How Do We Honor Christ in the Lord’s Supper?

In a previous post, we answered the question: “Why Do We Celebrate the Lord’s Supper?”

In this post, we want to answer the question: “How Do We Honor Christ in the Lord’s Supper?”  In other words, how do we come to the Table of Christ (or not come to the Table) in a way that brings honor and glory and praise to Christ?

As we saw in the previous post, the Supper was commanded by Christ (see Luke 22:19) and the early church took this command very seriously.  All faithful churches, down to this day, celebrate the Supper regularly.

If the Supper is so important, it is imperative for us to seek to understand how to celebrate it in a manner that honors Christ.  Below I’d like to offer a few thoughts:

The first way we may honor Christ in the Supper is by recognizing the true meaning of the Lord’s Supper.  Jesus said in 1 Cor. 11:24-26:

“‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’  In the same way, He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

The Lord’s Supper is a solemn time in which believers remember the death of Jesus Christ for us.  The breaking of the bread and pouring out of the wine or juice should remind us of that solemn night at the Last Supper when Jesus was betrayed and eventually crucified.  As we hear the Words of Institution recited, as we see the bread broken and juice poured, as we taste of the body and blood of Christ, we look through these sensory experiences to the reality of Christ’s death and remember that this is more than an ordinary meal, but a commemoration of a horrific, yet glorious, event that took place some 2,000 years ago.  As we receive the elements of this sacrificial meal, we are tangibly reminded of our unbreakable union with Christ which was secured for us in the death that Jesus died.  In remembering the true meaning of the Supper, we honor Christ.

The second way we honor Christ in the Supper is by receiving the Supper in faith.  This goes beyond mere mental recognition of the meaning of the Supper.  A person may have an accurate understanding of what the Supper is and the purpose it serves, yet fail to believe that Christ actually does offer Himself for them personally.  Such a person is not benefited by the Supper, and Christ is not honored in their partaking of it.  Calvin puts it this way:

“Wherefore, let it be a fixed point, that the office of the sacraments differs not from the word of God; and this is to hold forth and offer Christ to us, and, in him, the treasures of heavenly grace. They confer nothing, and avail nothing, if not received in faith, just as wine and oil, or any other liquor, however large the quantity which you pour out, will run away and perish unless there be an open vessel to receive it. When the vessel is not open, though it may be sprinkled all over, it will nevertheless remain entirely empty.”1

The Word of God and the sacraments of the Church are only beneficial to those who receive them with faith (see for instance, Hebrews 4:1-2).  As we come to the Table, we should come with faith–as “open vessels”.  If our hearts are filled with doubts, let us pray the prayer of the father of the boy with the evil spirit in Mark 9:24: “I do believe; help my unbelief.”  We honor Christ in the Supper when we partake it in faith–even with the faith of a mustard seed.

The third way we honor Christ in our partaking of the Supper is by seeing our need for it.  People of faith recognize that faith itself is no shield from the world’s problems or dilemmas.  Needs don’t suddenly go away because a person believes.  In fact, faith often makes a person more aware of their neediness and fragility.  This awareness is manifest in the believer’s approach to the Supper.  For them, the Supper represents their need for regular nourishment, both physical and spiritual. By partaking of the Supper regularly we are reminding ourselves of our ongoing need for Christ and His forgiveness; we are receiving Christ’s offer of Himself for our sins again and again.  Howard Griffith writes:

“Why then did Jesus command his disciples to eat and drink, and to do so repeatedly?  So that they might have the assurance of sins forgiven.  The bread taken and eaten, the wine drunk, represent the application of salvation to believers, because Christ’s words gave them and continue to give them that meaning.”2

Being a Christian is more than a moment in time when we “prayed a prayer” and “surrendered”, it is an ongoing embrace of the good news of the gospel, that Christ offered Himself for us.  We honor Christ in the Supper when we recognize our ongoing need for Jesus as we come to the Table.

The fourth way we honor Christ in our partaking of the Supper is by respecting the boundaries of the Supper put in place by Christ Himself.  If faith is necessary to honor Christ in the Supper (as stated above), then it follows that those who have not received the Lord Jesus by faith should abstain.3  In 1 Corinthians 10:16 Paul says:

“Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?”

