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.

Why You Cannot Afford to Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils

I have said this before, and I will say it again. Eventually, all things come to blood. If a nation heads in the wrong direction for long enough, good men will die. Here’s the thing though: how can you expect a nation to turn around if you do not pursue that which is great, rather than that which is barely acceptable? How can you expect goodness to come forth by choosing between the lesser of two evils?

Let’s take it a step further: If you believe that America is heading in the wrong direction but you are not willing to fight for what is good nor willing to look the part of a fool for the sake of righteousness; if you continue to be complacent and hope that tomorrow will be no different than today, then let me congratulate you on the murder of your children1.

For if you truly believe that all things come to blood, and you do not fight today, then you are leaving that fight to your children. You are leaving them to live in a world made worse by your inaction and to either become corrupted by that world, or to be killed by it.

You are leaving them to death.

And if you are that sort of man; if America is a nation composed of men who are willing to make that choice, then we will deserve the death that comes. We will deserve it, because day by day, in a million tiny ways, we will have chosen it.

1Let me be clear here: if you are fighting for good as well as you know how, I cannot accuse you. But there are those of you who are and have been compromising. Who know it, and need to be confronted with it. You have made easy choices for the very reason that they are easy. I have been one of you. I say, let it end today.

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?

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?

Could Christ Have Sinned?: Understanding Temptation as “trying” or “proving”

In the New Testament, the Greek word peirasmos, is the word that is typically used when we read the words “temptation”, “trial”, or “test”, and it is the idea of trying or testing that I think sums up the nature of temptation (the other aspect of being tempted, which is being drawn away by our lusts or desires, I still want to talk about, but that needs a whole post to itself). At this point you might be saying, “what’s the big deal, I’ve always thought about temptation this way. It’s a trial that we have to face, a time of difficulty, a test.” And you’re right in a way. But sometimes, the concepts that we hold about a word or an idea don’t translate as neatly as we think they do. Sometimes, they actually introduce contrary concepts into the mix.

Let me try to explain how it happened to me. You see, I always used to think of a trial in the courtroom sense, and while that works on a certain level, I would let the other aspects of a courtroom drama invade the way I thought about the word. The essence of a trial is that something is tried against a standard, in the same way something that looks like gold is tried to determine if it is, in fact, actual gold, or in the case of a courtroom, the way a defendant is tried against the law to determine how they stand in relationship to it.

To my mind, temptation functions much the same way. When we are tempted by our desire for something, we are tested against the law based on whether we attempt to achieve our desire in accordance with the law.

As an example, let’s take a look at the three clearly documented temptations of Christ: He was tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger, he was tempted to take his rightful place as ruler of the world, and he was tempted to use his position as the Son of God to bring glory to himself. (If these descriptions sound odd to you, go back and re-read the text.)

With the stones to bread, I think there is little controversy. Christ was hungry from his fasting, but his time of fasting was not yet complete and/or it was not His Father’s will that he do miracles yet.

When Satan offered him the kingdoms of the world, Christ’s temptation was not to worship Satan, but rather the thing that he rightfully desired was to take his place as King of King and Lord of Lords. Worshipping Satan was the unlawful means that he was offered to bring it about.

When he was taken up onto the pinnacle of the temple, he was tempted to extricate himself from a physical location in a way that would bring glory to himself (think angles streaming down from heaven to catch him). The unlawful means that Satan offers Christ was to tempt (test – same Greek root word) God by putting God in a position where He would have to act to save Christ.

One last note that I’ll make in this post is that the things that Christ was tempted by were not evil, but were good things (feeding his hungry body, taking his rightful place as the King of the earth, and bringing himself glory.) It was only the unlawful means that Satan offered that would have been sin. For me, this ties right into Galatians 4:4

But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law

What do you think?

A question about the scriptural basis for free will

Free will can be defined in a number of different ways, but lately the definition that I hear most often goes something like this:

Free will is the ability of a man (or woman) to choose what he will do or what he will believe, and while certain situations may limit the number of options he has at any given time (for instance, all men can not choose to be able to dunk a ball, or fly an airplane), there must always be at least two options (one of which may be the choice to do nothing at all).

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I do not agree with this definition. To those who do hold to this definition I would like to ask the following question:

From where in Scripture is this line of thinking about free will derived?

