See Your Neighbor in the Supper

We are here to discern the Lord’s body. We are not here to do metaphysical speculations about what might be happening to the bread and wine on the subatomic level—although we do confess that God ministers to us spiritually with these material elements. We are not here to go spelunking in the deep caverns of our mysterious lusts, although healthy self-examination should be a normal and healthy prelude to our enjoyment of the Supper. We are not here to fight with other Christians who understand this meal differently than we do, although it is important for us to understand it as biblically as we can.

Our central task is to discern the Lord’s body, and to see that this body is seated all around you. This means that the meal is given to us so that we might understand that we are the meal. There is one loaf, and you are that loaf. We partake of the body of Christ which means that we must be the body of Christ. But there is no way for you to be the body of Christ without coming to the conclusion that your neighbor is also part of that body.

You cannot partake of Him without also partaking of him, and him, and her, and them. This is why this meal knits us together. We are eating, drinking, meditating, listening and singing, and we are doing it all in love for God, and in love for one another.

Some of the things we have made the Lord’s Supper into are things which can exclude little children—just like the disciples did when they kept little children away from the Lord. The Lord didn’t like it at all and said that coming to the kingdom involved becoming more like them. It is not like insisting that they become more like us—which is to say, clueless. Children may not be good at metaphysics, or at morbid introspection, but they can see their neighbor as well as you can. So love God, and love your neighbor.

Come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

Keeping It Grateful

One of the common sins that the people of God in Scripture commit is the sin of forgetting God’s deliverances and mercies. And one of the great reasons for forgetting His mercies is the fact that we continue to enjoy them.

When God delivered His people from Egypt, after they were out of Egypt they didn’t have to deal with it anymore. In the wilderness, this meant that they remembered Egypt falsely, which is to say fondly, and once they were in the land of promise, Egypt became a distant memory—something that ancestors went through in the history books. And when we change the curriculum, we forget all about it.

So ironically, ongoing mercies make us forget the establishment of those mercies. As we are considering the building of a church sanctuary, we want the building to remind us of God’s kindness to us, and not to be a new environment which we can take as our birthright, just the way things are, just the way this congregation rolls.

The key is gratitude, gratitude that is expressed and not just dialed in. We know how to dial it in. We all know, for example, how to say grace at the beginning of meals. That is something we just do, and wouldn’t dream of not doing it. But suppose the head of the home stopped the meal in the middle, and told everybody that the food was really, really good, and why don’t we say grace for a second time? That would seem odd, weird, contrived, and perhaps . . . more grateful. It would highlight how the initial grace we say is sometimes said on cruise control.

When we have our new building, we do not ever want our gratitude for it to go on cruise control. We want to be constantly thankful, and to be fresh in that gratitude. The way to do this is to be a people who are thankful every day for the sun coming up, for the milk in the fridge, for the grass in your lawn, for the forgiveness of sin.

So let the stones cry out.

The R2K Crucifix Problem

Carl Trueman recently wrote A Church for Exiles for First Things, which you may read here. If you would like, a good response from Joel McDurmon can be found here. But my response to Carl will be a tad shorter than Joel’s — just enough to register a few basic concerns.

First, it is undeniable that exile is a strong biblical motif, and it is one that Christians do need to draw on. But in Scripture, it is always a paired motif — like salt and pepper, or ham and eggs. We find, all through the Bible, the patterns of death and resurrection, exile and return, cliffhanger and helicopter.

There is both a cross and a crown. Triumphalists are those who just want the crown. Defeatists are those who just want the cross. Trueman is a defeatist — for all his Reformed credentials, his faith is a crucifix faith. Note that both the defeatist and the triumphalist are partly right, but in such a way that their partial truths undo the point of the whole thing. “Jesus died” is true, but is not gospel apart from resurrection. And “Jesus rose” is meaningless nonsense if there had been no death.