How can those who have not yet received Christ in faith “share” in His body?  In the words of Anthony Carter:

“Communion, or common union, is born out of union with Christ. Only those in union with Christ have fellowship with Him. They share in His body and His blood and are consequently united to Him (John 6:56). The unconverted has no fellowship with Christ. The unconverted has no union with Him. There is no promise of Christ’s abiding with him. He has no portion in the body of Christ broken or the blood of Christ shed. Consequently, there can be no sharing in the elements that signify the person and work of Christ for the church (1 Cor. 11:24). The converted, on the other hand, discern that such are the blessings of being united to Christ.” 4

But there is another group that should also abstain from the Supper: the unrepentant.  In 1 Cor. 11:28 and 29 Paul says:

“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.” (ESV)

Again, in the words of Anthony Carter:

“The Christian life is the examined life, the life that takes seriously the call to repentance and the promise of forgiveness (1 John. 1:8–92:1). Unfortunately, there are those who deny the grace of repentance by hardening their hearts and refusing to forgive or be forgiven. Those who refuse to acknowledge their sin, but harbor bitterness, malice, and hatred in their hearts, and refuse godly counsel toward reconciliation with God and others, and thus neglect the grace of repentance—let them refrain from the Lord’s Table. Otherwise, to eat and to drink in such a state is to call forth the disciplining hand of God (1 Cor. 11:32).”5

If we desire to honor Christ in the Supper we must honor the boundaries that Christ Himself has put into place.

The last thought I have for you is this: we honor Christ by making ourselves available to partake of the Supper as often as possible.  If all that I have said above is true, it is imperative that we make ourselves available to partake of the Supper.  It will nourish and enliven your faith.

If your church celebrates the Supper every week, missing a week here and there will present no major problem.  However, if your church only celebrates the Supper once a month or once a quarter, it is imperative, if at all possible, that you make every effort to be present.  Christ is eager to meet you there and to give you more of Himself.

  1. John Calvin, “The Institutes of the Christian Religion,” Book 4, Section 17.
  2. Spreading the Feast (P&R, 2015), 47-48.
  3. This point has not been controversial until recently.  In the 2,000 year history of the Church, I am personally not aware of any movement in the Church where non-believers were allowed to partake of the Supper, that is, until recently.  This should give us tremendous pause when we see some current day leaders in the Church opening the table to anyone and everyone.
  4. See the article “When Should You Not Take Communion?” at https://www.ligonier.org/blog/when-should-you-not-take-communion/. Accessed on 08/23/18.
  5. See the article “When Should You Not Take Communion?” at https://www.ligonier.org/blog/when-should-you-not-take-communion/. Accessed on 08/23/18.

Why Do We Celebrate the Lord’s Supper?

“On the night Jesus was betrayed, He took bread, broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is given for you, do this in remembrance of Me.'”

If you have attended church at some point in your life, chances are good that you have heard those words before.

These words make up part of what Christian churches call “The Words of Institution.”  The Words of Institution are the words spoken by Christ Himself at the Last Supper as He inaugurated the new covenant in His blood (see Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26).1  All Christian churches since the time these words were first spoken by Jesus have repeated these words in preparation for their celebrations of the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharistic celebrations).  To this day, churches of all stripes across the world re-enact portions of the Last Supper event regularly as a core part of their worship.

But why?  Why do churches regularly re-enact this Last Supper event?

The simplest answer is because Jesus commanded His followers to do so.  In Luke 22:19, Jesus says at the Last Supper table to His disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

The apostle Paul says that he received instruction on the celebration of the Supper “from the Lord”  and “delivered” that same instruction to the churches he started (1 Cor. 11:23).   All churches that are faithful to the Bible, since the time of Christ, commemorate the Lord’s death in the Supper in one way or another at regular intervals.2 John Piper says:

“[T]he historical origin of the Lord’s Supper is that final supper that Jesus ate with his disciples the night before he was crucified. The actions and meaning of it are all rooted in what Jesus said and did on that last night. Jesus himself is the origin of the Lord’s Supper. He commanded that it be continued. And he is the focus and content of it.”3

EUCHARIST, COMMUNION, OR LORD’S SUPPER?

But the practice is richer than sheer obedience to commands.  Some of that richness can be seen in the various names given to the practice of re-enacting the Last Supper.  Here are some examples:

The Eucharist.  The word Eucharist literally means “thanksgiving.”  This terminology emphasizes the gratitude believers share in Christ’s sacrifice.  As we receive the bread and the cup again and again, we are reminded of the abundance we have in Christ.4.  In the words of Tish Harrison Warren:

“The Eucharist is a profoundly communal meal that reorients us from people who are merely individualistic consumers into people who are, together, capable of imaging Christ in the world.  Of course, eating itself reminds us that none of us can stay alive on our own.  If you are breathing, it’s because someone fed you.  We are born hungry and completely dependent on others to meet our needs.”5

When the Eucharist is received, believers are filled with gratitude towards a God who continually meets their needs in Christ.

