The Lord’s Supper, Food, Nourishment, Grace, and Symbolism

There is a tendency in modern Christianity to think of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) as purely symbolic acts. I believe this tendency is largely due to an overreaction to the Catholic position of transubstantiation and baptismal regeneration. And this is unfortunate, because while clearly transubstantiation and baptismal regeneration are not scriptural, overreacting to one heresy by running away from some aspect of truth is not a good solution.

The church fathers referred to the sacraments as “means of grace”. By this they meant that the sacraments are ways in which God delivers grace to His children, the saved.

This description is most useful because it places the emphasis of the source of grace firmly upon God and not upon some innate magic in the actions of eating bread and wine or being dunked in some body of water. But the danger here is that one could infer from this description that because the sacraments are merely the means of grace it is correct to view them as purely symbolic actions.

And this is true to an extent, but it is true in the same way that it would be appropriate to refer to food as a “means of nourishment”. Think about that for a moment if you will.

The only reason that a man may eat bread or cheese or meat or fruit and receive nourishment from it, is because Jehovah, the Almighty God of Heaven has chosen to bless food with this property. And if in his good pleasure, he should choose to withhold this grace, a man could eat all day and receive no benefit to his body.

It is in this same way that baptism and communion are means of grace. It is not that they are somehow completely different acts from eating, but they are acts of obedience that God has chosen to bless.

And this is comforting. It means that in the same way that food begins to affect us before we eat it, in the same way that we take pleasure in its preparation, in its consumption, and in that feeling of fullness that follows our feasts, so communion and baptism are both physical and spiritual things. The plainness of the bread, the sweetness of the vine, the thoughts and ideas that we associate with these simple elements, and all this contrasted with the knowledge of Christ’s deity and His humanity, his beaten flesh, his bloodied head, and what his crucifixion was accomplishing for us and for the entire world, all of this is part of what we are partaking.

So communion is not ‘merely’ a symbol, except in the sense that all things are symbolic. And communion is a means of grace, in the same way that all the gifts of our Heavenly Father are means of his most tender love for us.

Think of this the next time you break the bread and drink the cup.

As always, feedback is appreciated.

A Response to a Failed Courtship (a song of clichés)

Dear Sir,
I received your recent letter
explaining quite succinctly
that my efforts and my wooing
were received as you said, “weakly”

But I’m hoping that you’ll help me
In my first courtship post-mortem
It may shed some light on women
and how we young men should court them

I’d like to know where things went wrong
And why I failed to win her,
I followed all the steps spelled out
In my Homeschool Courtship Primer

I told her about my businesses
I’ve started thirty four
(My schemes are all pyramidal)
Semper Entrepreneur!

I made sure to be mature, reserved
A calm spirit is enough
But I also pounced on every chance
For me to strut my stuff

She saw me carry eighteen chairs
During worship service set up.
She saw me in my Pilgrim Hat
and my Robert E. Lee get up.

I left my iPod in plain sight
to display my manly measure
John Owen, Washer… Veggie Tales?
Well, that’s just a guilty pleasure

She knew I’m learning Hebrew
(It’s more difficult than Klingon)
But my ‘At yafa ahuvati’
Was to weak to put the ring on

In closing, let me just express
the depth of pain I feel
Like Geneva casting Calvin out
This wound may never heal

And though Boaz is broken hearted
for a Ruth he’ll never see
I’d also like to ask you
Is your younger daughter free?

On Parenting

If we were doing something of little importance, such as climbing Mt. Everest or training for the Tour de France or even enduring the necessary rigors of space travel and exploration, then perhaps we could look upon these moments of pain and hardship as something to be resented, but as it is, because we have been entrusted with the task of raising up godly sons and daughters and with striving against a world of iniquity and dark forces, how can we look upon these things as anything other than the joy and nature of our calling?

A few thoughts about free will

When we think about will, it’s helpful to think about it in the context of desire. To will to do a certain thing, the person who wills it, must desire that thing. Granted, this desire can be because of a gun to the head, or because of the influence of drugs, etc. but regardless of the reason, the person who is willing, must desire to do the thing he does.

