Christian Reflection

The word reflection means “careful consideration,” “fixing the thoughts on something,” and “meditation.”  The original meaning of the word was to “fold back,” “bend back.”  Therefore, reflection means to consider and think about something that has happened before.  You bring it back to the forefront and think about it.

Why should we reflect anyway?  What role does reflection have in Christianity?

Tree and its reflection in a lake

Image by Pixabay

Growth

The first reason we should actively reflect is because if we are truly following Christ, then we cannot simply continue as we were a month ago, a year ago, or a decade ago.  Our Lord Jesus Christ called us to a life of growth.  How?  He called us to repentance, and that is what repentance is; it is not simply a turning away from your sins as most of us think, but it is ALSO a turning toward the Way of Christ and progressing through it by His grace.  Our goal is not simply for sin to disappear and that’s it, but it is also to become the Image-bearers of Christ, to fully reflect Him in the world.  The main way we do this is by reflecting on four things: Christ’s life, His teachings, the Scriptures, and our lives in light of the first three.  If we reflect, then we will see where we came short; we will become more watchful, and then we will learn how to avoid the shortcomings, and learn how to progress.  Growth from reflection is best achieved by asking ourselves questions during and after reflection.  We can ask ourselves questions like:

  1. What did I do wrong in this situation?
  2. What could I have done better in this situation?
  3. What have Christ and the Apostles taught about situations and actions like these?
  4. How do I know Christ would approve?

The result of asking yourself these questions and answering them will be spiritual growth, and not only spiritual, but personal, emotional, and social growth.  As Christians, all four are connected.

But what will happen if we do not reflect?  Lack of reflection causes us to be caught up in a vicious cycle of continual childhood both spiritual and behavioral.  This may seem appealing, but when you think about it, imagine a 40 year old with a receding hairline and a beer belly acting like an 18 year old; it is not a pretty sight.  Even if a 20-something acts like a teenager, it is out of place, and it frankly looks stupid.  Now, imagine a child raising your children; all of sudden, some of you are becoming scared.  The sad reality, though, is that this is indeed happening, although we don’t think of it that way.  We no longer have men and women in our civilization, but boys and girls.  We’ve got children raising children and we wonder why things are a mess.  Why is it like this?  Because we don’t reflect.  The solution to these problems is reflection.

However, reflection is a fearful thing.  For many people, the most dreadful thing in the world is to sit by themselves quietly.  This is because when the environment is quiet, our minds automatically begin reflecting on the things that we have experienced.  Good experiences and bad experiences, valuable experiences and worthless experiences.  Too many live a life of sin and worthlessness, or of trouble and pain, and do not want to be reminded of it; yet, it is their consciences trying to speak to them.  Sometimes silence can be very loud.  They try to drown out these reflections and what their consciences might be trying to say by making their schedules busy with far too many things, quite a few of which are worthless.  They will go to nightclubs, movies more than they should, coffee shops for longer hours than they should, and even go to sleep with their earphones plugged in listening to music, so they do not give an opportunity for their thoughts to begin replaying their experiences.  They are trying to drown out the thoughts they don’t like.  The result is, they do not have time to reflect, and there is no progress.  The trouble continues, the pain continues, the worthlessness continues, and the sin continues.

Think about it this way: silence is necessary to reflection.  In older English, the word stillness was used to refer to this silence.  Now think of this analogy, still water reflects a clear image, but stirred up water cannot.  In the same way, when we practice stillness, we can reflect the image of our Lord Jesus Christ to the world, but when we are stirred up (like the scenarios shown above), we cannot reflect His image.

Yet, many people in the Bible went through trouble, pain, worthlessness, and sin, and when they reflected, they not only got out of those messes, but they found God’s goodness in them and grew spiritually in the Lord.

