To Live and Die as Christians

We gather at this Table weekly. As we do, we should remember that there are three elements to what we do. The first is invocation. We acknowledge God’s presence here with us, and indeed, we invite it. We call upon Him. Second, we rejoice before Him with thanksgiving. This is a Table of thanksgiving and gratitude. And third, there is an element of binding ourselves with an oath.

We are renewing covenant with God here, but not because our covenant with Him was set to expire, like a lease. Rather, we renew our vows before Him, acknowledging to Him, with solemn and deep joy, our intention to live and die as Christians. This is a deep oath, solemn and glad, and so we return to it weekly.

This is not because the oath is weak, and needs shoring up weekly. Rather, it is because we are weak, and we need to be reminded. This is our life. This is our song. This is our connection to all our brothers and sisters throughout the world, and throughout history, who have loved the name of Jesus. This is the body of Jesus, and this is the blood of Jesus. This is our creed, an edible creed. This is our oath, and in gladness we drink all of it.

The Furniture of God

When God has His people undertake a building, it is not so that He might have an empty box dedicated to Him. Under the older covenant, even the holiest place of all contained furniture—the ark of the covenant with two great cherubim overarching the mercy seat. And the placement of that furniture meant a great deal—in that Holy of Holies, the law of God was kept inside the ark, but under the mercy seat. And so that is how we treasure our commitment to the law—under the mercy.

In the new covenant, the house of God contains three great items of furniture, and all three of them are gathering points for the people of God. The building itself is where the church, the ecclesia, the called out ones, gather or assemble. We are an assembly, but we are an assembly that has gathered in accordance with Scripture. We as God’s people are the church, but the furniture represents the reason for the church.

Ten Notes on the Driscoll Dogpile

1. In what follows I want to make some observations about what has clearly become the Driscoll dogpile. But in this, I don’t want to say anything that might come off as though I am privy to any back room information. I am not part of the private reconciliation or accountability processes, and so I want to compose myself as one who is not (Prov. 18:17). At the same time, elements of the whole saga have spilled out into the open, and I believe it is legitimate to talk about those aspects of it that are public, or which are acknowledged by all. For example, if Mark Driscoll says that he needs to seek forgiveness from certain people, he doesn’t need any defenders who are more catholic than the pope, saying that “no, he doesn’t really need to.”

2. I feel a bit sheepish about all the links to my own stuff, but as I say in one of them, this ain’t my first rodeo. If you would like to be critical, just chalk it up to my laziness, not wanting to write a bunch of the same stuff over again. That’s the ticket — laziness, not vanity. That said, here are a couple of posts that remain relevant, found here and here.

3. One of the criticisms I have had of “the resurgence” is the tendency to look to the business model of governance and ministry instead of looking into the very dry and boring topic of church government, as part of the exhilarating process of becoming a Presbyterian — which Mark Driscoll really needs to do. But the business mentality leads to a tendency to focus on numbers, demographics, non-compete clauses, image consultants, and protection of the brand. Now the problem is that if you live by the brand, you die by the brand. The fact that this is a problem in this quadrant of the church is seen in how easy it is to view the actions of the Acts 29 board as “protection of the brand” and not as an act of ecclesiastical discipline.

4. Completely aside from the issue of whether or not Mark Driscoll needs to seek forgiveness from anyone, we have clearly gotten to the point of this melodrama where demands for public apologies are being used as a weapon of war, and where compliance with the demand will only serve to further infuriate those making it. Everyone involved needs to sharply distinguish requests for forgiveness, which occur in the context of personal relationships, and demands for public apologies which become — in situations like this one — simply gasoline for the fire.

5. To the extent we are concerned about the optics, Mark needs to be careful that his apologies don’t come off as doing “whatever he has to do” to retain his position. And because more than one player needs to be concerned about the optics, the Acts 29 consortium needs to labor to demonstrate that what they are doing is more than “brand protection.” And while they are at it, they need to take care not to come off as a haphazard remake of The Revenge of the Beta Males.

