The Jesus Meal Club

We are a far cry from church life as it’s described the New Testament. But perhaps it’s still possible to return to our roots and regain something of the simplicity and power of the early church. The “modern” church is lacking in so many areas it’s hard to even know where to start. Today’s post marks something entirely new for WonderfulTheology because this is the first time I have devoted an entire post to someone else’s writing. That’s right! Yours truly is going to step aside and let you hear from someone else for a change. So without further ado, here in its entirety is a post about church life titled “The Jesus Meal Club” by Dr. Steven Nemes.

PS: I don’t agree 100% with everything the author has to say and don’t expect you to either. There are a lot of things that would have to be sorted out but the main thrust of the Jesus Meal Club seems pretty Biblical to me. I’d say it’s an idea worthy of serious consideration.  Please take a look at the article below and let me know your thoughts.


sliced of bread beside goblet
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

In my books I argue that Christian theology in the catholic tradition is excessively preoccupied with things that are not really essential to the faith itself. Churches and denominations are separated from each other and condemn each other for differences of opinion about things that do not really matter. The actually essential things that Jesus teaches are easy to appreciate and relatively few in number. They are things that Christians of all sorts already have in common, like that God is our Father, that we have the forgiveness of sins, that we can trust in his providential care, and that we must live as brothers and sisters in this life while anticipating the life of the world to come. The doctrines by which Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and various kinds of Protestants are distinguished from one another are less fundamental and important to the faith than these few and simple teachings. I think that Christians should repent of their “majoring in the minors,” so to speak, leaving their differences as unimportant matters of opinion and putting the emphasis rather on the things they have in common rather than upon the things that distinguish them.

Following this advice would mean that the corporate worship of Christians would have to look very different. One particular thing worth noting is that there would have to be considerably less emphasis put on the sermon as an act of theological education and interpretation of the Bible. This emphasis should be put somewhere else. Corporate worship would have to be less a matter of hearing one’s sophisticated theological convictions confirmed and exposited at length by the preacher and more a matter of something else. To that end, I would like to share an idea which came to me as I was working on my book Theological Authority in the Church.

I think churches should be organized as “Jesus meal clubs.” This idea can be explained as follows. The corporate worship of Christians every week would be fundamentally organized around a shared meal preceded by certain simple and achievable corporate acts of religion. These would be as follows.

  1. Gathering. A group of Christians would all meet in one place, whether someone’s house or a public park or whatever is most convenient. Each person or family must bring some one food item, specifically something that can be eaten raw or else which did not require very much prior preparation, e.g. fruits or vegetables or cheese or nuts. It is desirable that a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine be brought as well. Not too much food should be brought so that none is wasted.
  2. Song. A song of worship for God is sung. It should be a song that everyone knows and which is easily singable for a group. It is best if the singing is done without the accompaniment of an instrument.
  3. Reading. A passage from the Bible is read, preferably something simple and exhortational, carefully and clearly at length with the entire gathering attending as far as is possible to the reading. Someone may give a brief discourse about the text if they are capable, but this is not necessary. The less explanation a text needs, the better it is for the reading.
  4. Promise. Those gathered consult with each other about what good they can do in the coming week, whether as individuals or as a group. They may consider pooling money for someone in need, or visiting and spending time with a sick person, or praying for others every day, or making promises not to engage in certain destructive behaviors, etc. It should be something that is both significant and yet achievable, whether for the group or for the individual.
  5. Prayer. Those gathered should ask each other how they can pray for one another and then they should pray together as a group. They may also make a corporate confession of sin and ask for God’s forgiveness.
  6. The Meal. Those gathered should eat all the food they have brought together. A prayer of thanksgiving should be said both for the bread and for the wine before they are distributed to each, as well as after the meal is finished. The prayers should thank God for the provision of food by which he cares for us as his creatures and for the salvation that he has accomplished through Jesus his Son. The prayers can drawn from or be modeled after those found in the Didache.
  7. The Departure. Everyone goes back home. A final prayer of thanksgiving may be sad before leaving.