Examples of Reflection and How We Can Reflect

  1. Joseph

Joseph the son of Jacob (Genesis 37-50) was betrayed by his brothers, beaten, and sold as a slave to a foreign nation, and carried away to a faraway country where he did not know the people, nor the language, nor the customs.  He was all by himself.  Through all this, he was faithful to God.  God blessed him, and he became the manager of his master’s estate.  Then, his master’s wife solicited him to sleep with her, he refused.  Yet, he ended up in prison because she lied about their encounter.  He had trouble (for no reason), pain (by being faithful to God), and ended up in a prison in a foreign land.  Things were not looking good at all.  It was one disaster after another.

In the prison, God blessed him again, and he became the manager of the prison while he was a prisoner.  What happened next was he interpreted a dream for a fellow prisoner who was a servant of Pharaoh, that servant was released, then Pharaoh had a troubling set of dreams, and that servant told him about Joseph.  He came to Pharaoh’s attention, interpreted his dreams as indicating a famine would come after seven years (he was prophesying), and he also gave him precautionary measures to help him save Egypt through these years.  He then rose up to the highest position in Egypt.  More than 20 years passed since he was sold, and a famine came as he had predicted to Pharaoh.  During the famine, Joseph’s family came to Egypt not knowing he was there; they thought he was dead, and he ended up saving his family and all of Egypt from the famine.

When he reflected on all these experiences, he saw that God’s goodness not only came to him, but to all others that he saved.  How?  All because he was sold by his brothers as a slave to a foreign nation.  He reflected, and he saw God’s hand and plan in all of this.  In one of the most reflective statements ever uttered in the Scriptures, he told them, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).  The trouble and pain were now insignificant when he saw how God’s goodness came to him, his family, and all of Egypt through them.

He could have whined, he could have spent all his years crying and complaining.  He could have become hopeless.  He may have even taken his own life.  But he reflected and saw the hand of God working regularly.  The effect was massive on his life:

  1. He remained faithful to God.
  2. He kept a positive attitude.
  3. He had a clear mind.
  4. He helped millions of people to live instead of die including his own family.

You can see God’s goodness too if you reflect.  The effect will be massive on your life too.

Others in the Bible reflected as well.

  1. David

The next greatest example of reflection in the Bible is David the Prophet and King.  He reflected about all the broad range of human experiences: joy, anger, fear, grief, depression, anxiety, and appreciation, and he saw the hand of God in all of it; he also brought God into all these experiences by talking to Him about all these things.  He left us nearly half the Psalms.  They have not only served as comforters in times of grief but also as teachers showing us how we ought to pray, and they have trained our minds to reflect and grow.

A Dialogue on Sola Scriptura Part III: An Ancient Christian and a Modern Christian

Disclaimer: Sola Scriptura in this dialogue does not refer to the classical Reformation understanding of the term, but it refers to the modern Protestant way of thinking of “me and my Bible alone.”

If you did not read Part I or II, click here to read Part I, and here to read Part II.

German Bible, Image by Pixabay

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Let me give you yet one more example.  Cultural context affects our interpretation of the Scriptures.  If you remember, an interpretation is an inference from a specific point of view.  If our point of view is 21st Century American culture, then we may end up making a lot of incorrect inferences.

I often hear modern Christians saying, “Oh my gosh!  Look at how many wars there are.  This must be the end times.  Jesus will be coming back soon, not later than 20 years.  The Bible says, ‘You will hear of wars and rumors of wars’ (Matthew 24:6), and that is what is happening now.  There have never been this many wars in the past.”  And that is where I laugh.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: Why do you laugh?

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Because they say “there have never been this many wars in the past, and so it must be the end of the word.”  I wish you would have a chance to see the world I lived in in the ancient world.  The closest you can come is by reading history.  Wars were non-stop.  Whole cities were massacred at a time.  The resulting diseases and famines killed a lot more people than the wars.  We are talking in the hundreds of thousands and millions every several decades.

These people are interpreting this verse from the point of view of their own culture.  The reality is, this time I see, with all the problems it has, is the most peaceful time the world has ever known.  When you lose 4,000 people in a war over 10 years, those are precious lives, but in my day, we lost that many in one battle, forget the war.  How are these days the end of the world, if then was not?  I will leave you to hunger for the answer on how early Christians understood this verse.  I suggest you look up how the Church Fathers understood it.

