April 2, 2020

Riffs: 05:03:08: The Night of Weeping and A Jesus Shaped Spirituality

BHT fellow and Harry Potter blogger Travis Pinzi eloquently pens his take on a Jesus-centered spirituality in this meditation on a wonderful verse from The Church’s One Foundation.

Though with a scornful wonder, men see her sore oppressed
By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed
Yet saints, their watch are keeping, their cry goes up “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song!

As Prinzi points out, the author of this hymn is not looking for the victory of a denominational team, but for the eventual shaping of the church entirely into the bride of Christ.

I’ve written on this subject in a short series called “The Church: Flawed and Finished.” Look in the “post-evangelical” category and you’ll find 4 posts in this series.

Some excerpts:

It’s a “great mystery;” and it’s entirely about Christ. All the elders and deacons Paul writes about in the preceding verses are supposed to be upholding this confession. Christ: incarnation, death, resurrection, witness, gospel proclamation, faith, ascension and kingship. Surprise! We all believe this. Calvinists, Arminians, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics. We all uphold that confession of Christ; and when we add to Christ, making other things “absolutely necessary” in order to either be saved or to get the church functioning as it should, we’ve gone beyond Paul; and we’re murdering the phrase, “pillar of truth” if we think that quoting it justifies our exclusion of anyone who doesn’t jive with the finer points of our confessional documents. It really is all about Jesus.

Then….very perceptively…

This is the Night of Weeping. It’s not a competition. It’s not a battle over who’s got the real church. We can only really discuss those matters when we quit excommunicating each other over them. The real church, the real pillar of truth, is the one that confesses Christ as Paul did. If we don’t weep together during this prolonged Night of Weeping – and weep over our own divisions and schisms and sins against one another – and vow to love one another and uphold the confession of Christ together despite our inability to come to agreement on so many theological questions; if we keep to our own sidelines, pretending we’ve nothing to weep over except the other church’s seeming inability to see how right we are about this or that point of doctrine; if we can’t love one another until everyone who’s “wrong” has repented and signed our confessional document, then the weeping will be greater than it need be.

What’s missing in team-sport evangelicalism is any lament at all over the state of the church. There is no doubt in my mind that one of the primary responses of a follower of Jesus Christ to the current state of the church must be lamentation. Not argumentation. Not ranting polemics. Not denominational apologetics, but lamentation and sorrow that we have made so many things into separators, then exaggerated the importance of those things and insisted that coming to our point of view is the only way to confess Christ.

So many Christians have interpreted “boldness” and many other concepts that relate to the “faith” to mean “the circle as I draw it.” It becomes more and more difficult for so many protestants to admit that they know Jesus does NOT draw the circle as narrowly as they do. This needs to sink into our consciousness and into our prayers: Jesus is far more generous than we are in dealing with ALL persons, including our Christian brothers and sisters. Especially our Christian brothers and sisters.

I often meditate on the idea of Jesus standing at the Lord’s table listening to us explain our reasons for refusing to allow others to sit and dine: this brother doesn’t submit to the bishop of Rome; this sister wasn’t baptized by immersion in our church; this brother doesn’t believe in the real presence; this sister calls herself a lesbian; this brother won’t sign our document.

Is your Jesus nodding in agreement with these reasons?

Thank you, Travis. Well said, and God’s blessings as you work on your new book.

Comments

  1. Yes, indeed! This reminds me of the line from J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye when Holden says, “Sallie Hayes called me a sacreligious atheist because I thought Jesus would have puked at the Radio City Music Hall Christmas stage show.” By now, after all these squabbles over non-essentiial matters for the most part, we in the church must be at least waist deep in puke. The only problem, as you point out, is that so many don’t realize that Jesus wouldn’t be nodding, nor even puking, but weeping.

  2. Anne Lamott has famously said, “You can tell you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

  3. dumb ox says

    Ever see Jewish rabbis discuss theology? It’s a cardiovascular work-out! They are so passionate and animated about it, but at the end of the day they still like each other! What’s wrong with us?

