The Lord's Supper: An Overview

"Given for you" - Luke 22:19

The Lord’s Supper is an essential part of our worship. Along with baptism, prayer, and the word of God read and preached, communion is a primary means of grace. The means of grace are things which God has appointed, in his word, for the spiritual health and growth of his people.

As a divinely appointed means of grace, the Supper is more than a symbolic meal. By the ministry of the Holy Spirit working through faith, communion is a means where we commune with Christ and he strengthens and nourishes our faith. This post briefly explains our understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” (Luke 22:19)

Dimensions of the Lord’s Supper

A sacrament.  Sacraments are signs and seals of God’s promises (Rom 4:11). As signs, sacraments point to God’s promises; as seals, sacraments confirm God’s promises.

Throughout Scripture God gives his people promises and confirms them with signs (Gen 17:9-14; Exo 12:1-14; Mt 28:18-20; Lk 22:15-21). As signs, sacraments picture God’s gracious promises; as seals they confirm those promises to God’s people. Therefore, the Lord’s Supper visually represents the heart of the gospel – Christ dying for our sins, and it assures us of the love and grace of God revealed at the cross.

A memorial meal. The Lord’s Supper is a public remembrance of God’s mighty act of redemption (1 Cor 11:24). It reminds us of Christ’s atoning death as believers express their faith by partaking of the elements. As we remember the gospel made visible, faith is stirred, hope is strengthened, and our love for God and his people is exercised.

A communion meal. At the Table, the spiritual union of believers with Christ and fellow believers is expressed and experienced. We commune with Christ and our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Supper is a meal where we share fellowship with our Savior and the body of Christ (1 Cor 10:16-18).

The truth of communion is important for our understanding of the Lord’s Supper. The meal is not a bare remembrance of an absent Christ. Christ is not physically present with us at the Lord’s Supper, but he is truly present by the Holy Spirit, otherwise it would not be a communion meal. By the ministry of the Holy Spirit we truly commune with Christ at the Table. We are fed and nourished by him through faith (1 Cor 10:16). And as we do this together, we manifest our unity while we partake of the one bread (1 Cor 10:17).

A covenantal meal. God’s people are in covenant with the Lord. The goal of the covenant relationship is communion with God (Gen 17:2). The Lord’s Supper is a sign of the covenant (Lk 22:20). A covenantal understanding of the Lord’s Supper implies that it is an expression of the bond we have with God and his people. It is a meal in which we experience God’s love and favor, and we express our love to God as we devote ourselves afresh to walking before him in obedience. 

In corporate worship, and particularly during the Lord’s Supper, the covenantal relationship is renewed, sustained, and strengthened. In the Supper, God ratifies his promise to redeem his people through the cross of Christ, and our faith is sustained and nurtured as we promise commitment to Christ whom we trust (Mk 14:24).

A proclamatory meal. The Lord’s Supper preaches. It is “the word of God made visible.” When we eat the bread and drink the cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor 11:26). By partaking of the bread and drinking of the cup, we witness to God’s saving mercy in Christ. We tell the old, old story of what God has done to rescue and redeem his people.

This proclamation not only strengthens the faith of the faithful; it calls for the faith of the doubtful. This is a neglected but important aspect of the Lord’s Supper – it is evangelistic because it visibly proclaims the gospel of God. As the elements pass by unbelievers, they are not only hearing but seeing that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53).

A heavenly meal. The Supper anticipates a final heavenly banquet. The tension between the now and not yet of the Christian life is expressed. While on earth, we fellowship with Christ in heaven, and we look forward to the celebration of the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9). The Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of that heavenly banquet. Therefore, the Supper functions as a sign and foretaste of our victory over death and being raised with Christ in glory. As Jesus promised, one day we will eat and drink with him in his Father’s kingdom (Mt. 26:29).

 “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. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” (1 Corinthians 10:16-18)

Christ’s Presence at the Lord’s Supper

The question of the nature of Christ’s presence in communion has been a source of much debate. Here is a brief summary of four main views.

Transubstantiation. This is the Roman Catholic view. “This is my body” is taken literally. A miracle occurs when the priest pronounces the words of institution – the bread and wine, while remaining bread and wine in appearance, are substantially converted to be the body and blood of Christ.

There are two main problems with this view. First, there is no indication in Scripture that the elements are anything but bread and wine. When Jesus said “This is my body” he was standing right there (see also 1 Cor 11:26). The disciples would have understood Jesus’ language figuratively. Second, this view understands the Lord’s Supper as a sacrifice. According to Rome, the sacrifice Christ offered on the cross and the sacrifice of Mass are one single sacrifice. The problem, however, is that Jesus established the Lord’s Supper as a meal, not a sacrifice. He didn’t say “Take and offer it,” he said “Take and eat.” Christ’s atoning sacrifice occurred on the cross. It is not a reoccurring event. It is finished. He offered up his body and bore our sins in his body on the tree “once for all” (Heb 10:10).