If it were up to me, this is what the average gathering of Christians would look like. It is true that there is something very austere and bare about organizing corporate worship in this manner, but I think that is for the better. There is no need for millions of dollars for a building; there is no need for expert musicians; there is no need for a celebrity personality to run the show or be in charge of things. It is simply a group of Christians gathering in one place to worship and give thanks to God, to hear Jesus’s teachings, to pray for one another and commit to doing good together, and to eat a meal together.

This is a way of organizing corporate worship around lived spirituality rather than around doctrine and theological opinions. There need not be a sermon, and it is not necessary to read texts which demand a sophisticated theological exposition. Opinions will naturally differ about how such things are to be understood, and to raise those matters in the context of corporate worship is to open the door for debates and schisms and breakdowns in communion over differences of opinion. People are naturally free to believe whatever they think is true about those matters, and if they care enough about these issues, they can investigate them freely on their own time.

A discussion about the text may follow the reading, but it is important that it be undertaken in low-stake conditions of freedom and openness. The purpose of the gathering is not the exposition of theological ideas but rather to enjoy a meal together in God’s presence and in gratitude to him as his children. The temptation to turn the gathering into a kind of miniature theological conference or (God forbid) censorial inquisition must be resisted, as should the pressure to force the Jesus meal club into the form and shape of existing Christian churches. People can believe whatever they want about the debatable questions of theology. The point of the Jesus meal club is to sing together, pray with and for each other, to listen to Jesus’s teachings, and to eat a meal in God’s presence out of gratitude for his goodness. The emphasis must always be placed on what is shared in common by everyone.

It should be noted that the Jesus meal club does have a statement of faith. It is a simple one: We believe that God our Father will save us because of his Son Jesus. Everything that one does in the course of the gathering is premised upon this fundamental conviction regarding the promise of salvation from God through his Son Jesus. The whole gathering is undertaken as a grateful expression of the expectation of salvation, whether it be the singing, or the praying, or the reading, or the consulting with one another about how to do good, or the eating. The precise interpretation of this statement of faith in light of any particular theological scheme is unimportant. Christians may disagree with one another with respect to the question how God will save us and in what sense this will be because of his Son. The “how” is not as important as the “that.” The finer details are all debatable, as anyone who studies theology knows well, and they are relatively unimportant. If a person can agree to the basic statement of faith, then they are welcome to join.

I think that there has been a two-thousand-year experiment run in the Christian religion. Christians have emphasized certain things around which their identity as Christians is constructed: very well-defined doctrinal systems, certain institutional arrangements and justifications of presumed legitimacy, certain complex liturgical schemes, and so on. All of this in my opinion has only led to division and trouble. Christians disagree with one another about fine points of theology and in the worst case scenario send each other to hell over their differences. The preservation of institutional arrangements take precedent over the spiritual fellowship that exists among Christians of different churches. Complex liturgical schemes become so important that the church becomes dependent on the presence of experts in order for its corporate worship to be tolerable or even possible. I have argued at length in my books Theology of the Manifest and Theological Authority in the Church that all these things are inessential at best, colossal wastes of time at worst.

The Jesus meal club is for me an experimental idea. It is a proposal for an alternative experiment to the one that has been run in the Christian religion for two-thousand years now. It is a proposal for how corporate worship among Christians might be done once the preoccupations of dogma, institution, and liturgy are set to the side as relatively unimportant. Because all these things are set to the side and the focus is put elsewhere, Christians of even differing backgrounds and convictions can nevertheless gather together in the manner I’ve described above. The Jesus meal club might therefore contribute to Christian unity insofar as it puts the emphasis on those things that Christians have in common rather than on things that distinguish them amongst themselves. I haven’t put it to the test yet, but I would certainly be interested to hear what it is like if someone else tries it out.

