Thursday, April 30, 2009

When Shall We Partake?

In our ongoing drive to know God and to make him known, we as a church are currently giving sustained consideration to the Lord's Supper. I have previously posted here on the meaning of the Lord's Supper (see Feed upon All the Benefits of Christ's Death, Meditating on the Meaning of the Lord's Supper, and Why Partake?), and now I would like to post a little bit on the practice of the Lord's Supper. Or to put it in other words, having dealt with the "why" of the Lord's Supper, I want to touch on the "when" of the Lord's Supper.

The New Testament does not give us any direct commands about when to partake of the Lord's Supper. However, it does give us the role model of the early church. Acts 2:42-27 gives us a packed summary of the life of the church after it was formed on the day of Pentecost. The text says that these believers "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42, ESV). There is dynamite in this description. They devoted themselves to these activities. They persisted in doing these things and busied themselves in doing these things, just like ants gather food and bees gather pollen. These activities tell us what early Christian gatherings consisted of. The third activity mentioned is "the breaking of bread," which in Acts does not mean chopping bread loaves into pieces. It includes the Lord's Supper. It was characteristic of the new church, basking in the resurrected Christ's outpouring of the Spirit, to constantly partake of the Lord's Supper.

The next clear example of the practice of the early church, this time in Troas, comes in Acts 20:7. Here the believers met on the first day of the week (the Lord's Day), and the purpose of their gathering is said to be to break bread. It is striking that these Christians regularly met on the first day of the week specifically so they could share the Lord's Supper together.

1 Corinthians 11:17-34 gives the most direct instruction about the Lord's Supper in the NT. It also provides indirect evidence of the continued association of church meetings with the Lord's Supper. Paul basically assumes that when they assembled as a church they would eat the Lord's Supper (11:17-20). His phrase in v. 25, "as often as you drink" implies a frequently repeated action. Sadly, in the church of Corinth there were factions which undermined the significance of the Lord's Supper. But for our purposes here, I primarily want to draw your attention to the fact that the early church regularly and frequently shared the Lord's Supper together.

As you can see, everything we know about the pattern of the early church suggests that the Lord's Supper was a regular and at least weekly practice. This should create in our minds at least a predisposition toward frequent and regular participation in the Lord's Supper. But this predisposition is strengthened into an intense desire and delight when we combine this primitive church pattern with the powerful meaning of the Lord's Supper. If the Supper truly is participation in Christ, feeding on all the benefits of his death, and an invitation to commune with him by faith, then what believer would not want to do this when we meet together on the first day of the week?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Augsburg Confession (Part 9)

Article XVII—Of Christ’s Return to Judgment
Also they teach that, in the consummation of the world, Christ shall appear to judge, and shall raise up all dead, and shall give unto the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys; but ungodly men and the devils shall he condemn unto endless torments.

They condemn the Anabaptists who think that to condemned men and the devils shall be an end of torments. They condemn others also, who now scatter Jewish opinions, that, before the resurrection of the dead, the godly shall occupy the kingdom of the world, the wicked being every where suppressed.

Whoa! We have been condemned by the Augsburg Confession! The Confession here explicitly denies any doctrine of an earthly millenial kingdom, while we teach as a church a millenial reign of Christ on earth. (For those who were in our NT theology seminar last Sunday, we dealt with the kingdom of God. If you were not in the seminar but would like the notes, just contact me.)

We should understand that the Lutheran teaching here was standard fare for their day. The Confutation, which was the Roman Catholic reply to the Augsburg Confession, found no fault with this article. We should also understand that the idea of an earthly kingdom of God was brought into disrepute by those who thought they could establish such a kingdom through force of arms. Therefore, the belief in an earthly kingdom of God was often associated with rebellion and insurrection. The Lutherans wanted nothing to do with that, and rightly so.

Here's a side note: It intrigues me that the Lutherans were so insistent on a literalistic interpretation of Christ's words for the Supper ("This is my body") but would not accept a literalistic reading of Scripture's words about the kingdom.

One Christian Response

Well, this is certainly an improvement. Douglas Wilson comments on the issue of torture. Thankfully, he uses the Bible.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Christina Rosetti

Lord, if I love Thee and Thou lovest me,
Why need I any more these toilsome days;
Why should I not run singing up Thy ways
Straight into heaven, to rest myself with Thee?
What need remains of death-pang yet to be,
If all my soul is quickened in Thy praise;
If all my heart loves Thee, what need the amaze,
Struggle and dimness of an agony? –
Bride whom I love, if thou too lovest Me,
Thou must needs choose My likeness for thy dower:
So wilt thou toil in patience, and abide
Hungering and thirsting for that blessed hour
When I My Likeness shall behold in thee,
And thou therein shalt waken satisfied.


