The New Commandments of Love: Blessed are the Peacemakers

This might become a series. May not. It’s more just me having Andy Rooney moments and going on old-man rants. Hope you get something out of it.


Some days I feel like a complete outsider to every Christian sub-culture. It’s no secret to most people who’ve read my previous writings that I’m sympathetic to the Eastern Orthodox position within the wave-spectrum of Christian thought, but even I get perturbed by Eastern Orthodox people who latch on to a fundamentalist, “black or white” mindset that is commonly known as “hyperdox”. Likewise, I consider myself prone to a more “liberal Christian” views on social justice, but I often am annoyed by the tribalism that can pervade even this group of open-minded individuals, with a rabid demonization of all conservative perspectives. In short, I half-jokingly refer to myself as “an anomaly of middle convictions.”

Yes, I do like to rock boats and poke bears, but I don’t particularly like it when the bears bite back. I’m a provocateur, but I’m provoking everyone. I’m trying to get in the wedge between the two sides and find the middle way. Even when my mom and dad would fight when I was little I’d get between the two of them, say “You’re both right! Now stop!” and try to be a physical manifestation of their love so they’d forget for a second their petty differences.

All this is to say that being someone who desires to see people come to their senses, I’d like to think of myself as a peacemaker. What does it really mean to be a peacemaker though? The reality is it’s a lot harder and more dangerous than it sounds. I reflect on Christ’s own words on what that means. Why do we want to pursue peace and what does it even mean to have peace?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matt. 5:9)

This is supposed to be the point where I should be cracking my knuckles and give you 10 points on what it means to be a peacemaker so you can share it with your friends and say something like “I like number five. That’s so me!” I’m not going to do that. I’m also not going to tackle “Just War theory” or anything on a grander scale, because I think we first need to have a conversation on what this means from an individual level first. I’m not into giving easy answers. Rather, I’m going to let some old, (physically) dead guys tell you what they believe it means, because frankly…they know koine Greek a heck of a lot better than I do.

First up, one of my favorite preachers of the post-Nicene era, John Chrysostom, Mr. Golden-tongue himself:

Here He not only takes away altogether our own strife and hatred among ourselves, but He requires besides this something more, namely, that we should set at one again others, who are at strife. (Homily 15, Homilies on Matthew)

We are commanded to have only one enemy, the devil. With him never be reconciled! But with a brother, never be at enmity in thy heart. (Homily 20, Homilies on Matthew)

Another favorite preacher and honorable father of the Church, Basil of Caesarea has this to say:

I cannot persuade myself that without love to others, and without, as far as rests with me, peaceableness towards all, I can be called a worthy servant of Jesus Christ. (Letter 203,2)

And the coup de gras, one of my all time favorite teachers and monks, Isaac of Ninevah has this to say on peace:

Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others.
Be crucified, but do not crucify others.
Be slandered, but do not slander others.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity.
Suffer with the sick.
Be afflicted with sinners.
Exult with those who repent.
Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone.
Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all.
Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly.
Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them.
And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.

See, to me, all of these sayings point to a revolutionary idea. That idea is that no matter how right I may believe myself to be; no matter the injustice I perceive before me, I must actually follow Christ’s command to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.This dangerous idea is one that demands a sacrifice of ourselves and to be truly selfless to the point where it hurts. It demands that I give up my right to be right for Christ’s kingdom to be manifest in my life and the lives of others. It’s almost as if Jesus is daring us to let go of our own ideas ideas of justice and peace in a sense and see every person in the image of God. That’s impractical! That’s shockingly reckless! And that scares us because it means we have to give up control. Millions of martyrs throughout history gave up their control and we exalt their memory for it.

The other side to this coin is that when we see people being oppressed or being encompassed by the mob, lynched for their crimes by the masses; no matter how despicable that person may seem, we are to approach that person with love and to shout down the furious hatred rising from the mob, which is breaking into the world like a cancer. Does this mean we never speak out, never stand up and that we let all evil people go free? No. Here’s what it does mean: you do not exchange your humility and peacemaking imperative just because you have some moral upper-hand. You don’t exchange the gospel of peace for a poison, even a poisonous tongue (James 3:1-12), just because you are not identified as a pedophile, rapist, murderer or thief and the other person is. You do and you put tribal justice before a kingdom imperative.

