The Axis of Regeneration

As the Old Testament saints looked forward into the future, as Abraham did, rejoicing to see the day of Christ, they were looking forward to the times of refreshing, the times of the regeneration. But we must not think of this regeneration simply as an event, or the arrival of an era. There is a sense in which that is true, but there is another element to it all. We need more than just a line of regeneration, descending from Heaven to cross the line of history.

We need an axis of regeneration. From the perspective of the older covenant, there was a time coming when God’s intervention was going to close off the times of unregeneration, and inaugurate the times of the regeneration. This is true. A time was coming when all the bodies in Ezekiel’s boneyard were going to come to life, and were going to stand and live, in accordance with the sovereign Word of the sovereign God. Israel was going to be born again.

But there was always another line, and always will be, equally established in the will of God, a line that ran down the middle of human history, including the middle of the historical church, the covenant people of God. This also was a line of regeneration, separating the sons of Belial from the sons of Abraham.

Now when you come to this Table, you are called to come in true faith. And when you come in true evangelical faith, this Table is, for you, the point of intersection on this axis of regeneration. On the one hand, God’s purpose for all history is slicing clean through it, from top to bottom. Christ is present, here. This Table is life in the regeneration. On the other hand, the fact that you are partaking sincerely separates you from all false and hypocritical professors. The fact that we are in the regeneration does not make being a son of Belial impossible. Far from it.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

A Box in the Back

In the matter of giving and receiving, the church has responsibilities, just as the giver does. We have seen that God wants His people to refrain from giving financially when there are unresolved conflicts in the church. We have also seen that giving is a response of obedience over time, and not the result of an emotional warp spasm. But what responsibility does the church have?

The first is that the church is responsible to be teaching the people the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). We are not to teach what the Bible says in bits and pieces, but rather are to gather it all up in a systematic whole. But this includes teaching the people what the church should do in the presence of the people, and not just what the people should do for the church.

When it comes to godly fund-raising, there are two basic methods employed in the Bible. When Paul puts the godly squeeze on the saints, it is for the sake of distributing practical relief to others (2 Cor. 9:2-4). Even there, there is a point made of having accountability (2 Cor. 8:18-20), but Paul does lean on the saints to dig deep and give . . . to the poor.

When it comes to building construction or reconstruction, the method we see in Scripture is the method of putting a box at the entry way of the sanctuary. This is how the Temple was rebuilt under Jehoash. “But Jehoiada the priest took a chest, and bored a hole in the lid of it, and set it beside the altar, on the right side as one cometh into the house of the Lord: and the priests that kept the door put therein all the money that was brought into the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 12:9). We also see that this is how donations were taken in at the Temple at the time of Jesus. The Lord watched as the widow woman put her two mites into the offering box at the entry to the Temple (Mark 12:42).

This is why, incidentally, we don’t pass the plate during the worship service. We present our tithes and offerings as part of our worship, but we don’t collect them that way. When we pass anything around, it is to distribute, to give. When we celebrate the Supper together, the elders send men out into the congregation to give, not to take. And when the Lord leads you to give, you may do so at the entry, and with no one looking over your shoulder.

So let the stones cry out.

All Kernel, No Shell

Faith sees. Faith knows. Faith apprehends.

We know that without faith it is impossible to please God, and the converse is also true. Whenever genuine faith is present and active, that faith is a gift from God, and God is always pleased with His own gifts. If He stirs us up to something, then He will always take pleasure in His own work.

Faith is the gift that God gives us that enables us to see what He is up to. When we do not have that gift, we see nothing more than the skin of divine mysteries. We see the shell, the outside. If you would crack open the shell to obtain the kernel, then you must have faith.

This is important because without faith, everything presented to us presents only the shell. Preaching, attending church, singing psalms and hymns, receiving the waters of baptism, partaking of the bread and wine . . . all of it is simply the external shell.

But with faith, the metaphor becomes glorious. When faith cracks open the shell and obtains the kernel, all the bits of shell become the kernel also. Without faith, the nut is a solid shell, all the way through. With faith, the nut is nothing but kernel, all the way out.

