The Friday Briefing 13 (3 August 2018)

Why catechesis now? Tim Keller writes, “The more the culture around us becomes post- and anti-Christian the more we discover church members in our midst, sitting under sound preaching, yet nonetheless holding half-pagan views of God, truth, and human nature, and in their daily lives using sex, money, and power in very worldly ways.” He concludes: “Our people desperately need richer, more comprehensive instruction. Returning to catechesis—now—is one important way to give it.”

”Do this in remembrance of Me” Bernard Bell gives us a brilliant overview of the Lord’s Supper.

The beauty of complementarity goes beyond gender Brett McCracken asks, ”What is lost when gender becomes merely a fluid social construct with no ‘compass points’, or simply one among many accoutrements of expressive individualism? What is lost when the idea of ‘complementarity’ is abandoned or demeaned because (like anything good) it can be abused or applied in problematic ways? Among many other things, beauty is lost.”

Aging in hope! Johan Tangelder writes, ”I am 68 years of age and retired, so I suppose I am considered old. In our politically correct times, I am called either a “senior citizen” or “chronologically gifted.” What is aging? How do we react to it? These questions are no longer academic for me.” After surveying the world’s attitude to old age, he asks, “So how do we face the twilight years of life? With feelings of dread… or of hope? Let’s delve further into God’s Word and see.”

The virtue of unread books Scott James writes, “. . . the array of books in our home is intended for ongoing, well-rounded usefulness. They’re there to show us what’ s possible, not venerate what’ s already been.”

Why catechesis now?.

Tim Keller writes, “The more the culture around us becomes post- and anti-Christian the more we discover church members in our midst, sitting under sound preaching, yet nonetheless holding half-pagan views of God, truth, and human nature, and in their daily lives using sex, money, and power in very worldly ways. . . . . This is not the first time the church in the West has lived in such a deeply non-Christian cultural environment. In the first several centuries the church had to form and build new believers from the ground up, teaching them comprehensive new ways to think, feel, and live in every aspect of life. They did this not simply through preaching and lectures, but also through catechesis. . . . . In the heyday of the Reformation, church leaders in Europe again faced a massive pedagogical challenge. How could they re-shape the lives of people who had grown up in the medieval church? The answer was, again, many catechisms produced for all ages and stages of life. . . . . But in the evangelical Christian world today the practice of catechesis, particularly among adults, has been almost completely lost.” Dr Keller concludes: “Our people desperately need richer, more comprehensive instruction. Returning to catechesis—now—is one important way to give it.”

Read the whole article HERE.

For a helpful summary of what catechesis is, read Joe Carter’s article 10 Things You Should Know about Catechesis available HERE.

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”Do this in remembrance of Me”.

Bernard Bell explains the Lord’s Supper clearly, simply and comprehensively in this sermon preached at Peninsula Bible Church, Cupertino. He writes, “We focus our attention today upon Communion. Although the whole Church acknowledges the central importance of communion, there is tremendous confusion over most aspects of the event. . . . . . . . I want to attempt to bring some order and understanding. I will do so in three stages. First we’ll look at the Last Supper which Jesus ate with his disciples, then at how the New Testament shows the early church repeating certain aspects of that meal, and finally at what the Church has done with the meal in the past 2000 years.”

After quoting Matthew 26.17-30, he explains, ”Jesus ate a final meal with his disciples in Jerusalem just hours before he was betrayed into the hands of the Jewish authorities. The meal was significant for three reasons: it was a fellowship meal between a rabbi and his disciples; more specifically, it was a Passover meal; and during the meal a new covenant was inaugurated.”

In his conclusion, Bell sums up what the Lord’s Supper means, ”Communion is a fellowship meal between Christ and his people. We are welcome at the Lord’s Table to eat his Supper. It is not the ‘right people’ that Christ has invited to his table, but us, the last, the least, the lost and the dead. The meal spread by him consists of bread and wine, which symbolize unseen realities with which we identify by faith. They require us to tell a story: why at this table do we eat the bread and drink the cup? Because by the body and blood of his servant Jesus God redeemed his people from bondage, bringing them out into freedom to be his people. With the poured-out blood of Jesus he sealed a covenant with us, and invites us to the table to eat a meal in his presence, a meal which demonstrates the reconciliation between God and man. By drinking the cup we participate vertically in, we have koinonia with, the blood of Christ. By breaking the one loaf we participate horizontally, we have koinonia with, the one body of Christ which is his Church. We have communion with Christ and communion with one another.”

