Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Eucharist, Lord's Supper, Communion

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4 ESV) 
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17 ESV) 
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV)

Surrounding the passage from 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul indicts the Corinthians for unworthy participation in the Lord's Supper, there are these interesting descriptions of the corporate body of Christ. The descriptions speak of eating and drinking and of being baptized. The common thread in each of them is the unity. The whole of Israel in the wilderness partook of Christ in baptism and in spiritual food and drink. The whole of the Church is one bread, one body, partaking of one bread, which is Christ. The whole of the Church is baptized into one body, drinking of one Spirit.

The tremendous unity portrayed in baptism and the Lord's Supper stands in stark contrast to the practice of the Corinthians in taking part in the Lord's Supper:
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Corinthians 11:18-22 ESV)
Paul isn't simply arguing that there is a wrongful participation in the Lord's Supper, but that the Supper isn't even genuine because the necessary unity of the Body is absent. Notice that the emphasis is not upon what the Corinthians are contemplating during the Supper, but the fact that they are intentionally dividing themselves into factions and separating some of the Church out from the Lord's Meal. Immediately following this indictment, Paul gives the words of institution, followed by the stern warning:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32 ESV)
There seems to be two problems in what the Corinthians are doing. First, and I think foremost in the context, the Corinthians are effectively excommunicating one another from participation in the Body of Christ. An apt metaphor would be the willful amputation of a limb. The second problem is the lack of sobermindedness in their participation in the Lord's Supper. Instead of acknowledging the bread and wine as communion with Christ, through the Holy Spirit, by faith, in His body and blood (something immediately analogous to the Israelites feeding on Christ in the wilderness), they are eating and drinking as if the meal were common, thereby disdaining the Lord's Presence at His own meal.

Paul concludes the section with a command that addresses both issues:
So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. (1 Corinthians 11:33-34 ESV)
The Corinthians are to participate as one unified body, and they are to participate not as though the meal is common, as though it is but a way to replenish their physical bodies, but for the spiritual nourishment of communing, by faith and by the Spirit, in the body and blood of Christ.

It is at this point where we can introduce the contemporary Presbyterian debate concerning children at the Lord's Table. Paedocommunionists rightly recognize that Paul's primary emphasis is upon the disunity created by the Corinthians' willful exclusion of their brothers and fellow members of Christ's body. Certainly, Paul's thought is not concentrated upon children, whose ability to sin in this way is extremely limited, if not impossible. Nonpaedocommunionists rightly acknowledge Paul's emphasis upon recognizing the spiritual meaning of the Lord's Supper that Paul desires the Corinthians to attend to faithfully. To take the meal as if it were any other meal is to profane the communion with our Lord.

The issue then becomes, is a child of the covenant profaning the Supper if they partake of the meal while lacking an adult understanding of what it means? I think the answer has to be no, and for the same reason that we don't consider covenant children heretics for having modalist or tritheist views of God, or of having a Nestorian view of the hypostatic union as we seek to guide their thoughts according to Scripture and our Creeds and Confessions. The meaning of the Lord's Supper is both simple and profound; simple insofar as we believe that Christ is truly and really united with us in our partaking, and profound in seeking to discern the fullness and precise nature of that union. A typical covenant child may easily accept upon the instruction of a parent that partaking in the Supper is not a "snack" or a "meal" like any other meal, but is our opportunity to "draw close to God our Father, through His Son, and by His Spirit". In fact, I would argue that the typical covenant child's good faith acceptance of such parental instruction is far less skeptical and "hard to swallow" than the new adult convert who has greater baggage of years of unbelief and autonomous, unbiblical thinking against which he must fight. The typical covenant child rests comfortably in his parents' explanation, not because he has laid hold of the full doctrine through a systematic and logical analysis of the terms, but because he loves and trusts the authority (i.e. parents) God has set over him, and that is precisely the sort of faith required, for it is how Jesus said those who believed in Him had access to the Father, and how those who believed in the testimony of the Apostles had access to the Son and to the Father, and how the Apostles told their ministers how the people would have access to the Apostle's testimony, and to the Son, and to the Father. In other words, those whom God appoints as spiritual authorities bear His name and are His representatives in whom faithful trust is received as genuine and obedient. It is upon those representatives' heads should they deceive those under them into unbelief and disobedience, causing God's little ones to stumble (perhaps this explains many adults' reticence to allow their children's faith in their instruction to count as faith in God, effectively hiding the "talent" God has entrusted to them lest they risk being blamed for its misuse).