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By Steven Nemes  ·  Launched 3 months ago

PS: A few comments are in order from your host and the author of this Wonderful Theology website. While it may appear at first reading that this proposal ignores doctrine altogether I don’t think this is actually the case. I would propose that every group has a de facto leader who assumes some measure of responsibility for the spiritual life of the group. It would be the duty of this person to help keep the group centered and avoid both chaos and rigid authoritarianism. This kind of leadership is not ego driven but genuinely wants to act as a servant to the gathered believers. Clearly this person would not be a novice but rather someone who is spiritually mature and held in high regard. Along with Dr. Nemes’ prescribed statement of faith I would remind participants of one other simple proviso. We are trying to organize our meetings and lives around the simple but powerful notion of Sola Sriptura. This could help guide us into a truly Biblical expression of church life. I hope someone tries this soon and reports back to the rest of us. God’s blessings to all. Your friend and brother in Jesus Christ, Bob Shutes

We See Through a Glass Darkly

Well here we are. Standing on the edge of eternity and peering into the pages of scripture looking for light and understanding. Our eyes strain to see God. We’re thankful that God has given us some understanding of the mystery of the Father and the Son, of God and His Christ. “We speak that we do know…” (John 3:11) Still, we confess that there is much we cannot see and much we do not understand. It’s not for lack of desire and it’s not for lack of study. It’s just that God has ordained that the time for seeing Him clearly, face to face, is not yet. It’s true that “we see through a glass darkly” but someday, some blessed day, that will change and we will finally see Him face to face! (I Corinthians 13:12)

No Flesh Shall See My Face and Live

Moses had some incredible experiences on his walk with God.  He saw the waters of the Red Sea parted and Israel walk through the sea on dry land. He watched in the desert as God gave His people water flowing from a rock. Moses spoke with God “face to face as a man speaks with his friend” and then one day Moses pleaded with God saying, “Please, show me your glory!” (Exodus 33:18) God answered him by saying “no flesh shall see my face and live.” That wasn’t an angry threat, it was just a simple statement of fact. God put Moses in the cleft of a rock and then shielded him with His hand before passing by and showing Moses just a retreating glimpse of His glory. After seeing God’s glory Moses’ face shone so brightly he had to cover it with a veil!

The Unspeakable Light

There is something about the radiant outpouring of light from God’s glorious Being that flesh and blood cannot survive. Every solar eclipse brings a warning not to view it directly or risk permanent blindness. None of us could even hope to survive the intensity of light from a military laser or an atomic bomb. How much less could our mortal bodies endure the unspeakable light that shines from an infinitely powerful God? “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen nor can see…” (I Timothy 6:16)

We See Jesus

On the mount of transfiguration Jesus’ face “shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light.” (Matthew 17) On the road to Damascus the Apostle Paul saw a bright light from heaven and was blinded by the scales that formed on his eyes. (Acts (9:3-9) We aren’t in spiritual darkness any longer and “We see Jesus” (Hebrews 2:9) but our vision is still restricted by our mortality. Some glorious day, “We shall see Him as He is because we shall be like Him!” (I John 3:2) This mortal is going to put on immortality and these feeble eyes are going to see God at long last!  And that, dear friend, is something to look forward to indeed.

Copyright 2023 by Bob Shutes

The Betrayal of Tradition

It’s interesting to learn that the words tradition and treason both come from the same Latin word. “Traddutore” is the root word from which we get words like treason, traitor and betrayal. How fitting! This understanding helps bring into focus how easily human traditions can betray of the intent and will of God. “Traduttore” in the words of one writer “refers to the idea that translation is always a betrayal of the true meaning of the original.” This simply refers to the difficulty of accurately translating thoughts and ideas from one language to another. It seems especially apt when you consider how man’s traditions are so often a betrayal of the true intent of God. History shows that translating God’s will into religious traditions often distorts and betrays God’s true intention. Is it possible that this insight is relevant to the tradition of the trinity?

Man’s Misguided Love of Religious Traditions

There aren’t many things Jesus condemned more fiercely than the traditions of men. He looked Israel’s leaders in the eye and declared “it is written” before going on to condemn their traditions. Jesus knew full well that man’s misguided love of religious traditions would ultimately lead to His own torture and crucifixion. The rulers of Israel hated Him for pointing out that their love of traditions was actually treason against God! Could it be that devotion to the trinity is an example of people loving tradition to the point of treason? The sad truth is that it’s all too easy to put more faith in tradition than in scripture.