Just One Sin

We come to the Table in order to be nourished. We need to be nourished and strengthened so that we might have grace in our spiritual limbs when we come to do battle. And when we come to do battle, it should be directed against sin. The author of Hebrews (Heb. 12:4) exhorts his readers to be willing to commit themselves to the point of bloodshed in their fight against sin.

And so our celebration of this Supper does have something important to do with sin, but not because it is a time for morbid introspection. We are to examine ourselves, we are to cultivate a tender conscience, but the time we have set apart for that is at the beginning of the service, when we first come into the presence of God. This Supper is about temptation and sin, but it is more about next week’s temptation than last week’s. The body and blood of Jesus does not just forgive past sin, it also equips us for our fight against future sin.

And you need to be strengthened against one sin, not against all of them. You will not be tempted to commit all of them. You will be tempted to be undone by just one. So put on the full armor of God. Noah, the most righteous man, was undone by one sin. Moses, the meekest of men, was shut out of the promised land by one sin. David, the best of kings, was taken down by one sin. Job, the most patient of men, was convicted of one sin, and repented in dust and ashes. Adam, the father of us all, plunged the world into the morass of sins by just one sin.

There is grace in this bread and in this wine. It is not grace that can be tasted with the tongue, but you all have a spiritual tongue that can taste and see that the Lord is good. That spiritual tongue is living faith, active faith, evangelical faith. When you believe in your heart, you are tasting with your tongue. And when you do that, you are being equipped for this coming Tuesday.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

On Not Being a Chamber Pot

The house of God is a great house, an expansive house. We refer of course to the Church of God—as the promises of God have established her, spread out through all human history. As we look in faith to our brothers and sisters, we see portions of that great house, but we see it through a glass dimly.

When we build physical structures, we are should be reminding ourselves of the same realities, looking for the city whose maker and builder is God. The church building is not the Church, but church buildings do speak about the Church. But just as writing in a book is no good to someone who does not know how to read, so also the gospel in stone is of no use to the one without evangelical faith. What is evangelical faith? It is spiritual literacy. The natural man does not understand the things of the spirit because they are spiritually discerned. But the spiritual man knows and understands what God is saying, even when He says it in church architecture.

Paul speaks of surety of the foundation of God. The NKJV renders it as a solid foundation.

“Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour” (2 Tim. 2:19–20).

Just remember that when we have built a solid church, one you can touch, this is simply a type of the great house, the final church, the ultimate city. But do not forget that the one that is coming is far more solid, more real, more tangible, than what we will be able to build. And as the stones represent the living stones that will rejoice in the presence of God forever, so let those who would be living stones depart from iniquity. So let the stones cry out.

The Testimony of Jesus

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

The Basket Case Chronicles #161

Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1).

The justly famous thirteenth chapter of Corinthians has firmly established the ranking of the fruit of the Spirit over against the gifts of the Spirit. Out of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love, and in his description of the fruit of the Spirit elsewhere, he lists love in the first place (Gal. 5:22). We saw this same truth earlier in this book. The Corinthians were gifted with every spiritual gift (1 Cor. 1:7) but that did not make them spiritual men (1 Cor. 3:1).

Having established this, he then turns to give us a ranking of the spiritual gifts themselves. Just as the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit are not equal, so also the gifts of the Spirit are not equal. That is why he says here that they are to pursue love in the first instance, and after that they are to desire the spiritual gifts. Once they have turned to the gifts, the gift to be valued above all the others is the gift of prophesy.

What is it to prophesy? The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Rev. 19:10), and so to speak the Word of God faithfully, in such a way as to turn everyone to Jesus, is the spirit of prophecy. That spirit can come upon a man directly, as it did the prophets of old, or it can be given to a man ministerially, as he speaks authoritatively from the Scriptures.

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.