I will freely acknowledge that Scripture talks about choice, but it doesn’t define choice in such a way that each person must always have two options. When God called Abraham there was no requirement that the possibility of Abraham saying no existed, and it is not obvious from the text that God chose Abraham because God knew Abraham would obey. If anything it makes more sense to say that Abraham obeyed God because God chose him.

Any takers?

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?

Respecting our Depravity

Perhaps you’ve experienced the following:

You are watching television, a crime-drama or a thriller, something like CriminalMindsBonesNumbers or CSI:MiamiNewYorkIdaho. You know exactly the sort of show I’m speaking of. On the screen there is a woman. She is at home and she is alone. There is a very good chance that she is attractive or even beautiful. If so, there is an even better chance that she is dressing for bed. Slowly, the music assumes a suspenseful tone and the camera pans back letting you in on the secret that she is not as alone as she might think. If you have watched these types of shows more than once, then at this point you know that something horrible is going to happen to this woman. The question is, what will it be? You lean forward in your seat. The camera moves closer and perhaps you are allowed to see the attacker or perhaps the woman hears a sound from another room and goes to investigate. Either way, the suspense builds further and further until it is at a breaking point. It is at this moment that someone calls you from the other room. Your wife, your husband, your mother, your child, it does not matter who. “Can you come here for a minute?” they ask. “Just a second you reply”, and to yourself you think, I want to see what they do to her.

Do you understand the significance of that thought? Someone has imagined an evil, and you would like to see it executed. Someone has sat and contemplated the horror that they could inflict upon someone else, and while it is not real, in fact, because it is not real, it will delight you to see what they have devised. You may shudder at what you see, but it will not compel you to turn the television off or to not return to it again.

Don’t think that I’m just making this scenario up, or that I’m just guessing at human behavior, because I’ve done this very thing. I’ve thought those very thoughts. I’ve done it so many times that it makes me sick.

Perhaps there is some part of you that resonates with the above examples. Perhaps you too know what it means to see evil and to be intrigued by it. Perhaps is too soft a word.

You have come face to face with evil. And if you are honest with yourself, you know that it’s occurred every time that you’ve beheld your own face in a mirror.

The shocking thing though, is not that we are so depraved, but that we pretend to be surprised when someone acts on that depravity. We listen to the nightly news and we hear about the murders and the beatings, we hear about the woman who abandoned her children in a locked car in a parking lot, and we can scarce believe it happened. “How could they do such a thing?” we ask, and in our black and filthy hearts a sharp-toothed little monster shakes its head in mock surprise and grins, “How indeed?”

 

I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing. I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me. A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person. Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me. He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight. I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the LORD.
(Psalms 101:1-8)

 

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
(Jeremiah 17:9)

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.”

Feature Request: A car that will make me a better husband

Here’s my dream scenario:

It’s 5:30 P.M. and I’m pulling into my apartment complex. As I near my parking space, the radio fades to silence and a pre-recorded message begins playing: You are arriving at home. Do not be deceived by the cozy nature of that word or its comfortable connotations. Do not think for a moment that because you have left work, that you have put your work behind you. You must not be such a fool. This is where your most important work is done. Because of this, you can not afford to drag yourself across the threshold and collapse into your favorite chair. Instead, steel your nerves and screw your courage to the sticking place. Throw open the door of your house and face what lies inside as a man. There is no higher calling than this. You have no greater duty.

I don’t know that I need to hear the whole speech everyday, but I certainly need to be reminded of it. I don’t know about anyone else, but it’s far too easy for me to walk through the door of my apartment and act as if my day is done. I’ve done my eight, nine, ten hours of work, I think, I’ve done my share. Meanwhile, my wife has just as many hours of work with our two children behind her and probably wishes that she could punch out too.

Clearly, I have a problem. What I need is a reminder, a punch in the arm, and occasionally, in the face. I need to remember that within the walls of my home, I’m responsible for the spiritual well-being of everyone there. I’m the high priest of my household, the pastor of my little flock, the king of a tiny domain. And don’t get me wrong, I like the titles just fine, it the stupid responsibility that comes with them that gets in the way. So I need this feature: Ford, Chevy, GMC, Saturn, Volkswagen, Honda, are you listening?

So here’s my question. If someone put a car with this feature up for sale, what would you want it to say to you when you arrived at your destination? Post your custom “welcome home” message below or on your blog. If you let me know about it, I’ll link to it here.