Solidarity is a powerful tool to stand up to power, but it is also a fearsome weapon, able to ensue chaos and a whirlwind that can catch up the innocents in it’s wake. As an example of this, consider the nation’s founders of the United States who saw that such a problem could occur, which is why they segmented the democratic republic and created check’s and balances. The “tyranny of the majority” is just as frightening.

Every person is made in the image of God, from the money-grubbing pastor to the petty thief to the Wall Street executive. Let’s seek justice for those who have been hurt in the wake of injustice by evil men, but let’s remember that the evil that lurks in the hearts of all men can just as easily blind us and numb us from our sins, so we then justify our actions through righteous indignation. In world where hashtags on Twitter and rumors on Facebook can quickly destroy someone’s life, to be a peacemaker is a dangerous ideology because it asks you to give up your vendetta (even if it’s a “just” one) and your control and let the King of the Universe take them into His hands.

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Shadows of the Gospel in the Old Testament (Pt. 1)

The Bible Code

About a decade or more ago, the “Bible Code” book was gaining a lot of attention by Christians and non-Christians alike. It was a book from a reporter who had spent some time with researchers that had come up with a computer program that could scan to find acrostics, like buried secret codes within the aligned letters of the ancient Hebraic texts. Many of the acrostics were of many important current and future world events. For example, the JFK assassination date was presumed to be found deep within the writings.

Of course, people stopped paying attention after the concept was debunked by running the same software through other bulky texts, like Shakespeare.

The Pre-figured Gospel

In this series, I hope to help certain stories rise to the surface from the Old Testament that we don’t often think about in Christological terms. This is called “typology”. We sometimes read the scriptures looking for input into our own lives and our own situations, or to help us get a grasp on what the future holds. Yet, we don’t often read for the Gospel as the pre-eminent story which informs our understanding of many Old Testament stories. Maybe we consider reading typologically as primitive or irrelevant for today’s world.

Typology is exemplified in New Testament scriptures as well as early church writings. Many writers used typology a lot when explaining concepts in the epistles. Hebrews is a prime example, such as when Christ is proclaimed as “a priest in the order of Melchizedek” in chapter 7. The author dove into the Genesis text and saw Christ. He drew Christ out of the Old Testament text.

(Read the rest on my new website for bridging modern Christianity and Tradition with theology at Theologues.com)

Introducing Theologues.com!

I’m excited to introduce my baby, Theologues.com , to the world!

We’re periodically releasing content to help Christians go deeper into their faith through exploring how it’s impacted by history, theology, philosophy, tradition and culture. The root mission is to dive into Christian tradition, but we will be hosting articles from authors across denominations relating to topics that affect you and me today. I also hosting a regular podcast where we discuss in-depth topics with authors on the website and guests who are making an impact in the wider conversation on Christian faith and practice.

Join us and if you like the articles subscribe to our Facebook page and/or follow us on Twitter!

Thanks for your support!

Zach

P.S. If any of this sounds interesting to you at all and you think you might be able to help contribute writings, please feel free to contact me at partofaplan@gmail.com and I’ll get you the submission details!

 

Check out my new podcast!

I’ll soon be moving a lot of my writing over to Theologues.com, a website I’m developing with some of my friends. For now, we’ve started a podcast to whet the appetite of all of you students of the Gospel!

We got together to record an hour long podcast on the Church, theology, culture, philosophy and most of all…Jesus Christ! We’ll be doing this on a regular basis, so feel free to subscribe on iTunes or through our RSS feed.

Our 1st episode is titled “Why does theology matter? and we discuss some of the groundwork for faith. We talk about how Christian theology should be for everyone and how that looks in our daily lives. Bonus: Brandon Peach expounds on bathroom readers and we ask the question “Who would win in an armwrestling match…C.S. Lewis or N.T. Wright?” The show quickly unravels from there.

Coming soon… We’ll release an episode about tackling the holy scriptures. On May 10th, we’ll interview and converse with Glenn Packiam, formerly of “The Desperation Band”, an executive pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs (Ted Haggard’s former church) and is a newly ordained Anglican priest. We’re very excited for the Roundtable’s future and for Theologues.com, which we will be revving up on May 5th!

More Than Words

As I’ve been writing this blog, I have always tried to convey theology in a common language that (hopefully) everyday people can understand. I’ve been far removed from my faith and I’ve also been enamored by some of the more trivial aspects, but I’ve always tried to be open to encountering God. There are times though, where words fail.

