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.

Pleased and Displeased Without Contradiction

II Peter 3:9 reads as follows:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

And this is scripture and it is true, but what does it mean about God? I have heard people say that this verse means that God has no control over who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. If it was up to God, no one would go to Hell, they say and then are left scratching their heads at the idea of omnipotence.

Becoming a parent has helped clear these thoughts up for me. My son is almost 2½ and while he is a sweet child, he is also a son of Adam and born into sin. Because of this, there are times where I see him being tempted and while it is perfectly within my power to remove him from the temptation or the temptation from him, more often than not, and for a multitude of reasons, it pleases me to watch him struggle, it pleases me to watch him fall, and then it pleases me to spank him. And it pleases me, because by faith, I believe that God is using this process in both my and my son’s life. But at that very same time that I am so pleased, it also displeases me that Gavin has struggled and that he has failed. But consider this: there is no contradiction in my pleasure and my displeasure. Instead they sit very neatly side by side and the one complements the other. And I am just a man. How much more complex must an infinite God be?

We cheat ourselves and God of something when we think of Him so simply. To me, it is no contradiction to say that God has ordained all things for his purposes, to say that He is not willing that any should perish and then to affirm Romans 9:20-23:

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,

What say you?

Fidelity

In a relationship, we often think of the person who leaves or wants to leave as the unfaithful one. The one who has the affair, the one who rails and sows nothing but discontent. But what about the husband who refuses to lead, who brings things into his home that destroy the intimacy and the purity of the relationship with his bride, who damages his and his wife’s soul with what he lets his eyes gaze upon. What about the wife who refuses to follow her husband’s leading, who seeks her emotional fulfillment in movies and novels and online relationships, who continually chooses to believe that romance is love and duty is tedious?

Is this not just as unfaithful? Is it not just as fatal, but in tiny, tiny increments?

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.

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”

The Love of God Blesses All Men

Go read this post about the love of God. While there may not be anything groundbreaking there, it is good to think through these things.

Here’s a snippet:

God demonstrates intended goodness on the reprobate. God’s ultimate purpose is to display His glory and the men are objects of means wherewith God will draw all men to Himself. To paraphrase Jonathan Edwards the very fact that the rejection of this kindness heaps more judgment on the non-elect proves that it is actual kindness, else it would be of no consequence to the reprobate. The fact that wicked men abuse these good gifts and heap more wrath on themselves does not negate the intent of the gift. John Calvin states, “Proofs of the love of God towards the whole human race exist innumerable, all which demonstrate the ingratitude of those who perish or come to perdition.”

Turtles all the way down: a question for atheists

Perhaps you’ve read or heard the following anecdote:

A well-known scientist (some say it was the philosopher Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the Earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.
At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.”
The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?”
“You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

Atheists often use this story to mock the Christian belief, but I have a question for them. If everything that we know about the universe is gained through our senses, and those senses are essentially chemical reactions in the brain, then how did we find out about chemical reactions in the brain? Is it chemicals all the way down?

Just curious.

Worshipping Youth, part II

This weekend I saw a commercial for Disneyworld vacations. It was brilliant. It began with a father and a son sitting side by side atop a giant waterslide. They look at each other, they grin competitively, and then they slide toward the pool below. But when they reach it, a transformation has taken place, and the father has become a boy as well! The son gives his father/new playmate an appraising glance, then an approving smile and they race off together. The rest of the commercial is a series of images showing the two enjoying their time playing, exploring, riding rides, and so on. When it ended, I was left with a feeling of wistfulness for my own childhood.

And that was when I realized that I was being played.

I said that the commercial was brilliant, and I meant it. It was brilliant in the same way that the first commercial ever made was brilliant. Maybe you’ve read about it:

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
(Genesis 3:1-6)

Talk about knowing your target demographic! And Disney knows theirs as well. They know that most Americans believe that childhood is magical, and that being a child preferable to being an adult. And if you’re like me, your brain is yelling, “But it is magical.” Let’s be clear: it isn’t, at least, it isn’t any more magical than the rest of life. Don’t get me wrong, childhood is great, it’s fine, it’s part of the process that God designed us to go through. In short, it’s good. But don’t go any farther. When we magnify childhood, when we make into the be all and end all of greatness, we cheapen every other part of life that God has made. We begin selling the idea that God made the first part great and everything after it is punishment.

If you don’t believe me, just try imagining the commercial if it were the other way around. The father and son sit at the top of the slide, they slide down, the boy is transformed into a man, and then what? They work 9 to 5 jobs together? They pay bills… in tandem? Watch TV together? That might work for a beer commercial, but even then, it just sounds too depressing.

The problem is that we think being an adult is drudgery. And whether we realize it or not, we communicate that thought to our children. Of course, if all you think of yourself as is just a consumer of goods and services, then perhaps you are not mistaken. Of course, if that is the case, you might also want to ask yourself why it is that you believe you are a Child of God and called according to His purpose.

Am I making sense here? As Christians, we have a sworn duty to become men and women of God. And part of that is raising our children to become men and women of God as well. We cannot fully do that if we ourselves believe that our children are better off staying children. We cannot do it if we believe the age old lie that we are raising children. We must remember that we are raising adults.

What do you say?

Treating the Scripture as a Person

Imagine the following scenario:

Your husband or wife calls you and tells you that they need to talk to you about something important when you get home. When you arrive, they usher you into the living room. “I’ve been thinking,” they say, “about how uncertain words are and how difficult it is to truly understand someone. I know that you try to talk to me, and that you expect me to understand what you’re saying, and I appreciate that, I really, really do, but I’ve made a decision. From now on, I’m just going to interpret what you say the way I want to, based on what makes the most sense for me. I think that will make things simpler.”

When they finish speaking, you sit, slightly bewildered, collecting your thoughts. Finally, you ask, “Why? I know we have misunderstandings from time to time, I know that sometimes I confuse you, but fundamentally I thought we’ve understood each other.”

Their response leaves you breathless, “Exactly,” they say, “This seems like the right thing to do. It means so much to me that you understand. I think we’ll get along so much better now. I hope you know how much I love you, and how much you mean to me.”

How would you react to such a conversation? Shock? Confusion? Bewilderment? You might begin to wonder if your loved one has some sort of dissociative disorder. You might even wonder if it’s you who have the disorder. You might wonder a thousand different things, but no one would think that this is normal.

But what if instead of you, the person being addressed was God Almighty? And what if instead of a loved one, it was you who had sat God down for the talking to?

How often do we treat the Word of God as less than a person? How often do we forget that when we open up the Word to read, it is not a dead man, but the living God Himself who is speaking to us? How often do we let the fact that we must interpret the Word, pervert itself into the idea that we can interpret it, anyway we want?

How often do we forget that the exact message that God wants us to know cannot be rendered unknowable? I don’t know about you, but I forget it all the time.