Posted by: edsohn | February 23, 2008

Emancipated Communion

A quote from Jim Wallis‘s new book, “The Great Awakening”, which I’m reading while traveling through Texas:

Some years ago, on a trip to England, I walked through the historic Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common in South London. This Anglican parish was Wilberforce’s home church when he wrote Britain’s anti-slave-trade legislation. The rector at Holy Trinity, Rev. David Isherwood, was very proud to show me around. On the wall were pictures of typically English-looking gentlemen who had helped turn their country upside down. Finally, the rector pointed to an old, well-worn table. “This is the table upon which William Wilberforce wrote the antislavery act,” he said proudly. “We now use this table every Sunday for communion.” I was struck that here, in a dramatic liturgical symbol, the secular and the sacred are brought together with powerful historical force. How did we ever separate them? On this table, the slave trade was outlawed and the body and blood of Christ was celebrated each week. What became of religion that believed its duty was to change its society on behalf of justice?

For those of you who didn’t know, William Wilberforce was a passionate Christian that served in the House of Commons as a parlimentarian who led the anti-slavery campaign. His faith did more than “inform” his political action; it was the very ROOT of everything he did.

A few weeks ago, I went to an emerging cohort on the topic of human sex trafficking in Atlanta. We discussed at length the different points of the issue, and one theme that continually arose was the idea of being able to communicate and coordinate efforts from a non-religious standpoint, or at least, in conjunction with a non-religious world. Wallis actually agrees with the “non-religious” part of it, but he believes that true faith manifests directly into social justice and change.

Reading the above passage, I consider the time when I was in India working with IJM, while transporting a bus full of several dozen freed slaves. (Have I blogged on this story before? I remember telling it on many occasions.) We lined them up to eat at an outdoor roadside oasis, and they ate with incredible appetite and gusto. I’ll never forget the very young boy utterly inhaling a banana leaf heaping over with rice in a matter of minutes, ready for more. Had he ever seen so much food in his captivity to the slave-owner that bonded his entire family for decades to a debt of about $40USD?

But above all I remember the image in the background that brought tears to my eyes and made me stop in my tracks. As I watched the feast of freedom, I saw a man splitting wood outside the pavilion. He was using a hammer and a sharp wedge, something that looked like a sharp spike. He positioned the point of the wedge in cracks in logs, then swinging a hammer down onto the wedge to split the wood into pieces. He swung the hammer high, hard, and with great conviction.

It looked very much like driving nails into a wooden cross. And in the foreground, freed slaves feasted at the banquet table.

It struck me like a ton of bricks. Do I daresay that God Himself planned this, that He was the artist illustrating this image? I truly believe the Spirit was opening the eyes of my heart at this moment, to make an impression on my heart and to cause me to memorize this display of gospel truth. In any event, I was stunned by this connection between the real work of social justice and the very core of the gospel message.

We’re entering a new “Great Awakening”, according to Wallis. Will we see faith spring into real societal change, conviction spring into action? And what will it look like for you and for me, in our lives?

Because the gospel message, the narrative of a Savior being sent to save lost souls from the evil and darkness of the world, is contained not only in our commemoration or even connection with a historical event two millenia ago; it is a powerful story whose elements are constantly being displayed if we keep our eyes open for it.

Let’s look for it!



  1. Wow. You’re experience at the oasis is a powerful one. A strong embodiment of the phrase, “This is the message of the cross, that we can be free.”

    Before, I spurned “non-Christian” social justice organizations because they were not in what I can only think of right now as “God’s jurisdiction.” Since then, I’ve come to shed that position. I think God works through any and all peoples that move and act to free slaves, uplift the poor, and restore power to the oppressed, regardless of their religious position.

  2. beautiful.

    if we all did our part, can you imagine…

  3. Excuse the foundationalist nature of the following comment.

    What’s really interesting to ponder is when the Bible says that God’s glory fills the whole earth. My last ML post was about repentance from insignificance, from not chasing after the heavy weightiness-glory of God and instead being content with survival and occasional moral fortitude. But God’s glory is about His super deep, heavy, impactful worth and value, and in John, Jesus said that that glory came onto Him, and through Him onto us.

    I posit that Jesus’s great glory is His restorative work that He accomplished and modeled during His life, and the provision/atonement made at the cross during His death.

    Thus: if God’s glory fills the whole earth, and Jesus’s great glory is the redeeming work of His hands in life and the sacrificial piercing of His hands in death, then is not the essence of that Christ-gospel being imaged all around the world?

