No Lesser Bread

One of the things Paul valued about clarity was how it brings “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3). When the Spirit gives words to His people for the good of the body it brings comfort.

Communion is also a consolation, a comfort. The Lord’s Supper is not a consolation prize, mostly because it isn’t a prize, and also because we aren’t competing to get it. Communion is a grace from God. He gives communion and comfort to those who need it but not to those who deserve it or try to earn it. There isn’t bread for the winner, but lesser bread for the runner-ups.

But God does alleviate our pain by reminding us that Jesus endured anguish and affliction on our behalf (Isaiah 53:4, 7, 11), by reminding us that pain can only last so long (this life)(2 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Peter 1:6), and by reminding us that pain can only take so much (not our salvation)(Matthew 10:28). Communion also comforts us with gospel truths that we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but…fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). Because of Christ the cornerstone “in him…[we] are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (verse 21).

Are you feeling isolated? Afflicted? Perplexed? Do you see a lot of problems? Do have a lot of problems? Don’t lose heart! We are being renewed day by day. “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us…into his presence” (2 Corinthians 4:14). Communion at His Table is a no small consolation.

Open Communion, Closed Membership

We love celebrating weekly communion at our church, and it is having multiple desired effects. It proclaims the Lord’s death (1 Corinthians 11:26). It unites the body as we participate in the blood and body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). It encourages us to keep short accounts (1 Corinthians 11:28). And it makes people ask questions, including our kids, who wonder when they will get to share in communion.

This is a feature, it doesn’t have to be a frustration. Just as the liturgy of various offerings in the Old Testament provided opportunities for parents to tell their kids about God’s redeeming work, so we want our liturgy to cause others to want it, especially our kids. If we had to choose between abusing the Table by making them dread it due to our anxiousness, or abusing the Table by making them desire it due to our joyfulness, is that hard to answer?

One question that is a bit harder, at least on a personal level, is, Who is welcome at the Table? We practice what has historically been called “open” communion. That means that you do not need to be a member of our local body to be invited to eat and drink. You do need to believe in Christ, and, in most cases, you should already be baptized in public identification with Christ. We typically discourage parents from having their young people partake until they’ve been baptized.

One additional challenge for us involves those who sincerely believe that infant baptism is a valid expression of the ordinance. As a church we do not believe that, and so we have what is called “closed” membership. We believe (in brief) that “disciples obey the Lord in baptism” and so, as a credo-baptist church, we do not affirm paedo-baptized members.

But, desiring to be charitable to those who profess with both lips and lives their belief in and love for Christ, we will encourage them to partake at the open Table though we won’t affirm them as official members. This is a compromise we are comfortable with. Currently, the most significant limitation is that such a person could not hold a church office (that is, be an elder or deacon), though in every other way they would receive the care of the shepherds.

We gladly welcome the Lord’s disciples to the Lord’s Table, even when we believe there is more to teach them to observe that He’s commanded, which is, of course, true for all of us in some way or another this side of glorification.

All a Pitter-pattering

Is love more science or more story? Is love an historical fact or a philosophical idea? Is love a Platonic ideal, an abstract quality existing Up There, or is love an Aristotelian reality, expressed Down Here in hands and lips and bodies? Where do you learn about love best? Reading the dictionary? Reading the Bible? Hearing a story? Getting a timely hug from your dad?

As much as I love a good dictionary, dictionaries don’t inspire. Definitions are helpful and even necessary, but statements of meaning distinguish between things more than they activate affection for things.

The Greek word agape means “the quality of warm regard for and interest in another.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines love as “intense feeling of affection and attachment.” I’m sure your heart is just all a pitter-pattering now.

Again, I like a good proposition and I think a well crafted sentence of explanation is like truth gold set in syntax silver. But what informs and impels our affections are not notions of love as much as narratives of love.

The gospel is the ultimate story. In our last Omnibus Tenebras class we talked about stories and “myths” and tales and legends. Whatever word you’re comfortable with, “in this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).