Consubstantiation. Like Catholicism, Lutherans believe that Christ is physically present in the sacrament. However, instead of the elements being transformed, Christ is physically present with the elements. The body and blood of Christ accompany the elements of bread and wine while they remain bread and wine. Partakers eat and drink the substance of the body and blood of Christ along with the substance of bread and wine.

The Lutheran view requires an unbiblical view of Christ’s human nature. If Christ is physically present with the elements, then Jesus is no longer truly human. For the Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper to be true, Christ must be physically present in more than one place at one time. Lutherans argue this is possible because divine qualities have been communicated to Christ’s humanity. Christ is now able to be everywhere-present because his humanity has in some ways been divinized. But this confuses and mixes Christ’s divine and human natures. We confess that Christ is fully and truly both God and man – two natures united in one person without mixture, confusion, separation or division.

Symbolic Memorialism. In contrast to Catholic and Lutheran views, many Protestants hold to a memorialist view of the Supper. According to this view, the meal is purely symbolic. Faith in Christ is expressed as Christ’s death is remembered. It is not a means of grace; it is a memorial meal where we recall what Christ has done and express faith by eating and drinking. According to this view, Christ is not present. 

This view has trouble doing justice to 1 Corinthians 10 where Paul says that the cup is a participation in the blood of Christ and the bread a participation in the body of Christ (10:16).  Communion is a certainly a time for us to direct our thoughts to what Christ did for us, but it is also a time of real spiritual communion with Christ.

Real Spiritual Presence. By rejecting the Roman and Lutheran views, we deny that Christ is physically present during Communion. By rejecting the memorialist view, we deny that Christ is absent. So how should we understand the nature of Christ’s presence at the Lord’s Supper?

Reformed Christians affirm the real presence of Christ, but this presence is not physical; it’s spiritual. In other words, the Holy Spirit enables believers on earth to have real communion with Christ in heaven. We are drawn to Christ in his heavenly presence. At the Table, believers commune with the exalted Christ and are fed and nourished by him. Christ meets us in Communion and gives himself to us, nourishing our faith. The bread and wine remain bread and wine, but there is a real relation between the signs of bread and wine with the life-giving virtue of Christ’s body and blood when we eat and drink in faith (1 Corinthians 10:16; Westminster Confession of Faith 27.2).

A spiritual understanding of Christ’s presence avoids another error. Catholics and Lutherans affirm the objectivity of the sacrament – Christ is physically present in the elements objectively. Whoever partakes, even if it is without faith, feeds on Christ. The Reformed view is that Christ is present as the Holy Spirit works through faith. We feed on Christ spiritually – by the ministry of the Holy Spirit – when we eat and drink in faith. Without faith, we cannot understand the truth represented in the Supper, nor participate in its blessings. Because of the significance of what the bread and wine represent, to partake without faith is to eat and drink judgment on one’s self (1 Corinthians 11:29).

The spiritual presence of Christ is not an artificial presence. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a real communion meal. By the Spirit, Christ meets us as we eat and drink in faith.

 

Sunday School

Can I Trust the Bible? 

How can a Christian know that the twenty-seven books of the New Testament are the right ones? What distinguishes them from false gospels and fake apostolic letters? Do Christians have sufficient grounds to know which books are from God or do we simply receive them in blind faith? These are not academic questions; these are foundational questions that confront every Christian. Can you ever know with certainty that the books of the New Testament are from God? This is known as the problem of canon, and this is the issue we will take up in Sunday School this spring (March-May). This class is based on Michael Kruger’s book, Canon Revisited. Please join us as we study the origins and authority of the New Testament. Topics will include:

·       The Battle for the Bible: Survey of Current Challenges to the Bible

·       Bible Origins: The Bible as Community-Determined

·       Bible Origins: The Bible as Historically-Determined

·       Bible Origins: The Bible as Self-Authenticating

·       Defending and Exploring the Divine Qualities of Scripture

·       Defending and Exploring the Apostolic Origins of Scripture

·       Defending and Exploring the Corporate Reception of Scripture

·       New Testament Manuscripts and Book Production in the Early Church

·       False Gospels, Forgeries, and Apocryphal Texts

 

 

Book Review: Canon Revisited by Michael J. Kruger

Kruger, Michael Kruger J. Canon Revisted: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

How can a Christian know that the twenty-seven books of the New Testament are the right ones? Do believers have sufficient warrant to affirm the twenty-seven books of the New Testament or are they simply received in blind faith? These are not merely academic questions; these are questions that confront every Christian. Can Christians ever know with certainty that the books of the New Testament are the books God intends the church to have? This is the problem of canon, and these are questions that Dr. Michael Kruger addresses in Canon Revisited.

     The problem of canon cannot be ignored. After all, Bible-believing Christians confess the authority and sufficiency of the Bible for faith and life. But that belief is based on the conviction that Christians have the right books. Thus, the problem of canon is foundational. As Kruger suggests, unless the question of canon is answered, it “could become the single thread that unravels the entire garment of the Christian faith” (16).