A child's ability to articulate their faith verbally is far less developed than that an adult, but a child's ability to wholeheartedly accept and rest in the instruction of his parents is far more developed than that of an adult who is a new convert to trust in the testimony of the pastor or elders--far more developed, perhaps, than even an adult who is simply immature in the faith, and not newly converted. It is granted that where children are welcomed to the Lord's Table the parents bear a sober and weighty responsibility to shepherd their children in the proper posture and principles of participation. But that great responsibility is wed to minds that are supple, responsive, and, in general, delight to follow wherever the parents lead.

Another issue, which would take more space than I'd will end up using here, is whether or not the contemporary church, including and especially  the Presbyterians for whom this debate is most relevant, have a proper grasp of the importance and vitality of the Lord's Supper in the life of the Church. Robert Letham, in his book, Union with Christ, gives two thesis about the Lord's Supper that indicate, in brief, the significance of what participation entails:
The body and blood of Christ are not materially, corporeally, or physically present in the Lord's Supper. . . .As surely as we eat the bread and drink the wine, so Christ enters our souls. As WCF 29.7 says, the faithful receive and feed on Christ in the Lord's Supper really and truly. No amount of stress on the spiritual aspect of the Supper, which is of course a correct stress, can ever diminish the real and true feeding that takes place there. As Jesus said, "my flesh is true meat and my blood is true drink" (John 6:51-58). Or in the words of Paul, in union with Christ we are given "one Spirit to drink" (1 Cor. 12:13). . . .In the Lord's Supper we are lifted up to feed on Christ. This is real and true, for it is communion with the Son in the Holy Spirit and thus entails personal access to the Father. We are given to share in the life of the Trinity. In the Supper, the Spirit lifts us up to feed on Christ. Since he is God, he joins things separated by distance, as Calvin said, uniting those that are spatially far apart. The Spirit and the Son are indivisible with the Father in the unity of the Holy Trinity. Moreover, the Spirit's distinctive work is to glorify Christ and lead his people to him through the faith he gives them. Indeed, Paul regards the Spirit as so close to the risen Christ that he can call him "the Spirit of the Lord" and "the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:17)
Presbyterians who wish to emphasize that the gospel ought to be the central message of every sermon should find in Letham's description of the Supper the visual analogy of the centrality of the gospel preached. Augustine called the Supper, "a kind of visible word of God." Where the gospel is preached through the sermon, it is also displayed and partaken of through the Supper. What Christian would knowingly flee from the opportunity to have the closest foretaste of the new heavens and earth offered this side of its realization--the Spirit's drawing us directly into the presence of Christ, by faith? What father who loves his child, and trusts God's Covenant promise to his child, would not desire his son or daughter such sublime access to the Triune God? What father who has accepted and acknowledged the promises of God for his child in the waters of baptism would want to refuse a chief benefit of those promises in the spiritual nourishment of the Son in union with Father and Spirit that is accomplished at the Table of Christ? This is no check-mark on the list of "good Christian achievements," nor is it a competition to see how young a child's "progress in understanding" can be accomplished. It is a real and true union and communion with our Triune God. It makes no sense to objectively regard our children as possessing fellowship with God and to keep them from the meal by which they are drawn closest to Him by faith. The historic, common Presbyterian confessions regarding the Covenant, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper are so far from precluding children from the spiritual realities set forth in the Supper it is baffling to me that the debate exists at all, much less that it is the paedocommunionist who stands in the minority position.