Read the whole article HERE. (Near the top of the page there is a PDF icon – clicking this will download a nicely formatted 4-page printout of this sermon.)

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The beauty of complementarity goes beyond gender.

Brett McCracken writes, ”When God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18), he did not just create a clone of Adam. He created a complement. God’s solution to Adam’s “not good” problem was not two of the same flesh, as if company was all Adam needed. It was a one-flesh union, two distinct halves together making a whole. As much as contemporary Western culture tries to suggest otherwise, the difference of male and female exists and matters. And it is not just random difference, but complementary difference—a difference that indicates the two were made for each other. Woman and man are sort of like a lock and key. A lock and a key are meaninglessly different unless they are made to go together. But when together, their difference opens something up, unlocking something fuller and deeper about the human experience. . . . . We see the beauty of male-female complementarity not only in marriage but also in how the two sexes interact in other relationships, whether in the church, workplace, community, or extended family. As Barth suggested, there is a sense in which the fullness of being ‘male’ is realized only in relationship with ‘female’, and vice versa. Marriage is a powerful way this fullness is manifest, but it is not the only way. Male and female are not fluid, easily interchangeable constructs we fashion from below. Rather, they represent a complementary unity from above: one that goes beyond bodily or even gendered polarity. It is a complementary unity that reflects the structure of the wider world and the God who created it.”

McCracken asks, ”What is lost when gender becomes merely a fluid social construct with no ‘compass points’, or simply one among many accoutrements of expressive individualism? What is lost when the idea of ‘complementarity’ is abandoned or demeaned because (like anything good) it can be abused or applied in problematic ways? Among many other things, beauty is lost.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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Aging in hope!

Johan Tangelder writes, ”I am 68 years of age and retired, so I suppose I am considered old. In our politically correct times, I am called either a “senior citizen” or “chronologically gifted.” What is aging? How do we react to it? These questions are no longer academic for me.” After surveying the world’s attitude to old age, he asks, “So how do we face the twilight years of life? With feelings of dread… or of hope? Let’s delve further into God’s Word and see. In the Old Testament we find that God regards great age as the supreme reward of virtue. The aged were shown respect and honor. Old age is a blessing and not a curse. Scripture says, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God” (Leviticus 19.32).  . . . . In the New Testament the attitude towards aging is no different from that in the Old Testament. Those who reached an advanced age were honored and esteemed in the community. Aged saints have a significant role in the opening chapter of Luke’s Gospel. The first characters to appear on the stage are the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, who were both “advanced in years” (Luke 1.7). They are the instruments of God’s purposes and the first interpreters of God’s saving acts. Simeon and Anna are the prophetic chorus welcoming the child Jesus on the occasion of his purification in the Temple (Luke 2.22-38). . . . . As people who have clung to God’s promises over many years, they embody the virtues of long-suffering patience and trust in God’s ultimate faithfulness. They also exemplify faith and hope, even when circumstances seem hopeless.”

Tangelder comments, The youth simply cannot do without the older generation. In our culture, for a few years young adults may pretend (egged on by social and cultural forces) that they can live forever as autonomous, self-reliant, self-fulfilling beings. The pretense, however, collapses soon enough. The presence of the visible vulnerable elderly is a reminder that we are not our own creators. All of us will age; dark and blond hair will turn grey. Consequently, young Christians need the elderly so they will not take their lives for granted. I will say it again: the Church cannot be the Church without the elderly. That’s why throughout history the Church has frowned on separating the young from the old through conducting youth services. I have even read about a Church where no older people were expected to attend. But according to Scripture old and young belong together. They are all part of the great family of God.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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The virtue of unread books.

