Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Australian Light Horse in capture of Jerusalem

This year is the 90th anniversary of the capture of Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks in 1917 during the First World War.

The Australian Light Horse played an important role in the capture of Jerusalem and was the first formed regiment to enter Damascus.

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A Regiment of the Australian Light Horse on the march near Jerusalem, in Palestine.
(Photo source: Australian War Memorial AWM B01619)

Fifty mounted men and women from the Australian Light Horse Association, including relatives and descendants of men in the original Light Horse Regiments, are currently retracing the march of the Australian riders during World War I. They plan to re-enact the charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Beersheba - one of the last successful mounted charges in Western military history - over the same ground on its 90th anniversary tomorrow.

The capture of Jerusalem and the liberation of Palestine from the Ottomans resulted in Palestine becoming a British mandate in 1922. These were important events in enabling Jews to return to their ancient homeland in larger numbers, and led to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Jerusalem was captured by Jordan during the War of Independence in 1948, and later recaptured by Israel during the Six Day War of 1967.

These events are significant in fulfilling Bible prophecies about the restoration of Israel before the coming of the Messiah. Australian readers may be interested to know of the role of the Australian regiments.

Monday, October 29, 2007

50 years of the Australian Unity Agreement (16)

What is 'fellowship'? (8)

How can we make fellowship "just happen", or what can we do to facilitate it?

Now that we've looked at what happened in the New Testament churches when they got together I'd like to make some suggestions, based on the first century model, for Christians in the twenty first century.

It seems that meeting together over a meal was a central part of the fellowship of the earliest believers. This carried on the 'table fellowship' practices of Jesus, and also 'called to remembrance' the last supper. While sharing communal meals is a good way to facilitate the building of strong healthy relationships, I'm not suggesting that's all we should do. We learn from the Corinthian experience that even though they carried on the tradition of a shared meal it degenerated into something which Paul said was "not the Lord's supper". It also didn't take long for the church to replace this meal with a token or 'symbolic' meal, consisting of a morsel of bread and a sip of wine. The next step was to 'sacramentalise' it and to demand that the bread and wine should only be 'administered' by an ordained priest. The meal known as the Lord's table had progressively shifted from a full meal which was shared with family, friends and those who had been marginalised by society but were now invited to the kingdom of God, to a religious rite which was tightly controlled by those who ruled the churches.

The shift from a meal to mere symbols of one also coincided with a shift from grace to legalism in the church. God's grace was once celebrated as generous, abundant and overflowing. It later became something which the church-rulers tried to control and 'administer'. The morsel of bread (later to become a mere 'wafer' in the Catholic church) and the sip of wine also characterised how the church had become mean as it became legalistic.

