GCI Update

What about Christmas trees?

This is our last issue in 2016. The next one will be published on Jan. 4, 2017. The letter below is the third in a series from Joseph Tkach addressing the origin, dating and Christian celebration of Christmas. To read an article (Some Thoughts About Christmas) that compiles all three letters, click here

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach
Joseph and Tammy Tkach

Rejoice! Christmas is almost here. In celebrating Christ’s birth, many Christians display a Christmas tree. For them, the colorful lights and ornaments add to the ambiance of the season. Some Christians choose not to have a Christmas tree, and that’s fine, as long as they don’t buy into the false idea that having one is tantamount to joining in pagan worship. I chuckle at that notion because, though I love trees, I’ve never worshiped one, nor have Christians down through the ages. There is a strict and obvious difference between the pagan worship of trees and what Christians do in displaying a decorated tree during the Christmas season.

The Bible says a lot about trees. It tells us that God created trees for us to enjoy and to care for. It tells us that God placed two special trees in the Garden of Eden—the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Some commentators see the tree of life as symbolic of blissful eternal life in God’s presence. Others see the Garden of Eden as symbolizing heaven, with the tree of life symbolizing Christ through whom eternal life is gained.

The Tree of Life, Revelation 22 (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

In the book of Proverbs, trees signify life and happiness (Proverbs 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4). Elsewhere, trees often symbolize God’s redemption. Note what Isaiah says about the promised Messiah: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1). Other passages refer to the Messiah as “the Branch of the Lord,” “the Righteous Branch,” and “God’s Servant, the Branch.” These are references to God’s gracious work in raising up within our time and space a Messiah to give life and righteousness to all who believe in him (see Isaiah 4:2; Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:15-16; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12).

The Bible mentions multiple kinds of trees, including almond, acacia, apple, ash, aspen, balsam, broom, carob, cassia, cedar, citrus, cypress, date palm, elm, evergreen cypress, fig, gopher, holm, mastic, mulberry, mustard, nuts, oak, oil, olive, pine, poplar, sandalwood, spice, storax, sycamine, sycamore, tamarisk, terebinth and willow. In Hosea, God refers to himself as a tree: an evergreen tree! “O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit” (Hosea 14:8 ESV).

Christ on the Cross by Zurbarán (public domain via
Wikimedia Commons)

In the New Testament, the Greek word xulon is used for both the cross and trees, including the tree of life (Revelation 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19). Jesus compares himself to a tree as he hears women lamenting his plight: “For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:31). Jesus calls himself a green tree because of his eternal power and capacity to give new life.

No right-thinking Christian would ever worship a tree. They know God taught Israel to avoid idolatry, and it’s idolatrous to think that any part of God’s creation is divine. Embracing that belief set Israel apart from its pagan neighbors who viewed the sun, moon and stars as divine, and regarded vegetative and human fertility as making use of the power of the gods. Though God commanded Israel to reject such pagan notions, he did affirm the goodness of all that he created—distinguishing between the absolutely distinct, holy, particular and personal goodness of God (who alone is uncreated and thus divine) and the relative, limited (fallen-distorted) goodness of God’s created gifts.

This distinction between what is divine and what is created informs how Christians view the bread and wine served at the Lord’s Table. The communion elements are created, not divine. However, as signs of the real presence of our divine-human High Priest Jesus Christ, they are powerful reminders of God’s atoning work in and through Christ—both in the past and in the present, at the Table. In communion services within liturgical churches, before the bread and wine are consumed, the elements are lifted up to God in a prayer of consecration, given in recognition that the created elements have no power in themselves to give us fellowship and communion with God. Each and every time the Lord’s Supper is served, God graciously acts by his Spirit in making these created things to be channels of his grace to us as we worship Jesus for how he—on a tree!—poured out his blood from his broken body to conquer sin and death for all humanity.

It is interesting (and likely highly significant) that in the Bible the grand narrative of salvation is book-ended with key scenes featuring trees. Note this from fourth century church leader John Chrysostom:

Do you see how the devil is defeated by the very weapons of his prior victory? The devil had vanquished Adam by means of a tree [of the knowledge of good and evil]. Christ vanquished the devil by means of the tree of the Cross. The tree sent Adam to hell. The tree of the Cross brought him back from there. The tree revealed Adam in his weakness, laying prostrate, naked and low. The tree of the Cross manifested to all the world the victorious Christ, naked, and nailed on high. Adam’s death sentence passed on to all who came after him. Christ’s death gave life to all his children.

