Category: The Church

Communion by Intimate Participation

On the Festive Day of Rest, called the Lord’s day there is a standing invitation to all those who love the Lord to share in His Fellowship and Worship. And on this day, He often hosts a spiritual banquet for us to experience a greater intimacy with Him. We call this banquet The Lord’s Supper.

But what’s going on in the Lord’s Supper?  Is it simply a heightened remembrance of what Jesus did for us 2000 years ago or is it something else? When it comes to the Lord’s Supper, the biggest mistake that most evangelicals make is that we underestimate its meaning, power and purpose. Paul writes to the Corinthians,
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.  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? (1Cor. 10:14-16)

Interestingly, the Greek word translated “participation” is a familiar one to many, but perhaps we our familiarity has bred some boredom with it. The Greek word is
koinonia which means “communion by intimate participation.” Paul is saying that in the Lord’s Supper we commune by intimate participation with the Body and Blood of Christ. We have koinonia with Christ’s Body and Blood in the Supper. It is a mutual sharing and an intimate experiencing. So the, the Lord’s Supper is an intimate banquet of koinonia with the body and blood of Christ, a spiritual banquet whereby we are refreshed by partaking of Him. The Lord’s Supper makes our secret union with Christ as certain for us as if we had seen it with our own eyes. In The Institutes, Calvin describes the Lord’s Supper as,

“This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us.”

In the Lord’s Supper, we have the full witness of everything that Christ has done for us and it gives us the opportunity to experience them as if Christ were present Himself, sitting right before our eyes and touched by our hands.

More Tomorrow…..

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The Christian Sabbath IV: A Gift

I have bemoaned that most of the teaching I have heard on the Sabbath has been unsatisfying to me because it is either viewed as a policy with a list of joyless regulations or as an old-fashioned obsolete shadow of the past. The sabbath policy people imply that God loves the Sabbath and created man for it when Christ said the opposite, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” So here is the New* View from the lips of the Savior: The Christian Sabbath is the Lord’s Gift for His Beloved to unwrap every Lord’s Day.

We learn from the highest authority that “the Sabbath was made for man.” We certainly need it and it blesses us. But we would have never had it had it not been MADE FOR US. And it was made for us by Him who needed no rest to woo us to rest and worship. What genuine love that presents the gift of the Lord’s Day to protect men from themselves and the exploitation of each other, to guard us against workaholism and burnout and lead us to a fully enjoyment of God and others!

If the Sabbath is just a rule, something I have to do, some duty or regulation, there’s no refreshment and no joy. Humans tend to view rules according to convenience anyway: I’m late so I’ll speed; taxes are high so I’ll fudge. The Sabbath is also not just a benefit that we can take or leave if we feel like we need it or not. Christ indicates the the Sabbath is a gift specially designed for us so this places a different motivation in our hearts. Now I don’t know about you, but I love gifts and the nature of gifts is to create ANTICIPATION, just ask any child before Christmas what she wants to do with the wrapped presents under the tree. The motive of gift-giving is from a heart of affection for the recipient, a gift is a token of love. Moreover, when you receive a gift from someone who loves you, your natural desire is to excitedly unwrap it even before the appropriate time. The Christian Sabbath is the Lord’s Gift for His Beloved to unwrap every Lord’s Day.

Jesus proceeds to claim His rightful ownership over the Sabbath when He adds, “the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Jesus with sovereign freedom exalts himself over the Sabbath. The King is here and His Name is Wonderful!  He is a Servant and a Giver and Lover so as the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus is saying, This is My Gift to Give not your Rule to Police.

The Sabbath is FOR man and TO God. Those who are in union with Christ are freed to enjoy His Gift of Christian Sabbath. A weekly gift for the ceasing of duties, resting your mind, calming your anxieties, refreshing your soul and engaging in the dynamic synergism of corporate worship! We are to think of the Lord’s Day not as a regulation to keep, not as a law that can be violated nor even of a benefit that we can take or leave but as a Gift given to us by a Generous God to unwrap every Sunday to receive the Grace that He wants to impart to us. A sustaining Grace which we desperately need and can only be found in corporate worship.

So don’t leave the Gift unopened: Gifts are not for taking or leaving. When someone you love and who loves you gives you a gift, you can hardly wait to unwrap it. If your lover gave you a gift and you left it sitting upon the table still wrapped and then you received another gift and you also left it wrapped next to the other on the table, what does that say about your feelings toward your lover? And when your lover arrives to see the wrapped gifts stacked up, what emotions are evoked? Remember: Loving the Giver means enjoying His gift.