Communion.  Many Protestants, like myself, refer to the act of receiving the Lord’s body and blood as the “Lord’s Supper” and sometimes as “Holy Communion” or just “Communion.”  The word “Communion” is born out of the idea that believers share a “common union” with Christ.  When they partake of the bread and wine together, they are outwardly expressing their shared union and fellowship with Christ.  1 Cor. 10:16 says:

“The cup of blessing that we give thanks for, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” (HCSB)

The term “communion” focuses on the precious union that believers share with one another in Jesus Christ.  This union with Christ is the source of all other blessings that we have in Him.

The Lord’s Supper.  The term “Lord’s Supper” comes directly from 1 Cor. 11:20-21 where Paul says:

“Therefore, when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk.”

When we think of supping (eating), we think of continual coming.  Eating is something we have to do every day.  Our tanks are filled and then emptied over and over again.  In the same way, our need for Jesus never ends–the Lord’s Supper reminds us of our ongoing need to feast on all that Christ is for us.  Eating is also something that appeals to our senses.  God, in His infinite wisdom, has put tangible experiences at the heart of our worship.  The breaking of the bread and pouring out of the wine or juice should remind us of that solemn night at the Last Supper when Jesus was betrayed and eventually crucified.  As we hear the Words of Institution recited, as we see the bread broken and juice poured, as we taste of the body and blood of Christ, we look through these sensory experiences to the reality of Christ’s death our entire being is engaged–our minds, our hearts, and our bodies.6

NOT A NEGOTIABLE PRACTICE

When asking the question “What are the marks of a true church?”, many writers and Christian scholars today agree that there are two fundamental marks that separate a true church from other kinds of spiritual gatherings: First, a true church preaches and teaches the bible correctly.  Secondly, a true church correctly administers the sacraments (also called “ordinances” in some churches) of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.7

Every single gospel in the Bible contains an account of the Last Supper, though John’s account focuses more on Christ’s teaching and not on the eating and drinking.  This moment in the lives of Jesus and His followers was very significant and the early churches took Christ’s command to “do this” seriously.  In fact, in many early books of church order, we gather that the Supper had a dedicated time set aside whenever believers gathered–one portion of worship was for prayers, bible reading and the sermon, and the other was set apart for the receiving of the bread and cup.

What all of this suggests, therefore, is that reason that the church celebrates the Supper is that we can do no other–it is at the very heart of what it means for the Church to be the Church.

 

  1.  These Words, though simple enough on the surface, are filled with concepts that are brimming with meaning.  Words like “cup,” “blood” and “covenant”, all of which we hear every time we celebrate the Supper, have a backstory which is leading up to the very realities that are pictured in the Lord’s Supper.  Some theologians like to use the word “anticipate”–the Old Testament Passover, sacrifices, feasts, and covenants all anticipate a greater Passover, sacrifice, feast, and covenant that is to come, namely, Christ’s sacrifice, which is the heart of the Eucharist celebration.  Howard Griffith provides a helpful explanation of these “anticipations” in his book Spreading the Feast: Instruction & Meditations for Ministry at the Lord’s Table, (P&R, 2015).
  2. Some churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly, some monthly and still others quarterly.  During the time of the Reformation (started in the early 1500s), those intervals became larger because some of the Reformers wanted to avoid ritualistic interpretations of the Supper which had crept into the Roman Catholic Church, which they were breaking away from.
  3. See “Why and How We Celebrate the Lord’s Supper at https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/why-and-how-we-celebrate-the-lords-supper. Accessed on August 26th, 2018.
  4. To many Evangelicals, the term “Eucharist” will be foreign.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this of the meaning of the term “Eucharist”: “The inexhaustible richness of (the sacrament of the Eucharist, i.e. the ‘Mass’) is expressed in the different names we give it. Each name evokes certain aspects of it. It is called: ‘Eucharist’ because it is an action of thanksgiving to God. The Greek words eucharistein and eulogein recall the Jewish blessings that proclaim — especially during a meal — God’s works: creation, redemption, and sanctification. (CCC 1328).
  5.  The Liturgy of the Ordinary (IVP, 2016), 71.
  6. A similar emphasis is understood in traditions that use the term “Breaking of Bread” to refer to the Lord’s Supper.
  7. See Wayne A. Grudem, Christian Beliefs: 20 Basics Every Christian Should Know, 115.

When Jesus Is Angry

“Get out!”  he shouted.

