“Wine” means wine

A summary defense of the use of wine in communion

by Tim Gallant | Biblical Studies Center

elementsOn the night He was betrayed, Jesus instituted a very simple rite. Two prayers, two elements: bread and wine. One would think that with such simplicity, we would have no problem following the pattern. But in truth, we do have a problem. We usually have one prayer instead of two, and in North America, wine is less likely to be served in most churches than grape juice.

Leaving aside the matter of one prayer rather than two, why do we employ grace juice instead of wine?

There have been two primary defenses of this move to grape juice. First, it is claimed by some that the original practice was grape juice, and that this is what the Bible is referring to when it speaks of “the fruit of the vine.” Some go so far as to suggest that whenever wine is spoken of positively in Scripture, grape juice is being referred to.

Second, even among those who accept that wine was the original element in the Lord’s Supper, there is a strong sense that the use of wine in communion is a grievous offense to those who have been alcoholics, and may well plunge them back over the abyss.

What follows is by no means an exhaustive treatment of this subject, but I do wish to address these points very briefly.

1. Wine Really Referred to Wine

The early Church practiced the Lord’s Supper weekly. Paul implies that whenever the Corinthians came together as a church, their intention was to eat the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11.18, 20). Similarly, Acts 20.7 refers to the customary practice in Troas: meeting together on the first day of the week “to break bread” – a reference to the celebration of the sacrament.

What does this have to do with whether wine was used in the Lord’s Supper?

Well, it must be remembered that prior to the advent of modern preservation methods, it was literally impossible to have unfermented grape juice on hand at all times. It would spoil in short order. A year-round, available-weekly supply of wine could only be precisely that: a year-round supply of wine, real honest-to-goodness strong-drink-wine. The early Church, we should not forget, did not live in the days of Mr Welch.

Long before instituting the Supper, Jesus characterized Himself as the giver of wine. We are all familiar with the story from John 2: at a wedding in Cana, the wine ran out, and Jesus met the emergency by miraculously changing water of purification into fine wine. It is frequently objected that what Jesus made was new, and therefore unfermented. In short, it was grape juice. This, however, is not true to the text. The master of the feast was so delighted with Jesus’ wine that he asked the groom why he had saved the best wine for last; the usual practice was the reverse. (This is because once some wine is consumed, the guests would already be pleasantly warmed and the tastebuds would be less discerning.) Now, as Jesus says elsewhere, no one drinks old wine and straightway desires new, because “the old is better” (Lk 5.39). There is no question of Jesus doing a half-job, turning water into unfermented grape juice. He made wine. That is how He characterizes Himself: He is the giver of wine.

2. Only Wine Can Be “the Fruit of the Vine”

As noted, some claim that “the fruit of the vine” is broader than wine, and therefore grape juice, being from the fruit of the vine, is at least an acceptable substitute to wine.

This ignores several facts, however:

  1. The New Testament does use the term “fruit of the vine” (which sounds more general), but it also explicitly uses the term “wine.” Even if for no other reason than this, the specific governs the general. We can no more say that “fruit of the vine” can mean “grape juice” than we can say that “the Son of David” can mean “James the Lord’s brother.” If we may not worship James or Jude, neither may we substitute wine with grape juice.
  2. The term “the fruit of the vine” is used in parallel in each of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), where Jesus says He will not drink of this fruit of the vine. It is not used elsewhere to refer to the Lord’s Supper. In other words, there is no general command instructing us to use “the fruit of the vine” in general. If the fruit of the vine Jesus was referring to was wine, we again have no mandate to broaden the referent to include grape juice.
  3. The phrase itself, “fruit of the vine,” is borrowed from the Jewish thanksgiving for wine (see e.g. I. Howard Marshall, NIGTC Commentary on Luke, ad loc cit at Lk 22.18). We are not permitted to break down the parts of the phrase and make it mean anything that it possibly could mean. We must interpret it as it was actually employed.

3. Tinkering With the Form Alters the Meaning

One of the greatest afflictions under which the Church presently suffers is a sort of Gnosticism that treats matter – tangible things – as indifferent, as if everything important took place in the space between one’s ears. Form is considered peripheral at best, and often, completely irrelevant. (Incidentally, it is this Gnosticism that underlies the other error mentioned at the beginning – one prayer instead of two. “Why pray over the bread and wine individually,” we implicitly reason: “they are the same thing for our purposes.” Ironically, the Baptists don’t treat immersion in this way. And while I disagree with their idiosyncratic notion that baptism means immersion, I respect their insistence on performing the rite in a particular way.)

Wine plays a specific function within Scripture, and it cannot be replaced by grape juice. In Scripture, wine is symbolic of many things: potency, joy, celebration, bounty, banqueting. Grape juice shares none of these biblical associations.

Since we are Gnostic and think all the activity is in our heads, at least allow me to attempt to tackle this issue by appealing to the intellectual implications of wine versus grape juice. Even if we say that the elements are merely and only symbolic, they still must be symbolic of some thing. They don’t refer back to themselves.

One of the common errors is to suppose that the point of the element is the colour, which reminds us of Jesus’ blood. Now, I do not deny that the colour is probably intended to be part of the association between wine and Christ’s blood. But it at least begs the question whether colour is the only intended association. Otherwise, cherry Koolaid or some other red beverage would be equally appropriate.

Our problems with our theology of the Supper and our disputation with the original form of the Supper are interrelated. Because we see the Supper as principally a time to sit around, close our eyes, and visualize the blood dripping from Jesus’ body, and feel deeply mournful/moved/whatever – because of that, grape juice is no hindrance. If anything, it is an improvement over wine. Less distracting. No buzz.