To restore the meal to a central place in the gathering of believers might go a long way towards restoring the type of fellowship which was experienced in the early church, but would not guarantee it. There may also be other ways of facilitating this type of fellowship, with or without the communal meal. The following ideas are simply suggestions.
  • One of the features of a shared meal is that everyone participates in it. If we want to facilitate fellowship we have to encourage participation. I'm not suggesting that we simply find jobs for people to do (such as doing a prayer or reading, 'preparing the emblems', playing the organ), but that we structure our gatherings in such a way that everyone participates as fully as they would like. Paul obviously had this in mind when he said "When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church" (1 Cor 14:26). It's also probably what he had in mind when he wrote "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph 5:19-20. See also Col 3:16-17).
  • To have this kind of full participation gatherings also need to be interactive. It would be almost impossible in a large group to structure a programme (or 'order of service') where everyone is able to contribute with a hymn/song or a word of instruction. Imagine an ecclesia with 100 members all prepared to give an exhortation or sing a song! To have the kind of interaction which encourages full participation would mean that the structured, formalised, religious 'service' would have to give way to something which is fluid, dynamic, spontaneous and full of surprises. Ecclesias would have to decide if they wanted a formal service (like the liturgical churches Christadelphians so often criticise), or something closer to the experience of the first century believers.
  • The motivation for any gathering has to be the spiritual growth of everyone participating. It's not good enough to simply encourage attendance and assume that just by being there everyone will get something out of it. Gatherings of the church should be so that the whole body is fed and nurtured and enabled to grow.
  • In larger groups that means getting to know people who are used to sitting quietly, always behaving themselves, never ruffling feathers; the people who never speak up or express an opinion, and certainly never oppose anything; the kind of person who is always there, and because of that we assume they must be getting something out of it. It's possible that some of these people are dying on the inside, not getting the kind of food they need for spiritual growth, but desperately hoping that if they keep turning up one day something miraculous will happen and they will find what they need.
  • Of course, it's equally possible that we don't really know the noisy people either. We make assumptions about the people who always have something to say, who always have an opinion (right or wrong), who seem so confident in their knowledge and understanding of the ways of God. We can assume that because someone gives good exhortations they must be right with God, that their spiritual needs are being met, and that their main purpose is to feed others. It's easy to overlook the needs of noisy people. The noise might be a cry for help, disguised as self-confidence; or it might be a cover-up for something that is desperately wrong and needs sorting out. We will never know, unless we get to know them personally.
  • Gatherings of believers must promote relationship-building. Sitting in the same pew, or simply shaking a hand, does not constitute 'fellowship'. There has to be time spent together getting to know each other and talking about life in general. There will have to be opportunities for crying on shoulders, sharing a laugh, passing around photographs, and talking about work.
  • We mustn't forget, however, that our objective is not simply to be friendly and to get to know people (important though that is). We need to help people to connect with God, and to learn from their encounters with God. We need to share on a deeper, more intimate, spiritual level. The friendliness and relationship-building I mentioned in the points above are steps towards intimacy between fellow-believers and with God. But before we can ever develop that kind of intimacy we have to develop trust. In my experience, I have found that many Christadelphians have stopped trusting each other. The dreadful ecclesial fights that have gone on for generations have been one of the main causes of this loss of trust, but in a vicious cycle of mistrust we have learned that arguments lead to mistrust, and mistrust leads to misunderstanding and yet more fighting. The road back will be long and slow, and needs a great deal of prayer and patience.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

50 years of the Australian Unity Agreement (15)

What is "fellowship"? (7)

What is it that "just happens" when believers gather together?

So far in this series I think we've seen that the word 'fellowship' is used in the Bible with reference to the way the earliest Christians shared everything: their possessions, homes and food as well as their faith. They lived in community and consequently developed close personal relationships. They genuinely cared for each other and demonstrated their mutual commitment by providing for each others needs. In fact, the word 'fellowship' is a translation of koinonia which literally means "to share". Sharing a meal together, as a kind of re-enactment of the last supper, came to symbolise the community life of the early church, and was at the very heart of their communal life.

These days, however, the word 'fellowship' has taken on a kind of technical meaning in the Christadelphian community to refer to cliques of believers - sub-groups within the Body of Christ which refuse to recognise the legitimacy of others. These divisions are usually the result of differences of opinions on doctrinal or theological matters. So we have the Dawn fellowship, the Old Paths fellowship, the Unamended fellowship, the Amended fellowship, the Central fellowship, the Antipas fellowship, etc, etc. What these 'fellowships' share within their groups is a narrow, restricted and exclusive interpretation of "the one true faith". The differences between the various groups are often so technical that an observer would be pressed to find any differences at all. Even 'insiders' sometimes wonder what it is that makes the other 'fellowships' so different to them and what it is that puts them 'out-of-fellowship'. Despite the enormous common ground between the groups they have separated over differences which seem trifling to others.

I've said a few times that when believers come together fellowship simply happens, and have looked at how this happened in the New Testament churches. The shared meal was called "the Lord's supper" or "the Lord's table", "breaking bread" and the "love feast". It was a central part of first-century Christianity. It was also a meal, not simply the partaking of token or symbolic "emblems", and would have been open to whole families and probably friends and relatives. It reflected Jesus' pattern of using meal tables to welcome people who had previously been excluded from normal communal life because of physical deformities, diseases, their sins, careers or beliefs.

Early on in this series I referred to another way the word 'fellowship' is typically used by Christadelphians. If someone says they had "wonderful fellowship" at a Bible school they would be referring to the quality of friendships which were shared, the conversations and discussions, the happy times spent over meals, and the sense of warmth, acceptance and belonging which made it such a wonderful experience. This is the right way to use the word 'fellowship' and not in the narrow technical sense referring to affiliation with a sub-group, or in the sacramental or eucharistic way with reference to the partaking of bread and wine during a religious service.

