Life Theology

The Lord’s Table on Good Friday

For the Christian, the Lord’s Supper is about covenant renewal. When we partake of the Table together, we are dramatizing the gospel: Jesus body and blood given for us. It is a reminder of what Jesus has done for us–a means of grace to reinforce our faith in him.

Often times, before communion (another name for the Lord’s Supper) Christians try to “get right with God” and confess every known sin. We beat ourselves up, feeling that if we wash our conscience, then we will be “worthy” to approach the Table. We think that Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:27-24, when he says not partake in an “unworthy manner,” mean that we need to clean up before showing up. But Paul isn’t writing about cleaning ourselves up; he is writing to people who are making a mockery of the Supper. The Lord’s Super is about Christ’s humble, self-sacrifice for us. The Corinthians were cutting in line for more bread and getting drunk on the wine (vv.20-21). Put simply: the Corinthians were making the supper about them, instead of making it about what Jesus has done and using it as an opportunity to serve others in the church.

When Paul says each person should “examine himself” (v. 28) he is essentially saying, “Realize that this is about the unselfish, atoning death of Jesus. If you get this, it changes your life. It makes you more humble, more serving, more loving, more others-oriented and less narcissistic. Come to the Table in this manner.”

Therefore, when you are ready to partake tonight, do not beat yourself up. Do not try to confess every known sin. Do not stay back until you “feel good” about your status with God. Do not try to “clean up” before showing up.

But wait! What about all the dirt left behind? Sure, we have idols. Brokenness. Wounds. But that is why we joyfully acknowledge that the Lord’s Supper is about the unselfish, atoning death of Jesus. He took all of our sin and shame on the cross and washed it away.  He removed the wrath of God and brought everlasting favor. Now daily he is washing us–because we are already washed.

Confess, yes. Repent, yes. Preach to your heart that Jesus has paid it all, yes. If you are entangled in grievous sin, pray with the elders (James 5:14-16). But you cannot get more right with God than you are in Christ. Hebrews 10:14 tells us, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Ephesians 2:6 says, “[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” You are already perfect in Christ. God can’t love you more than he already does if you are connected to him by faith in Jesus. Lay hold of God’s grace by faith and rejoice!

So how do we approach the Lord’s Supper? The same way we approach God daily: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22). God has washed our consciences clean with the blood of his Son. We can’t get cleaner than we are now.

If you are not a Christian, and you attend a service tonight, then sit back and watch the live-action drama of the gospel. Watch people eat and drink and cherish the fact that Jesus gave up his very life so that they might never taste eternal death. If you partake of the Supper but are not connected to God by faith in Jesus, you will be guilty of eating and drinking in an unworthy manner because you would be doing something with your body that you don’t believe with your heart.

But you don’t have to be guilty. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst…All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:35, 37).

Christians and non-Christian need the same thing. Communion doesn’t save us; Jesus does. Christians must confess that Jesus is our only hope and he has washed us clean. Non-Christians must confess that Jesus is their only hope and only he can wash them clean. Feast on him as your supreme Treasure. Come with all your warts, all your wounds, all your dirt. Acknowledge that he paid it all on the cross and that you don’t need to clean up before you show up. Then partake of the Supper in order to proclaim and rejoice with all the saints that the Lord’s death is our only hope until he comes back (1 Cor. 11:26).

Ministry Theology

Martin Luther and the Lord’s Supper

In his short chapter “Of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper” in Table Talk, Martin Luther challenges the Roman Catholic view of how the sacrament (i.e. communion, Lord’s Supper, the Table) is administered. This short chapter does not tell us everything that Luther believed about the Lord’s Supper, but it points to his general convictions.

Luther’s Issue with the Church
The root of Luther’s critique of the administration of the Lord’s Supper in the Catholic Church is not in the administration of the sacrament itself. His critique is primarily concerned with the false authority that the church places on its bishops. For Luther, the root issue was apostolic succession. Apostles were elected by God, whereas bishops are appointed by man. Apostles never had “supremacy” over another and neither should priests, especially over the church and the sacrament.