A Dialogue on Sola Scriptura Part II: An Ancient Christian and a Modern Christian

Disclaimer: Sola Scriptura in this dialogue does not refer to the classical Reformation understanding of the term, but it refers to the modern Protestant way of thinking of “me and my Bible alone.”

If you did not read Part I, click here to do so.  It is necessary before you read this part.

Photo from Pexels

MODERN CHRISTIAN: Don’t forget that Judas also knew, learned from, and was appointed by Jesus.  Look where he ended up.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: How dare you compare Judas to the Apostolic Fathers.  Judas acted against everything our Lord Jesus Christ taught.  He thought of himself before everyone else including our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He was a thief.  He betrayed our Lord, and his betrayal resulted in the murder of the Lord of Glory.  And to make matters worse, instead of repenting, he committed suicide, still taking things into his own hands and not letting God work at all in his life.

The Apostolic Fathers on the other hand thought of our Lord Jesus before themselves.  Read the Epistles of Ignatius, for example, and see how he is always thinking of our Lord Jesus Christ and always understanding his life in the light of Christ and His teachings.  They gave all that they had including their lives.  They lived a faithful life to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.  They were selfless; they chose to suffer violence than to commit violence, and they gave their lives for our Lord Jesus Christ.  They were full of the Holy Spirit, and Judas did not have the Holy Spirit.  You just committed a false analogy, which is another logical fallacy.  Your offense is much greater than that.  In your arrogance to defend Sola Scriptura, which is not even taught in the Bible, you totally ignored the work of the Holy Spirit in these just and faithful men who followed our Lord Jesus Christ.  You are elevating the doctrine of Sola Scriptura above the promises of our Lord Jesus Christ (effectively saying that our Lord Jesus did not keep His promises) and the work of the Holy Spirit.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: No I am not!

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Absolutely you are!  You earlier agreed that the Holy Spirit lived in, filled, and worked in the Apostolic Fathers, and they cooperated with Him and lived a life in the Way of Christ.  Now, you have the brass to compare them to Judas because you are holding to a doctrine that is nowhere preached in the Bible. Judas, a man totally devoid of the Holy Spirit, and the first anti-Christ!  A betrayer, thief, and one who caused the murder of our Lord Jesus Christ, and all for the price of a slave!  How dare you?

MODERN CHRISTIAN: I am sorry.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: I did not ask for an apology.  You need to ask God for forgiveness for making such a claim, and for ignoring His work in these just and faithful men.

If you understand the Bible differently, you have a different interpretation separated from the context in which the Bible was written.  You do not speak the language of the New Testament, you do not live in the same culture and are not exposed to the same ideas that were around when the Bible was written.  All these provide context for understanding the Scriptures.  All these affect the interpretation of the Bible.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: How do they affect the interpretation of the Bible?

A Dialogue on Sola Scriptura Part I: An Ancient Christian and a Modern Christian

Disclaimer: Sola Scriptura in this dialogue does not refer to the classical Reformation understanding of the term, but it refers to the modern Protestant way of thinking of “me and my Bible alone.”

MODERN CHRISTIAN: You know I have truly enjoyed our many discussions on different topics such as Baptism, Salvation, and the Eucharist.  I am very curious to see what you believe about the Bible.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: What do you mean?

MODERN CHRISTIAN: Do you believe that Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura) is sufficient?

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Could you please clarify?  I am not quite sure I understand what you are trying to say.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: I mean that nothing supersedes the Bible.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Sure, I agree with that.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: So, do you believe it is sufficient for doctrine?

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Yes.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: So you agree that the Bible is only source we can use for teaching and nothing else: not what the Fathers said, not what your priest said, but the Bible alone.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: You mean the Bible alone and you interpreting it by yourself?

MODERN CHRISTIAN: Yes.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: I am not quite sure I can agree with that, and I am afraid that your position is quite impossible.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: How so?!