    I haven’t gotten that far into Wallis’s book (although I hope to make a very significant dent into it before I inevitably skim the last chapters and leave it unfinished), but that’s the vision I see: the Christian gospel narrative being neither exclusively precedent nor antecedent to social justice and redemptive transformation to the human condition.

    I step back from the jargon for a second and let me put it this way: those slaves that we freed in India… we have no reason to believe that they were all Christian. I don’t know if they have a restored relationship with their Creator, nor if they are living out a transformed lifestyle pledged to the monarchy of the Savior. I’d hazard to guess that most of them have NOT have taken such steps in their spirits. But they were unwittingly privy to circumstances that give rise to the gospel message far more clearly than any missionary could explain or any gospel presentation could accomplish. They have had exposure to the Christ-glory-gospel without ever having cracked open a Bible (most of them are low-caste anyway and therefore illiterate).

  4. “Excuse the foundationalist nature of the following comment.”

    not sure what you need to be excused for….

    “Thus: if God’s glory fills the whole earth, and Jesus’s great glory is the redeeming work of His hands in life and the sacrificial piercing of His hands in death, then is not the essence of that Christ-gospel being imaged all around the world?”

    I’ve heard this argument many times, but i can’t help being skeptical to this. I think that i COULD agree with you in that it is being ‘imaged’ in a lot of places that most people (including christians) don’t always see it being imaged (ie . but everywhere? all the time?

    God’s glory filling the world – couldn’t that be another thing in theology that gets chalked up to ‘already, but not yet’ ?

    or, is there a spiritual filling of the world that isn’t manisfested itself in the physical, and so we can’t claim an ‘imaging’ of God without spiritual gifts? (yeah… i went there)

  5. There’s nothing wrong with being foundationalist, as long as one is not exclusively so, no? =) I have not given up on all principles of logic and reason, but I generally hesitate to make “if A and if B then C” equations because I am not prepared to defend statements on the reliability of such equations.

    I sense apprehension to a universalistic view. Trust me, that’s not at all what I meant. I would never emphasize the appearance of an abstracted Christ-gospel over the work of the Church or the power of the Word in the Bible. However, the elements of God’s gospel appear all over the world apart from the Bible and the mouths of missionaries, and those instances are meaningful. Christians should run wholeheartedly towards those images in telling our own gospel narrative and never be aversive to them, confident that the Truth is still the Truth.

    The metaphor, the STORY of the gospel of grace can be put on display without running the Jesus film or citing the Roman Road. Of course, a metaphor is insufficient, in itself; I don’t think people can become true Christ-followers without a personal relationship with the real historical God-Man, Jesus Christ. But in the end, my view is that we should love and encourage anything that looks like the gospel, because it AFFIRMS the gospel. That’s different than mistaking it FOR the gospel itself, but it’s definitely more than being dismissive of anything that does not directly relate to the church or the Bible.

    Here’s one example. The Old Testament serves many purposes, but one of the greatest purposes is to pre-image the saving story of Christ. Did Abraham know, when he was taking Isaac on the mountain, that God Himself would incarnate in the man of Jesus and die for the sins of many? I doubt it. But beholding God’s grace in that moment generated worship in his heart. Or when the captive nation of Israel painted lamb’s blood on the doorposts, did they have any idea of the significance of what they did? Yet they memorized that testimony of God’s saving grace in that moment.

    So then, today, is it unthinkable to consider that God is still at work through the Holy Spirit, to zealously and joyfully repeat and repeat that same story all over the world?

    In no way am I saying that it is sufficient to put faith into the abstracted elements of the gospel as they occur around the world. But I AM saying that the Bible and the Church are not the only possible expressions of the elements of that great story, and that Christians should not fear the appearance of those elements in the events of the non-Christian universe. Rather, we should rejoice and embrace them, and we ourselves ought to also attempt to display the gospel of Christ in as many venues as possible. Desiring to affect change in people’s lives through social justice is a powerful witness to the elements of the story of the Christ-gospel. It recurses an age old melody of people needy of saving, whether it’s from oppression of liberties, greedy exploitation of the poor, or actual slavery to bonded labor (contrary to popular belief, there are more slaves in the world today than ever before).

    Expanding the possible expressions of the gospel doesn’t expand the gospel itself or universalize it. Instead, it connects us with the world and proves God’s missional nature to send His glory on as many people as possible.

  6. that sits better with me… thanks =)

  7. Preach it brother! I like both the combination of images/metaphors from Wilberforce and your own experience in India… and now the exchanges you have shared in your comment/response.

    This post is but a word of affirmation/affection to one that I respect and consider friend in the Way of Jesus Christ. Thanks for this and future posts…

  8. when did you work with ijm, may i know what your name is…..cause i used to work with ijm.

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