The Bread of fe

The Bread of Life (Sermon Extract)

The following is an excerpt from a sermon I gave on Sunday 16th August 2015:

St. John, Chapter 6, verses 51 – 58

Like all Anglicans, indeed, all Christians, I occasionally visit other churches, perhaps other denominations. In one particular church they held the Lord’s Supper, what we call Communion or the Eucharist in the Church of England, every two weeks. The bread, real actual bread, and some type of grape juice, were shared among the congregation after the traditional words of Christ’s institution, and the un-consumed bread was returned to the table. At the end of the service this bread was given to the children to eat while mums and dads drank coffee, and invariably it ended up being trodden into the carpet, to be later swept up and thrown into the rubbish bin.

sweep 'n 'rollI’ll let you consider that for a moment, because how you instinctively feel about it will guide you in the way you view the Eucharist, one of the two central sacraments of the Church of England, and in which we are about to share. If you cringed slightly, then you probably belong to the more traditional end of the Church. If you genuinely thought “What difference does it make” then perhaps you’re at the more progressive end.

In our Gospel reading Jesus referred to “the living bread that came down from heaven,” he continued, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Of course, he was referring to himself.

He further went on to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (54)  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (55) For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

As we heard, this started the Jews grumbling and arguing among themselves because they just didn’t get his point. But Jesus didn’t rephrase or obfuscate; he carried on, repeating his claim in the same way. He also said “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him,” perhaps referring back to the book of Genesis where two become one in matrimony,  and followed up by our understanding of the Church, the people who believe, as being the Bride of Christ. Jesus also said, in verse 58, “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Here he was referring to Manna, food that God gave miraculously to the Israelites in the Exodus, after the food they had brought with them from Egypt had run out. This was a temporary solution to keep the Israelites going and not starving, but Christ made the clear distinction: his “bread” is a permanent solution. It would be impossible perhaps, not to link this passage in John 6 to Jesus’ instigation of the Eucharist at the last supper, where in the book of St. Matthew, chapter 26 we read,

communion 1As they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” (27)  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, (28) for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (29) I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

These words are very familiar to us, and in about ten minutes we’ll hear those words again, as we come to the front of the church to receive communion.

In those words Jesus is giving himself to those who wish to partake of him, and promising eternal life as a reward. That day and the next would be a jamboree of giving, from God to us.  Jesus knew this was the night of his forthcoming capture and the subsequent trial which would end in his death. It was his last act of giving before his final gift of conquering sin, and ultimately death, on the cross.

But what exactly did he mean when he spoke of being the bread of life?

The literal view is the one that’s been held by Roman Catholics throughout the centuries; that what we eat and drink literally becomes the body and blood of Christ. However, they maintain the appearance of bread and wine. How this is so is deemed a mystery, but the claim gave rise to attacks on the early Church and accusations of cannibalism from its enemies.

The metaphorical view is held in two ways: firstly that Christ was instituting a memorial whereby we remember him each time we eat and drink, and secondly, that we encounter Christ spiritually whenever we partake of the bread and wine in a worthy manner.

Jesus was no stranger to metaphor when it came to describing himself. He was the light of the world, the vine, the door, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the alpha, the omega, the way, the truth and the life, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the bread, the wine, and carrying on the food theme he told us to “eat my flesh” and referred to the disciples as “the salt of the Earth”.

Eucharistic waferYou may understand the Eucharist in any one of these ways, because the Church of England is a very broad Church and is tolerant of each view. Generally speaking, the Church teaches and follows the understanding that Christ is spiritually present in the Eucharist, which is one reason why we take our communion with Christ so respectfully and carefully. We may bow towards the communion table, or make the sign of the cross if we’re at the more catholic and traditional end of the Church. We partake in silence, and pray our thanks when we return to what used to be our pews, back in the day when an aching back and a numb rear end were all part of being a Christian. Some of us may mourn the passing of our wooden pews, but I defy anyone to claim they were comfortable.

When Jesus distributed the bread and wine at that last Passover meal he did something which on the face of it was unexpected: A Passover meal was made up from the Passover lamb, killed for the occasion, and wine, which was supplemented by bread to help “soak it up”. But Jesus chose to call the bread his body, not the lamb, which was the central offering, and whole point of the meal. Perhaps this is an odd thing as Christ was referred to as “The Lamb of God” by John the Baptist, but in those times lamb was more of a luxury, and of course this ceremonial lamb was killed specifically for this occasion, but bread was eaten at every meal. Jesus wasn’t instigating a once a year celebration; this was to be a regular and common occurrence.