The First Day of the Week: Christian Sabbath Part III

B.B. Warfield nicely captures the first century transition from Jewish Sabbath observing on Saturdays to the Christian observance of the Lord’s Day on Sundays. His words follow…

Our Lord, too, following the example of his Father, when he had finished the work which it had been given him to do, rested on the Sabbath—in the peace of his grave. But he had work yet to do, and, when the first day of the new week, which was the first day of a new era, the era of salvation, dawned, he rose from the Sabbath rest of the grave, and made all things new. As C. F. Keil beautifully puts it;

“Christ is Lord of the Sabbath, and after the completion of his work, he also rested on the Sabbath. But he rose again on the Sabbath; and through his resurrection, which is the pledge to the world of the fruit of his redeeming work, he made this day the Lord’s Day for his Church, to be observed by it till the Captain of its salvation shall return, and having finished the judgment upon all his foes to the very last, shall lead it to the rest of that eternal Sabbath which God prepared for the whole creation through his own resting after the completion of the heaven and the earth.”

Christ took the Sabbath into the grave with him and brought the Lord’s Day out of the grave with him on the resurrection morn. It is true enough that we have no record of a commandment of our Lord’s requiring a change in the day of the observance of the Sabbath. Neither has any of the apostles to whom he committed the task of founding his Church given us such a commandment. By their actions, nevertheless, both our Lord and his apostles appear to commend the first day of the week to us as the Christian Sabbath. It is not merely that our Lord rose from the dead on that day. A certain emphasis seems to be placed precisely upon the fact that it was on the first day of the week that he rose. This is true of all the accounts of his rising, Luke, for example, after telling us that Jesus rose “on the first day of the week,” on coming to add the account of his appearing to the two disciples journeying to Emmaus, throws what almost seems to be superfluous stress on that also having happened “on that very day.” It is in John’s account, however, that this emphasis is most noticeable. “Now, on the first day of the week,” he tells us, “cometh Mary Magdalene early,” to find the empty tomb. And then, a little later: “When therefore it was evening on that day, the first day of the week,” Jesus showed himself to his assembled followers. The definition of the time here, the commentator naturally remarks, is “singularly full and emphatic.” Nor is this all. After thus pointedly indicating that it was on the evening of precisely the first day of the week that Jesus first showed himself to his assembled disciples, John proceeds equally sharply to define the time of his next showing himself to them as “after eight days”; that is to say it was on the next first day of the week that “his disciples were again within” and Jesus manifested himself to them. The appearance is strong that our Lord, having crowded the day of his rising with manifestations, disappeared for a whole week to appear again only on the next Sabbath. George Zabriskie Gray seems justified, therefore, in suggesting that the full effect of our Lord’s sanction of the first day of the week as the appointed day of his meeting with his disciples can be fitly appreciated only by considering with his manifestations also his disappearances. “For six whole days between the rising day and its octave he was absent.” “Is it possible to exaggerate the effect of this blank space of time, in fixing and defining the impressions received through his visits?”
We know not what happened on subsequent Sabbaths: there were four of them before the Ascension. But there is an appearance at least that the first day of the week was becoming under this direct sanction of the risen Lord the appointed day of Christian assemblies. That the Christians were early driven to separate themselves from the Jews (observe Acts 19:9) and had soon established regular times of “assembling themselves together,” we know from an exhortation in the Epistle to the Hebrews. A hint of Paul’s suggests that their ordinary day of assembly was on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:2). It is clear from a passage in Acts20:7 that the custom of “gathering together to break bread” “upon the first day of the week” was so fixed in the middle of the period of Paul’s missionary activity that though in haste he felt constrained to tarry a whole week in Troas that he might meet with the brethren on that day. It is only the natural comment to make when Friedrich Blass remarks: “It would seem, then, that that day was already set apart for the assemblies of the Christians.” We learn from a passing reference in the Apocalypse (Rev. 1:10) that the designation “the Lord’s Day” had already established itself in Christian usage. “The celebration of the Lord’s Day, the day of the Resurrection,” comments Johannes Weiss, “is therefore already customary in the churches of Asia Minor.” With such suggestions behind us, we cannot wonder that the Church emerges from the Apostolic Age with the first day of the week firmly established as its day of religious observance. Nor can we doubt that apostolic sanction of this establishment of it is involved in this fact.
That this was precisely what he did, and with him the whole Apostolic Church, there seems no room to question. And the meaning of that is that the Lord’s Day is placed in our hands, by the authority of the Apostles of Christ, under the undiminished sanction of the eternal law of God.

– excerpts from Foundations of the Sabbath in the Word of God by B.B. Warfield

The Christian Sabbath: A New* View Part II

The Christian Sabbath is a day unlike the other six when work ceases and God’s people pause to worship together; a day designed to take us back to Eden and the perfect Creation while simultaneously launching us forward to taste Heavenly Rest. It is my belief that because of the popular positions held regarding the Sabbath (see yesterday’s post) we mostly miss out on the joyful intention of the Sabbath, a day of happiness and victory celebrating the day that Jesus burst forth from the grave, conquering death and bringing life and immortality to light.

