A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 03/11/2001
Heghlu'meH QaQ jajvam. "It is a good day to die."
In Klingon philosophy, this means that an individual--or a group, or an institution--should always be prepared to die if that death can serve its Lord. How Trinity Fellowship's ending might do that we cannot yet know. But we shall see.
I take as my text on this solemn occasion 1 Tim. 1:13-14."Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us the treasure which has been entrusted to you."
I take these words as my final exhortation to you not because I think I am the equal of Paul, but because our situations are parallel. And so I have been asking myself this week, "What is the treasure that I have been trying to entrust to you for the last nine years?" I have attempted to summarize it in Five Theses.I. GOD MADE--AND GOD MEANS--HUMAN BEINGS TO BE WHOLE PERSONS, INCLUDING NOT ONLY EMOTION AND WILL BUT ALSO MIND AND IMAGINATION (Mat. 22:36-38).
This principle comes from no less an Authority than our Lord himself, who went out of his way to insert the mind into his answer to the question about the greatest commandment. Fallen philosophies lead to fragmentation; Biblical Christianity fosters unity. Thus, secular thought treats Man as a body alone, while human religions treat him as a spirit trapped or burdened by the body. But Christianity uniquely among all philosophies teaches the Incarnation of Spirit in our Lord and the Resurrection of the Body in Him and in us.Like a daregale skylark scanted in a dull cage, Man's mounting spirit in his mean house, bone house, dwells. That bird beyond the remembering his free fells, This in drudgery day-laboring out life's age. And yet on turf or perch or poor low stage, Both sing sometimes the sweetest, sweetest spells. But both sometimes droop deadly in their cells, Or wring their barriers with bursts of fear or rage. Not that the sweet fowl, song fowl needs no rest. Why, hear him as he babbles and drops down to his nest-- But his own nest, wild nest, no prison. Man's spirit will be flesh-bound when found at best, But uncumbered. Meadow down is not distressed By a rainbow footing it, nor he for his bones risen! --G. M. Hopkins
As with the spirit and the body, so with the mind and the emotions. A Christianity that is content to be merely emotional (or merely intellectual) is simply inauthentic Christianity. So how then do we end up in a religious culture which believes that the human mind is the only part of our nature that is so fallen Christ can't redeem it, the Holy Spirit can't sanctify it, and God can't use it? That its only legitimate function is that of thinking up clever arguments against its own use? Anti-Intellectualism is not just an error; it is a heresy, a denial of the faith. We have not just been eggheads wanting a style of worship we like; we have been people who long for wholeness struggling against a false spirituality that would deny it to us. "God," said Thomas More, "made the Angels to show him splendor, as he made the animals for their innocence and the plants for simplicity. But Man he made to serve him wittily, in the tangle of his mind." So we must not just repudiate Anti-Intellectualism as false spirituality and false religion, we must incarnate the opposite (unity and wholeness) for all the world to see. Otherwise, we become implicated in a false spirituality which is ultimately a denial of the faith.II. If thesis no. 1 is true, then CHURCH MINISTRY SHOULD RECONSTITUTE, REUNIFY, AND REBUILD THOSE WHOLE PERSONS GOD INTENDED OUT OF THE FRAGMENTS CREATED BY SIN (Eph. 4:11-16).
In this classic description of ministry from Ephesians, the Goal is to grow up into Christ; the Method is by speaking the Truth in Love. And we are to grow up into Christ "IN ALL ASPECTS" (v. 15). How did those words get left out of the Bible of American Evangelicalism? For they mean nothing less than that the Church is trying to grow people who THINK like the One who designed the stars, who astounded the rabbis, and who defeated the Pharisees; people who IMAGINE the world like the one who wrote the parables; who make CHOICES like the One whose meat and drink was to do the will of his Father; who SERVE like the One who washed his disciples' feet; and who LOVE like the One who died on Calvary.