When I got out of high school, I spent several months in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I would see families huddle into a small cinderblock building for Sunday morning worship. As they sang together, I saw people looking for relief from a life filled with burden. When they worshipped they found it. I could not deny that. Some light would come upon their face and when you talked about Christ, they were filled with joy. They didn’t really care about minute details of Christian doctrine. They just knew that they were lost and wounded and the shepherd came and found them.

When I’ve volunteered in inner-city ministries where drug addicts, the abused and used people would come to seek food and life, they’d find Christ in compassion and genuine servanthood of volunteers and ministry workers. If you weren’t walking the walk, they didn’t really care to listen to you evangelize.

When the apostle Paul would journey from city to city, He would preach the truth of God and He wasn’t handing out exams afterwards to make sure people understood all the answers correctly. Instead, He asked them to repent and devote their lives to Jesus Christ.

See, I believe that theology and doctrine are signposts which point to God. They aren’t apart from scriptures – they are the scriptures. They aren’t apart from the Church – they are in the Church. Ultimately though, it’s not just the words which are what matter, but the Word matters.

When Jesus spoke of His mission on earth, He didn’t explain the Trinity or get into atonement theory. Rather, He spoke a prophetic word from Isaiah. This word also spoke of His actions going forward, which were grounded to both a spiritual and physical state we’re in. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy and would encounter those realities within our own humanity:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19) KJV

Christianity is primarily an encounter with God -the God who made the heavens and the earth came to us to free us and to heal us from the cycle of sin and death that ensnared us. He encounters us in our weakness and shows the way back to communion with Himself. All the theology in the world can’t make someone encounter God. It can only explore the depths of that encounter in a world which is blind to God. Exploring it can add meaning to that encounter if it’s done with humility and grace.

What is most important to encountering God though? Prayer.

I find it funny that even when a non-believer is at his or her wit’s end, many will try prayer. Even if they’re 99% sure it won’t work, reaching for some sort of higher power becomes our gut reaction for survival. I think we do know somewhere deep down that there is a universal entity that might care about the crap in our lives, or even might be the cause of the pain. We either want to know someone is in control and steering the situation for our benefit, or we want someone to shake our fist at the sky to. In any case, prayer is where we reach out with something inside of ourselves to that entity.

It might be a symptom of the mindset of the modern world, but there is one group that tends to believe that intellect can either solve all of our problem and then there’s another group that sees intellect as the enemy to faith. However, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandments were, His first answer was to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind (Matt. 22:37). There was a clear connection between all three and there wasn’t necessarily a hierarchy, but because we were created with these three parts of us interconnected, they are engaged with God in an interconnected way. The mind is a piece which directs us into a deeper encounter with God, but we don’t only engage with the mind and we don’t abandon it either.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. (Prov. 3:5-6) NKJV

What I ultimately want to say is that a simple faith is not to be scoffed at. Does that excuse us from being tossed to and fro by any wave of doctrine that makes us feel good? Does it mean that those who can’t stop having doubts in their faith are wrong? No, but the one with simple faith knows that the truth they cleave to is only worth one red cent if it causes them to pray more and stretch their hands out for the hem of His robe. They are looking for someone to set them free and bind up their broken hearts, so they just reach out and are open to God somehow moving in their lives. They aren’t so concerned about the systematic paradigm of sovereignty or atonement theories. How can our belief have any power and truth? When it generates a heart in us that makes us take up our Cross and humble ourselves to Him. The world needs more Christians like that than it needs apologists (sorry, William Lane Craig).

I can only hope that I remember this fact every moment and every day of my own life. Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

 

Four Little Words That I Wish More Christians Would Say

Remembering it’s OK to embrace mystery in our faith

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible. – Thomas Aquinas

Being a Christian is a philosophical tightrope. Most apologists know this. It’s knowing and perceiving the world from a certain point, but also being able to take the natural world as it is. While some Christians refuse to take the standard human understanding of nature, others are comfortable working with it while still holding on to their faith. I know friends and have read scholars who can put it more eloquently than this – but being a Christian is a paradox. This isn’t surprising as our entire religion is based on paradox, but what I mean is in an intellectual sense, we have two worlds in our head smashed together. This sounds like cognitive dissonance, but I believe it’s a lot more nuanced than that.