It is easy to see its value as a day when the tired body, mind and soul find true rest from the demands and anxieties of work. When our worn-out minds can recuperate in the serenity of momentary escape to get off the treadmill and be refreshed in God. The wisdom of the Sabbath is seen in the design of the universe and the needs of its inhabitants. Even secular academics have agreed that a regular, predictable week (with a definite beginning and a definite ending) plays a major role in developing our civilization and we all know that ceaseless work is not good for us and the day of rest gives us physical, mental and spiritual benefits.

Historically there have been attempts to change the seven-day week in favor of a different length week  One such attempt came in the late 1700s during the French Revolution which promised a new Age of Reason and an end to what they called “regressive religious superstitions.” A new “rational” week of ten days was devised and approved by the ruling Convention in 1793 where every tenth day was reserved for rest and celebration of various natural objects and abstract ideas. Churches were forced to close and allowed to open only on the tenth day. People were even forbidden to wear their good clothing on the traditional Sunday, with severe fines and even jail sentences given to violators. The result was that the experiment failed completely, the work force burned out as did the First Republic of France.

This wise, joyful, value-added design even predates human history as an ordinance established during the first week of Creation. With great condescension, He who needed no rest, sat down and rested from the work which he had creatively made, that by his example he might woo man to his needed rest.


The Christian Sabbath: A New* View Part I

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...

Image via Wikipedia

This week I am going to write a series of four or so blog entries about the Christian Sabbath attempting to explain my personal view. Most of the teaching that I have heard on the Sabbath has been unsatisfying to me because it is either viewed as a policy with a list of joyless regulations or as an old-fashioned obsolete shadow of the past. My view will become clear by the end of the week but there are several systemic underpinnings which need to be established first.

Many are familiar with the Sabbath of Ten Commandments Fame: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” And while few take exception to the other 9 commandments, some declare ambiguity about this fourth commandment.

But the heart of even the Old Testament Sabbath was that the people might sanctify themselves to God in true and spiritual worship, freeing themselves from worldly obligations so they could be free to attend the Holy Assembly. Interestingly, the Law specifically forbade only two activities on the Sabbath: the kindling of fires and the gathering of sticks and while the 10 commandments do prohibit work, no definition of work is ever given. A more regulated view of the Sabbath among Jews began in the Pharisaic Period (536 BC- 70AD) where the oral tradition and interpretation of Old Testament laws became increasingly regimented. The Jewish Mishnah, a later written form of the Pharisaic oral tradition, was keenly aware of the dangers of legalism: “the rules about the sabbath are as mountains hanging by a hair,  for the Scripture there on is scanty while the rules we make are many.

It is this Pharisaic view of the Sabbath command that is at the heart of the problem for Christians today who reject legalism and therefore throw away the legalistic interpretations along with the good command having the proverbial effect of  throwing the baby out with the bath water, an expression we use to suggest an avoidable error when something good is eliminated while attempting to dispose of something bad. Sometimes because of an excessive zeal on the Serious side the heart of the command is discarded while retaining the unnecessary rules (aka throwing away the baby but keeping the bath water).

The Pharisees along with today’s overly zealous Biblicists damage the message, heart and intention of the law by a false zeal that cares more for laws than people. This pushes Christ-loving, Bible-appreciating folks to run from the good command because of all of its weighty attachments. We learn a lot about the Sabbath from Jesus’ interactions with the rule-oriented leaders and we find that Jesus’ heart  was not to cancel the sabbath but to protect its design from abuse.

More tomorrow…..

A Charge to the Pastor

On Sunday, February 20, 2011, I was officially installed as Senior Pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Winterville, NC. On that Lord’s day morning, a friend and fellow soldier in the work of the ministry, Cole McLaughlin delivered a charge to me which was very encouraging to me and others present. Below is a transcript of that charge:

John, my friend, my brother in the gospel, it is now my privilege to give you a solemn charge to persevere in your duties as pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church. To do so I want to give you three simple exhortations. The first is this: John, as you minister to the congregation of Christ Presbyterian Church, Be Unshakably Confident. Now, confidence will sometimes come fairly easily to you. You have a sharp mind, a pithy tongue, and, let’s face it—you even have great hair. But those things don’t bring unshakeable confidence. Because sometimes that sharp mind will get confused, or that eloquent tongue will be tied. And sometimes, criticism will come. And during those times, especially, it will be easy to doubt, to be discouraged. In those times you’ll need to remember, especially that Jesus didn’t come for you because you are a great preacher, or a perfect husband, or the pastor of the year. Jesus came for you because you, like me, are a great sinner. A great sinner who in Christ, is more deeply loved than he can even imagine. In Christ, John, you have God’s highest approval. In Christ is all the confidence that you will ever need. So be strong in his favor. Be strong in his love. Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Be unshakably confident.