Scott James writes, “My oldest son stood spellbound in front of shelves that must have seemed endlessly high and wide from his small vantage. The Study was a familiar room to him, one he often requisitioned for all manner of creative projects and mischief. The surrounding mass of books had been nothing more than background scenery. I’m not sure what triggered it, but today he took them all in spine by spine. . . . . Just when I began to self-indulge in the sentiment of the moment, he posed the question that had been brewing in his head. “Dad, have you actually read all these?” There was no effort whatsoever to hide his incredulity. . . . . Taking the accusation in stride, I confessed that no, I have not read every book in our library. Sensing his disapproval, I felt the need to defend myself use this as a teachable moment.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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Video and study guide on local church life (part 14 of The Journey)

In this video we explore:

 what the local church is, and what it means to be part of a local church;

 the four key pictures that the New Testament uses to describe the church – the body of Christ, God’s household, God’s temple, and the Bride of Christ;

 the spiritual gifts that God gives believers;

 how God’s people can fulfil the royal and priestly roles that God intended mankind to fulfil from the very beginning;

 why we gather together regularly as a local church, and what we do when we gather – including the Lord’s Supper.

This video is accompanied by a a group study guide. The video and guide are suitable for use in a small group study or Bible class on local church life.

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Leader’s Guide for group study

This Group Study Guide contains three questions, with Bible passages to read, together with some notes to help the group leader to guide the discussion.

Click on the PDF icon below to download
the PDF version of this Leader’s Guide.

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You may want to begin by asking if anything particularly struck people as they watched the video.

Question 1
What is the purpose of our church gatherings?

Bible passages to read
Acts 2.42, Acts 13.1-3, 1 Corinthians 14.1-5,26, 1 Timothy 4.13, Hebrews 10.24-25.

Acts 2.42 seems to suggest a broad outline for what happens in our gatherings – “teaching”, “fellowship”, “breaking of bread”, and “prayers”. The word “fellowship” translates the Greek word koinonia. This word suggests partnership in something done together.

What should a gathering of the local church include? There might be teaching and public reading of the Scriptures. There may be praise, thanksgiving and adoration of God – both spoken and sung. There may be prayer for the needs of people or situations. There may be prophecy, messages of wisdom, messages of knowledge, words of encouragement, tongues and interpretations. There might be testimonies – that is, people sharing what God has done for them. Not all these things will necessarily occur in every gathering. Each time we meet will be a unique occasion. And there may be times when the main focus of the meeting is, for example, prayer or teaching.

Everything that takes place when we meet together should build up the body. Paul writes: “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (1 Corinthians 14.26 NIV). For example, too, those that prophesy, do so for believers’ “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” (1 Corinthians 14.3).

It seems clear from the New Testament that there should generally be opportunity for a variety of people to contribute. We can all take part in encouraging and building up our fellow-believers.

The Lord’s Supper is central to the life of a local church. It’s a shared meal that celebrates the new covenant between God and His people (prophesied in Jeremiah 31.31). This new covenant was sealed with Jesus’s blood. Through His blood – in other words, His sacrificial death – Jesus paid the penalty and made full amends for our sin. Now we can come into relationship with God. We can be bound to Him by the New Covenant.

In the Lord’s Supper, the bread symbolises Jesus’s body given for us. The wine symbolises His blood shed for us. When we eat the bread and drink the wine, we remember that it was His death that enabled us to be in covenant relationship with God – and to enjoy all the blessings that this brings.

All believers are bound to God by His New Covenant. And that means we’re bound to each other, too. We are one body. The Lord’s Supper is a time of fellowship with God. And it’s also a time of fellowship with each other. The Lord’s Supper provides an opportunity for believers to reflect on their relationship with God and with other believers. Are they really living according to the terms of the New Covenant, loving and obeying God, and loving and serving their fellow-believers?

Question 2
The Church is God’s temple. What implications does that have for our lives?

Bible passages to read
Exodus 40.34-35, 1 Kings 8.10-11, John 14.23, 1 Corinthians 3.16-17, 1 Peter 2.4-5.

The church is God’s temple – the place where God lives. Each believer is a temple – as Paul tells us: “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Corinthians 6.19). God lives within them (John 14.16-17,23). The whole Church, too, is a temple (1 Corinthians 3.16-17, 2 Corinthians 6.16, Ephesians 2.21-22).

God is holy (for example, Leviticus 11.44-45, Isaiah 6.3). His holiness is more than His moral purity; it is the sum of His divine attributes that sets Him apart from everything that He has made. He is the Uncreated, eternal, transcendent, divine Being, overwhelmingly and awesomely glorious in majesty. He is absolutely separate from evil, infinitely perfect, immaculately pure, faultlessly righteous. Central to God’s holy being is love – perfect, pure love.

