Grace that works so well – Stuart Johnson

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Theology in reconWhat is central to our worship and a grateful response to Jesus Christ is the Eucharist.  The term Eucharist is a term by which we give thanks and gratitude for the grace of God that works so well.  Grace is not some ethereal power of God like pleasant smell from a scented candle.  Grace is personified in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.  When we read the New Testament Scriptures we actually see grace at work.  It is the charitable lovingkindness of God expressed in active love.  Love is not inert and dormant.  When we love, we actually do something.   When God loves, we actually see what God has done towards us in the Person who loves by what we visibly see in the work of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the visible expression of the grace of God from the incarnation through to His death, resurrection and ascension. This He did not do for His own sake but what He did do was entirely for our sake.

The Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper is a celebration.  It is not the church’s supper but the Lord’s Supper.  It is giving thanks for what Jesus Christ has done.  More importantly, it is giving thanks for what Jesus Christ has done in union with our entire humanity.  Even here, it goes much further than we dare to go.  There is no division of spirit, mind, soul and body as we find in many evangelical teachings.  When we talk of humanity in Trinitarian Theology, we talk of the unity of the mind, soul, spirit and body that makes up the one whole human being.  God’s self oblation to unite Himself with us was to become this one whole human being.  Thus as the one whole human being, the whole human being, the mind, body, soul and spirit is sanctified in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.  In this sense, Jesus Christ becomes the Mediator of the whole human being as so strenuously expressed in similar ways by Gregory of Nazianzus and Cyril of Alexandria: the unassumed is the unhealed, what has not been taken up has not been saved.

Now if we break up the Person of Jesus Christ’s humanity into body, soul, spirit, mind and humanity then we also break up the Mediatorial role of Jesus Christ.  This restricts the saving work of Jesus Christ where only certain aspects of His human role is considered relevant to worship.  Apollinarian practices replace these so called gaps requiring a human ‘priest,’ ‘pastor,’ ‘reverend’ etc to step in to fulfill this role. These positions are often seen as privileged to hold a certain degree of power over the flock.  Many become dependant on this psuedo mediator rather than on Jesus Christ to reveal the truth of God from within.  Even as we break away from the power structures of the institutional church, there are those who vie for a position of power over others in regard to the knowledge of the ways and works of God.  Anyone who steps into a mediatorial role between a concept and its relationship to God are obstructing the one and only Mediation of Jesus Christ.  This is precisely what the Gnostics were accused of in the New Testament.  On the one hand, submitting to someone else other than to Jesus Christ is to open oneself to the possibility of manipulation and abuse.  On the other hand, the integrity of humanity’s union with God is compromised.   In one way or another this is buying into the pagan’s insistence that humanity must be held at an infinite distance from God.  This, in turn, undermines the divinity of Jesus Christ to one that is understood within the Arian mind rather than in the tradition of the ancient church.

This has had far reaching implications on Christian teaching today.  There is a wonderful well known saying, Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.  There is the tendency in Christian teaching to only want to give students just enough to feed them for a day.  That is enough to feed them from one Sunday to the next.  The greatest challenge we face in equipping the saints is to help our brothers and sisters learn how to fish in the Spirit of Jesus making us fishers of men and women.  There is an overwhelming dependence by many Christians to take only the one fish offered for each day (or for the week) from a teacher/minister rather than learn how to fish from the the greatest Teacher of all, the One who is in them, Jesus Christ.  In turn, this places an enormous amount of pressure on the teachers/ministers who are in a position where they have to spoon feed their flock.  This has resulted in as many as 10,000 ministers suffering burn out in Australia alone.  Furthermore, the anxiety by many Christians is sometimes too much to bear where many leave the institutional church dissatisfied with what she has to offer.

Jesus Christ has far more confidence in us to be able to discern from within the inner truths of God the Father, Son and Spirit.  In John in particular, there is the emphasis Jesus makes over and over again, You will know . . . It not a logical set of dot points that naturally conclude in Jesus Christ.  It goes much deeper than this in such a way that is mysterious and almost impossible to describe.  It is the Person of Jesus Christ who engages with us (you) often in spite of our attempts of extreme and aggressive denial to resist.  It can diffuse hostility in an instant and enables us to assent to the truth that only Jesus Christ mysteriously portrays.  Personally, as I have entered into the mysterious place of our engagement with the Father, Son and Spirit I have become much more reverent of how He is engaging with others.  I am acutely aware of the work of the Spirit of Christ in all people I engage with and try to take care not to get in the way.  I am certain our Triune God is engaging with all people.  Yet, some might not be as aware as aware as we believe we are.

Perhaps if we have a different view of the role of the minister in our churches and the ministers have a different view of the congregation he or she leads then the incidence of burnout might drop dramatically.  Furthermore, the exodus of Christians leaving the institutional church might start to decline and people may return.  I have no objection to the institution of the church if they endeavour to re-establish the truth according to the ancient tradition.  The minister is not the mediator between the Father and the congregation.  I believe the minister should endeavour to facilitate God’s own mediation of Himself to each one in their congregation creating a community of inter-dependence.  There is only one Mediator between God and humanity whom we know to be the Man Jesus Christ.  No one can come between Christ in us and us.  If Jesus Christ is the ultimate Teacher then teaching with the authority of the Spirit of Christ must reflect the truth of Jesus Christ alone.  Those who have giftings within the church I believe function in such a way as to bring the Spirit of Christ in us to life and awaken us to this inner truth.

Just think of the life of Jesus Christ this way:  He become human in precisely the way we are human which includes the soul/spirit of the body and the body of the soul/spirit uniting Himself to the utter depths of our darkness and depravity appropriating all our human faculties into Himself.  He was the High Priest of our mind, our body, our soul and our spirit bringing union between all our faculties with the faculties of God.  No longer do we have to try and figure out how we get to God because God got to us first.  All our manner of living, our worship, communion, prayer and all manner of what it takes to undertake Christian living has already been achieved in Jesus Christ.  We love because He first loved us.  This love was actively expressed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.  Therefore we live a life of thanksgiving to Jesus Christ.  Whatever we do in our Christian expression has already been sanctified in Jesus Christ.