Tag Archives: sacraments

A Little Progress On The Lord’s Table

I can’t say I’m all there yet on Calvin’s perception of the Lord’s Table, but I think I’m getting along. Reading Horton’s Systematic Theology has helped a bit. I read this part:

In our Western (Greek) intellectual heritage, “remembering” means “recollecting”: recalling to mind something that is no longer a present reality. Nothing could be further from a Jewish conception.

It brought to mind an English (British) turn of phrase,” Remember me to your mother” (or whatever person to be visited) and what that really means to me, though I’m apparently not entirely correct in my definition. I read this to mean something more than just greeting someone. It’s more like re-vitalizing or reuniting through a person (or thing) a distant relationship. If I get this rightly, I think I can understand the Supper in this way:

The Spirit is, through the Supper, remembering us to Christ and Christ to us in the sense of unifying and revitalizing us. At least this is an incomplete way of describing the whole thing.

What is important here is that I’m searching to understand the teaching that there is more to Communion than just a commemoration or “memory.” I’ve been working to meditate on this concept from whatever angles I can digest. And this thread has a spark of inspiration.

The memory thing drives home the point. How in the world does one “remember” the crucifixion or Christ by eating and drinking. We weren’t there, we only have a book. So the prevalent belief of communion as memorial supper, where there is a bunch of doing on the part of the believer and none on the part of God is just unacceptable. God must be acting in order for us to “remember.” And isn’t it a little difficult to chew (no pun intended) on God just giving us enough to bring up the past? Nah, I don’t buy it. There is more acting on God’s part going on here, and it just can’t be some sort of visitation that gives us visions of the cross.

We are united to Christ; Us in Him and He in us. So Paul gets it when he talks about remembering, proclaiming and discerning all together. Discerning is a big one. And it doesn’t have to mean head-knowledge. Knowing Christ, knowing the Body of Christ is knowing, you know? Intimately, understanding, as in that sort of knowing that is only achieved by abiding in.

Wrapping it around: We abide in Christ through the Spirit. The God uses the Supper through the Spirit to sort of invigorate or bring vitality, literally the vitality – aliveness – Christ-ness of Christ to us. It still doesn’t make sense in any way, to me, to eat his flesh and drink his blood unless this is figurative (which Reformed and Lutheran theology do not support). But I can get it if it’s figurative. If by eating and drinking we mean that Christ is sustaining us through the Spirit because of and through His death on the cross – pierced flesh and bleeding body. It wraps up fairly nicely in my view, anyway.

It’s a sign of a thing signified. I’m sure I have a relatively unsophisticated, or primitive grasp of the concept, but I don’t think I’m wrong. When we are given a sign, especially a participatory sort of sign, we are actively identifying or identified with the thing signified. In this case, we’re eating a covenant meal. As a unified group (church), not as individuals. And we are more than just making a declaration. The language in the N.T. (and O.T.) doesn’t permit us to say we’re solely testifying or proclaiming. We’re really, really identified with Christ here, which is like ratification of being. Not just being and then talking about it, but being something and assenting, acting like it, being it in the process of acting. God is literally conveying what He intends in the Supper, which is Christ. No way round it as far as I can tell.

So this was rambling and probably not much truly intelligible, but here we are.

Facts I accept about the Supper:

  • It is not only commemoration.
  • It is not literally the Body and Blood of Christ.
  • It is a sustaining and refreshing meal graciously provided through the Spirit by Christ.
  • It is literally essential to healthy living as a Christian in that it unites us to Christ and his Church.
  • It is aberrant to neglect or minimalize the supper to the extent of never practicing or “monthly/quarterly” service.
  • It is an integral part of the Lord’s Day, and should be incorporated in each one (weekly).
  • It is not flippantly or carelessly attended. As bad as eating and drinking without discerning the Body is to serve it without discerning. A minister is the one, for he presides over, presents the other means of grace (Word, Baptism, Prayer). All of these are “Holy Stuff” and it is tragic and dangerous to treat them otherwise.

 


Baptism Last Call

Cover for Item ReviewedContinuing from Sunday’s Baptism Retread, I want to demonstrate this from my own past and that of my kids. My oldest, was “baptized” into a pagan family. She was born to witches and dedicated in accordance with her family’s beliefs. No choice there.

Now we were more honest than Christians at the time as well. We, as parents, determined to raise our daughter with freedom to choose her beliefs by not explicitly indoctrinating her into witchcraft’s creeds or practices. Credo-baptist Christians do not do this with their own – they create a half-way dilemma for their kids in which the dedication and upbringing are Christian, but do not provide for inclusion in the covenant family of God. Essentially, this creates pagans being accepted into the family and church. Does the term Christian-in-name-only come to mind?