It’s not a sin, and thus there is no Christian prohibition against using decorated trees to celebrate the way Jesus created trees and then used them in fulfilling God’s plan for the redemption of humankind. When we use a Christmas tree as part of our celebration of the nativity of Christ, we do so as a mere sign (witness) of God’s great gift of his Son who brings eternal light and life into our dark world. We let the light of Christ, which shines down on those trees, reveal to us their true meaning. We refuse to let any pagan Grinch of Christmas trees past steal way that Christ-centered significance. The often star-tipped tops of our Christmas trees point humbly up to their transcendent Maker and Redeemer—the One who from heaven came down to us in the humble form of a servant, born in a manger in Bethlehem.

Jesus, the second Adam, redeemed the distorted relationships that through the first Adam had intruded into all creation (trees included). By dying on the “tree” of the Cross, Jesus brought redemption to humanity and light to the world. Through his sacrifice, he brought forgiveness, hope and salvation. We don’t worship trees, but because of what Jesus did, trees can serve as witnesses to God’s glory—reminders of his grace and love for all humankind.

I pray you have a joyous and fruitful celebration of Jesus’ incarnation,
Joseph Tkach

PS: For a related GCI article on Christmas trees and Jeremiah 10, click here. For a Christianity Today article on the history of the Christmas tree, click here.

GCI-Philippines Advisory Council

As part of its national church administration system, GCI in the Philippines has an Advisory Council. Here are biographies of the current Council members. We thank them for their service, and invite you to pray for them in their important work on behalf of GCI in the Philippines and beyond.

Eugenio Guzon

Eugene, Lourdes and grandchild

Eugene and his wife Lourdes have a daughter who is married to a GCI pastor. Ministry for the Guzons is definitely a family affair!

Eugene became a WCG member in 1977, and was ordained an elder in 1990. Shortly thereafter, he entered full-time ministry, first as an associate pastor and then as head of the GCI-Philippines Financial Services Department. Since 2002 he has served as National Ministry Director for GCI-Philippines. He also oversees GCI’s mission initiatives in Northeast Asia and the United Arab Emirates.

Eugene received a Bachelor’s Degree in Agribusiness from the University of the Philippines in 1978. He attended the Asian Theological Seminary in 1995–96, then transferred to the Ateneo Graduate School of Business where he received a Master’s degree in Business Administration. His final paper was on Strategic Initiatives for GCI Philippines. Eugene is currently completing a doctorate with a focus on spiritual authority.

Reynaldo Taniajura

Rey and June

Rey and June were married in 1974. They have one son, Darryl, who now resides with his wife Marcia, and daughter Chloe, in Texas. Though Rey retired from GCI employment in 2015, he continues to serve as GCI’s mission director and area superintendent for Southern Luzon. He currently is an adjunct faculty member at the International Graduate School of Leadership (IGSL) where he teaches community transformation and development. He also serves as the academic dean of Asian School of Development and Cross-Cultural Studies (ASDECS). In 2013, he was designated Field Director and representative in the Philippines of William Carey International University in Pasadena, CA, where he also is an adjunct faculty member and a major advisor in the PhD program.

From 2009 to 2011, Rey served as National Director of the Philippine Missions Association (the mission commission of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches). He is former 3rd vice-chairman of Asia Missions Association and a member of the mission commission of the Asian Evangelical Association (AEA). He founded the National Prisons Ministries Philippines, Inc. (NPMP) and served as its president for seven years. Currently, Rey is a member of the board of Prison Fellowship International–Pilipinas, and director of its academy.

Rey earned M.A. and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in Philippine Studies at the University of the Philippines. He has also completed the academic requirements for an M.A. in Economics from the Lyceum of the Philippines University. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Trinity Theological Seminary in Indiana, where he obtained an M.A. in Biblical Studies and a Master of Sacred Literature degree. He has had additional leadership training at Haggai Institute in Maui, Hawaii (1999); Canaan Farmers School in Seoul, Korea (2010); Institute of Correctional Management in Kerala, India (2003); and in restorative justice in Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada (2003).

Maxzix Fabricante


Max was born in 1946. With his wife Lolita (now deceased) Max has three children and six grandchildren.

Max became a member of the Radio Church of God 1967, and in 1974 was ordained an elder. In 1988 he was hired into full-time ministry, and began serving bivocationally in 1998. He has served churches in Pampanga, Bulacan, Olongapo and other areas in the Philippines. He has also served as a Festival Director and an SEP Camp Director. In 2001 he became a member of the Advisory Council.