So what is it that "just happens" when believers gather together that we call 'fellowship'? When people come together frequently and regularly for meals they share more than food. As they talk together over the meals about their lives, their families, their work, their hobbies and interests, they get to know each other. They discover what is really going on in each others lives. They get to know when life is going well or when they are struggling. They become open, honest and transparent with each other. They reveal their true selves to each other, admitting to their weaknesses so they can find help and encouragement in overcoming them. They share their joys and triumphs, and help and encourage others. They progressively become involved in each others lives, not only for the time they come together for the meal.

A meal is the ideal way to facilitate this relationship-building. On the other hand, structured, formalised religious services provide little opportunity for sharing in this way, if at all.

We should carefully note that it was during a meal with His disciples that our Lord said "do this in remembrance of me".
In my next post I want to look at a question I raised previously:
how can we make fellowship "just happen", or what can we do to facilitate it?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Why Preach?

There are 2.5 billion people on this planet who have never heard the Gospel. You can play a part in getting the message to them.

This video goes for 10 minutes and is well worth seeing.

Friday, October 26, 2007

New website on women's roles in church

A new website has just been launched by some Christadelphians which looks very thoroughly at the roles of women from a Biblical viewpoint. The articles are solidly grounded in Scripture and cover practically every relevant verse in analysing what the Bible teaches on the subject.

The website also includes the personal stories of the various contributors and add a "human side" to the exposition of Scripture. They show that for the various writers the study of this subject was linked to their personal spiritual development.

One person commented that "In searching around the Internet (checking discussion on the relevant passages) we have not come across anything like this." This is certainly an outstanding achievement in my opinion, and this website should make a significant contribution in the ongoing discussion of the subject and should help ecclesias to adopt practices which are consistent with the Biblical model.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Pakistan Christadelphians (2)

Pakistan is possibly one of the fastest growing areas in the Christadelphian community, with more than 800 baptisms since 2002.

So why is this one of the fastest growing areas in the Christadelphian community?

A new series of posts has commenced on the Pakistan Christadelphians blog which explores some of the factors which may have contributed to the success in witnessing in Pakistan.

For security reasons access to this blog is restricted. If you'd like to access the blog you can email a request to pakistan.christadelphians@yahoo.com.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

One God

I'm sure everyone reading this blog is very familiar with the "proof texts" used to support the case for the oneness of God.

Here is just a smattering of them:
  • But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. (1 Cor 8:6)
  • One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Eph 4:6)
  • For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; (1 Tim 2:5)
But have you noticed that these verses not only state the oneness of God, but also positively reinforce a belief in monotheism i.e. there is one God, and only one God, and there are no other gods whatsoever?

That's why I am always surprised when I read statements like the one posted as a comment on my post about a worship song by Joel Houston. An anonymous commenter wrote (about Hillsong) "they worship a different GOD".

It's strange that some Christadelphians can say that trinitarians "worship a different God", yet the very verses they quote to disprove the trinity say "there is one God"! They cannot worship "a different God" because there is only one God.

James actually makes this point when he writes: "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder" (James 2:19). Just because someone has "wrong doctrine" doesn't mean they worship a different God, or just because they are right about the oneness of God doesn't mean they are right about everything. James's point is that doctrine must then be reflected in character and by actions. This was also the point made by Jesus in His famous statement about Israel's creed: "The Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God ... and your neighbour as yourself" (Mark 12:28-31). The shema is saying something even more than "The Lord is unique, a one-of-a-kind God", true though that is, because the next verse begins with a vav - "and". The Lord is one AND you shall love the Lord ..." So the statement is relational: we are to love because He is one. Jesus then added to this the second part "And you shall love your neighbour as yourself". The first half of the Jesus creed has no purpose without the second.

So it doesn't matter what someone thinks about God, there is still only one God. Just because someone calls God "Allah" doesn't mean they believe in a different God. (Actually, the word Allah comes from the same semitic root as Eloah, or Elohim, in Hebrew, or Alaha in Aramaic, the language of Jesus). Regardless of whether someone calls God Allah, or Jehovah, or Yahweh, there is only one God. And just because someone's understanding about God is wrong, it doesn't mean they believe in a different God. I think this kind of language ("they worship a different God") builds unnecessary barriers and erodes the foundation of our belief that there is one God.

