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'Bloody redemption' by Charlie Mackesy

[See my previous blogs on Communion: ‘Communion’ re-discovered… (part 1)]

You recall Luther’s famous ‘Table Talk,’ a collection of his sayings around the dinner table, circa 1531-1544. Today a little ‘Table Talk’ around the Lord’s Table...

Jn. 6:52-59 follows Jesus’ ‘feeding of the five thousand’ and his bold declaration that he had come into to the world as ‘the Bread of Life’ (v. 25ff). As he expounds this statement, his Jewish synagogue audience in Capernaum grumbles about his provocative claims and teaching. ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ (v. 52). In some ways their puzzlement is understandable against the backdrop of Moses’ ancient warnings against eating animal meat containing blood (Dt. 12:23-25). Then Jesus adds his own warning, “‘I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you… For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink… the one who feeds on me will live because of me… Our forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live for ever!'” (v. 53-55)

A few clarifying comments:

  • Jesus is obviously speaking metaphorically here (a characteristic of John’s narrative), otherwise he would seem to teach some kind of cannibalism! He is also not teaching ‘transubstantiation.’ With great respect to my RC friends and mentors [see footnote 1], and as a fairly well educated but essentially simple Jesus-follower, I just don’t get ‘the magic of the mass.’ I recently attended a requiem mass in support of a grieving family. At a given moment, the tinkle of a man-activated bell and the incantation of a fallible priest, the wafer and wine were trans-substantiated into the body and blood of Jesus. Is this not human manipulation of divine grace? At this service, it was also made abundantly clear that eating the wafer and drinking the wine was reserved for members of the local parish alone, excluding even faithful RC members of another parish. Not that Protestants are not guilty of some of these things – Calvinists have often talked about ‘fencing the table.’ Surely a plain reading of the Bible doesn’t indicate ‘special hoops’ for broken sinners to jump through before being licensed to partake in ‘the means of grace?’ Imho Communion unites rather than divides! (note, the 1 Cor. 11 passage must be carefully studied in its general and specific context, lest it be mis-applied!)
  • Jesus comes as one fully human in every way, hence the repeated reference to his ‘flesh’ and ‘blood.’ The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us…’ (Jn. 1:14). That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim…’ (1 Jn. 1:1ff). I emphasize this in the face of classic Gnosticism and Dualism (most of the NT Letters addressed these issues), Charismatic ‘super-spirituality,’ etc.
  • This passage’s connection with the practice of Communion is acknowledged by most established NT scholars and theologians.

Now for some Communion basics and newer insights:

  1. Communion is for sinners. The Pharisees simply couldn’t stomach that. ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven?'” (Jn. 6:42). That’s how ‘religious’ and ‘good’ people often react to Jesus. I recall a story concerning ‘Rabbi Duncan,’ when his elders were passing the Communion cup around the congregation. He had noted a ‘broken’ woman at the back refusing the cup. He proceeded to take the cup from the serving elder and gave it to her saying, ‘Take it woman, it’s for sinners!’ [2] Surely a comforting reminder, knowing our own hearts.
  2. Communion is a gift. Henri Nouwen, the RC academic, preacher and author, has enriched me no end [3]. In a marvelous mini-series, ‘Being the Beloved,’ he asks ‘Who Am I?’ He explains that identity is not found in what I do, nor in what others say about me, nor in what I have. Rather, my true identity lies in the affirmation, ‘I am His beloved!’ We worked through this in our house church recently with great joy, the outline stuck on our lounge wall as a constant reminder. Btw: the first three identities lead to death, the latter identity to life!
  3. Communion is a divine embrace. It renews our relationship with God. We enter union with Christ not by works but outrageous grace and faith alone (cf. Eph, 2:8). Jesus has entered into intimate and permanent relationship with us. By ‘eating and drinking’ we, in a mysterious and precious way, are embraced by Father and Son. Ron Rolheiser tells the story of a six-year old Jewish boy, Mordecai. When he was old enough for school, his parents accompanied him to his classroom. Unfortunately, Mordecai kept on absconding from class. His parents reasoned, cajoled, pleaded, bribed him, but to no avail. In desperation they took the matter to their Rabbi. When they brought their son to him, he didn’t say a word. He simply picked him up, held him warmly to his heart for quite a while, then put him down. Everything changed. The boy happily went off to school the next day and in fact excelled throughout his school career. Will we (especially self-sufficient males) surrender to the warm embrace of Father and Son?
  4. Communion reconciles. Jesus touched on this in Mt. 5:23-24 [3], 6:12 (‘Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…’) and 18:15-20 [4]. The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian ekklesia, calls all saints to ‘the ministry of reconciliation,’ inspired by God’s magnificent act in Christ (2 Cor. 5:11-21). Corrie ten Boom [5], Ravensbruck survivor and global evangelist, was preaching in Germany on an occasion. One of her ex-Nazi camp guards came up to her afterwards and sought her forgiveness, stating that he had recently come to faith. She panicked, paused, prayed ‘Lord please help’ and then stuck out her hand woodenly to her former persecutor. At that precise moment she felt a warmth from shoulder to hand and her heart flooding with the love of Jesus. ‘I forgive you brother, with all of my heart’ she responded. Will we follow her brave example in forgiving all who have sinned against us? Especially in the light of Jesus’ white-hot love for us…
  5. Communion crucifies. His followers heed their Lord, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself  (i.e. his/her selfish ego) and take up his cross (an instrument of death) and follow me'” (Mk. 8:34). The apostle Paul wrote along similar lines in his classic Gal. 2:20 statement. Each believer has to undergo a personal Calvary. It changes everything.
  6. Communion transforms. Physically it’s true that ‘we are what we eat!’ ‘Feasting on Jesus’ in our hearts by faith changes us bit-by-bit in our all-important character, so rare in communities today. Furthermore, from the early Church we learn to ‘break bread’ not once a month or quarterly as generally practiced but regularly, even as part of a daily meal. This affects our families and society around us for good (cf. Acts 2:42ff). Organic house churches testify to this around the world. Surely we have been called to be a loving, ‘alternate society’ in a world torn-apart by so many man-made social and political barriers? [7]

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[50 years ago]

Enjoy this song, and consider a family love feast sometime!


[1] I have a number of RC friends, who count among some of the nicest people I know. I’m also deeply appreciative of RC writers like Hans Urs von Balthazar, Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, et al. [sometimes I’m criticized by sincere Protestant friends accusing me of condoning the RC church system. I don’t. Furthermore, I value all truth, no matter the source. ‘There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true’ (Soren Kierkegaard)].

[2] John (‘Rabbi’) Duncan, 1796-1870, a Free Church of Scotland minister, missionary to Hungarian Jews and professor of Hebrew at New College, Edinburgh.

[3] Mt. 5:23-24 recently compelled me to meet with a Christian brother who had seemingly withdrawn his friendship from me. We talked frankly, and our relationship has been wonderfully restored.

[4] Mt. 18:15ff became very relevant to our family thirteen years ago, when we were confronted by a minority but vocal ‘concerned group’ in our congregation asking me to step down as senior pastor (for totally non-ethical reasons). The elders called in a denominational facilitator who, though sincere, only complicated things. Looking back, I’ve often thought if only the concerned group had followed Jesus’ counsel in Mt. 18. By God’s amazing grace we were able to part company amicably, having resorted to Mt. 18 ourselves. The sore issue became a blessing as it helped us transition from institutional church to organic church with great fulfillment.

[5] Corrie came from a Dutch family giving shelter to Jews during World War 2. The family was betrayed, and she and her sister Betsie were imprisoned in the notorious Ravensbruck death camp. Betsie sadly died in the gas chambers. After the war Corrie returned to Holland to care for the mentally disabled and travel to over sixty countries proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

[6] See Wolfgang Simson’s classic Houses That Change the World.’ It was largely this book that inspired me to take my present ecclesiastical and missional journey.

[7] Cf. F. Viola’s Insurgence, p. 336-338.


The Roman Centurion, Soldier, Armor, Military

War, Refugees, Children, Help, Suffering, Poverty


There are wars everywhere, conventional and unconventional. I have just finished Duncan Larcombe’s biography on Prince Harry which describes his participation in the Afghanistan war against Taliban insurgents and the latter’s use of ‘Improvised Explosive Devices’ and anti-tank mines which at times wreaked havoc among the British forces. On an unseen spiritual level, believers and Jesus-communities world-wide are waging no ordinary war, defensively and offensively [1]. This is no church-picnic, but an ‘armed struggle’ against the most powerful and evil forces in Jesus’ name.

