Church in Mission: Five Practices For The Church in the World (pt. 5)

Series contents | Introduction | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

For this last post in my church in mission series I want to explain the five practices that John Howard Yoder offers the church as a means of faithfulness and witness in mission. But first, by way of review, I’d like to restate my overall argument. I’ve argued that much of the church’s style of mission in the West has been shaped around consumerism, something we see in the way the church uses the word ‘relevancy.’ Following Yoder, I said that the church’s mission and ethics is to be first and foremost rooted in taking the life of Jesus (the incarnation) as our starting point for mission. Then I moved on to explaining how the church is to be a bi-cultural community. This community is always positioned within exile, refuses to become absolute (whether through physical power or other means) and seeks to transform, or bring the peace of the city in which it finds itself. The church is a remembering community, one formed around texts, practices, songs, and stories, but it is also an active, transforming community and is called to live out the reality of God’s kingdom now. This is an outlook, I think, the church must accept more and more Christendom crumbles.

If the Church, as Bi-Cultural community, is to be a people that not only seeks to remember its history but transform whatever society it is in, then how is it to go about this transformation? How do we go from self-preservation to societal transformation? Yoder, in his book Body Politics, names five practices he believes all churches can and should do, practices that not only govern and shape the church (or help it remember), but also point outward as a model for a new way of living that all of society can be transformed by.

Five Transforming Practices For The Church

  1. Binding and Loosing: Taking his cue from Matthew 18, Yoder argues that one of the core practices of the church is to offer reconciliation (or withhold it), and make moral decisions. Forgiveness is a key function of the church as it is formed around the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, this includes, the forgiveness and love one is to offer his or her enemies. Yoder says,

    “If decision making through reconciling dialogue is the way for the people of God to define the ongoing meaning of their peoplehood, it is also the model for the ways of wider society should make decisions and resolve conflict” (For the Nations 44-46).

  2. Eucharist as Common Meal: Yoder makes the rather provocative statement that all the church ought to practice the Eucharist as a common meal. This is not to say that the church should not practice the Eucharist in whatever way it already does, but that the primary mode of the Eucharist should always be aimed at the body of Christ sharing what it has with those in need. This economic leveling not only takes into account the important role of eating within community we see in Jesus’ ministry, but also helps make the point that all are welcome and fed at the table of the Lord.
  3. Baptism as New Humanity: New Humanity, “Means Jewishness and Gentileness have flowed together in one new cultural history of salvation” (44-46). Baptism, however it is practiced, must be at the core of the way the church operates. The baptized are brought into a new humanity. We are made to live as a new creation in christ, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Here the church is also called to interethnic unity, “Interethnic reconciliation is a part of redemption. It is not a social idealism supported by an appeal to creation or reason. It is the result of the cross??? (44-46). And it is in this “humanizing” baptism that suffering is often required.
  4. Multiplicity of Gifts: This practice looks to affirm the Spirit’s work within the church. All have been given gifts according to the gracious work of God’s Spirit. There isn’t a hierarchy of persons within the church, rather there is to be a shared vision of all persons playing their role within the body.

    “‘Every person in the community has been given by the Spirit a distinctive portion of grace which consists in a role in the community.’ That role can and should be named, so that the individual can be challenged to fulfill it well, and so that the community can rejoice in it and monitors its functioning. Every member of the body has a role; no role is more central than any other, and the least honored roles should be most affirmed” (44-46).

  5. Open Meeting: This practice borrowed from the Quaker way of doing worship and business is rooted in our redemption in Christ. If we are all brothers and sisters sharing a multiplicity of Gifts, then we all come to worship (and business) empowered by the Spirit of Christ, and ought to be free to “have the floor” when called to do so. I see this practice as a culmination of the other four. If the church is to be a reconciling place, a place of new creation, common meals, and a community where we are free to share our gifts, then the church must be a place free of domination, a place were all are able to follow the guidance of the Spirit (Yoder does mention the importance of a moderator as seen in 1 Cor. 14). This idea is not rooted in the way things are or the order of creation:

    But in the divine intervention which we call the work of reconciliation, which ascribes status to the underdog and the outsider, loosens tongues and opens ears. That everyone has something to say gets a hearing is not a given, the way things are; it is a gift which the community enabled by the power of the Spirit to impart (44-46).

