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.

Thankful for the Body

When we combine this season of thanksgiving with the communion we share at the Lord’s Supper with the diversity of Spirit-gifted members in the body, we have reason to get specific in gratitude for the different gifts we see.

When I look around the Table on Sunday morning, or, after everyone has come to the Table and is back in their spot ready to eat and drink together, I am very thankful.

I am thankful for the plurality of pastors who love and lead with sacrifices. I am thankful for the deacons who have different ideas on how to go about fulfilling their united commitment to help those in need.

I am thankful for those who lead us in our worship in song, who love the Lord and love each other and have fun together, even when they are off the stage. I am thankful for the men who care for the sound and the video, who set up early and tear down late, and who stream the service for those who can’t come.

I am thankful for the men who are growing in leading their wives and kids, I am thankful for the ladies who are growing in following their husbands and loving their kids. I am thankful for the energy of the young adults, for the joyfulness of the kids, and for the chorus of babies that sometime make a lot of noise at unplanned times.

I am thankful for those who are suffering, who are sick, who are weak, or who are in sorrow, and who are also displaying great patience and trust in God for us. I am thankful for those who arrange meals, make meals, make visits, watch kids, weed lawns, and show care to those who are hurting and grieving.

I am thankful for the ones among us who are quick to question, for the ones who are regularly critical; they help keep us sharp. I am thankful for the perpetually encouraging; they always lift up. God has arranged the body as He chose, and what good the Spirit is working among us.

Royal Blood

David wrote a song about how “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). He called that Lord the “King of glory.”

Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
The LORD, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory!
(Psalm 24:8-10)

We know this Lord, this King, by name. This is the Christian confession: “Jesus is Lord.” And the New Testament is not shy whatsoever about connecting Yahweh to Kurios and then naming the Kurios as Iēsous. Everything attributed to the LORD is attributable to Jesus.

And this Lord is the Lord who laid down His life for His people. Paul wrote that “the rulers of this age…crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). He also wrote that they wouldn’t have done it if they understood God’s glory, but that’s not because they would have bowed. It’s because they wouldn’t willingly give Him greater glory through sacrifice.

We are not ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, that His life was drained for sake of the common people, on behalf of His subjects. I was reading in The Magician’s Nephew as Queen Jadis explained to Digory and Polly that she had to take the life of her subjects so that she could live. Digory said this was beastly, and the Queen replied that he only thought as much because he didn’t have royal blood or understand what it meant to rule. And yet the King of kings, who rules over all, became the sacrifice. This does not make Him less of a Lord. In God’s wisdom it exalts Him as the Lord of lords and Lord of glory. Come to the table of the King and eat. It is His bread and wine for you.

Comparatively Uppity

On earth, the Lord’s Table may be the pinnacle of places where people do not get what they deserve. If we first examine ourselves, rather than being exposed by the Lord, we know that we are guilty outside of Christ, and that even after we came to Christ we have not always appreciated what He’s done for us.

Yet somehow we can still get uppity when we compare ourselves to others who are coming to the Table. We get comfortable in our spot, bordering on complacent, and then condemn brothers around us. “I bet he is eating in an unworthy manner.” But other than those who are under church discipline, it is a bigger problem for our fellow members not to eat and drink than it is for them to do so. Would we keep them from what the Lord gives so until they really appreciate what the Lord gives?

It wasn’t in the context of the communion meal, but Paul told the Romans that we are “not to please ourselves. Let each us of please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Romans 15:1-2). Paul prayed that God would “grant you to live in harmony with one another” (15:5). And then Paul commanded them, “Therefore, welcome one another as Christ as welcomed you, for the glory of God” (verse 7).

To “welcome” means to be glad to see them, to receive them in, to invite them close, to have the attitude of a host. Let us not despise other grace-getters, but desire great blessings from the Lord for them.

The Supper Is a Sermon

Or, You Are Always Preaching

Preachers are often asked how long it takes them to prepare a sermon. The question wants to know how many hours the preacher spent that week getting ready to preach. Did he translate the verses for himself? Did he brainstorm? Did he read any commentaries? Did he write out his notes? Did he pray specifically over the sermon? There are any number of steps.

But it’s actually a more difficult question than that. How many years of Greek class did he take (and did he actually learn anything) or is he constantly looking up basic words in the dictionary? How much of the rest of the Bible does he know? Does he have theological guardrails in place already to keep him on the road, or is he spending lots of time climbing up from the ditch of error? Beyond all of that, is he right with God? He will choke on Scripture’s “solid food” if he isn’t practiced in distinguishing good from evil (Hebrews 5:14). These are intangible things that are hard to calculate when it comes to preparing his sermon.

But, if what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:26 is true, that every time we eat and drink the bread and wine we are “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes,” then we all need to ask how we’ve prepared to preach. There is accountability that comes along with teaching God’s Word, so we refer to the authority of the pulpit. But there is accountability at the Lord’s Table, too. There is a sense in which all of us are behind the pulpit. What is our message? God’s people should be ready to preach, by which I mean ready to eat, by which I mean ready to give themselves for one another in love like Christ.