I remember sitting in church as a single man some 15 years ago and watching in shock as the singles pastor screamed those words as he threw a chair across the stage, mid-sermon.  He was a big guy and the chair went soaring.  It was an unforgettable moment.

His topic that night was Jesus’ cleansing the temple.  The chair toss was his attempt at demonstrating the intensity with which Jesus drove the people and animals from the temple that day.

A few weeks ago I preached on John’s account of that moment from the life of Jesus.  I recalled that night at the church in Charlotte, North Carolina, when my breath was taken away.  Not just because the pastor chucked the chair, but because of the thought that Jesus, was capable of such.

When Jesus makes a whip of cords, flips tables, scatters animals, and is consumed with zeal, it doesn’t jive with the Jesus we are told about in a great many churches today.

For many people in the church (and outside the church too, for that matter), Jesus is viewed as a tame, tolerant, laid-back, easy-going, softy, who is almost impossible to rattle.

The people in the temple that day would have laughed at this depiction of Christ.

What Pushes Jesus’ Buttons?

But what was it that made Jesus so angry that day?

Or better yet, what makes Jesus angry on any day?  What pushes his buttons?

Clearly, we see from John 2 (and the other accounts of that story, see Matt. 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48), that Jesus is capable of anger, but what is it that provokes him?

When we looked at this passage a few weeks ago at Red Door Church where I’m pastor, I arrived at the conclusion that it wasn’t just what the merchants were doing that day (selling animals for sacrifice, changing money, etc.), but it was because their commerce made the space unfit for worship.  With hundreds of animals bleating, chirping, and defecating all over the courtyard, and with merchants vying for your business, who could focus on God?   With so many competing voices, who could hear the still, small voice of their Maker?

Jesus was angry because the commerce was keeping people from worshipping God.

The Other Time Jesus Got Really Mad

But the temple scene wasn’t Jesus’ only angry moment.  Take a minute and go read Matthew 23.

Jesus communicates in Matthew 23 his disdain for the Pharisees and scribes of his day.  We read in verses 13 and 15 of that chapter these words:

““But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”

Jesus’ rage is once again kindled because people are keeping others from worship.  In this case, the scribes and Pharisees, who “shut the kingdom of heaven” to those who would desire to enter.

But how?  The Pharisees are not ones to sell animals outside the temple and the scribes are not setting up booths for changing of currencies, so what is it that they are doing to get in the way of the devotion of the people?

They were misusing the law.

The money changers were misusing the temple.  The Pharisees and the scribes were misusing the law.

Instead of seeing God’s heart in the law, they saw it as a ladder–a way to climb to God.  And the Pharisees were really good climbers.  As they outwardly obeyed God’s standards they began to feel superior to others.  They got to be so good at following all the rules, they even began to make up new ones!

The problem is, they missed the entire spirit of the law.  The law was intended to help people see their brokenness and need for God’s mercy and thus lead them to repentance (see Galatians 3:24).  As they drew near to God in repentance He would draw near to the worshipper in love and grace and compassion.  In the end, they would see life as a parable of a loving, heavenly Father, providing any and every need for the children he loved.1

The Pharisees missed the love of God because they were simply going to grit their teeth and white-knuckle it into the Kingdom (and insist that everyone else do it the same).

Not only was it impossible to enter the kingdom that way (for no one is righteous enough)2, in Jesus’ mind, this was an out and out rejection of the love of God.

God loved the world so much he intended to give Himself up as a sacrifice to save it.  But the Pharisees didn’t need a savior; their works would commend them to God.  Their “savior” was the law of Moses.

The tablets of stone, however, were cold and unforgiving (which is why the Pharisees were cold and unforgiving).

If you were to feel any warmth or any love from the law, you had to look through it to the God who gave it.

You must try and understand why He gave it.

The Spirit of the Law

The why of the law leads us to something often called the “spirit” of the law.  To understand the spirit of the law you must understand its goal.3

Most of us just think of laws as rules to obey.  The goal, therefore, is just obedience.  But this is an overly superficial way of thinking about laws.

To understand how a law can have a different aim than just obedience, let’s take a modern day example.  Driving the speed limit.

Let’s start with the question: what is the point of having speed limits at all?  

The point is not just for local police to have a reason to pull people over and for the state to make money off of tickets (though some would argue that).  The point is to create roads that are safer–roads where accidents are less likely to happen.  Underneath that point, is a respect for life.  Accidents are bad and very often cause great pain and even ruin lives.  The spirit of the law is a respect for life (and property).  So when we obey traffic laws, it’s not just about raw obedience to some arbitrary standard that local authorities put into place, it’s about a respect for life and property.  It’s about the idea that I don’t want my neighbor to have to go through the agony of losing someone in a car accident, especially not at my hands.4  These laws are established not to be repressive, but because of love for self and neighbor.