Why this topic? For one thing, in our local house churches, individually and corporately, we seem to have recently suffered one vicious blow after the other. However, by grace, we are coming through it all ‘more than conquerors’ through Christ our King, testifying of God’s hesed, i.e. ‘steadfast love.’ In the view of this local onslaught, and much worse suffered by believers around the world, we decided to take another look at Eph. 6:10-20, one of the classic passages on spiritual warfare. Our mutual discussion brought much revelation and encouragement.

Before we get to Eph. 6, we need to peruse its OT context. The OT is clear about the fact that, in this universal war against evil, GOD himself is the triumphant Warrior-King. He himself has put on ‘the full armour’ and taken up the sword, and therefore the outcome for his people is assured! [2]. In his fight against Israel’s enemies (Babylon, etc), he ‘donned’ the ‘breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation’ (Is. 59:17). He had his ‘feet shod’ with the Good News of Redemption (Is. 52:7) and took up the ‘sword of his Word’ (Is. 49:1ff). Prov. 30:5 in turn describes God as a ‘shield’ to those who take refuge in him. This was and is one innately omnipotent and loving God!

Next we note the general context of Paul’s circular Letter to the Ephesian and surrounding ekklesiae of Asia Minor. The NT Jewish and Gentile world addressed by Jesus and the apostles was saturated with religious traditionalism, legalism, idolatry (Ephesus hosted the renowned virginity-goddess Astarte), the occult and emperor-worship. Imagine the cost of the early Church’s baptismal confession, JESUS is LORD!’ Furthermore, one can’t understand Eph. 6 and the call to warfare without recognizing the amazing foundation Paul laid in chap.’s 1-3. Those chapters are all about Christ, believers’ union with him by faith, their ‘position in Christ,’ and much more. So much so, that Paul prays for already-enlightened believers to be enlightened even more, in order that they may grasp just ‘something’ of the fullness of Christ’s person, life, death and risen-ness. Any reading of these chapters should have us marching up and down, belting out ‘All hail the power of Jesus’ name! Let angels prostrate fall; Bring forth the royal diadem, And crown Him Lord of all!’ (Tune Diadem). In short, we need to be saturated with Eph. 1-3 before we can tackle 6:10ff…

To Eph. 6:10ff and ‘The Armour of God’ then. Paul, God’s beloved jail-bird, writes from a Roman prison, probably chained to a Roman centurion, hence his detailed battle-dress description. I love JB Phillips’ paraphrase from yester-year: ‘In conclusion be strong – not in yourselves but in the Lord… Put on God’s complete armour so that you can successfully resist all the devil’s methods of attack. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil… you must wear the whole armour of God (my emphasis) that you may be able to resist in the day of evil power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground. Take your stand then…’ (note all the ‘stand’s!’). You see, we’re in a battle to the end. I recall old cassette-tape versions of the renowned Welsh expository preacher of Westminster Chapel, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Eph. 6:10ff. With biblical anointing he reminded his audience of this ‘battle to the death,’ and that the devil would ‘fight us to our very last breath!’ As to the reality of the devil, William Barclay quoted R.L. Stevenson, ‘You know the Caledonian Railway Station in Edinburgh? One cold, east windy morning, I met Satan there…’ I recall similar experiences over the years, one in a KwaZulu-Natal town near an old Hindu temple and the other in a Central China city saturated with Buddha statuettes for sale and a huge Muslim mosque erected in 700 AD [3].

The apostle goes on to exhort us, individually and corporately, to put on each piece of armour:  including the ‘shield of faith’ with which we can ‘extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one,’ ‘the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God’ (an instrument of defence and attack), etc. Note, my purpose in this blog is not to go into the detail of the individual armour-pieces but rather just to put some broad brush-strokes on the canvas of spiritual warfare. Suffice it to say, ultimately our best counter to evil is to ‘put on Christ himself ‘ (Eph. 4:17ff), i.e. to exchange all that is selfish and destructive in our life for Christ and his character ‘by faith.’ In this way we are sure to conquer! Two things need to be noted here, but why not take a quick coffee break, or come back tomorrow while the first part of this blog is still fresh in your mind, or just push on right now… I plan to conclude briefly with some experiential and practical pointers…