But what if? What if our practice is reinforcing a wrong conception of the sacrament to begin with? What if Jesus intends us to see His blood, not as something to mourn about and feel “moved” regarding – but as life, abundant life? That, after all, is what He indicates in John 6, where He ties life, eternal life – the life of the world – to eating His flesh and drinking His blood.

Isaiah 25.6 has a glorious prophecy regarding the time of the Messiah. “And in this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees.” Is it so strange to think that the wine of the Lord’s Supper is intended to evoke and embody such a promise? Is it so strange to think that we are (as we claim to be doing) to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, rather than to engage in a wake?

4. Christ’s Wine is Healing

What then are we to say to the common objection that if we use wine in communion, we will lay a stumbling block before alcoholics?

We are to deny such to be the case.

We have drunk deeply (pardon the pun) in the anti-gospel of modern diagnosis. I cannot go far into that here. But I will say some things that I think are manifestly true from Scripture.

First, the Bible does not know of something called “alcoholism.” The sin that it deals with is drunkenness. The notion of alcoholism largely functions to fuzz the boundaries between illness and sinful deeds.

Second, the sins most commonly associated with drunkenness in Scripture are sins of indulgence and lack of self-control, such as gluttony. The biblical resolution to gluttony, by the nature of the case, is not abstinence from food. Rather, indulgence is treated by way of a Spirit-led self-control.

Third, the sin of drunkenness is much older than our culturally-driven diagnosis regarding alcoholism. It has been a prevalent problem in most ages, and certainly was well enough known in Israel and the early Church to be addressed by both the Old Testament prophets and by the apostles in their letters. And yet, despite this, Jesus chose to institute the Church’s feast with wine. The notion that we are more pastorally sensitive than Christ Himself is repugnant and arrogant beyond belief.

What we need to recognize above all else is that the Supper is not our institution. It is not something we designed to aid our symbolic imaginations or to nurture a spiritual emotional life. It is Christ’s gift to us, where He gives us Himself.

There are numerous implications to this. One is that we should be very cautious about giving free rein to our own tinkering, on the basis of our own wisdom. But more specifically, it is a reminder that Christ the Healer (for that is a key idea in the word Saviour) comes to us here to make us whole. The notion that Christ’s feast as He instituted it could be a cause for sin reflects an unbelieving approach to the Lord’s Supper. Rather than looking at this wine as a possible downfall to an alcoholic, we should view it as Christ in His mercy giving back His good gifts to the sinner who has abused them in other contexts. Christ is the Healer, and He teaches us gratitude through the celebration that He mandates in His own presence.

Thus, to remove wine from the Supper is to emasculate it, to rob the needy – yes, to rob those who struggle with alcohol addictions – of the gift of healing life which Christ gives.

Wine means wine.


What I think when you say I haven’t really met Jesus

buddy-christby Chris Attaway.

So I get it. You disagree with me about whether I’m a “true” Christian. All my philosophical views and liberal theology rub you the wrong way. I haven’t checked off all the right boxes on your list (infallibility of Scripture, Creationism, so-called “traditional” marriage, etc.). Thus, because I don’t fit inside your concept of what it is to be a Christian, I must never have had a “real” encounter with Jesus. It is then your God-given duty to come down from off your lofty perch to preach the good news of Jesus to me, an apparent godless heathen in disguise.

I’m going to have to stop you right there.

First off, it’s not as though I haven’t heard the gospel a million times. I’m sure atheists in Christian communities feel much the same as I do. Do you suppose that by preaching it to me over and over, one day I’ll break down and agree with you? Why, that sounds like Nazi-esque propaganda. Conservatives must be like Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister.

Not really. I just wanted you to see how it felt.

Secondly, I actually believe in the gospel! But you keep using that word “gospel”… I don’t think it means what you think it means. The gospel means “good news.” Let me try this: good news! God loves you! He only requires that you subscribe to a questionable series of beliefs contrary to all reason and evidence, or else you’ll burn in the most painful fire imaginable for all eternity. Just have faith. Did I mention that if you don’t believe this stuff, you’ll go to Hell?

That isn’t good news.

The good news, as I understand what Jesus seems to have been teaching and what is apparent from observing the world around me, is that salvation is for all. All people can enter the Kingdom. It’s not about being the chosen people or having all the right beliefs. It’s about pursuing goodness with all your heart. It’s about loving others. There’s a lot more to it, but you can read more in other posts.

Thirdly, do you have any idea how condescending you are? Who are you to tell me which of my experiences are “real” and which aren’t? I was in every sense a bona fide evangelical Christian, even perhaps the poster boy for evangelicalism. That I no longer believe that way is not at all a detractor from whether or not my experience was genuine, so how dare you tell me I haven’t really met Jesus the way you think I should. I went through that phase, but, unlike you, I realized that it was corrupt and empty. Your arrogance is so profound that oftentimes you can’t even realize your arrogance when someone points it out to you. “I’m just preaching God’s Word,” you say confidently. Hogwash; you’re using the Bible as an excuse to mistreat me while keeping your own moral conscience clean.

What’s more, you look willfully ignorant. You take pride in not having learned more, and you bizarrely condescend to my increased knowledge which led me away from your beliefs, as though learning were somehow a bad thing. Maybe — JUST MAYBE — if learning new things is inherently destructive to your beliefs, it’s because YOUR BELIEFS ARE WRONG.