The world has the concept of baptism down perfectly. Children born outside the church, to non-Christian families are “baptized” into the religion of their fathers by full acceptance as just what they are; no “of age” requirements or professions of faith required at any point in order to become part of the family or culture or nation.

Once again, it seems most natural to me to think that the position of “believer’s baptism” as the only acceptable view of baptism is backward and unfaithful to the Scripture and God’s revealed system.

For additional reference:

I find that the arguments against paedobaptism are similar to the arguments against paedocommunion. I think that the analyses of PC are fitting where they do not similarly suit PB. Analyses of PB included in these references point toward validating the baptism of infants and young children. So far, it appears that PC isn’t for minor children because of the complexity, obligation and depth of the Lord’s Supper as opposed to baptism.

OPC paedocommunion – a great layout of the scriptural and historical grounds concerning paedocommunion.

PCA paedocommunion – a collection of position papers and statements on the issue.


Baptism Retread

http://www.newlifelamesa.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/hero-baptism.jpg

I have a few more thoughts on infant baptism. Stuff I didn’t mention here in three big arguments for covenant baptism.

Primarily, I’d like to discuss this in a way that demonstrates how God’s system permeates even our “godless” society and traditions. Children are remarkably claimed by everything into which they are born, except for One Big Thing which mystifies me to no end. A year ago I was unsettled and unwilling to commit to the idea of infant, or covenant, baptism. It was foreign to me, and didn’t make much sense. I was more than willing to at least explore the idea, being more than aware that my Christian education was lacking in most areas, especially in the Reformed ideas of covenants and sacraments. So I read. And read and read. And then I wrote. And wrote.

Denial of infant baptism actually breaks a pattern that has been running for millenia. I’ll keep it really brief. Children have had no choice in things like birth-parents, family name, Christian name, nationality, race, religion or what’s-for-dinner for as long as children have been around. Why in the world do we come up with the idea that they are not members of the church? The church is not a business that only “hires” people of legal working age. The church has never been a club that “cards” prospective patrons to see if they’re old enough to enter. The church has ever been considered an outpost, a consulate or embassy of God’s kingdom in the world. Therefore, I think it should make sense to baptize infants with the understanding that essentially is corroborated by practices of historical and modern custom and legal matters. Here are some references.

Birth abroadCitizenshipFamily Law Basics

Now, to quell the suspicion that I’m using the World to interpret the Bible in a Christian issue that needs to be resolved, I must refer back to my previous posts and the Word in general to make the claim that there’s no argument here. The Scriptures assume, just as they assume covenants in general, that children born to believing parents (or covenant families) are considered participants in the covenants. Isaac did not have to wait to be the covenant child until Genesis 24. Jacob and Esau did not have to wait until they were “of age” to begin the battle of who would be the continuation of the Promise. The firstborn children of Israel had no say in their survival on the day of the passover when the Lord’s angel came into Egypt and started the holocaust.

In every case of children I can think of, none had to prove themselves or hit a certain age before they were anointed or circumcised or sprinkled. Children were partakers of the covenants of God as soon as they entered into the world. The fact that there was this mysterious baptism thing in the New Testament really doesn’t come to bear on the children:

  1. They didn’t need to be included in the revision of being called out: They inherited whatever was going to happen, regardless, because they were children.
  2. Baptism was simply a modal shift from circumcision, not an entirely new practice that completely wiped out all past meaning and practices from the times of the Patriarchs. In fact, Baptism wasn’t even an entirely new idea in the first place. What people apparently are all worked up over was nothing more than the most obvious and poignant means of “setting apart” or “cutting off” seen in circumcision. Baptism, sprinkling, anointing and other means of marking the one who belonged to the covenant all made it into the omnibus version of applying God’s promises in word and touch – baptism.
  3. They weren’t the main actors! Those in the New Testament were primarily conversant adults because they were required to interact with Jesus and His apostles on the level at which the Scriptures speak. And those adults were automatically responsible for those children.
  4. Jesus gave it to them, without mention of their age or eligibility: Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

Finally, we who are believers in the doctrine of election, of God’s sovereignty, all should be convinced that it is God’s work and choice that we have become His children and that we were not really given the option to turn to Him for our salvation. He dragged us, kicking and screaming, from our place at the brink of hell into His courts where we may enjoy Him forever. What more could help us to understand that His children are as much in our place as we are? More so, for we were afar off, but our children, born into our Christian families and churches are not so far off, are they?

