Transforming Encounters of the Sacramental Kind

On February 2 of this year I conducted a one day seminar at the North Davis Church of Christ in Arlington, Texas. They had invited me to prepare some materials for a congregational-wide study of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Assembly based on my three books (Come to the Table, Down in the River to Pray [co-authored with Greg Taylor], and A Gathered People [co-authored with Johnny Melton and Bobby Valentine]) in their Sunday Bible classes.

The seminar was conducted for teachers and interested parties, and the material was used in Bible classes from February 9 to June 8 (I presented the first two lessons on Feb 2 in a combined Bible class and the morning assembly). I thank Doug Peters, the preaching minister of the church, for inviting me to conduct the “North Davis University”–as it is called–for the Winter of 2008. The sermon in audio or video (yuck!) is available here.

I have uploaded the teaching outlines for this twenty lesson series to my Bible Class page. It is entitled “Transforming Encounter: Baptism, Lord’s Supper and Assembly.”

The objectives of this series were two-fold.  First, it attempts to shift our thinking about these “ordinances” or “sacraments” from an anthropocentric orientation (“what we do”) to a more theocentric one (“what God does”). The sacramental character of Baptism, Lord’s Supper and Assembly is located in the nature of the divine act through these gifts. Without denying that there is human responsibility and action involved in each of these moments, the emphasis belongs on what God does in order to appreciate their function as means of grace.

Second, the series attempts to renew our experience of these “ordinances” or “sacraments” as means of grace by which God communes with us, transforms us, and empowers us for his mission in the world. The goal is not merely cognitive nor intellectual but rather practical, concrete and communal. How might we experience these moments of divine grace in ways that embody and bear witness to the divine act among us? I think that this an important question for churches, especially as assemblies become more focused on mutual edification rather than divine presence, as baptism becomes more privatized as an event for the youth group, immediate family or a small group, and as the Lord’s Supper continues to be a private, vertical experienced between God and isolated individuals in our assemblies.

It is opportune for me to offer this series at this point as I will soon resume my series on hermeneutics.  If one reads through the outline below, the series follows a redemptive-historical agenda:  God (and creation assumed here), then Israel, then the Ministry of Jesus, then the Church (including the history of the church) and leads to contemporary theological reflection and practice. Eschatological considerations are scattered throughout the series. This is an example, I think–and I hope, of theological hermeneutics at work.

Below is the table of contents for the teaching outlines which generally are two to three pages for each session.

1                Divine “Ordinances” or “Sacraments”?

                        Text:  Matthew 28:18-20

                        Focus:  Communal Moments of Divine Action


2                Divine Community—Participating in the Divine Life

                        Text:  John 17:20-26

                        Focus:  Inclusion of Humanity in the Divine Fellowship


3                Israel—Baptized into Moses in the Sea

                        Texts:  1 Corinthians 10:1-4; Exodus 15; Leviticus 15

                        Focus:   God Redeems and Cleanses his People


4                Israel—Assembled at the Mountain

                        Texts:  Exodus 19; 24:1-11; Leviticus 23

                        Focus:  God Calls His People into Assemblies Sanctified by his Presence


5                Israel—Eating with God at Table

                        Texts:  Exodus 24:1-11; Leviticus 3, 7

                        Focus:  God Eats with His People in Peace and Communion


6                Jesus—Baptized with Sinners in the Jordan

                        Texts:  Luke 3:1-21

                        Focus:  The Baptism of Jesus is the first Christian Baptism.


7                Jesus—Participant and Fulfillment of Assembly

                        Texts:  John 4:1-24

                        Focus:  Jesus is the True Temple of God in whom We Worship


8                Jesus—Eating with Sinners at Table

                        Texts:  Luke 5:27-32; 9:10-17; 11:37-54; 14:1-24; 22:7-38.

                        Focus:  Jesus Sits at Table with Sinners.


9                Church—Eating with Jesus at Table

                        Texts:  Luke 24:13-35; Acts 20:7-12

                        Focus:  The Living Jesus Hosts the Table in the Church.


10               Church—Baptized in Water and Spirit

                        Texts:  Acts 2:37-41; Acts 9:1-19 [Acts 22:10-16]; Acts 10:24-48

                        Focus:  God Receives His People through Water and Spirit.


11               Church—Assembled in the Spirit as Community

                        Texts:  Acts 2:42-47

                        Focus:  The Heart of Christian Assembly is Word and Table.


12               History of Baptism—From Discipleship to Citizenship

                        Text:  Galatians 3:26-29; Colossians 2:11-15

                        Focus:  Infant Baptism shifted the meaning of the rite.


13               History of Assembly—From Mystery to Penance

                        Text:  Hebrews 12:22-24

                        Focus:  Assembly Shifted from Mystical Experience to Legal Formalism.


14               History of Lord’s Supper—From Table to Altar

                        Text:  1 Corinthians 11:28-33

                        Focus:  The Mass Shifted the Focus from Communion to Forgiveness.


15               The Stone-Campbell Movement’s Restoration Agenda

                        Text:  2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

                        Focus:  Restoring to the Church the Original Intent of the Sacraments.


16               The Stone-Campbell Movement’s Legal Atmosphere

                        Text:  Ephesians 2:8-10

                        Focus:  Positive Law Transformed the Sacraments into Legalities.


17               Theology of Baptism—God’s Work and Our Discipleship

                        Text:  Romans 6:1-11; Colossians 2:11-15; Galatians 3:26-29

                        Focus:  Baptism is our Participation in and Identification with the Gospel.


18               Theology of Assembly—A Relational Love-Fest

                        Text:  Hebrews 10:19-25

                        Focus:  Assembly is a Gospel Experience and Witness.


19               Theology of Lord’s Supper—Communing with God and Each Other

                        Text:  1 Corinthians 10:14-17

                        Focus:  The Lord’s Supper is Communion in the Gospel.


20               Divine Encounter—Sacramental Grace

                        Text:  Matthew 18:15-20

                        Focus:  God Transforms his People through “Holy Moments”


5 Responses to “Transforming Encounters of the Sacramental Kind”

  1.   Frank Says:

    Looks like good stuff. Thanks for the links. I plan to take a look or listen.

  2.   Adam G. Says:

    Looks interesting. Unfortunately, the audio doesn’t appear to be in mp3 format.

  3.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Honestly, I did not try to listen to it…I don’t listening to myself and not quite sure why anyone would want to listen. 🙂 In other words, I don’t know “what’s up” with the link to the audio at North Davis Church of Christ. 🙂

  4.   benwiles Says:

    I’m intrigued by the idea of “inclusion of humanity in the divine fellowship,” as it dovetails with some thinking I’ve been doing lately on communal (as opposed to personal) spirituality and discipleship.

    Do you have any recommendations for futher reading on this subject?

  5.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Stan Grenz’s “Social God and the Relational Self”, Zizioulas, “Being as Communion,” Fiddes, “Participating in God: A Pastoral Doctrine of the Trinity,” and Volf’s “God’s Life in Trinity” (as well as his book on ecclesiology, “After Our Likeness”).

    In the Stone-Campbell tradition, see C. Leonard Allen’s “Participating in God’s Life.”

    A classic work in the Puritan tradition is John Owen’s “On the Saint’s Fellowship with the Trinity.”

    The material in the Eastern Orthodox tradition is particularly valuable on this topic. See Papanikolaou, “Being with God,” as review of this point by the Russian Orthodox Loussy and the Greek Orthodox Zizioulas.

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