A Wall of Water on Each Side

We are instructed by Scripture to think of this meal in multiple ways. It is not just “one thing.” And four of the central aspects of this meal should be treasured in our hearts regularly. First, it is a commemoration. Jesus Himself established this pattern when He said that we were to observe the meal as a memorial (Luke 22:19). This memorial works in two directions—it reminds us and, like the rainbow, it reminds God. Second, it is a confession. This is not to be understood as a confession of sin, but rather as a confession of our faith. As often as we observe this meal, we proclaim the Lord’s death (1 Cor. 11:26). This meal is a confession of gospel faith. Third, it is communion. When we come to this Table in evangelical faith, we are privileged to commune with Christ, to partake of Him and of one another (1 Cor. 10:16). The word for this is koinonia, and the Lord’s Supper is how God knits us together. And last, it is a covenant. Again, the Lord taught us this when He … [Read more...]

Death as a Way of Life

When a person drifts in the context of a sound and healthy church—a church in which very many people are not drifting, but are being nourished and fed—the reason that person is drifting is the direct result of not dealing with sin. And in the Scriptures, dealing with sin is not the same thing as managing or controlling it, or keeping it somewhat subdued and out of sight. No, the scriptural response to sin is always death—mortification. You can live in the middle of a crowd of people who are mortifying their sins, and this unfortunately has no impact on your sins. If ten people sitting around you confess their sins heartily, and you do not, then you get no benefit from what they have done. There is no benefit unless and until you imitate them. And if you do this for any length of time, then outside pressures will ensure that you start to drift. When you start to drift, you will then start making excuses to cover for your drift. So guarding yourself begins with understanding … [Read more...]

Joshua and Julia

Everyone who has ever wanted to grapple with the reality of the human condition has needed to deal with two profound realities. The first is the nature of the Divine personality, what the triune God revealed in Scripture is actually like. The second is the reality and depth of the human apostasy and fall, with all the implications that follow from that. God is infinitely holy, and eternally merciful. The divine attributes are what they are, and are in no way negotiable. God is what He is, and this is what lies behind His great revelation of Himself to Moses when He gave out His name as I Am That I Am. The character of God is constant, without variation or shadow due to change. Man’s nature is mutable, changeable, but one thing about it does not change. It is always fallen. We are always dealing with the disappointing reality of our own selfish choices. We do bad things because we are bad people. Something is wrong, and we would like to be located in our circumstances, but it … [Read more...]

Images We Must Have

Just as it is false to say that the tabernacle in the wilderness had no artistic representations of spiritual things, so also it is false to say that new covenant church has no portrayals in it. From blue pomegranates to cherubim covering the mercy seat, the tabernacle contained such images. But they were prohibited from making certain representations, and whenever the Israelites were faithful, they guarded that empty space above the mercy seat with a jealous and fierce love. In a similar way, new covenant worship is filled with icons—but as committed Protestants, we insist that the icons have to be given to us, assigned to us. For example, this church has hundreds of icons in it—you all are created in the image of God, and this is in fact an image of God. Moreover, Christ is faithfully portrayed in the preaching of the gospel (Gal. 3:1), or in the reading of Scripture (Rev. 1:16). Such portrayals must occur in Christian churches, which means God has decreed that the image of God in … [Read more...]

When Sin Signs a Lease

Drifting away from soundness in the faith is always the result of a peace treaty of some sort. The Bible teaches us that in this world we must always deal with sin outside us in the world and sin within us. In that familiar triad that we call the world, the flesh, and the devil, the first and the third are external to us. The flesh is closer to home. We are tempted to drift in response to suggestions from the world and the devil when we have made some sort of peace treaty, some kind of accommodation with the remnants of sin that we find within us. Our fundamental orientation toward impulses, temptations, urges, or suggestions from within must be adversarial. If it is not adversarial, if you have let a particular sin sign a three-year lease in your heart, then that accommodation within will betray you, and you will find yourself drifting in response to external pressure from the world or the devil. No true Christian has to “deal with” reigning sin within him. To be a slave to sin, … [Read more...]

A Meal With No Biting

Let us begin by acknowledging an unfortunate reality. The apostle Paul warns Christians not to bite and devour one another (Gal. 5:15), and he does this because this is what we are sometimes tempted to do. Christians are never warned off sins that were never going to be an issue. The warning says that we are not to bite and devour because the end result will be that we are consumed. So in this sense, Paul says not to eat one another in this way. The only alternative to this kind of quarrelsome devouring is to learn how to partake of one another in love. In the verse just prior to this warning (Gal. 5:14), Paul says that the entire law is summed up in the command to love our neighbor. We must love our companions, and companions are those with whom we break bread. So Christ eats with us here, and we eat with Him. But the Bible teaches us that when we eat together with others in love, this is a covenant love, and covenants depend on what is called partaking. This is … [Read more...]

Faith as Screen

When Christians drift away from a sound understanding of the faith, it usually begins first with them drifting away from what counts as understanding anything at all. If you believed the earth was flat, that wouldn’t make it flat. More surprisingly perhaps, if you believe it to be round, that doesn’t make it round. If you believe that two and two make five, that doesn’t make it five. And if you believe the correct sum to be four, it is not four because you believed it. True belief is responsive to truth as it is without the belief. Belief does not create the object of its belief. Now in ordinary affairs, like math, normal people understand this. But for a very long time, in religious matters, people have believed that what they believe makes it so. This is the central religious frame of mind, the frame of mind that allows every man his own gods, his own truth, his own views. The Christian gospel always drives out this way of thinking, and the receding influence of the gospel in … [Read more...]

