Last week I had to do some work on the Suburban. The rear differential had started to leak and we had a big campout coming up on Labor Day weekend so I wanted to get it squared away before driving a couple hours out into the middle of nowhere. Now, my father taught me how to change the oil and the brakes, how to do a tune up and handle a flat tire, and how to replace a water pump and thermostat. But beyond that I’m pretty much self-taught, albeit with some good resources (my brother is an ASE certified mechanic). All that is to explain that when the differential started to leak, I was completely surprised because I didn’t even know there was anything in it to leak. I’d simply never had to deal with one and had never given it any thought.
After half hour or so of searching the web and watching videos of people doing the repair, I felt like I was adequately armed to tackle the project. A trip to the parts store and $20 later I had everything I needed to fix the leak. I took my time and went slow since I’d never done the job before. I’m sure someone with more knowledge and experience could have done it from start to finish in 30 minutes or less. It took me four times that long, but I wanted to do it right the first time. And it worked. I fixed the leak and we went on our trip and had an amazing time with some good friends.
As I was laying on my back and working my 13mm socket wrench under the truck, I got to thinking about worship and church in general. Sometimes we notice a small signal that all is not quite right. It is so easy to brush those things aside. Sometimes the signals are confusing because we don’t expect them from that person or that ministry. Our response to these signals needs to be flexible and targeted to the issue at hand. Watching and waiting to see how things develop is a good start. Finding out more about the situation informs our understanding of what is going on. Prayer and seeking God’s guidance is key throughout the process.
Maybe the right answer will be to continue to watch and pray and let the issue work itself out. Maybe a simple intervention early on where we come alongside one another to encourage and edify will forestall a greater problem down the road. Maybe we recognize the signs at a late stage and the problem requires a bigger solution. Whatever the answer that the Lord may leads us to, the one thing that we shouldn’t do is ignore the red flags we see around us.
Would the differential on my truck have seized up from the tiny leak that I found? Not likely – at least it would have taken months to get to that point. But by identifying the problem early and taking steps to correct it, I was able to become more familiar with my vehicle’s operation, keep it running smoothly, and for a minimum of time and treasure give myself peace of mind as my family and I headed out into creation. The same is true of our experience in the Christian community. We are all interconnected as parts of the body of Christ. Consistently praying for one another, building stronger relationships, and reaching out to help those in need strengthens our ties as brothers and sisters in Christ and is the regular maintenance the church requires.
This post is based on a communion guide for lay leaders that I wrote in 2015.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. -Acts 2:42
I grew up in Baptist churches, so the Lord’s Supper was something we did every now and then. The idea was that by celebrating communion infrequently we made the act more special. Maybe it worked that way for some folks, but for me, it made the Supper an awkward intrusion into our normal worship. But hey, Jesus said we have to do it.
It was only when I went to seminary that I began to learn there was more to communion than what I had seen. I began learning about the early church as well as reading patristic theologians and I was stunned how much time they devoted to talking about communion. Then I learned that the Lord’s Supper was not something the early church did only a few times a year, but in nearly every service! It was a cornerstone of their worship. Their experience of worship was so vastly different from my own.
The Symbol of the Gospel
Precious gems are cut to have many facets. Each facet sparkles and shines but it does not contain the whole beauty of the stone. Rather, the stone’s true beauty is revealed as we examine each facet and how the light plays between them. The same is true of the Lord’s Supper. The many themes contained in the act of communion come together to reveal the greatness of the gospel – as a symbol of Christ’s death, we are essentially talking about the gospel when we talk about communion. The whole of what Christ has done for us can be seen in this one act. There are at least six theological themes that are bound up in the symbolism of the Supper: the memorial, thanksgiving, covenant, community, mission, and eschatology.
This is the old Baptist standard. It is also the most apparent on the face of things. We remember that Christ died for our sins. The bread is his body, broken for us. The cup represents his blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins. The death and resurrection of Jesus are the foundation of the Christian faith. In the same manner, the remembrance of the price that was paid for our redemption forms the basis for all of the other aspects of communion. Matt 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:13-20, and 1 Cor 11:23-26.
From the Greek term eucharistia (from whence the term eucharist is derived). We remember that we have been set free because of Christ’s death and resurrection. This theme is an immediate response to the revelation of Jesus’ sacrifice. We are thankful for the price that was paid. We rejoice in our restored relationship with the Father, through the Son. Where the memorial is reflective and sorrowful, thanksgiving is joyous and celebratory – we are redeemed! 1 Cor 5:7-8, 1 Cor 10:16-17, Col 3:15.
Christ has created for us a new covenant, a new relationship with God. We remember to whom we belong. Jesus tells us that the cup is “the cup of the new covenant.” The Law and its purpose are fulfilled in Christ. We no longer need the sacrificial system and its accouterments because Jesus has made the perfect sacrifice once and for all. In him we are restored to relationship with the Father. We are also clothed by the Spirit in the righteousness of Christ. We are new creations, co-heirs with Jesus and children of the Most High. As we come to the table we have the opportunity to commune with God in a tangible and intimate way. Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25.