The two worlds I’m speaking of would be the metaphysical, unseen world and the natural world. Now, when I speak of the metaphysical realm, we mean the foundational order behind which we have no way of measuring. As Christians, we believe that there is an “uncaused cause”, a foundational principle, which we call God. God is not just a force, like when the wind knocks a plastic cup off the table…God is the sustainer of everything. He is in everything, but separate. We’re not pantheists. We’re panentheists. (Eph. 1:23)

As C.S. Lewis beautifully put in his book, Miracles:

He is not the soul of Nature, nor any part of Nature. He inhabits eternity: He dwells in a high and holy place: heaven is His throne, not his vehicle, earth is his footstool, not his vesture. One day he will dismantle both and make a new heaven and earth. He is not to be identified even with the ‘divine spark’ in man. He is ‘God and not man.

And so, there comes a time in the Christian’s journey into finding God, when he/she in some ways forgets that we’re still dwelling in an uncertain realm within our faith. We are walking out on the water and holding our breathe. There are times we can say we are certain of what we believe about God and there are times we need to say “I do not know“. I believe certainty itself doesn’t require a full commitment. It just requires a certain capability to accept the tools for having faith and then it let’s us try to cognitively build upon it ourselves.

It can be a tightrope walk with semantics, because we try to use words in our language to express the inexpressible. It’s like trying to explain a brand new color on the color spectrum to a group of people who have never seen it or even know what you’re talking about. If you’re not equipped to understand the greater meaning behind the language, things can get very confusing. So, we sometimes use words like “hypostasis” which described the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the God-Man.

Ultimately, what we try to do is look at the shadow of God, outline the shape and believe in that. The absolute characteristics of God are unknowable in as far as we can’t say something like “God is 100 feet and 7 inches tall”. What we do know (in terms of certainty as I’ve stated previously) is that God became man. That He had a face, wore clothes, ate, slept, etc. He is both transcendent and immanent.  The things that can be said of God are in holy scripture and the teachings He gave to the apostles. It doesn’t mean we aren’t able to build on that and see obvious conclusions, but in many ways, these preponderances are a mere exercise of educated guesswork. Like a musical composition, we’re ringing tones as we go and adopting that which rings truest to the symphonic harmony.

A good example of what I mean would be the question of the ages – what happens to us when we die? Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 the nature of our resurrection to the body. He also expands on the resurrection in relation to the day of judgement in 1 Thessalonians 3. However, what we can’t really tell is what happens in between death and the state of resurrection. Where does the person’s soul go? Some say purgatory. Some say it’s asleep. Some say it’s immediately with God. How can this be if there is no separation between body and Spirit? To that we answer “We don’t know“.

We do know, as far as it’s been revealed in the Christian faith, that God became man and was fully God and man at the same time. He was still in union with God while also being mortal. How does that happen? We don’t know. But in the same manner, we who have been baptized into Christ, are also mystically united to His body. Again, we run into paradox and mystery.

So, I guess my point is that, in many cases it is best to say “I don’t know”. Knowledge doesn’t always mean certainty. Sometimes that knowledge proceeds an educated guess based on Christian principles handed down to us, but much is still uncertain. When we finally come face to face before the Father, we should at least be prepared to admit how wrong we were on a great many things. I’m sure God would appreciate that.

On The Infilling of the Holy Spirit by St. Cyril of Alexandria

I haven’t been able to write lately, so I’m filling in some time with great quotes by church fathers. Take the time to also study the Holy Bible after reading these words and see how this fits into God’s character for yourself. I find it wholly scriptural and by a man filled with the wisdom of God, but you may feel differently than I do about that. That’s OK. We’re learning and growing together.

I hope to have my essays on the Gospel of John up starting this week, so this will be a little primer for that. Blessings to you!

After Christ had completed his mission on earth, it still remained necessary for us to become sharers in the divine nature of the Word. We had to give up our own life and be so transformed that we would begin to live an entirely new kind of life that would be pleasing to God. This was something we could do only by sharing in the Holy Spirit.