Not quite so contemporary music

Many of you will be familiar with the archaeological work done by Sir Leonard Woolley at Ur, Mesopotamia, in 1929. Among his findings were a lyre and pipes from the time of the patriarchs which were deposited in museums at Baghdad and Philadelphia. My understanding is that the lyre was partially damaged during the American invasion of Iraq.

This video is an interesting duet between the reconstructed lyre of Ur and some reconstructed silver pipes found in the same grave. It gives us an idea what the music of Ur may have sounded like 4500 years ago, in the time of Abraham.

The video was made to support the Lyre of Ur project at http://www.lyre-of-ur.com

Friday, October 12, 2007

Anonymous comments

I have decided that I will no longer allow anonymous comments to be posted on this blog.

If you have a really good comment to make and have a legitimate reason for not wanting your name made public, you can post a comment, follow it up immediately with an email to me telling me who you are (my email address is in my profile), and I will then consider whether or not to allow the anonymous comment to be posted.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

From the inside out

This is a great worship song by Joel Houston from the Hillsong team.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Yesterday three comments were submitted on my post about Queensland Madness which I felt deserved a post of their own rather than potentially get lost amongst the comments. As they were sent in quick succession I'm assuming that they're from the same reader.

Comment 1
why do we resign from our eccleias,why dont we speak to our ecclesias,before we cut off ourselves from them. If we are not happy with our ecclesia and will not talk to them about it, why not ask for a transfer when you have found an ecclesia you are happy with instead of leaving your brethren and sisters without an explanation.Probably because it makes good headlines.Paul did set out on a journey as do many of our brethren and sisters I am sure they dont resign before they do. If he did find find an ecclesia in corinth he would like to join he would write a letter to his ecclesia and ask for a transfer. The loving way to do things.
It seems to me that this writer has made some assumptions about the resignation which led to the letter which was the subject of my post. First, he's assumed (and I think wrongly) that a "resignation" is the same as to "cut off ourselves from them". I can think of several good reasons why someone might resign without intending to cut themself off from their former ecclesia. And perhaps this person already did talk with someone about it (I'm actually sure they did), and perhaps they did give an explanation. And perhaps they didn't "ask for a transfer" because at that stage they hadn't decided to where they wanted to transfer. But it's actually irrelevant because the point of my post was that the premise that "resignation from an Ecclesia is effectively resignation from the Brotherhood" is unChristadelphian and unScriptural.

But what I personally find most remarkable about this comment is that the writer has assumed that Paul must have read the Christadelphian Ecclesial Guide! Where in the Scriptures do we find any hint of ecclesias writing "transfer letters" for people who moved from one city or ecclesia to another? It's a modern practice which this reader has read back into the ancient texts.

Imagine this: Paul establishes an ecclesia in some city (and presumably arranges for a transfer letter from his old ecclesia so he can join the ecclesia he has just established). After spending some time with them and getting them on their feet he decides (or is moved by the Spirit) to move on. He travels to another city, preaches the Gospel, makes some converts and establishes a new ecclesia. He now has to write to the last ecclesia he established and get their permission to transfer to the new ecclesia he has just established so that he can stay there for a while. However, he will soon have to go through this whole process again (and again) as he is on a missionary journey and hopes to establish several more ecclesias. His biggest problem is that he can't resign from an ecclesia when he leaves a city, because that would mean he's no longer in the Body of Christ (because "Resignation from an Ecclesia is effectively resignation from the Brotherhood"), so he can't apply for a transfer until he has established a new ecclesia. But then he's faced with the new problem that he's a member of an ecclesia but not attending the meetings!

If the person making this comment could let me know which Scripture(s) he used to formulate this incredible idea I would love to see them.

Comment 2
dont hide behind a blogsite do something about it
If you look at the top right-hand corner of this blog you will see my name! I'm not hiding! However, I'm pretty sure "anonymous" is not your real name.

And by posting this information I think I AM doing something about it – exposing the madness in SE Queensland for what it is. What else do you think I should do?