As for the administration of the sacrament itself, Luther takes issue with “elevation,” at which point the body and blood of Christ is transubstantiated through the priests words hoc est corpus meum (“this is my body”). Luther calls this doctrine “mere idolatry.” Luther still believed Christ’s presence is somehow in the elements, but not because of the priest’s words. It is rather through Christ’s word and institution that he is present in the bread and cup. Therefore, Luther fights against the meaning behind the practice, while not finding it necessary to change the tradition itself.

This immediately gets the modern evangelical’s blood boiling. Jesus literally in the bread and cup! No! It is true, for Luther does not dispute the fact that Christ is somehow present in the elements; it is simply not the priest’s words that cause Christ’s presence to be there. Luther believes that Jesus body and blood are in the “present administering, although they may be understood as fulfilled on the cross.”

Unlike the Catholic priests, who believed that the Lord’s Supper gave grace through performing the act, Luther held that it was for “the strengthening of our faith, not doubting that Christ’s body and blood were given and shed for us, and that our sins by Christ’s death certainly are forgiven.” In short, Luther believed that the fruit of the sacrament was the assurance of forgiveness. He did not believe the sacrament was the cause of grace.

Why does this matter for us today?
The contemporary evangelical will rightly fire back at Luther for his lack of haste to completely repudiate the doctrine of transubstantiation. At the same time, evangelicals can praise God that Luther resisted Rome’s claim to apostolic succession and supreme authority in faith and practice, as well as the Church’s insistence on grace/salvation through/by works. Still, evangelicals can view the Lord’s Supper, with Luther, as solely for sinners who are desperate for grace and find, at the Table, an opportunity to proclaim Jesus’ death for them once again—and continually until he returns (1 Cor. 11:26). Despite the fact that we do not hold to transubstantiation, we can, with Luther, wholeheartedly agree that the Supper is connected to ongoing covenant renewal in the gospel, providing a means of grace to reinforce repentance to and faith in Jesus.


Eating Jesus’ Body Means Believing His Words

When you sit down to spend time in the Bible, do you ever find yourself just reading the words, instead of ingesting them into your soul?  This year, I have been following a read-through-the-Bible in a year program.  There are a lot of chapters to read each day, and sometimes I can slip into reading letters on a page. That’s one of the things I don’t like about this reading program.

However, I have been blessed this year to get the 30,000 feet perspective on Scripture and see how the Bible connects and is completely consistent. So often we hear about how the Bible contradicts itself. Funny how the same people that say that never actually read the Bible.

I’m finishing up the year in the book of John. It has been especially delightful to read about the life of Jesus from his most beloved disciple. A few weeks back, I gave a talk to a group of college students on John 6 and Jesus being the bread of life. John 6 is incredible. But it is awfully confusing if you take Jesus literally.

After telling the crowd to eat his body and drink his blood, a lot of people stopped following him. When Jesus asked his band of twelve if they would leave also. Peter responded with words that will echo into eternity: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

After hearing Jesus use strange language for sixty-some odd verses, Peter had the correct interpretation: Jesus isn’t talking about cannibalism. He’s talking about believing his words and holding fast to them. If you want to eat Jesus’ body as the bread for your life, you’ll believe every word he speaks.

How do we feast spiritually? How do we find fulfillment in our hearts? We read the Bible and believe what Jesus says. He has the words of eternal life. Eating is believing his words. Go to the Bible and feast on Jesus. Don’t scrap for crumbs.

Father, help me to ingest and digest the words of your Son that we have in the Scriptures. Make me be satisfied by them. Make me love them. Make me be changed by them.


Baptism, Communion, and Ignorant Sin, Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about the developing debate in the blogosphere regarding Mark Dever’s comments that a proponent of infant baptism is sinning (though unintentionally and with sincerity of heart) and is therefore not welcome at the communion table.   I will first address whether or not being a paedo-baptist is a sin, then I’ll talk about whether or not paedo-baptists are welcome at the Lord’s table at a credo-baptist’s church (such as Capitol Hill Baptist where Dever preaches).