People Kill to Protect Their Traditions

People kill to protect their traditions and then claim they are doing it for God. Jesus said the traditions of Israel violated God’s will and  portrayed  her leaders as a band of traitors! Calling them vipers, ravening wolves and hypocrites was hardly the way to make friends. History shows that challenging religious traditions can get you killed…. and that is exactly what happened to Jesus.

The Tragically Violent History of Christianity

The tragically violent history of Christianity reveals that anyone who dares to challenge well-established church traditions (i.e the trinity, infant baptism, meaning of communion, etc.) stands a very good chance of getting killed. Over the centuries, multiplied thousands of Christians have been tortured and slaughtered by those who claimed to kill them for God’s sake. Simply disagreeing about things like the trinity or baptism (or even owning the wrong books) has gotten more than a few believers burned at the stake. Unbelievers see these things all too clearly. Is it any wonder so many of them want nothing to do with Christianity? Jesus meant it when said “By this will all men know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”

Is the Trinity Theological Treason?

There is nothing more entrenched or fiercely defended in Christianity than the doctrine of of the trinity.  History reveals it actually took threats of death, torture and banishment to establish the trinity as orthodoxy. On the other hand, we are of the opinion that God can take care of the truth Himself. He doesn’t ask His people to resort to violence on His behalf. Jesus never killed anyone and neither did His Apostles. The tradition of the trinity, on the other hand, would never have been established or come to dominate Christendom without violence. We suggest that the tradition of the trinity is much less a divine truth than an unfortunate mis-translation of God’s revelation. That’s why we wonder… Is the trinity theological treason?

Copyright 2023 by Bob Shutes

God is Not a Man

God is not a man that He should lie, neither the son of man that He should repent.” (Numbers 23:19). Here’s a case where scripture  actually contradicts an important dogma concerning the trinity! (The church fathers insist that Jesus is God.) It contains a heretical thought and we wonder how trinitarian scholars have managed to ignore it for so long. What was the LORD thinking when He inspired these words? If God was a man this is exactly the kind of talk that would have gotten Him excommunicated! It seems to us God knew full well this verse wouldn’t harmonize with the doctrine of the trinity… but He included it in the scripture anyway.  

Jesus Said “I Am a Man”

Jesus claimed to be a man. “I am a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God, but now you want to kill me.” (John 8:40) He told the truth when He said He was a man and He told the truth when He declared that His accusers wanted to kill Him.  Jesus was born into the world like all men, but God is eternal and was never born. Christ was tempted like all men, but God cannot be tempted.  Finally, Jesus died like all men but God cannot die. It’s clear in the scripture that Jesus claimed to be the Christ, the Son of God, but he never claimed to be God Himself. The question we ask is this: Was Jesus God or was He a man?

By One Man’s Obedience

The Apostle Peter preached on the day of Pentecost and called Jesus “a man approved of God among you.” (Acts 2:22) The Apostle Paul declared “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2:5) In another place the Bible declares “By one man’s (Adam’s) disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19) It isn’t controversial to say that Jesus was a man, it is simply Biblical. What is truly controversial and unbiblical is the claim that Jesus was God! The overwhelming testimony of scripture is that Jesus was a man. He was one of us. The fact that Christ spoke and acted as only God could speak and act is easily explained by the doctrine of Biblical Agency. (See our post “Biblical Agency… What’s That?”)

No Man Has Seen God at Any Time

“No man has seen God at any time” (I John 4:12).  “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels…” (Hebrews 2:9) In Jesus we see “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15) Jesus is the image of the invisible God but He is not God, He is the Son of God and men have seen Him. Wise men saw Him in Bethlehem’s manger. Doctors of the Law saw Him in Jerusalem’s temple and the people of Israel saw Him on Calvary’s cross. The Apostle John saw Jesus seated upon a throne at the right hand of God. Someday everyone will see Him and “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11)

Copyright 2023 by Bob Shutes

PS: We confess that Jesus is the visibly human son of the invisible God. He was crucified, resurrected and glorified and now sits at the right hand of God. He is exalted above all creation and has a name above every name… yet for all that Jesus is a man and He is not God. This dear friend is the message of the Bible.