     Critics are aware of the challenge this presents to historic Christianity. After all, “There can be no New Testament theology if there is no such thing as a New Testament in the first place” (16). Kruger mentions three factors contributing to the ongoing interest of critics in the New Testament canon. First, critics raise doubts about the authorship and date of various New Testament books. It is argued that many books are forgeries – written by later authors purporting to be an apostle. This, of course, is a challenge to the canonical status of the books in question. If the books are forgeries written much later than previously thought, why should they be authoritative for Christians? Why should they have canonical status? Are they really substantially different from other Christian texts dating back to the time of the early church?

     This brings up the second factor. In recent decades, several apocryphal books have been discovered, raising another challenge to the concept of canon. This has led critical scholars to suggest that there are additional Gospels and Scriptural texts that Christians need to factor into their faith.  

     A third factor is the enduring influence of a book written by Walter Bauer. The book is Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, and the thesis of the book is that early Christianity was, from the beginning, a diverse movement. There was no “Christianity” in the early church, only “Christianities,” and each group had its own supporting texts. According to Bauer, what we know today as Christian orthodoxy are the beliefs of those who had the power to enforce their views in the church. In other words, the New Testament canon is the result of the fight for power in the early church. “Thus,” Kruger writes, “the books of the New Testament canon are simply the books of the ‘winners’ of the early church power struggles, but do not necessarily represent ‘original’ Christianity and should not be considered normative for Christians” (19).  

     Critics distil these considerations down to one fundamental challenge to canon. Given the supposed forgeries of New Testament books, the presence of apocryphal literature, and the diversity of the early church, Christians cannot know with any real certainty if the books of the New Testament are the right ones. Kruger calls this the de jure objection to canon. There are many de facto objections to canon which in one way or another argue that Christian belief in canon is wrong because it is false. On the other hand, the de jure objection “argues not so much that Christian belief in canon is false, but that Christians have no rational basis for thinking they could ever know such a thing in the first place” (20). Christians must take the canon on blind faith because it’s impossible to know for sure that the books of the New Testament are the correct ones. In short, Christian belief in canon is irrational.

     Kruger’s distinction between de facto objections and the de jure objection clarifies the purpose of the book. The book does not attempt to objectively prove to skeptics that Christians are right about canon. Instead, it contains a persuasive response to the de jure objection to canon. Therefore, Kruger offers an account of a Christian’s knowledge of canon, arguing that Christians do indeed have intellectual warrant for affirming the New Testament canon (21).

 Part 1: Determining the Canonical Model

The book is comprised of two parts. Part one surveys canonical models which attempt to account for canon is authenticated. Chapters 1-2 review “community-determined” and “historically-determined” models, noting their strengths and weaknesses. Community-determined models, in some sense, argue that canonicity is established by people, whether individually or corporately (29). In other words, books are authenticated by the “reception or recognition of individuals or the church” (23). Therefore, canonicity is not something intrinsic to certain books but is a status imposed by an individual or group. Forms of the historically-determined model include the “historical-critical,” the “Roman Catholic,” the “canonical-criticism,” and the “existential/neoorthodox.” These groups rightly recognize that community reception is important. However, historically-determined models absolutizes the reception of canon so that it is authenticated only when it is received by the Christian community – whether individually or corporately.

     Chapter 2 evaluates the historically-determined models. These models attempt to establish canonicity on the basis of the reliability and origins of a book. Historical investigation establishes the status of a book or portions of a book if investigation can show that the book contains authentic teaching of Jesus and the apostles. The canon-within-the canon model is typically wed with higher-critical presuppositions. This model attempts to uncover the remnants of authentic Jesus-teaching that remains within the canon. The criteria-of-canonicity model, which is adopted by many evangelicals, tries to prove which books are canonical on the basis of established criteria (apostolicity, date, orthodoxy, etc.).

     The primary challenge Kruger raises against both models is that they try to “authenticate canon on the basis of something external to it” (289). Both appeal to an authority outside the canon in order to establish the canon. In the end, human judgment has the final say on which books are in and which books are out. While both models have legitimate insights into the formation of canon, they end up subjecting the canon to an external authority, effectively subjecting Scripture to the judgment of fallible man. Furthermore, both models fail to take into consideration the ontology of canon. That is, they do not adequately reckon with what the canon is.

     Chapter 3 explains the self-authenticating model. Rather than seeking to establish the canonical status of the New Testament on the basis of authority external to the canon, the self-authenticating model “ground[s] the canon in the only place it could be grounded, its own authority” (89). Canonical books – books given by God to his people – are inherently authoritative, and thus are self-authenticating. But what exactly does this mean? A potential misunderstanding would be to think that the canonical model suggests that New Testament books are canonical simply because the Bible says so. However, that’s not the argument. The self-authenticating model, says Kruger, “refer[s] to the way the canon itself provides the necessary direction and guidance about how it is to be authenticated.” Furthermore, “to say that canon is self-authenticating is simply to recognize that one cannot authenticate the canon without appealing to the canon. The New Testament canon speaks for itself. It sets the terms for its own validation and investigation” (91). In other words, the self-authenticating model applies Scripture to the question of canon.