Torture is in the news these days. I am not concerned to pontificate on what the U.S. has or has not done, per se. I have not read the infamous memos, nor do I have the time to do the research required to verify all that did or did not happen.*** Rather, I am concerned with the ethical principles involved. Keeping a clear moral vision goes a long way toward properly adorning the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I am especially concerned that Christians not fall into the trap of utilitarianism or consequentialism in our ethical arguments. Utilitarianism in very simple terms asserts that what is right is determined by what produces the greatest good for the most people. I am also concerned that we not fall into a "left vs. right" grid in our moral choices. That is to say, if the left-wingers are against it, and if I am a right-winger, then I must be for it (or vice-versa). This is a sure recipe for moral chaos. But beyond that, it often means that Christians become a sop for whichever political party they happen to agree with. When that happens, we are not shining as lights in the world.

Thankfully, some serious thinking is being done on this topic, and I would like to draw your attention to a few recent pieces of work. Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center has a thoughtful article defending the practices of the U.S. since 9/11 entitled "Morality and Enhanced Interrogation Techniques." He rightly objects to the ongoing politicizing of the previous administration's interrogation techniques. [Victor Davis Hanson also isses a wise warning against prosectuing Bush administration lawyers in "Damnation of Memory."] Nevertheless, Wehner's argument is morally weak because it is entirely utilitarian.

A more thorough and careful argument against torture is given by Christopher Tollefsen in his article "Torture: What It Is and Why It Is Wrong." He argues that "if torture is understood to mean an intentional damaging of bodily or personal integrity, then it is intrinsically wrong, and hence absolutely prohibited." He fully recognizes that some interrogation techniques, taken in themselves, are not always wrong. They do not constitute torture because they do not intentionally disrupt a person's integrity. Yet, he argues that, taken all together, the techniques applied to some terrorists were clearly torturous, and that this is immoral. Given that this is the case, Tollefsen says,

...Then neither legal distinctions between this and the infliction of severe pain and suffering, nor consequentialist judgments about national security, nor even reasonable awareness that these terrorists were bad people, and that the US was in a very difficult situation, making hard choices under considerable stress with, in most cases, the good of the country in view, should obscure the judgment that these approaches involved torture. This judgment should especially guide us in going forward: we should repudiate such techniques across all intelligence gathering operations, as was done in the Army Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collector Operations and resolve to hold such operations to the highest moral standards. But we should hope that such a resolve is possible without descent into the politicizing and partisanship that threatens to knock any effort at serious moral self-criticism off course.

Tollefsen's case is solid and his conclusion sound, provided we grant his assumption that human life and health is a basic human good. But why should this carry moral weight with us? This is perhaps the crucial weakness in Tollefsen's approach. He thinks he can make his case without invoking God or God's revelation.

In contrast, Russell Saltzman's response to the released memos in "The Mental Murder of Torture" explicitly invokes God. Saltzman is less dispassionate than Tollefson, but his strenth is that he is more theological. He writes,

Whether torture “worked” or not as an interrogative tactic is far from the main question. I’m a pastor. I think as a pastor, which is to say as a parish theologian. I don’t care if these guys shrieked like little girls on the playground and blubbered out plots for everything from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre to knocking over Bagdad candy stores as juvenile delinquents. Torture is morally wrong. It is morally wrong, theologically speaking, because it is an attack upon the imago Dei, upon the image of God inherent to every human life.

Now we are getting somewhere. We must reject utilitarianism, which falls far short of a biblical ethic. But once we have rejected utilitarianism (as Tollefsen did), we have still not arrived at a biblical position. Right and wrong are never ultimately defined by man and his reference points. We must press on until we define right and wrong by God and his clear and sufficient Word.

I believe that both Saltzman and Tollefsen fail at this point. They grasp a generally true principle, but they do not apply it consistently as God wants it to be applied because they do not deal with what his Word says. One of the ways this failure reveals itself is that both of them deny capital punishment on the basis of their principle, while God's Word clearly and explicitly endorses duly authorized capital punishment.

Consequently, I am still awaiting a Christian, biblical response to torture. Read these articles. Learn from them. But always go back to the Scripture to test what you read. Let's think like Christians so that we can better point people to Christ, whose torturous death on the cross is and will become the death of all torture in this world.

