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The End of Many Books

The Gospel Comes with a House Key

by Rosaria Butterfield

I read her previous book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, and was very edified by her testimony of conversion. This book is about hospitality, which is a mix of testimony of her family’s practice/experience and rebuke to the readers/Christians/the church.

She seems to conflate hospitality as obedience for every believer, and hospitality as a spiritual gift for some (not all) believers. She also walks close to the border of “this is how we do it and SO this is the right way for everyone to do it.” While writing as if to get everyone to be hospitable, which again, is required in at least some sense, she doesn’t quite seem self-aware enough to see that if everyone actually was doing it like her, then she’d have to look for something else to do.

Little comments, like making sure we know she’s cooking organic chicken in her crock pot, and how spiral notebooks on the kitchen table can solve a number of problems, give her preferences the feel of principles, which distract from the larger point.

Of even greater concern is repeated use of the word “violence” to describe what could be sins of omission. For example:

Our lack of genuine hospitality to our neighbors—all of them, including neighbors in the LGBTQ community—explains why counterfeit hospitality seems attractive. Our lack of Christian hospitality is a violent form of neglect for their souls. (Loc. 1037)

It is an act of violence and cruelty to people in your church who routinely have no place to belong, no place to need and be needed, after worship. (Loc. 1678)

And yet I’m glad I read it, especially since the ladies at our church read and talked about it together. But it’s not what I’d recommend for sake of learning hospitality. (Maybe something such as The Art of Neighboring would be a better start.)

2 of 5 stars

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Something to Miss

If there was a man who took it as a great punishment to be invited to a well-prepared table with family and friends, we would say something was wrong with that man. His feeling of burden or horror might be due to the bruised trauma of a previous experience, or maybe a failure to regulate hyper-introversion, or maybe straight-up selfishness. Under normal circumstances, it should be more of a punishment to not be included.

The Lord’s Supper is a well-prepared table for the sons and daughters of the Lord, for brothers and sisters, for all those adopted by the Father, for those transferred into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love, for each individual member of the same body. Rightly received by faith, the bread reminds us of Christ’s body given for our forgiveness, and where sin abounded grace abounded much more. Rightly received by faith, the wine reminds us of Christ’s blood shed for us, and where sin disrupted our relations His blood covers and reconciles. It is a cup of blessing (1 Corinthians 10:16).

Gathering here is no burden, no punishment, no cause for anxiety. By grace, our communion as a church has been the opposite. Some of our best singing, at least in loudest volume and joyful noises, is done during this part of our liturgy. Some of the best facial expressions, at least most awake and biggest smiling, is during the walking and waiting in line. That is how it ought to be.

May God use it to give you such a taste that the Lord is good that you would never turn away from Him. May God disciple your loves that you would feel the pain of discipline if you had to miss it.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

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.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Take Him to Dinner

A couple weeks ago I referred to the discipline not just of not being allowed to come to the communion table, but to the discipline of coming week by week. There are benefits for disciples, remembering the truths of the gospel about the love of God and the peace-making work of Christ on our behalf.

The discipline of communing is not only for individuals, but also for the entire church. There is discipline for my heart to make sure I’m ready to eat and drink with God, there is also discipline for my heart to make sure I’m ready to eat and drink with the sons and daughters of God. God has high standards, so His eating in His presence requires preparation, but He is perfect, so He’s never irritating or annoying. He lowers Himself to meet me at the communion Table. But if I start looking around the wrong way, I could think, “Whoa. What is wrong with all these people?”

When Paul said, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones…compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against one another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you” (Colossians 3:12-13) this was an antidote to lawsuits, and bickering and bitterness and backbiting and bad-attitudes. “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14).

Don’t take your brother to court, take him to dinner. Or, at least remember that we share the same meal of communion here together because of the work of Christ. We are at peace in Christ. Let it be so in real time.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Fixed in Mind

The argument for church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5 assumes at least a couple things. First, from the sinful man’s perspective, he still wanted to be associated with the congregation. Paul confronted the flock for not removing the man; he had not removed himself. Whatever he was getting from his membership, he didn’t want to lose it. Second, from the congregation’s perspective, they should have something that the sinful man should want. Once removed and delivered over to Satan and the flesh, that bitter taste should turn him back to the fold.

