Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Deeds & Works (part 2 of 2)

This behavior learned through the church’s meal table (which is representative of the messianic banquet that has been transformed into that which we commonly think of as the Lord’s Supper) is what makes the love that is embraced and professed by the Christian community tangible and observable, as it is expressed in such ways in order to bring glory to God.  Conversely then, a church that is not operating with such a mindset, that is turned in on itself, seeking separation from the world so as to prepare themselves for their notion of heaven (a distant isle of blessedness, which is Greek thought, not Jewish), is actually modeling something that stands in fundamental opposition to what the confession of Jesus’ Lordship demands. 

A church that is turned in on itself is most likely not learning the principles of self-sacrificial love and the preference of one another for the benefit of the body, so that the body might benefit the community as it demonstrates Jesus’ universal Lordship over all things and all areas of life, is probably perverting the meal table (symbolic or otherwise), having turned the Lord’s Supper (which is supposed be an enactment of the messianic meal as envisioned and put into practice by Jesus) into a source of personal benefit as well, replete with authoritarian structures based on subjective spiritual rankings.  If love is not being learned and encouraged at the meal table, so that it aspires to the Jesus-backed vision of the messianic banquet, then it is highly unlikely that the church that is not learning these things is going to be engaging in public benefaction (good conduct/works/deeds). 

Ironically then, transposing the issue for Peter’s time, the church that is isolated essentially becomes that which the Christians were accused of being.  Since they were not seeking the good of the world by their public display of Jesus’ Lordship, then yes, widespread maladies and calamities must be laid at their feet.  If they are claiming that their King is the true King (in opposition to Caesar’s claims), but not putting that claim into practice by demonstrating that said Kingship extends to all things through their seeking of good for themselves and their neighbors, then the fundamental message of the Gospel is brought into disrepute.  Yes, they might as well be looked upon as atheists and cannibals, for all the benefits they bring to their world. 

Let us never forget that the hope of the Christian is to be resurrected just like Jesus.  This is the repeated claim of the New Testament, and it stands in opposition to a desire for an escape to heaven.  Jesus was resurrected into this world, with a glorified physical body, with that resurrection power set to work in this world, and this is that for which the Christian hopes.  Christians living in isolation, concerned for nothing more than their personal eternal salvation, rather than embracing a full engagement with the world to which God is reconciling Himself through their overt kingdom-conscious actions and behavior, have a wrong-headed notion about the kingdom of God, seeing it as something distant in both time and space, rather than viewing it as did Jesus and His apostles, within their (fully Jewish) claim that the kingdom of God was both present and coming. 

So when Peter speaks of good conduct and good deeds, he is speaking the language of self-sacrificial love.  For that reason, as does Paul, in dealing with the ramifications of their substantial claim on Jesus’ behalf and of what is going to be learned through their table fellowship, Peter instructs this church (who are most likely hearing this letter read to them in the setting that would be most conducive to such things---the acted out messianic banquet of the church’s meal table) to “Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether to a king as supreme or to governors as those he commissions to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do good” (2:13-14).  This is language that is practically identical to what is to be found in the thirteenth chapter of Romans, which is highly instructive when it comes to the church’s interaction with and for the world. 

Whether Peter was influenced by Paul or Paul was influenced by Peter, the point is that both were influenced by the demands of the reality of the kingdom of God that was actualized at the Resurrection of Jesus.  In Romans, Christian love, along with concerns about the meal table, bracket Paul’s concern for interaction with governing authorities, as the church functions in its ambassadorial role, declaring “So now, you kings, do what is wise; you rulers of the earth, submit to correction!  Serve the Lord in fear!  Repent in terror!  Give sincere homage!” (Psalm 2:10-12a).  We’ll see that it is no different for Peter, which demonstrates how incredibly large looms the meal table for the early Christian communities, and as it should through all of time. 

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