformation. We see this at work in Scripture where, for example, God moves the church to embrace the "new wine" that is the gospel contained for a time in the "old wineskins" of the Law. But then Jesus leads the church to cast aside the old wineskins (the old covenant) so that they can fully embrace its calling to join with Jesus in God's mission to the whole world (Jews and Gentiles alike). Anderson gives other examples of changes in strategy as the church journeys in ministry with Jesus. Their ministry experience then leads to deeper understanding of theology, which in turn informs ministry, and on it goes (and continues in our time to go). Anderson comments:
Jesus himself continues to instruct Christians as to the will of God in practical matters of the life of faith. Jesus has not simply left us a set of teachings. He has done that. But in addition, he continues to teach. Discerning this teaching it itself a hermeneutical task, not merely an exercise in historical memory (p.84).
This does not mean we ignore what is written in Scripture. Quite the contrary. The Bible is the primary way God reveals himself to us in Jesus, by the Spirit. But the Bible, like all things in heaven and on earth, stands under the Lordship of Christ. To understand Scripture properly (for the purpose it was inspired), it must be interpreted through the "lens" of the person and work of Jesus. In that regard, Anderson offers these important observations:
The resurrected Jesus as the living Lord is a continuing hermeneutical criterion for interpreting the Word of God.... Jesus is not only the living Word who inspires the New Testament and thus insures its trustworthiness but...also [is] present in the contemporary reading and interpretation of the New Testament... [Jesus] upholds his word in Scripture as true and directs its purpose to his own creative ends.... The very words of Scripture, inspired as they are, continue to speak to us out of the very being of the One present with us (p.87).
Of course, some will object to these observations, worried that they elevate personal/subjective experience above Scripture. Anderson comments:
To those who protest that the reality of the living Lord cannot be objectively discerned and known in the context of our own subjective experience, we must in turn protest that this is a denial of the sheer objective reality of the being of the risen Lord who presents himself to us both as an object of knowledge and as experience through the Holy Spirit's encounter with us (p.89).
Next time we'll look at some real-life examples of the approach to ministry that Anderson advocates.

June 20, 2015

Theology: at the heart of mission

This post continues a series looking at the book "The Shape of Practical Theology" by Trinitarian theologian Ray S. Anderson. For other posts in the series, click on a number: 1, 2, 4

Last time we noted how Dr. Anderson emphasizes that mission is at the heart of theology. This time, we'll see how he places theology at the heart of mission.

Jesus Healing Centurion Servant by Paolo Veronese
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 
According to Anderson, there are many ways people care for one another, and in so doing alleviate human suffering. While such efforts are laudable, they only constitute Christian ministry to the extent they reveal the reality of "God's revelation and reconciliation through Jesus Christ" (p. 54). Anderson comments:
A social worker or psychiatrist may be able "make" people better or to "make" the conditions of human existence better. But the end result tends to be just that---a result, a product from which the "maker" can detach himself or herself with no consequent loss of identity or meaning. However, in Christopraxis the act itself becomes the embodiment of a life of community and wholeness that is derived from God himself through Christ. Thus we know that reconciliation is more than making people or conditions better; it is inextricably involved with revealing the power and presence of God through the act.
In the same way, we can also say that there are forms of ministry that purport to proclaim revealed truths of God and to indoctrinate disciples in those truths, but if they do not also touch broken and alienated human lives with liberating and healing power, they are not of God. (pp. 54-55)
As Christian ministers, our calling and challenge is to ensure that our theology is missionally grounded and that our mission, through theological reflection, is theologically centered. Regarding the second part of that challenge, Anderson notes this:
Theological reflection is the activity of the Christian and the church by which acts of ministry are critically and continually assessed in light of both revelation and reconciliation as God' true Word... Theological reflection as a critical exercise leads to competence in ministry by which the one who ministers unites both proclamation and practice in the truth of Jesus Christ. It is not only reflection on the nature of ministry from the perspective of biblical and theological truths but also on the nature of divine revelation from the perspective of its saving and reconciling intention in the lives of people. (p. 55, emphasis added)
Sadly, theological reflection often is shallow at best or altogether absent at worst---seen by many church leaders as unnecessary and even a distraction, with preachers proclaiming, "Now I don't want to get too theological here." Of course, if the theology they are referring to is ivory-tower stuff detached from the reality of Jesus and his ongoing missional activity, then their concern has merit. However, for them to proceed with teaching and leading their church in mission apart from thoughtful, ongoing theological reflection is to risk detaching their teaching and missional activity from the person and work of Jesus Christ.