     When we look to Scripture for direction on which books belong in the canon, Scripture “testifies to the fact that God has created the proper epistemic environment wherein belief in the New Testament canon can be reliably formed” (94). This environment includes three elements: (1) Providential exposure of the books to the church; (2) Attributes of canonicity; (3) The internal testimony of the Holy Spirit whereby believers – individually and corporately – are enabled to recognize the divine qualities of Scripture and believe the books of the New Testament are God’s books.

     Because God provides the necessary “epistemic environment” for knowing which books belong in the canon, Christians have sufficient warrant for affirming the New Testament canon. Believers can justifiably believe they have the right books because God has given apostolic books to the church, which are confirmed by their divine qualities and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

     A strength of the self-authenticating model is that it does not absolutize one definition of canon. Another helpful point made in the book is that the self-authenticating model is able to bring together varying definitions of canon to make sense of the historical development of canon. Kruger explains three potential definitions of canon. (1) The “exclusive” definition describes canon in terms of its reception. (2) The “functional” definition looks for when books were used as Scripture. (3) The “ontological” definition understands the books as divinely given and thus canonical the moment the ink dried. The self-authenticating model affirms all three of these definitions without absolutizing one over the others. If the canon is given by God (ontological definition), it was inevitable that those books would be used as Scripture by Christians (functional definition), and because they divine books which functioned as Scripture in the church, it was inevitable that over time those books would be corporately recognized by the church (exclusive definition). This allows us to affirm that the church had a canon of books very early while also recognizing that “the story of canon is indeed a process” (119).

 Part 2: Exploring and Defending the Canonical Model

Part 2 explores the attributes of canon and defends them against potential defeaters.

     The first attribute of canon, its divine qualities, is frequently ignored in canonical studies. This is largely due to the “naturalization of canon” in modern studies – trying to understand the origins and formation of the New Testament canon from a purely historical perspective while denying or ignoring the intrinsic character of Scripture. Kruger returns to the ancient path of understanding canon by considering the internal qualities of canonical books. Following the Westminster Confession of Faith, three categories of divine qualities are explained: beauty and excellency, power and efficacy, and the unity and harmony of Scripture. The books of the New Testament witness to their divine origins because they bear the beauty and perfection of God (127), they exhibit divine power, and together they display a remarkable unity in doctrine, redemptive-history, and covenantal and canonical structure.

     The divine qualities of Scripture have been challenged by critics. They point to apparent disagreements/contradictions between New Testament books. The defeater is essentially this: Since the books of the New Testament are inconsistent with one another, how can they possibly display the quality of unity and harmony? This objection is articulated by supporters of the Bauer thesis of diversity preceding unity in the early church. Thus, the canon as we know it is was established by the theological winners. But there’s a self-defeating contradiction in the defeater itself. Kruger points it out:

If the current form of the canon includes the preferred books of the theological winners and thereby represents a loss of great diversity, how, at the same time, can one claim that the Bible is composed of contradictory theological camps?...One cannot argue that the canon is the “invention” of the proto-orthodox designed to suppress the opposition and then turn around and argue that the canon is a cacophony of diverse theological viewpoints that stand in opposition (146).

 Therefore, the defeater lacks compelling force. Furthermore, the self-authenticating model affirms the presence of diversity in the New Testament; however, this is not a conflicting or contradictory diversity. Apparent contradictions can be explained and harmonized (i.e., Paul and James’ teaching on justification).

     The second attribute of canon is apostolic origins. This chapter examines the apostolic origins of the New Testament books which “reminds us that their authority – indeed their very existence – does not depend on the actions of the later church but is rooted in the foundational role played by the apostles as ‘ministers of the New Covenant” (161). Therefore, when the church later recognized these books, they did not become canonical; they already were by virtue of their apostolic origins.

     With the concept of covenant forming the structural framework for canon, and redemption accomplished through Christ being the rationale for further revelation, the apostles were God’s ordained agents to deliver New Testament revelation. Kruger writes, “God established the apostolic office to be the guardian, preserver, and transmitter of the message of redemption” (174). The New Testament books, therefore, are the “written expression of the authoritative, foundational, and eyewitness tradition delivered by the apostles of Jesus Christ” (181).

     The potential defeater to the apostolic origins is that several of the New Testament books are forgeries. If that is true, one cannot maintain that all books in the canon are apostolic. Kruger responds with four considerations: (1) Outside of critical circles, scholars have made persuasive arguments for the apostolic origins of the New Testament books; (2) Biblical criticism is based on non-Christian presuppositions, so it is not surprising when critical scholars challenge the historic Christian position on apostolic origins; (3) The attribute of apostolic origins is supported by the other attributes of divine qualities and corporate reception; (4) Methods used to prove that some books are forgeries are problematic.

     Chapters 6-8 explore the third attribute, the corporate reception of the canon. The role the church plays is not to establish the authority of the canon; rather, the church corporately recognizes which books are canonical. The church is enabled to do so by the internal witness of the Holy Spirit on a corporate level. Therefore, the church’s recognition of books provides further warrant for Christians to believe they have the right books. This warrant is based not on an infallible church; it is based on the internal witness of the Holy Spirit which was promised to the church by the Lord Jesus Christ.