The Pharisees, the teachers of Israel5, missed the true spirit of the law by making it about achievement and raw, external performance.  They used the law as a ladder to look down on others and to climb up to God.6  But as we’ve seen already (above), the law was intended to lead people to repentance and into the arms of a loving, merciful, God.

This is the kind of stuff that made Jesus start turning over tables.  Once again, someone is standing in the way of worshippers wanting to encounter God.

Jesus Zealous for Us to See God’s Love

In both the cleansing of the temple and in the denouncing of the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus is angry for one reason: His people are being kept from worship.

So when we see the angry side of Jesus in Scripture we should see our God’s passion and zeal to let nothing stand in the way of His people’s knowing and understanding the depth of God’s love for them.7

  1. For the Christian, this all culminates in Jesus Christ. See Romans 10:4 and Galatians 3:24.
  2. This was clear from the Old Testament which would have been the “bible” of the Pharisees. See passages like Psalms 5:9; 14:1-3; 36:1; 53:1; 140:3; Isaiah 59:7, 8.
  3.  We know from Scripture, that the goal of the law was not achievement.  It was not given to us so that we could achieve something, i.e., for us to merit or earn bragging rights over others or God’s approval or entry into Heaven.  We know this because Jesus makes it clear in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 through 7), that raw, external obedience is not enough.  A mere lustful thought after a woman that is not your wife is adulterous in the eyes of God (see Matt. 5:28).  No one can keep the law in this way perfectly, not even the Pharisees who were masters of external, outward obedience (on the inside, they were rotten, see Matt. 23:25-28).  If God gave us such a law as a means to some kind of achievement, then it was a massive failure.
  4. This is why most police, rightly, won’t (and I will argue, shouldn’t) pull you over if you are going just a few miles per hour over the speed limit.  If you’re driving under control, are on the correct side of the road, are paying attention, and are not swerving all over the place, have your lights on at the proper time or your wipers in rainy weather, and so on, then it’s fair to say, that the spirit of the law is being kept, though the letter of the law may not be.  If you drive 68 in a 65 mile per hour lane, it does not necessarily mean that you have no respect for the law or its spirit, namely, to protect life and property.  Which is why the police do not pull people over for every single infraction.
  5. See John 3:10 when Jesus calls Nicodemus, a Pharisee, “Israel’s teacher.”
  6. In the minds of the Pharisees, if a person did not tithe even their spices to God, they were not being faithful.  If a person, went out to help a neighbor or a friend in need on the Sabbath day, or picked a single head of grain and ate it as they passed by, they were in violation of God’s laws.  If a person did not wash their hands properly, then they were in violation of God’s laws.  If a person even associated with people who did not perfectly keep God’s laws, people they called “sinners” at the time, then they were in violation of God’s laws.
  7. That is not to say that we should not also see God’s infinite hatred of sin.  My point here in this post is to draw attention to the fact that even in Jesus’ anger we can see the love of God for His people.

The Psychology of Self-Deception

It’s one thing to be clueless. But have you ever known someone who was clueless about being clueless?

Maybe she saw herself as a great cook, but anybody who tasted her food would strongly object.

Maybe they figured they were the picture of health—despite what their friends (and doctors) kept saying about their diet and exercise (or lack thereof!).

Or perhaps he considered himself a fine handyman who never had to call the professionals—until he’d created a much more expensive problem than he originally had.

In another post I wrote about the New Testament’s strong warning not to let ourselves be fooled. In Hebrews 3:7-4:13 the pastor-author warns his beloved friends that, like the ancient Israelites, they too would fall short of receiving God’s promise of a secure resting place without each other’s help and encouragement. Here are the key verses:

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

—Hebrews 3:12-13

I’ve taught about the critical importance of the church in many contexts. I’ve used many different examples from Scripture and modern life to illustrate what the Bible’s saying. Like any teacher, I have a couple favorites. But as of today, they were all relegated to secondary status. You see, today I discovered the Dunning-Kruger effect.

For those (like me) who had no idea what the Dunning-Kruger effect is, here’s the briefest of explanations: a pair of researchers at Cornell University studied and described the phenomenon of highly incompetent individuals believing that they were, in fact, above-average at a given task. The researchers’ interest was inspired by the story of a man who was arrested after robbing two banks. The man was quickly apprehended because he had intentionally not worn a mask, only to have his face caught on security cameras. Why make such a huge mistake? Because the robber sincerely believed that rubbing lemon juice on his face would prevent the cameras inside the bank from recording any images of himself. When presented with the video evidence against him, he could only respond in disbelief: “But I used the juice!” This poor man’s mistake wasn’t that he was dumb; it was that he was dumb but truly considered himself to be clever. In other words: he was clueless about being clueless.