I’ll grant that everyone needs critics, but there are good and bad forms of criticism. Criticism which uses evidence and solid argumentation to demonstrate the problems with a particular viewpoint is great. Even if you’re a staunch literal 6-day Creationist, I will at least engage in a bit of discussion, though you and I may disagree about what we actually need to discuss in such a case. By contrast, if you come on here and just start preaching doom to me if I don’t repent, let me introduce you to CTRL-W (protip: it closes the browser tab). I don’t want to hear it, I won’t engage with it, and I will probably make fun of you like I’m doing in this post right now.

It might seem mean-spirited to be so dismissive. Well you know what, when you’ve put up with a whole lot of spiritual bullshit, and when you’ve been hurt in profound ways by people who don’t so much hold as wield their beliefs, then a bit of dismissive humor really takes the edge off the pain you feel when others say hurtful things. It’s a good coping strategy that helps me avoid internalizing all the guilt people try to throw on me. And when you’re out here discussing controversial issues as often as I am, people try to throw on a LOT of guilt. So excuse me while I cease caring about your opinion and fawning over your approval.

I know I’m writing in the second person a lot in this post, blaming “you” for this and that. Trust me, even though “you,” the reader, likely aren’t the person I’m talking about (you very well might be, though), it feels so much better to blame “you” than try to concoct strange sentences using gender neutral language which might describe in theory what’s going on. That’s because when I blame “you,” it’s personal. And if you are in that group of people I’m criticizing, I want you to feel my finger pointing out of the monitor at your face. When you insult me by trying to cast doubt on whether I’m really a Christian or whether I ever had the sort of experiences you’re describing, it’s personal, and I want you to feel that — not because I’m spiteful but because you need to feel it. You need to see that what you do hurts.

So that’s more or less how I feel when you say I need Jesus. I think you’re an arrogant jerk with no idea what you’re saying. If you want to have a discussion, please be my guest, but if you just want to condescend and tell me who I really am and what I’ve really experienced, then the door is right over there.

This is how I’ll feel if you tell me that I didn’t cite the Bible in this post and therefore have no valid point:



About Chris

Chris is the author of “The Discerning Christian” blog.

blogbanner14Ten years ago, the last thing I would have dreamed I would be is a writer. I had my sights set on studying computer programming, but as it turns out, you don’t go to college just to receive praise for being smart; you actually have to work. Several mistakes and unforeseen hardships later, I find myself at the end of my philosophy undergrad degree, with an eye toward graduate school or perhaps a career in writing.

Along the way, I have witnessed first-hand the immensely destructive effects of Christianity done poorly. Raised in the Bible Belt South, I grew up around conservative Christian culture, and while I accepted it wholesale until about high school, I saw it tear people apart as my friends and I grew up. If we were to know the followers of Christ by their love, then I knew this was not Christianity. Something was wrong.

After my changing beliefs tore apart my engagement to a young woman (and destroyed pretty much the rest of my life, too), I sought answers by studying philosophy and theology. Suddenly, long-held intuitions became clear, and I realized that the world was far more complex and wonderful than anything I had known previously. Illusions shattered, even as I learned how much still remained mysterious.

Christianity has reopened to me in almost a completely different form. While it is sometimes frightening to carry these new beliefs in a culture which often despises you for doing so, I muster what courage I can and press toward what I believe with all my heart to be the truth.

Now, I work by day and write by night as I save to finish off my schooling. I write because the life of the Christian compels us to bring restoration to the world. That might sound like a lofty goal for a guy who hasn’t yet finished his degree, but I’ll let the quality of my content speak for itself.

Oh, and there is a happy ending: while studying philosophy, I met a beautiful redheaded girl whom I successfully and happily married!

The Article Every Liberal Needs To Show a Conservative

BoehnerCries-300x162by Allen Clifton – Forward Progressives.
When you’re like me, and I’m assuming there are quite a few, sometimes you hit a point where you can no longer sugarcoat your political arguments.  As you hear the same asinine statements constantly repeated, you just hit a point where you want to stand up and say, “Look you babbling buffoon, let me spell it out for you very simply.”

Now, most times we can’t do this because the person who we’re debating is a friend or relative and we don’t want to be overly rude.

Well, I’ve decided to do it for you.

Here are a few of my simplified responses to the ignorance by many on some key topics being debated in our country (and probably others as well):

*Side note: I’m not going to cover most of the lies against President Obama, I did that previously here.

Gun Rights:

I love when I see Republicans showing off some image of a group of “good ol’ boys” holding shotguns and hunting rifles with some caption like “Want to take our guns? Good luck!”  That or someone holding a handgun with a caption along the lines of “Liberals, come and take this!”

Attention all Fox News Sheeple:

Obama never said he was going to take your hunting rifles or handguns away.  He said he wants universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines and a ban on assault weapons (a ban that every Republican President in the last 30 years, including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush has supported).

So, when you share these pictures, acting as if you’re “getting at liberal ignorance,” all you’re really doing is spreading an image around the internet that showcases how you–and any other Republican who sees it and thinks “EXACTLY!”–don’t know a damn thing about which you’re speaking.

We’re Out to Preserve the Sanctity of Marriage

Unless you want to make divorce illegal, don’t tell me about same-sex marriage “ruining the sanctity of marriage.”

Divorce did that long ago.

Marriage is a Sacred Bond Before God

Alright you religious radicals, I’ll take you on too.

Let’s assume marriage is a “sacred bond before God”.

First, that would eliminate any government involvement to define marriage.  So your push for a government “ban” on same-sex marriage would be pointless.