Carl says this: the Reformed tradition “possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment.” I believe this is quite true. In fact, I agreed with many of the points that he made throughout the article — but he left out one crucial thing. Let me insert that missing element. “The Reformed tradition possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment, while preparing for our inevitable comeback.” Why? It is not just exile. It is exile and return. Nehemiah rhymes with Jeremiah after all.

The second problem is that Carl does want us to engage with culture, and be responsible citizens, but he doesn’t quite know what to do with the possibility of everything going terribly wrong, and we win or something. And he is enough of a church historian to know that things have gone wrong for us in just this way any number of times.

Piecemeal Revelation

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #160

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Cor. 13:11–13).

In the previous verses, we were considering whether knowing in part or prophesying in part referred to the time of the older covenant or to the time prior to the eschaton. Is the arrival of the “perfect” to be understood as the completion of the canon, or as the resurrection of the dead. We now come to the place where I come down on the question—albeit gingerly.

When images are used in Scripture, one of our first questions should concern how that image is used in other places of Scriptures—and not what associations with that image might arise in our minds, for whatever reason.

The time prior to the “perfect” is described as the time of speaking and understanding in childish ways. This is not an image the Bible uses for our mortal lives, but it an image used for the time of God’s children under the old covenant. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Gal. 3:24–25).

And Paul describes the process of “becoming a man” as one, which if it is not quite completed, is at least started. When I became a man . . . While “face to face” has an eschatological feel to it, the whole idea of knowing in part appears to apply to the time of the old covenant, as contrasted with the fullness of knowledge in the time of the New Testament.

Doug and Maggie

The greatest philosophical question that mankind has come up with on his own is this one: “Why is there something, rather than nothing at all?” And the Christian answer to this question is that the living and true God, out of His grace and good pleasure, determined to create everything that is, which includes all that we see around us, and all that we could ever possibly see.

But our seeing, our experience, is not outside this reality. It is no exception to this. The wonders of creation, along with all the wondering creatures in it, were spoken into existence by the kindest words imaginable, which were “let there be . . .” The observed is created, and all the observers are created as well. And so it is that the earth is full of His glory. Please remember that word glory—we shall come back to it.

There is a problem, however. The glory was interrupted, and our perceptions of that glory have gotten dislocated, and completely out of joint. Scripture teaches that the effect of sin is that it causes us to fall short of the glory of God. Once the great work of creation is done, once the wonderful task is accomplished, it is the easiest thing in the world for ungrateful creatures to take for granted the staggering glories that surround each of us daily, and to assume that “all this” is just the way things are. The universe “just is,” and we just happened to evolve out of the primordial goo. Scientism has been most eager to help us with our rationalizations. There is no need to thank anyone, we say to ourselves, and so we may just proceed with our lives—which usually consists of chasing, of course, the next shiny object.

This problem, of course, is the problem of ingratitude. Like the nine lepers healed by Jesus who simply took the new state of affairs as their natural possession by right, and did not return to Him to give thanks, we harden our hearts and stiffen our necks. We stop thanking God for our food, for our shelter, for a spectacularly beautiful world, for a Christian upbringing, for the sun in the sky, and for the air in our lungs. This truly is an ingrate world.

And We Have Come

What we are doing here involves our minds, but it is not what we would call a mental exercise. It involves our mouths and throats, but it is not just ordinary eating. What we do here engages our hearts, but it is not meal of sentiment. So what are we doing then?

The apostle Paul describes this as a partaking of Christ, but this is not because this is a “special” supernatural meal in sharp contrast to a natural world. It is not as though we have the backdrop of the black night of nature, with a tiny spark of grace here.

No, God created the world to function in covenantal categories. So the thing that happens here at this Table is the same thing that happened in the Old Testament when priests partook of the altar. More than that, it is the same thing that happened when pagans partook of the altars they had erected to their demons. The world functions covenantally. This is not just something that happens in the spiritual world; it is how the whole world runs. Whatever we do, wherever we go, we are partakers.