The Voice of Jesus

The world bombards us with so much information and distraction that sometimes it’s hard to hear the voice of Jesus. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually hear His voice and separate it from the torrent of media noise coming our way? The sound of Jesus’ voice often seems faint compared to all the news we hear about wars and pandemics, inflation and economic collapse, crimes, natural disasters and political crises. All these things are coming at us through an almost endless variety of technologies and it seems like we are awash in an ocean of news, entertainment and information. It would do most of us a lot of good if we learned how to hear the voice of Jesus instead of all the noise and distraction the world sends our way.

Theological Noise

There’s another kind of noise that also makes it hard to hear the sound of Jesus’ voice. It’s helpful to think of the ancient dogmas coming our way from the church fathers as a kind of “theological noise” that can also drown out Jesus’ voice. I like to watch nature shows on TV and am amazed by the way a mother seal or seagull finds her own offspring in a noisy colony full of hungry shrieking babies. Somehow or another she hears the sound of her own baby and that baby hears and recognizes her voice! It’s just a miracle… and it’s a miracle too that we can even hear the voice of Jesus over the all the theological noise  surrounding us.

The Sound of Jesus’ Voice

Jesus meant it when He said, “My sheep hear my voice…” (John 10:27) Above the noise of the world and church traditions there remains the sound of Jesus’ voice and it’s still possible to hear it if you dare. He speaks to us plainly and forcefully and today we can hear His voice in the words of scripture. The words of Jesus continue to echo through the centuries and hallways of history and His sheep still hear them today. Scripture is the sound of Jesus’ voice and His sheep delight to hear Him. His words cut through the proud religious traditions of men now just like they did when He walked in Israel. His voice also cuts through all the philosophical nonsense that forms the heart of trinitarian dogma and His words are “sharper than any two edged sword…” (Hebrews 4:12)

The Voice of Tradition

Our most sacred tradition (the trinity) declares that God is three co-equal persons who share the same divine substance. This is the united voice of the church fathers and councils and it still shouts loudly in Christendom today.  Modern theologians and scholars simply echo the ancient thoughts and words of the church fathers and for the most part their voices are the only voices allowed in our churches. It is fair to say that their voice is the voice of tradition, but the voice of tradition is not the voice of Jesus.

The Voice of Jesus

No one ever heard the voice of Jesus say that God is three persons or anything remotely like it. His words are simple, straightforward and clear.  He taught that the most important thing, the first and greatest commandment of all is this: “Hear O Israel! The LORD our God is One LORD.” (Mark 12:29) This is the main thing! Don’t ever forget it…. no matter what you hear from creeds, councils, church fathers, traditions or the denominations that want you to listen to their voice. “The LORD our God is One LORD.”  “For us (Christians) there is one God, the Father and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2:5)

There Are So Many Voices in the World

“There are, it may be, so many voices in the world and none of them is without significance.” (I Corinthians 14:10) All we have to do is figure out what those voices signify and which voice we should listen to. Should we listen to the words and voice of the church fathers in the triune creeds they imposed on the Body of Christ?  Or should we listen to the words and voice of Jesus Christ recorded in scripture? Who should we listen to?  We think that’s a good question to think about. What do you think? It makes sense to us to listen to Jesus.

Copyright 2023 by Bob Shutes

PS: It took this old retired pastor almost 50 years of study and searching to find a clear and Biblical alternative to the trinity. I confess to being a little slow. Ultimately I arrived at the immensely satisfying and solidly Biblical understanding of God and Christ we speak of on this website and that some call Biblical Unitarian. I hope it doesn’t take you that long! If this teaching brings you peace and blessing please spread the word and share a link to with someone else soon! (they might not have 50 years left). God Bless.