Comment 3
yo talk about the NO ecclesia what about the PR ecclesia they need all the PR they can get.Its like political parties say one thing do another and get their PR departmrnt to fix it
I'm pretty sure this reader is referring to the Pine Rivers ecclesia, but I have no idea what point they are trying to make. What I do know is that Pine Rivers ecclesia is growing, dynamic, welcoming, encouraging and friendly. I've visited Pine Rivers ecclesia a few times and listened to people tell me what a wonderful place it has been to them, or how it has saved their family. I'm happy to give any ecclesia like that as much PR as I can!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

More Queensland madness

This past week I heard of yet another case of bullying and intimidation by a Queensland ecclesia. A brother who had resigned from an ecclesia in south-east Queensland was sent a threatening letter from the Arranging Brethren saying that "Resignation from an Ecclesia is effectively resignation from the Brotherhood".

Since when is membership of an ecclesia a prerequisite for membership in the Body of Christ? And since when did someone lose their place in the Body of Christ because they didn't belong to a local ecclesia? Does this mean all those Christadelphians who live "in isolation" and away from a local ecclesia are no longer in the brotherhood? Perhaps someone should tell the Isolation League that all the people on their isolation list are no longer in the Brotherhood, and by implication aren't bona fide Christadelphians.

This is relevant to my series on the Australian Unity Agreement (and why it failed), because it is precisely this kind of mentality which has been the most destructive influence in the Australian Christadelphian community.

I probably don't need to go into what 'membership' means in a Scriptural sense because most Australian Christadelphians would immediately recognise the sheer madness in the statement quoted from this letter. However, for the benefit of people who have to deal with this bullying on a regular basis I will briefly comment on the references in the New Testament to 'membership' of the body of Christ.

In Romans 12 Paul uses the analogy of a human body with its various parts to teach about how all the believers are connected to each other and form part of a single 'organism' he calls "the body of Christ". In verse 5 he says "in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others". The Greek word translated "member" is melos and literally means a limb or body-part. He uses the same analogy in Ephesians 3:6; 5:30 and Colossians 3:15 where he says we are "members together of one body" or of "His body". In 1 Corinthians 12:12 he draws out the analogy and says "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts (melos); and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ." In verse 20 he says "there are many parts (melos), but one body" and then in verse 27 "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part (melos) of it". In 1 Corinthians 6:15 he says "your bodies are members of Christ himself".

So in all these places we have a metaphor where each individual believer is a 'part' or member of a worldwide 'body'. Paul says nothing about membership of local organisations. That parochial concept was developed later by the institutionalised church (which used 'membership' as a way of controlling believers and forcing their allegiance to the local bishop).

One does not leave the Body of Christ simply because they leave a local ecclesia.

The absurd idea that "resignation from an Ecclesia is effectively resignation from the Brotherhood" appears to stem from a fear that the so-called 'leaders' of the ecclesia will lose control if people are allowed to resign at will. If they argue that someone who has resigned from their area of control has resigned "from the Brotherhood" then their next step would be to say that the former-member is no longer "in fellowship". They can then use this threat to keep someone in line or else risk being "out of fellowship" with the wider brotherhood.

This bullying is so transparent I will be surprised if most people don't see through it.

50 years of the Australian Unity Agreement (14)

What is "fellowship"? (6)

In the last post in this series I started looking at two questions:
  1. What is it that "just happens" when believers gather together?
  2. How can we make fellowship "just happen", or what can we do to facilitate it?
I showed from Acts 2:42-47 that for the first Christians "breaking bread" meant meeting in each others homes for meals - ordinary, regular, daily meals - and that for them "fellowship" meant sharing their material possessions as well as sharing an allegiance to Jesus as their Lord. This sharing-fellowship was solidly grounded in the teachings of Jesus.

A little later in Acts we find further confirmation that what was really fundamental to the "fellowship" of the early church or ekklesia was that they shared their possessions:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. (Acts 4:32-35)
This passage has been misquoted, or only partially quoted, by those who say that the basis of unity is having "one mind" on doctrinal matters. They quote the words "all the believers were one in heart and mind" and argue that to be one "in mind" means to believe the same doctrines. Yet the words which immediately follow tell us clearly what the early believers understood by being one in heart and mind: "they shared everything they had". Those who argue for a doctrinal basis for unity will point to the next words ("the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus") and say that that is a doctrinal statement. Yet again they ignore what follows: "and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them". In other words, the resurrection inspired and empowered a graciousness among the believers which caused them to reach out to those in need and provide for them. The "apostles' doctrine" was about behaviour rather than dogma.