***Here's an example of what I'm talking about when it comes to verifying information. One almost always has to double check what the media reports!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Rejoicing in the Lord's Work

Spring has now sprung here in the Springs, and we are enjoying the Lord's handiwork. But the Lord is doing much greater works of salvation and judgment, works which are sometimes quite sobering to behold. The prophet Habakkuk faced a time of God's judgment, and he stood in awe of the Lord's work. Nevertheless, he asked the Lord to remember mercy in the midst of wrath, and he ultimately rejoiced in the God of his salvation. We wish to do the same this Lord's Day, so we invite you to join us.

God Himself Is Present
Rejoice, Believer, in the Lord (#627)
O for a Faith That Will Endure (#593)
Psalm 90a
God Is the Treasure of My Soul (#632)
We Rest on Thee (#600)
Jesus Shall Reign (#51)

Scripture Reading
The Lord Reigns - OT: Deuteronomy 33; NT: Luke 1:46-55

Rejoicing in the Lord's Work, Even in the Day of Trouble - Habakkuk 3:1-19

Friday, April 24, 2009

What Is Conservative Christianity? (Part 10)

Here are Kevin Bauder's concluding thoughts on conservative Christianity. If you understand these, you will understand a great deal about our church.

History, we are told, is written by the victors. The victors who control American evangelicalism and fundamentalism are the pragmatists and revivalists. On their account, the church before Finney was lifeless and hopelessly ineffective. Only the advent of “new measures” brought about the sweeping revivals of Finney, Moody, Sunday, and (depending upon whether you are an evangelical or a fundamentalist) either Graham or Hyles.

This history has gained the status of a powerful mythology. It tells American Christians who they are. It reassures them that, if they are not the greatest generation of believers in the history of the church, that generation is only recently past and today’s American Christian is the immediate heir to its riches.

Conservatism directly challenges that mythology.

Instead of this popular viewpoint, "Conservative Christians believe that their task is to reclaim a full-orbed, historic, biblical Christianity."

May the Lord help us to do just that.

The De Facto Religion of the West

I came across two things today which are signposts, helping us to understand the form of paganism which is now the de facto religion of Western societies.

First, glance at this article from Canada, "Birth Control Touted as Part of Earth Day." (HT: Challies). Second, read this statement from Albert Mohler, as he commented on the recent FDA decision allowing the so-called "Plan-B" pill to be sold to 17 year olds.

To the left, birth control is central to the modern project of liberation. Pregnancy and parenthood limit other endeavors, to say the very least. The project of liberating sex from marriage and sex within marriage from reproduction is central to the modern quest for autonomy. The Pill allowed a radical expansion in non-marital sex, for example, now freed from concern about pregnancy. The Pill represented a moral revolution of incalculable magnitude.

Third, ask yourself whether or not Western Christians have by-and-large bought into the left's ideas about birth control.

Now you will understand one reason among many why I say that paganism is the de facto religion of the West. We have millions and millions of Christians, but paganism sets the agenda from public policy to private bedrooms.

I spoke with another pastor today who expressed amazement at how fast the liberal agenda is being implemented in America today. But again I say - I'm not surprised. Paganism has taken root in our thinking, so all it needs is the right conditions to flower. Those conditions are here; hence, the bud is flowering. Paganism is the reigning religion of America.

P.S. I dealt briefly with some biblical teaching about this topic a while back. The post is "Abortion and the Sixth Commandment."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why Partake?

Does it really make a difference whether one partakes of the Lord's Supper or not? Many professing believers seem to feel that they can have a perfectly normal and healthy relationship with Jesus Christ without the Supper. But perhaps a quick look at our catechism can dispel this dangerous notion.

What are the outward and ordinary means by which the Holy Spirit communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
The outward and ordinary means by which the Spirit communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer; all of which are made effectual to the elect for salvation. Rom 10:17; Jas 1:18; Acts 2:41-42; Eph 4:11-16.

The Holy Spirit gives us the benefits of redemption, we all recognize. Yet we must also recognize that he does not do this by hooking us up to an invisible, spiritual power grid. He communicates Christ to us through the means that he has ordained to use, which the catechism says are "especially the Word, baptism, the Lord's Supper, and prayer." It is then through these that the Spirit accomplishes his work of leading us to glory.

Of course, we do not at all believe that these means infuse grace into us, as the Roman Catholics falsely teach. In this way, we make it clear that we do not trust in the Lord's Supper to save us. We trust in Christ.