     A potential defeater to corporate reception is the “canonical-diversity defeater” (196). If New Testament books are indeed from God, and the Holy Spirit imposes these books on the church, then why was there so much disagreement over them? Kruger argues that the defeater only works if it can be proven that the mere existence of disagreement over some canonical books conflicts with the self-authenticating model. However, this model has reasons to expect some disagreement over books in the historical development of canon. Reasons Kruger gives are: (1) False teachers and teaching; (2) Spiritual forces opposed to the church; (3) Peoples’ sinful resistance to God’s word; (4) The presence of heretical groups claiming to be the true church. Furthermore, Kruger shows that the level of disagreement over canonical books is often exaggerated by critics.

    In conclusion, Christians have an intellectually sufficient basis for believing the books that make up the New Testament are the right ones. Christians can give an account for the existence of canon from the standpoint of a theological and Christian worldview. God has given his books to the church. These apostolic books display divine qualities and thus are recognized and received by the corporate church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

Why It Matters: The Incarnation

The incarnation – like all Christian doctrines – is not for arid, abstract speculation. Instead, the mystery of the incarnation should produce adoring wonder and praise. Nevertheless, only as we seek to understand the incarnation as best we can will we know such wonder and awe. 

The incarnation means that Christ shares fully in our human nature except for sin. While remaining what he eternally was – fully and truly God – he became what he eternally was not – fully and truly human. Our Savior and Friend is true God and true man. The incarnation means that Christ shared in our humanity physically, psychologically, and emotionally. It’s the final aspect I want to dwell on briefly – Christ’s emotional life. Specifically I want to think about the fear – better yet, the terror – Jesus endured as the incarnate Son of God.

The theologian B. B. Warfield once wrote, “It belongs to the truth of our Lord’s humanity that he was subject to all sinless human emotions.” John Calvin put it another way: “Christ has put on our feelings along with our flesh.” Without sin, Jesus experienced the full gamut of our emotional life – joy and sadness, love and hatred, happiness and anger. Jesus was not an emotionless stoic, always unmoved. Never a slave to his emotions, Jesus responded with the appropriate emotion to every circumstance.

On the eve of his crucifixion, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was terrified. As the cross loomed on the horizon, Jesus was gripped with the shuddering horror of being under the unmitigated fury of Almighty God (Mark 14:33). He was to be the sin-bearer. He was to drink down the cup of God’s holy wrath.  Donald Macleod describes the scene vividly, “Immediately after telling his disciples that his soul was filled with mortal fear he turned away from them and set his face towards God: ‘He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed’ (Luke 22:41). There was nowhere else to go. Even the physical circumstances of his prayer make plain that it came out of a soul near the end of its resources. He throws himself prostrate on the ground. He is so exhausted by the first phase of his prayer that ‘an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him’ (Lk 22:44). And when he resumes his prayer, it is in anguish, praying so earnestly that his sweat falls like drops of blood to the ground….Here is a man pouring out his whole strength, physical and spiritual, into a plea that God would ‘save’ him. It is clear from all accounts that Jesus’ experience of turmoil and anguish was both real and profound. His sorrow was as great as a man could bear, his fear convulsive. He came within a hairsbreadth of break-down. He faced the will of God as raw holiness and it terrified him.”

Why such fear, Jesus? Because, in Gethsemane, the full reality of what it would cost to be the Savior hits home. To be the Savior of sinners, he must be counted “the greatest sinner that ever was” (Luther). At the cross, Jesus saw the sword of divine judgment raised to strike (Zechariah 13:7). On him the horrifying wrath of God would fall. He would taste the wages of sin. On the cross there would be no mercy, no reprieve, no consolation. There couldn’t be, if he was to be our Savior. And on the cross his fear of being forsaken and judged became a reality. His cry of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was met with the deafening silence of heaven, only to be interrupted by the clamor of scoffers he had come to save. God was present to Jesus, but it was not the presence of a loving Father that he had enjoyed from all eternity.  It was the presence of a holy God letting loose his holy wrath against sin. Jesus was cursed and cast into the outer darkness. The sinless one became sin and on the cross the waters of God’s judgment overwhelmed him.

Fear was an appropriate response in the face of such an horrifying reality. But Christ did not shrink back in fear. Donald Macleod again: “The wonder of the love of Christ for his people is not that for their sake he faced death without fear, but that for their sake he faced it, terrified. Terrified by what he knew, and terrified by what he did not know, he took damnation lovingly.” 

Christ has come in our flesh. He has come to save us from being cursed by becoming a curse for us. In Christ, you will never be forsaken by God because Christ was forsaken for you. Although Christ was horrified at everything the cross meant for him, he set his face on the cross like a flint (Isaiah 50:7) and for the joy set before him, he endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). He did not turn away in fear or shrink back. He experienced the darkness and horror of Calvary to bring us into the light and joy of heaven. Dear friends! because Christ came and suffered in our place, we need not fear ever being forsaken. Christ bore the horror and reality of judgment for his people. The fear of condemnation is gone because you are in Christ Jesus!

