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.

Gossip and the Supper

Several Sunday’s ago our church heard the annual gossip sermon.

This is the sermon where the preacher outlined in detail the sins of each particular family as they had been related to the elders during the course of the year, and each family was called to public repentance. OK, so it was nothing so juicy as that. Instead it was a sermon that outlined, in juicy detail, the magnitude of the evil of gossip and the destructiveness of this seemingly innocuous sin. The following was the accompanying meditation on the Lord’s Supper.

One of the slogans of our church is that weekly practice of the Lord’s Supper is the first step in church discipline—this meditation is a practical application of that principle. The text was Matthew 26:57-68 (Jesus’ trial).

In the grand scheme of things, Jesus died because the world is full of sinners and thus full of sin, but if we look at the order of specific events that let up to His death (how He came to be crucified at a specific time in a specific place by specific people), we see that Christ Himself was crucified because the Jews conspired to lie about Him, and the Romans were willing to let the lie pass.

Can you see how serious the crimes of the tongue? Liars and slanderers lied and slandered to kill the most innocent of all men—to kill the God-man. Sins of the tongue are no mere trifles. Consider that when you hear that Paul tells us that we take this meal to commemorate the Lord’s death until He comes. We commemorate this most tragic of all deaths as one brought about by false witness, by gossips.

[T]he Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

If you have unconfessed sin, confess it. If you have been convicted by the sermon today, confess those sins, repent, turn away, and guard your tongue.

But, how do you guard your tongue? Look at it this way: practicing the Lord’s Supper is not just an excuse for somebody to get up and give an extra little inspirational sermon—the fact that real food and real drink is involved here is because they have real meaning. As you partake of these elements meditate on them. Taste them, I mean that, taste them and remember what they feel like on your tongue.

Then, later this week when you are tempted to sin with your tongue you can remember that your tongue had a meeting with God this morning. This particular meal is a sign of ownership. Remember that all of your body, even its smallest part, belongs to Him.

Have you been convicted today? Then remember that as we proclaim the Lord’s death we also proclaim the kind of death that He experienced: a temporary death. Jesus died, but he also rose and ascended into heaven, leaving His Spirit to sanctify you as He intercedes on your behalf before the Almighty Father.

“In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’”

The Reality of Spiritual Symbols

In my last post, I discussed the nature of the sacraments and how referring to them as “mere” symbols is insufficient and in many ways misleading about other manifestations of God’s grace. Today, I want to go a little further with that thought.

In one of Peter Leithart’s essays on grace he talks about this very thing, and to illustrate it he uses the example of a young man who is interested in having a relationship with a young woman. (what follows is my memory of Leithart’s example; as I don’t have it in front of me, my apologies for any inaccuracies or misrepresentation)

If a young man was interested in pursuing a relationship with a young woman, it would be necessary for him to show her his interest. And he would do this by using any number of symbolic gestures; things like buying her flowers, writing her letters, speaking to her often and in the specific ways that suitors do. Someone who was trying to focus on the supremacy of the “spiritual” or the intangible might argue that these actions are “mere” symbols of the actual affection and relationship that the young man is trying to establish. But this is not a sufficient explanation, for if the young man were instead to perform none of these “symbolic” actions, he would have a very difficult time convincing his young lady that he was truly interested in her at all. In fact, one could argue that these “symbols” actually make up a very significant and very real part of the relationship.

It is in the same way that these ordinances of the faith are not “mere” symbols. Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, marriage, corporate worship, and so on, each of these things, while they are definitely representative of spiritual truths, also make up a significant aspect of our relationship with Jesus Christ. And they do so to the extent that if a person who claimed to be a believer and lover of Christ did not partake in these actions, they would have a difficult time convincing anyone that they truly loved Him at all.  [Edit: You should read the comment by Jonathan below]

Comments?

Meet Paul Washer

This three minute long video is series of edited excerpts from a sermon delivered by Paul Washer to 5,000 Southern Baptist teenagers. It is quite simply phenomenal. [Note: the editing and the addition of music and video was not done by Mr. Washer nor by me.]

If you are interested in hearing the full sermon, you can find it here.