We encounter "breaking bread" on only two other occasions in the Acts, and then in Paul's letters we will see that it gets mentioned only in 1 Corinthians. The other New Testament writers don't mention it at all, with the possible exception of Jude's mention of the "love feasts" of the early church. It might seem strange that if Communion is such an important "sacrament" or "ordinance" that it hardly rates a mention in the New Testament.

So let's look first at the other mentions of "breaking bread" in the Acts, and then on to 1 Corinthians.

The second time a breaking of bread occurs in the Acts is in 20:7 where we read that "on the first day of the week we came together to break bread". This was in Troas and was the occasion when a young man, Eutychus, fell asleep in a window during a long sermon by Paul, falling to his death from the third story window. After Paul revived the young man "he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate" (v. 11). There is nothing here to tell us whether "to break bread" meant to have an ordinary meal or whether there was anything sacramental or eucharistic about it. In the absence of any further information we cannot draw any conclusions, one way or the other, from this incident.

The third and final mention of breaking bread in the Acts is in chapter 27. Here we read that Paul "took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat" (v. 35). The wording here is certainly reminiscent of the last supper, and is similar to Paul's own description of that occasion in 1 Corinthians 11:23 ("The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it ...").

These words are almost identical to the way Luke records the last supper: "he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them" (Luke 22:19) and an incident when Jesus broke bread with some disciples after His resurrection: "When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them" (24:30). In fact, Luke highlights that it was through this breaking of bread that these disciples recognised Jesus (v. 35) - no doubt because table-fellowship was such a central part of our Lord's ministry. Notice how each record has these words: (1) took bread (2) gave thanks (3) broke it and (4) gave it to them. The breaking of bread in Acts 27 followed the same form as the breaking of bread ritual recorded elsewhere.

What is really remarkable about the Acts 27 incident is that the same expression is used in Acts 2 and Acts 20 for gatherings and meals of the believers, yet in Acts 27 Luke is recording an incident when Paul "broke bread" with his unbelieving fellow-survivors of a ship wreck. We should carefully note that Paul "broke bread" with people who were strangers to him, "sinners" and non-Jews alike. The basis of their fellowship was that they had been through a common experience and been saved (from shipwreck). They were invited to the Lord's table in celebration. Perhaps we need to re-think what it is we celebrate by "breaking bread", and with whom.

From the Acts 27 incident we can be certain that "breaking bread" was not some mystical experience reserved as a "sacrament" for believers, not was it restricted to those "in fellowship" because they believed in "the apostles' doctrine".

The other thing we can be certain about is that in Acts 2 and Acts 27 "breaking bread" meant having a meal, not just a morsel of bread torn from a loaf. In Acts 27 for example we read that Paul said "for the last fourteen days, you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food" and they therefore should eat, and then after he "broke bread" they ate "as much as they wanted" (vv. 37-38). As far as I can see there is absolutely no Biblical basis for the later practice of celebrating "the breaking of bread" with a tiny piece of bread and a sip of wine.

This brings us to the references in 1 Corinthians to breaking bread. In 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 Paul refers to the unleavened bread used at the Passover Festival: "For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth." There is a hint here that the early Christians may have kept the Passover as an annual festival, celebrating our deliverance by Christ*. There is nothing in the context of these verses which suggests Paul was thinking of a weekly "Festival". The Feasts, or Festivals, of Israel (including Passover) were annual events and there is no other mention of the weekly gatherings of believers as "Festivals". Some Christadelphians quote this passage as the reason why unleavened bread should be used for the Breaking of Bread meeting, but there is no evidence that Paul had weekly meetings of believers in mind or that he was thinking of anything other than the annual Passover Festival. However, what is interesting (to me) is that the Passover Festival which Paul referred to was a meal, not just a piece of bread.

The second mention of bread in 1 Corinthians is in 10:16-17 where Paul writes "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." This passage connects to the early reference to Passover, as "the cup of thanksgiving" was one of four cups of wine consumed during the Passover meal. Paul later says this was the cup "after supper" (11:25). The Passover meal began with a prayer recited over bread, and ended with a prayer said over wine. Between this "grace before meals" and the "grace after meals" was the meal. By taking the bread and wine only, and omitting the meal, is to miss the whole point that this was meant to be a meal and not just a small piece of bread and a sip of wine. In fact, Passover was no ordinary meal - it was a celebration, and the four cups of wine emphasised the celebratory nature of this meal.