But we must also hasten to add that Christ has given us a way to participate with him, and that includes the Lord's Supper. "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" the apostle Paul asked (1 Cor 10:16, ESV). Therefore, one who distains to participate regularly in the Lord's Supper should ask himself if he truly participates in Christ. How can one be a follower of Christ and yet turn a cold shoulder when Christ invites him to partake? This is rude, ungrateful, and faithless.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Augsburg Confession (Part 8)

Article XIV—Of Civil Affairs
Concerning civil affairs, they teach that such civil ordinances as are lawful are good works of God; that Christians may lawfully bear civil office, sit in judgments, determine matters by the imperial laws, and other laws in present force, appoint just punishments, engage in just war, act as soldiers, make legal bargains and contracts, hold property, take an oath when the magistrate requires it, marry a wife, or be given in marriage.

They condemn the Anabaptists who forbid Christians these civil offices. They condemn also those that place the perfection of the Gospel, not in the fear of God and in faith, but in forsaking civil offices, inasmuch as the Gospel teacheth an everlasting righteousness of the heart. In the meantime, it doth not disallow order and government of commonwealths or families, but requireth especially the preservation and maintenance thereof, as of God’s own ordinances, and that in such ordinances we should exercise love. Christians therefore must necessarily obey their magistrates and laws, save only when they command any sin; for then they must rather obey God than men (Acts v.29).

One of the hot button issues of recent years is Christianity and culture. Yet as this section of the Augsburg Confession reflects, this was also a front burner issue in the days of the Reformation. (It is always an issue, but times of social transition force the issue on us keenly.) In Article 14, the AC endeavored to clearly differentiate the Lutheran approach from the Anabaptist beliefs (cf. the Schleitheim Confession here and here).

Underlying this statement is the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms. Luther drew a sharp distinction between the spiritual power of the church and the secular power of the state. Early on in his ministry, he wrote:

God has ordained two governments among the children of Adam - the reign of God under Christ, and the reign of the world under the civil magistrate, each with its own laws and rights. The laws of the reign of the world extend no further than body and goods and the external affairs of the earth. But over the soul God can and will allow no one to rule but himself alone.

This thinking was fairly radical for his day, and was very similar to views held by Anabaptists. However, Luther gradually modified and nuanced his position, clearly distancing himself from the Anabaptist positions. His more mature and complex position has been summarized in this way by John Witte, Jr.:

The earthly kingdom is the realm of creation, of natural and civil life, where a person operates primarily by reason and law. The heavenly kingdom is the realm of redemption, of spiritual and eternal life, where a person operates primarily by faith and love. These two kingdoms embrace parallel heavenly and earthly, spiritual and temporal forms of righteousness and justice, government and order, truth and knowledge. These two kingdoms interact and depend upon each other in a variety of ways, not least through biblical revelation and through the faithful discharge of Christian vocations in the earthly kingdom. But these two kingdoms ultimately remain distinct. The earthly kingdom is distorted by sin and governed by the Law. The heavenly kingdom is renewed by grace and guided by the Gospel. A Christian is a citizen of both kingdoms at once and invariably comes under the distinctive government of each (Law and Protestantism, 5).

It should be noted that although Luther maintained the separation of powers or jurisdictions between the government of God and the government of the world, in practice the Lutherans ended up with the head of the state ruling over the church. All of this constitutes another chapter in the ongoing effort of Christians to live as citizens of heaven while still living in this world. May we learn from their successes and failures so that we may bring maximum glory to Jesus Christ as the true Lord of all.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Waiting on the Lord to Work

What does it mean to live as an elect exile, a temporary resident in a world that is not our home? Two weeks ago we began to examine the writings of Habakkuk in preparation for our study of 1 Peter. Habakkuk felt keenly the tensions of living in a wicked world that did not acknowledge the Lord. But he waited on the Lord and learned that the just shall live by faith. The Lord truly is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him.

God Himself Is Present
Holy, Holy, Holy (#3)
Thou Sweet, Beloved Will of God (#528)
Trust and Obey (#525)
O Thou in Whose Presence (#451)
God Is the Treasure of My Soul (#632)

Scripture Reading
The Lord Reigns! - OT: Psalm 99; NT: Revelation 19

Waiting on the Lord to Work (Part 2) - Habakkuk 1:12-2:20

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Diet of Worms

Since I have been posting on the Augsburg Confession, it seems appropriate to note that it was 488 years ago today that Martin Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms to defend his beliefs. The diet later declared Luther to be a heretic.

By the way, the "Diet of Worms" has nothing to do with Luther's eating habits. A "diet" was a formal assembly of princes or estates to deliberate a matter. Worms was the small town on the Rhine River in which the assembly was held.