The Disconnect

Subtitled: Moral Immorality, the Music and Movie Industry, Disney’s Double Standard, and the Duke Lacrosse Team and Honest Strippers

I’ve been meaning to post something along these lines for some time, but for a million insignificant reasons, I haven’t. It’s the sort of thing I think about every time I hear about the RIAA or the MPAA suing someone for illegal music or movie downloads, or when I occasionally read that Disney if firing some teen star because of the teens behavior. Most recently, it was brought to mind when I read a recap of the Duke lacrosse team case.

What always surprises me about the Duke lacrosse case is the statements I hear “Christians” make regarding how the team members were mistreated by the press, the justice system, and the perjuring stripper. I hear people defending the players and making statements that I swear, to my ears sound something like this:

It’s a sad day when men can’t hire a stripper without the fear of getting indicted for rape. I remember back in the “good ‘ol days” when strippers wanted nothing more than to do an honest Saturday evening’s work and get a good night’s sleep before going to church the next morning. It makes me sad to see the country falling apart like this. What’s next: doctor’s helping women kill their babies? I certainly hope not…

It’s sad really that people living in a society that allows men to legally hire a stripper are shocked to learn that someone who is ok with breaking God’s commandments about nudity, doesn’t have a problem with breaking his commandments about lying. These same people then follow that bit of illogic up with being shocked that the media and a district attorney drawn from that same society might not be quite so moral either.

And this sort of thinking is popping up everywhere:

The music and movie industry have spent the last 40+ years promoting immoral and illegal behavior and then they are “shocked” and “dismayed” to discover that a generation raised on the values they have sold have no problem with stealing music and movies.

Disney wants to make movies about kids who buck the system and who live their lives their own way, but they want young actresses and actors who follow Disney’s rules unquestioningly.

The church wants parents to take a greater role in their children’s lives, but it also takes every opportunity it can to separate the children from the parents and to suggest to the parents that teaching children is something best left to professionals.

Parents want their children to respect them and take what they say seriously, but parents flippantly choose to ignore Scripture and the spiritual authority of the church when it inconveniences them.

Short version: Wake up, you can’t have moral immorality… if you deny God’s word in one area, it affects all the other areas as well.

Any comments?

For the Love of God

I was reading John B’s most recent Blog Meridian post when I came across this description of a Wichita bookstore that he frequents:

There’s no coffee bar there, no fancy tilted shelving displaying the stock, no subdued, recessed lighting. You go there to buy, sell, trade and talk about books. But not in a pretentious or refined way. Books are the commodity there, just as with any bookstore, but nothing there detracts from the books. You don’t go there for Atmosphere. You go there for books. Period. It possesses all the analogous refinement of a livestock-auction arena; it’s a meat-market for book-lovers. Everyone in there is on the bibliophilic make. You hope to get lucky and pick up a few to take home. Everybody knows why you’re there, so you don’t have to pretend. Drool. Fondle. Grab an armload of books–the implicit promise of a trip home–until something better presents itself around the corner… Take one over to the comfortable (if well-used) couches for, um, closer examination. Hope for jouissance.

Besides the thought that if I’m ever in Wichita, I want need to visit this Bookaholic place, here’s what popped into my head as I read this: when was the last time you heard someone praising a church for similar reasons?

There’s no coffee bar there, no “come early and have a doughnut” sign on the front lawn, no grandiose choir, no special classes for 3 year olds, 5 year olds, junior high teens, senior high teens, college kids, career-minded girls, single moms, single people, desperate housewives, mid-life crisesing men or golden agers. You go there to think, talk, hear, and learn about God. You go there to worship. But not in a pretentious or refined way. God is the focus there, just as with any church, but nothing there detracts from Him. You don’t go there for Atmosphere. You go there for God. Period. It transcends analogous comparison; it is the only thing like it. Everyone in there is there for worship. Everybody knows why you’re there, so you don’t have to pretend. Listen. Sing. Ask. Fellowship. Sit in your pew or chair and meditate upon the greatness of God and His Son Jesus Christ. Pray for conformity to Him.

What do you say?