The researchers at Cornell found that this kind of behavior isn’t a disorder that’s unique to America’s dumbest criminals. In fact, all of us can have this cognitive bias. They convincingly showed that, in many cases, when incompetent people are asked how good they are at something, they don’t just fail to see their incompetency—they tend to think they’re absolutely great at it! The delusion is so powerful that, when another person performs the same task much better than they do, the incompetent person still can’t recognize the other person’s superior skill. It turns out that the worse we are at something, the more our deluded self-perception drives us to think we’re awesome at it. In fact, one of the researchers was saddened to realize that, no matter how inaccurate our view of ourselves is, we’re trapped in it. In order to see the truth about our lack of skill and self-delusion, we need someone else to point it out to us—and even then we might not see it. 1

I hope some of the applications of the Dunning-Kruger effect to our lives as Christians are clear:

  • It’s no coincidence that, before Paul instructs the Roman church in how to use their spiritual gifts, he first warns them, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3). He has to throw in that warning because it’s far too easy for us to do just that: think too highly of ourselves!
  • How amazingly well these findings line up with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount! As he told the earliest disciples, it’s much easier to see the minor flaws of others while overlooking our own massive failings (Matthew 7:1-5). Be careful about judging others: it’s a lot easier to be a hypocrite than to be a helper!
  • Notice what a scary position we find ourselves in a self-deceived sinners. We think we’re good, decent people. We sincerely believe we’re not as bad as the people God condemns throughout the Bible. We somehow trick ourselves into thinking that other people sin while we only “make mistakes” or occasionally “do things that are out of character.” On the contrary! Despite what we naturally believe, we are our own worst enemies. We can’t even grade ourselves accurately! How true, then, is the consistent message of both the Old and New Testaments: “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).

If all that is true, and we can’t even know how bad we are—let alone fix ourselves—what can we possibly do? Three thousand years before the Cornell researchers came to the same conclusion, God himself gave the answer: our only hope is to stop trusting our own understanding and to put all our chips on God’s word being true (Proverbs 3:5-6). We need—and we have—a Savior who sees us for who we are but isn’t ashamed to love us anyway (Hebrews 11:16). What self-deceived, blind, ignorant sinners need isn’t more information or (God forbid) more affirmation that we’re okay. We need someone to give us the gift of faith and make us believe the truth despite ourselves. And that’s exactly what the good news of Jesus does for us (Ephesians 2:8-9).

And what else does the good news of Jesus do? It doesn’t just create a relationship with a God who sees us perfectly and teaches us how to see ourselves through his word; it creates a global community of others to help us. The ultimate solution to the Dunning-Kruger effect isn’t becoming more mindful or self-aware; it’s choosing to be vulnerable and let others know us really well. It’s taking off our armor and handing other Christians a sword, knowing they can either defend us or run us through. God’s solution to our self-deception isn’t only giving us spiritual life from the dead—it’s the church.

Are you experiencing the encouragement of Hebrews 3:12-13? Are you practicing it yourself?

  1.  “Ignorance for Dummies,” This American Life 585. Accessed 25 April, 2016.

The Dilemma of a Right Theology

“For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God”  I Corinthians 1:22-24

We face a dilemma in theology that has been with the Church throughout its history.  It relates to how the Church is to define and practice true religion in this world, and thus express a “right” theology of its spirituality.  The dilemma is this.  Theology seems to exist within the historic Church on two levels as hinted at by the Apostle Paul.  The first is what we might call the Biblical level where the revelation of God is received and lived in as fully as is possible by the human will.  On this level, Biblical truth is most often presented prophetically, God bearing witness in His own words to His Person and will.  The second is what we might call the theological level, where the revelation of God is received and understood as fully as is possible by the human mind.  On this level, theological truth is most often presented catechetically, with the Church bearing witness in its words to the person of God and His truth.  We might liken the former to “heart” religion and the latter to “head” religion.  I know this falls short of portraying either side accurately, but it serves to show where the emphasis of each type of theology usually lies.  It might be more accurate to say that the orthodoxy of Biblically-based religion is judged by what you do, and the orthodoxy of theologically-based religion is judged by what you believe.  The former revolves around the concept of relationship, the latter around the concept of doctrine.

