What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Means and Ends: The Pitfalls of Communion, Authenticity, and Lots of Other Good Stuff

So I think that over this week with my posts on communion and authenticity, I've hit on a common thread that's my main beef with both of them in different circles: mistaking means for ends.

We do this all the time in all kinds of different arenas of life, but it happens pretty consistently when it comes to religious stuff. We get so caught up in something that is good that we forget that it's supposed to point to something bigger and better. We fall in love with the means and forget that it's pointing to the more important ends.

My systematic theology professor was huge on this: "I don't believe in prayer!" he declared one morning, "I believe in the One who is Lord over prayer!" Prayer is the means. Jesus is the end. We don't put our trust in prayer. We put our trust in Jesus. Or at least, that's how it's supposed to be.

But we sometimes get mixed up in thinking that somehow our praying is what matters. It's not. It's Jesus that matters.

And so it continues: I don't believe in authenticity except as a means to the end of holiness. That's the proper ends for which authenticity is the means.

I don't "believe in" the Bible. I believe in the One who is Lord over the Bible. The Bible did not die for me. The Bible wasn't raised for me. The Bible is a means to the proper ends of finding Jesus Christ. There are many professors on campuses all across the country who know more about the Bible than I do...and yet it has no affect on them. They have not yet discovered the Bible's true purpose. And so they continue to walk in darkness.

And wrapping back to my post from earlier this week, I don't "believe" in communion. I believe in the one who is Lord over communion--it is his table. I don't pray to the elements. They are a signifier. The more important thing is the thing signified.

I helped write a book on small groups (been a while since my last shameless plug). But I don't believe in small groups. I believe in the one who delights to shape lives through community, Scripture and prayer.

"Jesus is the end (telos) of the law," the New Testament declares. Telos--end, goal, purpose. Like a telescope, the law was aimed at the person and work of Jesus Christ. So, too, are all these other things.

"I am the way," Jesus declares. And yet we so often like to try to create other 'ways.' Or ways to the way. But Jesus is the way. All else falters except that it points to him.

This is tricky, because of course there are more or less faithful ways to discover the true nature of God. We are commanded to pray, to study Scripture, to be a part of the body, to eat and drink in remembrance of him.

And given our temperament, upbringings, and personal preferences, each of us will find different disciplines more or less helpful in experiencing the realities that are available to us in Christ. And of course, once we find what works for us, we are generally relentless in insisting that it's the best for others as well--mea culpa.

But the bottom line is that all of these things are meant to lead us to Christ. When we worship the sign rather than thing signified, be that the Bible, prayer, the bread and cup, whatever then we have missed the point, and turned a very good thing into a very poor idol.

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