Praise God for the incarnate Christ who saves his people from their sins! 

Why It Matters: Church Membership

Church membership is vitally important. It’s probably a topic we don’t talk about enough. Therefore, I want to take a moment to remind us of why church membership matters.

1. Church membership is biblical. We need to start here because today many people suggest that church membership is something made up. “Sure,” someone may say, “it’s not okay to be a lone ranger Christian, by why formal church membership? Can’t I just go to church regularly and that be enough?” It’s true, of course, there is no verse that says to church leaders, “Thou shalt have a formal church membership roll.” Nevertheless, what the Bible teaches about the nature of the church and our responsibility to one another inevitably leads us to say that church membership is biblical. In other words, church membership is a good and necessary consequence of the teaching of the New Testament.

Think of how the Bible describes the local church. The church is “one body.” That’s true of the universal church, but it’s also true at a local level. And so Paul says in Romans 12 that each member of the body belongs to the others. This spiritual reality must express itself visibly and tangibly. We belong to one another at Trinity. I exist as a part of the body to serve the other parts, and you exist as part of the body to serve the other parts. Jesus has designed it that way.

The Bible also describes us as a family. We are members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19; 1 Timothy 3:15). We relate to one another as a family. We love one another. We are committed to one another. We hold one another accountable. There’s a household code that shapes how we relate to one another (1 Timothy 5:1-2).

The Bible also leads us to the practice of church membership as it talks about the responsibilities of elders. They are called to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2). Simply put, elders can’t do that if there is not a defined flock. One day, elders will stand before the Chief Shepherd and give an account for how they cared for Christ’s beloved sheep (that’s a sobering reminder for me!). Membership is a way for elders to effectively know, love, care for, and serve the “flock that is among them.”

Furthermore, membership is required by the command to “obey your leaders” (Hebrews 13:17). What leaders? The leaders of the church to which you belong, “for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” In other words, church membership is a way of defining which flock you belong to and who your spiritual leaders are. It’s a way of saying, “I’m a member of this particular flock and those are my elders. I’m accountable to them and they’re accountable to Christ for me.” 

2. Church membership is a way of publicly declaring your commitment to Christ and his people in a low-commitment culture. Sadly, I think it’s fair to say that some local social clubs require more of their members than churches ask of their members. In a culture where the consumer is sovereign, and where if the consumer isn’t pleased they just move to another provider, committing to a local church sends a powerful message. We’re saying, “I’m not here to be a passive consumer; I’m here to serve. I am committed to these dear brothers and sisters and they are committed to me. Even when troubles arise, we are committed to maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

3. Church membership keeps us accountable

If we know our hearts, we know we need accountability. I know I do. When we become members of a local church, that’s what we should get: biblically-informed, gospel-centered, Christ-honoring, love-motivated accountability.

Mark Dever has written a book about the church and I like the way he describes church membership: “Church membership is our opportunity to grasp hold of each other in responsibility and love. By identifying ourselves with a particular church, we let the [elders] and other members of that local church know that we intend to be committed in attendance, giving, prayer, and service. We allow fellow believers to have great expectations of us in these areas, and we make it known that we are the responsibility of this local church. We assure the church of our commitment to Christ in serving with them, and we call for their commitment to serve and encourage as well.”

We could surely come up with others reasons for why membership matters, but here are three good reasons: (1). Membership is biblical; (2). Membership is a way of declaring our commitment to Christ and his people in a low-commitment culture; (3). Membership keeps us accountable.

In our low-commitment culture, let’s make the high commitment of taking hold of one another in responsibility and love.

For Christ and His Kingdom,

            Pastor Jared

Book Recommendation

Bible surveys are handy resources. A quality Bible survey will tell you what you need to know about each book found in Scripture. Surveys give you what you need so you can better understand and apply God's Word.

Rodger Crooks has put together a excellent survey of all sixty-six books of the Bible. He helps readers know not only what individual books of the Bible are about, but also how all of the Bible fits together in One Lord, One Plan, One People: A Journey Through the Bible From Genesis to Revelation. Crooks looks at each book of the Bible and in just a few pages helps us understand the author's historical setting and the message and major themes of each book. 

This resource will prove useful for a lot of people. Fathers could use this book in family worship to teach their families about different books of the Bible. Every Christian could use a primer on the essential message of each book of the Bible; this book provides that. Younger Christians could read this book to grow in their knowledge of Scripture and see how all of the Bible points to Jesus. For Christians afraid of venturing into their Old Testaments, this book will encourage them to profit from reading all of God's Word, not just the Gospels and New Testament epistles! I would also give this book to an unbeliever who wants to understand what the Bible is about. The author's conviction is that Jesus Christ is the central theme of all of the Bible. Each chapter connects each book of the Bible with God's plan to save a people for himself through Christ. 

I've been looking for a good Bible survey for a while. I found what I was looking for with Rodger Crook's book. 

One Lord, One Plan, One People: A Journey Through the Bible From Genesis to Revelation

 

Why Did God Give Us Sacraments?