Second, there are millions of Christians who support same-sex marriage and many churches that would marry gay couples.  So isn’t that up to that particular congregation?

Or do you feel your congregation should control all others?

Which, if you feel your congregation should control all other religions (and rule every American), isn’t that a GIANT violation of the First Amendment, which gives Americans freedom of (or from) religion?

Then if you feel your religion should control all others, and all Americans, you then support a theocracy and apparently oppose the United States and our Constitutionally protected freedoms.

Because this country was largely founded to prevent, not strengthen, theocratic rule.

Same-sex Marriage overall

Honestly, I’m exhausted with the same-sex marriage “debate.”  There is no debate.

Procreation is not a requirement for the right to marry, nor are those who procreate required to get married.

“Homosexuality is a sin” comes from religion.

The term “traditional marriage” is defined from religious text.

Our country does not establish laws based on religion.

Therefore your “arguments” are invalid.

The end.

Republicans: The Party for Christian Values


If you want to say you’re the party of “Christian values” and you worship Jesus Christ…

Start by helping the sick, the poor, the needy—not opposing programs that do.

Republicans are for Fiscal Responsibility

Not even close.  There hasn’t been a Republican President that’s balanced the budget since Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served from 1953-1961.

Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush all drastically increased our national debt.

Republicans are the Party of Small Government

Big government regulations, they’re un-American!  They’re unconstitutional and ruining your way of life!

Unless that big government regulates:

  • What language to speak
  • Religion to follow
  • When life is created
  • Who can marry
  • Who can serve in the military
  • Invasive health procedures on women
  • That we have prayer in school
  • Mosques aren’t built in certain locations
  • Corporations are people
  • The Patriot Act
  • Unions don’t have rights
  • When alcohol can be sold
  • The requirement of an ID to vote

Then those government regulations are just fine.  How “small government” of you, Republicans!


Abortion is a Constitutionally protected right.  That isn’t debatable.

You might not agree with abortion, you might think it’s murder, you might think life starts at the moment of conception.

It really doesn’t matter.  Abortion is a Constitutionally protected right—end of story.

So when you, and the party that you support, openly attempt to infringe on that right (or outright says they want to end abortion) you’re supporting a stance that violates a Constitutionally protected right.

For more on the overall hypocrisy of the right wing’s “pro-life” stance, check out this in-depth article.

The Debt Ceiling is About More Government Spending

No, it’s not.  The debt ceiling is about our government paying our bills on money we’ve already spent.

But guess what?  Ronald Reagan raised it 18 times and George W. Bush raised it 7 times.

I Want Big Intrusive Government–That Never Does Anything Good–Out of My Life!

Did you drive today?  Did you take your children to public school?  Did you enjoy a safe commute as you traveled thanks to traffic signals and signs?  Did you whisk through your city or state on an Interstate Highway?  Did you enjoy running water and plumbing that properly, and safely, disposes of waste?  Did you get a college degree at a public university because it was much cheaper than a private one?

Hey genius, that’s all government.

Tax Cuts Create Jobs

No, they don’t.  The rich don’t need more tax breaks, they want more tax breaks.

But guess what?  After you give them those breaks, they’ll want even more the next time.  Isn’t that what Republicans are basically saying now?  They had the Bush tax cuts for a decade, but now they want even more tax cuts.

Their argument will always be, no matter the economic climate, they “need” more tax breaks to create jobs.  Good economy?  “Cut our taxes and we’ll create even more jobs.”   Bad economy?  “Cut our taxes and we’ll create jobs and save the economy.”

Tax breaks don’t create jobs, demand creates jobs.

It’s an endless cycle, and it’s why Trickle Down Economics is a failure.

I’m going to stop there.  I’m sure there are more, and one day I’ll probably do another article covering those as well.

But I highly encourage any liberal/progressive/Democrat (or anyone that’s simply sick of right-wing rhetoric) to share this article so that those who’ve driven you to the brink of insanity when discussing these issues can see a simple counter to their Fox News-fed bullshit.


About Forward Progressives:

We are Forward Progressives working for positive change in our communities and our country. We just started up as of March 2013, and we look forward to sticking around and making our presence known!

Our team of writers posts original content intended to strike up conversation and make you think. We do not want to be known as “just another liberal blog,” because we firmly believe we are much more than that. If you want a site that posts a video with no opinion for cheap clicks, look elsewhere. We always aim to bring our unique viewpoints to whatever we post, whether it be the news of the day or anything else! You can read a little about our team in the author boxes beneath each of our articles.

Stick around a while and check out some of our work. If you like what you see, please “share” and tell others about us as well!

You can find a list of our writers, links to author archives and contact information for each individual writer listed on our “Contact” page.

If you’d like an opportunity to write for Forward Progressives, or if you just have general comments, compliments or complaints, send us an email to editor@forwardprogressives.com and we’ll do our best to get back to you in a timely manner. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter as well. Thank you for your support, we truly appreciate it!

– The Forward Progressives Team

Earthly things, wombs and the resurrection of the dead

laz41by Nadia Bolz-Weber

When I first re-entered the Christian faith as an adult, I took a catechumenate class (like an adult confirmation program) at the Lutheran church Matthew and I attended.  This is where I learned about and fell in love with Lutheran theology. It just made sense to me. Mostly. Pastor Ross grew quickly accustomed to my raised hand in the back row as I waited to ask clarifying, and at times, belligerent questions.