I am in genuine consternation and anguish over these things, and though I believe that I understand the majority position on the matter, I am far removed from comprehending the conviction it carries with so many.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Society's Basic Unit

'The family is not of man's making; it is a gift of God and full of life. Upbringing in the family bears a quite special character. No school or educational institution can replace or compensate for the family. "Everything educates in the family, the handshake of the father, the voice of the mother, the older brother, the younger sister, the baby in the cradle, the sick loved one, the grandparents and the grandchildren, the uncles and the aunts, the guests and friends, prosperity and adversity, the feast day and the day of mourning, Sundays and workdays, the prayer and the thanksgiving at the table and the reading of God's Word, the morning and evening prayer. Everything is engaged to educate one another, from day to day, from hour to hour, unintentionally, without previously devised plan, method or system. From everything proceeds an educative influence though it can neither be analyzed nor calculated. A thousand insignificant things, a thousand trifles, a thousand details, all have their effect. It is life itself that here educates, life in its greatness, the rich, inexhaustible, universal life. The family is the school of life, because there is its spring and its hearth.' In A.B.W.M. Kok, Herman Bavinck, Amsterdam, 1945, pp. 18 19.]

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Satan and Immanuel

There is a reason why Satan is named Satan. The word means "accuser, adversary, opposer, obstructor, " in Hebrew. He opposed God in Heaven. He opposed God's first man and woman in the Garden. He opposed Job in the book bearing that name.

There is an "opposing" reason why the Son of God is named Immanuel in His incarnation. The word means "God with us," but the connotation is more than just that of presence. It includes and perhaps emphasizes a union by steadfast faithfulness and support. Isaiah 8:10 brings out this emphasis well: "Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us" (ESV). The counsel or word that will not stand is that of opposition, the plans laid for the destruction or conquest of God's people. But these plans are thwarted because "God is with us," that is, God is for us.

The importance of Jesus Christ as our Immanuel is that it is by His accomplished and continuing work that the accusations and opposition of Satan are nullified; made of no effect. Manifest though the schemes and suggestions of Satan and his minions may be, great though his power and influence may be (or have been), it is incomparable to the God of the Universe who is with us and for us.

If we imagined Satan as the prosecution's key witness (as when God, the judge of all the heavens and earth, says, "consider my servant Job" to Satan) we could also imagine God the son as the key witness in our defense (as when Job's self-defense seems hopeless and he cries, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth," Job 19:25). The Lord God of Truth, the Logos of God, the Wisdom and Power of God stands between the judge and the accused and pleads His own righteousness in their stead: for He is God with us, Immanuel. Therefore James can say, "But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:6-7). With the judge appeased and satisfied in his justice He no longer stands in judgment, but has declared righteousness for our account and can no longer take account of Satan's accusations. His testimony is out of order. His claims have no claim upon those in Immanuel's hands.

Therefore the believer must, as James says, submit himself to the judge, who is now no longer judge, but Father, by virtue  of the sonship conferred upon those claimed by the Son, as joint heirs. The voice of God no longer condemns, but disciplines. He no longer stores up wrath, but pours out mercy. He no longer sits upon the bench to execute vengeance on us, but draws us up onto his knee to train us in His grace. Where before we feared God and despaired of His wrath, now we fear God and marvel of His love, for,

"By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." (1 John 4:13-18 ESV)

And if God loves us, Satan's hate is of no effect. Neither can sin have any power over us that we cannot defeat,

"For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:3-5 ESV)

The believer in Christ need not bear any accusation, however many reproaches he must endure, for the love of God is for him, to grow him up into perfection through however many trials and falls and redirections may be required. Let no son of God fear the reproach of God or of a brother or of an unbeliever, for they are all the gentle hand of the Father to bring him up into the image of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.