Christ has made us members of his body. We remember who we are. The Didache, an early Christian text from around AD 100, states in an example communion prayer, “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom.” While not Scripture, it is illustrative of the truth of Scripture and its expression in the symbols of the Supper. Bread isn’t made from a single grain of wheat but from many grains, made into flour and combined with leaven and water. The same is true of us. God has taken disparate people from every tribe and tongue and given us the Spirit to make us into one body, the Church. None of us are saved alone, but together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Acts 2:42, 1 Cor 10:16-17, 1 Cor 12:27, Eph 3:6.
We are the hands and feet of Christ. We remember that he had given us a job to do. Augustine of Hippo spoke to new believers about the Supper saying, “Be what you see, receive what you are.” He was talking about how the body of Christ is made up of individuals, but his words point to an additional reality. Christ sacrificed his body and blood that mankind might be saved. As members of his body, we also have a role to play – giving our lives as holy sacrifices. We are to be broken and poured out for a lost and dying world, just as Jesus was. Rom 12:1-8.
We celebrate his death until he comes again. We remember that he will return. The Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of the wedding supper of the Lamb. One day, we will feast with Jesus in a new heaven and earth, but until that time he has given us permission to come to his table and dine with him. Just because he is unseen, his presence is no less real for it is he who presides over the celebration. But one day we will see him face to face! Matt 26:29, Luke 22:16, 1 Cor 11:26.
As a closing thought, the word remember is closely tied to the Supper. Jesus commands that we “do this in remembrance of me.” In contemporary culture, remember often carries the meaning of something we don’t forget. I would suggest, however, that the remembrance we are called to do is not a passive thing. Rather, we are to actively enter into the work of Christ as we recall his passion.
So, why did the early church celebrate communion so often? I think it was because the Supper functions as a recapitulation of everything that God has done for us in Christ. In this one act we can experience, in symbolic form, the fullness of the Gospel, from the Old Testament precursors to the eschatological realization of the promises of Jesus. But these things are not necessarily readily apparent. They must be highlighted and explained as we gather around the table. When we look at the Lord’s Supper in this light, it is by more frequent celebration that the act’s deeper significance is brought out and communion is made more special. The power of the Lord’s Supper does not come from the symbols of bread and wine but from the presence of Christ made manifest by the Holy Spirit. As we come to his table, he meets us there to nourish our souls as we feed on the truth of the Gospel.
 The Didache, Chapter 9, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0714.htm.
 Augustine, On the Nature of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, sermon 272, http://www.earlychurchtexts.com/public/augustine_sermon_272_eucharist.htm.
This is the second in a series of articles that looks at the impact the Trinity has on Christian worship. The material has been adapted from my doctoral thesis.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated that he dreamed that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color or their skin but by the content of their character.” Character is an interesting thing. One has it before any action is taken, but another cannot see it until it is displayed by action. Character is something intrinsic to the person. An individual’s character defines him. He is his character. It is the same with worship. It is easy to think of worship as something the church does; after all, worship is a verb. But there is another sense in which the church brings glory to God by its existence. The church is worship.
How can this be? Simply put, it is why humanity was created. Genesis 1:27 states that “God created man in his own image. . . male and female he created them.” God did not create an individual but a pair, a community of people. Even in the following chapter in Genesis where Adam is created first, the story highlights the fact that the individual was meant to live in community with his own kind (Gen 2:18). While creation in the image of God does confer all individuals with worth and natural rights, the image of God applies equally to the creation of the community and its most basic unit, the family. From the beginning, this original community included God, but the presence of sin has broken this fellowship. It is only through the work of Christ that true community, a community that embodies the image of God in relationship with God, can be reestablished. This restored community is the church.
The hallmark of the Christian community should be the same as that of the Divine community: love. God has many attributes, but love is only one that applies to God in himself. All of the other qualities we think of – goodness, holiness, mercy, etc. – are in relation to created beings but love his how the persons of the Trinity relate to each other. Likewise, love is meant to saturate the church. At the first, this love relationship is expressed between the church and the triune God because, as the adoptive children of God, Christians share in Christ’s filial relationship with the Father thus participating in the life of the Trinity. The reality of the life of the Trinity as the model for the Christian life means that the relationships expressed within the Trinity are as important as God’s character and his commands. We are to love others – both inside and outside the church. The trinitarian relationships of the church can be expressed in the same language as the relationships with the Godhead. Inside the church, we find three primary categories: unity and diversity, authority and submission, and mutual indwelling. Relationships outside the church can be expressed in terms of mission.
