I just found another diagram and an explanatory essay, Thoughts on Superstructure, dated 01-14-1969:
Here’s part of it: I started out to draw a diagram representing side-by-side Biblical Christian and Roman Catholic accretions to the gospel of Christ over two thousand years. I wanted to be strictly honest about the evangelicalism I hold and fair to a system often confused with ours.
Our [21st] century Protestant superstructure includes everything from modes of serving communion and administering baptism to shaking hands with the pastor at the church door after the service and holding church socials in the basement.
But these traditions, I realized, aren’t major issues with most of us. We could just as easily worship together Thursday night as Sunday morning. Although we believe in immersion because it seems more appropriate in view of its significance–identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection–most of us could feel at home in a denomination that held to the significance but practiced sprinkling instead.
Baptists have one communion service a month and pass separate cups of grape juice around. Lutherans have communion every week and have members come forward to drink from a single large goblet of wine. It makes little difference to most of us. The Lutheran custom may be less sanitary but more symbolic. Some churches take up one offering a week, some take up one at every church meeting, including choir and business meetings, some merely leave a box at the back of the room. Some ministers wouldn’t dare preach over twenty minutes for fear someone’s roast would burn. Others are just getting warmed up at the end of an hour; the apostle Paul preached all night.
The New Testament outlines the officers and organization of the local church but isn’t too specific about the services itself, as long as they contain four basic elements: teaching, “fellowship” (socializing around our common faith), taking communion together, and prayer. The teaching is to be centered on “common denominator” truths, those given to us in His written covenants: Who He is, what He has done, what we have done, what we cannot do about what we have done, what He has done for us which only He can do, and what we can do to receive and benefit from what He has done.
But there are plenty of peripherals that we Bible Christians could dispense with without our faith being affected.
As I thought over Roman Catholicism, however, with its system of sacraments, including confession to a priest and penance in the form of assignments, memorized prayers for different occasions, crossing oneself with holy water on entering church, kneeling, standing, repeating certain phrases, crossing oneself at meals, saying the rosary, doing the stations of the cross, lighting candles, praying to Mary or to specific saints depending on the need, observing Lent, obligatory church attendance, etc., there isn’t a whole lot that could be pulled out without doing violence to the whole. Stained-glass windows, maybe, but that’s about it. I understand that even on the front lines in Vietnam priests wear vestments and administer various rites with all the elaborate paraphernalia of the church back home.
It seems to me that a knowledge of God that cannot be reduced to one or two bare essentials when a man may be meeting Him in a minute or two is missing the boat. God loves you and wants you with Him. But He’s holy and you aren’t so there’s a gulf (called sin) between you. You can’t do anything about that gulf. But He can and He did. If you admit you can’t make it on your own merits and receive His offer to apply His merits to your account, you can be with Him forever. It’s a done deal. He takes responsibility for taking you the rest of the way.
The problem with any works system is that the superstructure is built up between man and God. It has no place there. When the scaffolding becomes an indispensable ladder to heaven, like earning merit badges to make it to Eagle Scout, the “good news” has been buried.
As far as establishing or maintaining a relationship with God is concerned, works are useless. (Fellowship, the quality of that relationship, is a different matter.)
What have we possibly got to offer God? Our righteousness, according to Isaiah 64:6, is as “filthy rags.” (The older Catholic version of the Bible, Douay-Rheims, is right on when it translates this as “the rag of a menstruous woman.”)
Are we to offer God filthy rags in exchange for His son? What a slap in His face! Or faith plus filthy rags? Baptism or a donation to charity or a lifetime in the priesthood? No, as far as relationship is concerned, He’s taken care of making salvation possible for us at all.
That is what I wanted the wedding cake diagram [yesterday’s post] to show. He initiates our seeking Him: “Let us therefore love God, because God first hath loved us” I John 4:19 D-R Jesus said “No man can come to me, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him” John 6:44 D-R
He enables us to believe: “For by grace you are saved through faith: and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God, not of works, that no man may glory.” Ephesians 2:8.
He’s done it all.
Superstructure is a means to an end. But sometimes, as Brother Lawrence points out, it just gets in the way. It distracts us from the goal, becomes an end in itself. Jesus is the goal–and He is the way to the goal. Don’t let anyone–even His mother–derail you. It’s all about Him.
The supper is laid. He wants us to join Him at the table. The kingdom is offered. He wants us to receive it. For it is your Father’s good pleasure [it pleases Him] to give you the kingdom!” You can go directly to Him, receive it and tell him thank you with the rest of your life.
Any works we do that count can only flow out of obedience to the One who saved us and gratitude for His unmerited generosity.