By the way, the theological reflection that Anderson advocates is not about discovering "new truth." To the contrary, it's about ensuring that our missional activity is deeply grounded in the theological reality of the enduring apostolic tradition, the truth of the gospel which is the revelation of Jesus Christ given to us by the Spirit in Holy Scripture.

Theological reflection takes careful note of Scripture, leading us then to take careful note of "the presence of the One who is revealed in his continuing ministry of reconciliation through the Holy Spirit (p. 55). Theological reflection does not ask, "What would Jesus do in this situation," but "Where is Jesus in this situation and what am I to do as a minister" (p. 56).

Thus we understand that the principal theological competence of ministers is that of spiritual discernment---the ability to discern the presence and ongoing ministry of Jesus, in the Spirit. That discernment includes taking careful note of the historic activity of Jesus described in the New Testament so we can then discern his current missional activity, through the Spirit, in our world. So, again, the question is not "What would Jesus do?", but "What is Jesus now doing, and how may we participate?"

This sort of Christ-centered, missionally grounded theological reflection avoids a common problem, namely the tendency toward separating the being and the doing of God, which means abstracting the truth of God from the work of God (p. 57). This abstraction can cause Christians to entirely miss the boat as to God's actual nature (being) and actual, ongoing work (doing) in the world. An example of this abstraction is the way the Jewish religious leaders in the first century turned Sabbath law into an abstract, absolute principle, and in so doing were able to justify condemning Jesus for his work of healing on the Sabbath. Jesus' response was to chastise them for holding a theology detached from God's activity.

Paul, who as Saul, had succumbed to this Pharisaic abstraction, learned, through the Spirit, a better way of knowing the triune God in his integrated being and doing as revealed fully and conclusively in the person and work of Jesus Christ. With his theology now centered in Christ, coupled with his ongoing missional grounding in the work of the Spirit, Paul proclaimed circumcision no longer a criteria of covenant membership.

Next time we'll look more at how ministry competency has to do with integrating theology and mission in Jesus. In the meantime, you might find helpful a related earlier post on this blog.

June 11, 2015

Mission: at the heart of theology

This post continues a series looking at the book "The Shape of Practical Theology" by Trinitarian theologian Ray S. Anderson. For other posts in the series, click on a number: 1, 34

We ended last time noting that Incarnational Trinitarian theology unites theory and practice with its focus on the person (being) and work (mission) of Jesus Christ. Rather than incidental, mission is at the very heart of this theology.

The Exhortation to the Apostles, James Tissot
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Fundamental to this understanding is the realization that in Jesus Christ (the God-man) the various dualisms that infect less than adequate theologies are swept aside. With Jesus there is no separation between being and doing; between the holy (spiritual) and sacred (physical); or between the heavenly and earthly. This realization has profound implications for the life (being and doing) of the church, as Ray Anderson notes, referencing the Christ-centered, Trinitarian theology of Thomas F. (T.F.) Torrance:
[T.F.] calls the church back to its roots as a fundamentally missionary church with a particular vision and a specific task to perform in the world. As a missionary church it is crucial that it remains faithful to its missiological task and vision.  (p. 33, emphasis added)
Rather than an optional add-on, or the calling of only an elite few, Torrance viewed mission as central to the very being and thus the essential doing of the church. How did T.F. come to that conclusion? Largely, as Anderson notes, by holding to a "Trinitarian hermeneutic" in interpreting Scripture. This means reading the Bible through the "lens" of its central truth: the being (and thus the will) of God revealed in the person (being) and work (doing/mission) of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. In Jesus we see who God is, what God wills and thus what God actually is doing in the world. This has profound implications for the church, which is formed by the Spirit as the Body of Christ on mission in the world.