Unity and Diversity
Within the Trinity, there exists a unity of being/essence and a diversity of persons, as well as a unity of purpose within the whole and a diversity of action in the particular. In the same way, the church is one body made up of many local assemblies, or on the smaller scale, it is a local gathering comprised of many individuals and ministries. Christians do not share a single essence as the Trinity does, but rather a kinship, all being made sons of God and coheirs with Christ. All of the redeemed, being clothed in Christ, stand equal before God (Gal 3:28). Even so all Christians are not the same and reflect a wonderful diversity. As with the Trinity, so with humanity, there exists no conflict between the equality of all and diversity.
The key here is diversity as opposed to division. In the Spirit, believers are united in Christ but there exists a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, purposes, and gifts (1Cor 12:12-14). We are to honor and respect the differences among believers so long as those aspects are not contrary to God’s character or law. As sinful creatures, it is easy to distort the variety that God has ordained for good. On one hand, there is a tendency toward uniformity, which by necessity erases all distinctions, and on the other, is the desire to turn distinctions between individuals and groups into barriers of fellowship. The Apostle Paul addressed this very issue in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 which leads directly into the famous love passage. The point is that the diversity of the body of Christ is a good thing when expressed in love, for it is love that leads to unity and from unity love leads to expressions of diversity. With the Trinity, contemplating the three leads back to the one which in turn leads back to the three – and so with the unity and diversity of the church.
Authority and Submission
Just as the unity and diversity of the triune God is a model for humanity, the same is true regarding issues of authority and submission. Within the Trinity, the Father is the source of authority. It is he who sends the Son and the Spirit. For some people, relating to God as Father is difficult because of their experiences with their own fathers. Unfortunately, this is the wrong way to look at the situation. The Father is the source of all fatherhood. In the same way that the image of God was scarred by sin, all human experiences of fatherhood have been likewise damaged. We must see beyond human experience to glimpse at the truth. The Father is the perfect father, and the Son is the perfect son. Their relationship is the paradigm for all relationships where authority and submission come into play.
The Father sends the Son, and the Son readily obeys. The Son also asks things of the Father, which the Father does, but it should be noted that the things the Son asks for are in concert with the Father’s will in sending the Son. The unseen animus here is love. It is out of love for the Son and a desire to glorify him that the Father sends the Son who obeys out of love for and a desire to glorify the Father because love exercises rightful authority and love also submits to rightful authority. Because these types of relationships exist within the Godhead, they also exist among his creatures. When we live in harmony with each other in rightly ordered relationships we brings glory to God.
At first glance, the idea of perichoresis among human beings seems absurd. The closest thing to it I can imagine is dissociative identity disorder in which a person exhibits multiple personalities. Without question, this is not what God intended for humanity and cannot be an expression of the image of God. The issue changes, in my opinion, as we reflect on the Divine image among groups, specifically the family and the church. Within these groups it is not uncommon for one person to act on behalf of the whole, bearing the consent and goodwill of the larger body, and using resources gathered by the community. In such cases, the actions of the one are recognized as actions of the whole. As Christians, we experience unity in Christ through the work of the Spirit who dwells within each believer. So it is not that we indwell each other, but the Spirit who abides in all believers who makes us into the image of God.
This union in Christ by the indwelling of the Spirit creates a new community where we are connected and dependent on each other to supply our needs. This interconnection and interdependence allows for the many to participate in the actions of one, or to put it another way, for the one to act in place of the many and the many to act for the one. Where one weeps, all weep. Where one rejoices, all rejoice together. This indwelling happens in various ways: through prayer, giving, and service. True, the type of indwelling that exists with the Father, Son, and Spirit does not exist within the created order, but what does exist within the church is a reflection of that perichoretic relationship.
Lastly, we see the church as worship by virtue of its efforts to fulfill its mission. Participating in the mission of the Trinity is not a mere imitation of the trinitarian paradigm – it is a participation in the life of the Godhead itself. At no point is the mission simply that of the believer. Rather the believer, through union with the Son by the Spirit, participates in the Son’s mission from the Father. There is a tendency, to think of the mission of the church as simply the evangelization of the nations. Though evangelism is certainly a part of the church’s mission, the reality is much broader. We are meant to be an eschatological community that provides a foretaste of the full restoration of creation and images the triune God to the wider world.
In its unity and diversity, authority and submission, mutual indwelling, and mission the church enters into the life of the Trinity. Furthermore, the church brings glory to God by reflecting the image of the Trinity in the community we were created to be. This worship is done primarily through relationships within the community of believers in Christ with the empowerment of the Spirit. It has nothing to do songs or sermons, buildings or budgets. It has everything to do with how we live our lives in communion with the triune God and with each other. These are the worshipers the Father seeks.
Volf, Miroslav. After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).
Ware, Bruce A. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005).
 This statement and some of what follows can equally be applied to the individual believer. I have refrained from making the case for the individual in the interest of keeping things simple and highlighting how the community of believers follows the pattern of the Trinity.
 It is not my intent to make light of anyone’s painful experiences, but we all must attempt to understand God as he has revealed himself, and not lean too heavily on our prior experience or preconceived notions.