I hope that helps.


Rolled Back As A Scroll

The Clouds Rolled Back

 

There are moments when things click for us. Moments, short as a breath atop the mountain, that seem to clear the view can hit once in a long while. We learn to look forward to them; hope for them. But they’re not only brief but few. I think that’s good, since too much of a good thing ruins the impact. I wait impatiently for those glorious times when I’m absolutely in love with my wife. Those are the times when everything seems just right, the world is good and there’s nothing raging for our attention to fix, mediate or put down. They aren’t often predictable, and there’s not much I can do to increase the odds. It’s like God knows just when to make the peace happen.

Another is that split second when I grasp the depth of my sin. There are not enough moments like this wherein I really get as small as I know I am. Head knowledge is not the same as heart knowledge. Sometimes, maybe in church though not always, there’s this sudden snap-freeze in my soul that shows me how thoroughly I need my Savior. That’s a painful thing, but it’s like pressing my hand against something sharp when I need to focus or maintain control of myself – almost ecstatic to realize the Real Truth about me, if just for a heartbeat. It’s always fleeting, probably because if, like Isaiah, I’d be undone to actually pursue the depths of what I’ve only barely tasted.

The glorious value of my Savior is one that hits from time to time. I’d like to cultivate this appreciation, maybe of all these, most. It probably goes hand-in-hand with grasping my sinfulness, but if that’s the case, so be it. Sometimes we’re in church, we pray, confessing our sin and in the moments between confession and absolution the lights come on. Or at the Table, the bread comes down in the minister’s hands and I connect that with our Savior coming down, being broken for us, His church. It’s not really a “spiritual” sort of feeling, it’s like a concentrated realization of truth that’s in the head just breaking through to the heart.

I’ve recently hit the same “high” in studying on these ideas of God’s relationship, covenant and promises with His people. It’s rather overwhelming, if you think about it, to start to realize how far-reaching His faithfulness really is. I wish I could grasp the fullness of the plan of redemption made in eternity past. It’s connections to all that we’ve been told in the Scriptures is just plain awesome (I sure wish the skater crowd of yesteryear hadn’t ruined the meaning of awesome, it would sound more awesome right now).

Christ died for us because He was promised to us. Long before we came around and before He came around, He was on the way to us, the Rescuer of rescuers. When we hear the sirens coming that mean we’re to be saved from the fire, we just know it’s all going to be all right. Christ is a thousand times more than that. We have nothing to fight the blaze that is consuming our souls and spreading the destruction to every soul we touch. We’re all on fire and the Water of Life came to quench our destruction. This is what tastes best at the banquet of this religion. The realization that salvation has come, is coming, was always coming and is still to come. Our God is from everlasting to everlasting and so are His mercy and grace.


How To Get That Old Time Religion

Based on yesterday’s LONG post, here’s a shorter one.

Remember this part?

A few weeks ago, I put up a little bit about how painful it must have been to be one of the convicted Pharisees at Peters Big Sermon at Pentecost (I should rename the post “Cut To The Heart Thrice“). Think about this:

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

Those Pharisees were almost certainly thinking of what they had done to their families! When Peter said this (emphasis mine):

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

We know what happened:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Look again at Peter’s response:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Imagine their response to Peter. Here, I’ll help.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved

But think about this. If I’m right and the Pharisees were deeply grieved in their awareness of the vast curse they’d brought upon their families, how much more the impact on their souls when Peter gave them the absolution they so needed to hear. They changed radically because the seeds were already planted. Their lineage (think Abraham and how important that theme means) was saved! That is, if you understand the covenantal undergirding of this exchange between Peter and the Jews.

Now,

Think about this: We can best understand how Christ saved us by this very same covenantal perspective. How can He save us if there is no such thing as the covenant that Adam broke, Abraham received, Moses continued, Prophets and Judges and Kings and Priests maintained and returned to year after year? It’s The One Thing that best explains all this. God imputed Christ’s righteousness to His Children! He has died for us and our children – all those God has chosen for His Son.

Now how do we deny the same thing for our children? They’re God’s to do with as He pleases. According to the Bible and its covenants He pleases to have them brought to the sacraments of our church and to be a part of the covenant community.

How did Moses think about the prediction God gave him at the end of his days?

Then the Lord appeared at the Tent in a pillar of cloud, and the cloud stood over the entrance to the Tent. And the Lord said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?’ And I will certainly hide my face on that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods.

Maybe he was a covenant type? I wonder what he thought about the demise of Israel?