This mention of bread and wine in chapter 10 almost certainly was referring back to the previous mention of the Passover and therefore was probably referring to the church's annual celebration of Passover. There is nothing here to suggest that it was a weekly gathering. In any case, there is nothing to suggest that the elements of bread and wine were separated from a meal.

The last mention of breaking bread in 1 Corinthians is in Paul's account of the last supper and forms part of his rebuke of the Corinthian practice of treating poorer brethren contemptibly. He begins by saying "I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good" (11:7) and refers specifically to a very divisive practice: "for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk." I dealt with this in an earlier post in a series on the Lord's table, but I'll repeat it here for convenience.

In the Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) world it was common among the wealthy for meals with invited guests to be in two stages: the main meal was eaten first, followed by a "symposium" which consisted of desserts and drinks, accompanied by speeches and discussion. Some guests would be invited for the first stage, and further guests would be invited to the symposium. (There is also some evidence that on some ocasions the symposium was 'open' for anyone who was not invited but who wished to listen to the speeches and discussion to stand around the outside, although not joining in the desserts and drinks).

The main problem in Corinth arose out of tensions between the rich and poor. For the first few centuries of Christianity meetings were held in homes and not in church buildings. The size of meetings was dictated by the size of the largest home. Obviously meetings would therefore usually be in the homes of the wealthiest members. This seems to have been the case in Corinth. While we don't know exactly what was going wrong in Corinth, we do know that a distinction was being made between rich and poor. There are two main possibilities:
  1. The rich were arriving early (perhaps while the poor were still working) and enjoying a large meal together with fine food. The poor would arrive later with their own scanty food (possibly for the 'symposium'). The bread and wine of the Lord's Supper were brought together and taken at the end of the meal (rather than the bread at the beginning and the wine at the end, with the meal in between, as it happened at the last supper).
  2. The rich and poor were eating at the same time, but bringing their own food - the rich eating and drinking well, with meat and delicacies, and the poor with scanty food, perhaps only bread. Although the rich opened their houses to the poor they did so in a way which emphasised the social divisions. There was over-indulgence on the part of the rich, and feelings of envy on the part of the poor.
The Corinthian practice meant that the meal had lost its character as the Lord's supper (11:20). Paul's response was to instruct the church to welcome one another graciously ("wait for each other" v. 33), and to share their food so that nobody felt disadvantaged. There was no suggestion that they should stop eating together at all. In fact, the meal was so central to the Lord's Supper that Jude refers to the meetings of the church as "love feasts" (v. 12).

This passage highlights once again that "the apostles' doctrine" was about sharing material possessions. The wealthy Corinthians are rebuked for their practice of ignoring the needs of the poor and not sharing their food with them, and are encouraged to follow the Lord's example. What is very clear from this is that the "breaking of bread" in Corinth was a meal, and not the kind of ritual that would be celebrated these days in a Christadelphian Breaking of Bread meeting or in the Communion services of most denominations. At some point in church history the elements of bread and wine were separated from this shared meal and "sacramentalised" and rules were put in place for the "administration" of the sacrament by priests.

Perhaps it's time for a re-think and a return to the earliest practices of the believers.

* There is some evidence that the early Christians continued to celebrate the Jewish Passover on the same date observed by the Jewish people. This changed when the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. adopted the name Easter as representing the events of Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection and by observing Easter on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. The Palestinian historian Epiphanius (315 A.D. - 403 A.D.) says that the 15 Jewish Christian bishops who administered the Jerusalem Church until 135 A.D. observed Passover on Nisan 14. In The Apostolic Constitutions, an early Christian document, the following rule is laid out: "You shall not change the calculation of the time, but you shall celebrate it at the same time as your brethren who came out of the circumcision (the Jews). With them observe the Passover."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Let Psalm 23 make your day

Watch this video (it goes for just 1 minute and 21 seconds) - it will make your day!

