Sunday, March 26, 2017

Why use wine in the Lord's Supper?

Matthew 26:26–30 (NKJV)
26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” 30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

For several weeks, we have been explaining some of the traditions that we include in our corporate worship. Last week we touched upon our practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly; this week let us consider our practice of using wine in the Lord’s Supper. Why wine?

This is not merely an academic question. As your pastor, I know that many of you are tempted by alcohol; a number who have a history of alcohol abuse in your families or in your own life. Our use of wine in communion is for some of you a personal challenge.

Further, we are part of a broader evangelical subculture which has a history of opposing alcohol. While Lutherans and Roman Catholics were almost uniformly critical of the prohibitionist movement in America, many of our evangelical forefathers jumped on the wagon. “Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t chew; and don’t go with girls that do!”

So given these personal and historical factors, why do our elders persist in using wine? One of the questions that we evangelicals are known for asking is, “What would Jesus do?” In the matter of wine, the way to answer that question is to ask first, “What did Jesus do?” And the NT answers that question clearly: Jesus made wine, Jesus drank wine, and Jesus used wine to commemorate God’s salvation.

First, Jesus made wine. The first miracle that Jesus performed was turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. And, as the question that the master of the feast asks the groom makes plain, this wasn’t grape juice. “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” (Jn 2:10) Jesus made excellent wine.

Second, Jesus drank wine. Jesus contrasts His ministry with that of John the Baptist in this way, “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (Mt 11:18-19). Jesus came drinking – and many accused Him of being a winebibber, a drunkard. Such an accusation would hardly stick were Jesus known as a teetotaler. Jesus drank wine.

Finally, Jesus used wine to commemorate God’s salvation. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, He used the fruit of the vine as a symbol of His shed blood. Refrigeration was not common in the ancient world. When the Bible references “the fruit of the vine”, therefore, it refers almost exclusively to wine. And if Jesus used wine to celebrate the Supper, why wouldn’t we?

So what did Jesus do? He made wine, drank wine, and used wine to commemorate God’s salvation. And here’s a very important point: Jesus did all this within a cultural context in which drunkenness was a common problem; He established this for His Church knowing that many of His disciples would be tempted by alcohol. So why did He do it? Why didn’t He just use water like the Mormons do?

Because in using wine within the context of the Supper, Jesus declared that wine is good in itself. The problem with humanity is not there in the cup; the problem is here in our heart. Drunkenness proceeds out of the heart (Mk 7:20-23). Communion puts the use of wine in a holy, a sacred context. By giving me wine for communion, Jesus is teaching me that it is possible for me to use and not abuse this gift to the glory of my Creator.

So what of you? Have you thanked God for the gift of wine? Further, have you been using that gift to His glory or have you been abusing it to your own shame? Reminded that God has given us wine to use to the honor of His Name and that we often deny or abuse His good gifts because our hearts are corrupt, let us confess our sin to the Lord. And as you are able, let us kneel together as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Why Celebrate the Lord's Supper Weekly?

1 Corinthians 11:17–22 (NKJV)
17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.

As we read the New Testament, it is evident that Paul was deeply disappointed by the errors that emerged in the Corinthian church. Yet, in God’s Providence, Paul’s correction of these errors has served to lead, guide, and protect all churches since. The instructions that Paul gave them enable us to evaluate our churches in light of apostolic teaching. So, from our vantage point, we give thanks to God for the challenges in the Corinthian congregation.

As we see in our text, one of these challenges centered around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. For several weeks, we have been explaining some of the traditions that we include in our corporate worship. Today we consider our practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly in our service of worship. While the Lord’s Supper historically has been a regular part of Christian worship, many Protestant churches now share communion monthly or quarterly or even annually. So why have we chosen to observe it weekly?

As we see in our text, Paul insists that the point of the Supper is to highlight our unity as the people of God. By sharing in the body and blood of Christ, we declare that what unites us together is not our race, nor our sex, nor our economic status, nor our age, nor our intellectual capacity, but the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are one in Christ.