While these five practices may seem fairly straight-forward, and even simplistic, on the surface we are all aware of the difficulty it is to find communities that faithfully embody such behavior. Not only are these practices a prophetic call to the church to take our faith more seriously in Christ, but they also act as compelling witness to the rest of the world.

And finally, this is where the connection is made with our daily lives. These practices are for everyone and for every part of our lives; practices for those of us working in ministry, school, family life, design, film, TV, music, carpentry, and all the various things we do on a daily basis. Where do you see these five practices in your own life? In your church community? In the world? Does your laboring, whether it is making art, directing films, creating rock music, or caring for your young ones, does it embody love of enemy, sharing what you have with others, living reconciled to those who are different from us, is it free from domination, does it look for the gifts in others, or announce the fact that others do have value in this world? These practice, though simple, can penetrate every aspect of our lives, and witness to the world in a way I think we all long to see.


14 responses to “Church in Mission: Five Practices For The Church in the World (pt. 5)”

  1. Some very compelling thoughts. I like that Yoder blends an appreciation for the Sacraments (Lord’s Supper and Baptism), with acknowledgement of the role of consensus building (open meetings). Moving forward in my ministry, I’m going to draw on these principles.

  2. @Pete – Thanks for the comment. If you haven’t read body politics you should check it out. It’s a really small book, about 80 pages, and well worth the read!

  3. Wess,

    I appreciated the comments in your last post. They were as always thoughtful and rife with conversation starters. Your synthesis of Yoder’s thoughts suggests a radical shift in our understanding of the Church and our participation in Christ’s “continuing??? ministry to the world. The foundational aspects of these proposals certainly integrate many “essential??? components of the Gospel message i.e. reconciliation, gender/racial equality, embracing the “new humanity??? in Christ, the integration of gifts in the community, and open worship. These are vital to any community attempting to be faithful to Christ and His kingdom message. However, your new “definition??? of the nature and purpose of the sacraments is something that is not only foreign to the apostolic tradition of Christianity (in the broad sense), but also in a very real sense “de-spiritualizes??? them and diminishes their importance to the Body of Christ. I don’t believe that this is your intention, or Yoder’s, but it nevertheless turns something “supernatural??? into something “common???. When Christ instituted the Eucharistic celebration to His disciples, he was presenting something completely “other???. It was not part of the traditional Passover gathering. It was not just another aspect of their “common meal???, it was an act, a celebration unlike any other in the history of the Jews and God’s continuing revelation to them. Obviously the Church (the gathering of believers in Christ) should be intimately concerned with providing for those in need. I would never suggest otherwise. We as followers of Christ should always be reaching out to those in need. This is a non-negotiable necessity in order to be obedient to Christ. However, the Eucharist is something more than the Church “sharing what it has with those in need.??? What Christ offers, and continues to offer through the Eucharistic celebration, is Himself in the most dramatic and intimate way—through His Body and Blood—His very essence. This act, this offering, is for His Church to sustain them by giving them His very life. It is a sacred communion between the believer and Christ. It is not about the temporal but the eternal. It is not about the present, but beyond any concept of time and space—although it comes to us in a very specific time and place. It continues the power of the Incarnation. It is not about feeding the poor specifically, but about Christ feeding His Church. Yes, feeding the poor is holy and a way in which we LIVE sacramentally, but it is not the same as Christ offering Himself to us through the celebration of the Eucharist. Our desire to reach out to those in need should be a direct response to the celebration of the Eucharist, but it is not the same thing. I think it is important to not “level??? everything out in such a way that we diminish the Divine encounter that is meant to be experienced through the celebration of the Eucharist.

    Again, I want to be clear that I totally agree with the intention behind the “common meal???. It is indeed the impulse of Christ. However, I think that a clear distinction needs to be made between the reality of the Eucharist and how we are supposed to respond to the world after celebrating the Eucharist. They are not the same.

    Anyways, I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this topic.