When the Tabernacle was complete, “Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40.35). God’s glory filled the Temple, too, at its dedication ceremony (1 Kings 8.10-11). Remember, too, Mount Sinai quaked and smoked as God descended on it (Exodus 19.18). Now God lives in each believer, and among us as a local church! The lesson is clear: we, and our church, must be in a state fit for God to live amongst us. In other words, we have to be holy. Peter writes: “. . . as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1.15-16).

God is uniquely holy in a way that is totally unattainable by any created being. But we believers are holy, too, in the sense that we now belong to God. We are His own special, distinctive people, set apart for His purposes. God made us believers holy (or, to use another Bible word, “sanctified” us) at the moment we became a child of God. We’re “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1.2).

Yet becoming holy (in other words, our sanctification) is also a process that continues throughout our lives. We’re to turn away from sin and pursue godliness. We have to put off our old way of life – our wrong attitudes, wrong ways of thinking and speaking, and sinful habits. New attitudes, right ways of thinking and speaking, and godly habits, need to be formed (see Ephesians 4.21-24, Colossians 3.5-17). God’s Holy Spirit guides us and gives us the power to do all this. But we must co-operate with Him and obey Him. As we obey Him, His Spirit purifies us, so that all that we think and say and do reflects more and more exactly the character of the holy God Who lives in us.

A vital part of our obedience to God is this: we’re to read the Bible and pray regularly, and meet often with other believers (see Hebrews 10.24-25). These things will strengthen us and help us to live holy lives.

Holiness means to belong to God for His purposes. Our purpose as God’s people is to be a community of people who extend His Kingdom across Earth through the power of His Spirit. Each believer has a special role in this magnificent calling. But to fulfil our role, we must be holy. So you can see how crucial our own personal holiness is to God’s plan for this world.

Question 3
What do these three images of the Church – a human body, a temple, a household – have in common?

Bible passages to read
Romans 12.3-8, 1 Corinthians 12.12-27, Ephesians 2.19-22.

Three ways in which the Church is pictured in the Bible are as a temple, a body, and a household. A temple is a single structure made up of many different components. A body is a single organism comprising a complex assembly of cells, tissues and organs, each of which has a part to play in the health and function of the whole body. A household is an economic and socially interdependent group of people who share a common life.

Each of these three images implies an integrated, interdependent community. Why is there such emphasis on community and interdependence? Because that’s how God made us. As we saw in Session 3, mankind isn’t just a group of unrelated individuals. The human race is a family, all descended from Adam and Eve. We’re all connected. John Donne wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself. . . .” At the heart of our beings is the capacity for love. We are relational beings. Donald Macleod wrote: “A life lived apart from community is a life that violates human nature”.

So when God speaks about the Church as a temple, a body, and a household, it isn’t a completely new idea. He built the idea of community into human nature right from the beginning. The Church is God’s new humanity. The Church is a community of people who love each other, support each other and share their lives with each other. When people see a local church functioning as a community as God intended, they are seeing what it really means to be truly human.

And all this means that we affect one another – for good or bad. We have the power to be a blessing to each other. In the church, God has given each of us gifts to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 14.12,26, and see also Ephesians 4.11-16). Conversely, we have power to harm each other. Failing to use my gifts damages the body. One person’s sin can defile many (compare Hebrews 12.15). We hurt people by breaking off relationships, or refusing to forgive.

CREDITS Text copyright © 2017 Robert Gordon Betts Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked ‘NIV’ are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

‘A Meal with Jesus’ by Tim Chester

‘A Meal with Jesus’ by Tim Chester
Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus, meals, covenants, eating, church, fellowship

A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table by Tim Chester. Published in October 2011 by Inter-Varsity Press, Nottingham, UK. ISBN 9781844745555 (paperback); 160 pages. Also published in April 2011 by Crossway Wheaton, IL, USA. ISBN: 978-1-4335-2136-2 (paperback); 144 pages. Electronic versions also available from both publishers.

The publishers’ descriptions are online HERE and HERE.

In the world of the Bible, sharing a meal is far more than filling stomachs to stay alive. It’s a time of fellowship. Scott Bartchy writes: “It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of table fellowship for the cultures of the Mediterranean basin in the first century of our era. Mealtimes were far more than occasions for individuals to consume nourishment. Being welcomed at a table for the purpose of eating food with another person had become a ceremony richly symbolic of friendship, intimacy and unity. Thus betrayal or unfaithfulness toward anyone with whom one had shared the table was viewed as particularly reprehensible. On the other hand, when persons were estranged, a meal invitation opened the way to reconciliation.”

