More Than a Warp Spasm of Devotion

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.

What the Means Mean

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.

Eat Your Wisdom

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).

A Test of Unity

Everyone in the world thinks he understands. That is what it means to think. In order to think, you have to think something. And whatever it is that you think, that is what you think.

So if you are in the grip of an error, you do not understand that error. If you did, you wouldn’t be in error. Who can understand his errors? When Scripture poses this question, it poses a profound question.

Understanding error, and understanding the truth that stands opposite must therefore be a gift of God. Apart from grace, there is no way to comprehend what is happening in the culture around us, in the church at large, in our own congregation, in our own families, or in our own hearts. But when God’s grace is poured out, the people are woven together in likemindedness, and the people have a mind to work.

Some Disclaimers

Yesterday I received the honor of being chosen to serve the CREC for the next three years as her presiding minister. When we say we are honored by an honor and when we say we are humbled by an honor, it is too easy to assume that these are sentiments that pull in opposite directions. But actually, biblically understood, they are the same sentiment. This responsibility is a weighty one, and I would genuinely appreciate your prayers for the CREC, for me, those who will be assisting me, and for the presiding ministers of our seven presbyteries. We have some glorious opportunities before us.

What will it mean for this blog? Very little will change, but it is true that we will have to address some things at the very front end, and by this I mean the business of disclaimers.

We are all familiar with the statement that “the views expressed by old so-and-so are not necessarily the views of the fill-in-the-blank entity.” This is a commonly expressed sentiment because it is a necessary one. How we represent ourselves, particularly when we are also representatives in other senses, is an operation that calls for care and finesse. “But if it calls for care and finesse, why’d they pick you then?” I see that this is a reasonable question.

I have finesse. It is just a different kind of finesse, the kind you wield with a cricket bat.

Nonetheless, explanation is required. I do need to lay out what the relationship is between the CREC as a whole and the views expressed so cogently in this space from time to time. Our difficulty is particularly acute because the ethos of the CREC is by-and-large transformationalist.

Postmillennialism is not a doctrinal requirement in any way, but it is very common in our ranks. This means — apart from the general cheerfulness — that we believe that no area of life is outside the authority of the Lord Jesus, and we want to bring biblical principles to bear however and wherever we can. The difficulty is that not every proposed integration of life and Scripture meets with immediate or unanimous acclaim. And where there is ongoing debate and interaction, it would be inappropriate for me as presiding minister to act as though this were not the case — as though my proposed intersection were the only option, and that the CREC had adopted it simply because I wrote it.

Start with the obvious. If I were to write a post arguing that PopTarts are actually pretty good for you, the views expressed in that post would not necessarily be those of the CREC. Let us hope not. We are still trying to figure out why I did that.

The Central Point

This meal is a sacrament. But what is a sacrament? Where does this use come from? The answer to that question—given the nature of what we are doing here—cannot be confined to one simple answer, but it does have an answer.

The use of the Latin word sacramentum was introduced by the early father Tertullian, who took it from the oath of allegiance that a Roman soldier would swear upon enlistment. This element is certainly present—at the sacrament of baptism, the one baptized is being bound by oath to serve Christ for the rest of his or her life. Every time we take the sacrament of the bread and wine, we are again swearing our allegiance to Christ. But there is more to it.

Birth and Growth

The task of the church is the evangelization of the world, and to bring that converted world up to maturity in Christ. The task of the local church is to do its part in that global task in its part of the world. Notice how the apostle Paul described his mission. “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28). If the point of the world is for humanity to grow up into the perfect man, then the point of every part of the world is to grow up into its portion of that perfect man. Global evangelization is therefore the sum total of the faithful labor of local churches. The global community will not be evangelized by the global church—it will be brought to Christ by the ministries of local churches.

And this means that local churches must think of their mission differently. We are not here to gather a tiny portion of the population in order that we might take a small splinter of humanity off to Heaven. No, we want to bring Heaven here. In line with how we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, we want His kingdom to come, not go. We want His will to be done here as it is already done in Heaven.

The task of the church here on the Palouse is therefore birth and growth. We are called to be constantly engaged in the evangelism of unbelievers, and once they have been converted and baptized, we want them to grow up to maturity in Christ. Our task is not that of isolation and containment. Now in order to bring the Palouse to Christ, it should be obvious that we are going to need something that human beings need for everything else that they do—we are going to need buildings. And if we are going to need buildings, it is self-evident that we are going to have to build them. But in the building of them, we must take care that we not become distracted by them. They are a resource to be used and expended in fulfillment of the mission—birth and growth. So let the stones cry out.

Joseph and Rebecca

Because this wedding ceremony is using the form found in the Book of Common Prayer, in just a few moments—at the exchange of the rings—a phrase will be used that requires some explanation. That phrase is “with my body I thee worship.”

Historically, the phrase is what distinguished a free wife from a concubine. A concubine was a wife with limited rights and privileges, while a free wife was granted the person, honor, and worship of the groom. He gave himself to her entirely. Worship here refers to the service of honor.

When the groom declared his intention to do this, it meant that the children born from this union were to be considered free and legitimate, and true heirs of their father. The bride was being given the honor of being the lawful mother of the household. And last, she was blessed with all he possessed, which is seen in the next phrase—“with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” An endowed wife was an established wife, a free wife, a respected wife. She is a wife who is honored.

I mentioned a moment ago that worship refers to the service of honor. Our modern English word comes from the Anglo-Saxon weorðscipe, which refers to the condition of being worthy, having glory and distinction, honor and renown. The first use of this (in English) as applied to God was around 1300 A.D.. Prior to that time, it simply referred to the kind of respect that is rendered to persons of rank and dignity. This is still seen today in the title worshipful that is applied to certain ranks of people in Britain. It does not refer to people who think they are God.