Rex Dela Pena

Rex and Sheila

Rex married Sheila in 1998. They had attended the same congregation in their teen years and worked together at SEP camps. Rex was born in Manila, the youngest of four children. His mother became a WCG member in 1972 when Rex was six. He fondly remembers his childhood with family attending church together. Rex attended SEP as a camper and later served as a camp counselor before heading to Ambassador College where he graduated in 1994 and was hired into full-time ministry.

Rex served as a ministerial trainee in Manila and then as National Coordinator for Worship and Youth Ministries. Alongside that, he directed the flagship SEP-Philippines camp for 15 years. He was also Area Superintendent for Metro Manila for several years and now serves as coordinator of Church Development for GCI-Philippines. Rex is based in Baguio City, where Sheila works as a Branch Sales Manager for a real estate company.

Jose V. Manzano

Jose and Virginia

Jose was born in 1947. He and his wife Virginia have four children (one deceased) and six grandchildren. Jose holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Fisheries, two Master’s degrees (one in fish culture and the other in education) and a Doctor of Philosophy degree. He is a licensed fisheries technologist, and before retirement was an associate professor at Bicol University.

Within GCI, Jose has served as the Assistant Area Superintendent for the Bicol Region and now serves on the National Advisory Council for GCI Philippines. Jose has also actively participated in the planting of five GCI churches in the Philippines.

Roy Valenzuela

Roy and Vilma

Roy, who is married to Vilma Tolosa Valenzuela, was born in 1971. He was awarded an M.A. in Public Management in 2016 and an M.A. in Transformational Leadership in 2011. He also holds Bachelor’s degrees in law and mechanical engineering. He holds licenses to practice law and to serve as a civil servant.

Since 2016 Roy has served as Deputy Director of the Directorate for Inmate Welfare and Development, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. Before that he was Chief of the Legal Service Office, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology – National Headquarters. Roy currently serves as chairman of Prison Fellowship International Pilipinas; chairman of National Prison Ministries Philippines; and corporate secretary of El Proveedores Foundation.

Audie Santibanez

Audie and Rachel

Audie married Rachel Santiabanez in 1999. They have two sons. Audie and Rachel share a love for GCI and its pastoral ministry.

After finishing a Civil Engineering degree in 1988, Audie attended Ambassador University in Texas where he completed a degree in Management Information Systems in 1994. He then became a ministerial trainee and then a pastor, serving congregations in the Visayas, Mindanao and Luzon.

Audie currently serves bivocationally as an Area Superintendent for Metro Manila and the neighboring provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga and Olongapo. He says that working in both agribusiness and ministry gives him the blessing of enjoying the best of both worlds.

Ezra Raduban

Ezra and Jina

Ezra was born in 1964 in the heart of Manila. A year later, his parents joined the first congregation of Radio Church of God in the Philippines. His father eventually became a WCG pastor.

After graduating with a degree in Accountancy in 1985, Ezra attended Ambassador University in Pasadena where he earned a degree in theology. Upon returning to the Philippines in 1989, he married Jina Soledad a receptionist in WCG’s Philippine Regional Office. They have three sons, all serving in worship ministry as members of a worship band called the Amplifiers.

Since ending his work with the Philippine Regional Office in 1995, Ezra has been involved in the area of Human Resources. He currently works as Manager of HR Operations for Western Digital Corporation. Ezra and Jina along with their son Everett are members of the Pastoral Team of GCI’s congregation in Santa Rosa where they are establishing “Neighbor Love Communities” to share the good news of Christ and his love with different target groups in the community. Ezra was ordained an elder in 2006 and appointed to the Philippine National Board in 2002. He continues as a member of the Advisory Council.

Mario Natividad

Mario and Belinda

Mario, who is married to Belinda, received a Bachelor of Science degree in Metallurgical Engineering from Mapua Institute of Technology in 1975, and a Master of Science degree in Industrial Economics in 1978 from the University of Asia and the Pacific. After university, he worked as an Executive Assistant to the President for Corporate Planning, then as a Market Services Manager, and then as a General Chartering Manager.

Mario believes in serving God by giving back to the community through social outreach. For more than 30 years in WCG/GCI, he has participated in medical and dental missions and other relief operations under Develop Asia Foundation, Inc. He has also helped sponsor emerging youth leaders for training at SEP and has helped coordinate GCI annual worship festivals. Mario also helped found the Ambassador School for Children, which contributes to early childhood education and provides scholarships to poor but deserving children. Mario now serves as Senior Pastor of a newly planted GCI congregation in the Manila area and Belinda is Eugene Guzon’s executive secretary in GCI’s Manila office.

