Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Little Altar-cation

Wow. That was a long time without updating. Please forgive me. There's been a lot of stuff going on, bla, bla, bla...
Anyway, back to the subject at hand. There seems to have been an altar-cation between the Protestants, Roman Catholics, Greeks, and anyone else who jumped into the discussion. It's been said that the way to get people to stop reading your blog is not to update as frequently. I hope that isn't the case this time, as I'd like to continue the dialogue. This is the longest I've ever gone without posting.
There are several issues I will take up immediately:
  1. There is a significant difference between a table and an altar in Scripture.
  • Consider firstly, an altar. The word is thusiasterion from thuo (to sacrifice) and thusia (a sacrifice), so a thusiasterion is simply a "place of sacrifice". This is a term used in Mat 23:18-20; Lk 1:11; Lk 11:51; Rom 11:3.
  • It is always used in the New Testament to refer to the altar of the Hebrew temple as a place where something is sacrificed, or to a pagan altar (Acts 17:23), or to heavenly altars in the book of Revelation.
  • It is NEVER used in reference to the Lord's Supper, but is implied by Christ's work on Calvary. I repeat, neither altar nor sacrifice, which are techinical terms, were used in reference to the Eucharist. Try me on this, it's black and white (unless you have a red-letter edition). There is an important place where Paul uses all three terms (altar, sacrifice, table) but we can exegete that in a moment.
  • Next, consider a table. The word, as was pointed out by our Greek friend, is trapeza, not "holy table," just table. The word is found in Mat 15:27; Lk 16:21; Lk 22:21, 30; Lk 22:21, 30; Rom 11:9, etc. It means a dining table. Jesus used it during the Last Supper to refer to the actual physical furniture that they were reclining at, as well as a description of our spiritual communion with him.
  • An altar is necessary for atonement, but the one and only altar recognized by Christ is the one he sacrificed himself on, and that is the Cross. After a sacrifice was made in Israel, the priests would sit and eat the flesh (not drink the blood) of the offering. In this way they were connected to the sacrifice. But the act of sacrifice was complete and done, before they ate it. Christ's sacrifice was once for all time, just as his birth was a one-time historical event (just because we celebrate it annually doesn't mean that a supernatural birth of infant Jesus occurs again), and his baptism, and his ressurection and ascension. Likewise is death was a unique event. He is not dying nor dead any longer, but we remember that event.
  • Let's look at Paul's warning against idolatry in 1 Cor 10:14-22 (ESV):

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

  • We participate in the body and blood of Christ's sacrifice, not in that we are sacrificing him, but because we eat a meal that had been sacrificed on the Cross two millennia ago. When pagans sacrifice to their idols (demons), they sit and eat the meat in a celebration. We come to the Table of the Lord as a celebration of an event, not the event itself.
  • Let me end this post reminding us that communion is never referred to as an altar or sacrifice. The altar was the Cross, the sacrifice was Christ's body and blood. We commemorate that sacrifice at the Lord's Table with bread and wine.
  • I must respond in installments because there is so much to talk about. Don't worry, we'll pick up transustantiation next.