Eating and Eating

Listening to an outstanding sermon (mp3, in Finnish) by the Rev. Markus Pöyry, a very gifted young pastor serving a Luther Foundation congregation in Finland is to blame for the following:

I wrote this post quite some time ago about my misgivings concerning the term ‘spiritual eating’ to refer to the reception of the promise of Christ in faith. The Formula of Concord, the last of the Lutheran confessions, make this a key distinction, possibly following Martin Chemnitz (my education is patchy!). Luther refers to this, but as far as I know, it wasn’t a key idea in his system.

My problem with this kind of language is this: it creates far too much room for receptionism (both of the Anglican and the Lutheran types), and poses the danger of diminishing the importance of the physical eating of the physical sacrament.

Of course, there is a biblical root for the idea of spiritual eating: John 6. Jesus appears to use the language of eating as a metaphor for faith in him. And in the Lutheran exegetical tradition, the whole of John 6 has been understood as referring to faith in Christ rather than the sacrament, for a number of reasons which I won’t rehearse here.

However, there is a problem: the language of Jesus. For part of John 6, Jesus speaks of eating using the generic term esthiō. However, when the argument between Jesus and the Jews gets heated, he switches verbs to trōgō, which means to ‘chew, munch, masticate’. It’s physical, concrete, bodily activity.

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat (esthiō) the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on (trōgō) my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58  This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live for ever.”

When things begin to fall apart and disciples begin to desert Him, Jesus has plenty of opportunities to correct the misunderstanding. “Hey, calm down, I was talking about spiritual eating.” But He doesn’t.

And the rule of thumb is: if Jesus says something, we should pay close attention. When the word is ‘munch’, teeth are involved.

(This is also why I have little time for the pious suggestion that it is irreverent to chew the host. Jesus didn’t seem to think so, and while I may be holier than thou, I don’t want to be holier than Him.)

Given that the notion of spiritual eating is a mainstay in classical Reformed teaching, and as such a method of writing out the spiritual benefit of the physical eating of the body and blood of the Lord, I really do think we do better to use more direct and unambiguous language.

Confessional Lutheran Pastor Defrocked in Sweden

HT: Chris Barnekov of Scandinavia House

Leading Swedish Confessional Pastor Defrocked for Support of Mission Province

The consistory of Lund Diocese has declared Pastor Jan-Erik Appell no longer authorized to serve as a pastor in the Church of Sweden.  Pastor Appell is retired after nearly 40 years of faithful service.  A complaint was filed by an anonymous accuser over his current service on behalf of a Mission Province congregation in Kristianstad, in the southern Sweden’s Skåne (Scania) province.   The decision, rendered March 14 was published yesterday, March 22.  Pastor Jan-Erik Appell is chairman of the board of Kyrkliga Förbundet (The Church Federation), which sponsors the Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg, the Gothenburg Lutheran High school, the Confessional weekly magazine Church and People, and other leading Confessional Lutheran institutions in Sweden.

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Hanging on like a pig to a loaf

Sermon preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Fareham, on Reminiscere Sunday, 4 March 2012. You can listen to the audio here.

Readings: Genesis 32:22–32 1 Thessalonians 4:1–7 Matthew 15:21–28

The Christian faith has recently been in the media more than usual. In addition to the usual disparaging voices by various loud atheists, several benign outsiders have come to the defence of the faith. Newspaper columnists and even one atheist philosopher have given their support to the positive effects of religion in general and the Christian faith in particular—at least in its tolerant and woolly mainstream Anglican forms. At first glance, this is a nice change from the usual cynicism and scepticism. However, the party was very quickly spoiled by the atheist Times columnist and former politician Matthew Parris. He argued convincingly that these new defenders of the faith were hardly desirable company for genuine Christians. Above all, they want a social Christianity for the sake of social harmony and stability, without Jesus. Although he does not believe in the teachings of the church, Parris argued that it’s hard to doubt the existence of Jesus of Nazareth for the simple reason that if he did not exist, the church would never have made him up. Jesus is far too disturbing and unlikely a character to have been fabricated by people who were out to invent a religion out of their own heads.
There are few Bible passages that confirm Matthew Parris’ judgement better than today’s Gospel. How many times have you heard of, and told others about, the loving Jesus who does not turn away those who turn to Him? Of the loving Jesus who fulfilled the prophet’s word about not destroying a broken reed or snuffing out smouldering wick? The one who came to care especially the weak, the powerless, and the outcasts? You can imagine someone inventing a Jesus like that. But it’s hard to imagine anyone inventing a Jesus who ignores a woman who personifies the powerless and weak, who in her desperation turns to Him for help. And when He finally does open His mouth to reply to her, we hear these harsh words that have caused so much embarrassment for Jesus’ subsequent disciples: “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and feed it to the dogs.”
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