Last year I spoke on the topic of “Love That Endears All Things” at a retreat. One thing I presented was about different kinds of beliefs that can cause conflict. I divided them into these four categories:
- Core Beliefs
- Personal Convictions
- Biblical Opinions
Core beliefs are the central items to our faith: the existence of God; the belief that Jesus came in the flesh; salvation through Jesus; belief in the death, burial, and resurrection. These are things that we can legitimately expect anyone who calls themselves a Christian to believe. While I know that some people expand this category to include just about everything, most of us recognize that there are central tenets that are basic to Christianity.
Personal convictions are things that are not clearly stated in the Bible, but that we hold to be true. When I presented this, I focused on convictions that affect us personally: the use of alcohol; choices about education; pacifism. If I were presenting this again, I’d include convictions that affect our churches as a whole, like the role of women in the church or a cappella vs instrumental music.
Biblical opinions are opinions about the interpretation of certain texts that, for the most part, don’t directly affect what we do: the identity of the Antichrist; beliefs about the millennium; baptism for the dead.
Preferences are just that, things that merely align with our likes: what Bible version to use, singing during the Lord’s Supper, what to do with children during worship, raising hands while praising or praying.
It’s my belief that we need to know how to differentiate core beliefs from the other things in the list. That should be obvious, yet it’s not. Some of the other things may make it difficult for us to worship together on a regular basis; they should not make it difficult for us to recognize one another as Christians.
Continuing our discussion of the Lord’s Supper, I wanted to mention something that we did this past Sunday which I found to be quite helpful.
This was a service with the bilingual group at our church; there were somewhere between 50 and 70 in attendance. At the beginning of the service, I had told the story of my eating with a stranger one day at Taco Bueno. Because the restaurant was full, we had to share a table. Naturally, I introduced myself, and we chatted during the meal. That’s what you do when you eat with someone, I said… except at church. I told them that our focus that day was going to be on taking the Lord’s Supper as a body.
Before eating and drinking, we sang the song “Come To The Table of Mercy” (in English and in Spanish), which very much set the tone for what we were going to do. My wife, Carolina, had made the communion bread and had made quantity sufficient for everyone to have a cracker-sized portion. The grape juice was in pitchers, and we had small cups out on the table.
As we “partook,” I called people forward to the table, encouraging them to speak with one another along the way, shaking hands and embracing one another. For me, it was a beautiful time. I was one of those serving at the table, and I got to speak a word of greeting and of blessing to many of those that came forward, some of whom I hadn’t had a chance to greet yet.
It wasn’t perfect, but for me it was a definite improvement over the usual “sit in the pews and pass the trays” procedure. I hope we can do this more often.
Have you participated in unusual communion services which made the time more meaningful to you?
I’ve written before about the significance of sharing a meal in the ancient Middle Eastern culture. It seems appropriate, however, as we talk about food that we consider the significance of the act of eating.
In our modern world, we often sit down and eat with strangers. We may not really be aware of the fact that we are eating with them, but we sit down in a restaurant where we are often sharing eating space with people we don’t know.
That would have been unheard of in ancient times. Meals were shared. People shared meals with one another. And they were aware of sharing meals with God. The book of Deuteronomy often talks about eating in the presence of the Lord. 1 Chronicles 29 also uses this expression.
During Jesus’ ministry, people were often offended by his choice of table companions. “He eats with sinners!” The early church is pictured as eating together on a regular basis. Sharing the Lord’s Supper with others was seen to be a means of establishing fellowship ties (1 Corinthians 10). By the same token, Christians were not even to eat with fellow believers who persisted in immorality (1 Corinthians 5:11)
The word “companion” comes from Latin roots meaning “with bread.” It’s the idea of the person that you share food with. As we think about our attitudes toward food, we need to recognize that there is more to eating than merely nourishing our bodies. Who we eat with is as important as what we eat.
Can you think of other texts that speak to this idea? Any examples from your own life?
[Edit, 10 a.m. CDT: I forgot a couple of critical texts that speak to this issue. I’ll merely include them here—
“So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”” (Acts 11:2-3)
“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.” (Galatians 2:11-13)]
The Flit (bounceinicus bounceouticus) is a reclusive creature, so hard to spot that some even doubt their existence. Possessing impeccable timing, these shy animals are able to arrive at the precise moment a worship service is beginning and disappear as soon as it is over (if not slightly before). Many regular observers of church services remain unaware of the existence of the Flit.
Capture of the Flit is almost impossible, even using food as bait. Force and coercion often prove equally ineffective, even the use of potent sprays like HeeBrooz 10-25. Masters of the excuse and the explanation, Flits can avoid all obligations and commitments. They refuse to be pinned down, fight against being fenced in.
Though relatively inoffensive, domestication of the Flit should be a goal of every congregation. As with many of the animals listed in this guide, love and comprehension are the principal tools in dealing effectively with these solitary creatures.
As we grow in understanding on different topics, it’s easy to say things like “The church hasn’t taught…” or “We’ve overlooked…,” when in fact we need to personalize that a bit. I shouldn’t blame previous generations for my lack of insight. So I’ll try to accept responsibility for this one.
I’ve come to realize that I’ve failed to see the community aspect of faith. I mean, I’ve talked about the church, the body of Christ, our role as members, etc. Yet I’ve especially been guilty on Sundays of creating a virtual isolation booth around my person, losing awareness of the people I’m there with. I see now that trying to worship in an individualistic way cuts me off from the purpose of the assembly. “We gather together,” we assemble, we come together as the people of God. It’s a community moment. There are times during the assembly when we might lose ourselves in communion with God, but we mustn’t lose sight of the horizontal aspect of what we’re doing. We sing to God, and we sing to one another. We seek ways to encourage one another, to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” We take the Lord’s Supper as a body, waiting on one another and considering one another. We greet one another. We confess to one another. We share prayer concerns and pray for one another.
We have many times during the week to commune with God individually. Our sharing times with our spiritual family are less frequent. Let’s not waste them! That’s a lesson I’ve needed to learn and still need to learn. I know that my spiritual life will be healthier if I do.
[Photo by Martin Boulanger, sxc.hu]