  4. Kevin – Thanks for your response it helps me to know where I need to elaborate on Yoder’s thought for clarification. Actually, I had to go back through and look to make sure I represented Yoder’s position well.

    1. Read this in the context of ecumenicism – Yoder’s work is written in a way to bolster, critique, and supplement the whole church. Body Politics is not a systematics seeking to spell out a better theology, or a new one. Rather, as typical of the believer’s church tradition, he is trying to explicate the basic reality of the Gospel within the the first century. So this is not attempt at a new definition, or even a definition at all. Rather it is meant in a way to state the obvious, that is so often neglected.

    “It is not enough to say merely that in an act of “institution” or symbol-making, independent of ordinary meanings, God or the church would have said, “Let us say that ‘bread’ stands for daily sustenance.” It is not even merely that, as any historian of culture or anthropologist will tell us, in many settings eating together “stands for” values of hospitality and community-formation, said values being distinguishable from the signs that refer to them. It is that bread is daily sustenance. Bread eaten together is economic sharing. Not merely symbolically, but also in fact, eating together extends to a wider circle the economic solidarity normally obtained in the family. When in most of his post-resurrection appearances Jesus took up again his wonted role of the family head distributing break (and fish) around his table, he projected into the post-Passion world the common table of the pre-Passion wandering disciple band, whose members had left their prior economics bases to join his movement” (20).

    2. Religion/Politics aren’t separate – The crux of Yoder’s argument is that there is no separation between religion and politics in the life of Jesus (this is the basic premise of his monumental work, “The Politics of Jesus.”).

    “The underlying notion – namely the idea that there is a special realm of “religious” reality – so that when you speak special prescribe words, peculiar events happen, was not a biblical idea. It underlies the religion/politics split with which we began in our introduction. It supposes one notion of the sacraments as very special religious or ritualistic activities. It had been taken over from paganism by Christians centuries later than the New Testament, when paganism had replaced Judaism as the cultural soil of the Christian movement” (14).

    The last supper is tied to a real meal and this basic point cannot be overlooked. Overtime it was retranslated into the mass, or the Lord’s Supper, but the very beginning of the tradition was the disciples eating real food together with Christ, and Christ then tied a world of meaning (and transcendence) to this immanent practice. In this sense I disagree you with when you say “It is not temporal but eternal.” In fact, that is the exact point Yoder is trying to make – it is both, and the eternal is birthed out of and cannot be dismissed from the temporal. This is equally true of the incarnation. Actually, I think you worry about this view de-spiritualizing the Eucharist, exposes my very problem with one version of Quaker sacramentalism. I think there is an overly spiritualized version of Quaker sacraments that is all to quick to suggest the eternal, transcendent aspects of “breaking bread with Jesus.” Instead, I believe there is no split between religion and politics, or our religions experience and our everyday life. This is the brilliance of Jesus’ entire ministry, and Christianity more generally. Every practice, every act of worship, is something that is expressed with our bodies, it is an everyday faith that refuses to be reduced to the sacred sphere the Enlightenment has relegated it too.

    3. Common meals still a part of the movement in Acts 2, it was at the center. Yoder argues that the common meal is not an innovation, rather it was rooted in the very ministry of Jesus. The common purse of the early church, was not a purse, but a table. This common meal then, has a basic economic function to it. Those in the church eat together, whether you yourself have the means to eat or not. And this is in part what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, this sharing, this eating together, in the name of Jesus is the “event” that triggers the more supernatural aspects of communion you suggest. I agree that it is his very essence that we “fed on” during the supper, I just think that the physical substance of the supper has an intrigal role in the whole process and that the church by and large has neglected the economic/political functions of its practices in favor of the transcendent, overly spiritual forms, and this makes the church lop-sidded. My heroes in the faith are the ones who have held these two together.

    4. Yoder sees the common Meal, plus thanksgiving adding to the memory of the passover celebration. In other words there is a complex re-telling of the faith narrative here. These memories are rooted in the entire Hebrew tradition, they announce God as liberator and keep the community rooted in its history. But beyond this the practice of common meals is rooted in the fact that people are fed by God, the feeding of the people in the desert, the later feedings by Jesus, Jesus’ constant table discourses and of course the parable of the great banquets.