Let’s Presuppose A Few Things

Courthouse

Part 3. The first two in this line of thoughts on covenants, community and our relationships are here: Anti-Covenant and Individualism  and I Might Just Need To Be A We

At first, this may appear to be more of a formal apology for Covenant Theology, but bear with me. Also, I’m quite sure this has all been said before, so I can’t claim any originality here. That’s safer anyway since any time we deny the last 2,000 years of church history, we’re claiming that our current religion is the only one that is Christian throughout all history. Scary thought, eh? And what I’m about to discuss reaches back just a bit farther than Tertullian or Irenaeus or even Pentecost. Maybe a few thousand years past that. This is long, but I hope it has good returns. And I hope I’ve portrayed this accurately and understandably.

This doctrine of covenants is not pure theology. It’s not a tight, air-less doctrine that we can take or leave and not be deeply affected by the ramifications of the choice. It is hugely important. Once the barrier of modern presupposition is torn down, the other conflicts will start to resolve themselves fairly easily. That’s my own experience, at least.

Let me make the claim about this presupposition thing. There’s all sorts of discussion about presuppositional hermeneutics and theology. And it is absolutely correct to presuppose there are presuppositions required in the study of the Word. Which presupposition, or assumption if you will, is correct is vital, of course. And here’s the basic premise: The Bible is not speaking in the context of the 21st Century, modernity, the Reformation or even back in the days of Augustine. The Bible’s context is the Biblical eras. Get that and you’re on your way to 1st base.

Next, the Bible itself is filled with assumptions. Do you know the importance of Boaz heading out to the city gate when he’s checking on the status of Ruth’s availability? The Bible doesn’t add a footnote or aside comment to plumb the depths of this significant event. It assumes the reader knows what’s going on. The history and cultural importance of what’s going on at the city gate amongst the elders of the community is far more than what some consider just a civil affairs court setting.  Lot’s story was another one with that gate thing going on. But let’s put all that in the back of our minds. We’ve got to go deeper to make better sense of this.

The Bible assumes Covenant Theology. Really. No joke. It assumes the stuff I’ve been writing about in the last few days. We’ve heard all the debate over baptism, the Lord’s Table and Israel’s future so many times. There are conflicts that are so persistent they’ve lasted hundreds of years. I think they’re more heated today than ever. And it’s because, primarily, we have lost the sense of community and covenantal relationships that are assumed in the Bible.

Look at this language:

The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.

When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

And then look at this list: And Your Children and Household

Everybody wonders or fights over these sorts of passages. The Covenant guys extrapolate a connection to things like baptism of infants and the Baptist guys extrapolate the non-existence of infants. All sorts of ideas come up to try to explain this. Sometimes, I wonder if some of the Covenant guys are just as disrespectful of the text as the Baptists when trying to explain their position through use of household and your children. Does the Bible explain what is meant by these sorts of terms? No, not any more than with the gate-court thing in Ruth or Genesis.

Here’s why it’s confusing in the New Testament: When these terms are used, they’re repetition of Old Testament Language. And no, that’s not to “bring” the Old Testament way of thinking back to these Jews of the first century. It was to remind them of the significance of events past that correlate to current events. In all that was changing around in the New Covenant, there was going to be some conflict. Pharisaical law, gentile inclusion, realized forgiveness and justification, missionary trips, diaspora – all these things were new and scary and confusing. People needed to, get this, hear that everything hadn’t just stopped or fundamentally altered!

Peter and his fellow apostles were using this language because the Jews understood it. This means that we cannot presuppose our own 21st century opinion, which is grounded not in the Scriptures but in modern, pagan, non-covenantal thinking. We must look at this language as the Jews did. That’s why we don’t get an explanation in the Bible about what gate-courts, households and your children mean. And that’s why we don’t get a greater development of what the Table and Baptism mean right out of the text. It’s in there, absolutely, but in a, wait for it… presupposition.

I’ll say it again. This is all so hard because we aren’t looking in the right place. The Bible started out its narrative in the context of covenants – relational, promise-keeping, life-sharing, trust-bearing covenants. We are the ones who have changed over the millennia, not the Bible and not at the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ whose birthday celebration we are fast approaching. We have lost the perspective the Jews had.

I’m not calling for a return to Judaism or tossing our technology so we can wear robes to tear each time we’re cut to the heart. I’m not interested in raking dust for a few measly rows of fava beans and wheat sheaves. I like my Pollo Loco too much and I’d much rather have easy access to the last 2,000 years of theology right here on my infernal machines. I’m calling for us to look at Scripture in the historical, cultural frame in which it’s set. No helicopters in Revelation. No civil affairs court for the young moabitess. No ditching of infants until they’re old enough to say they believe.

