“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)
The Basket Case Chronicles #170
“If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth” (1 Cor. 14:23–25).
Paul has just finished telling us that to have a bunch of people chattering in a language that you don’t understand is represented by Isaiah as a sign of judgment. He then moves on into application. If an unbeliever or an untutored person comes into your assembly, you should want the service to be edifying to them. But if everybody is speaking in tongues, the ungifted or unbelieving will simply dismiss you as being crazy. But this dismissal would indicate that they are under judgment—as we see with the people who dismissed the Christians on Pentecost as being drunk. But Paul does say that for the believers to pray in tongues in church together is a provocation—and that is not our calling.
On the other hand, if the words spoken in the service of words of intelligible prophecy, then unbeliever comes under the judgment of his own conscience, which is the way we avoid coming under the judgment of God. The secrets of his heart are laid bare by intelligible speech, and causes him to confess that God is indeed present.
This is why an assembly of Christians all speaking together in an unintelligible way is simply a way of telling non-Christians to go to Hell. And while a worship service is not structured in order to cater to non-believers, it should anticipate their presence, and not place needless obstacles in front of them.
This meal is the Wisdom of God. But you do not come here to do things with that Wisdom, but rather so that God’s infinite Wisdom will do things to you. The Wisdom of God is infinite and personal. Only the Spirit of God can plumb the depths of that infinite Wisdom, and that is because the infinite Wisdom is the person of Christ.
When you come to this Table, you are coming to Christ, the Wisdom of God, the amen of God, the fulfillment of every yes from the Father, He whose very nature is yes.
A building speaks of permanence. So when we build a church building—especially if there is a lot of brick and stone involved—this speaks of permanence as well. But we have to be careful. For Christians, this material world is not the final state of things. However, this does not mean that the final state of things will be ethereal, or spooky, or wispy, or spiritual in any of those senses.
The solidity of a church building speaks of the ultimate solidity of the new creation, when matter will receive its final glorification in the resurrection, and when atoms will be packed together far more densely than they are now. Your salvation, and the salvation of all God’s people, is far more real than anything you have ever experienced.
This meal is not a propitiatory sacrifice. We are not offering Christ to God—rather, God is offering Christ to us. He is able to do this because Christ’s blood was spilled in the crucifixion, and applied to the heavenly altar in the Ascension. The offering of Christ to God was a singular event, and in the words of Hebrews it was “once for all.” It does not need to be repeated, and indeed, in the very nature of the case, it cannot be repeated.
But Christ can be offered to sinners as long as we still have sinners—and we still do. They are being born all the time. We are still needy. We are still broken. We are still in need of being grown up into the perfect man. Christ need never again be offered to the Father. Christ must be offered to the world until the world is remade in Him, and is fit to be offered to the Father. Christ was offered to the Father once for all. Christ is offered to the world repeatedly.
All of this is submitted to God, but, Lord willing, our church sanctuary is going to have a steeple. And a steeple illustrates the perennial problem that believers have in this fallen world. A steeple can be illustrative of the humility of man before God, but it can also be a glaring example of the pride of man. We want the former, but the latter is never far away.
One the one hand, we know how small we are before God. A steeple expresses the finite yearning of creatures for the transcendent, and it points to the only place our salvation can come from—from Heaven above. This is a God-given humility. On the other hand, in the course of building it, we might come to notice that it is taller than those other steeples, and that the design is more fitting. This kind of thing can even reach pathological levels, where we take pride in how much more humbly we yearn for the transcendent than they do.
Pride is an insidious sin, and it is capable of working with any materials. Human pride can glory in having no steeple at all, and we could all worship in a tiny little box calling one another by the names of brother and sister, greeting each other with the phrases like grace and peace, and a holy kiss, sprinkling our conversation with words like yea and verily, with the women vying with each other over who had the plainest bonnet, and only be doing any of it because we thought we were better.
Can a beautiful woman take pride in her makeup? Well, certainly, but pride doesn’t go down the sink as easily as the makeup does. The only thing that deals with the pride of life is the gospel of Jesus Christ, with application of that gospel being made by the Holy Spirit of the Father, who straightens things out where it all begins, which is in the human heart.
So what do we want our steeple to mean? Among other things, we want it to be a summons to the prideful. We want it tall so that the purblind can see it. This is the place where we all come to die. So let the stones cry out.
The Bible contains different kinds of literature, which means that it also contains different approaches to theology. Because these theologies are ultimately harmonious, it is obviously our task to be students of them all. But part of this task means mastering them on their own terms before the harmonization is attempted.
For example, the psalms of David represent a devotional literature, which means that they shape a devotional theology of personal piety, heart religion. The proverbs of Solomon represent a wisdom literature, which means that they shape a wisdom theology. The two must go together, but they must be themselves in order to go together rightly. Wisdom theology isolated turns into an arid moralism. Devotional theology isolated turns into rationalism and egoism. We must be shaped by the entire Bible, but we do not do this by throwing the entire Bible into a blender, reducing it to biblical molecules. No, Scripture is assembled out of some great blocks of granite, and those blocks must be respected.
We are physical creatures, living in a physical world. At the same time, God has put eternity in our hearts, which means that we are enabled to look beyond what is merely physical. Because we are material creatures, God always works with us through means. Because we are spiritual creatures with an immaterial soul that is not bound by matter, we are enabled to know what those means mean.
Those who look to the means alone, stopping there, are superstitious and blind. They think Jesus is the bread and wine. They think salvation is the sinner’s prayer. They think that God dwells in houses made with human hands.
Those who look to the meaning alone, bypassing the means that God has established in the world, are gnostics and rationalists. They are too spiritual to be confined to physical things. They think that Jesus does nothing in and through the bread and wine. They think salvation means looking down with contempt on the sinner’s prayer. They think that God dwells in the bone box on top of their body.
This meal consists of an edible word, a drinkable word. That word is, of course, the Lord Jesus, who is the eternal Word of the eternal Father. This is His body, and this is His blood. We do not just treat the bread and wine as a visible word and as visible drink, but as a word that we are called to take into our mouths, and to swallow it down in faith.
This is not faith in mere bread, or trust in wine. We do not think that any created thing has power in itself to do anything. But God uses instruments. The receptive instrument that He gives us is faith—living, vibrant, evangelical faith. But He also wields other instruments that this faith responds to, seeing the work of God in and through them—sermons and sacraments, for example.
So this meal is an edible word, a drinkable word, and this Word is the Lord Jesus. But what does the apostle John mean when He calls Jesus the Word of God. The Word is not a single mystic syllable of the sort you find in eastern mysticism. No, the Word of God is the eternal and everlasting Wisdom of God. When men reject the word of God, what wisdom is in them (Jer. 8:9)? We are told to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, in all wisdom (Col. 3:16). The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom (Ps. 37:30).