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Two important points, then some practical applications…

  • First, we need to distinguish between biblical triumphalism (i.e. ‘we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us’ – btw, this is the theme of John’s ‘The Revelation!’) and populist triumphalism. The NT is replete with statements that Christ has triumphed over the powers, via his cross and resurrection. ‘You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross (Col. 2:13-15; cf. Rom. 8:38-39). Years ago we had the ‘spiritual warfare’ movement headed up by all kinds of ‘prophets’ and ‘generals.’ Soon their histrionic foot-soldiers adopted the habit of screaming at every enemy in sight in ‘Jeeeezus name,’ the louder the better, declaring their downfall here, there and everywhere! (sadly, it’s still common practice today – note Jude’s caution in v. 8-10 against ‘false teachers’). At that time the congregation I was pastoring (btw, I’m no longer into ‘church as we know it’) sent church-planters to an unreached tribe among the Peruvian Quechua’s. When the missionary couple asked for advice from a sage and experienced leader in spiritual warfare as to how to approach their mammoth task, he advised them to ‘just preach the Gospel!’ Wasn’t that Jesus’ approach?? (cf. Lk. 4:18-19). I like that! And I’m not minimizing the critical role of intercession in mission in any way.
  • Eph. 6:18-20 uses the word ‘pray’ and ‘prayer’ repeatedly, hence its importance in the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. Such intercession must be ‘in Christ’: constant, intense and community-based. One of the best missionary biographies I’ve read is ‘Mountain Rain,’ the story of J.O. Fraser, missionary to the animist Lisu mountain tribes of Yunnan Province, China. It tells how he gave up a promising engineering and music career, as well as great family riches at age 22, to plant a church among the unreached Lisu. In doing so, he had to overcome monstrous physical, emotional and spiritual battles – at the beginning and along the way. Despite these hardships he prayed on, with a strong support-base of prayer back in England. Just as he was about to give up and leave the tribe, God intervened miraculously and the Lisu experienced a powerful and lasting revival!

Five, practical ‘knows’ in summary…

  1. Know your enemy. I recall a house church brother who, against advice, insisted on engaging in ‘deliverance ministry’ on his own (I believe you need a team of mature and prayerful believers for such encounters, which, btw, you don’t go looking for!). At more or less the same time he was engaging in his power-trip, his wife ‘fell’ for a business colleague, their marriage broke up, he re-married and then sadly (though a fitness fanatic) died of a heart attack in his early fifties. Now I’m not into ‘fear mongering,’ but simply remind us all that our enemy is extremely cunning and will take advantage of any obvious ‘chink in our armour,’ in this brother’s case a wobbly marriage. The enemy is no easily-recognized boogey-man but parades as an ‘angel of light’ according to 2 Cor. 11:14-15 (Paul exposing false apostles), who will exploit any armour-chink to further his destructive cause on earth.
  2. Know your Christ. Know him better and better. Ultimately the Christian life is not a set of rules or even principles (as many popular preachers would have us believe) but a life ‘in Christ!’ Our faith is in the risen Christ who has joined us to himself and indwells us as his temple on earth. So let’s get the balance right. The saintly Scottish preacher, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, used to say, ‘For every one look at sin take ten looks at Christ!’ (my down-to-earth Scottish College Principal often quipped that a healthy Christian doesn’t walk around all day with a thermometer in his/her mouth!). T. Austin-Sparks, the English author and evangelist once went to see F.B. Meyer, the renowned British Baptist pastor and promoter of the ‘deeper life.’ When he arrived, Meyer was not immediately available and so asked him to wait in his study. Austin-Sparks noticed a plaque with two golden words, LOOK DOWN. When Meyer arrived, his visitor asked if the plaque shouldn’t read, LOOK UP? The pastor replied, ‘It’s all a question of position. If you are in Christ, you are seated with him in heavenly places (Eph. 1:3) and you look down. But if you are under the situation, the only thing you can do is look up…’ Know your Christ and your position in him.
  3. Know yourself. It’s helpful to know your personality type, quirks, strengths and weaknesses. Seek to be as transparent as possible with God and your fellow-believers [3]. Dr. Lloyd-Jones also preached passionately about the importance of the believer’s ‘inner man’ (Eph. 3:16/KJV). By that he meant that quiet, unruffled place deep within, where Christ rules with peace that passes understanding.
  4. Know your ekklesia. ‘Church’ is a misnomer. Multitudes across the globe are discovering small, organic house ekklesiae or micro-communities. In these learn to know each other well (impossible in larger groups), pray for one another, encourage one another, exhort one another, forgive one another [4].
  5. Know your Bible. Remember how Jesus triumphed in the desert over his arch-enemy (Mt. 4:1-11). At this time we daren’t assume biblical literacy among most ‘evangelical Christians.’ May we prove exceptional!

