Chewing on Justice

ImageThe “Faith Food Friday” forum is in its second year.  A program of the Village Square, the slogan for FFF is “Improbable Conversations for People of Faith and No Faith at All (because talking politics wasn’t hard enough).  I’ve been to several of these discussions which are lead by a panel of local religious leaders composed of Fran Buhler (First Baptist Church) Jack Romberg (Temple Israel) Darrick McGhee (Bible Based Church) Dave Kileen (St. John’s Episcopal Church) and Betsy Ouellette (Good Samaritan United Methodist Church).

Sometimes the panel brings in another person to help with the discussion.  Dr. Richard Mashburn did an excellent job this month leading a discussion about racial inclusion in religious congregations.  For the February 8th meeting I’ve been asked to lead a discussion about social justice.

I’m certainly no expert on the subject, but I do regard “the promotion of social righteousness and the exhibition of the Kingdom of heaven to the world” as two of the “Great Ends of the Church.”  Whatever I say has to be brief and targeted to a mixed audience of believers, non-believers, seekers, and people who just like to take part in a stimulating conversation.  Here are some points I want to make:

  • Social justice is key to Hebrew and Christian scriptures.
  • Biblically speaking, “justice” or “righteousness” is both individual and social.
  • Genuine “spirituality” demands justice.  Perhaps you can be spiritual without being religious, but you can’t be spiritual and ignore the call to justice.
  • Biblical justice involves both the right administration of law (judicial) and the fair allotment of the earth’s resources (distributive).
  • Biblical “prophecy” is not about predicting the future as much as it is a call to justice.
  • Jesus stands in the line of Biblical prophets.  Although Christians believe he was more than a prophet, he was at the very least a prophet.
  • Christians distort the gospel when they emphasize “charity” to the exclusion of “justice.”  (Christmas baskets for migrant worker families are good; just wages for farm works are better.)
  • The way forward for inter-religious dialogue lies not in papering over our dogmatic differences, but in pursuing a just society together.
  • From a Christian point of view, it doesn’t matter if we don’t win on every issue.  The point  is faithfulness.  (For Calvinists the point is gratitude!).  Ultimately, God’s will shall be done with our without our help.

If I have time, I want to mention justice causes right here in Tallahassee that need the attention of our faith communities.

What do you think?  Send me your ideas.  I could use all the help I can get.  My e-mail is  The program on February 8 at First Baptist Church begins at noon and is free to the public.  If you want to eat the excellent cooking of the First Baptist cooks, come at 11:30 and pay $10.00.  To register, go to

Open Table?


Last Sunday I broke the rules (sort of).  I included the non-baptized in the invitation to the Lord’s Table.

There is a lively debate going on amongst theologians about whether the Lord’s Supper (Communion/Eucharist) should be open to those who are not baptized.  The Presbyterian Church (USA)  Book of Order states that “all the baptized faithful are to be welcomed to the Table,” but in effect “fences” the Table from the unbaptized.  To limit the invitation to the Table to the baptized is in keeping with the practice of the early Church and two millennia of tradition.

However, Jesus himself practiced “open commensality,” as one theologian puts it.  He dined with sinners and outcasts, including the folks orthodox religionists of his day rejected.  The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, which is rooted in the meals of Jesus as well as the Passover Seder, anticipates the eschatological Supper of the Lamb, to which people “from north and south, from east and west” will come.  The Supper is more than a ritual meal for the community of the faithful; it’s a symbol of God’s inclusive love for the whole world.  That being the case, “fencing” the Table seems inconsistent with the gospel.

I would never want to sever the link between Baptism and Communion.  Baptism is the sign of entrance and welcome into the covenant community.  Communion is the “family meal” of the household of God, but it is more than that.  To eat and drink at the Table is to offer oneself as “living sacrifice” in service to the Triune God.

Although it is hospitable to open the Table to all present, I would not want the Eucharist to be reduced to a ritual of mere hospitality.  There is a mystery at the heart of the Supper.  It is, spiritually, a sharing of the body and blood of Christ.  Who should be invited to share that mystery?  Only the baptized?  Or should the Supper be open to those seeking the “the way, the truth, and life?”

Central to Reformed theology is the notion of “prevenient grace.”  Divine grace always “goes ahead” of human response.  If Presbyterians didn’t believe this, we’d have no business baptizing infants.  The same grace enacted in Baptism is the grace enacted in the Supper.  When we baptize – and when we come to the Table – we are responding to the Spirit’s gracious prompting.

Last Sunday was the Feast of Epiphany.  Epiphany it is the celebration of God’s manifestation to the Gentiles – outsiders.  The Magi remind us that we do not control the workings of God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ.  Standing at the Table last Sunday, I could not NOT welcome everyone who is hungry to come to the feast.  By broadening the invitation to the Table I broke (or at least bent) the rules.  That goes against my nature as a Presbyterian.  Sometimes, however, grace trumps decency and order.

If the Session of my church concurs, I’d like to change the wording in the bulletin regarding who is welcomed to the Table to something along these lines:  The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is open to Christians of all denominations and to all those who are hungry for the Bread of Life.  Our Savior invites all who love and wish to serve him to share this holy meal.