How the Sin Argument Can’t Work

This meal is a meal of all grace. When we shrink back from it, we do so (most often) because of our sins. But because it is a meal of grace, all the arguments we might construct out of our sins do not and cannot work.

This is because grace is there because of our sins, it presupposes them. Just as a bath presupposes someone in need of a bath, so also the blood of Jesus Christ here presented is the blood that cleanses us from all unrighteousness. The body of Jesus Christ here presented is the body that was broken on account of all unrighteousness. What argument fashioned from sins can you bring to this Table that is not quickly, thoroughly, and wonderfully refuted?

There is a convoluted way to turn a table of grace into a table of judgment, and some have done it, but they have only succeeded in doing it by ignoring almost everything that is said about it. Some have gotten sick and died because of how they approached the cup of blessing, but their mistake was not a minor one, and their rebellion was not a subtlety.

We are convinced of better things concerning you. You cannot argue from your sins and shrink back, and you cannot argue from the magnitude of your sins and shrink back, because this Table is set with grace enough for the world. Neither can you argue from the secret decrees of God—because you don’t know them. God does know His decrees, and He has authorized His ministers to summon you to come.

This is why, at the end of the day, the only reason people do not come to Christ is because of they sin they are committing at that very moment. They are refusing to repent. They are refusing to bow down. They are refusing to be a supplicant.

But you are not so. Come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

Those Darts Are Doubts

This meal is offered to you as a means of grace. It is one of God’s great instruments for building your faith, for encouraging you in your walk, for establishing your assurance. Ah, there’s the problem, some of you might be saying . . . assurance. If only I had it.
You think you need assurance to come to the Table, when actually you need to come to the Table for assurance. We do not come to this Supper because we have achieved something, but rather to receive something.

But should you not have assurance? Of course you should. “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). This is why God offers to give it to you . . . by various means. The gospel preached, the gospel enacted, as here, the gospel embodied in the fellowship of the saints – these are all ways that God gives you assurance.

But, you might argue, if you were a true Christian, you could never entertain any doubts on the subject, right? Wrong. Think for a moment. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, two out of the three temptations were assaults on His identity. If You are the Son of God . . .

Try your form of argument on Him. If He were truly the Messiah, then He could never be tempted to doubt it, right? Now mark me well – I do not say that Jesus doubted who He was. I say that He was tempted to doubt it, and I also say that no servant is greater than his master. If Jesus could not walk through this world without this kind of assault, why on earth would we be immune from it?
The shield of faith extinguishes the flaming darts of the evil one, Paul tells us, and the nature of the shield tells us what the darts must be. Those darts are doubts, and what else is new? Come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

Some Kind of Zen Presbyterianism . . .

I received a good question from a friend about yesterday’s post concerning Rachel Held Evans and communion, a question that had to do with how we fence the Table. In order to be able to get at the issues involved, let me remove it entirely from this dispute about RHE so we can grasp the general principles that apply.

First, let me state how we fence the Table and why. In our printed weekly bulletin, we have a separate box with the heading ” May I Come to the Table?” That question is answered affirmatively, provided the reader has been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and is not under the discipline of the church.

But this brings up two wild cards — first, there are people out there who have been excommunicated who shouldn’t have been, and there are also a bunch of people who haven’t been who should have. What do we do with them?

With the former, we assume the legitimacy of the discipline, seeking to honor the authority of a sister church. At the same time, we have this person who has come to us for refuge. So we make an effort to contact the disciplining church for information about the discipline, about the trial, etc. If there is something we can do to help our refugee put things right, we would do that. But if the stated clerk for Diotrephes Memorial writes us a snippy little note inviting us to drop dead, and the claim of the refugee is that his fault was having the apostle John over for lunch, then our session would feel free to set aside the discipline, and welcome him to the Table.

With the latter, we are having to deal with the dismal state of the church today. As my father is fond of saying, and I follow him, God takes us from where we are, not from where we should have been. A lot of Christians are making their way through life as battered repaints, and had they come to us from a godly church, they would have been disciplined — for that unjustified divorce, for example. But of course, had they been nurtured in a godly church, maybe the divorce wouldn’t have happened. Often discipline doesn’t happen in churches because the churches themselves are fit subjects for discipline. In receiving such people, we are playing cards with the hand we were dealt. Everything rides on the openness of the people involved to be established in the faith in a sound way.

A complicating factor here is that, in my view, withholding communion from someone from another communion is not just an act of discipline with regard to that person, but in effect can be an act of discipline of the offending communion. This is something I am happy to do depending on how complicit the communion is in the offense, and how flamboyant it is, but I am very wary of cutting off a big branch because of what some twig has been saying.

If You Start Purple, Finish Purple

Today Rachel Held Evans tweeted that despite her disagreements with him, she would be happy to come to the Lord’s Table with John Piper any time. No matter what, he’s a brother.

A brother who creates a big-time abusive environment for blaming the victim, but still a brother, right?

Sorry, but it doesn’t work like that. I read a book years ago on the writer’s craft by James Kilpatrick (sorry, forgot the title) and some of the best advice I have ever received was this. If you start purple, finish purple.

There are three ways to relate to fellow Christians when it comes to the Lord’s Table. One is when a professing brother is living in a way that denies the gospel, and this is something that can be amply demonstrated in a competent jurisdiction. When this happens, it is an occasion for church discipline.