Hot Food or Cold

A popular salvation text is Rev. 3:20. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” But this is not the door of an unconverted man, deciding whether to ask Jesus in. This is, in the first instance, the door of the church at Laodicea, and then by extension, any church that has people who have drifted into a lukewarm approach to Jesus. It is not the door of a man’s heart; it is a church door. If we respond to His call, to His voice, we are responding to the one who is the Amen, the faithful Witness, and we do so in a way that strengthens and establishes us. If we do this, we are opening the door of the church. We are inviting Jesus to come in and do what? We are ushering Him in so that He will sit down, it says, and sup with that man, and that man will sup with him. We see here an exquisite balance of the individual and corporate. The faithful believer is not the one who opens … [Read more...]

Coolshame

Archimedes famously once said “Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world.” If the devil were to go in for such practical mechanics, where would he stand, what lever would he use, if he wanted to move a Christian? We are talking what it means to not pay close attention to what we have learned, and what it therefore means to moved slowly away from Christ. With many believers today that place to stand is the world and its ways, and the lever is the bar of coolshaming. The world offers us sweets, sure enough—the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes—but it also establishes and maintains a value system. That value system is called the pride of life. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15–16). This is the … [Read more...]

All of It

When Jesus said that the cup we drink was the new covenant in His blood, He was opening up a world of wisdom to us. So many truths are set before us that it is difficult to know where to begin, or what to do with them all. Because of this we sometimes give up, and simply return time and again to two or three truths related to the Supper. Those truths are true, and so we are edified to meditate on them, but because this meal sets before us the wisdom, kindness and grace of God, we should also remember that we are being invited to know the unknowable, to grasp the ungraspable, and to enter into the height and breadth and depth of God’s purposes for us. What do we learn about covenants here? One of the things we learn is that a covenant is something you can drink. Jesus said plainly that the cup is the new covenant in His blood. And when Jesus gives it to us, He says, “Drink ye all of it” (Matt. 26:27). A covenant is something we can drink, and it is something we are summoned to … [Read more...]

Lest We Drift

The church is a wooded island, and it produces three kinds of wood. The first would be the living grove, what makes the island an inviting place, lush and green. The second would be the dead wood, that which is not growing itself but remains in place, hindering the growth of the rest. And the third category would be that of drift wood, wood that is from the island but is not long for the island. So I want to give a series of exhortations about the dangers of drifting. “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Heb. 2:1, ESV). Just as growth in Christ is slow growth, so also the reverse sanctification of drifting is a slow process. No one lives a vibrant Christian life for years only to wake up one morning deciding to throw it all away in one go. No, this process happens by drifting, by means of a long series of miniscule choices that seem, each one in isolation, to be no big deal. But collectively these choices add up to a … [Read more...]

Slow Drift

As we have noted before, there is a distinct sociological difference between a sect and a church. Both a sect and a church can be orthodox and Christian, but they necessarily have different pastoral challenges. A sect has tighter discipline, and disciplines over more things, and is in the very nature of the case smaller and more defined. A church tends to take professing Christians as they come, and to work with them from there. It is important to note that I am not using either term in a pejorative way, and am assuming that both a church and a sect can be faithful Christian congregations. But neither one will be faithful unless they take note of their own particular temptations. Sects struggle with rigorism while the temptation faced by churches is that of a broadminded laxity. In case you were wondering, Christ Church has elements of both, but is more of a church than it is a sect. Because of how the Lord has blessed many of our ministries here on the Palouse, our reputation in … [Read more...]

So Exhibited

Even though a great deal of historic Reformed theology was written in English, our native language, we do have to take care to note certain changes in the meanings of some words. When it comes to the Lord’s Supper, the great theologian John Owen said that Christ was exhibited in it. That same word is used with regard to the baptism in the Westminster Confession, where it says that in baptism the grace promised is “not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost” (WCF 28.6). If you go to an exhibition at a modern museum, you are going to look at something behind a velvet rope. You go to an exhibition in order to see things, and then to go home. But in the seventeenth century, to exhibit meant something much stronger. To exhibit meant to hold something out in order that it might be received. It is in this older sense that Christ is exhibited here at the Table. He is offered, He is conferred, He is extended to you. Part of that exhibition is found in the … [Read more...]

A Nut Brown Discomfort

Canoe Trip

Timothy LeCroy has written about ecumenism and the Eucharist here, and a couple of things come to mind. Please keep in mind that I write with the porridge of my Scots Calvinist heritage sticking to my ribs, so to speak, and while this does not blow up the ecumenical venture, it does make it more of an adventure. I will return to that anon, as we old-timey writers sometimes say. LeCroy begins with an cheery assumption that I really think needs to be examined more carefully than it usually is. "To me, without table fellowship all our other ecumenical dialogue is just talk. Jesus gave us a clear command to be one, and that unity is expressed most fully in the unity of the Lord’s Table. Eucharistic unity must be the foundational basis for any ecumenical program or effort." This is absolutely true. Jesus gave us a clear command to be one. But the hinge upon which all turns is this question -- who are the "us" in that sentence? Jesus gives us His express desire that we cultivate … [Read more...]

An Open Letter to an Angry Husband

Angry Husband

NB: This letter is fictional with regard to the particulars, but with regard to the nature of the sins described, it is unfortunately not at all fictional. Consider it a composite portrait, with no particular man in mind. At the same time, if any individual husband recognizes himself in the portrait and humbles himself, I would thank God and say that this was kind of the point. Dear Kevin, You were probably expecting this letter, but so there will be no misunderstanding, I still wanted to begin by explaining why I was writing. We have spoken off and on over the years about the problem of anger in your home, and you have consistently said that your wife was simply misunderstanding and/or misrepresenting you. You have described what you do as simply being "firm," or "stern," while she has called it anger, sometimes through tears. You have said that your wife must have been affected by feminism or something, and that you were simply trying to exercise a masculine leadership in the … [Read more...]