March 29, 2009 Commentary:
Word & Sacrament Ministry
Hello and welcome to another broadcast of the White Horse Inn. In the series that we are taking on this year, "Christ in a post-Christian culture", we're actually doing a little mini-series here on what it was like to preach Christ in pre-Christian culture before Christianity really had made its impact in the wider world. How it was forming a community of faith around Jesus Christ, and in this program we are going to look particularly at First Corinthians eleven where Paul especially points to the Lord's Supper as the place where Christ forms that community most decisively around himself, and the place where the Corinthians were corrupting that faith and practice.
I remember years ago when I was studying at Oxford occasionally having the pleasure of sitting at what's called "High Table." It's the table at the front of the refectory where undergraduate students are standing at their long tables and you come in with the master of the college and while every is standing you take your place at the elevated table and you have all the best wine, all of the best food for the rest of the meal. That was always a highlight especially since I spent most of my time sitting down at the other tables. But it did remind me that the world often carves people up into those who get to sit at the big table and those you get to sit at the little table, and that's exactly what was going on in Corinth. The social stratification of the city of Corinth was tremendous. We had talked about in previous programs how the big speakers who came to town would about how you could get rich with no money down, how you could ascend that social ladder, and that's what people were interested in Corinth. Unfortunately that is also what the church was interested in as well, and in this programs we are going to look at the immaturity of the Corinthian church: how it allowed the idolatry, really, of its surrounding culture to choke off that life-giving nurture that comes from feeding on Christ's body. "You are what you eat" and that is what we are going to talk about on this program, this edition of the White Horse Inn focusing on First Corinthians eleven.
Click here to see the related information for the March 29 broadcast.
March 22, 2009 Commentary:
Idolatry & Other Bad Habits
Hello and welcome to another broadcast of the White Horse Inn where we are taking a look at what is means to be Christians in a post-Christian culture. That's our theme for the year and before we get into our own time and place we are trying to look at the wisdom of th Apostle Paul as he addressed Christians in a pre-Christian culture in his first epistle to the Corinthians.
Idolatry. The word seems remote to most of us. How many times have you seen someone bowing down to Baal or pinching incense to Caesar and the Roman gods? Of course, we know that there's still idolatry around. We've at least seen pictures of people in other religions engaging in the worship of idols. But still, it's hard for us to see the immediate relevance of Paul's warnings against idolatry in 1 Corinthians 8.
Besides we don't even use the term idolatry anymore because we are supposed to respect not only the rights, but also the religions that other people hold. But idolatry is simply the substitution of anyone or anything for the Triune God who has met us in Christ through the gospel. Just think, today, of the daily liturgy of Wall Street, opened by ministers of the market from a lofty perch to the ringing of a bell. No one needs to be reminded these days of what a crummy god the market makes. But today many churches take their cues more from the demands of the market than from those of the world's risen and ascended King. It's easy to place our ultimate confidence in technology, especially in medicine. Our piety may teach us that we "belong in both body and soul and in life and death to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ," but in daily practice it's much easier to believe that our lives really belong to the state, the market, or medicine. The malls are packed on Sunday, but a lot of packed churches share its assumption that the customer is king. "Lovers of self, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-having a form of godliness, but denying its power"-that's how Paul defined the state of things in these last days.
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul addresses the particular problem about participation in idol feasts. Not unlike the Masonic Lodge or other secret societies that used to be de rigeur for anyone in town who wanted to get ahead, civic life in Corinth was inextricably bound up with the imperial cult of Rome. You weren't a real patriot-and therefore a reliable employee or upwardly mobile entrepreneur-if you didn't participate in these secret rituals and tip your hat to the pagan gods. Not much was required. You didn't have to throw your firstborn into a volcano. Just a few gestures that proved you were a team player.
Well this is why it's so crucial to know what you believe and why you believe it. If you're immature, as the Corinthian believers were, it's tough to know when you're coloring outside the lines. If you lack distinct convictions, you'll surrender them without even knowing it. Here, as usual, Paul finds the heart of the answer to idolatry in the gospel. We can learn a lot from Paul's apostolic wisdom here in this passage.
Click here to see the related information for the March 22 broadcast.
March 15, 2009 Commentary:
Immorality in the Church
Hello and welcome to another broadcast of the White Horse Inn. As part of our broader series in this year "Christ in a Post-Christian Culture" we are taking a closer look at Christ in a Pre-Christian culture by looking at Paul's letter to the Corinthians. [We are looking at] his first epistle to the Corinthians because of so many parallels and the wisdom that Paul gives for a church there that is struggling to be colony of heaven in the Roman colony of Corinth. In this particular program we are in a difficult spot in Paul's letter to the Corinthians. He has reminded them of the gospel, Christ and him crucified, he reminds them who they are in Christ and yet he exposes what is really going on at the heart of this church that is so inconsistent with that Gospel they profess. First of all, Paul begins by returning to first things, the gospel of Christ even though he said that he knew nothing while he was among the Corinthians except Christ and him crucified, their total disarray led him to surmise they needed to hear it again. Made up of people like us the church is simultaneously justified and sinful. It is not a question of if we will encounter scandals, but when and how they will be handled. In this program we are taking up the controversial subject of gospel-driven church discipline because Paul does in this important epistle to the Corinthians.
Click here to see the related information for the March 15 broadcast.