What Is Conservative Christianity? (Part 9)

True Christian conservatism cannot exist without charity. As Kevin Bauder expounds the core principles of conservative Christianity, he helpfully reminds us that conservatism must be practiced in an atmosphere of love. He begins:

This series of essays has not been a sermon, and I have not been preaching. Nevertheless, I am about to begin meddling. I want to discuss for a moment the attitudes that must characterize a conservative Christianity. Please understand that these remarks are addressed to those who have already accepted conservative principles. If you are not a conservative, you may find that this essay helps you to understand how conservative Christians perceive themselves within the larger world of professing Christianity.

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Meditating on the Meaning of the Lord's Supper

1. It symbolizes the death of Christ for our sins.
2. It symbolizes our personal appropriation of the benefits of that death.
3. It symbolizes the method of this appropriation, through union with Christ himself.
4. It symbolizes the continuous dependence of the believer for all spiritual life upon the once crucified, now living, Savior, to whom he is thus united.
5. It symbolizes the sanctification of the Christian through a spiritual reproduction in him of the death and resurrection of the Lord.
6. It symbolizes the consequent union of Christians in Christ, their head.
7. It symbolizes the coming joy and perfection of the kingdom of God.

From Systematic Theology, Augustus H. Strong, pp. 962-3.

God's School of Love

Since Justin is teaching on church membership right now, I thought I would post a great excerpt from Love or Die by Alexander Strauch on the relationships of love in the local church.

Believers cannot encourage one another to love if they don't meet together regularly as a church family. This is why the writer of Hebrews exhorts his readers to think creatively of ways to "stir up one another to love," and warns them about neglecting "to meet together, as is the habit of some" (Heb 10:25). Our growth in love is not ust an individual exercise. Love requires both a subject and an object, thus love is a corporate learning experience. We grow in love by engagement with other people, not in isolation from them.

Christians cannot develop love by sitting at home alone on the couch watching TV preachers or by attending a weekly, one-hour church service. It is only through participation in "the household of God," the local church (1 Tim 3:15), with all of its weaknesses and faults, that love is taught, modeled, learned, tested, practiced, and matured. By dealing with difficult people, facing painful conflicts, forgiving hurts and injustices, reconciling estranged relationships, and helping needy members, our love is tested and matures.

One simply cannot grow in love without the stresses and strains of life together in the household of God, the local church.... If you are not a participating member of a local church, then you are not in God's school of love.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Augsburg Confession (Part 7)

Article XIV—Of Ecclesiastical Orders
Concerning ecclesiastical orders [church government], they teach that no man should publicly in the church teach, or administer the sacraments, except he be rightly called.

Article 14 touches on a crucial issue of the Reformation - the issue of legitimacy. The Lutherans wanted to demonstrate that they were not forming a new church. They were instead responding to the falling away of the existing church hierarchy. Their movement, they insisted, was not a politically motivated schism. This is proven by the fact that they continued to insist on a "regular call" for all ministers of the church. No man could take it upon himself to be a recognized minister of Christ. This position enabled the Lutherans to show that they were not radical populists who thought that God worked apart from all ecclesiastical channels. They believed in maintaining ecclesiastical continuity; therefore, they were legitimate. In effect, they put the whole burden for the break up of the church at the time of the Reformation on the backs of the popes and bishops.

This article says nothing about another important plank of Martin Luther's teaching which could be perceived to be in tension with ecclesiastical orders. Luther taught the priesthood of all believers, the idea that the congregation itself, because of its status as a royal priesthood, has the right to seek and discern God's will for the church. Thus it is not dependent upon bishops in order for there to be a regular call. Luther used the example of a group of Christians who found themselves in the middle of a desert with no "priest" (Luther continued to use this designation) ordained by bishops. By virtue of the priesthood of the believers, they could rightly choose one from themselves to serve as a priest, and he would then be just as much a priest as if he had been ordained by bishops.

However, Luther did not reject ordination by bishops, nor did he teach that election by the congregation was the only way to have a regular call. Because the bishops were to work on behalf of the congregation, at least in theory, bishops could ordain ministers. The congregations must approve the choice, and they retained the ability to depose a minister, but the bishops could still do the job. This was how Luther resolved the tension between a regular call and the priesthood of all believers.

I mention this here because this was an important issue in the Reformation which has great ramifications for Baptist history and for the contemporary church scene of our day.

Article XV—Of Ecclesiastical Rites
Concerning ecclesiastical rites, they teach that those rites are to be observed which may be observed without sin, and are profitable for tranquility and good order in the church; such as are set holidays, feasts, and such like. Yet concerning such things, men are to be admonished that consciences are not to be burdened as if such service were necessary to salvation.
They are also to be admonished that human traditions, instituted to propitiate God, to merit grace, and make satisfaction for sins, are opposed to the gospel and the doctrine of faith. Wherefore vows and traditions concerning foods and days, and such like, instituted to merit grace and make satisfaction for sins, are useless and contrary to the gospel.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Christ Is Risen!