This is an eternal and true story that tells us who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. It is the ultimate, overarching story with chapters still being written by the Author of our salvation. We are not just fed our lines, we are fed bread and wine for living and participating in the saga together by God’s grace.

Communion That Smells

As we spread “the fragrance of the knowledge of [Christ] everywhere,” God says that we are an aroma “among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance of life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). Spreading the fragrance happens by preaching (see verse 17), it happens by practice, and it happens when we partake at the Lord’s Table.

When we eat and drink we are “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). So when we gather around this table, it’s not only a left-over scent of break baked earlier in the morning, it’s not only the lingering whiff of a bottle of wine uncorked before the service, it is an aroma of life and death. Our communion has a smell to it, for some that fills them with more life from the fullness of God’s life, and for others it fills them with more death as they detest our joy in a meal of flesh and blood.

“Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:17) Who is “adequate” (NASB)? Who is worthy? It’s a humbling question with an obvious answer. None of us are worthy, no not one. But the good news is for the unworthy. Jesus died for the insufficient. Jesus rose again to bring us with Him to the Father. The bread is His body and the wine His blood given for us, and it is grace that is an aroma from life to life.

Gaining Weight

I pray that we all gain weight this year.

In a day and age like ours, in a country like ours, the exceptions are the few who need to put on more pounds of body weight. When we think about our daily bread we’re thinking about which kind of carbs we crave, not the minimum portion we need to survive. The abundance of food is a blessing, and of course blessings can be abused, and belt sizes bulge.

The kind of weight I’m talking about instead is the weight of glory. I’m talking about finishing this upcoming calendar year more full of God than now (see Ephesians 3:19). Don’t be light, be heavy. Put on some gravity. Get dense, not like a fool, but thick in faith and love.

This is God’s plan for us. When we know more of His love we are made more full of Him. Sometimes that includes suffering so that our bucket can be made bigger to hold more.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17)

In various ways we’re being prepared for weight that can’t be compared. Our weekly communion together is part of that process; it both a fills and an expands. The Table is set with the bread and cup of His love, by faith we eat and drink and are filled. At the same time this is only a mouthful of the eternal feast. We are made more hungry and thirsty, and our capacity is enlarged for more.

O Come Again, Emmanuel

Maybe some of you have family that you haven’t seen for a while coming to your house for Christmas, or maybe you are headed to see them. If things are good, you’re even eager to see them and share the day together. You’re looking forward to it, and you’re preparing for it. You’ve invited them, you’ve got their trip itinerary printed and hung on the refrigerator door, you’ve put new sheets on the kids’ beds, you’ve bought enough food for two feasts, and you’ve wrapped the presents and put them under the tree.

There’s a lot of work to do for those we love even when we’re not with them. Our care for one another is integrated into how we plan our days, how we spend our money, what we think about and work toward. But by comparison, none of that replaces being with those we love.

As Christians we are eager for Christ’s second return. We live by faith, which is not the same as living quietly in our heads. Our trust in and love for Christ should be integrated into the rhythms of our weeks, into the lines in our budgets, into the extra seats around our tables, into the lyrics we sing and the products we buy and the words we use to communicate. It’s all for Christ.

Yet by comparison none of those things will mean as much to us as when we get to see him face to face. When that happens, our joy will be complete (an even better expectation than that in 2 John 12).

Now we eat with Him by faith, but the day is coming when we will eat with Him face to face. O come again, Emmanuel.

Born with Flesh

The apostle John wrote that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). A few chapters later John recorded Jesus, who was talking with some grumbling Jews, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).

The enfleshing of God in Jesus led to the death of God in Jesus, which we know led to the resurrection of God in Jesus, and then led to eternal life with God to anyone and everyone who believes. We eat Jesus’ flesh by faith, we drink His blood by faith; the eating and drinking are abiding in Him, and we do that in constant dependence on Him.

This is our life, and this is love. In his first epistle John wrote, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).