So it is quite true that we partake of Christ in this meal, and that we do so spiritually. But take care what you mean by that word spiritually. When you give your physical body over to the control of God, it is, the apostle says, your spiritual worship. A spiritual man is not an ethereal man. A spiritual man is an obedient man.

As you present yourselves here to be fed, to be strengthened, to be built up, to be nourished, to be given wisdom, you are doing so because you have been summoned. There has been a call to worship, has there not? You have been invited, have you not? This bread and this wine is being offered to you, is it not? Jesus said that His crucified body would draw all men to Himself. This is the divine order—He has died, and we have come.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

Not Whether You Build, But What

We have been considering the building of our new sanctuary, and want to make sure that we are evaluating all that we do in the light of God’s Word.

One of the first things that men do when they are stirred up is that they build. The building can take various forms—music, and poetry, and so on—but of course one of the obvious ways to build is through buildings. This “stirring up” can be the effect of reformation and revival, or it can be the forces of apostasy. But when men are moved, they build.

Apostates and infidels build. That was what we had in the tower of Babel. “Let us make us a name,” they said, but the upshot was that the Lord gave them the name Babel (Gen. 11:4). Nebuchadnezzar looked out at the splendor of Babylon, and there, on the very precipice of insanity, said “is not this great Babylon, that I have built?” (Dan. 4:30). God made man upright, but man has sought out many inventions (Ecc. 7:29). Not only does he invent them, he builds them.

But it would be a great mistake to think that the ungodly build, and that the godly do not. The distinction is found in what we build, and how we build it, not whether we build. So we built the wall, Nehemiah says, because the people had a mind to work (Neh. 4:6). In the reformation under Josiah, the Temple was restored (2 Kings 22:5). When the Spirit moves among God’s people, they start to build. This is because we are imitating Him, and He is building us. We are living stones. We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to be doing the work we are doing.

So it is not whether we build, but rather what we build and why. Why should we build anything? Because the Spirit is at work in us. What should we build? We should build tools that enable us to do what God placed us in this world to do. The first thing, the central thing, is the worship of God. That is the work we were created to do, and all the other work we do flows out of that.

Though There Is a Difference

I want to talk about the recent events surrounding Mark Driscoll for a few moments, and to do so without talking about Mark at all. As you probably know by now, he has been invited off the Acts 29 board, and more than one opinion on it has been voiced on Facebook. For all the people who are in the same room with Mark, by his side, or facing him, I commend them to the work of the Spirit in all their conversations. Speak the truth, and say it in love. Respond with truth, and say it in love. But we are not in that room.

My concern here has to do with all the folks out here in the cheap seats. Ambrose Bierce once defined a Christian as someone who believed the New Testament was a divinely inspired book, admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. Out here, our temptation will be to spend a lot of time discussing what Mark Driscoll should do, or should have done, or what the Acts 29 board should have done, and so on. We should actually be thinking about what we should do. Given the public circumstances that we actually know about, what lessons should we take away?

The central concern I have, which I have not yet seen addressed, is not directed at those who are confronting Mark, or defending him, or explaining him, or just being a friend to him.

The concern is as follows: When the public mojo was with Mark, I saw a bunch of people clustering around him because they thought that this is where it was “happening.” This was the main chance. Now that the mojo isn’t flowing the same direction anymore, neither is the main chance, and so it is time to create a little prudent distance.

Some people support Mark because that is what they think is right, and others are critical because that is what they think is right. Those two camps do exist, but I am talking about a third category — the folks who are just catching a train. Their only question is whether or not the train is going their way, and going fast enough.

Just as there were people attracted to the ministry of Mark Driscoll for the wrong reasons, so also there will be many repelled for the wrong reasons. And often it will be the same people, and the same reason. Same people, same reason, different direction.

So there is really only one exhortation here — whoever you are, don’t be that guy. Don’t be the guy who can’t tell the difference between covering the controversy in prayer and covering his butt.