The week he taught us about the Apostles’ creed, I remember finding the line I believe in the resurrection of the dead to be particularly difficult to believe. Given various states of decomposition not to mention cremation,  it hardly made sense that at some point human bodies would all rise from the earth. I couldn’t shake the image of it all looking like an end times Thriller video. Half decayed arms reaching through soil and zombie women in torn vintage dresses.

My mind couldn’t make and logical sense out of it so I was sure that this was something we didn’t really have to believe, given how a-rational it is.  So raising my hand from the back row, I said “Um, do we have to believe that actual bodies are going to rise from the dead, because that’s just crazy” Expecting him to say of course not, it’s really just a metaphor and was shocked when instead, Pastor Ross just looked at me and unapologetically said “yes, Nadia. Actual bodies”

I mention this because I kind of relate to Nicodemis from our Gospel reading.  It says that he was Pharisee – a studied man and a religious scholar –  who came to Jesus by night raising his hand from the darkness of the back row to ask him some clarifying, if belligerent questions.  See, Nicodemis was just trying to wrap his brain around this Jesus thing.  He was looking for some basic facts. And trying to apply his reasoning to what he was experiencing about Jesus, he too was finding it all a little crazy. Even to the point of saying one of the most dumb-ass things ever recorded in scripture.  Jesus said you have to be born anew, or born from above and literal minded, logical Nicodemis says to Jesus, what? like, go back into your mom’s womb.  It’s a graphic image we could all do without, and I can only imagine how this made everyone totally cringe when he said it.

But I feel for him.

Because in typical Jesus fashion he doesn’t really answer the question but says even more crazy sounding stuff like the wind blows where it chooses and that’s what being born of spirit is like and then some stuff about Moses lifting up snakes in the wilderness.

And exactly none of it is very helpful in providing some facts which our minds can make sense of.

Basically because the Gospel just isn’t like that.  There’s no reason for the church to lean toward anti-intellectualism but the thing is, The Gospel is not domesticatable enough for the mind to grasp.  It’s wilder than that. Like wind. It’s more beautiful and a-rational than reason alone can contain.  That’s why we need stuff and not just ideas. I’ve heard it said that Christianity isn’t spiritual (or, I would add, intellectual) it’s material.  You can’t even get started without a river, some bread and a jug of wine.

I understand Nicodemis’s desire for this all to make sense. I do. But instead of a religion revealed through philosophical constructs – easily reasoned out and understood, instead we get a God inconveniently revealed in people, and food and wine and water and bodies and pies and oil and beer. When God chose to come and take on human flesh and walk the earth and break bread with friends it was as though God was baptizing the material.  As though to say “stop looking for me in the heavens when you aren’t even close to understanding the majesty of a loaf of bread” or as Jesus puts it, if you can’t understand earthly things you’ll never understand heavenly things.

And understanding the heavenly within the earthly, the transcendent within the mundane, is not an intellectual logical, reason-based experience. You can’t make the gospel make sense by using your head.  You have to use your hands.  And eyes, and mouth, and ears and nose. Because the kingdom of heaven, as Jesus says, is At HAND, reach out and touch it, see it, eat it, feel it. In other words, take in the glory of God in the common, unexpected and totally crazy ways in which our Lord Jesus Christ still seems to be redeeming us.

The next time we see Nicodemis, later in John’s Gospel, he is trying to defend Jesus against his fellow Pharisees. Many want to kill Jesus, who’s still ranting nonstop about blood and bread and light and salvation, but Nicodemus, who clearly still doesn’t get it, says rather weakly that maybe they should give Jesus a hearing and learn the facts.

There won’t be any facts, of course, until the unavoidable fact of the cross. [1]Which is where, against all logic, we meet Nicodemus for the last time.

And we know he finally got it because when we meet him again in chapter 19 he is doing something crazy.  He is carrying 100# of oils and spices. He takes the broken and yet to be resurrected body of his Lord Jesus and he wraps it lovingly in myrrh and aloe and strips of cloth. It seems a pound or two of such things would have done the trick.  But instead, Nicodemis casts his crown of logic and philosophy at the foot of the cross of Jesus and instead picks up an embarrassingly extravagant amount of stuff…material, earthly, touchable, carry-able stuff and does what he can in the light of such love.  He got it.  Or maybe more accurately, it got him. We know this because carrying 100# of oils and spices around is just plain Gospel-crazy.

I’m not sure the Gospel makes sense though facts and philosophy, but I have seen it recently in the stack of pies Ruthie is carrying every time I see her. And in the burritos and cocktails Meg and MK carried into the ER when Kathleen busted her ankle. And in the Honey and lemons Pastor Brian carried over to my house last time I was sick.

Love combined with people and actual earthly stuff is the only way we really glimpse heaven sometimes.

So if you are here thinking this is crazy. Bread that is the body and wine that is the blood of Christ?  Forgiveness of sins? Water that combined with God’s word somehow brings us new life and wholeness? Loving enemies? Turning cheeks? You are right. It’s all pretty nuts. AND totally the most true thing I’ve ever heard or experienced. And best of all, it’s for you.  All of it. The oil and ashes and the bread and wine and pies and burritos and – all revealing the glory of God  – all revealing heavenly things among earthly things.