RP’s son records music video

Jimmy Kurts, son of Regional Pastor Paul David Kurts and his wife Emma Lee, is a gifted worship leader, singer-songwriter and guitarist. He recently recorded a music video of the song Unify. Jimmy wrote the lyrics with the music being from John Mayer’s song Dreaming With a Broken Heart. To watch the video on YouTube, click here.

Jimmy Kurts in Unify

The church and its ministry (part 2)

Gary Deddo

Here is part 2 of an essay from Gary Deddo on the nature of the church and its ministry. For other parts of the essay, click a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9, 1011, 12. We encourage you to add your thoughts and questions in the “comments” box at the end of each post to get a discussion going. To read the full essay in booklet form, click here. To read the related essay, “Clarifying Our Theological Vision,” click here.

A Brief Theology of the Church
(with a view to equipping the saints for the work of ministry)

by Dr. Gary Deddo

Part 2: Images of the Church

Last time, we noted that the church’s ministry is determined by its identity. We then began to explore that identity, asking “What is the nature of the church?” This time we’ll go deeper, looking at four primary ways the church is identified in biblical revelation.

1. Body of Christ

The church (ekklesia in Greek, meaning those called or assembled together) is most often and with greatest weight and stress identified as the Body of Christ. [1] By way of analogy to the human body with its head, this image tells us that there could be no closer created relationship than that between Jesus Christ and those who belong to him. The connection is vital—it is essential to its life. The body belongs to and has existence and direction by the head to which it is entirely joined. The body is the body of the head. You identify the body by the head to which it essentially belongs. The body does not exist or live apart from the head.

The Disciples of Jesus Baptize by Tissot
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Though closely joined, the Head is not to be confused or interchanged with the Body. The Head is the source, the life, the sustenance, the authority of the Body. The Body depends upon the Head while the Head does not depend upon the Body. [2] The church belongs to Jesus in a way that exceeds the connection of human heads to human bodies. As the Body of Jesus Christ, the church belongs indivisibly to him. It has no existence, no life apart from him. Further implications of this connection between Christ and his Body are laid out in the New Testament. We’ll explore those later.

2. Cornerstone and foundation

The second image Paul offers is less organic but still pithy, pointed and in certain ways, a more comprehensive description of the relationship between Christ and his church/his Body. Making use of an analogy from the engineering of a physical temple, Paul identifies Jesus as the cornerstone of a temple of worship built in his honor. In using this analogy, Paul was drawing on an ancient practice, giving it a unique meaning that is defined by Jesus, not by the myths and temples of pagans.

This image of a cornerstone conveys the idea of the absolute beginning of a structure. Laying the cornerstone is the first step of construction, especially in building a temple. It provides the building’s meaning, its structural form and integrity. Physically, the cornerstone gave alignment to the structure’s length, width and height. All other elements of the temple were set in reference to this stone, thus finding their proper meaning and place in reference to it.

In pagan temples the cornerstone often had an inscription declaring which god the temple was dedicated to—that is, whose temple it was. In ancient myths, known in the days of the early church, the image of a cornerstone was sometimes used metaphorically to refer to the beginning point of all of creation set up by the gods.

By referring to Christ as the cornerstone of the church, Paul is emphasizing the following points:

  1. That the very existence of the church is dependent upon him.
  2. That the church and its worship belong to him, are dedicated to him.
  3. That all that the church is and does must be arranged, ordered and structured in reference to him as the source, norm and standard of its life.

Peter makes use of the same image in his first letter. He wants to make sure his readers don’t get the wrong idea and think of Christ in impersonal, inert ways as a literal cornerstone might suggest. So he qualifies his use of the image:

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 2:4-5)

Peter wants to make sure we see the resurrected Jesus Christ, who is eternally alive, as the cornerstone. Jesus is active, speaking, communicating and nourishing those joined to him as members of his body, as those who worship God in and through him. And we then, are also made alive. We are living stones built on him to offer our lives daily as an act of worship to God. Jesus is thus a life-giving cornerstone, not a dead block of marble. He is the Living Word of God to us.

The center of the center
To compare this to another image we often use, a cornerstone is to a building what the center point of a circle is to the circle’s circumference. It’s another way of saying Jesus is the Center of the center. Jesus being the center of the church means that he is the key to its whole meaning, structure and functioning. Everything else orbits around him and is oriented to him so that all its movements in all its parts are related to and measured and guided by staying centered on who he is and on his purposes for his church called together by him and gathered around him.