In his original post, Dever wrote that practicing paedo-baptism was sinful.    I agree with Dever for the simple fact that if the Bible teaches something clearly then we must obey what it says.  I believe the Bible is clear on the issue of baptism and that paedo-baptists are unintentionally sinning for at least three reasons:

  1. The Greek word baptizo means “to submerge, dunk, immerse in water.”  The word alone does not allow for a baptism by sprinkling, which is the method of baptism performed by paedo-baptists.
  2. Jesus’ command in the Great Commission is to make disciples and baptize them.  The New Testament practice shows that people who believed and followed Jesus were baptized.  Paedo-baptists will say that passages like Acts 16:15 support infant baptism.  In that passage, Lydia was baptized “and her household as well.”  But this baptism followed an opening of “her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (v. 14). Babies cannot be disciples for obvious reasons.  A baby’s heart cannot be opened to the things of God.  A baby cannot confess and believe in Jesus.
  3. Infant baptism is not the New Testament equivalent of circumcision.  The paedo-baptist will say that baptism equates to circumcision and since circumcision was done on infants, baptism should be performed on infants as the sign of the covenant between God and his people.  I’m unconvinced for two reasons: 1) Girls weren’t circumcised, so why wouldn’t we just baptize baby boys? 2) More importantly there is a New Testament version of circumcision and it’s the circumcision of the heart that God performs.  Colossians 2:11 says, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (cf. Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; Rom. 2:26; 4:9, 12).  So circumcision is something God does through Christ to our hearts, and an outward symbol of what God has done in the heart is that we are “buried with him in baptism.”  This again showing that baptism is a burial — that we go “under the water” — which symbolizes our death and burial with Christ.

The other part of Dever’s post that I’d like to address is the issue of whether or not a paedo-baptist could partake of communion at, say, a local Baptist church.  Dever wrote, “I simply lack the authority to admit someone to the Lord’s Table who has not been baptized.”  I disagree with him on this for three reasons:

  1. I find no evidence in Scripture for keeping someone from the Lord’s Table for an unintentional sin.  If someone is knowingly and happily sinning without seeking to kill the sin, we will enact church discipline on them, and if they are unrepentant we must remove them from fellowship.  The Lord’s Table, however, is for all of us wretched sinners who battle the inconsistencies and errors in our lives while at the same time confessing the death of Jesus as the payment for our sins (1 Cor. 11:26).
  2. I find no connection in the Scripture between being baptized and partaking of communion.  As far as we know, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with his disciples, they had not even been baptized with water!  There is no Scripture that says they were.  Of course we know Jesus was, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that his disciples were.  Before I was baptized (at age 13), I had taken communion at church because I had received Jesus as my Lord and Savior.  Was I living in sin by partaking without yet being baptized?  You’d be hard pressed to find biblical support for that view.
  3. There are other sins that are committed because of a willful disbelief or an ignorance of biblical doctrine that would not keep someone from the Lord’s Table.  Let’s take disbelieving in the doctrine of election.  I know many sincere Christians who love Jesus, are saved, and yet are firmly committed to Arminian theology, which I find unbiblical.  This person is wrong in certain parts of their theology, yet is sincere in their love for God, their doctrine, and their pursuit of holiness.  Would it be a right thing to say to this person, “Your theology is off.  You are not welcome at the Lord’s table”?  Of course not!  That would be legalistic, proud, and unloving.  Furthermore, there are others who do not hold to the doctrine of election because of a preconceived notion of Reformed churches/preachers.  They are willfully not believing in the doctrine of election whether or not they have studied the Scriptures for truth.  Our goal should be to love these people and shepherd them and teach the truth, while encouraging them to examine themselves while partaking of the Lord’s table.

Despite this whole tiff, Dever admits that he is far from perfect in his own theology.  He said that both paedo- and credo-baptists have errors and inconsistencies in their theology.  That’s a good word, Mark, and for that reason alone, if our confession is Jesus by grace through faith alone, then true believers of any denomination, practice, and theology should be welcome.

And now I say to all my paedo friends: I disagree with your stance.  I think you are unintentionally sinning by not being baptized as a believer.  You are free to believe I am sinning as well (it would be odd if you didn’t!), though of course I’d disagree.  However, when I take communion before God and with his people, you are more than welcome to join me and proclaim Jesus and his death as the propitiation for our sins.  And when we do, may we examine ourselves, and all our theological inconsistencies, so we do not drink judgment on our heads (1 Cor. 11:29)