Sacraments were graciously given by God in both the Old and New Testaments (Genesis 17:7, 10; Matthew 28:19; Luke 22:19). But why did God give us sacraments? Why do we need baptism and the Lord’s supper? The Westminster Confession reminds us of four functions of the sacraments (27.1).

1. Sacraments point us to Christ and the blessings of belonging to him.

Circumcision was a sign of the righteousness Abraham had by faith (Romans 4:11). That is to say, it was an outward sign that pointed Abraham to a spiritual reality. For New Testament believers, baptism visibly portrays the gospel – all who trust in Christ are saved. The Passover Lamb of the Old Testament pointed to the Lamb of God who came in the New Testament to take away the sins of the world (John 19:36). The Lord’s Supper visibly proclaims the death of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:26); we drink from the cup, remembering that it is Christ’s blood that atones for our sins (1 Corinthians 11:25). Sacraments point us to Jesus and his benefits.

2. Sacraments confirm our relationship with Christ.

God gave the sacraments to assure us of our interest in Jesus. In other words, sacraments confirm that true believers have a claim to Christ. They affirm our relationship with Christ. Circumcision was not only a sign, pointing to a spiritual reality; it was also a seal that confirmed the righteousness Abraham had by faith (Romans 4:11). As a seal, baptism provides believers with a source of assurance. The Lord’s supper is a communion meal evidencing that we have participation in the body and blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16).

3. Sacraments distinguish God’s people from the rest of the world.

Sacraments are visible markers. Male Israelites in the Old Testament received the sign of circumcision, marking them off as members of the covenant community. So too, circumcision’s New Testament counterpart, baptism, is the outward sign of entrance into the visible church (Matthew 28:19-20). Believers and their children are baptized into the name of the triune God (Matthew 28:19); they are marked off as his people. The Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of a meal that is yet to come where Christ will welcome his people to his table (Revelation 19:9), while those who reject him in this life will be cast out into utter darkness. In this sense, the Lord’s Supper is inherently evangelistic. It visibly declares that unless we have faith in Christ, we have no claim to his benefits.

4. Sacraments bind Christians to the service of the Lord.

If sacraments point us to Christ and sharing in his benefits, if they confirm our relationship with him, and if they mark us off as his covenant people, then they must also engage us in service to the One who has redeemed us. Baptized believers must live to serve their Master and strive to be like their Teacher (Matthew 10:25; 28:19-20). The union and communion of believers with Christ celebrated at the Lord’s supper must be reflected in the lives of Christ’s people.

 

Can I be a Disciple of Jesus Without Belonging to a Local Church?

Discipleship and the Church

Discipleship involves the making and nurturing of disciples of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). Professing faith in Jesus commences the lifelong journey of being a pupil of the Lord Jesus. So where is this kind of discipleship supposed to be taking place? Answer: your local church.

Today, many Christians consider the church unimportant, outdated, inefficient, and maybe even a hindrance. Others have been hurt by the church and have virtually given up on her. While the church will always be imperfect this side of heaven, such views fail to take seriously God’s intent for the local church and its role in the life of believers. The church is at the very heart of Jesus’ mission. Christ came to die for his church (Ephesians 5:25). The church is the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7). The church is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). And the church is called to go and make disciples and to teach them all that Christ has commanded (Matthew 18:18-20).

The importance of the local church for discipleship has practical implications. Discipleship involves a community of believers; it is never a solo endeavor. There are no lone ranger disciples. God’s appointed arena for discipleship is the church (Ephesians 4:11-16). We need to be involved in the life of a church through worship, instruction, and relationships with fellow believers. Without these components, growth in the Christian life ordinarily does not happen. In the church we are called to worship together (Hebrews 10:25), to grow together (Colossians 1:9-10), and to love one another. The display of this love is actually how the world knows that we are Christ’s disciples (John 13:34-35)! In short, discipleship requires involvement in a local church (Romans 12:3-17). 

Because we are passionate about people knowing Christ and growing in Christ, we are also passionate about the importance of the local church because the church is where discipleship takes place. At Trinity, our desire is to see people trust in the Lord, to know him more deeply, to love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly.

Christ-centered Discipleship

Jesus Christ is central to discipleship. We first become disciples by repenting of our sin and believing in the Lord Jesus for salvation, but discipleship does not end with conversion. Discipleship also involves being trained in the Christian faith with the goal of being like Christ (Luke 6:40). In fact, the Father’s purpose for us in salvation is to make us resemble his Son, Jesus (Romans 8:29).

We are passionate about Christ-centered discipleship at Trinity. We long to see people know Christ as their Savior and Lord, and we want to see disciples increasingly conformed to Christ for the glory of God. To that end, at Trinity, we are devoted to knowing Christ and being trained as his disciples. One of the ways we pursue discipleship is through Trinity’s Adult Sunday School Ministry.

Adult Sunday School at Trinity

The vital work of Christian education is to provide opportunity for spiritual growth and fellowship. We strive to that end by teaching the Bible so our minds are renewed by God’s Word and lives are transformed for the glory of God. We hope to train disciples with solid biblical instruction, providing them with opportunities to grow in their understanding of God’s Word and its implications for all of life.