You can’t take on flesh, you were born with flesh. But you can give it, and that is the way of glory and truth. Love Jesus, love the soul satisfaction only found in Him, eat His body and drink His blood. He is our greatest good and will be forever. So “beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).

Intermittent Feasting

I know people, they talk to me. I read things; learning is an ongoing process. One subject that has been brought to my attention from half a dozen directions is that of intermittent fasting. Probably the first time I considered the idea (though he didn’t use the term) was in Robert Capon’s book, The Supper of the Lamb, as he counseled a man who was serious about his eating and his weight not to eat for a while rather than eat/nibble health junk food, you know, something like rice cakes. There is at least anecdotal if not researched evidence stressing the benefits to the body of not eating for intervals of time. It not only makes you more hungry when it’s mealtime, it also teaches your body to use the energy it’s already got stored.

Which comes first? Eating in order to work to get hungry, or working and getting hungry so we want to eat?

There’s a sense in which we could think about the Lord’s Supper as intermittent feasting. There is a week between each time at His Table. Do we eat this food for sake of our faith and love so that we can go work, or do we work so that we’re eager for more food? It’s both, no doubt. And there is something about worshipping on the first day of the week that energizes and propels us into our responsibilities, and that’s good.

But for sake of our meditation, consider: when was the last time that we came hungry to His Table? When was the last time that we spent ourselves by faith in love on behalf of others? When have we come desperate, not doubtful, but desperate for this feast to replenish and restore and renew us?

Finished with Discipline

The analogy of the church as a body does so many good things, but there are numerous other ways to think about our relationships. We are also a family, brothers and sisters, and we are an outpost of heavenly citizens on earth.

When we think about “members” as body parts, we affirm our appreciation of and need for one another. When we think about “members” as fellow citizens serving the Lord of heaven, we affirm His calling and acceptance of one another. So church discipline doesn’t use the body analogy; we don’t amputate parts. In discipline situations we do use kingdom terminology; we nullify our affirmation for those in ongoing, unrepentant sin who refuse to listen to the church.

As a local church we’ve reached the fourth stage with three persons that we had previously recognized as members. We’ve also reached the third stage with two other men, the stage at which their names have been announced to the church but not yet the stage at which we will no longer affirm their profession of faith.

None of our pastors have ever been part of a church that also announced to the church when the third stage was over. This would not mean going back to the second stage, or even the first. It is being finished with discipline, even if the stages progressed more quickly in a returning unwillingness to repent.

But we want to be more careful and more clear with our communication. In a sermon in February I outlined some practices that we are still working to implement. That includes praying by name for those who are in stage three of discipline at least once a month during our corporate supplication. It also means that, though there is no fixed timeline, we need to decide when someone either moves to the fourth stage or is out of the discipline process altogether, and make that explicit to the church.

At such times we will reaffirm that they are part of Christ’s flock, and that should remind everyone that the only reason any of us share communion is because the Lord died, rose again, and graciously invites us to partake of Him.

A Spoonful of Flour

One note does not make a song. One chord, made of three notes struck at the same time, still does not make a song. One ingredient does not make bread. Imagine if at the Lord’s Supper everyone took a spoonful of flour. We’d definitely need bigger cups for the wine.

The Lord’s Table is a Table for all the members; it is members only, but not because it is closed to those we don’t like or who don’t meet our requirements. It is only for members of the body, for those who confess Christ as Lord, who are united to Christ, and are part of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12).

We all got here because of God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). We all got here because of the cross. We all got here because of sovereign electing grace. We all got here because of God’s arrangement (1 Corinthians 12:18).

So don’t look down on yourself, and don’t look down on others. The only thing that it’s okay to wish to be different is to wish you were more like Christ. No wanting to have the gifts that God gave to someone else. No expecting that someone else needs to be like you for them to be valuable.

In one Spirit we’ve all be baptized into one body, and we’re all made to drink of one Spirit. Let there be unity. Let there be harmony. Let there be fulness of joy because we share communion in Christ. It’s not just that you should love these other parts, it’s that you need these other parts. It’s not just toleration of them, it’s gladness with and for them.