Side comment: Refusing baptism of our kids is telling them that they are no different from the other kids across the block (the ones who have Wiccan parents right over there). We’re destroying their identity in a Christian family! No sacraments = no sense of being in the family of God.

A few weeks ago, I put up a little bit about how painful it must have been to be one of the convicted Pharisees at Peters Big Sermon at Pentecost (I should rename the post “Cut To The Heart Thrice“). Think about this:

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

Those Pharisees were almost certainly thinking of what they had done to their families! When Peter said this (emphasis mine):

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

We know what happened:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Now look again at Peter’s response:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

That’s reaching all the way back to things like:

They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them.

The OT said this in Deuteronomy 12:

Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the LORD your God.

Here’s what changed when Christ fulfilled the Law, died in our place and rose again: I’ll grossly paraphrase this:

Be careful to believe this good news I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the LORD your God.

Nowhere is the concept of covenants, community and our relationships altered in the New Testament. It’s ratified by simply not changing the language.

End of story? We have to look at the Bible and realize that our presuppositions that make us unwilling to include our children in sacraments, unwilling to include them in worship are modern insertions to the Scriptures. Also, equally important are the concepts of family solidarity, congregation solidarity, discipline, submission, faithfulness and loyalty to our heads, elders and rulers. These things are assumed to be normal in the Scripture even more than they are overtly commanded. Dropping the concept of covenantal theology kills more than just National Israel’s future and sprinkling babies. It can kill our faith, folks – by confusing the message and hiding the promises God has made to us (and our children).


I Might Just Need To Be A We

Calvin not Hobbes

In the last post, Anti-Covenant and Individualism, I was trying to start my line of though by expressing my impression of the extreme difficulty we have in communicating the idea of covenant baptism in general. I believe it is difficult because there is so little framework in our modern culture with which to understand it. We’ve lost the concept of covenants and commitments. Everything has to be spelled out on paper and even then there’s always somebody ready to weasel a way out of (or into) something in the relationship.

In fact, I was listening to Albert Mohler’s Thinking In Public today: Believing Without Belonging? A Conversation With Sociologist Grace Davie. The discussion ranged around quite a bit but hit on what I’m pondering here. I think it’s well worth a listen.

Yesterday, I was ultimately lamenting how our one-istic, individualist culture seems to have separated us from what God set up as the standard pattern for human relationship. That being family, church, Him. We’re so unrelated to each other nowadays that it’s really hard to come together under a single creed. I do believe that the confessional Reformed folk have the best understanding and therefore the closest stance on being united in relationship. I mean, we believe it, strive to inculcate it and act it out. But the culture, 7 days a week, fights tooth and nail for us to return (right after church on Sunday) to our covenantal relationship to computers, food, drink, cars, idle silliness, community service and everything else. We don’t look back, as we’re doing our mundane things, at our relationships with family, church and God to connect and assess value.

I certainly understand and embrace the beautiful assertion (I believe Calvin and others have said it too) that God is our Father and Church is our mother. It’s just that I don’t, in my own experience, value that hugely important pair of facts enough – and if I’m in sorry shape here, I’m willing to bet there are plenty of others as well. Not because we don’t want to, but in many ways because we can’t – the code has been obfuscated or even deleted to the extent that we just don’t get it. The concept is opposed from the start. Even the Biblical family is under attack (and in many cases demolished) as a valid relationship.

I think I begin to see the challenge our loving pastors face – they are fighting to reintroduce the concept of covenant relationships and rework our thinking so that our responses are in the right place. They know our belief is made deeper because of what we see, hear, touch and taste in preaching, the Table and baptism. They also know that to appreciate and embrace these things, we need to chew hard on the idea that we’re not just I, me, personally or “this is just me, but…”

Parting thought,

“If a man is not faithful to his own individuality, he cannot be loyal to anything.” — Claude McKay

What if it’s more like: If a man is not faithful to his identity in Christ, he cannot be loyal to anything but himself?

We are saved by grace through faith and enter into a relationship with God as our Father, Christ as our Savior, brother, priest, king, prophet. But we are not alone. We are, individually, grafted into a group. A family. Into a whole that is our mother, the church. Thinking like a child would, our identity is there. I am a child of God and I belong in His church. I don’t do church or go to church. I am in it. With the others. Never alone. You’re never alone when you’re in Him.


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