Through our Sunday School ministry, we hope to accomplish several goals:

1. Disciples devoted to the Lord and a personal relationship with him through saving faith in Jesus Christ.

2. Disciples who love to fellowship with one another by studying Scripture together (Acts 2:42).

3. Disciples committed to knowing and understanding the Bible for personal growth and godliness (1 Timothy 4:7).

4. Disciples equipped through biblical instruction for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

"He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine...Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Learning, Loving, Living: A Biblical Model for Discipleship

A Christian education program must not only provide thorough instruction in the Christian faith; it must also maintain a comprehensive concern for disciples of Jesus. Therefore, instruction at Trinity is designed to foster disciples who know the Lord, who love the Lord, and who serve the Lord. This threefold model of the Christian life provides a holistic pattern for a biblically balanced Christian education.

In the history of the church this triad has been spoken of in several different ways. Doctrine, duty, and delight. Head, heart, hands. Theology, ethics, worship. We will use the triad: learn, love, live.

Learn: Disciples are called to be students of the Word. Our Father wants us to grow into wise disciples of the Lord Jesus (Proverbs 1:5; 1 Corinthians 14:20). Growth in discipleship comes first, by the Spirit’s help, through a deepening knowledge and understanding of God’s Word (Romans 12:1-2).

Love: Disciples are called to love. Therefore, instruction must also promote a deepening love for God and neighbor. Learning about God and what he requires of us should never be a merely cerebral activity. After all, what good is knowledge without love? It’s worthless; it puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1). The purpose of knowing more of God’s Word is so that we might fall more deeply in love with the Lord who made us and redeemed us. “Love the Lord, all you his saints!” (Psalm 31:23).

Live: Disciples are called to live for the glory of God. Learning and living are inextricably linked. Paul prayed that Christians may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will so they might walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. In other words, for a Christian to bear fruit in good works, they must first be in Christ and rooted deeply in the soil of biblical truth (Colossians 1:9-10; Psalm 1:2-3). The goal of biblical knowledge is to know the Lord, to do the Lord’s will, and to be like the Lord.

By applying this model at Trinity, we hope to integrate theology and practice. As disciples we want to live based on what we believe as Christians because “theology is for doxology and devotion—that is, the praise of God and the practice of godliness” (J.I. Packer).

The Mission of the Church

What is the mission of the church? Edmund Clowney in his book The Church provides a helpful and more importantly biblical answer to that vital question. Clowney orders the mission of the church into three categories of ministry: the church serves God in worship, the church serves the saints in nurture, and the church serves the world through witness (199). In all three of these ministries, the mission is spiritual in nature and it is guided by the Word of God. So we worship according to God’s Word; we are nurtured as disciples by the Word; and the Word is what the church proclaims to the nations.

1. The worship of the true God. Clowney reminds us that it is God’s glory which attracts sincere worship, not programs or styles of worship. The glory of God as Creator and Redeemer draws the renewed heart to worship in reverence and awe. If God’s glory is the primary goal of our worship, it will be the governing motive of all we do in worship. And what better way to glorify God in worship than to worship according to his Word? Graciously, God has given direction for how we are to worship, and the church should not do anything in worship except what God directly calls for. God summons us to worship on his terms, not our own. He prescribes what he wants us to do in worship. While such an idea might seem restrictive, it is actually liberating. When we worship God God’s way, we can come with a clear conscience, coming in the name of his beloved Son who shed his own blood for his Bride, and worship the Lord with all our heart and mind.

2. The nurture of the saints. The aim of the ministry to the saints aims to see them grow to maturity in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 14:20). Church nurture aims for growth in grace, fruitfulness, and holiness. These are necessary pursuits for Christians, not to make them Christians but because they are Christians by God’s grace. Union with Christ entails both forensic and renovative benefits which therefore compels the building up of the body of Christ through the nurturing ministry of the church (Ephesians 4:11-16).  The goal of nurture, writes Clowney, is, “to know the Lord, to do the Lord’s will, and to be like the Lord” (143). We must know the true God through Jesus Christ, and knowing the true God cannot be separated from the rest of the Christian's life. We live out this new life in Christ knowing that it is the Spirit who sanctifies us, conforming us to the likeness of Christ.

3. The Great Commission. What is the mission of the church relative to the world? The mission of the church is the mission Jesus. Christ came into the world to bring good news, to call people to faith and repentance, to gather his people, and to form them into a body of believers. The church continues to carry on the mission of Christ in the world. Clowney makes this striking statement: “Mission is not an optional activity for Christ’s disciples. If they are not gatherers, they are scatterers” (159). He further explains, “The congregation that ignores mission will atrophy…It will inevitably begin to lose its own young people, disillusioned by hearing the gospel trumpet sounded every Sunday for those who never march” (160). Jesus came into the world on a mission to bring good news, and he has given his church the mission to take that news to the world.

I appreciate the biblical clarity Clowney provides for this important question. What is the mission of Trinity Presbyterian Church? To worship God, to nurture the saints, and to take the gospel to the world.