If then we are satisfied simply to teach people to follow a set of rules or to move them to cry at altars, our ministry is less than authentic Christianity. It is a false spirituality which has denied the faith.III. If both of these things are true, then EXPOSITORY PREACHING IS ESSENTIAL TO AUTHENTIC CHRISTIAN MINISTRY (2 Tim. 3:15-17, Col. 1:28).
Exposition is not just a preferred style of preaching. It is the mandated approach to preaching. For God has spoken in Christ and in Scripture, and this--not the opinions of men--is the only spiritual food worth offering people. We have already seen that speaking the Truth in Love is essential to ministry. And our primary access to this Truth which transforms is through a Text, made of a certain series of words structured in a certain context at a certain time in history. Unless that Text then is understood in terms of its Author's and its authors' intent, discernible only by prayerful attention to its details--unless it is thus understood and applied, we build on sand and have nothing to offer.Nothing less can speak to our condition, Not prooftexts, pretexts; we must have the WORD. There is no power but in exposition. The Text is captain of the expedition, The Apostles' accents are what must be heard, For nothing less can speak to our condition. The finger on the verse, the fair rendition, Then, not to brandish but to thrust the Sword: There is no power but in exposition. When heralds mind the message and the mission, Not feelings only--mind and heart are stirred, And nothing less can speak to our condition. Can mere opinion lead to true contrition When bond and marrow splitting's not incurred? There is no power but in exposition. Such splitting, like the atom: in that fission The power is unleashed, the faith conferred. For nothing less can speak to our condition; There is no power but in exposition. --D.T.W.
I do not hesitate to say it: to accept anything less from our pastors denies the doctrine of Inspiration and implicates us in a false spirituality which has ultimately, whatever its intentions, denied the faith.IV. If these things are true, it also follows that A SACRAMENTAL CAST OF MIND IS ESSENTIAL TO AUTHENTIC CHRISTIAN MINISTRY (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
Two of the most unique doctrines of Scripture are Creation and Incarnation. There is no Christianity if they are denied. In both of them, the Spiritual expresses itself in and through the Material. For historic, biblical Christianity, matter (or the body) is not the tomb or the prison of spirit but its MEDIUM, the material in and through which it works. For Man is, as Thomas Browne said, "that great and true Amphibium, created to live not in divers elements but in divided and distinguished worlds." We are the place where Spirit and Matter most crucially come together, the place where they meet. Therefore, any ministry which flows from that Spirit--the God who created the physical world and made us in his image--to that Man--the one who was made in the image of God--is going to partake of this incarnational pattern.
The Lord's Supper therefore is a paradigm (a foundational and defining model or pattern) not only for the Content of the Gospel (as we show forth Christ's death until he come) but also for the Method of Ministry (incarnation). When the makeup of the congregation permits, this should be expressed by the Church returning to its historic role as the great Patron and Nurturer of the Arts. That has certainly been part of our identity. In every congregation, it should be expressed by the Centrality of the Sacramental. Here the Spiritual is expressed in and through the Material, bread and wine. As Man was created to have a Mind, authentic Christian ministry must be based on the sound exposition of the Word; as he was created to be a Spirit expressing itself through a Body, authentic Christian ministry must be centered on the Lord's Supper.Once again the Lord of Heaven Stoops with towel around his waist, Breaks the Bread made without leaven, Watches Judas leave in haste. Once again the Lord of Glory Lifts the Cup to bless the Wine. We who reenact the Story Seek the Savior in the Sign. More than just an illustration Though it is but Wine and Bread: This, the Spirit's proclamation Of the holy One who bled. It is more than just a symbol Though it is but Bread and Wine; For the Spirit flows, as nimble As the sap within the vine. More than just a silent letter Lying dormant on the page, This is Truth that breaks its fetters, Vaults the intervening age. Words like Transubstantiation? To precisian to define How the Lord takes up his station In the Bread and in the Wine. Although we, like doubting Thomas, Need to see the Hands and Side, He is gracious with the Promise: "Come, behold them where they hide." It is more than just a token, More than just a word about; With this Bread we must be broken, Like this Wine, our lives poured out. In that mysterious oblation Faith is strengthened and restored. With refocused adoration, Saints rejoice to meed the Lord. So again the Lord of Glory Lifts the Cup to bless the Wine. We who reenact the Story See the Savior in the Sign. --D.T.W.