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is simultaneously the greatest joy of all who put their trust in him and the greatest terror of all who reject him. It is the guarantee that the God of the Bible is God and that his plan is being fulfilled. It is the good news that everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness through his name! Come celebrate and tremble with us!

Come, Let Us with Our Lord Arise (#25)
Christ, the Lord, Is Risen Today (#156)
Christ Arose (#159)
Lamb of God, Thou Now Art Seated (#160)
Thine Be the Glory (#162)
Blessing and Honor (#10)
Communion Hymn (#228)

Scripture Reading
Psalms 16 and 110; Acts 2:22-36

The Guarantees of the Resurrection - Acts

As part of our service, we will celebrate with the Lord's Supper.

Friday, April 10, 2009

What Is Conservative Christianity? (Part 9)

Kevin Bauder completes his digression on tradition with his next installment on understanding conservative Christianity. In it he discusses how we can test tradition in order to know what we ought to conserve and what we ought to reject.

Ah! Holy Jesus

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
That man to judge thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:
I crucified thee.

Lo, the good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered;
For man's atonement, while he nothing heedeth,
God intercedeth.

For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and thy life's oblation;
Thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay Thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Still No Way Forward?

Nearly two years ago I posted some thoughts in response to Carl Trueman's assertion that he saw no way forward for churches to reclaim church discipline and ultimately the church itself ("I See No Way Forward"). Now this week his review of David Wells' book The Courage to Be Protestant has been buzzing around some corners of the internet, and in it he again raises this issue. The review in general highly commends Wells' book, both in its diagnosis and prescription for our current spiritual condition, although Trueman does note some complicating factors. Nevertheless, Trueman closes his review by expressing some of his concerns.

It is easy to take pot-shots at Willow Creek and emergent excess, but the problems of American culture which they variously represent—cults of personality, worldly conceptions of success and power, standing on one's rights to the exclusion of everybody and everything else, radical individualism, eclecticism, iconoclastic views of the past—can sit very comfortably with Reformed, confessional theology. Such theology can just as easily be turned into a commodity as anything else out there in the marketplace. That is, after all, the American way! We confessional conservatives too like our superstars, our celebrities, our glossy magazines, and our mega-conferences. With all of this to take into account, we need to realize that theology is not enough; that theology needs to challenge many of the things that are so dear to American culture that, spiritually speaking, they are virtually invisible to the naked eye.

To this I say "Amen" and "May God be merciful to us." But Trueman is not finished yet.

Second, while agreeing wholeheartedly with David's call for a return to church discipline, I am very pessimistic about that happening for the reasons outlined above: ease of travel; multiplication of denominations; and arrogant, anti-authoritarian individualism and libertarianism that spill over from politics into church life. Discipline is a wonderful ideal. I am just not sure what it looks like in the contemporary world. And to the extent that we all, conservative Protestants and otherwise, are part of this wider culture, so we are impotent to resist its forces.

We are impotent to resist its forces, he says. Perhaps. Perhaps our efforts will be like the charge of the Light Brigade, as he suggests. Yet he does offer a glimmer of hope when he says, "only a dramatic transformation not simply of church theology and practice but also of church culture and the hearts of individual members of the church will be able to effect any of this."

That is exactly what we are trying to do as a church. For the glory of God and the cause of Christ, we aim to recover the church as the body of Christ and reconnect the gospel with it. I have contended for a few years now that doctrinal formulations are not enough - certainly necessary, desperately needed, but not enough. The common mantra that the message never changes but methods do is so naive as to be nauseating. That attitude is precisely what allows us to maintain our confession while being totally coopted by the culture around us, as Trueman points out. But we want to be different. We want to be men who understand the times clearly, and know the Scriptures so thoroughly, and love God and our neighbor so deeply, that we put into effect a church culture which powerfully cross-sects everything this world knows with the gospel of Christ.

We are moving forward. With full faith in God and our lives at his disposal, I am confident that the Lord will use us to accomplish his purposes. I hope you are with me. This is no time for surrender. The just shall live by faith. We are moving forward.

Feed upon All the Benefits of Christ's Death

Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible Elements in this Ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally, and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified & all the benefits of his death: the Body and Blood of Christ, being then not corporally, or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of Believers, in that Ordinance, as the Elements themselves are to their outward senses.