Photo by Unsplash

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: There cannot be such a thing as Scripture Alone.  This is because the Bible is a book. A book cannot be understood without a reader, that is, an interpreter, and the background of that interpreter can significantly affect his interpretation whether for good or for bad.  If you say you believe in Sola Scriptura, you really mean you believe in Sola Persona (the person alone, the sole interpreter).  This view, in its arrogance, says that it is elevating the Bible, but in reality it is elevating the person interpreting and his interpretation, and it merely appears that what the interpreter is saying is justified because the person is claiming that his teaching is coming from Scripture Alone, and does not bring attention to the fact that it is his interpretation alone.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: The Bible needs no interpreter.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: If I may, I would like to shift your discussion upward to the Holy Spirit and His role in the inspiration, preservation, and interpretation of the Scriptures.  You must confess and understand that the Holy Spirit is at work, and He is higher than the Scriptures, and He is the one who inspired the Scriptures.  The Author is higher than the written work.  You must agree with that.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: I do, but what are you getting at?

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: I am getting at the fact that if a person chooses to ignore the Christian past and the Early Church Fathers who interpreted the Bible, then that person is not elevating the Bible, but that person is refusing to acknowledge and recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christians who lived before us.  You are not the first person whom the Holy Spirit lived in and filled.  There have been tens of generations of Christians whom the Holy Spirit filled and lived in.  He worked in them just as He is working now.

The Spirituality of Sleep

I was surprised the first time I read The Life of Antony when Antony talked about sleep and its relationship to the spiritual life.  This is because monks often wake up during the night and pray for hours holding vigils, whether individually or communally.  What surprised me was how Antony spoke about how demons can wake us up and cause us to think about praying instead of going to sleep.  He said, “They do this repeatedly, scarcely allowing us to sleep at all” (Life of Antony, ¶25.2).  He then explained if we heeded these calls by demons thinking instead about the importance of prayer (without thinking about what sleeplessness will do in the long run) and being blinded to the strategy of the demons, then the end result would be to “bring to despair those who are sound and to make them say that their ascetic discipline is useless…burdensome and wearying” (The Life of Antony, ¶25.4).  Why?  Because soon the body will force us to go to sleep, and we will not have any energy to pray.  Plus we will despair when we should be full of hope.

Photo by Gratisography

I cannot remember where, but I remember there was another monk who said that the monks must follow a schedule where time is allotted to prayer and time allotted to sleep, otherwise, soon there will be no more prayer due to exhaustion, and then the life of prayer, our lifeline to God, will cease.  What will be the benefit then?  We should follow that advice too, and have some type of spiritual schedule so we can make sure to always pray and not lose the energy to pray or read the Bible or go to church.

Sleep and the spiritual life are related, and if we do not take sleep seriously, then our spiritual lives will suffer in four ways.

1. We will be angry

Psalm 37:8 says,

“Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret—it only causes harm” (NKJV).

Proverbs 15:18 says,

“Those who are hot-tempered stir up strife,
but those who are slow to anger calm contention” (NRSV).

The Bible is clear about anger.  There are many other verses that guide us away from anger and explain how the wise and righteous keep themselves from anger.  Certainly, those who are mature in their faith are often calm and are not easily angered.  Those same people if they lack sleep can easily become angered.  Now think about those who do not have good control over their anger even when they are well rested, and those people lose sleep.  The anger they can develop from their lack of sleep can be destructive.

Anger will affect our relationships with others including those we love most or those we cannot afford to anger.  Lacking sleep can lead to us hurting those we love most, getting in trouble at work, or not performing at our best at work.  These factors can cause our spiritual lives to collapse because it will breed more anger, lack of trust, resentment, fear, and possibly the inability to pay rent.

Think about how distracted we will be when we come to pray or read the Bible or serve in church with all these problems on our minds.  They could have all been avoided if we paid more attention to our sleep.

Clement’s Letter

It is the year AD 99.  Corinth, one of the most ancient churches, has had a schism.  The Roman Christian community out of serious concern for the spiritual health of their Corinthian brethren has written a letter by Clement their bishop because the Corinthians’ “good name, once so renowned and loved by all, has been greatly reviled” (Clement 1.1).