Sermon Prep on Assurance of Salvation, Faith, Works, and I John 3

Tomorrow night, I’m preaching at my church and my central text is I John, chapter 3. It’s an interesting passage and the core idea that I’ve taken away from it is that while salvation is of grace through faith, our assurance of salvation is through our works and that we abide in Christ and not in sin.

I’ll post more later, but if anyone has any thoughts I’ll be checking back in before I preach tomorrow night, so you have a prime opportunity to influence what is preached from a pulpit.

Any takers?

Analogous Grace: Why God chooses to bless certain things

In my last article on grace, I wrote about Prescriptive Grace and the way that grace is always applied specifically according to God’s desires. In this post, I want to talk about grace in a slightly different way, but first I want to clarify some things. Because this post is about why God chooses to bless certain things I don’t want to give the impression that I believe that we can control or even manipulate God, however, because God has told us that He is a God of order and because He has revealed a great deal about Himself through His Word and through the world, there are things that we can know about His behavior and that we can, through faith, respond to. Of course, God can do anything He chooses at any time and is not bound by anything other than His own nature. As C. S. Lewis writes of Aslan in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe: He’s not a tame lion.
Continue reading “Analogous Grace: Why God chooses to bless certain things”

Soulwinning, Methodology, and Going in unto Hagar

Abraham had a problem. God had made a promise to him, and to the best of Abraham’s understanding, God had not delivered. Plus, the way things looked, God was not planning on delivering any time soon. And it was starting to bother Abraham. It was also worrying his wife. It worried her enough that she finally approached Abraham and said to him:

Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her.

Sarai makes it clear to Abraham that she knows it is God who has kept her from having children. She recognizes that God is the one who opens and closes the womb, but at the same time, she also doesn’t believe it or at least is not satisfied with it, because she tells Abraham to go into Hagar and see if God will bless that union and give him the promised heir by her (as if God does not control the womb of Hagar as well).

What happens next? We all know the story. Hagar brings forth Ishmael, and fourteen years later, Sarah née Sarai, brings forth Isaac, a son of her own. A few years later, Ishmael is sent away, and he grows up away from his father and his step-mother and brother. The next time we see Ishmael in Scripture, he is meeting Isaac to bury their father Abrhaham. Go a few verses further and we are reading Ishmael’s obituary as it were.

And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam, And Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa, Hadar, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah: These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations. And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people.
(Genesis 25:13-17)

We know a little more about Isaac. We know that he married Rebekah and that he had two sons, Jacob and Esau. We know that he became wealthy. We know his story in greater detail without having to look it up. But, here is my question:

If we accept the premise that the spiritual counterpart to bringing forth children is seeing souls born into the family of God, then what is the spiritual counterpart to going in unto Hagar?

I believe that as Christians (both individually and collectively as the Church), we often find ourselves in situations that bring us to say, the LORD has restrained us from bearing. The LORD has not given us souls. We know and testify that salvation is of God, that it is by the working of His spirit and by His hand alone that sinners come to repentance, but at the same time we do not believe it, because we go in unto Hagar. We go in to the world and we say, perhaps by these methods that we once thought were wrong, we might raise up souls unto God. What it terrifying is this. More often than not, by these methods, we see fruit.

What we have forgotten is this, Ishmael had twelve sons, each of them a prince with castles and land, and Issac had only two, one of them a shepherd living in semi-exile. If someone looked at the fruit of Abraham’s life, at his child with Hagar and his child with Sarah, which one would they conclude was more “successful”. Would they conclude that going into Hagar was such a bad thing after all? Could they even conclude that it was a good thing? Based on Ishmael’s life, would the modern church have told Abraham: Go down into Egypt and purchase from the slave blocks one hundred Hagars and get them all with child and raise up an army of Ishmaels? Sometimes, I wonder.

What I am saying is this: the ultimate fruit of Ishmael was not determined in his or in Abraham’s lifetime. In many ways it has still not been completely determined and will only be known in full, in eternity. But It is no different with our methods of winning souls today. It is not immediate results that tell us whether we are doing the work of God or not. There was no lack of people to dance around the golden calf that Aaron made, yet Noah preached 100 years and only reached his household.

What do you think? Does this hold up to the light of God’s Word? Have we gone in unto Hagar? If so, how do we make things right?