The disciples used to meet early on every Sunday morning, which you’ll remember was an ordinary working day in Roman times, and partake of their Agape meal, pray a little, sing a little and then go about their day. Soon, the elements of bread and wine became separated out, and the earliest forms of the Communion we now enjoy began. Well over 2,000 years later our repetition of that small ceremony still takes place in virtually every church in the world, and because our liturgy is so similar to the Catholic liturgy, millions of people are simultaneously saying the same thing, time zones excluded!

So, here we are. We meet here faithfully and regularly every week, and perhaps at other times, to bathe in the grace of God. This is the time where, as a body of people, we can feed on Christ, however you may understand that, and become one with him. It is a special time, a privilege. We believe that Baptism is the means of obtaining new birth, when we are cleansed and raised to new life in Christ. But the Eucharist offers us the strengthening and sustaining power of the Holy Spirit, not once a year, not once a month, not once a fortnight, but every week in the parish when we come together. In it we commune with God through the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. We are truly a blessed people.

So I come back to my first point. When that bread was trodden into the carpet in the other church, was it the actual body of Christ being trampled on, as many Catholics believe, or was it the physical representation of the spiritual body of Christ, or was it just a bit of bread, and everything else is in the hearts and minds of those who ate from it during the service? Whatever your view, the Holy Eucharist is THE central act of worship of the Church of England. Through it we receive spiritual nourishment through the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit and direct Communion with God, instituted by Christ himself. Christ is indeed the bread of life. He said “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him”.

There’s a small but interesting PS to all this; something I discovered when reading prior to writing this: Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which I already knew, but Bethlehem was a place renowned for its hospitality to travellers, as we know from Mary and Joseph’s experience at the time of Jesus’ birth. Now this may be pure coincidence, or it may be some form of cosmic joke played by God as part of his all encompassing plan, but Bethlehem, in Aramaic, means House of Bread.


Sin and Redemption

This is just a very brief article to answer a question I see often on Calvinist boards:

If Man isn’t born sinful then why is he in need of redemption?


First of all, we have to understand that Calvinists, Wesleyans… pretty much everyone in the main theological camps believes that Man somehow suffers from the effects of Adam’s sin, the Original Sin. So do I, and I’ve outlined what the Church believes by the term Original Sin, here. To recap: Original Sin is the loss of Original Holiness, revealing the inclination to self-interest and “fleshly” desires, inherent in all men. BUT (and this is the point) an inclination to sin, known as concupiscence, is not sin in itself. The main differences between the historical Church and the later Protestant Reformation is the way that concupiscence is defined; in the historical Church it isn’t sinful, but acts as “the tinder for sin”, whereas the Protestant Church sees it as a sin in its own right.

sin1Traditionally, this “stain of sin” as it’s historically referred to, is removed during the cleansing of baptism (see more here). Baptism restores the gifts of fellowship between Man and God, lost after the first sin took place. However the presence of concupiscence is NOT removed, but lessened to a controllable degree. Man will continue to sin (though not inevitably) and believers in Christ are assured that if they sin and repent of that sin, forgiveness is granted. However, unrepentant sinners face condemnation.

Redemption, therefore, is the restoration of Man to his former position in the sight of  God, through the death of His Son and the death and resurrection of self through baptism.

The fact is, if God is as merciful as we believe, Original Sin does not send people to Hell. ACTUAL sin sends people to Hell. Both the sins of the unrepentant and the sins of the unbeliever (including the sin of unbelief itself) are those which are condemned. The faithful who confess and repent are saved; infants who have not sinned we believe and hope are saved through the grace and mercy of God.

This view has profound implications for the Reformed, who claim that only Elect infants are saved if they die in infancy according to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), and that Reprobate children go straight to Hell because of their separation from God due to Adam’s sin. Under pressure many will deny this, in which case the following questions can be useful:

1. Are all infants who die in their infancy elect?

2. Can Reprobate children be saved?

After a long pause many will answer “Yes” to question 1, and “No” to question 2. In which case, they may want to answer why the word “Elect” features in the WCF at all, when “Elect” actually means “All”…

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word” (10.3).


Baptism divides the Christian Church, and a good online friend of mine, Tom Torbeyns, has been quizzing me about the  Anglican understanding. So here goes:

baptism1The first thing to acknowledge is that the Anglican Church is both catholic and reformed in nature, which actually provides two views of what baptism means. I’ll concentrate on infant baptism for the  purposes of this article, as it seems the most contentious aspect. Firstly, the view held by traditionalists within the Church, i.e. those who’s views were formed prior to the English Reformation:

You may want to refer to my article on Original Sin for exactly what baptism is needed for. Secondly, the Book of Common Prayer is crystal clear on what infant baptism achieves:

Let us pray.