It was most fitting that the sending of the Spirit and his descent upon us should take place after the departure of Christ our Savior. As long as Christ was with them in the flesh, it must have seemed to believers that they possessed every blessing in him; but when the time came for him to ascend to his heavenly Father, it was necessary for him to be united through his Spirit to those who worshipped him, and to dwell in our hearts through faith. Only by his own presence within us in this way could he give us confidence to cry out, Abba, Father, make it easy for us to grow in holiness and, through our possession of the all-powerful Spirit, fortify us invincibly against the wiles of the devil and the assaults of men.

It can easily be shown from examples both in the Old Testament and the New that the Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell; he so transforms them that they begin to live a completely new kind of life. Saul was told by the prophet Samuel: The Spirit of the Lord will take possession of you, and you shall be changed into another man. Saint Paul writes: As we behold the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, that glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit, transforms us all into his own likeness, from one degree of glory to another.

Does this not show that the Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell and alters the whole pattern of their lives? With the Spirit within them it is quite natural for people who had been absorbed by the things of this world to become entirely other-worldly in outlook, and for cowards to become men of great courage. There can be no doubt that this is what happened to the disciples. The strength they received from the Spirit enabled them to hold firmly to the love of Christ, facing the violence of their persecutors unafraid. Very true, then, was our Saviour’s saying that it was to their advantage for him to return to heaven: his return was the time appointed for the descent of the Holy Spirit.

– St. Cyril of Alexandria, from his commentary on the Gospel of John (c. 400)

Theology and Responsibility

How I’m desiring to seek the true theology, without compromising it.

I don’t claim to be unique on this blog. A lot of what I write is expounded by many other writers, bloggers, scholars and people with three-letter titles after their names. But what I do hope is that through what I’ve learned/am learning, your mind will be opened to original Christianity. Not in some “new age” sense, but in the sense that discarded thoughts are picked up and re-examined in a new light. My perspective comes from seeking the ancient Christian faith and then I come back here to do a little “show and tell”.

I venture here to show everyday people theology from the ground floor, because that’s where theology starts -in the ground floor historically and existentially. It belongs to the common person. Theology is not only the study of God, but the encountering of Him. One cannot study something one has not encountered.

I could be an absolute expert in all things regarding the island nation of Tahiti. I could study Tahitian culture, history, diet, climate, etc. without ever stepping foot in Tahiti. It’s only when I would actually go to Tahiti and feel the Tahitian sand beneath my toes or look into the eyes of a Tahitian that I would discover the depths of Tahiti in all it’s richness. (And believe me…with single-digit Nebraska weather looming outside my house right now, I’d really like to know Tahiti right now.) Knowingness in this sense is almost inexplicable. It’s like a knowledge that is only retained in the soul.

Another example would be that knowing God is a lot like knowing your spouse. When I say that I know my wife, it means something quite different than when an acquaintance of Amanda’s says they know her. They know of her, but they don’t know her deepest secrets, loves and desires, like I do. And everyday I’m learning more about her.

So it is with God.

We may try with all of our might to search the deep things of God, but unless his Spirit resides in us, such knowledge is tertiary.

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. (1 Cor. 2:9-11, KJV)

Going back to theology; does this all mean that I think getting a Masters in divinity, studying the scriptures, studying the canons, etc….is it all meaningless? No, it means that these are tools and some are quite effective tools. The Bible for instance is a tool that God gave us to search Him and teach of Him (1 Tim, 3:16). It is the footnotes of His expansive love story for us. However, just like if I were to only read the footnotes of Moby Dick, I’d come away with a scattershot view of the themes and meaning of the story, so it is with studying God. I believe the Church, the Spirit and the Scriptures help us in discovering the truth of God. Take one away, and you’re left with a hobbled, misdirected perspective of God. You leave yourself open to false teachings.

So, when you read this blog, know that I too am sorting things out. I am going to try and avoid negative, combative writing which only seeks to puff me up. Doesn’t matter if I’m really right or not. Pride is too volatile to let into my writing. People will only remember you as “the guy who took down _____” rather than as a lamppost for people to discover God through your words and thoughts. I don’t want to be the former.

At the same time, I don’t want to be some hippy-dippy, spineless wet blanket. Paul had a habit of calling out false teachers in many of His epistles. He saw the truth of the Gospel not merely as an opinion, but as life. I never want to reduce the Gospel to mere opinion. I want people to actually find something when they search the Christian religion.