So in our text Paul is highlighting the way in which the Corinthians’ worship practices undermined this unity. When they came together as the Church, when they (literally) “synagogued” together – notice the focus on public worship – when they came together as the Church and then partook of the Lord’s Supper in such a way that highlighted their divisions with one another rather than their unity, were they celebrating the Supper? No! Paul writes in v. 20, “when you come together in one place (i.e., when you synagogue), it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.” The whole point of the Supper is that we are one body. The Corinthians were eating bread and drinking wine, alright, but what they weren’t doing is celebrating the Supper – even though they called it that.

But note that Paul’s very rebuke of their malpractice highlights the reason they were gathering together. When they came together as the Church, it was not to eat the Lord’s Supper, but it should have been! Celebrating the Supper, in other words, was to be one of the purposes of their gathering. When we come together as the Church, we do so to worship the Lord, to hear from His Word, and to act out our unity in Christ. And how do we symbolize, how do we ritualize, how do we illustrate that unity? By sharing communion together. As Paul writes in 1 Cor 10:17, “For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” Even as there is one loaf, so there is one Christ and one body, of which we all are partakers.

So why do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly? Because it is through this Supper that God reminds us that we are not a social club; we are not a men’s gathering nor a women’s gathering; we are not an age segregated community; we are not a white collar nor blue collar association; we are not an Arminian nor Calvinist theological society. We are the Church of God, united together in Christ, through His death and resurrection, as one people.

So reminded that the Supper emphasizes our unity with Christ and one another weekly, let us confess that we are often divided from one another. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Why does worship include a pronouncement of forgiveness?

John 20:21–23 (NKJV)
21 So Jesus said to [the disciples] again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

For several weeks we have been explaining some of the traditions that we include in our corporate worship. Today we consider the absolution. In just a moment, following our confession of sin, I will announce the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. Why do we do this?

You may recall that one of the great controversies that surrounded Jesus’ ministry was the forgiveness of sins. Some men brought a paralytic to Jesus and let him down through the roof into the house where Jesus was teaching. Jesus looked at the man and declared, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Immediately, the Pharisees began questioning among themselves, “Who does this man think he is? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

The Pharisees’ question was entirely reasonable. While each of us can forgive those who sin against us, we dare not presume to forgive their sins against God - only God can do such a thing. So the dilemma of our human condition is this: we all have sinned against God, so how can we know whether God has forgiven us? Who speaks for God on earth? In the old covenant, God provided this assurance of forgiveness through the sacrificial system and the priesthood. He appointed the Aaronic priests to speak on His behalf:
‘And it shall be, when [someone] is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing; and he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin. (Lev 5:5-6)

The priest shall make atonement for him – the priest shall announce to him, “Believe God’s promise in His word! He has provided a substitute to bear the guilt of your sin. You are forgiven.”

The reason controversy surrounded Jesus’ forgiveness of the paralytic is this: Jesus was not an Aaronic priest, nor was He at the temple where a sacrifice was being offered. So how dare He presume to speak for God? “Who does this man think he is? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Jesus knew their doubts; He knew their questions. So He asked, “Which is easier to say to this man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or, ‘Arise, take up your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” (he said to the paralytic), “’Arise, take up your mat and walk.’ And immediately the man arose, took up his mat, and walked.”

According to Jesus, the healing of the paralytic established an important point: the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. Jesus was announcing the end of the temple and the sacrificial system, that the Judaic Age was over. The priests no longer speak for God; Jesus does. And in this Messianic Age, the forgiveness of sins is declared in His Name, based on His once-for-all sacrifice. Jesus speaks for God.

After Jesus had been crucified and then risen from the dead, He then spoke to the Twelve. “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you…”  Jesus commissioned the Twelve to speak for God in the world and to declare the forgiveness of sins in His Name. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” In other words, the sacrificial system has forever come to an end. Now the forgiveness of sins is preached to all nations based on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ alone.