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who of thy great mercy didst save Noah and his family in the ark from perishing by water; and also didst safely lead the children of Israel thy people through the Red Sea, figuring thereby thy holy Baptism; and by the Baptism of thy well-beloved Son Jesus Christ, in the river Jordan, didst sanctify Water to the mystical washing away of sin: We beseech thee, for thine infinite mercies, that thou wilt mercifully look upon this Child; wash him and sanctify him with the Holy Ghost; that he, being delivered from thy wrath, may be received into the ark of Christ’s Church; and being stedfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity, may so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally he may come to the land of everlasting life, there to reign with thee world without end, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

ALMIGHTY and immortal God, the aid of all that need, the helper of all that flee to thee for succour, the life of them that believe, and the resurrection of the dead: We call upon thee for this Infant, that he, coming to thy holy Baptism, may receive remission of his sins by spiritual regeneration. Receive him, O Lord, as thou hast promised by thy well-beloved Son, saying, Ask, and ye shall have; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: So give now unto us that ask; let us that seek find; open the gate unto us that knock; that this Infant may enjoy the everlasting benediction of thy heavenly washing, and may come to the eternal kingdom which thou hast promised by Christ our Lord. Amen.

baptism3Pretty straightforward – baptism is for the “mystical washing away of sin”, “sanctification”, “deliverance from wrath” and bringing the child to everlasting life. The child is regenerated, i.e. born again, and brought into the family of God. Declarations of faith are made FOR the child by his sponsors, much in the way a parent can speak for his or her child until he reaches an accountable age. It is a hope and an expectation, sometimes frustrated, that the child will grow in faith within the Body of Christ through familial nurturing, both from his birth-family and the wider family of the Church. When the child is  older, he will make his own declaration of faith in his Confirmation, at which time the strengthening of the Holy Spirit is requested.

At the reformed end of the  communion the promises given during baptism are seen as delayed, and conditional upon the child’s eventual personal faith. In reality of course, whatever view one holds, the procedure and outworking of baptism is the same.

But what of the unbaptised baby?

The Catechism of  the Catholic Church (Anglicans have no such document) says:

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,”63 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

Calvin, for the Reformers, said:

“But this controversy will at once be disposed of when we maintain, that children who happen to depart this life before an opportunity of immersing them in water, are not excluded from the kingdom of heaven. Now, it has been seen, that unless we admit this position, great injury is done to the covenant of God, as if in itself it were weak, whereas its effect depends not either on baptism, or on any accessaries.”

Institutes Book IV Chapter 15 Section 22

However, the Westminster Confession of Faith (the “Calvinist handbook”) hedges its bets with the following:

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word” (10.3).

Elect infants are those chosen by God for salvation from the foundation of the world in Reformed theology.

I remain convinced, along with the historical, pre-Reformation Church, that infants should be baptised into the family of God, that their baptism is regenerative, and that infants dying before baptism are saved in the mercy of God.

The Order of Salvation

Broadly speaking, Christians believe that we are, as a race, separated from God and in need of restoration. We sin, and sin is offensive to God and outside of his intentions for us. Because of our separation, God suffers, we suffer and the world is in a state of corruption, and because it is outside of our capabilities to put things right God must take the initiative, which he does through the sacrifice of his son on our behalf. Christ died bearing the sins of us all and rose to new life, conquering both sin and death for the believer. Believers are thus saved from destruction and brought by Christ to new life with him. Anyone who studies the faith must have some form of blueprint for the process of salvation in order to provide himself with a framework upon which to build his studies.

I can only write this piece from a personal perspective, as there are several theological stances on the order of salvation and any conclusion one reaches on which one is right is entirely dependant upon which aspect one starts with. What follows is, I hope, a non-heretical, generally acceptable, but carefully considered order, based on scripture. First, it will help to identify the key components. They are:

  • Grace
  • Faith
  • Justification
  • Baptism
  • Regeneration
  • Sanctification
  • Glorification


graceGod’s grace is not a commodity. It doesn’t come in buckets, litres, pounds or yards. God’s grace is his merciful and unmerited favour towards us. It is his unerring and unfailing kindness towards his creation. Some branches of theology attempt to further define it by categorising it into “strengths”, from “common grace” to “irresistible grace”, the weakest to the strongest. I reject any attempt to categorise; God is not “a little bit kind” or “so kind that you have no choice but to comply with his wishes”. His grace is universal and constant, surrounding us from our conception, giving us air to breathe, food to eat, and life to live.

Traditionally, our separation came at The Fall, the point at which man first sinned and all life changed. This “Original Sin” or loss of original holiness was passed from parent to child and the whole of humankind is said to suffer the effects of that sin, rendering us unable to turn to God of our own volition. Only god’s grace can enable us in such a way that we can turn to him.