    Sorry for the long quotes but I want to get at Yoder’s full meaning if possible, but I hope this at least helps to clarify the overall argument some. And thanks again for the comment. I know you agree with the importance of caring for those in need and that you’re pointing to a different understanding of Eucharist, and so I posit to you that these two view can ultimately be held together.

  5. Excellent post, Wes. I was wondering if you could elaborate a bit on your first point regarding withholding reconciliation. When are christians meant to hold back on reconciling?

  6. Wess,

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. You definitely clarified your application of Yoder’s thoughts.

    One thing I would like to clarify about my own argument is that I was in no way suggesting that religion and politics should be separated. I think to do so would be a grave mistake and a betrayal of the Gospel. In fact, I didn’t even mention “politics??? in my discussion. Please don’t think that I am trying to create a separation that should not exist within the Gospel lifestyle.

    Also, I am not trying to insinuate that the “common meal??? was not an integral part of the Christian community in the first century context. The “common meal??? was a powerful way to be unified in the Spirit for the believing community and it is just as powerful today. I would strongly advocate that each community adopt this practice and understand that it is a clear expression of Christ’s continuing ministry.

    However, I was suggesting that the Biblical account presents a clear distinction between the “common meal??? and the Eucharistic celebration. A clear example of this is St. Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 11. St. Paul describes the setting where the believers gather together for a “common meal??? before transitioning into the more specific reason for gathering, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. St. Paul’s condemnation of the Corinthian church is that they are taking advantage of the poor within the context of the “common meal??? which makes them unworthy to partake in the “Body and Blood of Christ???. This connection is very important. Our treatment of our brothers and sisters (in the all inclusive sense) directly impacts our ability to “commune??? with Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist. Otherwise, as St. Paul clearly describes, we are sinning against the actual Body and Blood of Christ. This account is infinitely important to us because it contains both elements that you are suggesting. Yes, gather together and care for one another with the “common meal??? and then gather together and be fed from Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist. They are both essential to the Spirit’s continued presence in the believing community, but to make them both the same is to diminish their power.

    I understand that we are coming from drastically different theological positions. However, I did find it somewhat alarming when you presented this quote from Yoder:

    The underlying notion – namely the idea that there is a special realm of “religious??? reality – so that when you speak special prescribe words, peculiar events happen, was not a biblical idea. It underlies the religion/politics split with which we began in our introduction. It supposes one notion of the sacraments as very special religious or ritualistic activities. It had been taken over from paganism by Christians centuries later than the New Testament, when paganism had replaced Judaism as the cultural soil of the Christian movement??? (14).

    This quotation reflects a dangerous lack of knowledge about pre-Reformation Church history. I am surprised to find, outside of fundamentalist circles, a view still clinging to an idea that a high view of the sacraments (i.e. real presence in the Eucharist) is something inherited from pagan culture. The only way it is tied to pagan culture is if the Apostles themselves were pagans. You can trace, very easily, the belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist back to the Apostolic Age. This belief remained virtually un-interrupted until the Reformation. Now obviously, for the purposes of this discussion, it is impossible to address this issue in any conclusive manner, but I was just surprised to see you “project??? such a view that ignored such a clear witness from Church history.

    Again, I greatly appreciate your discussion Wess. Your desire to be faithful to the Gospel and to encourage the Church at large to do the same is always inspiring. I just think that it is important to understand the difference between the “common meal??? and the Eucharist. They are both essential to the believing community, but one is a direct encounter with Christ and the other is Christ working through us to carry on his ministry of grace and redemption.

  7. @Matt – Thanks for point out my error. When I read your comment I was like “Did I say withhold reconciliation?” And sure enough that’s what I wrote, but what I meant to write was withhold forgiveness. There are times when in the church to “bind” and to “loose” will mean that we cannot offer forgiveness to someone who will not accept the discipline of the church. In terms of examples, the first ones that come to me are from Scripture as in Matt. 18:17 (the person who will not accept correction), or 1 Cor. 5. In today’s world we have a harder time coming down on the side of “withholding forgiveness” and I certainly think it is the last measure, but something that ought to be retrieved by the church. There are things the church should not stand for. One thing that comes to mind is the rampant sexual infidelity among many of our pastors and clergy, I think this may be cause for an action similar to what Matt 18 suggests.

