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.

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”

A Sermon for Sunday: Closing the Generation Gap

If you have never heard Voddie Baucham preach, you are missing out on one of the truly great experiences of the 21st century. If you have heard him preach, but you have never heard his message, Closing the Generation Gap, then you have some work to do. Preaching in 2006 before a large group of Southern Baptists pastors and their ministry associates, Baucham delivered a timely, engaging message on why Christianity in America is dying, and what we as Christians can do about it.

It is a message that still needs to be heard.

[audio:Closing the Generation Gap.mp3]

Click on the play button above to listen to the message, or right-click here and choose “Save Target As” or “Save Link As” to download the mp3. (Note: I have contacted Mr. Baucham and have been granted permission to distribute this message.)

Worshipping Youth

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and though I don’t have time to go into depth, I would like to throw out a thought. Let me start with a couple of assertions:

  • Christian American culture worships youth
  • Christian American culture does not respect parents and elders
  • Our attitude is in conflict with Scripture

Continue reading “Worshipping Youth”

The Dangers of Professional Clergy and Institutionalism

Over at the GeoffRe(y)port, there is an interesting post on the unintended consequences of professional clergy. As I understand it, the problem is not so much with the elder(s) being supported by the church, as it is with what happens when it becomes accepted that all elders are to be fully supported by the church, and that if you aren’t fully supported, something must be wrong. In the early church, when tithing and giving was at its peak, a pastor being completely supported was the exception rather than the rule. Anyway, go read the article and join the discussion there.

One thing that I’ll add here that didn’t make it into my original comment is that a professional fully supported clergy also results in a situation similar to that of institutional academia, in that you can frequently end up with people who have no experience in the real world. Early church elder’s had to be competent men; they were not fully supported by the church, they had families and therefore were required to have productive incomes and they also had to have time to tend to the church and to study the Word. Today, in certain circles, the ministry can be a lucrative and cushy career path.

Questions about Mega Churches

I’ve always been skeptical of mega churches. It was built into me growing up: the idea that things get unwieldy when they get too big, that the head can no longer know what the whole body is doing. Without really thinking about it, it became a truistic concept, an unquestioned axiom that flavored a great deal of my thinking.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that there are many “truism’s” that are unscriptural, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, all’s well that ends well, etc… And so I’ve reexamined a lot of things that I thought I had down pat. But mega churches still bother me. I think it’s verses like Hebrews 13:17

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

The word used for account there is logos. It suggests that the question posed will be, something like, “Tell me, how did the church come to be in this state. Give me an account for the state of this man’s soul.” Not the pastor will be held accountable for the faults of the people, but he will be asked what he did to prevent them and then to deal with them when they occurred. With that sort of responsibility, I guess I don’t see how someone can give an account for the souls of 1000+ people. So, I’m asking it as a question. What do you think about mega-churches? What do you think about the responsibilities of an elder? Am I putting too much responsibility there?