March 8, 2009 Commentary:
We Preach Christ Crucified
Hello and welcome to another broadcast of the White Horse Inn. As your may know this year we are focusing on "Christ in a Post-Christiana Culture" and we thought we would take a step back and take a look at what it would be like to have Christ introduced in a pre-Christian culture. So last week we began with an overview of the first few verse of 1 Corinthians, and in this program we are looking a little further into the argument of Paul in his epistle to the Corinthians. In this particular passage, Paul says, "For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor 1:17-25 ESV).
Click here to see the related information for the March 8 broadcast.
March 1, 2009 Commentary:
Christ in a Pre-Christian Culture
Hello and welcome to another broadcast of the White Horse Inn. We thought that as we talk about Christ in a post-Christian culture we would take a step back and look at Christ in a pre-Christian culture, taking a brief overview of First Corinthians chapter one.
Over the last decade, we've heard a lot of talk about the radical paradigm shifts in our culture, especially from modernism to postmodernism. With the rising dominance of demographic research and marketing, each generation loves itself so much that it can't wait to tell the rest of the world how great and utterly unique it is. People used to think that going to church regularly was important. They thought that "brand loyalty" meant something, that you should know what you believe and why you believe it. They thought that preaching, teaching, baptism, and the Lord's Supper were important and that well-ordered public worship and discipline were standard. But not so today. Today the customer is king, doctrine isn't relevant, no demands should be made on the sovereign individual, and if the church gets in the way, too bad for the church.
"Talkin about my generation" has been around for a while and it actually helps to know that the church has always had to face the fork in the road: Will it become assimilated to the world or will it be a colony of the age to come breaking in on this present evil age? When the Israelites worshiped the golden calf at Mount Sinai, they just wanted a visible image of their deity like their pagan neighbors had of theirs. When they heard God speak, they were filled with terror, but when they danced around their silent statue, we read that "they sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play." Worship was fun! When Moses returned and demanded answers from Aaron, his associate pastor could only respond, "My lord, do not be angry with me. You know how the people are."
Paul knew how the people are, too. He warned Timothy that "in the last days people would be lovers of self, boastful, proud, arrogant, lovers of pleasure, lovers of money, rash, conceited, not lovers of God." And so we thought that as we embark on a new theme, "Christ in a Post-Christian Culture," we could look back to Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, to learn what the Apostle to the Gentiles might say to a church very much like our own.
First, a little background. Long before Paul's day, Corinth was already the pride of Greek culture. With 2 major ports, it was a wealthy center of trade and a mingling of many cultures. In religion, it was home to many Greek and Roman temples, including its shrine to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, with its 1000 temple prostitutes, and people came from all over the region to the temple of Asklepius, the god of healing, in order to claim their miracle cure.
Corinth was a center of art, known for its bronze works and celebrated orators who would entertain the population in their massive theater with talks on how to get ahead in society and live the good life. As for sports, Corinth's Isthmian Games vied with the Olympics in popularity. According to one historian, "Corinth was noted for its wealth and for the luxurious, immoral, and vicious habits of the people."
The main problems provoking 1 Corinthians: 1) They had misunderstood his first letter, that we don't have (5:10); 2) Division, sexual immorality, and social snobbery (1:10; 5:1; 11:18). Asserting their own rights against each other (6:12; 8:9; 9:12; 10:23), even at the expense of the weak and the marginalized in the church (8:10; 11:22); and then 3) Theological confusion about how you could relate Christianity to the imperial cult, marriage and divorce, spiritual gifts, chaos in public worship, and confusion about the resurrection of the body (3:21; 4:6-19; 5:2-6). Holy Communion had become an exhibition of their worldliness instead of their unity in Christ (chapters 10-12). They were upwardly mobile, self-satisfied, worldly, and immature. They were not living in a way that was consistent with their profession of the gospel and they certainly were not getting the gospel out to the rest of the world.
So what's Paul's strategy? Basically, Paul is defending in this epistle the marks of a true church: the preaching of the gospel, and the administration of the sacraments, and (as we Reformed people would add) the mark of church discipline. Paul is calling for a reformation in the church of Corinth. He doesn't put its status as a true church in question, as he did with the Galatian church in its confusion over justification. He begins his pastoral letter warmly, "To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
Paul doesn't begin with the laundry list of criticism but with the gospel. He didn't think that the gospel was something you needed in order to "get saved" and then it could be assumed. He didn't think that the Corinthians had the creeds but not the deeds. He didn't suppose that they had their doctrine down and just now needed to focus on getting their lives straightened out. Even when a church is plagued with immorality and division, his first thought is, "Hey, these people need to get a better handle on the gospel." So that's where he begins. And then from the indicatives, telling them who they are in Christ, he rolls out the imperatives, pointing out the way of living and doing church that is consistent with it.
Set apart from the world by the gospel, they are to live in faith toward God and love toward each other, but they are corrupt in faith and practice. The Jewish ceremonial law is no longer in force, but God's moral law remains: as Paul says in the seventh chapter, "For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but keeping the commandments of God" (1 Cor 7:19). Paul counters all 3 of these problems by reminding them of the gospel and their unity in Christ, by one Spirit who indwells each member personally and the whole body corporately, as they are formed into that one body through preaching, baptism, and the Supper. They are still "in Corinth"-and Paul emphasizes that their secular stations in society are not obliterated by the gospel. But in terms of their heavenly calling, the church is not part of a Roman colony called Corinth; it is its own heavenly colony.
Before we look forward, we need to look back: "Christ in a Pre-Christian Culture" is our topic on this program.
Click here to see the related information for the March 1 broadcast.