  8. Sorry about the delay, things have been hectic around here (as I am sure you know). I appreciate your continued dialogue on these matters and realize that you and I probably won’t come to consensus on matters of the Eucharist (and this probably isn’t the only thing either). But on the other hand I am glad you bring this all up, if for no other reason then to help clarify our ideas.

    I can’t say I see the clear distinction in 1 Cor. 11 between common meal and the Lord’s Supper, for one because Paul only talks about the latter. Secondly, I don’t see a clear split between the community meeting together, eating a “common meal” and participating in the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper. It looks to me like when they gather together to eat and drink it’s to be done in the manner of the Lord. In this sense it’s not the casual or “common meal,” that he refers to when he says, “eat at home when if you’re hungry.” But the Corinth community is eating a real meal together in the form of, what Paul calls, the Lord’s Supper. The problem isn’t that they’re eating together as a community, and then having the Eucharist afterwards, or making some distinction between the two, rather Paul is bothered because the meal is being abused. I remember Duane Watson’s reading of this text, which I think supports this point well. He argued that the rich, because they apparently didn’t have anything better to do during the day, would come early to the gathering and eat all the food and get drunk on the wine. Thus there would be no food left for the poor who would come to the gathering after they were done working. They weren’t waiting to have the supper together, and share in it as a community of disciples. I think 1 Cor. 11 can be a great passage to support holding the meal and the Eucharistic aspects together.

    In terms of the dangerous view you feel Yoder espouses, I am not in a position to defend him or even criticize the view to be honest. My understanding of the common meal, and the overall point I want to make isn’t, I don’t think, dependent on that interpretation. I know there is plenty of influence of paganism within Christianity, that lingers even still today (and for that matter plenty of other cultural and religious influences that are counter-productive to the faith). And also Yoder’s own academic studies, under Barth, focused on very early reformation history of Anabaptism. So while he isn’t the final say on history he was first and foremost a historian, albeit an Anabaptist one (which may be his problem). However, his overall point is still one I take seriously, there should be no split between these two spheres of life. In other words, I recognize there is a strong argument in your favor (it is after all the argument of which the Roman Catholic Church is build on) but that doesn’t seal the deal for me because there are rival histories as well without having to make the apostles into pagans. There is a plethora of views even for the interpretation of whether there are biblical authors (and which ones) who espouse a real-presence view. All in all, the history of the eucharist is as complex a history as much of the rest of the church – and that history I must confess is something I am not up on. But I hardly think my point is lost to the pagan argument.

    Anyways – sorry about for the lapse in time for my response, and I appreciate the mental stimulation as always Kevin.

  9. i’m currently writing on yoder’s view of the sacraments, so at wess’s prompting am chiming in here. i’m going to try to be brief, so am just going to enumerate some points of response to the general discussion.

    (1) Preface: Since the early 1990s there has been a reaction within Mennonite circles against Yoder’s “reduction” of theology to ethics. This criticism was first voiced by Steve Dintaman in a 1992 Conrad Grebel Review essay, picked up, among many others, by Tom Finger in his systematic Contemporary Anabaptist Theology, and most recently by Baylor professor Paul Martens’s 2006 CGR essay. Martens’s essay is most relevant for this discussion, as it deals directly with “The Problematic Development of the Sacraments in the Thought of John Howard Yoder.”

    (2) Yoder sought both to affirm the intent of the Christian creedal tradition without being completely bound by it. Basically he thinks we need to (and can) find new ways to say that Jesus is divine and human and so forth. But he was distressed by how the creedal tradition has been used to suppress minority communities (who were usually, not coincidentally he thought, politically radical) in favor of “established” or “Constantinian” state churches.

