Thursday, April 29, 2004

April 29, 2004

9:53 PM Marlene called to say I should watch MSNBC and I would see one of my friends on TV. Turns out that Pastor Erwin Lutzer of Moody Church in Chicago was part of a four-way interview regarding “The Da Vinci Code.” He has a new book out called “The Da Vinci Deception.” 9:21 PM All is well as the week rolls along in NY. Very warm today, temps in the upper 70s. Early today I taped two radio interviews with Joe Jordan. Then I taught three hours on Galatians. During a break, someone gave me a pencil drawing that one of the students had made of me. The guy is a good artist—although he made me look like a cross between Archie in the comics and a Southern gospel singer. Tonight Wayne and Ruthie Lewis took me to supper. Tomorrow I speak to the 2nd-year students in chapel, eat breakfast with Mike Calhoun, wrap up Galatians in the final two sessions with the first-year students, and then I move 9 miles north to Word of Life Inn for the Faithful Men Conference begins tomorrow night. We’re expecting around 350 men for the weekend. 8:57 PM John Kerry and Communion–Part 3 Christians generally have viewed the Lord’s Supper as one of the “ordinances” of the church. However much we may disagree on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, and despite the many different ways we observe it, Christians have always held that Christ gave the Lord’s Supper to the church as a way of remembering him after he returned to heaven. That statement by itself may seem unremarkable, but it actually has important implications for the current issue. First, to say that the Lord’s Supper is given to the church means that it is an observance meant for and limited to the true members of the church. From an evangelical perspective, we mean that it is limited to those who have made a true profession of faith in Jesus Christ, and thus are born again. Other churches might define it simply in terms of church membership. But the bottom line is the same: The Lord’s Supper is for Christians, not for non-Christians, and certainly not for followers of other religions. The Lord’s Supper is not an evangelistic event. Unbelievers may come but they are not to participate. We can sharpen the point by saying that it would be inappropriate for a Muslim to partake in the Lord’s Supper–and nearly all Muslims recognize this fact and would not dispute it or even question it. So even in the broadest perspective, there is an exclusionary element to communion. It’s not true that we welcome anyone and everyone to the table. Only true believers in Christ are invited to come because only they will understand its meaning. Second, the Lord’s Supper belongs not only to the church at large; it also belongs to each local church. And each church administers the Lord’s Supper in its own way–often in ways determined by larger denominational connections, sometimes entirely independently. It should not surprise us that churches define the limits of participation in different ways. Some churches practice “closed communion,” meaning (in its strictest sense) that communion is open only to the members of that particular local congregation–and only to those regarded as being in good standing. Some denominations practice “closed communion” on a denominational or confessional level–restricting participation to those believers who are members of a particular group of churches. Third, the Lord’s Supper historically has been viewed as a sign of fellowship with the church as a whole. In colonial times churches might observe the Lord’s Supper only a few times each year–with each observance preceded by preaching designed to lead to self-examination and readiness to partake in communion. Often churches held lengthy preparation services of prayer and repentance a day before or a week before the Lord’s Supper. Everyone understood that failure to prepare meant you could not partake in communion. Speaking in broad terms, the contemporary church has moved almost completely to the opposite end of the spectrum. Although we come to church to receive communion, we tend to view it as a private matter between us and the Lord. The idea that anyone would question our fitness seems almost un-American. But this reflects the hyper-individualism of our times where religion is first and foremost a private matter. Things are often different in other countries. Pastor Caleb Lucien of Pignon, Haiti, told me that at the Jerusalem Baptist Church in Pignon, they issue tickets to church members in good standing. Those with tickets are allowed to receive communion. Those without tickets are not allowed. Hard to imagine doing that in most American churches. John Armstrong says that we have lost our concept of ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church in the New Testament. I think he is right, and until we recover the concept of the church as the body of Christ, we will struggle with the concept of corporate accountability and the Lord’s Supper. At the moment, personal freedom trumps almost everything else. Paul’s sobering words in 1 Corinthians 11 offer a strong corrective to a me-first approach to the Lord’s Supper. That’s the topic for the next installment.

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