Category Archives: Uncategorized

Could the Church Have It All Wrong about the Lord’s Supper?

Could the church have been all wrong about the Lord’s Supper/Communion/Eucharist?  Brethren writer Vernard Eller asked this question years ago and made it the title of a book.  Admittedly, phrased this way, the question is a shocker.  It’s a shocker to those who put a lot of stock in church history as a support for doctrine and practice.  But the question is not off-base.  Especially when you consider that there’s not a whole lot of Scripture devoted to instruction on how to observe the Lord’s Supper.  I have read at least one writer make  the (I think) legitimate observation that there is clearer explanation in Scripture on how to perform feetwashing than the Lord’s Supper.

There are some who scoff at those who show concern for identifying the “right” way to do some church ceremony or ritual.  Well, as far as I’m concerned, scoff away!  The reason I care about the right way to do ritual is not because I’m obsessive-compulsive about Bible interpretation.  No – I care about this because I want to understand the Lord’s Supper’s intended meaning, and I want to personally gain from the Lord’s Supper the benefit that God intends for me.  Continue reading Could the Church Have It All Wrong about the Lord’s Supper?

The Communion Service: The “What” and the “Why”

Two questions that should guide anything we do in expressing our Christian faith are: what must be done?  Why must it be done?  If we don’t understand the “why”, then the activity in question can very easily become routine and devoid of significance.  Continuing our “re-thinking” of the Communion service in our churches, we can now apply these same two questions (what? why?) in this case:

(1) What are the essential actions that should constitute any Communion service?

(2) What is the central purpose of the Communion service? Continue reading The Communion Service: The “What” and the “Why”

Re-Thinking the Communion Service: What are the Biblical Roots?

I was raised in and came to faith in a tradition that one would call “primitivist” – in that it had sprung up as a separatist movement whose major thrust was to identify and imitate how the early Christians “did church.”  I think that this is a valid endeavor, as long as one is appreciative of two cautions:

(1) very often, little in the New Testament is communicated concerning the “how” of church practice,

(2) care must be taken to differentiate between the prescriptive and the merely descriptive in interpreting the New Testament (i.e. is God telling us to follow a certain example or is it merely part of the unique historical account that has limited transferability to the present?).

A central foundational aspect to the so-called “Plymouth Brethren” tradition from which I come is the weekly observance of the Breaking of Bread, or the Lord’s Supper.  How does your church observe Communion/Eucharist/Lord’s Supper? Continue reading Re-Thinking the Communion Service: What are the Biblical Roots?

A Plea to Promote Communion Observance in Our Churches

In a previous post, I argued that the church should rekindle a sense of the primacy of baptism in the process of conversion.  Baptism shouldn’t be minimized.  Certainly, there are elements of church doctrine that should be considered relatively minor.  So, it’s a question of the wisdom of how to discern between major and minor components of the faith.  My argument is that baptism is not one of those minor practices of the church.  In Scripture, it occupies a normative role in how someone receives Christ and is added to the church.  In my own “non-liturgical” evangelical background, I have observed a lessened role for baptism.  I’ll leave it to the historians to tell us how this came to be.

It’s my contention that the church is a pilgrim community, on a spiritual journey to the full realization of the Kingdom of God.  In the church’s sojourn on earth, baptism and communion stand out as two key rituals/ceremonies that order her life.  Baptism provides entrance into the church; regular observance of Communion spiritually sustains the church in her walk with the Lord.

I would like to take several posts to address Communion in the life of the church.

Why do so at this time?

  1. I have noticed major neglect of Communion among several churches with which I have been associated.  The degree of neglect in some cases has been manifested in an annual or semi-annual observance of Communion.  These churches have mainly been of the conservative,  evangelical, “seeker-friendly” persuasion.
  2. In the past couple of years, I have undertaken a fresh study of the New Testament to develop deeper convictions on the practice of Communion and would like to share what I have learned.
  3. I believe that the observance of Communion is the spiritual “glue” that binds congregations and the church as a whole together.  Because of this, the topic deserves discussion.
  4. The Apostle Paul taught that observance of Communion serves as a proclamation of the death of Jesus.  Does Communion have any significance for the world at large, outside the confines of the church community?  If it does, what is the significance?

Join me in the coming posts as I look at the following aspects of Communion:

  • What are the primary actions involved with its observance?
  • Is there a central purpose to it?
  • Is there a biblical model for it?
  • Who is to participate in it?
  • What should be the frequency of observance?
  • Does location of the observance matter?
  • How should Communion relate to other ministries of the church (e.g. worship services, teaching, etc.)?

Is Baptism a Challenge to Church Unity?