That’s why the Jewish religious leaders were so angry with Jesus for eating with “sinners” (Matthew 9.11, Luke 15.2). By eating with them, He was receiving them as His friends and companions. In fact, the very word ‘companion’ is derived from the Latin cum (meaning ‘with’) and panis (meaning ‘bread’) – i.e. someone you ate bread with.

Even in Western society today, sharing a meal together still has significance beyond the physical act. Alexander Shmemann comments: “Centuries of secularism have failed to transform eating into something strictly utilitarian. Food is still treated with reverence. A meal is still a rite – the last ‘natural sacrament’ of family and friendship, . . . .”

Right through the Bible we find God Himself inviting people to feast at His table. He invites them to enjoy fellowship with Him, to enter His ‘family circle’.

It’s no coincidence that there’s a meal at the very beginning and the very end of the Bible. God offered Adam and Eve the fruit of the Tree of Life (Genesis 2.9,16-17). But they ate from another tree; they refused fellowship with God. From that moment, God wanted to bring mankind back to His table – back into fellowship with Him.

So we find God inviting people to His table. In the Old Testament, there’s the annual Passover meal. When God made a covenant with Israel through Moses, chosen representatives of Israel banqueted with God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24.9-11). And among the various sacrifices there was the fellowship offering – the sacrifice that the offerer and his companions ate together in God’s presence.

Before His crucifixion, Jesus shared a meal with His disciples – the Last Supper. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper with our brothers and sisters at the central act of our life together as God’s people.

And when God’s Kingdom arrives in its final glory, God’s people will enjoy “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19.9). They will feast with Jesus for eternity – they’ll enjoy eternal fellowship with Him in the new heaven and Earth.

Tim Chester picks up this theme of the meal and takes us through Luke’s Gospel. He opens up the meaning of the meal for Jesus and for us, and places this theme in the context of the whole Bible story. And, as one reviewer on Amazon.com, Arthur Sido, comments: “Tim is calling the church back to a place where deliberate, intentional sharing of our food, our home and our time takes priority in the life of the church”.

Crossway, the US publisher, summarises: The meals of Jesus represent something bigger. They represent a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook. Tim Chester brings to light God’s purposes in the seemingly ordinary act of sharing a meal—how this everyday experience is really an opportunity for grace, community, and mission. Chester challenges contemporary understandings of hospitality as he urges us to evaluate why and who we invite to our table. Learn how you can foster grace and bless others through the rich fare being served in A Meal with Jesus.”

In his introduction, Tim writes, “If I pull down books on mission and church planting from my shelves, I can read about contextualization, evangelism matrices, postmodern apologetics, and cultural hermeneutics. I can look at diagrams that tell me how people can be converted or discover the steps required to plant a church. It all sounds impressive, cutting edge, and sophisticated. But this is how Luke describes Jesus’s mission strategy: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” We can make community and mission sound like specialized activities that belong to experts. Some people have a vested interest in doing this, because it makes them feel “extraordinary.” Or we focus on dynamic personalities who can hold an audience and lead a movement. Some push mission beyond the scope of “ordinary” Christians. But the Son of Man came eating and drinking. It’s not complicated. True, it’s not always easy—it involves people invading your space or going to places where you don’t feel comfortable. But it’s not complicated. If you share a meal three or four times a week and you have a passion for Jesus, then you will be building up the Christian community and reaching out in mission.”

The chapter headings are:

  • Introduction: The Son of Man Came Eating and Drinking
  • Meals as Enacted Grace: Luke 5
  • Meals as Enacted Community: Luke 7
  • Meals as Enacted Hope: Luke 9
  • Meals as Enacted Mission: Luke 14
  • Meals as Enacted Salvation: Luke 22
  • Meals as Enacted Promise: Luke 24

Read the introduction HERE.

Tim Chester introduces the book in a brief video HERE.

Tim Challies reviews it HERE.

Tim Chester is involved in The Crowded House, a church-planting initiative in Sheffield. He was previously Research and Policy Director for Tearfund UK. He has spoken at Word Alive, Keswick, and on Christian training courses. Tim’s books include The Message of Prayer“, Good News to the Poor, The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness, Total Church and The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God. He is married with two daughters.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.