St. Paul Preaching in Athens by Raphael
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
In making this important point, Anderson gives the example of the apostle Paul, who prior to his conversion to Christ on the Damascus road had been a Pharisee. The Law of Moses had served as the principal hermeneutic (point of reference) for all things in Paul's life and ministry. But post-conversion, and in the midst of Spirit-led participation in the mission of God through Christ, Paul gained an entirely new hermeneutic. Anderson comments (p.39):
[As Paul] proclaimed the gospel of a crucified and resurrected Messiah, he witnessed the convicting and transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul's theology was radically re-shaped in the crucible of mission. His hermeneutic became the present activity (ministry) of Jesus, in the Holy Spirit. He learned through practical experience, which informed his reading of Scripture, that with the outpouring of the Spirit on "all flesh" at Pentecost, the Law of Moses (including circumcision, Sabbath observance, etc.) no longer was the focus of the Spirit's activity, let alone required for salvation. Paul learned that Jesus himself is the substance of the righteousness to which the Law points. It was the ministry of the Spirit (which Paul viewed as the ministry of the risen/ascended Christ) that led Paul to declare that circumcision no longer was a criterion of salvation (Acts 10:47; Galatians 5:6).

The stunning truth of the nature of the triune God was for Paul a living reality encountered in the midst of sharing, through the Spirit, in the missional activity of Jesus in the world. Paul came to understand the being of God by participating in the doing (mission) of God. As Anderson notes, it was the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost that, for Paul, provided "the theological praxis for a doctrine of the trinity" (p. 39). Anderson comments further:
When we remember that Paul's ministry and the writing of [Paul's earliest epistles] preceded the writing of the four Gospels, we see the emergence of a trinitarian theology from within the mission theology. To be sure, what came to the early disciples following Easter as a commission directly from the risen Lord was part of the oral tradition that Paul would have learned immediately following his conversion. Yet more than any other witness to the resurrection, it was Paul who carried out this commission of Christ and so was led to develop a theology of the continuing mission of Christ through the Spirit. The praxis of the Spirit of the risen Christ constituted the "new school of theology" for Paul. As he proclaimed the gospel of a crucified and resurrected Messiah, he witnessed the convicting and transforming power of the Holy Spirit [see, for example, 1Thess. 1:5, 9-10].
[For Paul], a theology of Pentecost is the beginning point for a theology of Jesus Christ because the Holy Spirit reveals to us the inner life of God as the Father of Jesus and of Jesus as the Son of the Father. To receive the Spirit of God, wrote the apostle Paul, is to "have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:10, 16).... Practical theology is grounded in the intratrinitarian ministry of the Father toward the world, the Son's ministry to the Father on behalf of the world and the Spirit's empowering of the disciples for ministry. (pp. 39-40)
From this perspective. we understand that participation in the mission of God must never be approached as merely one of several optional church programs. Rather mission, which is our participation in the doing (mission/ministry) of the triune God in the world, is at the very heart of what the church is about---in both its being and its doing. Therefore, the question the church must always be asking itself is this: How may we participate here (in this particular place and time) in the ongoing missional activity of the Father, in the Son, through the Spirit? Asked another way: How may we share in this intratrinitarian ministry? In his book, Anderson helpfully offers "real world" examples of what that participation looks like in the face of contemporary issues and challenges. We'll look at some of those as this series proceeds (stay tuned!).

June 3, 2015

Theology that unites theory & practice

This post is the first in a series looking at the book "The Shape of Practical Theology" by Trinitarian theologian Ray S. Anderson. For other posts in the series, click on a number: 234. 