The Second London Baptist Confession, Chapter 30.7

This historic Baptist confession, closely mirroring the Presbyterian Westminster Confession, says that believers "really and indeed" receive and feed upon Christ when they partake of the Lord's Supper in faith. This is so, the Confession continues, because the body and blood of Christ are spiritually present in the ordinance. Is this true, and if so, what does it mean?
Roman Catholicism developed the idea that the bread and wine of the Supper actually become the physical body and blood of Jesus when the priest consecrates the elements. Thus Jesus is present and is truly sacrificed every time the Mass is celebrated. This idea is a failure to recognize the symbolic meaning of the words of Christ when he said, "This is my body" and "This is my blood." Since he was physically present at the table with his disciples when he spoke these words, it is very hard to believe that the disciples thought they were eating Christ's physical body. They could see clearly that the bread was not Christ's body. Instead, Christ used the bread to represent his body. In addition, this idea is a blatant denial of the finished work of Christ on the cross. Christ's work on the cross was sufficient, final, and complete. Any attempt to add to it demeans Christ and distorts the gospel. We must emphatically reject this view.
Martin Luther made some important improvements on the Roman Catholic view. He discarded the idea that the Mass was a sacrifice of Jesus. He retained the idea that Christ was present in the Supper, but he changed the way the Romanists had explained Christ's presence. He argued that the body of Christ was in, with, and under the bread and the wine. Thinking in terms of the physics of his day, he likened this to an iron bar in the fire. The substance of the fire interpenetrates the substance of the bar without changing the substance of the bar. As already mentioned, however, this thinking still fails to appreciate the symbolic nature of what Christ taught when he instituted his Supper. This thinking also forced Luther into teaching that the human nature of Christ was ubiquitous (present everywhere), for if Christ's body can be in, with, and under the bread and wine everywhere throughout the world when the Supper is celebrated, then he must be bodily present everywhere. There is no Scriptural support for this.
John Calvin, the Church of England, and most others who broke away from the Roman Catholic church believed that Christ was spiritually, but not bodily or physically, present in the Supper. The bread and the wine symoblized that Christ was present with his people at the table. As you can see, the Baptist Confession adopted this view.
Yet many contemporary Baptists feel uneasy with the idea that Christ is spiritually present in the Supper. In my personal experience, Baptists have by and large adopted the idea that the Lord's Supper is only a commemoration. It has nothing necessarily to do with the presence of Christ, for Christ is spiritually present everywhere. At its best, this view may not differ all that much from the common Reformed view in practice. The Baptist theologian A. H. Strong taught the commemorative view. Yet in his systematic theology he said nothing against the view of Calvin, while he specifically showed the biblical errors of Romanism and Lutheranism. The contemporary Baptist theologian Wayne Grudem classifies the commemorative view as a subset of the previous view.
However, at its worst the commemorative view degenerates into meaninglessness. Millard Erickson writes, "Out of zeal to avoid the conception that Jesus is present in some sort of a magical way, some have sometimes gone to such extremes as to give the impression that the one place where Jesus most assuredly is not to be found is the Lord's Supper. This is what one Baptist leader termed 'the doctrine of the real absence' of Jesus Christ" (Christian Theology, 2nd ed., 1130). We must avoid this trivializing of the ordinance of Christ. I fear that we do not appreciate the Lord's Supper the way we should. Many believers can go for weeks or months or years without the Lord's Supper and not even notice. Furthermore, many who claim to be Christians can go without church relations, and hence without the Lord's Supper, as if nothing was wrong in their relationship with God. This is a horrible travesty. If we feel this way, it should make us wonder if we even know Christ.
I would like to remind us that the Lord's Supper is symbolic, to be sure, but it is symbolic more like a handshake than like a roadsign. A roadsign merely states factual information. A handshake is a symbolic action in which we participate with someone else (1 Cor 10:16). To use a more directly biblical description, the Lord's Supper is a meal that we share with Jesus Christ and with his people. In it, we commune with the One who is the way, the truth, and the life through the symbols that he has given to us. I hope you come to the Supper hungry to spiritually feed upon all the benefits of Christ's death.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A Song to Rejoice in the Resurrection

Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands
Martin Luther, 1524
Tr. by Richard Massie, 1854, alt.

Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands,
For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand he stands
And brings us life from heaven;
Therefore let us joyful be
And sing to God right thankfully
Loud songs of hallelujah.

It was a strange and dreadful strife
When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life,
The reign of death was ended;
Holy Scripture plainly saith
That death is swallowed up by death,
His sting is lost forever.

Then let us feast this joyful day
On Christ, the Bread of heaven;
The Word of grace hath purged away
The old and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed,
He is our meat and drink indeed;
Faith lives upon no other.