So every Lord’s Day, following our confession, I have the privilege of reminding you, assuring you, that through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, there really is forgiveness with God. Acknowledge your sin and turn from it, seeking God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

My word does not grant forgiveness; only the sacrifice of Jesus can do that. My word simply reminds you of God’s promise and summons you to believe His word: all those who trust in the once-for all sacrifice of Jesus shall be forgiven and cleansed. Your calling is to hear that promise, even as the paralytic heard the words of our Lord, and to believe Him. “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

So reminded this morning of the gift of forgiveness that God offers through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, let us confess our sins in His Name, trusting that God will indeed forgive all those who come to Him in faith. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Paedobaptism and Credobaptism: Chief Differences

We've had a couple baptisms of infants lately and so I've been answering a number of questions. Here are my thoughts on some of the key differences between paedobaptists and credobaptists....

Good questions! I think that there are a number of issues at play in this discussion. I'll give you some thoughts that you can chew on and ask some more. I would heartily recommend Doug Wilson's book "To a Thousand Generations." I found it particularly helpful as I wrestled with these issues. The difference between credobaptism and paedobaptism is like two different sets of prescription glasses. Hence, it is challenging to isolate the real differences between the two in short space. There are lots of intertwined issues and it has taken me years to work through them - indeed, I'm still working! But let me try to hit a couple major points - I may not hit all your questions so ask again if I miss something that is important.

Two central, related issues in this debate are the nature of the new covenant and the meaning of baptism. On the one hand, credobaptists insist that the new covenant includes only believers ("all shall know me, from the least to the greatest" - Jer 31:34). Because credobaptists insist that the new covenant includes only believers, they thereby endeavor to limit baptism to those who have made a personal profession of faith and thus given personal evidence of regeneration. While this evidence is not absolute (witness the case of Simon the magician in Acts 8), this evidence at least gives us more confidence that the individual is personally converted than we would have otherwise. Baptism, in this view, is an evidence of the individual's faith, an external evidence of an internal change.

Paedobaptists, on the other hand, argue that the new covenant includes believers and unbelievers. There are branches "in Jesus" that do not bear fruit and must be pruned (Jn 15:1ff). There are those who have "become partakers of the Holy Spirit" who fall away (Heb 6:4ff). There are those in the new covenant who "trampled the Son of God under foot, and counted the blood the covenant by which they were sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace" (Heb 10:29). Arminians insist that such passages teach that we can lose our salvation, that there is no such thing as the perseverance / preservation of the saints. But we know that's not the case. Jesus promises that He will lose none of those who are given to Him (Jn 6:39). So Reformed paedobaptists argue that these passages refer not to the loss of individual salvation, as though God's individually elect could perish, but to the loss of covenant status and identity. Those who fall away were corporately elect but not individually elect. "Not all Israel is Israel." But, and this is a critical point, all Israel should be Israel. Having been marked out by God as His own with the sign of the covenant, they should reflect that identity in their hearts (Dt 10:16; 30:6). Circumcision marked them out as God's people in the old covenant and baptism, in the new covenant, so marks us. 

Reformed credobaptists end up, in my opinion, having to explain these warning passages away - they are hypothetical warnings; the people may have been members of the visible church but not of the new covenant; some such rationale is used. However, Hebrews is the book that develops Jeremiah's promise of the new covenant (Heb 8) while simultaneously warning those in covenant with God not to fall away (Heb 2, 6, 10). So what this means, I think, is that the new covenant includes both genuine believers (those who fully partake of the meaning of the new covenant) and false believers (those who are members of the covenant but not in a living sense). So I would argue that Judas was a "Christian" in this sense as was Simon the magician. They both were members of Christ (Jn 15) but not in a living fashion. But precisely because they were members of the new covenant, they were more culpable for their unbelief rather than less (Heb 2:1-4).