    While evangelicalism sinks into a pit of christless nothingness, those who know better are name-calling rather than building bridges.

    I personally don’t think denominationalism is the problem. In fact, I believe diversity is a good thing. A common enemy rarely can attack all flanks at one time. Getting all the clans together to fight a common enemy rather than each other is the trick (where’s William Wallace when you need him?).

    I believe the real threat is from the majority of Christians who don’t read scripture or never study their own church heritage beyond catechism classes…if their church even offers them. Instead of study, Christians are buying what ever tabloid religious trash is on the Christian bookstore best sellers list. We are feasting on cotton candy while the steak goes to waste. To fill the pews, pastors feel obligated to give the people what they want – more empty calories. Mission statements are no substitute for sound doctrine.

    By extending a little respect, perhaps even closed communion is not the end of the world, if we could take the time to understand why a church takes that position. I know some churches follow this practice to protect the unprepared, which is actually quite pastoral, but maybe over-kill. Some of these same churches personally lay hands upon and pronounce a blessing over those who cannot commune. Not all communions are closed out of hubris.

    But I don’t think the Corinthians were in trouble for confusing “is”, “represents”, and transubstantiation. Instead, Paul chastised them for being being real jerks to each other.

  4. Michael,

    “… this brother doesn’t believe in the real presence; this sister calls herself a lesbian; this brother won’t sign our document.”

    All the others (reasons not to commune)are spurious, but for some reason the brother that believes Jesus is not at His own supper still bothers me. I cant exactly explain it as well as I’d like, but it’s almost as if he’s worshipping a different Jesus than the One who told us that if “you didn’t eat my body, and drink my blood then you have no part in me.” (something close to that, anyway)

    Something still just doesn’t set right there.

    – Steve Martin

  5. This was such a helpful post. I wish there were more comments because I believe that this area of discussion is vital to the modern church. In recent years, The Christian Post Modern mindset has de-constructed Church until there is almost nothing left. Post Modern Believers have rightly thrown out so much on the outer ring of Christian Theology but in so doing, they’ve also disposed of everything that is central – namely: Christ – His incarnation, death, resurrection, witness, gospel proclamation, faith, ascension and kingship. This along with the five solas should just about cover it.

    On the other hand, modernist denominational leaders (Tim Keller aside), have continued to emphasize “outer-ring” issues while ignoring the heart of the Gospel. There are precious few leaders who are building bridges between modern and post modern by simply emphasizing Christ. Like the Ephesian church in Revelation 2, we must return to our first love – Christ. Instead, we simply continue to protect our flimsy little earthly religious kingdoms.

    God help us.

    http://sacrosanctgospel.wordpress.com/2008/05/01/i-dont-want-to-be-a-professional-pastor/

  6. JoanieD says

    Michael said, “This needs to sink into our consciousness and into our prayers: Jesus is far more generous than we are in dealing with ALL persons, including our Christian brothers and sisters. Especially our Christian brothers and sisters.”

    Well-said, Michael. I get tired of folks on blogs arguing over a word here and a passage there. Jesus and his love get lost along the way. I am not against Bible study, just against arrogance and small-mindedness.

    Joanie D.

  7. Patrick Kyle says

    Michael,

    I read Travis’ post and commented there, but because it is appropos to the post here I will copy it here too. Please note that my main point IS NOT about the LS or closed communion. I don’t care to enter into further debate about those issues. What I am concerned about is the very narrow definition of what is essential and the burden it places on those whose traditions consider the Sacraments as central to Christian Faith and life.

    Travis,

    I’ve lurked here occasionally, and participate regularly over on IMonk’s blog. Lately there has been agreat deal of discussion about Jesus shaped spirituality, and while initially I find much to agree with, something has bothered me about it that I couldn’t put my finger on until your post clarified it.