    (3) During his time Yoder was the preeminent Mennonite ecumenist, and was heavily involved in the World Council of Churches. All of his writings on the sacraments (Body Politics was his “popularization” of the theme) were presented in ecumenical contexts. He seemed to think using sacramental language would gain him a hearing in these settings, and he positions himself between a purely symbolic view of the Eucharist (Reformed Zwinglianism) and the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Contrary to one of the comments above, Yoder has no problem with real presence; he constantly uses the Lutheran formulation that Christ is present “in, with, and under” the Eucharistic elements. He does, however, have a problem with a transubstantiation of the elements, and he unkindly refers to this view as “magical,” “pagan,” and so on. This ecumenical lapse is inexcusable, and quite surprising for a theologian receiving his paycheck from the University of Notre Dame.

    (4) A half-hearted apology for Yoder on the “pagan” question: (a) Yoder typically pulled from an older consensus in Protestant scholarship that drew sharp contrasts between “Hebrew” and “Greek” sources of Christianity; the latter were construed as pagan, syncretistic, and illegitimate. It was not uncommon to see aspects of Catholic ritual and thought as accommodations to “Greek” modes of thought. Scholarship has since seriously problematized the Hebrew/Greek split, and Yoder’s work is weakened as a result. But at the time, that was what he had to work with.

    (b) I conjecture that Yoder saw the development of Catholic sacramental theology in light of the Church’s alliance with Rome; that is, if he didn’t already have a strong theological reason to doubt that development (the Hebrew/Greek split), he had an ethical one as well. There are of course problems with a blanket condemnation of all post-Constantinian Catholic theology (a problem Yoder sometimes avoids), but this can be a common trait of older Anabaptist theology. Important steps have been made recently to nuance the relationship between Anabaptism and the post-Constantinian legacy.

    (5) Returning to our main theme: is Yoder’s sacramental theology reductionist or “de-spiritualizing”? There is no easy answer here, as we could produce quotes that go in both directions. Ultimately, I don’t think Yoder reduces the sacraments. He consistently affirms that the sacraments are mandates from Christ and that we are enabled to perform them by the power of the Holy Spirit (he also calls this union with Christ). As I mentioned, he believes that God is present “in, with, and under” the meal. And he thinks that, because Christ is Lord of the entire world, they are performable, though perhaps only in partial, analogical ways, by other, non-Christian communities.

    (6) What seems to make people nervous about Yoder’s sacramentology is the various ways he has of discussing the sacraments as “ordinary” practices of the Christian community. If Yoder really believed in the presence of the Holy Spirit and so forth, wouldn’t he affirm a more “spiritual” performance of the sacraments, something that indicated their special provenance within the church as the body of Christ constituted by the Spirit? Why Yoder was nervous about such a spiritualizing performance should be obvious from my comments above (2 & 3)–they have historically tended in a direction against radical ethics, and towards a blessing of the status quo.

    But more fundamentally, perhaps, I think Yoder was trying to find a new way to account for the humanity of Christ–and thus the humanity of the church as his body–and at the same time maintain the divine reign of the cosmic Christ, which produces a shift in what we typically think of as “ordinary.” This last point bears reflection: because Christ is Lord, the world has changed. Because Christ is Lord, the possibility of peaceable, transformed relations is a reality. Those who see with the eyes of faith are best prepared to see this and react, but there are not the only ones capable of responding. As Colossians informs us, even the Powers ultimately do Christ’s bidding.

    It is the sacraments that instantiate this reality, turning it from possibility to communal lifestyle. I’m not at all sure that Yoder saw the ritualized passing or bread and cup as an impediment to this lifestyle; but if sharing of one’s goods, status, and rank did not accompany the ritual, he was not convinced that anything significant had taken place. Neither should we be convinced.

    In the end, Yoder’s affirmation of the “commonality” of the sacraments is an affirmation that all that is “common” has changed with Christ: God was made human; an ethically perfect life was defined and exemplified, and its probable outcome (the cross) demonstrated; the resurrection defeats death and all that keeps us from imitating Christ; Christ’s cosmic reign makes the entire planet subject to his command, even as the church foreshadows the shape of obedience.