This good name rose up because of the fact that they received the Gospel of Christ at the hands of Paul the Apostle in the mid-50s AD, that they received two epistles written by the Apostle himself that now make up part of our Bible, and that they presumably repented of the errors in which they were tangled.  Their errors have caused the church to receive teaching for all time through the two epistles to the Corinthians in the New Testament.  Those two epistles have teachings on spiritual gifts, how to understand the Old Testament, the famous love chapter (1 Corinthians 13), Heaven, and marriage.

Yet, by the year 99, something had happened: division.  It was not due to doctrine, but to following specific individuals over others.  People were setting up factions in the church.  The schism was also an attack against the bishops and presbyters of the church.  The Corinthians already had the mindset for this to happen even in the days of Paul, with some proclaiming themselves followers of Paul, while others as followers of Peter, others of Apollo, and some ones knowing the right words calling themselves followers of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:12).

This letter of the Romans, written by Clement, to the Corinthians at the end of the 1st Century becomes an occasion for us to think and really consider the factors that create division in the Christian community.  In addition, the letter gives us a model to follow when addressing division and restoring unity to the church.

Part of a painting Visione di papa Clemente I (Vision of Pope Clement I)

by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, between 1730-1735

What causes division?

Clement wrote about the division saying “All follow the lusts of their evil heart, inasmuch as they have assumed that attitude of unrighteousness and ungodly jealousy through which, in fact, death entered into the world” (Clement 3.4).

This shows us that schisms are caused by three mindsets.

The Fellowship of the Faith

“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  -Hebrews 12:1-2

There are so many generations of Christians that came before us: martyrs, preachers, and teachers.  Those Christians have left us stories of incomparable courage, sermons of immense beauty, and teachings with both depth and practical living application.  The literary heritage of the Christian past is so immense that there may probably not be a larger body of work left behind by any other single group.

Image © Unsplash, 2016

When we enter that lush forest of writings from the Christian past, we find a Fellowship, a Fellowship that goes across time, where the centuries separating us are broken down, and we can enjoy fellowship with the Christians that lived long before us.  We can learn from them and grow to become like Christ by reading their works.  C.S. Lewis, one of the greatest Christian writers of the 20th century, was aware of that fellowship of faith, and he wrote about it in his “Preface to On the Incarnation.”

The Christian Past

In that preface he said, “There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books…  This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology.”  A lot of C.S. Lewis’s ideas, and the masterful simplicity which he used to communicate deep truths came from the ancient Christian books.  By entering that lush forest of writings, he was able to find fresh ways of expressing Christian truth to modern readers.  For this reason, he even advised his readers, “I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old,” further adding why he thought so, “If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said.”  Our Christian faith has a history, which is really the history of the Holy Spirit working in Christians, and those Christians who worked with the Spirit of God.  That history has directly affected us who live today as Christians whether we like to admit it or not.

A Dialogue on the Eucharist Part III: An Ancient Christian and a Modern Christian

If you did not read Part I or II, click here to read Part I, and click here to read Part II.  They are necessary to understand this one.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: Can you quote me something from these writers?

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Yes, Justin Martyr said, “We do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus” (The First Apology, Chapter 66, c. 150s AD).

We can further discuss mentions of the Eucharist in the writings of the earliest Christians.

Image by Pixabay

MODERN CHRISTIAN: That is just one writer.  We would need several who did not know each other nor lived in the same place from the 2nd Century to establish continuity with the Apostles and our Lord Jesus Christ in the 1st Century and show that the belief that the bread and wine are truly the Body and Blood of Jesus goes back to Jesus and is therefore correct.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: There are several writers who did not know each other nor lived in the same place that all had the same belief about the Eucharist, and this establishes continuity with the Apostles and our Lord Jesus Christ.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: Like?