There is a theological divide at this point, where Christianity is drawn along two distinct and contrary paths. On the one hand we have the views of the Arminians, called after Jacob Arminius, a Dutch Reformer of the sixteenth century. Arminius believed as the majority of Christians and I do, including the Catholic Church, that grace comes before anything else, and is thus “prevenient”. All may come to Christ, but those who reject him seal their own damnation. On the other hand we have the beliefs of John Calvin, who said that grace was not universal, but limited, specific and irresistible; God chooses whom he will save, enables them only to believe, and damns the rest, who according to Calvin were created for that purpose. Whatever path you follow, grace is your starting point, and without it we would all be “dead in our sins” and would remain unsaved.


faithThe link between grace and faith is well established, in that most theological positions hold that man is unable to turn to God without grace. As said above, this position can be rigidly held, where grace is seen as almost an enabling substance which is 100% effective upon those to whom it is administered, to a looser definition, which can say as little as that our very existence is in itself a gracious act. Similarly, faith can be seen as a gift of God, given only to those whom he has fore-ordained will believe, to a voluntary action of man’s, brought about by a recognition of his need for salvation from his broken relationship with God. A third view understands that the grace of God is shown to us in the giving of his Son for our sake, and that Christ’s action alone shows us sufficient grace to enable our faith, though some will reject this graceful act and continue in a broken relationship with God. It’s important to accept that faith goes beyond a mere intellectual assent given to the idea of Christ’s sacrifice, or agreement that he was, in fact, a person who really lived 2,000 years ago. As a child, you may have jumped from a swing at it’s highest point, having faith that your father would catch you. This is very different from merely acknowledging your father’s existence.


Justification is the act of being declared righteous. It is the point at which God recognises your faith and declares you one of his people. Romans 4:

9 [Cometh] this blessedness then upon the circumcision [only], or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

10 How was it then reckoned ? when he was in circumcision, or inuncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.

11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which [he had yet] being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe , though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:

12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which [he had] being [yet] uncircumcised.

13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, [was] not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

Justification then comes through faith, to all who believe.


baptismThe placement of baptism is a difficult one for  some. For many, baptism is analogous with circumcision, and as we have seen, Abraham was declared righteous BEFORE his circumcision, therefore baptism must follow justification. However, most would see that faith leads to obedience, and obedience requires baptism. For many the process of baptism would include the washing away of the stain of sin, forgiveness for past sins, justification and regeneration. Those of us who baptise infants and those unable to make their own decisions through mental impairment do so on the understanding that the individual is brought into the family of the Church, cleansed, forgiven and given new life. As time progresses is it hoped and believed that the grace of God will work within the individual to strengthen and build faith, which is ultimately personally declared at confirmation, where further helpful grace is imparted.


Regeneration is the process of New Birth, Rebirth or being Born Again. It is also described by Christ as being “Born from above” (John 3:7). God, after justifying us, gives us new life in the Power of the Holy Spirit. We then work with God, empowered by his grace and our faith to become the person he would have us be. The traditional churches see Baptism as the most common means of effecting regeneration, though God can use any means he pleases. Baptist churches deny God this freedom, rejecting baptismal regeneration and reducing baptism to mere ordinance – something we undergo because God says we must, but without specific salvific purpose.


sanctificationBeing born again does not, in itself, make us perfect. The process of gradual perfection is known as Sanctification. As we live a life fulfilling our Christian calling we grow daily in our faith. Our faith, in turn, leads to good works and we grow more Christlike. What may have started with some difficulty becomes “second nature” over time as our sanctification progresses, always aiming for Christian perfection. Most will say we can never achieve this perfection in this life, which has led some to believe in some form of post-mortem sanctification to complete the work. This is a huge debate. Catholics hold to a view of Purgatory, more of a state of being than a location, where sanctification continues and punishments for venial (or minor, non-mortal) sin takes place. Some hold similar views without using the word “Purgatory”, and many reject the view that sanctification continues in time, but that God makes all things perfect for believers prior to their final judgement. John Wesley, founder of Methodism and a lifelong Anglican priest, held that Christian Perfection was achieved on a daily basis, whereby every single decision a man makes is the best possible decision in God’s eyes, given the wherewithal of the individual. Man must make God his first thought in every action. Some have confused his view with Sinless Perfection, the ability to never sin, which he never agreed with nor supported in any way.


glorificationThe act of being Glorified. This, then, is salvation, the point at which one is actually saved following death and final judgement. Some, particularly Protestants, will see salvation as occurring at the first point of belief. On this basis they may argue that salvation once given, cannot be lost, as God will complete the work started in an individual. In this God acts Monergistically. Orthodox believers (by which I mean non-Protestants) see salvation as a process, never complete until the very end. This is a Synergistic process whereby an individual CAN turn his back on God and foolishly walk away.

As a member of the Church of England, and therefore an Anglican, the above ordo salutis (order of salvation) can be seen to have both catholic and reformed elements. It is the order I personally adopt and one held by churches worldwide.