Communion therefore should not be occasional and peripheral but continual and central to our worship. Dare we say it? Anything less than this is a failure to understand the most basic doctrines of Christianity (not to mention our Lord's instructions). It is a false spirituality which has denied the faith.V. If all these things are true, then THE NEW TESTAMENT PATTERN OF WORSHIP IS ALSO ESSENTIAL TO AUTHENTIC CHRISTIAN MINISTRY (1 Cor. 14:26, Heb. 10:23-25).
"Each one" has a teaching, an exhortation, a psalm; we assemble together to stir up "one another" to love and good deeds. How did these words fall out of the Bibles used by American Evangelicals? When do these things happen in their "worship" services? As Man is a Mind, Exposition is foundational; as Man is a Spirit expressing itself through a Body, the Sacraments are central; and as Man was made to be a social animal, Mutuality is essential to true Christian worship and ministry. We look back to Eph. 4:16 again: the body grows through what is supplied by EACH individual part. Only as ministry is mutual can we grow as we are designed to; only as ministry is mutual can Christ fully be made manifest in and through the Congregation.Each menber has a place; each one belongs As seen when, gathered as a congregation, They sing their psalms and hymns and holy songs. Whether two or three or mighty throngs, The Lord is in their midst. A priestly nation, Each member has a place; each one belongs. The Lord himself with love eternal longs For them; each one by special invitation Is singing psalms and hymns and holy songs. A pincer movement, ministry. The prongs? A verse, a prayer, a word of exhortation. Each member has a place; each one belongs. How beautiful the feet, the sandal thongs Which go to every tongue and tribe and nation Singing psalms and hymns and holy songs. Spectators passive in their pew? It wrongs The vision, suffocates the celebration. Each member has a place; each one belongs, Singing psalms and hymns and holy songs. --D.T.W.
The "entertainment model" for ministry, in which everybody sits passively in their pews watching the performance provided for them up on the stage, is simply disobedient and inauthentic Christianity, a false spirituality that has implicitly denied the faith.CONCLUSION:
Well, these are my five theses: God made and meant us to be whole persons, including mind and imagination; church ministry must reflect this fact by restoring that wholeness and unity out of the fragmentation created by sin; therefore, Expository Preaching, a Sacramental Cast of Mind, and the NT pattern of Mutual Minstry are essential to authentic Christianity. Not desirable; not ideal; not preferable; ESSENTIAL. For otherwise we deny by implication if not outright the most unique and fundamental doctrines that make the Christian faith what it is.
Trinty Fellowship was founded for one reason: out of the conviction that these principles are indeed Essential to Authentic Christianity. They are not a matter of style, or of preference, or of taste. They are a matter of obedience. And therefore, if you go out of this place to become comfortable in the pew of a church that is satisfied with the false spirituality of conventional Christianity, then truly we shall have existed and striven in vain. But if you can never again be content without insisting that any church which names the name of Christ that you are a part of must reckon with these realities and be transformed by these truths--then, though we are no longer here, we may be able to say without dishonesty that we accomplished our mission. Amen.
Our revels now are ended. And we, the actors, were all spirits (expressing ourselves through bodies), and (in our corporate form) are melted into thin air. And, like the baseless facbric of this vision, the cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself, yea all that it inherit, shall dissolve and like this insubstantial pageant faded leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. Well, then. Good night, sweet Church. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Here endeth the Fellowship.
Dr. Donald T. Williams