Monday, October 01, 2007

50 years of the Australian Unity Agreement (13)

What is "fellowship"? (5)

In an earlier post in this series (number 11) I concluded:
The hypothetical examples I've already given in this series are also obvious enough that fellowship simply happens. It happens automatically when people who are in relationship with God come together, and it happens regardless of whether they 'Break Bread' together or gather in a religious service. It can't be legislated against, agreed to, or prevented. It just happens.
In this post I'd like to start answering two questions that arise out of this:
  1. What is it that "just happens" when believers gather together?
  2. How can we make fellowship "just happen", or what can we do to facilitate it?
In another post (number 10) I referred to the Greek word koinonia which is sometimes translated "fellowship" in the English versions, and said its primary meaning is to "share" something. A good starting place in understanding what it is that the first Christians shared is the record in Acts of the earliest meetings of the believers after Jesus' resurrection and Pentecost.

Acts 2:42 says: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."

This verse is sometimes quoted to support the view that "fellowship" is based on sound doctrine, and that the central act of fellowship is the "breaking of bread". The King James Version says "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship" so this seems to support this idea. So we need to ask, what was the apostles' doctrine or teaching? We should note here that Paul wasn't among the apostles at this stage, so we need to look at the writings of the other apostles which are preserved in the New Testament - Peter, James, John and Jude - as well as the context in Acts.

First, from the immediate context in Acts 2, we get a clear illustration of how this fellowship was practiced. Two verses later we read "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need" (vv 44-45). The word translated "in common" is the Greek adjective koinos, part of the same group of words that includes koinonia. Their "fellowship" was in the sharing of material possessions and a degree of communal living. This sharing of material things was based on the teachings of Jesus and continued by the apostles. "The apostles' teaching/doctrine" is preserved in their writings such as the following:
"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth ... " (1 John 3:16-19)
To John the evidence that someone "belongs to the truth" is the sharing of their material possessions with a brother in need. The apostle's doctrine here is to love "with actions and in truth" and not with words.

James taught similarly:
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27).

"Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (James 2:15-17).
Incidentally, it seems that the whole of James' letter is a commentary on Jesus' sermon on the mount. It's clear that "the apostles' teaching" was a continuation of Jesus' own teaching.

Peter wrote:
"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms" (1 Peter 4:8-10).
This was "the apostles' doctrine". In a nutshell we could say that the apostles' doctrine was "share your stuff"!

Luke, the writer of Acts, continues his description of early Christian life:
"Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)
We learn from these verses that by "breaking of bread" he meant they ate their meals together in each others homes. There is no hint here that the "breaking of bread" involved any kind of liturgical worship, or organised religious services. It's possible that their daily meetings in the temple courts included participation in the temple services, but the "breaking of bread" is clearly said to have taken place "in their homes" and their fellowship was experienced in frequently meeting informally with each other, sharing meals together, getting to know each others needs, and in sharing their possessions with those in need.

These meals shared together in each others homes were so important in the communal life of the early Christians that Jude calls them "love feasts" (v. 12). In a series of earlier posts I wrote about the central role that meals played in Jesus' ministry and how He used meals as a metaphor for the kingdom of God. I suggested that His words at the last supper - "do this in memory of me" - was an instruction to carry on His practice of including the outcasts, the disenfranchised, the unclean, and the rejected in our meals and in the life of the community. It seems from Acts that the early believers carried on His teaching and His practice.

It's often over informal gatherings, especially if they include a meal, that people get to know each other and get to understand their real needs. If we regularly meet for meals in each others homes it's inevitable that relationships will form and deepen, and bonds will be forged that are difficult to break. This is where fellowship often "happens".

But there are a couple more important things we should note from this passage in Acts. First, there is no suggestion that there was anything "sacramental" about the breaking of bread. It was simply a meal taken together and "breaking bread" was the usual way of saying "having a meal". There is no hint here of the later church practice of having a meeting for worship, teaching and prayer and including a morsel of bread and a sip of wine. This later practice simply preserved a remnant of the earliest custom. The "sacrament" of communion, eucharist or "breaking bread" is a token or symbolic meal, but bears little resemblance to the earliest practice which was a normal and proper meal shared in homes.

The other thing we might observe is that there is no suggestion here that anyone was excluded from this meal. It's hard to imagine, for example, that the children who were part of the household would be excluded from the meal, or that guests would leave their children at home simply because they were "under-age" or not yet baptised. The kind of communal life we are intended to imagine is one which would have included whole families and probably extended to friends, neighbours and the extended family.

In my next post I plan to look at the other references to "the breaking of bread" in the New Testament and see if my conclusions from Acts 2 are consistent with the rest of the New Testament.