Now, that whole resurrection of the dead thing I struggled with 18 years ago in my confirmation class, still seems pretty nuts. But last Sunday, when Ellen and Bobbie Jo and myself lovingly touched the paraplegic, broken, and yet to be resurrected body of Amy Mack, when I gently traced the sign of the cross on her forehead –I couldn’t help but believe in the resurrection of her body. I couldn’t help but know that all flesh will be redeemed.  That the suffering in our bodies – due to injury or illness, paraplegia or physical abuse, aging or self-harm – that the promise of the resurrection of the dead is that somehow God is able to knit it all back together like God knit it together in our mother’s wombs to begin with.  Perhaps we do re-enter out mother’s wombs in so far as we return to where God put together limb to limb to begin with. Because, as we heard in our first reading, this is the God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

Somehow, for me, as I traced the sign of the cross on the cool forehead of our Amy, my fingers easily gliding over the oil to form the cross, I was taken back to 4 days earlier when I made the same sign on baby Willa’s head, on skin just hours old, with ashes. Remembering that we are God’s and to God we return And that 27 year old back row skeptic whose mind could not grasp the resurrection of the dead now could do nothing but hear Pastor Ross say, yes Nadia, actual bodies.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

This is the faith of Nicodemus, maybe like the faith of you and me, and it is in a God who saves us despite what we think we know. Who works despite our disbelief, beyond our best logical arguments, to bring the dead to life, call into existence that which does not yet exist, and to make all things, everywhere, new.[2]

Which is why for a couple millennia, Christians have gathered to say that crazy thing: we believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.


[1] These 3 sentences stolen from my friend Sara Miles (with permission)
[2] These 2 sentences stolen shamelessly from my friend Sara Miles (with permission).

You can listen to this sermon by clicking here.


nadiaNadia Bolz-Weber is an ordained Lutheran minister, and the mission developer for House for All Sinners and Saints (HFASS) in Denver, Colorado. They are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination.

Click here for more info on HFASS.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is also the author of Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television.

The Pain to Gays in Africa Through the Evolution of Joel Osteen

joelfoxBy Melanie Nathan | Reblogged from O-blog-dee-o-blog-da

The Public Relations office of Joel Osteen sent a huge Timeline Memograph asking me to post it here on my BLOG. It was titled, The Evolution of Joel Osteen. I read it and all it did was brag about how he has evolved into the biggest Church in America, how many millions of books he has sold and how he is impacting the rest of the World, including Africa.

But has anyone heard Osteen and his ministry speak out against the anti-Gay fervor in Africa generated by the export of Christianity? Now one may argue that it was not Osteen’s brand of Christianity that hit the streets of Africa – that it was not his Church or denomination which caused the anti-homosexual fervor and the current new laws that target LGBT Africans for condemnation through arrest and persecution. However, one can argue that each and every Church,notwithstanding its brand or form, has a duty to speak out very loudly to vehemently condemn the new laws in Uganda.

People like Osteen have had five years to intervene, since we first learned of the pain caused in the name of Christianity to the Africa’s LGBT community, and yet there has been very little to zero outreach, be it quiet diplomacy or noisy protest. And now look at what is happening.

A great amount of publicity has been in mainstream press speaking to the genesis and evolution of the hate in Africa, touted in the name of Christianity. Yet people like Osteen have not only failed to speak out forcefully or at all against it, failing the LGBT populace, but they have actually failed Christianity itself, by allowing this type of anti-gay sentiment to prevail- to such a fever-pitch extent – in the name of Christianity.

Yes, I assert that Osteen’s silence hurts not only gays, but also Christianity. Especially since Osteen is now bragging that he has the largest ministry in America, and since he now asserts its growing influence in Africa.

Since President Museveni of Uganda and President Jonathan of Nigeria signed their respective Jail the gays Bills, Osteen and other mega pastors have not been seen or heard of on the issue. In case they do not know, here is the result: – Tabloids are outing gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people and others perceived as such,  and people believe they have license to attack in the name of Christianity.

Christian families, neighbors, employers and landlords are seeking retribution against this small minority and the wrath is palpable. People are in fear of their lives and have gone into hiding, with little to no resources. We now have hundreds of gays that we know of and possible many more, and an entire country of LGBTI people scrambling into hiding, some already lynched and beaten, and all are struggling to find shelter and food. Many want to leave their countries and have nowhere to go.

Now Osteen are you ready to talk EVOLUTION?

And all the while this so called Christian Nation ( as per Yoweri Museveni) has done little more than perpetuate the persecution. And Osteen’s evolution by virtue of its silence on the issue and bragged influence, is complicit.

And the Public Relations Office of Joel Osteen has the audacity to ask my BLOG – which stands for Human Rights and advocates against the persecution – to publicize Osteen’s Evolution?

Here was my response:

Dear Aniya

What has Joel Olsteen and his Christian Ministry said or done about the export of hate by Christians to Africa against the target gay group?  – Now That would be an evolution right?

Have you read my BLOG and the nature of its work?

I fight Christians and others who export hate to Africa – and now I will fight those who do not speak out vehemently against it.

Has Osteen come out and spoken against the Jail the Gays bills – the handy work of Christian Evangelicals in Africa- namely Uganda and Nigeria.

Do not speak to me about the evolution of Osteen until he has the guts to speak out very LOUDLY in the name of Christianity to thwart the anti- gay fervor in Africa.

People are dying in Africa right now – all LGBTI – in the name of Christianity and you want me to promote it further?

Osteen can brag as much as he likes about his church, but until he does something concrete to undo the harm of Christianity, albeit other denominations, as far as I am concerned he is complicit.

Take care

Melanie Nathan.

Please note that I understand it is the fringe group of Evangelical extremists that have exported this form of hate. However what people need to know is that while the people in Africa have responded to  that fringe notion, as exported,  to promote the anti-gay laws and to to persecute, to them it is simply “Christianity.”  So all this persecution is being done in the name of Christianity, without any regard for the fact that it may be fringe. This places a much larger duty on the “good” Christians to come for ward to counter the harm.