    There are of course paradoxes in Yoder’s rendering, but no less than in the classical formulations: Christ, God and Human; the church, capable of total obedience, yet fallen; the world, without recourse to Christ through faith, yet subject to his rule and sporadically and surprisingly respondent to it.

    (7) In the interests of ecumenical friendliness, I’d like to recommend John Milbank’s Anglo-Catholic formulations of sacramental reality. Though there are deficiencies in his work in comparison to Yoder’s, he is similarly trying to break apart the spiritual vs. ordinary divide. His theology is fully transubstantiationalist, and he believes the biblio-creedal tradition is the only resource for a radical politics. Between Yoder, Milbank, and Hauerwas (in his With the Grain of the Universe), I believe we may be seeing a new “natural theology,” one that accepts Barth’s criticism of traditional natural theologies as negating the unique status of Christ’s revelation, but that corrects for Barth’s tendency then to consign the world to the “secular.”

  10. @jamie – Thanks for the comment and throwing in your knowledge of the whole question on Yoder, I found it helpful, not only for supporting some of the ideas but also critiquing some of them as well. It’s going to take me awhile to unpack all of this as well and do some reading up on your suggested readings. Thanks again.

  11. First, Wess is the coolest man alive.
    Probably no one is reading this thread anymore but I can’t resist: the Jewish/Hellenistic dichotomy that Yoder was assuming is not identical to the free church idea that the Church lost its integrity under Constantine. F.C. Baur, who was Hegelian, perceived a thesis-antithesis-synthesis progression in early Christianity that went as follows: Jewish Christianity (thesis) – Gentile Christianity (antithesis) – early catholicism (synthesis). One of the problems with this construal is the fact that Jewish and Gentile modes of thought were inextricably intertwined. Or, as the Jewish scholar Shaye Cohen puts it, it’s not a question of whether a particular group of Jews was Hellenized, it’s a question of how Hellenized they were. If you interested in this stuff Daniel Boyarin is a good person to read.
    This is why, insofar as it concerns the Eucharist, the Jewish/pagan distinction is not a matter of the Church giving in to pagan culture as history marched toward the middle ages. Rather, for all the NT scholars who agreed with Baur (which was almost all of them until recently) the Jewish/pagan dichotomy extends back into the New Testament (and parts of the Old) itself, which is why guys like Bultmann were so quick to separate Jewish thinking (like Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom of God) from supposed Gentile accretions (like Paul’s idea that Christians are “in Christ???, the mystical body).
    In short, Kevin is right: if this stuff is pagan then the apostles themselves were pagan! There is no untangling the Jewish from the Gentile. This is true in the OT as well, e.g. the Hebrews didn’t believe in demons until they learned it from the Persians.
    Now, regarding the Eucharist in the NT, it is a mistake to think that it was either a sacramental meal in which the Christians thought they were consuming the body and blood of the Lord, OR a regular meal with some interesting symbolism. Many first century religions (including Judaism) combined eating and worship and mystical stuff, so the question of precisely how much bread and wine the earliest Christians consumed is entirely irrelevant to the question of whether they thought the Eucharist was really the body and blood.
    So what did they think? Look at 1 Cor 11:23-30. Here we learn that the Lord’s Supper proclaims Jesus’ death. We also learn that those who take communion in an unworthy manner (i.e. while treating members of the Church badly) sin against “the body and blood of the Lord???! Then, in an interesting play on words, Paul says that those who eat and drink without discerning the Body eat and drink judgment against themselves. The word body (soma) seems to refer poetically to both the “body that is given for you???, that is Christ’s body, the bread, and the Corinthians themselves, that is “body of Christ??? referring to the Church. The Corinthians neglected the former by abusing the latter, and because of this some Corinthians became ill or even died. Why would that happen if the Lord’s Supper was merely symbolic? Jump back a bit to 1 Cor 10:14-22, especially16-17. John 6 is also important in this regard, but it’s disputed so I won’t go there.
    The late first century and second century interpreters of these and other passages overwhelmingly favored a more Catholic interpretation. See the Didache, Ignatius of Antioch (who called the Eucharist the medicine of immortality, Justin Martyr (whose description of Christian worship is almost identical to a mass), Irenaeus, and many others.