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Like Ignatius of Antioch.  This is a man who was a disciple of John the Apostle and knew Peter the Apostle as well.  He died as a martyr at the hands of the Romans around 107 AD.  He began traveling under Roman guard from Antioch to Syria for his martyrdom.  On his way there, he wrote seven letters.  Think about this.  These are the thoughts of a man who knows he will die within weeks.  They show you a glimpse into the heart of a 1st Century Christian and what he thought most important.  In addition, it shows you what he held fast to, what was taught him by the Apostles.

In four out of the seven letters he wrote, he spoke about the Eucharist.  It is interesting how a man who does not have much time left would spend so much time on the Eucharist, which you think is only a symbol, when he could have spent time on other things like giving money to the poor.

In his Letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius wrote, “All of you, individually and collectively, gather together in grace, by name, in one faith and one Jesus Christ, who physically was a descendent of David, who is Son of Man and Son of God, in order that you may obey the bishop and the council of presbyters with an undisturbed mind, breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote we take in order not to die but to live forever in Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 20, Holmes translation).

How can a symbol be the medicine of immortality?  I thought only our Lord Jesus Christ was that?  Oh wait, the Eucharist is also the Body and Blood of our Lord, and Ignatius makes that clear here.

Then, in his Letter to the Romans, as he wrote about dying as a martyr in graphic terms, he said, “I take no pleasure in corruptible food or the pleasures of this life.  I want the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ who is of the seed of David; and for drink I want His blood, which is incorruptible love” (Romans 7.3, Holmes translation).  A soon-to-be martyr is preoccupied with the Eucharist, but you believe the earliest Christians (including Ignatius) thought it was a symbol.  That is interesting indeed.  He is comparing his death with Christ’s death, and his love for Christ with Christ’s love as shown in the shedding of His blood for us.  This is why he is fixated on the Eucharist because it really is the Body and Blood of Christ, “which suffered for us,” as he later said to the Smyrnaeans.

A Dialogue on the Eucharist Part II: An Ancient Christian and a Modern Christian

If you did not read Part I, click here to read it.  It is necessary to understand this one.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: The earliest Christians, when they read and interpreted the Bible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, understood this chapter (John 6) to refer to the Eucharist.  How is their understanding wrong and yours correct if they were so close to the Apostles and you are so far from them?  These people followed the Apostles and their teaching of Christ to the point of dying for Christ and His teachings.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: But the I AM statement is a parable….

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: No it is not.  The I AM statements are not parables; they are very unique and are only found in the Gospel of John.  Unlike parables, Jesus did not explain this discourse to the Apostles but simply asked them “Does this offend you?” (John 6:61) because it was “a hard saying” (John 6:60).  They did not understand it yet, but they did not disbelieve Him; they continued following Him.  Many, however, stopped following Him at this point.  Does it offend you?

Image © Simon Matzinger, Unsplash, 2015

MODERN CHRISTIAN: But, we are forbidden from eating human flesh and drinking blood in the Old Testament.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: This is true, but we do not receive the Body and Blood under the form of flesh and blood, but we receive the true Body and Blood of our Lord under the form of bread and wine in a mystery.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: So you do not believe in Transubstantiation.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: You keep using that term.  Why are you so fixated upon it?  Do you think the faith of Christ can simply be reduced to terms?

MODERN CHRISTIAN: That is the term the Roman Catholic church uses to describe what you are saying.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: I am not Roman Catholic.  I lived long before there were distinctions like that in the church.  I am a follower of Christ from the early days of Christianity.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: The term describes how the bread and wine are physically and wholly transformed to become literal flesh and blood; they only appear to be bread and wine.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: That is not how we understood what little we can of this great mystery in the early church.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: How did you understand it then?

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: The Body and Blood of our Lord is received under the form of bread and wine.  The form is bread and wine, but mysteriously the Body and Blood are there too.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: So how is it Body and Blood?  Does it change?

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: My friend, to answer the question “how,” we can never get to that answer.  Does it change?  Absolutely.  The Scriptures and the earliest Christians including the disciples of the Apostles and later (actually all of them until the Protestant Reformation) believed there was a change because that is what we received in the Scriptures and was brought to us by those who preached the Gospel.