It's not uncommon for people to complain that theology is too theoretical to be of practical value (or, as some say, "so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly value"). I understand the frustration.

When a person first wrestles with the stunning reality of who Jesus is (the proper focus of truly Christian theology), they are lifted up by the Spirit into the "heavenly realms" where the "view" can seem, at least at first, disconnected from earthly realities. However, some struggle is predictable (even necessary). Wrapping one's mind around the glorious mysteries of the triune God who is revealed in Jesus Christ is no small task. But it's a vital and rewarding one.

If you find your study of theology a bit overwhelming, I urge you to persevere. As you do, I believe you will, by God's grace, discover that the Incarnational Trinitarian theology discussed in this blog is highly practical, for it deals with ultimate realities (both heavenly and earthly), brought together and made comprehensible in Jesus. As both divine and human (one being, two natures), Jesus is one with the Father and the Spirit (in the Trinity) and one with humanity (through the Incarnation). In the person and work of Jesus there is no dualism---no separation between the heavenly (spiritual) and earthly (physical). Though this theology necessarily involves theory, when rightly understood, and applied, it is highly practical.

Dr. Ray Anderson
One of my favorite Trinitarian theologians, Dr. Ray S. Anderson (d. 2009), addressed this issue in his book, The Shape of Practical Theology, empowering ministry with theological praxis. In making his points, Ray drew on the work of Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Thomas F. Torrance (among others)---theologians who embraced Incarnational Trinitarian theology in the "real world" context of pastoral ministry. Anderson notes that Bonhoeffer...
...laid the groundwork for a praxis-oriented theology through an ethic of discipleship and obedience, where theory emerges only through engagement with truth as an ethical demand in the form of the claim of Christ through the other person (pp. 17-18, emphasis added).
It is characteristic of Incarnational Trinitarian theology that theory follows (and is informed by), ministry praxis. This sequence is key to Anderson's argument, and, I might add, key in my growth in understanding this theology. Before I came to understand the theory, I encountered its reality in the practice of Christ-centered, grace-based ministry. My experience (like Bonhoeffer's) was something akin to that of Jesus' first disciples. Jesus did not begin discipling them with lectures on theological theory. Instead, he said, "Follow me!" As they "tagged along" with Jesus as he ministered in the community, the reality of who Jesus was began to emerge. If was only through years of reflection on this encounter with the person and work of Jesus that they came to understand the theology that under-girded (and validated) their experience. In that sense, mission/ministry praxis proceeded (and then informed) theology.

Note also that the disciples' encounter with Jesus was in community. As Anderson notes, "...truth must be experienced to be believed, and it is in the church that the truth of the gospel is to be lived out." Also note that the relationship between theory and practice, rather than being linear (as in theory first, then practice next), is highly interactive. "Theory and practice inform and influence each other in such a way that all practice includes theory, and theory can only be discerned through practice" (p. 21). One sees this clearly in a careful reading of the four Gospels, where we not only hear Jesus' words, but see his practical actions (works). As Anderson notes, it might be better for us if Jesus' actions were highlighted with red type, rather than Jesus' words.