Secondly, Be Uncomfortably Honest.  John, we Christians don’t always like the truth, but we need you to tell us the truth. I remember you gently rebuking me a few years ago, as I complained about some people who I felt were causing problems for me. You said, “Cole, those people are a problem, yes. But they are not your biggest problem. Your biggest problem is your sinful heart, and that is what God, by his grace, wants to change.” It was honest. It was uncomfortable. It was what I needed to hear. As you minister, be uncomfortably honest. Tell people the truth about their sin. And tell them the truth about Jesus. And I think you find that when you do, they’ll desperately run to Him.

Finally, John, Be Unapologetically Limited.  John, you can’t do everything. People will ask you to. But you can’t do it all. Even you, the man with more capacity for work than perhaps anyone else I know. Even you, the master of multi-tasking, who can write a great sermon, have a meaningful phone conversation, coach a little league team, and eat 10 of the hottest habenero hot wings known to man, all in one afternoon—even you cannot do it all. So you will need to say no. A LOT. You will need to sleep. You will need to rest. So do it. Say no. Say no a lot. And know that as you say no, the gates of Hell will not prevail against Christ Presbyterian Church, because the Lord, not John, is the one who is tasked with bringing to completion the good work he’s started here. Remember that, and say no. Be unapologetically limited. So there it is, John. Be confident in Christ, tell the truth, and recognize your limits. That is my charge to you as you carry on this work. I look forward to watching as the Lord empowers you to do it well.

– Rev. Cole McLaughlin is an ordained Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and serves the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ as Director at Duke University.

Pastoral Calling: an inside look

Men are not led to the Pastoral office as they are induced to select other professions in life they are drawn as a sinner is drawn to Christ by a mighty invincible work of the Spirit. The call of God never fails to be convincing. Men are made to feel that a woe is upon them if they preach not the Gospel. It is not that they love the work for often like Moses they are reluctant to engage in it and love at best can only render its duties pleasant; it is not that they desire the office, though in indulging this desire they seek a good thing; it is not that they are zealous for the glory of God and burn for the salvation of souls for this is characteristic of every true believer nor is it that upon a due estimate of their talents and acquirements they promise themselves more extended usefulness in this department of labour than in any other for no man is anything in the kingdom of Heaven except as God makes him so; but it is that the word of the Lord is like fire in their bones they must preach it or die; they cannot escape from the awful impression which haunts them night and day and banishes all peace from the soul until the will is bowed, that God has laid this work upon them at the hazard of their lives.
– J.H. Thornwell, 1843

Substituting ideas about God for an Experience of Him

This Spring will mark a special occasion in my life when on my physical birthday I will turn 44 and on my spiritual birthday I will turn 22. It might not mean so much to you but it means a lot to me because 22 years ago the Holy Spirit chased me down to execute a plan of grace that was made at a Triune Table before the creation of the world. The occasion is also significant because it marks exactly half of my life in personal communion with Jesus Christ as well as a passage into Christian early adulthood.

I would define my early Christian life as one of  ACTIVITY including disciplined scripture memory and initiative personal evangelism while my adolescent years were about IDEAS including the study of systematic theology, Greek and Hebrew, attaining a seminary degree and climbing a rigorous denominational ordination process. Reflecting back to my early years, I saw how easy it was for me to substitute spiritual activity for God in the place of a relationship with God. Now since the collision of middle age in my physical life and early adulthood in my spiritual life I see how easy it was for me to accept ideas about God as substitutes for an experience of Him.

Sadly most of us call ourselves Christians based on our belief system more than our experience. Even the celebrated Gospel Coalition movement in which I have participated and appreciate, speaks primarily of the Christian experience and even the Gospel in the forensic language of ideas and philosophy. I am struck by the words of A.W. Tozer who still speaks to our Reformed and Calvinistic churches today,

“We have substituted theological ideas for an arresting encounter; we are full of religious notions but our great weakness is that for our hearts there is no one there.”

We can even treat God’s love as an IDEA while being void of a personal experience of the heart that encounters His love. God doesn’t just want us to have correct views about him, He wants to make Himself Known to us Personally and Up Close.  His heart through the Old and New Testaments was not just to be objectively known ABOUT. His self-revelation to the Israelites was always in the most personal and intimate language (Cf. Exodus 34:5-7).  The God of the Bible, can’t be known from a distance which was why He bent down from heaven to send His Son to live among us so we could see Him, hear Him and touch Him (Cf. 1 John 1:1-4).

My heart’s desire for my life and the lives of those who will listen is to help navigate an authentic Christian journey that finds a direct, personal experience of God which results in a deep generosity to others.