In the early church, we called it a mystery.  It is a mystery.  Mystery means we cannot know how, yet we can experience it just like how we live and have experiences in this universe that is shrouded in mystery.  We did not know how the earth moved around the sun (which was due to gravity), yet we experienced it.  We do not know how the stones in Stonehenge were carried up that hill, yet we have seen Stonehenge.  These are mysteries, we do not know how they are, but we know that they are.  We still do not know how much of it works, yet we experience it.  Our Lord Jesus told us it is, so we believe that it is.  Just like how our Lord created the universe is a mystery, how the Eucharist is the Body and Blood is a mystery.  We know God created the universe, and we know the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of our Lord.  But to ask the question how, we cannot answer that question.  It is beyond us, and it is not meant for us to answer it anyway.

A Dialogue on the Eucharist Part I: An Ancient Christian and a Modern Christian

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Christ is risen!

MODERN CHRISTIAN: He is risen indeed!

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: I love that greeting.  In the early church, during the 50 days following the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we used to greet each other by one saying, “Christ is risen,” and the other replying, “He is risen indeed.”

Image © Saulo Zayas 2016

MODERN CHRISTIAN: I love that greeting too.  You know, these past dialogues we have had have been enlightening.  Now, I am interested to hear on what you in the early church believed about the Eucharist.  Clearly, you did not hold it to be the Body and Blood of Christ since that belief was only invented by Roman Catholics 1000 years after the Resurrection of Christ.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: What?

MODERN CHRISTIAN: Well, the doctrine of the Transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is only 1000 years old.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: I never heard of such a term.  Transubstanti-what?

MODERN CHRISTIAN: See, I knew it!  Transubstantiation is the doctrine that the bread and wine change into the Body and Blood of Christ during the Mass.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Wait, something sounds familiar here, but before you go further, what is “Mass”?

MODERN CHRISTIAN: Mass is the prayer service of the Roman Catholic Church.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: What is it like?

MODERN CHRISTIAN: It begins with a priest saying morning prayers, then there are readings from the Gospels and the Epistles, then there is a sermon.  Afterward, the priest prays over the bread and wine and Catholics claim that they change into the Body and Blood of Jesus, but I am really glad that in the early church you have never heard of Transubstantiation or the Mass; it further confirms to me that the Catholics invented both.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Wait a second, morning prayers, readings from the Gospels and Epistles, sermons, bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood.  We had all that in the early church.  When did you say that started, a thousand years after Christ?

MODERN CHRISTIAN: Wait, what?!  You mean you had Mass and Transubstantiation?!  But that can’t be!  I was told in church it started only a thousand years after Christ.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: My friend, that is impossible.  What you are describing I saw in my days exactly as you describe them, and my father saw it before me, and my grandfather as well.  The most ancient Christians, who lived much earlier than I did, described these things as well, and they wrote about them.  The terms you are using I have never heard, but the things you are describing I am very well familiar with and so were all the Christians who lived in my times.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: So, you are saying that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist?

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Yes.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: This can’t be the case.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Why not?  It is mentioned in the Bible.

MODERN CHRISTIAN: But, the Bible teaches it is not the Body and Blood of Christ.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: How did you arrive at that understanding from the Bible?

MODERN CHRISTIAN: When Jesus spoke, He used metaphors.  For example, Jesus said that He is the Door (John 10:9).  He is not literally a door.  The same applies to the Eucharist.  The bread and wine are not the Body and Blood just like Jesus is not a door.

ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Jesus truly said He is the Door, but He did not command us to walk through doors and do this in remembrance of Him.  However, He did with the Eucharist.  That already indicates something uniquely different about the Eucharist.  Whereas our Lord Jesus gave parables, He never started a practice by a parable.  The Last Supper was not a parable nor a metaphor.  If you pay attention to when Jesus gave parables, He would later explain them to His disciples.  When He explained this to His disciples, He said, “This is My Body,” and “This is my Blood” (Mark 14:22, 23).  There is no further explanation to the Apostles like with many of the parables.  All He said afterward was “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19).