With these concepts in mind, Anderson calls on the church to embrace practical theology, which he defines as follows:
Practical theology is a dynamic process of reflective, critical inquiry into the praxis of the church in the world and God's purposes for humanity, carried out in the light of Christian Scripture and tradition, and in critical dialog with other sources of knowledge. As a theological discipline its primary purpose is to ensure that the church's public proclamations and praxis in the world faithfully reflect the nature and purpose of God's continuing mission to the world and in so doing authentically addresses the contemporary context into which the church seeks to minister (p. 22).
Practical theology thus "extends systematic theology into the life and praxis of the Christian community...[taking] into account the truth of experience," which means taking into account the "contemporary reality and presence of Christ." Doing this gives us "living theology," which Anderson refers to as "Christopraxis" (pp. 23-28). We find this perspective in the ministry of the apostle Paul. Anderson comments:
It was the contemporary and present reality of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit that stirred [Paul] to theological reflection.... Paul viewed the ministry of the Holy Spirit as the ministry of the risen and ascended Christ... It was the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of uncircumcised Gentile believers that... prompted Paul to declare that circumcision no longer should be a criterion of salvation through Jesus Christ (Galatians 5:6) (p. 30).
Rather than an incidental afterthought (that easily can be dispensed with), mission is the focus of practical theology. The mission of God precedes and thus defines the theology, and it is for mission that the Spirit forms the church. Anderson comments:
The mission of the church is to embody in its corporate life and ministry the continuing messianic and incarnational nature of the Son of God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The nature of the church is [thus] determined in its existence as the mission of God to the world (p. 31).
The point is that practical theology unites theory and practice, doing away with any dualism that artificially separates the two in our thinking or practice. I want to emphasize this point, because, unfortunately, some who embrace Incarnational Trinitarian theology find themselves stepping aside from mission, feeling that it somehow contradicts the theology. I understand where these folks are coming from, and in fact, I'm sympathetic to this move since much of what is done by the church in the name of mission is not participation in what Jesus is actually doing. But let's not "throw the baby out with the bathwater." Instead, let's embrace the Incarnational Trinitarian perspective, which places mission at the heart of theology by uniting theology and practice in the one person of the God-man Jesus and his ongoing ministry in the world, through the Spirit, to fulfill the Father's mission.

I'll write more on this topic in future posts, in the meantime, click here for an earlier post that explores Ray Anderson's Incarnational Trinitarian theology.

May 25, 2015

Deep church: a Eucharistic community

This post concludes our review of the book Deep Church Rising by Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry. For other posts in this series, click a number: 1234567, 8

Holy Communion 
(stained glass window)
Wikimedia Commons
Noting that in the Eucharist, "right belief, right worship and right practice embrace," Walker and Parry conclude their book, Deep Church Rising, imploring each church to become a Eucharistic community (p.145). They remind us that the apostolic tradition placed Holy Communion at the heart of the worship service---visually (Table front and center), liturgically (order of service centered on the Supper) and theologically (the gospel, which is re-enacted in the Eucharist, being the basis for the sermon and all other worship elements).

Sadly, many contemporary evangelical churches de-emphasize the Eucharist, some even viewing it as "a distraction from the real business of worship" (p.146). This is largely due to holding to the theological/doctrinal perspective of Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli (d. 1531) and others who argued against viewing the Eucharist as Christ's "real presence." Instead, they viewed Communion as a "memorial" of Jesus' death, with the bread and wine being mere "symbols" of that event. From this perspective, "the Eucharist is more about the absence of Christ than about his presence..." (p.147).

As Walter and Parry note, Zwingli's view of the Eucharist reflected a deeply-held dualism. "He thought that no physical element can affect the soul...Consequently, the signs (bread and wine) and what they signify (body and blood) must be held apart" (p.147). This perspective reflected Enlightenment rationalism, which favored non-mystical views of all things, the Lord's Supper included. Also, Zwingli was reacting against the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Unfortunately, in following Zwingli's humanistic, rationalistic approach to the Eucharist, many contemporary evangelicals unwittingly undermine the importance of the meal that Jesus gave us, making it non-essential to the life of the church.

To recover deep church (the church of the apostolic tradition), Walker and Parry advocate that churches restore the Eucharist to its essential, central place in worship. What they mean by this is not a return to an empty worship ceremony, but the restoration of the place given the Eucharist by Jesus himself---the principal place where his church would regularly, in community, encounter his resurrected, ascended, human presence.