This is why men of faith can sound like superstitious idolaters in how they speak of the sacraments – but they only sound that way to superstitious idolaters. And this is also why men of faith can sound like iconoclastic rebels, but they only sound that way to superstitious idolaters.

Bread and wine you did not require, but a humble and a contrite heart. And whoever partakes of the bread and wine is partaking of Christ Himself. How can these paradoxes be resolved? Only by faith, by faith alone, sola fide.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

The Tribute Tithe

Whatever we do, we should seek to do it all to the glory of God. This includes the details of our worship service, certainly, but it also includes other issues, like architecture and design. But a step behind that is the question of money, and raising money. Underneath all of it is the heart attitude of God’s people, wanting to do what God wants us to do, and doing it the way He wants us to do it.

When it comes to money, we have already noted that you should refrain from giving to the church if your financial affairs are not in order. If your brother has a beef with you—and such things are frequently financial—leave your gift unpresented until things are good between you and your brother. If God doesn’t want it, then why give it?

But there are other financial aspects to all of this. Do not give convulsively, in the emotional heat of a building campaign. Labor instead to become a tither, one who consistently gives ten percent of your increase to the Lord’s work, as He leads you. You might think that a group of non-tithers would have more money available to give in a spasm of giving, but this is not the way it works. In a God-honoring campaign, disciplined givers can do a lot more by giving a little more than usual, than undisciplined givers can do by giving what they think is a lot.

We want the church sanctuary to be a center of grace, a center of giving, a place from which blessings flow. The building is an emblem of the people themselves, and we want to be a people who pay tribute to God. That is what the tithe is, actually. We do not give ten percent so that God will leave us alone with our ninety percent. That would just be an ecclesiastical extortion racket. Rather we give ten percent as tribute, a ten percent that says in a very tangible way that one hundred percent belongs to God. And it does not really matter how much of it there is. What matters is what percentage of it is blessed.

So let the stones cry out.

Winnowing the Givers

Most Christians appreciate the blessings of actually having a church building, but many Christians also detest many aspects of getting the buildings built. Chief among the objects of our distaste would be the vexed problem of fundraising. This is not surprising, because it is too often the case that we want to pursue a Holy Ghost mission with the devil’s funding model.

The Bible does tell us that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7), but it does no good to harangue everybody with this glorious truth if the leadership of the church insists on doubling down on all the things that make cheerful giving impossible. So in the conviction that a godly approach to funding is not going to happen by accident, we are going to spend some time in considering what the Bible teaches about righteous giving. This will only happen if God preserves the imagination of the thoughts of our hearts.

“I know also, my God, that thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of mine heart I have willingly offered all these things: and now have I seen with joy thy people, which are present here, to offer willingly unto thee. O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, our fathers, keep this for ever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of thy people, and prepare their heart unto thee” (1 Chron. 29:17–18).

So let us begin with the conditions under which we may not give to our building fund. You cannot love God, whom you have not seen, if you do not love your brother, whom you have not paid.

For some mysterious reason, Christians frequently take Christ’s instruction about leaving our gift at the altar as a prohibition of taking communion if your brother has something against you (Matt. 5:23-24). Perhaps there is something a little self-serving in churches letting the people think this, because Jesus is actually prohibiting giving a fat donation to the church when there are issues between you and your brother.

Now frequently such issues between brothers are financial. Sad to say, brothers frequently flake on brothers. Sometimes it is for twenty cents and other times it is for 20 grand. So if you have any outstanding obligations—for work promised, for payments unfulfilled, whatever it was—stay out of our fund-raising campaign until that is all cleared up. And if you have an acute conscience for all those instances where people have flaked on you, but have a half-inch callus on your heart with regard to all the bags you have left others holding, then that means you are not qualified to give to the new sanctuary. You may not. Leave your gift right where it is, and go arrange payments with your brother first.

So let the stones cry out.

You May Put Them in Your Mouth

This Supper is all about the future. This is an eschatological meal at the end of the world that we are privileged to share in now. Just as the Spirit of God escorts us all into the heavenly places so that we may partake of the living Christ there, so also the Spirit unites past, present and future in such a way as to enable every true Christian to partake of eternal life now.