Ephesians 4:5 states, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”  We believe there is only one Lord Jesus and we believe in one body of confessed truth called “the faith”.  Yet when it comes to baptism, it seems to be another story.

Perplexing questions on baptism for the weekend:

  1. In Ephesians 4, the apostle urges us to maintain the unity of the Spirit.  Later, as support, he tells us that there is one baptism.  If there is “one baptism”, how come Christians can’t agree on the referent on this term?  Water baptism?  Spiritual baptism? “Baptism of the Holy Spirit”?
  2. Baptism seems to be important in the New Testament. And it’s pictured in Ephesians as something that should bring unity.  Efforts to elevate the importance of baptism tend to require being more specific about the meaning of the ritual.  Yet, the more specific one is about the ritual, the more dissension one seems to invite.  Is this an accurate description of the matter?  How to solve this conundrum?  Is it possible to have a congregation where a plurality of views on baptism is permitted, but where the importance of baptism is not minimized?
  3. Many people are troubled by a Baptist perspective on baptism because it seems to be out of sync with historic church practice.  Is this a reason to be troubled?  Assume the Baptist position is correct – could it be that are there other major areas where the church has been fundamentally wrong?

Do Better Buildings Make Better Churches?

Fellow Christian, how would you feel if you knew that your church would be best remembered, not for its spiritual impact, but for its building?

This is the current state of affairs for the historic church in Europe.  On Saturday, along with a colleague, I visited the eighth most popular tourist site in France (according to Wikipedia) – Mont St. Michel. Occupying a 47-acre land mass, Mont St. Michel houses an abbey, church building, and a surrounding community.  Although it still functions as a religious site, Mont St. Michel is a classic example of the transformation of a building’s predominant purpose from “church” to “museum”.

The general story surrounding the founding of a chapel at Mont St. Michel goes back more than a millennium. Aubert of Avranches was a bishop in the 8th century who was reputed to have received a vision from the Michael the Archangel, instructing him to build the chapel on the tidal island at the mouth of the Couesnon River.

France today is a highly secularized country.  It is reported that only 4-5% of the population attend church services at least weekly (down from 27% in a 1952 survey).  I read of a survey that only 26% of Catholic Christians (accounts for almost all Christians in France) have read a Bible in their home.

Upon reflection, I ask this question: what perception of the Christian faith might one get from a visit to Mont Saint Michel? Continue reading Do Better Buildings Make Better Churches?

The “Caravan Church” Paradigm: Yet One Thing Matters Most

In the initial post for this blog, I called for the church to “be herself”, to resist pressures to conform to any other purpose for her than Christ’s.  I also called this process of “becoming herself” a great struggle.  And I do believe it is.  At the same time, another perspective simplifies matters.  Sometimes we are so immersed in the details of decision-making and wisdom for that “next step” that we lose sight of the overarching motivation that should shape and drive us.

Is there truly one motive that should reign in our lives?  I think so.  One suggestion is this: the Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of the chief end of man being “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  This is a twofold purpose which has a wonderful unity.  Certainly, one cannot exist without the other.  We don’t enjoy God apart from a pursuit of His glory.  Moreover, there is no way we can glorify God without also being drawn into deep joy.

This simplifies matters for us.  By being drawn into His glory and joy, the smaller issues are revealed for what they are: small.  What is the next step that we should take as a church?  What is best for our marriages?  Should I take this job?  Should I take that job?  Certainly God is glorified through details, but in the light of God’s glory, smaller issues are subsumed into a major narrative.  And this should be freeing to us.  It should free us from the burden of (dare I say it?) “being God”, i.e. directing the course of our lives.

There is a prayer that was credited to Blaise Pascal that, to me, illustrates these matters better than most anything else I have come across.  I would urge you to think on these things upon which Pascal touches:

I ask You neither for health nor for sickness, for life nor for death;

But that You may dispose of my health and my sickness,

My life and my death for Your glory…

You alone know what is expedient for me; You are the sovereign master;

Do with me according to Your will.

Give to me or take away from me, only conform my will to Yours.

 

I know but one thing Lord, that it is good to follow You,

And bad to offend You.

Apart from that, I know not what is good or bad in anything.

I know not what is most profitable to me,

Health or sickness, wealth or poverty, nor anything else in the world.

 

That discernment is beyond the power of men or angels

And is hidden among the secrets of Your providence,

Which I adore, but do not seek to fathom.

The Value of Leadership to the Local Church

Because the leaders took the lead in Israel, because the people offered themselves willingly, bless Yahweh!       – Judges 5:2

Some brief thoughts today on leadership in the local church:

(1) what it is,

(2) how it benefits the church, and

(3) what is lost when it isn’t properly exerted.