The two strands of our religion are the result of Christianity growing from a predominantly Jewish root planted in an especially fertile Grecian field.  The Jews were a people of the book.  For them the Torah, God’s law, was both the study of a lifetime, and the full expression of the life resulting.  There was little difference for the Jew between life and religion.  The Greeks, on the other hand, were a people of scientific bent, with a mind that worked best in abstracting particular reality into universal ideas.  They felt the need to construct an intellectual working model of the universe into which both life and religion fit; but for them biology and theology remained only differing branches of science formulated to characterize facts and relationships.

The dilemma was aggravated by the fact that the earliest Church was predominantly Jewish in heritage.  This early Christianity was the expression of the fulfillment of the eternal covenant of Yahweh through the sending of His Messiah.  But such concepts as covenant and Messiah were foreign to the Greeks and suffered loss of their true meaning, both by being translated into a new language with inadequate corresponding words, and by being transplanted into a culture that had no context by which to relate to them.  The destruction of the Jewish nation in the late first century A.D. with the dispersal of the Jews throughout the word helped to hasten the eventual Hellenization (Greeking) of Christian thought and developed theology.  Here again, the dilemma strained the Church.  For though its theology was framed by the decisions of the Church councils of Nicaea, Chalcedon, and Constantinople, its liturgy had been established in Jerusalem by the direct command of the Jesus Himself.  And while the theology stress correct belief, the sacraments and worship demanded correct action (“Do this in remembrance of Me”).

How then do we deal with this age-old struggle of tendencies in our own time and setting?  Do we dare to continue thinking “Greek” or western thoughts in our religion and continue to allow our catechisms and systematic theologies to be the precise definition of our spirituality?  Or do we dare to live “Jewish”, rejecting philosophic certainty in argument in favor of the pure word and law of God and thereby allow our life to become the expression of our spirituality? Or is there a compromise lying somewhere in between?  I don’t have a final answer; I only recognize that while Christianity has been shaped by Jewish and Greek influences, it is yet something entirely different from either.  It is that divine good news that can find the scope and breadth of its life in the Hebrew word Emmanuel (God with us), and the preciseness of its witness to the manifestation of that life in the Western word Incarnate; and yet the news that it proclaims is more than the simple consolidation of the two together.

This was the struggle I faced on a more limited scale when I tried to pass on my “religion” to my children.  I tried to be precise enough to guard them from error, but broad enough to show them the fullness of the liberty to live that God alone can give.  Their young minds were not content with a religion based on proof texts or catechism answers; they wanted a religion that could be seen and touched and handled (I John 1:1-4).  It is hard to reduce such religion to convenient or precise words.  How do you express what the Jewish high priest felt when he parted the veil and walked into the Holy of Holies to minister before the presence of God?  How can you chronicle the response in a human heart when it is washed by the blood of the Lamb and the Holy Spirit enters in to sanctify and hallow it?  What needs and fears does a person sense deep within himself as he lies along in his bed at night?  These are the sorts of things the practice of our religion must address if it is to restore to theology the power to save men’s souls.  Somewhere in the Person of Jesus, Who is both the power of God and the wisdom of God, the answer is to be found.  In the end of the matter, that is the only answer worth knowing.

The Fruit of Following God – Part 8: “Grows in Christ-likeness”

After I became a Christian, the first verse that I memorized was from the Navigator Topical Memory System (TMS) and for me it was absolutely true:

“Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new!” (KJV).

The believer in Christ is changed. He realizes that his motto in the Christian life could easily be patterned after the words of John the Baptist when he states, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). The disciple of Christ wants to become more like Christ and less like self. Through the use of the means of grace (Scripture, prayer, the sacraments, worship and fellowship, etc.), he finds that his old life is no longer personally appealing and only a life that is conforming to Christ-likeness will satisfy. Of course, growth in the fruit of the Spirit and dying to the deeds of the flesh are true indicators of becoming more and more like Christ (Galatians 5:16-25).

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8).

Often this growth in Christ-likeness occurs in more obvious fashion during the time just after one becomes a Christian; deeper Christ-likeness is shaped and formed over the long haul, as God uses events, circumstances, others and even suffering to purify the dross and make His children more like gold (Psalm 66:10; Isaiah 48:9-11).

Each disciple of Christ willingly asks the question of himself, “Am I becoming more and more like Jesus in my attitudes, actions, choices and lifestyle?”

The Book of Mormon and the King James Bible

At Red Door Church we’ve been taking a look at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS).  Along the way, we’ve noticed that Joseph Smith quotes directly from the King James Bible (KJV) or paraphrases it in a handful of places in the Book of Mormon (which was allegedly revealed to him by the angel Moroni).