Lest we forget that part of the BRAG that speaks to money. How about Osteen hit up his membership for the much needed dollars to help Africa’s LGBT fight the harm perpetuated by Christianity,  on the Continent.


melMelanie Nathan is the publisher of the “O-blog-dee-o-blog-da” blog, and is a lawyer, mediator, equality activist, and human rights advocate who speaks and writes on issues impacting LGBTI communities around the world, with a focus on the U.S.A. and Africa.

Nathan and her guests highlight their work in a world where gay, lesbian, transgender, queer, intersex, and gender-free people are the subjects of persecution and discrimination.

Open Letter to a Too Small God

3328188By Mark Sandlin – The Christian Left

To a Too Small God,

I don’t really know how to say this. Honestly, if you were bigger this would be so much easier. If you were bigger, you could take the questions and I wouldn’t be so worried about hurting you.

Look, I’ve been trying to make this “us” thing work for awhile now, but it just feels so increasingly and shamefully dishonest that I can’t take it anymore. This is it. You are just too small of a god. We’re finished.

I’ve known it for awhile, but it all came together when I was watching Cosmos. I’d never heard of this Giordano Bruno fellow but I like what he had to say when the institutional Church of the day came after him for entertaining rational thought (a.k.a., thinking for himself, not towing the party line). He said, “Your God is too small.” Frankly, in those five little words he completely nailed the problem.

Any understanding of God that cannot withstand questions and rational thought is a “too small” god.

I’m sorry, but that’s you.

At least, it’s the version of you that far too many of your followers worship and I just don’t get that. I mean, just look at their tweets after Cosmos aired. They sacrificed logic and reason for you. I never thought those were the kind sacrifices that pleased you. Why would people want to worship something that frail and insecure?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried to make space for you. Even long after I didn’t believe in the “too small” version of you they talked about. I tried to make space for you, believing we are all on different journeys and the “too small” version of you some people worshiped was okay for them where they were on their journey.

I was wrong. It is not okay.

As a matter of fact, that version of you is so myopically infinitesimal in comparison to what a god worthy of worship would be that it begs to be put down for the betterment of humanity. That version of you hurts people. That version of you encourages one group of people to feel superior to others. It justifies self-righteous judgment and it’s not uncommon to see it lead to violence.

You see, a god who could have stopped the Yom Hashoa (Holocaust) and didn’t is not a God I can remain in relationship with. A god that is so afraid of mere questions that people must be burned at the stake (even metaphorical ones on Twitter) is not a god I can respect more or less worship. A god who graces some lives with the opportunities to win Oscars while seemingly turning his back on the 2.6 million children who die of hunger-related causes each year on a planet with more than enough food for everyone is not a god who deserves honor let alone worship.

That god is a god of the privileged. It is a god designed to reinforce exceptionalism and justify the unjustifiable behavior of the powerful. That god is a god tailor-designed to make lemmings of his adherents to the point of denying realty and dismissing science for the sake of further propping up a bastardization of the god I believe Jesus was trying to teach us about.

So, it’s over. We are finished. I simply can’t make space for you any longer. I won’t play nice. You need to go away. You are “too small” of a god.

Don’t worry about me. I’ll be just fine. It turns out there is a bigger god — full of love, compassion and revelling in the questions – oh, and a bit tired of the dogma and sacrificial bleeding of reason.

Here’s the thing: I don’t actually miss you. If anything, I feel better than I ever have — and that tells me something: from the very beginning, our relationship doomed one of us to die (even if it’s just a metaphorical death).

I choose you.


headshotMark Sandlin is a PC(USA) Minister & co-founder of The Christian Left and owner of The God Article. This article was originally posted on Huffington Post.

Follow Mark Sandlin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/marksandlin

The Problem With Evangelicalism Is Not Evangelism

1262587_332378626908049_1879140176_oI have to admit, I’m a fan of Benjamin Corey. Who is Benjamin Corey? Glad you asked. He writes the “Formerly Fundie” blog on Patheos. Click the link, bookmark the site, spend some time, show Ben some love.

Seriously. Do it now. I’ll wait…

On 14 January 2014, Ben wrote an article in the form of a “Break-up Letter” to Evangelicalism. Titled, “Dear Evangelicalism: I Don’t Think This Relationship Is Going To Work.” it remains one of my top-ten blog posts in the history of the known universe.

The first half of his blog is wonderfully poignant regarding his personal feelings about the Evangelical movement, and is sprinkled with wit and wisdom. It will give you a chuckle, which is a quality that is somewhat lacking in most faith-based bloggers.

The second half is where my split between smiling and nodding my head went from even-keel to mostly and vigorously nodding my head in what would have appeared (if there were anyone watching) as if I were being violently shaken by a massive pair of invisible hands.

