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.

On C. S. Lewis, His Personal Devotion to Relationships, and My Depravity

Courtesy of The Inklings, we have this this excerpt of Erik Routley’s remembrance of C. S. Lewis taken from C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and other Reminiscences:

I know myself what others know far better — how unfailingly courteous Lewis was in answering letters. I think I corresponded with him on three or four occasions… But there was a reply every time — it might be quite brief, but it was always written for you and for nobody else. I think this was his greatest secret. He hated casual contacts; human contact must, for him, be serious and concentrated and attentive, or it was better avoided. It might be for a moment only, but that was its invariable quality. That is not only why so many people have precious memories of him; it is also why he couldn’t write three words without the reader’s feeling that they were written for him and him alone. It’s why his massive books of scholarship read as delightfully as his children’s stories, and why he’s one of the few preachers who can be read without losing their message.

Having read this, I find myself ashamed at the thought of my own inattention to others, at the very lack of effort I put into achieving quality in a shared experience. I find that I am vain and self-absorbed, wholly committed to the selling of myself on the stock market of the moment, more concerned with how I am perceived than with how I truly am. Even now, as I read back through this, I find myself thinking, what will people think of me when they read these things? Will they think me genuine? Perhaps if I tell them that I’m thinking about it they will… My only consolation is that I am not alone in my depravity, and that is almost no consolation at all.

How do you rate compared to Lewis?

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.

The Extraordinary Value of Women

Over at Challies.com, Tim has started a series on what Scripture has to say about the value and status of women. And you should head on over and read it, because he makes some pretty significant claims. For example:

I think it is important to affirm that there is no system of religion that exalts women higher than biblical Christianity. That is quite a claim, I realize, but one that can be easily proven by examining Scripture and comparing what Scripture says about women to the way they are treated by other religions or by those who adhere to no religion. Those who think the Bible is unfair to women and somehow feel they need to raise the status of women always end up damaging women. The result of decades of feminism testifies to this truth for womanhood has suffered terribly in our society.

Intrigued? Click here to check it out.

This is a love story: a very short (and possibly unfinished) work of fiction

Author’s Note: This is not a new piece. I wrote it a few years ago, and while I’m still not totally happy with it, for some reason, I like it very much. So, occasionally, I get it out, reread it a few times, make a few edits, and stare at it, all the while wishing I had an idea for making it longer. This time, I thought I would share it with you. As always, comments are welcome

This is a love story. There is a girl. There is a boy. It is traditional.
I should warn you though, you have already been lied to.

Continue reading “This is a love story: a very short (and possibly unfinished) work of fiction”

Sheltering Children: Faith, Virtue, and Knowledge

Parents are always talking about how to protect their children without sheltering them. Invariably, in these conversations, the word “sheltered” is used as if being sheltered is a bad thing. I presume that most of the people who makes these arguments live in modern houses, with four or more walls and a roof and everything, and not, as they would seem to be advocating, on a bed of pine needles beneath a canopy of (preferably) sparsely limbed trees. To be fair, and to go ahead and make the anti-shelterian counter-argument before one of them does, yes, my house has windows. To go further, if a window overlooked an Adult Drive-in (my crack research team assures me that, while rare, they still do exist) I would either move, or keep that window closed.

My opinion on protecting children without failing to prepare them for life, is as follows. Anyone who reads the Bible to their children will have a hard time “sheltering” them. We have fratricide and other brutality in the first few chapters; keep reading and you’ll hit rape, incest, idolatry, rebellion, war, famine, pestilence, etc. And while I’m not advocating providing details to children, I am advocating the idea that they can understand more than we give them credit for. I have a friend who told his children that a prostitute was someone who behaves as if they are married when they are not. In the children’s minds, the prostitute was taking money to make dinner or to lay in bed and talk. But this was sufficient. The cynical mind says: but the child doesn’t truly understand what goes on when a man goes into a prostitute. A wise man says: do I? Proverbs says that the way of a man with a maid was too wonderful for him, Paul says that the true nature of the relationship between a man and a woman is a mystery. In the end, I think it is our foolishness that bites us, in that we believe that our exposure to sin has made us wiser rather than just more knowledgeable. We are become Eve, eating fruit not meant for us and gasping at the joy of untimely knowledge.

As a side note, in my experience, the problem with a sheltered child is that parents have often failed to give their children any real responsibility (authority for which they are held accountable). Responsibility and accountability allow obedience to perform it’s work, taking faith and adding virtue, and to virtue finally, knowledge.

Any thoughts?