Friday, April 03, 2009

What Is Conservative Christianity? (Part 8)

Since a conservative is by definition one who conserves something, a conservative cheerfully acknowledges his debt to tradition. A conservative recognizes his own limitations and his great dependence on the work of those who have gone before him. Kevin Bauder demonstrates this in his next installment of understanding conservative Christianity.

Waiting on the Lord to Work

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

So wrote William Cowper, in poetic form capturing the wonder of the Lord's work in the world. Habakkuk experienced this first-hand as he cried out to the Lord for an explanation of all the violence, iniquity, wrong, destruction, strife, and contention around him. The Lord replied that he was doing a work which would make men wonder and be astounded. He was not absent. He was astoundingly present, both in judgment and blessing, and he would powerfully perform his great plan.

This is no less true in our day than it was in the late 7th century B.C. Like Habakkuk, we find ourselves waiting on the Lord to work. We will gather this Lord's Day as Christ's church because we do trust in him. May our gathering be a testimony to our confidence that the Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him!

Hark! the Voice of Love and Mercy (#134)
Hallelujah! What a Savior! (#128)
It Is Finished (#138)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (#137)
'Tis the Christ (#150)
God Moves in a Mysterious Way (#56)

Since this coming week we will remember our Lord's death on our behalf, our songs and scripture reading will focus on this aspect of his redeeming work.

Scripture Reading
The Crucifixion of Jesus - Luke 23

Waiting on the Lord to Work - Habakkuk 1:1-11

The Fool

It is not often that we get to see a living example of a complete and total rejection of God. Most atheists are inconsistent and do not push their anti-theism to its logical limits. Some do not think clearly enough about their own project to bring it to completion, while others do not have the courage to walk the path of anti-theism to its end. Of course, we will see the true results of God-rejection vividly on the day of God's final judgment, but in this life it is rather uncommon.

However, there was one man in Germany in the nineteenth century who was both diabolically brilliant enough and savagely courageous enough to accept the full implications of atheism. His name was Friedrich Nietzsche. I was reminded of this as I recently read 10 Books that Screwed Up the World by Benjamin Wiker. If you are not familiar with the history of Western thought, I would recommend Wiker's book as an easy introduction to some of the worst stuff to have come from the mind of man in the last 500 years (if you can stomach it). Note what Wiker observes about Nietzsche.

Nietzsche completed the modern rejection of God that began with Machiavelli. He made clear to those who swallowed his words what the real implications of godlessness were - a world without good and evil, a world ruled by the will to power. Already in 1884 strange megalomaniacal utterances were finding their way into his letters and books. In his letters he spoke of striking "a destructive blow against Christianity," launching the "greatest decisive war in history" where "we shall have convulsions on the earth such as have never been," announcing that "the old god is abolished, and that I myself will henceforth rule the world," and signing himself "Nietzsche Ceasar," "The Anti-Christian Friedrich Nietzsche," or more tersely, "The Antichrist." In 1885, amidst such revelries, Neitzsche would begin Beyond Good and Evil, publishing it in the following year. Der AntiChrist was written in 1888 but not published until 1894.

Nietzsche's complete dedication to drinking to the bitterest dregs the full depths of atheism ended in his own drop into the depths of insanity in January 1889, only four months after writing Der AntiChrist. The last decade of his life was spent in the darkest corners of madness, deteriorating in every way, at one stretch keeping everyone in the house awake repeating like a hideous drum, "I am dead because I am stupid...I am stupid because I am dead."

It is not by accident that the Scripture says, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God'" (Psalm 14:1; 53:1; cf. Rom 3:10-18).

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Augsburg Confession (Part 6)

Article XII—Of Repentance
Touching repentance, they teach that such as have fallen after baptism may find remission of sins, at what time they are converted [whenever they come to repentance], and that the Church should give absolution unto such as return to repentance.

Now repentance consisteth properly of these two parts: One is contrition, or terrors stricken into the conscience through the acknowledgment of sin; the other is faith, which is conceived by the Gospel, or absolution, and doth believe that for Christ’s sake sins be forgiven, and comforteth the conscience, and freeth it from terrors. Then should follow good works, which are fruits of repentance. ...

Article XIII—Of the Use of Sacraments
Concerning the use of the Sacraments, they teach that they were ordained, not only to be marks of profession among men, but rather that they should be signs and testimonies of the will of God towards us, set forth unto us to stir up and confirm faith in such as use them. Therefore men must use Sacraments so as to join faith with them, which believes the promises that are offered and declared unto us by the Sacraments.

Wherefore they condemn those that teach that the Sacraments do justify by the work done, and do not teach that faith which believes the remission of sins is requisite in the use of Sacraments.