Cornerstone with a foundation of the apostles and prophets, the written Word of God
Paul brings in another element here before he talks about the church as a whole. He tells us that what is first oriented and already made to be in alignment with the cornerstone are certain foundation stones. The cornerstone first provides a reference to other foundation stones upon which the rest of the church is built. Together with the foundation stones, the cornerstone provides a foundation for the whole building. As the image is laid out by Paul, those foundation stones that are first directed and oriented to Jesus, the cornerstone, are the prophets and the apostles.

The prophets were persons appointed by God before Jesus Christ was incarnate to bear spoken and written testimony to God and prepare the people of God to ultimately identify and properly respond in faith to the incarnate Son. The apostles were persons appointed by God during and after Jesus’ earthly ministry to point back to Jesus Christ incarnate and his completed work of salvation and point forward to his return and the consummation of his rule and reign, his coming kingdom. Together, the writings of the prophets and apostles are what we call Scripture—the Old Testament and the New Testament. These persons and their messages, ordered and directed by Jesus Christ, the Living Word, point to him, providing, with him as the cornerstone, the complete foundation for anything and everything built upon it as his church.

So the foundation of the church is Scripture in service to Jesus Christ himself the eternal Word of God, who authorized both the prophets and apostles to be normative witnesses to him. We can summarize this by saying that the written Word of God serves as the revelation of God that is appointed to direct and order the life and worship of the church to Jesus Christ, who is the Living Word of God.

None of this revelation with Christ at the Center would be possible without the ministry of the Holy Spirit both before and after the incarnation of the eternal Son of God. The gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit is essential if those apostles and prophets were to hear and faithfully receive the Word of God. And we would not be able to hear or faithfully receive from Scripture were it not for the gracious work of the Holy Spirit made possible by the completed work of Jesus Christ. So God’s normative communication to us is an achievement of the whole Trinity, each person serving together with a distinct aspect of gracious ministry to us that we might know the Triune God and be reconciled to him so that we live in fellowship and communion with God.

The written Word of God is authorized by and gains its authority from the cornerstone, the Living Word of God. The Living Word of God is the living source of the written Word of God. As the Living Cornerstone, Jesus Christ himself continues even now to serve as its interpretive center. The written Word is to be interpreted in a way that points to Jesus Christ as its normative and living Center. The Living Word himself is the continuing source of the written Word. The Living Word continues to speak to us normatively or authoritatively in and through his written Word. The Living Word is not to be thought of as standing at a deistic distance from the written Word, as if the risen Lord Jesus had become mute. The Triune God remains the speaking, communicating and eloquent God who speaks in and through his written Word. And we hear it best when we listen to it with Jesus Christ as its living, speaking Cornerstone, as if it is his Word, as if that written Word belongs to him. Here are some key passages that contribute to this insight:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph. 2:19-22)

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 2:4-5)

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. (John 15:26)

Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. (Acts 1:16)

The Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:37-40)

[Jesus] said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself…. He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24:25-27; 44-45)

3. Groom with bride

The third image that supplements our understanding of the relationship between Jesus and the church, his body, is one of groom with bride. This image points out a very personal, deep, life-long, intimate and fruitful relationship. Here are a few key scriptures that use this image:

The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. (John 3:29)

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. (Rev. 19:7)

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. (Rev. 22:17)

After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Eph. 5:29-32)

This image indicates a very close, even intimate and personal relationship of Jesus with his church. It also conveys a dynamic, interactive, interpersonal element of relationship. Given other such relational imagery throughout the New Testament, it conveys the idea of a history of relationship that develops and grows, especially from being unmarried, to being betrothed to having the marriage consummated. In the Old Testament there is preparation for this dimension of understanding with God’s relationship with Israel being compared to the relationship of a husband and wife. This is poignantly portrayed in Hosea where Israel’s unbelief and betrayal are compared to adultery. There are also several references in Isaiah and Jeremiah to the people of God as God’s bride. [3]

Again, this image should not be taken alone. It helps us fill out a portrait when put together with the other images. This image, along with the others, are all together illustrative of a deep and complex reality that can’t be reduced to any one word or image. The images synthesize other more literal teaching about God’s relating to his people and what we are told about the history of that relationship culminating in the metaphorical image of the marriage feast of the Lamb depicted in Revelation 19:7-9.