Ben gives his reasons why he had decided to split from Evanglicalism, as follows:

  1. I’m tired of the way you view people as objects.
    It’s been my experience that you often see people as objects to be converted instead of people to love, and I just don’t like that. It’s dehumanizing, and I can’t associate with it. In fact, Jesus doesn’t like that either– he once chided religious leaders of his time for their ability to go to great lengths to win a “convert” only to turn them into something that God never intended. First, learn to love people simply because they are PEOPLE, and then all the other stuff will work itself out.
  2. I’m tired of the way you treat women.Call me a heretic, but I think men and women are equal and that God gives individual gifting regardless of gender, and I know you don’t always share the same belief. I had hope you’d come around on this issue, but I’m realizing more and more that we just have irreconcilable differences when it comes to this, and that it’s a non-negotiable for me. I want to encourage women to use their skills, talents and abilities to be whoever God created them as individuals to be, and I just can’t be with someone who won’t support women embracing their full identity. Plus, every time I log onto Twitter you’re doing something to bully female bloggers, and if you treat them that way in public, what does it say about how you treat other women in private? So, until or unless you start treating women like equals at home and at church, it’s over between us.
  3. I’m tired of the way you treat my gay friends.I don’t care if you always believe that being gay is a sin– that’s your prerogative– but I do care how you treat my gay friends and the ways in which you express your beliefs on this issue. I think it is important for you to realize that there are in fact, Christians who are gay. They are people just like you and me who are busy trying to follow Jesus the best they can. However, the way you treat them is having the opposite effect that you claim to want– I think the way you treat them is actually driving them further from the wonderful message of Jesus instead of closer to it. As one of my readers told me yesterday, there is a large gap between Christianity and the LGBT community, and we need people to bridge that gap in loving ways– something you don’t seem interested in doing. So, until your culture is one where my LGBT friends will find a safe place to connect to God, I just can’t claim to be part of you anymore.
  4. I’m sick of your gun obsession.Seriously– have you tried to step back and look at your gun obsession through the eyes of an outsider? You look like a 12 year old collecting video games. I’m tired of it, and I’m quite sure that Jesus is tired of it too. You act like Jesus had a tattoo of the second amendment and sported a mullet, and quite honestly, I can’t be with someone who has that bizarre a view of Jesus. The more you continue this obsession the more you actually participate in a never ending system of violence, and I want nothing to do with that– because Jesus wanted nothing to do with that. I mean really- whenever we’re on the phone you end up talking more about guns than homelessness, which really seems backwards. So, until I see some growth in this area, it’s just not going to work.
  5. I find your insistence that Jesus was a Republican almost unbearable.You do know that there were no such thing as Republicans back then, right? When we first started spending time together, this issue wasn’t a big deal to me but as time goes on, I now see how silly this is. Jesus invites us to follow him, but you seem more concerned with following the platform of the Republican National Committee. I used to think there was a chance you’d grow out of this, or at least embrace that not all of us identify with conservative politics, but now I see I was wrong about that. I don’t know how to be in a relationship with someone who has meshed faith and politics together like a grilled cheese sandwich.
  6. I’ve had it with your obsession with power and control.I need to be completely honest: I’m starting to think you have a power addiction. The next time you hear Mr. Brownstone by Guns n’ Roses, pay attention to the line: “I used to do a little but a little wouldn’t do it so a little got more and more”, because that’s the way I experience your relationship with power and control. You keep feeding the beast, but the beast keeps getting more hungry. As if the power you already have isn’t enough, now you talk about “taking the country back” which makes me think you’re more concerned with the pursuit of power and control than pursuing the Jesus guy who said “blessed are the meek”. It just feels like we have different goals for the future of this, and that’s not going to enable a healthy, life-long relationship.
  7. I’m tired of arguing over finances.I know that finances become an issue in a lot of relationships, and it did in ours too. I tried to look past this, but I just can’t anymore. Have you even looked at the checking account lately? We’re actually LOADED with dough, but whenever we talk about finances it feels like you’re more interested in building funds than feeding the hungry in the local community. Seriously, are you even aware of the tone you take with me when I bring up “social justice”? Whenever I say those words you get instantly nasty with me and when that happens I don’t even want to be in the same house as you. I just can’t continue sharing my finances with someone who wants to blow so much of it on building campaigns and installing life-size Noah’s Arcs in church sanctuaries. I won’t even bring up how much must have gone into that foolish Creation museum with the cave men riding dinosaurs. You’re free to spend to spend your money however you’d like, but I feel like our financial priorities are too often incompatible.

Ben goes on to point out other, not necessarily lesser, reasons, and touches a bit on what makes or breaks a healthy relationship and “laments” about his dashed hopes of he and Evangelicalism being able to live in peace and mutual respect; hopes dashed due to Evangelicals not open to being “content with diversity of viewpoints in the areas where we don’t see eye to eye” and being “more interested in changing me, than actually knowing me and loving me for who I am.”

Ben finishes up his “Dear John” letter with being tired of “the way you’ve always forced me to the margins and isolated me when I didn’t meet your expectations or asked questions that made you uncomfortable. I’m tired of the way I experience your culture and your tone, especially with people you disagree with. More than anything, I’m tired of the fact that I don’t believe you even care about anything I just told you.”

Ben does leave the door open for a reconciliation, but with the caveats of a cease and desist of bullying women, ditching the guns, apologizing to LGBTs and keeping its hands off the checking accout.

A tall order, and one that shows no signs of being fulfilled. Still, my hat’s off to Ben, for another predictably marvelous piece of prose.

Brilliant, Ben. Just freaking brilliant.


benBenjamin L. Corey, is an Anabaptist author, speaker, and blogger. His first book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus (Release date, August 2014), tells the story of his journey out of lifeless religion and into a fresh expression of Christianity. He is also a contributor for Sojourners, Red Letter Christians, Evangelicals for Social Action, has been a guest on Huffington Post Live, and is one of the CANA Initiators. Ben is also a syndicated author for MennoNerds, a collective of Mennonite and Anabaptist writers. He is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is currently a Doctor of Missiology student at Fuller Seminary. Ben lives in Auburn, Maine with his wife Tracy and his Peruvian Princess, Johanna Grace.

You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Celebrating the Intersection of Faith and Reason