The one who believes in Jesus has eternal life, and has eternal life as a present possession. “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54).

There is a mystery here because false Christians can certainly partake of the Supper in some fashion, which is why Paul says that their unbelief makes them guilty of the body and blood of (1 Cor. 11:27). You can’t defile something you have no connection with. Just as they have some sort of union with Christ (John 15:1-6), so also they have some way of trampling the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified (Heb. 10:29). There is a connection there, but it is not a life-giving connection.

But just as there are Christians and then real Christians, so also there is partaking and real partaking. Real partaking is by faith alone, and real partaking is efficacious. Going back to John 6:54, if someone eats Christ’s body and drinks His blood, what may we then say is the case? We may say that he has, right now, eternal life, and we may say that God has promised to raise him up at the last day.

Someone who is not so raised is therefore someone who never had the promise that he would be raised. God breaks all kinds of things—worlds and kingdoms, heads and hearts, princes and presidents, and constellations in the heavens. God breaks the pride of man, but He never breaks a promise. This means that someone who is not so raised is someone who never had that eternal life.

But we are convinced of much better things in your case. This meal is offered to you here as an earnest on your final inheritance. If you receive it in true evangelical faith, with a humble heart, and without blowing any smoke at God, then you may marvel at what you are being given. This bread and this wine are eternal life. They are being given to you. They are yours. You may put them in your mouth.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

Persevere In What?

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

The Basket Case Chronicles #175

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:1–2).

Paul now comes to his great summary of gospel truth. He declares to them as brothers the gospel that he had previously preached to them. Their response to this preaching was two-fold—they had received what he had declared, and they had taken their stand in what he had said. This gospel—preached and received—was a gospel that would save them, provided they kept what he had said in memory. If they had not kept this gospel in memory, then their belief would have been in vain.

I am not saved from drowning by having had a lifejacket on once. I am saved from drowning—if I am in the water—by putting on a lifejacket and by keeping it on. This is why we hold to the perseverance and preservation of the saints, which is not exactly the same thing as “once saved, always saved.” Of course, if someone is truly once saved, then they are truly always saved. That is true enough, as far as it goes. But there is a category that Paul knew about—believers who had believed “in vain”—who would fit very nicely in the modern category of someone who got saved at a revival once and who has been cavorting with the devil since then. We believe that the elect, once regenerate, will in fact persevere to the end. But they will, by God’s grace, persevere in holiness to the end.

A Table, and No Altar

We have before us a Table, and not an altar. The distinction is not a slight one. We have gathered to offer a sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice of thanksgiving—not a sacrifice of propitiation. Propitiation is accomplished on an altar, and in God’s purposes that altar was the altar of the cross—prefigured throughout the Old Testament by the altars upon which sacrificial animals were slain. A different kind of sacrifice is offered up from tables—sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.

A moment’s reflection should show us that offering up true thanksgiving is not even a possibility unless propitiation has already been accomplished elsewhere and applied to us. Having been set free by the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross, we are invited to sit down at this Table and lift up a liberated sacrifice, gratitude and harmony together. This is the spiritual sacrifice that is the consequence of all that has gone before.

As a spiritual sacrifice, it supplants some of the tangible helps that our Old Covenant brothers and sisters used to employ. But even they looked forward to the time of our liberation. “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; And the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” (Ps. 141:2). Prayer replaces incense, and lifted hands replace the blood. Song fills all the space that used to be occupied by bloody altars. “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”” (Ps. 50:23, ESV). We are privileged to live in the day when we may without a qualm offer thanksgiving as our sacrifice. And that is what eucharist means—thanksgiving, not propitiation, thanksgiving because of the propitiation.

A sacrifice of true propitiation, by definition, can only happen once, and it did happen, outside Jerusalem, two thousand years ago. This means that it has to be a definitive sacrifice. As such, it provides a sure foundation for a continual sacrifice of another kind. “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:15).

And this is why I am no priest, offering up a victim. I, and the men here with me, are set apart to the privilege of being table waiters. We come to you in joy, bearing joy, and we call upon you to respond in joy.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.