Thanks for your great patience, dear reader, and may God Almighty use us all to his glory, as his kingdom comes here on earth as it is in heaven. And remember, the ultimate outcome of the battle is assured!!

[If you have a moment more, please peruse the footnotes below]

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[1] ‘While those who follow Jesus primarily to show the world what it looks like when Jesus is Lord by taking care of one another in the ekklesia, Jesus-followers are also to demonstrate the kingdom by doing good works for the lost. To remove this aspect of the kingdom turns the ekklesia into a bless me club, a holy huddle of those who care only for their own and are dismissive towards the rest of the world for whom Jesus died. Whenever this happens, the ekklesia replays the sin of ancient Israel… Israel retained God’s blessing for herself, turning it’s windows into mirrors.’ (F. Viola’s Insurgence, p. 334) PS, today’s war-mongering ‘Christians’ horrify me. Let’s learn from the Anabaptists, ‘the Reformers’ Step-Children.’

[2] This assurance came to me very powerfully yet sweetly one recent morning from 2.30 am (when under normal circumstances a few cups of coffee and wild horses wouldn’t wake me) until 6.30 am! God is so gracious…

[3] If you’re somewhat taken aback by my thinking on demonology, I can only say that I live in Africa where demon-possession and oppression are perhaps more overt. I found the same in South America, the Far East, etc. On another note, I’m part of a nation-wide network of organic house churches in South Africa, and a well-educated and mature believer indicated in a recent chat that it’s her experience and conviction that behind much of racism, in our country (!) and world-wide, sit powerful demonic forces. Think of it, if you were the enemy, how would you go about destroying societies and nations, tearing them in tatters? I submit that one of our satan’s favourite tools in his rather large toolbox must be hatred and racism. How desperately the Church-universal needs to have her feet shod with the Good News of Peace in these momentous days! (Is. 52:7; Eph. 6:15). Reading the hopeful autobiography of Anglican archbishop Thabo Makgoba, ‘Faith & Courage,’ reminds me of how far we still have to go in my beloved country. The wise Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber (1878-1965), advises one and all: Stop relating to others as I-It, but as I-Thou. We must learn to recognize the image of God in ever person.’

[4] There is a secular, psychological model known as Johari’s Window. It depicts our personality in terms of a window made up of different window panes. Some are transparent, some darker, and one is opaque. Watch out for the latter. Though extremely painful, ask a trusted and mature believer to gently (!) expose your ‘blind spots.’ I have seen the evil one exploit that dark pane, bringing great pain. Returning to Buber, ‘It is also true that we must learn to recognize our own potential for evil… so we can recognize those behaviors in ourselves and others. It is possible to critique observable behaviors without demonizing the sacredness and potential for good.’

[5] I hesitate to share the following, but just maybe, it’ll help some fellow-leader somewhere in the world? In my last traditional congregation, I had to do with a heavily demon-possessed young adult who had indulged in Neo-Naziism and other occult practices. On his request for release, as we prayed, he would often present as a vicious wolf, snarling and salivating, charging at me and our prayer-team. His deliverance took a year or two of emotionally-draining counseling and prayer. His principal demon would threaten to tear apart our congregation (that’s what ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ does). Our team responded that he couldn’t do that. Sadly some years later, there was a division within that congregation, and I often wondered why? A thought crossed my mind:  while the team was walking closely with the Lord, some immature believers in the congregation were not (a few ‘Jezebels,’ male and female?). They had apparently become ‘lightning-rods’ for the devil to strike (pardon the mixed metaphors). I’m not being dogmatic here, and theologically it puzzles me [cf my blog archives, The Case for Good Theology]. Was/is this a feasible explanation? Just wondering…