To do so, the authors note that we must let go of the dualism that separates (in our minds) the spiritual and physical. In God's economy, there is no such separation. The triune God spiritually engages the people of God in ways that are mediated through the physical world that he has created. At the Lord's Table, Jesus, in his glorified, physical humanity, is present with us, in and through the communion bread and wine. Thus, as Walker and Parry note, Holy Communion is not a mere memorial that utilizes incidental physical symbols. Rather, it "is a key Christian way of knowing God" (p.149). The physicality of Communion is essential to this knowing (this encounter with Christ). Rather than diminishing in our minds the importance of Communion with it's physical (tactile) aspects, we should embrace and celebrate those aspects---its smells, textures, tastes, sights and sounds. All these are ways we discern (experience) Jesus' real presence at the Table and in the service that surrounds it.

In referring to the Communion elements as "symbols," the early church fathers embraced the idea of their day that a "symbol" (or "sign") was not something that was different from the reality it represented, but participation in that reality (see p.151). The patristic fathers taught that at the Table, the Holy Spirit "thins the veil between heaven and earth... [making] the crucified and risen Christ really present to us in the Eucharistic meal" (p.152). They taught that though Jesus' glorified human body remains in heaven, he is spiritually present with us at the Table where he feeds us with his own glorified humanity---a sharing that brings us nourishment and healing. Thus the Lord's Supper is for us true and holy Communion---a means (and one might say the principal means) by which we participate in the eternal life in Christ. Noting John 6:54. the authors comment:
Jesus himself is the spiritual "bread" we "eat" and the "wine" we "drink." It was the unanimous view in the early centuries of the church that taking Holy Communion with faith brought the resurrection life of Christ to those who took it. When you eat or drink something it enters right into the depths of you---it brings you life---it becomes part of you... Jesus speaks of drinking his blood and eating his flesh as a metaphor for taking his very life deep into our own spiritual lives by faith. [Through Communion] we are united with him---his life becomes our life (p.156).
The authors go on to make this important observation:
The Eucharist bears within itself the marks of the whole biblical metanarrative, from creation to new creation. Like the hub at the center of a bicycle wheel, where all the spokes meet, Communion is that sacred center that gathers together Christian doctrine. Thus to participate in Holy Communion is to practice "right belief"; to engage---often without realizing it---with the breadth of Christian theology (p.156).
Some Christians mistakenly think that Communion should be taken only occasionally by likening it to the Old Testament Passover. But as Walker and Parry note:
Eucharist is not a Passover meal... Christians never treated it as a once-a-year celebration at Passover time---[though] it still speaks of an exodus for the people of God from slavery and of redemption by the blood of a sacrificial lamb. Jesus told his followers to eat the meal together "in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19).... As we hear the story of the first supper over and over in our worship it becomes our story, our memory, we were there...this remembering at the Lord's Supper is owning the stories as our own. In Eucharist we "remember" by immersing the stories of our lives in the story of our Lord (p.158).
The authors go on to note that "to inhabit this [Eucharistic] way of worship is to situate oneself in relation to the biblical-narrative" (p.163), which is the story of Jesus (the gospel), which speaks of creation through new creation and is centered on Jesus' incarnation, life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, continuing session and eventual bodily return in glory. All of this story (his-story) is rehearsed and celebrated in Communion. All of Jesus is present there with us and presented there to us by the Holy Spirit. When one understands the ancient incarnational, Trinitarian theology of the church fathers this reality becomes even more meaningful. It is for this reason that many who embrace an incarnational Trinitarian theology (including Walker and Parry) advocate that churches place the Lord's Supper at the center of all worship services.

I now conclude this post, and the series in the book Deep Church Rising, with a quote at the end of the book, which speaks to the broad perspective of deep church, and specifically to the way in which the Eucharist points us forward to the church's participation in our Lord's ongoing ministry in the world:
At the heart of the liturgy [of the church in the apostolic tradition] lies the good news of God's everlasting love and forgiveness in spite of our failures. At this Table we see ourselves as a forgiven people who are called to the spiritual practice of forgiveness. In fact, we are asked to work beyond forgiveness to reconciliation (p.164).
Note: For other posts in this series, click a number: 12345678. For a related Surprising God post addressing an incarnational Trinitarian perspective on the sacraments, click here.