    You said “It’s a “great mystery;” and it’s entirely about Christ. All the elders and deacons Paul writes about in the preceding verses are supposed to be upholding this confession. Christ: incarnation, death, resurrection, witness, gospel proclamation, faith, ascension and kingship. Surprise! We all believe this. Calvinists, Arminians, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics. We all uphold that confession of Christ; and when we add to Christ, making other things “absolutely necessary” in order to either be saved or to get the church functioning as it should, we’ve gone beyond Paul; and we’re murdering the phrase, “pillar of truth” if we think that quoting it justifies our exclusion of anyone who doesn’t jive with the finer points of our confessional documents. It really is all about Jesus.”

    What you are doing is to subtly redefine the essentials of the faith, that we all can supposedly agree upon, to exclude some very central things. While we all agree on “Christ: incarnation, death, resurrection, witness, gospel proclamation, faith, ascension and kingship,” the vast majority of believers, now and historically have held the sacraments to be a central and integral part of the faith. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are commanded by Christ and carry with them His promise of life, salvation and forgiveness. Baptism is the Christ ordained entry point into His Kingdom and the indelible mark upon all those who are His. The Lord’s Supper is the fellowship of His Body and Blood and what joins the members of His Body together. The Scriptures say we are one body because we partake of one loaf. The Sacraments are intricately involved in who Jesus is and His work in us. These aren’t things “we add to Christ, making other things “absolutely necessary” in order to either be saved or to get the church functioning as it should, ” these are central to being a Christian for the vast majority of believers since Christ instituted them.
    To say that a church is being divisive because they endeavor to be responsible with their Communion practice, or they expect their members to have a certain amount of instruction in the Sacraments before they allow participation, is wrong. While I don’t agree with strictly closed communion, the fact is that faithful pastors since the apostles have practiced it,in every tradition, and defend it as pastorally responsible. Open Communion to anyone who presents themselves at the altar is a fairly recent trend and if looked at from a historical point of view could be seen as a cause of division. It is the new innovation and departs from how believers have interpreted the Scripture for two millenia. This has caused some deep soul searching on my part. I still am wrestling with it.
    However, I don’t mean to drag this comment thread into a debate on the LS or closed communion. (And I will engage in no debate on that subject.) My point is that your definition of the “essentials” fails to grasp some very important points and attempts to put responsibility for schisms in the Church on those who would maintain a strong attachment to the Sacraments. I think this is wrong and deserves further thought on your part.

  8. I just keep going back to that scene (Luke 7:36-50) where the theologians want to evaluate Jesus and a “sinful woman” just wants to worship Him lavishly. While the professionals consider whether to allow Jesus into their circle, Jesus creates a circle of His own.

    He’s always been better at drawing the circles. And it seems we’ve always been better at trying to prevent people from using Jesus’ name because they weren’t part of our merry little band (Mark 9:38).

  9. Patrick Kyle,

    Dawgone you! Just when I thought I was starting to settle down on this ‘Jesus shaped spirituality’ question and discussion of closed vs. open communion, you have to come along with great points for pondering and keep this stuff alive and well in my mind.

    What are you, some sort of a rabble-rouser?

    Nice going Patrick!

    Appreciatively Yours,

    Steve M.

  10. the author of this hymn is not looking for the victory of a denominational team, but for the eventual shaping of the church entirely into the bride of Christ.

    I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion quite so quickly. I believe the hymn was written for the 1878 Lambeth Conference and was sung as the assembled Anglican bishops processed into Canterbury Cathedral. The references to schisms and heresies had particular resonance due to recent controversies within the Anglican communion at the time, over incipient liberalism and so on.

    Don’t get me wrong: I love the hymn, and think it (at the very least) transcends any “team sports” perspective that may lie behind it. But it was written from a distinctly Anglo-Catholic perspective, and when it talks about “the Church” I strongly suspect this has more to do with Anglo-Catholic claims to be on an equal footing with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy (as fellow-sharers of “apostolic ministry”) than to an inclusive vision of the church which might embrace, well, Baptists and other “sectarians”.

  11. John H., the point is that weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).