Saturday, August 23, 2014

Good Conduct, Good Deeds, Good Works (part 15)

If one is completely honest, it should be possible to confess that the impact of table fellowship has not been blunted or muted over the passing years as the sands of culture have shifted and swirled.  In this modern world, though customs have changed, the table has maintained its importance.  This should be found to be the case if the kingdom of heaven, marked by the messianic feast, was inaugurated at the Resurrection and has been relentlessly advancing since that day. 

Unfortunately, it is the church that, in many ways, has failed to maintain its grasp upon the practical significance of the table of fellowship.  In many ways, the church has lost the dramatic and world-altering essence and context of the communion table.  In many ways, the church has reduced the Lord’s Supper to an intensely private, personal, spiritual experience which has as its focus the destination of the eternal soul rather than the declaration of the rule of the Creator God and the accompanying demand upon those that call Jesus Lord to show forth the cross-shaped love of that God to the world. 

When Peter tells this church to “Show hospitality to one another without complaining,” one cannot imagine that this directive was limited to “members in good standing.”  Surely, it is not difficult to imagine that those who had not yet made a confession of Jesus’ Lordship, such as are to be found in the stories of Jesus Himself, might find themselves at the church’s meal table.  If the call for hospitality is limited only to other Christians, then what is to be done with Peter (and Paul’s) insistence that good deeds of public benefaction be performed for the wider community, along with the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). 

What does Peter attach to the table-fellowship-linked “hospitality directive”?  He adds “Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God” (4:10).  This sounds suspiciously like Paul’s words that are directed to the churches at Rome and Corinth, in which he encourages unity across the church, not allowing any social stratification or honor-appropriation in accordance with spiritual gifts, but insists that the purpose of any gift is for the strengthening of the community of believers. 

Those directives from Paul, not surprisingly, were provided within the context of his own thoughts concerning the meal table (not to mention that the letter was probably first shared at a community meal), as the churches sought to model and to live out the messianic banquet.  Paul wrote, and no doubt Peter would have agreed, that the only legitimate use of spiritual gifts was for the service of others in a self-sacrificial love that did not seek honor or position.  One can surmise that the use of spiritual gifts as a way to accord honor to oneself, or in order to attain to a position of spiritual authority, would be illegitimate and entirely contrary to the spirit of the Gospel that is defined by the cross of the Christ. 

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