This is useful when we think about free will in the context of salvation. Before a man’s heart has been changed by the Spirit of God, I would hold that he has free will, in that he may try to achieve anything he desires. The point of difference between a man before his heart has been so changed and after, is what he is capable of desiring.
Before a man has been regenerated by God, he is unable to truly desire God and he is completely free to do the things he does desire, which is to sin. It is only when God begins to change his heart, that a man has the capability to seek after God.

And this is consistent with how the Scripture describes a man moving between an unregenerate and a regenerate state. Before we are saved we are dead to the things of God, and a dead man is of another world from the living. The dead man cannot desire or will to do those things that are of God, he is dead to them. But then the Spirit comes and puts flesh and blood upon the dead bones and breathes new life into them, he is made alive unto God.
The other way that scripture talks about salvation is being born again. Before birth, a child cannot desire anything in the living world. It is not something he can even conceive. But when he is born into the world of the Spirit, when He is brought kicking and screaming into the world of light, he can know and desire the things of that world.

Does this make sense?

A Quick Link for State’s Rights and a Modest Proposal

So, two things:

One, if you are newly interested in states rights, constitutional law, state nullification of federal laws, or are just curious as to what any of that even means, then there  is an article by Peter Heck  over at OneNewsNow, that is well worth reading.

And two, I’m  curious as to how many people would be interested in doing a study of the Constitution together on this site (or maybe a site built for doing just that). What I’m thinking is one or two posts a week, starting with a little bit of introduction on the colonies, their charters and the nature of their authority, the reasons for their separation from the king of England, their reasoning for their ability to make such a separation, and then working our way article by article and paragraph by paragraph through the Constitution itself. I realize I haven’t been that active on the blog and so I have no idea how many people are interested, but if you are interested, please leave a comment and I’ll figure out if it’s worth doing or not.

The Little Moments

Go over to Miscellanies and check out Tony Reinke’s post on marriage. Here’s the part that hit me the hardest:

You and I don’t do many significant things in our lives. We only make 3-4 major decisions. Most of us will not be written up in history books. Sorry, it’s true. For most of us, several decades after we die, the people we leave behind will struggle to remember the events of our lives. You live in the utterly mundane. You live in little moments. And if God doesn’t rule your little moments He doesn’t rule you because that is where you live.

Thoughts about Marriage and Salvation

Much has been made about the symbols or types that God uses to represent Himself to us. But I’ll be honest, there are times that it gets a bit confusing. God is our Father, and Christ is His Son. We are God’s children and Christ is our Brother, but he’s also our Husband, and well, don’t things start sounding a little bit weird and complicated?

Here’s what helped me sort it out:

When I married my wife (Susan), she became a part of me and part of my family. In many ways, her ties to her family were severed. You can see this in Scripture in the way things are handled when a husband dies without children (Matt 22:24-27) and in the way that God honor’s the Rechabites for obeying their father from son to son (Jer 35:6-10), and even in the way that wives take the name of their husband. You can also see it in salvation: when you are made a part of the family of God, your ties to your old father – Satan – were severed.

In other words, now that we are married, my parents now look at Susan as their daughter. So, think about this for a moment. Susan is my wife and I am her husband, but to my parents, she is a daughter and I am a son. In a very real way Susan and I are brother and sister, husband and wife, and my father is her father. Things begin to seem less weird and complicated. The relationships that we have with Christ and the Father are echoed/foreshadowed in the relationships that he established.

What I am saying is that marriage is in a very real way about adoption. It is the central method for relationship building in all of history, so much so, that this is what God chose to start the history of the world with. And it has incredible spiritual impact, to the point that Christ is referred to as the second Adam.

Think about this:

Adam married a woman who was made for him by God and who was begotten out of Adam while he was in a deep sleep. Jesus Christ is marrying a bride who is prepared for him by his Father and who is begotten out of Christ through His death and resurrection. And just as the first Adam could not keep his bride from sin, the second Adam will keep his bride spotless and perfect. The first Adam’s children married sisters after the flesh, and there was a time when this could be done righteously, but it seems the work of sin made marrying sister’s after the flesh unlawful. The second Adam’s children are commanded to marry sisters after the spirit (sisters in Christ).