More Melody Than Misery

It is more than possible that at least some of the Corinthians had participated in the worship of Dionysius, also known to the Romans as Bacchus. Bacchus was the god of wine and festivity and fertility, a god well known and served for centuries before Christ came. In the name of Bacchus men and women became drunk and in many cases caused destruction through frenzy and ritual unrestraint. Some of the Corinthian Christians may have brought this baggage with them to their fellowship meals.

Paul went out of his way in Ephesians 5:18 to contrast being filled with the Spirit to being filled with, another way to say “controlled by,” wine: “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

But it is interesting to see the results of that Spirit-filling: “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20). This does not sound like the death of Bacchus, it sounds like his salvation and submission to Christ. The opposite of Dionysian madness and indulgence isn’t commiseration, but melody and thankfulness.

Worshipped as a god, everything brings damnation. Seen as a servant of God, all lawful things are good for God’s glory. So were the Corinthians behaving inconsistently at the Lord’s supper? Absolutely. What would have made it consistent? Consistent would not have been misery instead of revelry, consistent would have been loving God and others joyfully in remembrance of Christ.

The Nature of Bread and Wine

We know from Psalm 19 that the heavens declare the glory of God so that all men should see His handiwork. We know from Romans 1 that creation reveals the existence and power of God so that all men should honor God and thank Him. And in 1 Corinthians 11 we read that nature makes it so that all men know how long to cut their hair.

What does nature teach about the Lord’s Table? Well, that is probably asking too much. Nature doesn’t tell us about the cross or about the resurrection or about the need to believe in Christ for our sin, and nature doesn’t tell us about either ordinance of the church. We need special revelation, which we have.

But does this mean that nature does us no good whatsoever when it comes to the communion meal? I don’t just mean the physical elements, or the embodied persons who partake, though those do argue against any kind of gnostic or dualistic priority. While recognizing that Christ instituted the Supper with words and that His apostles delivered the instruction, and while recognizing that Christ’s pattern was the Passover meal provided by God’s Word to the Israelites, there is a created nature of the meal that belongs with the revealed intent of the meal.

What does nature teach about bread? Eat! It’s good! What does nature teach about wine? It’s a gift! Drink! Let your heart be glad! And what does even nature teach about a table of bread and wine? It is meant to be shared, and shared in joy.

There are occasions for corporate quiet and contemplation, but even nature recommends fasting for such sobriety. Nature commends feasting in fellowship for stirring up thanks and gladness.

To be sure, Paul could not commend the Corinthians for their communion practice. But that is because they were divided and because they were selfishly indulging themselves. I would argue that not only goes against the gospel, that goes against nature.

Likeness Sharers

In creational terms, man is the glory of God and woman is the glory of man (1 Corinthians 11:7). That is God’s sovereign Word, we receive it, regardless of the culture’s hatred of gender distinctions, a misplaced hatred because they really want to do away with the distinction between themselves and God.

In redemptive terms, all believers are being remade in the image of God to share the glory of God; we are brothers and sisters in Christ. This is also God’s sovereign Word, we receive it, regardless of the Arminian’s (or Pelagian’s) argument.

For those whom he [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29)

This is just an amazing thing. God decided beforehand that we would be summorphos, that is, sharing the likeness of God’s Son. We are predestined to this adjective: we are the “likeness sharers.”

Verse 30 follows not with a hierarchy, but with a chain.

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This glorified state is not separate from Christ’s image in us. We are being transformed into the same glory by beholding the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18). By His “very great promises” we are “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3).

So man was created for God, and woman was created for man, and you, beloved, are created and called and saved for glory.

Everything Intended

When we make a sacrifice, we are giving up something in the present for sake of something else in the future, something we believe to be worth more than what we’re giving up. We reason inductively, based on experience, that a certain type of sacrifice (i.e., not eating dessert) will result in a certain type of payoff (our belt won’t dig so deeply into our belly). We also may make a particular sacrifice (not eating meat) by faith, without having seen fruit (our brother’s conscience not being ruined), based on our trust that God follows through on His Word.

Of course things are different for God Himself. But for our encouragement, consider Christ’s death on the cross. What did Christ hope to accomplish by His sacrifice?

Christ did not hope like we do when He laid down His life. Christ did not need faith similar to us for what might happen in the future. Christ secured the fulfillment of everything that He and His Father ever intended for His sacrifice.

No elect person will be lost, no, not one. No sin, however longstanding, however powerful, however tempting, however crippling, will remain in power over any Christian, not even one. No guilt, no weakness, no pain, no suffering, no loss, will define any of those for whom Christ died; not one promise will be left unfulfilled for eternity.

There is still timing to consider; not all the effects happen at once. But in Christ we are in the realm of waiting on the when, not in the realm of wondering if at all. He has not spared His only Son for us. He will give us all the rest. This is the power of the cross.