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.

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?

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?

Questions about Prevenient Grace

I don’t know a whole lot about Wesleyan Theology. I do know a little bit about the concept of Prevenient Grace, but I have some questions. If anyone out there is a Methodist (or a follower of any of the other churches in the Holiness tradition) who wouldn’t mind answering them, I’d be delighted.

My understanding of Prevenient Grace is that it is what gives all men the ability to exercise their free will to choose or reject God. Here is my primary question: If God has given all men the power to choose him, then what is it that makes one man choose God and another reject Him? Is it their upbringing? Their environment that shaped them? And what role does Wesleyan Theology ascribe to God in making those choices? What I am getting at is this: if God makes the man and determines all the little things about him, and if God chooses the man’s parents and so on and so forth, then how is Wesley’s concept of free will any different than Calvin’s? What am I missing?

Thanks in advance.

Prescriptive Grace: The How’s and Why’s of Grace

If you’ve grown up in Christian circles or read many books on Christian topics, you probably run across a lot of different definitions for grace. Things like, “Grace is the unmerited favor of God” or “Grace is the power and desire to do God’s will” or my personal favorite, G.R.A.C.E. is

God’s
Riches
At
Christ’s
Expense

(This one is the best because it both defines and spells Grace at the same time!!!)

And while I don’t really want to knock those definitions (except maybe the acrostic), I wonder if you’ve ever felt like me that such simplistic definitions do not do grace justice?

I should point out that I’m not saying that we can completely understand grace. In fact, as we discuss grace a little bit, I’d like to try to show that to understand grace completely, we would have to understand God completely.

The seed thought that I have for thinking about grace is this:

Grace is associated with the specific work that God is performing in any situation. What we identify as grace is the interaction of God with us as His creation to accomplish His purposes. Grace is tied up in the specific actions of God and in our perception of those actions (think revelation).

In this post, I want to focus on the specificity of grace in any given situation.
Continue reading “Prescriptive Grace: The How’s and Why’s of Grace”

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)

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.

Making Jehovah into a Lovesick Girl

It’s Friday and the Almighty is spending the evening at home. He’s met someone you see, someone named Chad, and, well, He likes him oh so much. So, sprawled across his infinite pink bedspread, He is waiting by the phone, His elbows resting on His enormous fuchsia pillow, His cell phone in front of him: He is praying that Chad will call. Next to Him on the bed is a pad of paper where He has written, “Jehovah and Chad 4eternity (4real)” and “Jehovah loves Chad! AWESOME!!”. Suddenly the phone rings and the sound of Nichole Nordeman’s Legacy fills the air. In His excitement, the Alpha and Omega fumbles with the phone before answering. Breathless, He lifts it to His ear, only to be disappointed.”Hey J, has he called yet?” asks the Holy Spirit.”No, but I’m sure he will,” says the Self Existent One, I’ve made it so clear how I feel about him.”

“I don’t know,” says HS, “earlier today I was talking to an angel and he said he was talking to another angel and that angel told him that he saw Chad in the library and Chad was totally talking to Buddha.”

“Are you serious? This totally can’t be happening to me. I’m like God Almighty and stuff, y’know, and he’s my Chad. It would just be so dreamy if we were together!”

“I know,”  says HS, “I know. Sooner or later, he’ll come around.”

“I just hope you’re right.”

Jehovah ends the call and then buries His face in His pillow.”Oh Chad,” He sobs, “how I love you so.”

I hope the above scenario seems ridiculous to you. I hope that if you thought I was being serious, you would think me guilty of blasphemy. Let me assure you, I am not being serious. But can I submit to you, that this is exactly what we do when we preach an Arminian gospel?

If God is who He says He is, then it is He who does the choosing. If He is who He claims to be it is He who has ordained all things. I have written previously about the co-existence of free-will and predestination and won’t go back into it in any depth here, but I do want to declare to you that Jehovah is the Sovereign God, the I AM. Though He loves us, it is not with a fretful, trembling love. He is no tender-hearted girl hoping and praying that some will come to repentance, that some will come to know Him.

What do you say?

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?