You can’t go on “seeing through” things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see. (C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man)

There’s a point where Christians must stand steadfast in their faith in opposition to all that opposes the Gospel. The starting point would obviously be when it opposes holy scripture.  However, I see some issues with relying on scripture alone (known as sola scriptura to some). But that’s for a different day and a different blog post.

In conclusion, I will make every effort to only cause controversy when I feel it is necessary to do so. I will try and keep you, the reader, with an eye on Christ and His work in the universe. This blog is in part about my life, but it’s also about your encounter with the Trinity. It’s about knowing God and the steps we take to get there.

Let’s walk together.

::cue sappy music::

4 Early Church Writings Every Christian Should Read (Published)

Here’s a new article I wrote for RELEVANT. Enjoy!

In his preface to the Popular Patristics publication of On the Incarnation, C.S. Lewis writes “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in-between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”

New books are great, but they are untested—we don’t know which ones will stand the test of time. But old books have been sifted by time. It’s always good for us to look at the context of the people that came before us and see how the world looked from their time and place.

For Christians, it is even more important we recognize our heritage. Our beliefs are not composed out of thin air, but they come from the revelation of Jesus Christ and were handed down to His disciples through Scriptures and the Church, which is the “pillar and the foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

Here are five books which have not only stood the test of time, but had a great impact on the understanding of Christian doctrine to Christians living in the time shortly after Christ’s ascension, during the Church’s building period.

(Read more at RELEVANTmagazine.com…)

The Case for the Eucharist: An Open Letter to Evangelicals

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.  – St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 11:23-27

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:22-25 ESV). But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity. –  St. Irenaeus, “Against Heresies”, c.130-200 AD

Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox in regard to the grace of God which has come to us. They have no regard for charity, none for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, none for the man in prison, the hungry or the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead. – St. Ignatius of Antioch, “Letter to the Smyrneans”, c.80-110 AD

The above quotes are just a few of dozens of quotes found in scripture and other documents by Christians in the time before Constantine. They are letters against heresies and a defense of what was taught by the apostles themselves to the church. In many cases, the Eucharist as the real flesh and blood of Christ was not only defended but also the tone of the letters often conveyed the presence of Christ in the Eucharist as a given, like how every person who goes to school is at least expected to know basic arithmetic.

We must then ask the question…why do so many Christians today reject the Eucharist as a symbol and do not believe it is the actual body and blood of Christ? Did Ignatius hear the apostle John and Polycarp wrong? Was Paul just kidding when he said whoever drinks Jesus’ blood or eats his flesh in an unworthy manner is guilty of profaning Jesus himself? These are questions I never thought to ask growing up. I never looked back into tradition and to people that were so close to the apostles, they probably were able to hear first-hand accounts about Jesus, or at least know people who knew the apostles. I think it stems from how we like to rationalize some aspects of the faith but hide behind the Bible when we do that. The Bible shows us truth and it contains the authority and the foundation of our faith, but does it show us directly and without any extra effort everything about our faith? Arguably, faith in the Bible is faith in God because God should be faithful to keep his Word. However, he also promised to keep his Church and his Church brought forth the Word, inspired by councils who determined it’s canon.

Furthermore, the above quotes (among others) pre-date the canonization of the Bible. Therefore, the people who compiled the Bible knew that every word in the canon would reaffirm what they already knew about the faith. They also spoke and read in koine Greek better than any of us can. So, let’s step back and have a conversation about what we choose to deny when it comes to our faith and what we choose to adopt. Because if we choose to adopt the Bible as the sacred apex of our faith and only that which is contained in it, then we must ask why we choose to deny the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, why we call it only a “symbol” and why we choose to ignore the words of Paul, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, etc. etc.

My perspective is that the Eucharist is not only a mystery, but it’s a mystery we must embrace. Believing in the real presence states that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ has so affected our world, that spiritual and physical things can now co-mingle under the power of the Holy Spirit, delivering grace directly to the people.

I’ll conclude with a quote from Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s superb opus on the Eucharist, For the Life of the World:

The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom. We use the word ‘dimension’ because it seems the best way to indicate the manner of our sacramental entrance into the risen life of Christ. Color transparencies ‘come alive’ when viewed in three dimensions instead of two. The presence of the added dimension allows us to see much better the actual reality of what has been photographed. In very much the same way, though of course any analogy is condemned to fail, our entrance into the presence of Christ is an entrance into a fourth dimension which allows us to see the ultimate reality of life. It is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world.