4. Sharing-sacrament in body and blood

A fourth image used in several passages and alluded to in yet others, involves the idea of being related to Jesus Christ by way of the image of ingestion. Our fellowship and communion with Christ is like our taking him into our bodies as our food, as sustenance for our life. We display this image when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. As we take bread and wine, we are said to be taking and eating his body broken for us, and his blood poured out for us. This image conveys the idea of not only ingestion, but also, as interpreted by Jesus, of his giving up his life for us and establishing a renewed covenant relationship with him, the new covenant in his blood. So we can refer to this image as being sacramental, partaking of his body and blood. We are receiving a share in his resurrected and ascended life in renewed relationship with God. That’s how closely Christ is related to us and how dependent we are on him, more than even physical food.

Communion in his body and blood by way of the sign of ingestion points to a very close connection that provides sustenance (nourishment). This image suggests other New Testament images of life-giving relationship, including those between the vine and branches, and the flow of water giving life to persons, plants and animals in a parched land. Recall also how Jesus identifies himself as the Bread of Life and Living Water. The taking of another into our bodies conveys the idea of indwelling, or internalizing him. Such deep connection in the New Testament is often related to the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit within us, working in our hearts, minds and spirits, and upon our human nature.

Here are two references to those images:

Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. (John 6:53-56)

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation [koinonia=partaking, sharing, having communion] in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation [koinonia] in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)

What do we learn from these images?

In their own way, each one of these four images points to the reality of a deep relationship between Christ and his church (a relationship that involves worshiping the Father and receiving the Spirit). Many other passages speak in more literal ways concerning this relationship, using words such as follow, receive, serve, obey, learn, hope, love, trust, faith, and belief. Though these words are important and quite helpful, the spiritual depth, meaning and wholeness of the relationship we enjoy with Christ are perhaps best captured and synthesized by the images we’ve just explored. Next time we’ll look further at the implications.


[1] Romans 7:4; 1 Corinthians 6:15; 10:16; 12:12; 12:22; 12:23; 12:27; Ephesians 1:23; 2:19; 3:6; 4:12; 4:25; 5:30; Colossians 1:24; 1 Timothy 6:2; Galatians 1:2.

[2] The strict analogy with a human body breaks down here since the created human head cannot live long apart from its body. As is true in every case,  you cannot work backwards from the logic of a creaturely analogy to doctrinal statements about God, who is not a creature. Knowing Jesus is Lord and the eternal Son of God blocks the misuse of this image to make it seem there is a kind of mutual dependence of the Head upon the Body. The teaching and image used is meant to tell us far more about the Body than about the Head.

[3] Isaiah 49:18; 61:10; 62:5; Jeremiah 2:2; 2:32; 7:34; 16:9; 25:10; 33:11; Joel 2:16.

Pray for Haiti

Pastor Joseph Franklin

GCI Pastor Joseph Franklin in Haiti requests prayer for his nation. Here is his note to us:

Haiti is now threatened by civil war. As I am writing this, we hear shooting all around our home. Please join us in prayer for a quiet and secure Christmas season. Over 100 of the kids in our school here are back home for the holiday and will return here on Wednesday for a farewell lunch.

Death of John Bailey

We were saddened to learn of the recent death of GCI Pastor John Bailey. Here is an obituary from John’s daughter, Dawn Stephens.

Pastor John W. Bailey passed away peacefully at his home in Indian Land, SC, on December 19. He had been a deacon, elder and pastor serving congregations in Cedar Rapids and Davenport, IA, and in Charlotte, NC. He also coordinated GCI’s festival held in Davenport.

Pastor John is survived by his wife Karen Bailey; two children, Dawn (Bob) Stephens and Troy Bailey; two grandsons, Michael Stephens and Jeffrey Stephens; and one great-grandson, Daniel Stephens.

Pastor John was a dedicated servant of God and loved serving the people of his congregations.

Cards may be sent to:

Karen Bailey
1107 Crown Vista Drive
Indian Land, SC 29707

Registration open for 2017 Denominational Conference

Registration is now open for GCI’s 2017 Denominational Conference in Orlando, Florida! It will be held on August 2-6, 2017, with a pre-conference session for pastors and church facilitators on August 1.

  • For conference information, click here
  • To register, click here (login required)
  • For a detailed conference schedule, click here

Because pastors and facilitators will not receive scholarships from the denomination to attend this conference, we recommend that the cost of their attendance be reimbursed by their congregations. There are no early-bird or otherwise reduced rates for pastors and facilitators—all attendees pay the same rates for registration, onsite lodging and conference meals. By registering this month, pastors and facilitators can help their congregations spread out the conference costs across two calendar years.