Consider the parallel of an unfaithful husband. We can talk about that husband in a couple different ways. Is he a husband? Yes, absolutely! That's why he is called an adulterer and not a fornicator. But, on another level, we can ask the question, "Is he a husband?", and answer with a resounding, "No!" He is not being faithful to his wife, he is not being what a husband ought to be. But precisely because he is a husband he is culpable for not being a husband! It is his covenant with his wife that makes him doubly guilty - guilty of sexual sin and guilty of covenantal unfaithfulness.

So in the paedobaptist understanding, baptism makes us members of the new covenant, unites us to Christ covenantally, and summons us to a life of faithfulness and discipleship. Baptism is "a sign and seal of the righteousness we have by faith" (cf. Rom 4:11). Note, therefore, that it is not a sign of our faith - it is a sign of the righteousness we have by faith. And what righteousness do we have? Is our faith meritorious? Do we have a personal righteousness to which baptism points? No! Absolutely not! Baptism doesn't point inward to me and my faith but outward to Jesus and His righteousness - He is the righteousness that I have by faith. Baptism is God's Word to me, promising that all those who trust in Jesus for righteousness, forgiveness, and salvation will in fact be delivered from their sin.

Baptism corresponds, therefore, to the "vow" that a husband and wife exchange. In the case of baptism, it is God's vow, God's promise to be our God. On our side, it marks us out as God's child, separate from the world and devoted to Him, "saints."  

Credobaptists, in my opinion, end up drawing distinctions between the OT & NT people of God that the NT doesn't draw. Paul warns the Corinthians to not be like our fathers in the OT; this seems to presume that it is possible for us to become like them. So Paul says that the Corinthians, like our fathers, have received baptism and the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 10:1-2) but this is no guarantee of God's smile - after all our fathers were "baptized" and "ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink (Christ)" and yet died in the wilderness - they fell under the judgment of God. Paul's words imply that there are members of the new covenant who likewise fall under the judgment of God.

So how are we to understand the promise that "all shall know me, from the least to the greatest"? Personally, I think that that promise is eschatological - it looks forward to the eventual spread of the Gospel throughout the nations of the earth. God's promise is that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord - some in judgment and some in salvation. Jeremiah's promise implies that the number of the saved shall be massive, myriads upon myriads. In addition, his promise insists that when God pours out His Spirit, there is a universal knowledge of God among His people - God preserves us from men like Judas and Simon.

However, in the course of history, there are often tares among the wheat; there are folks who fall away in times of persecution or who are overcome by the lust of the flesh and the desire for things of this life (parable of the Sower). These folks were members of the church and of the new covenant (consider Jesus' words to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3) who turned away from God and incurred His judgment. They went out from us because they were not of us, for if they had been of us they would have remained with us (1 Jn 2:20).

So these are two of the "watershed" issues that separate credobaptists and paedobaptists.

I certainly grant that there are distinctions between the old covenant and the new covenant. But these distinctions are chiefly of the "new covenant has more" variety. Old Covenant = Gospel primarily in Israel; New Covenant = Gospel to all nations. Old Covenant = Sign applied only to men; New Covenant = Sign for all members. Old Covenant = Ethnic Israel; New Covenant = Spiritual Israel. But even in the OC there were hints and anticipations of some of these things - Rahab, Ruth, Nineveh, Psalms, etc. So to address whether children are viewed differently in the new covenant, we'd have to ask what the NT teaches about kids (and also what the OT prophets taught about kids in their prophecies). And what we find is glorious continuity - Jesus blesses the children, even infants, of his disciples (Lk 18:15ff); Paul issues his commands to "households" which includes kids and he exhorts the kids to obey their parents "in the Lord" (Eph 6). So there is continuity in the way we are to view our children - they are members with us of the kingdom of God and are to be brought up in the faith to love and cherish the ways of the Lord. By nature they, like we, are "outsiders" and "children of wrath"; but, by grace, they are incorporated into the people of God and marked out as God's own children, summoned to walk with Him all their days.