How do you define Christian leadership in the local church?

Nothing especially inspired here, but this is my attempt at a definition of leadership in the New Testament assembly: Taking the initiative to influence the local congregation toward personal spiritual maturity in Christ.

Let me break it down with the aid of some Scriptures:

Biblical leadership in the local assembly:

  1. is a lifestyle:  1 Th 2.7-9 We were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls,
  2. of taking the initiative: Phil 2.5-7 Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus… taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men;
  3. to influence: Gal. 4:19 My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you
  4. the local congregation: 1Pet. 5:2 Tend the flock of God which is among you.
  5. toward personal spiritual maturity in Christ: Col. 1:28-29 whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ.

What is gained when leadership when it is properly exerted in the local assembly?

  1. Leaders model the Christian life for others to follow; 1Pet. 5:3 not lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves examples to the flock.
  2. Leaders feed the saints spiritual food from God’s Word: Acts 20:28 Take heed … to feed the church of God.
  3. Leaders take responsibility for effective oversight of the assembly: 1 Tim 3:1 Faithful is the saying, he who desires to be an overseer, desires a good work.
  4. Leaders take ultimate responsibility for promoting the purity of the Body through discipline;   1Cor. 5:7 Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened.

What is lost when leadership is not properly exerted in the assembly?

  1. Believers are not strategically and intentionally discipled in the faith; Matt. 28:19 Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations
  2. Saints are spiritually malnourished when they are not fed a balanced diet from God’s Word; Acts 20.27 For I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God.
  3. Spiritual and financial needs may go unmet through lack of involvement and oversight; Acts 6:1,3 In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution…Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty.
  4. Gifts to the Lord may not be spent in God’s way without leaders attentive to God’s direction 1Cor. 16:1,2 Now about the collection for the saints: You should do the same as I instructed the Galatian churches…On the first day of the week, each of you is to set something aside and save in keeping with how he prospers, so that no collections will need to be made when I come.
  5. Outreach and evangelism may wane; 1Th. 1:8 For from you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to God-ward is gone forth; so that we need not to speak anything.

The Most Basic Question about Life

Here is the most basic question about life: what is its significance?  Look around you.  History is filled with one vast mass of humanity, each one faceless and nameless to perhaps all but a few.  Do people really matter?  Is there an overriding purpose beyond the 70-80 year window of time we call “life”? 

The book of Ecclesiastes is a unique assortment of thinking on ultimate issues of life significance.  The work itself is a serious account of one’s frustrating attempt to reconcile life as experienced with life as hoped for.

The nature of the book’s message has provoked a significant amount of controversy.  Because the book’s positive conclusion, namely, the command to fear and obey God, appears to be eclipsed by the overwhelmingly negative flavor of the bulk of the book, many students of Ecclesiastes have attributed to it an essentially negative view of life.  However, the book’s ultimate message is a positive one, although incomplete in some respects.  Continue reading The Most Basic Question about Life

Better Counseling through Job the Patriarch (Part 3)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a sermon on Psalm 63:3 (“Your steadfast love is better than life”) paraphrased God’s posture toward the psalmist: “If you want my mercy, then let me gain the victory over you; if you want my life, than let me hate and destroy that which is evil in you; if you want my goodness, then let me take your life.”  These words lay before the saint a radical paradigm shift to make.  For good to come, the child of God must find his way to God’s perspective – even in the midst of suffering.  The final lesson on counseling we can glean from Job concerns our attitude toward God in the midst of suffering.  Over the course of the narrative, Job’s attitude toward God undergoes dynamic change, from an initial refusal to blame God (Job 1:22) to a growing suspicion of God’s injustice (Job 9:22b), culminating with a final capitulation in humble awe (Job 40:4).  Though Job’s character evolves, a recurring theme in the book is the vital importance of correct thinking about God in the midst of suffering, all which lead us to our final principle on counseling from Job:

Principle #3: Good Counselors Encourage Right Thinking about God in the Midst of Suffering

Although the conversation between Job and his friends constitutes the vast majority of the book, one must consider the fallibility of each character’s verbal testimony.  The development of the book points to the final reply by God as the infallible climax of the story, the testimony that judges all that has been previously said.

With this truth in mind, Job’s initial response to the loss of his children and all he possessed is instructive.  Immediately after the occurrence of the tragedy, Job assumes a posture of humble shame and worships God (Job 1:20).  In the midst of his loss, the central importance of his relationship with God is not forgotten. Continue reading Better Counseling through Job the Patriarch (Part 3)