In a similar remembrance that produced repentance, the prodigal son remembered all the blessings in his father’s house. The difference for the prodigal, of course, is that he had left on his own whereas the disciplined man was removed. But what happened to the prodigal would hopefully happen to the disciplined man: he would remember all the blessings among God’s people.

So part of our strategy for purity, preventative and remedial, is joy around the Lord’s Table. We share the blessings of salvation in communion, food for our faith and fellowship among the body in such a way as to fix in a man’s mind something desirable. In the case of a disciplined man, the Lord may use remembrance of the shared bread and wine to draw him back. For us, we are encouraged week by week to not want sin more.

A couple Sunday mornings ago we welcomed to the Lord’s table two first-timers. They made their public profession of faith in the waters of baptism the previous Sunday evening, and we want for their first communion to be one of many sweet and serious celebrations. May our proclamation of the Lord’s death until He comes be loud and compelling.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Accounting for Participation

The Lord’s Table is a table of community accountability. By God’s grace, we have only removed a few persons from communion at our church due to church discipline. He has guarded our flock from gross, ongoing, unrepentant sinners. We have been able to enjoy the sweet fellowship here without too much bitterness.

This is fellowship worth preserving, worth protecting, and that means that not everyone is invited. In particular, when professing brothers refuse to repent from their sin after they have been personally, lovingly, and repeatedly pursued, they may be formally uninvited from participation.

The Lord requires one brother who sees another sinning brother to confront the sinner. The Lord instructs more people to get involved if there is not repentance and, eventually, the (local) church must acknowledge the immorality and discipline the sinner by removing him from fellowship. Those inside the church judge those inside the church. This is part of mutual accountability.

The church gets it wrong sometimes, more often than not by failing to deal with sinners. According to 1 Corinthians 11, God sometimes intervenes directly rather than through the church toward those who profane the body and blood of the Lord by unworthy participation at His Table. God is not mocked even if the church gets it wrong. Death is an even stronger statement than church discipline.

Of course, it is not much of a discipline to keep someone from something that we don’t value or enjoy. Our communion now sets the tone for later. The offender will miss out to the degree that we make much of this meal. We will give an account for how we participated, and it ought to be with righteous rejoicing.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

In Remembrance of Where Christ Is

We are in a constant spiritual war and our enemies—sin, the world, and the devil—are relentless. The Lord has not left us without weapons.

Paul told the Romans to reckon themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus by remembering their baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3) This is one reason we don’t sprinkle, we dunk under water as if buried under it. Then, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). We’re united with Christ in death and resurrection. Sin is not our master anymore, so we don’t need to present our members to the enemy but to God as instruments of righteousness. Yield to grace.

And then feed on grace. Our baptism identifies us with the army of God, and our communion strengthen us for the fight. The bread and the wine remind us that the Lord is with us. During this part of the plan we might be in Egypt (an analogy to Joseph), we might be in prison (also analogy), but we are not alone.

The worst part about excommunication, in which an unrepentant but still professing believer is prohibited from the communion table, is that such a person is removed from the protection. He is delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Corinthians 5:5). The rest are “assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus…with the power of our Lord Jesus” (verse 4). We are not alone and hungry. We do not become prey for the enemy. We are fed for strength to succeed in our work and to resist temptation.

So eat and drink in remembrance not only of what Christ has done, eat and drink in remembrance of where Christ is, here, with us.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Two Kinds of Worldlings

There is a kind of worldling with whom believers can associate and another kind with whom we must not. We can appreciate all true image-bearing contributions from unbelievers and we can associate with them while recognizing their sinfulness. Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians is clear on the matter.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—-not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. (1 Corinthians 5:9–10)

Unbelievers sin, they can’t help but sin, and we can still associate and mingle with them. That is, we can buy from and sell to, live next to, work with, and enjoy some of life with them. We can associate with non-Christians on the basis of common grace while proclaiming to them their need for redeeming grace.

But we must not associate with those who profess to be believing brothers, who claim to share redeeming grace but who give no evidence of redemption from sin.

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. (1 Corinthians 5:11)

We have different levels of association because we share different things in common with different people. Often our expectations reverse God’s Word. We disassociate with the world because they won’t act right while we continue to associate with any so-called Christian in the name of grace. This is our failure to understand the different types of communion God gives. We share likeness with all men, we share salvation with believers. Our time around the Lord’s Table means something because we have Christ, not because we have an appetite.