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.

A few thoughts about free will

When we think about will, it’s helpful to think about it in the context of desire. To will to do a certain thing, the person who wills it, must desire that thing. Granted, this desire can be because of a gun to the head, or because of the influence of drugs, etc. but regardless of the reason, the person who is willing, must desire to do the thing he does.

This is useful when we think about free will in the context of salvation. Before a man’s heart has been changed by the Spirit of God, I would hold that he has free will, in that he may try to achieve anything he desires. The point of difference between a man before his heart has been so changed and after, is what he is capable of desiring.
Before a man has been regenerated by God, he is unable to truly desire God and he is completely free to do the things he does desire, which is to sin. It is only when God begins to change his heart, that a man has the capability to seek after God.

And this is consistent with how the Scripture describes a man moving between an unregenerate and a regenerate state. Before we are saved we are dead to the things of God, and a dead man is of another world from the living. The dead man cannot desire or will to do those things that are of God, he is dead to them. But then the Spirit comes and puts flesh and blood upon the dead bones and breathes new life into them, he is made alive unto God.
The other way that scripture talks about salvation is being born again. Before birth, a child cannot desire anything in the living world. It is not something he can even conceive. But when he is born into the world of the Spirit, when He is brought kicking and screaming into the world of light, he can know and desire the things of that world.

Does this make sense?

Christ’s Death: A Solution to an Unexpected Problem?

 This will be a short post, but here’s a question for you:

Was Adam born to die?

Personally, I find it hard to believe that he wasn’t. If Jesus Christ’s earthly existence could be so determined, if we can say of Him that He was sent as a man, born to die, why is it any less insulting to think that Adam’s life could be described in this way?

Looking at Christ’s death as if it was a thought-up solution to the problem of Adam’s sin is like suggesting that a man who designs a battery-operated toy might have done so without understanding before the fact it’s need for a battery.

What do you think?

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?

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.

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.”

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?

A Message for Monday: The Evangelization of the Home

I had the opportunity to speak at my church last week and I ended up bringing a message about the evangelization of the home. You can listen to it right here, or if you want a copy for yourself, you can click here to download it.

[audio:The Evangelization of the Home.mp3]

Let me know what you think.