The implication of this is that marriage is about adoption (or the bringing in of one outside into oneness or newness), and if it is about true adoption, then marriage is about salvation. (This also begins to help us understand why the world so hates and seeks to profance the institution of marriage – For if husband and wife are not one, if this relationship is not real, then there is no salvation, for it is only through this relationship that salvation and the gospel make sense and can exist)

As always comments are appreciated.

Romans 9, the Awful and Terrible God, and Communion

When we first began attending Hope Baptist Church, we noted and appreciated that they observed the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis. Six months later, I have come to the realization that my ability to under appreciate a sacrament knows no bounds.

For the past three weeks, the elders have been leading the church through Romans 9, and let me tell you, these are not verses that are easy to hear:

Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

It is a terrifying thing to read these passages and to know that this is our God; it is a fearful thing to see Jehovah so clearly, and to know the awe that fills our heart and minds at His description. It is an entirely different thing to hear such a sermon and then to partake in communion.

Imagine for a moment that you are the child of the Hebrew king David. Your father, the king, is a man of war. In certain seasons, he takes his sword in hand and leads his armies to war. He has killed men, has with his own hands shed their blood, and he has given orders that would bring death to women and children. On days of judgement, he sits as a magistrate, and hands down rulings. He has sentenced men and women to death for crimes against the law. It is not his hand that kills them, but it is at his word and at his judgement nonetheless. But consider this: this man, the king, the man of war, the judge, the grim faced man who presides over life and death, this man is also your father. And he is not one man when he is at war and a second man when he sits at court and a third man when he sits with you and calls you by your name. He is the same man.

And this is what communion reminds me of. This is not to say that I should not tremble when I think of God. This is not to say that I am to forget that he is both awful and terrible (look up these words if you do not get my meaning – we have watered them down and forgotten what they mean). But it means that I am to place alongside this image of awe, this image of terror, an image of Abba Father, and I am to commune with him.

What I am striking out against here is the wicked idea that God must be watered down so that we can be comfortable with Him. Let me give another example, this time from C. S. Lewis’s novel, The Silver Chair. Here one of the main characters, Jill Pole, has been brought to Aslan’s country and through her own foolishness has found herself alone, lost, and looking for something to drink. Finally she comes to a pool of water, and guarding it, is a lion:

“If you are thirsty, you may drink.”

[…] For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” […] [she] realised that it was the lion speaking. […] [T]he voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the lion.

“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realised that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.

This is how communion felt after the sermons on Romans 9. Here I am, says God, I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms, and I will do so again if it pleases me. Know me. Look upon me. See me as I am… and come and drink.

Breakfast on the beach

Somehow a subscription passed into my wife’s possession to the ever-relevant Today’s Christian Woman, a magazine that answers the really pressing questions, like “Christians and Cosmetic Surgery”.  The resources-you-can-buy-to-tickle-your-soul page, titled ‘enGaGe!’ (except that the letters are all the same size, and not the same color), has advertisements for a sentimental Christmas DVD, some way-too-hip-looking guy hawking coffee-break long “thought-provoking reflections” on “relevant issues,” instructions on proper IM etiquette when communicating via that medium with your busy teenager, and ideas for spiritually scrapbooking your personal faith journey.  The real jewel of the lot is an ad for Come Closer, described as a “beautifully worded invitation to accept Christ’s call to life, love, and breakfast on the beach.”

Ah, there is a time when the great satirist must lay down his quill and roll up his parchments.  He must sigh, slowly shake his head and realize that the world itself has surpassed his even his abilities of producing the bizarre.   Following the (retired!) Dave Barry, each satirist realized that they could not go about lampooning some modern silliness without the necessary disclaimer that he was not making this up.  His services are no longer needed.  The age of the great satirists has surely passed.