This is a big problem for the Book of Mormon.

The point of this short entry is to cast doubt upon the legitimacy of the BOM (Book of Mormon).  If quotations from a book written some one-thousand years after the BOM’s first edition somehow find their way into the BOM itself, then we have virtually undeniable evidence that the BOM is not in fact the book the LDS church claims it to be.

BOM Plagiarisms From the KJV

On the plagiarisms from the King James Bible, cult expert Walter Martin writes:

“A careful examination of The Book of Mormon reveals that it contains thousands of words from the King James Bible.  In fact, verbatim quotations, some of considerable length [can be found there].  The comparisons of Moroni 10 with 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Nephi 114 with Isaiah 4; and 2 Nephi 12 with Isaiah 2 reveal that Joseph Smith made free use of his Bible to supplement the alleged revelation of the golden plates.  The book of Mosiah, chapter 14, in The Book of Mormon, is a reproduction of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah the prophet, and 3 Nephi 13 copies Matthew 6 almost word-for-word.” 1

While to some this may not seem like a big deal, The Book of Mormon (BOM) claims that the golden plates which are the text from which the BOM is translated, were engraved by two prophet-historians, Mormon and his son Moroni, in the year 400.  But the King James Bible didn’t arrive on the scene until 1611.  So if the alleged dates for the BOM are accurate how did the plagiarisms occur? 2

King James Version Errors

What is more, the BOM quotes sections of the KJV which scholars now know to contain errors.  Jeremy Runnells, a formerly committed Mormon and BYU grad, in his now famous “Letter to a CES Director”, asks at the very beginning of his paper:

“What are 1769 King James Version edition errors doing in the Book of Mormon? An ancient text? Errors which are unique to the 1769 edition that Joseph Smith owned?” 3

One of the more famous KJV errors worth mentioning here that makes its way into the BOM is 1 John 5:7-8.  (This error is found in all editions of the KJV, including the first completed in 1611.)  Scholarly consensus is now overwhelming that this passage is a Latin corruption that migrated into the Greek manuscript tradition in later editions.  Bruce Metzger writes about manuscript 61, the first Greek manuscript discovered which contains this passage:

“The manuscript [dating from the late 15th or early 16th century], which is remarkably fresh and clean throughout (except for the two pages containing 1 John 5, which are soiled from repeated examination of this passage), gives every appearance of having been produced expressly for the purpose of confuting Erasmus.” 4

Another Greek expert and conservative bible scholar, Daniel B. Wallace tells the story of how this interpolation happened:

“[T]he Greek text which stands behind the King James Bible is demonstrably inferior in certain places. The man who edited the text was a Roman Catholic priest and humanist named Erasmus. He was under pressure to get it to the press as soon as possible since (a) no edition of the Greek New Testament had yet been published, and (b) he had heard that Cardinal Ximenes and his associates were just about to publish an edition of the Greek New Testament and he was in a race to beat them. Consequently, his edition has been called the most poorly edited volume in all of literature! It is filled with hundreds of typographical errors which even Erasmus would acknowledge. Two places deserve special mention. In the last six verses of Revelation, Erasmus had no Greek manuscript (=MS) (he only used half a dozen, very late MSS for the whole New Testament any way). He was therefore forced to ‘back-translate’ the Latin into Greek and by so doing he created seventeen variants which have never been found in any other Greek MS of Revelation! He merely guessed at what the Greek might have been. Secondly, for 1 John 5:7-8, Erasmus followed the majority of MSS in reading “there are three witnesses in heaven, the Spirit and the water and the blood.” However, there was an uproar in some Roman Catholic circles because his text did not read ‘there are three witnesses in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit.’ Erasmus said that he did not put that in the text because he found no Greek MSS which had that reading. This implicit challenge—viz., that if he found such a reading in any Greek MS, he would put it in his text—did not go unnoticed. In 1520, a scribe at Oxford named Roy made such a Greek MS (codex 61, now in Dublin). Erasmus’ third edition had the second reading because such a Greek MS was ‘made to order’ to fill the challenge! To date, only a handful of Greek MSS have been discovered which have the Trinitarian formula in 1 John 5:7-8, though none of them is demonstrably earlier than the sixteenth century.” 5

The spurious passage from the KJV can be found paraphrased in 3 Nephi 11:27 (BOM):

“And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto to you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one.”

The bolded phrase above is quoted almost verbatim from 1 John 5:7, a phrase which cannot be found anywhere else in the New Testament.  Coincidence?  It appears that Joseph Smith paraphrased the interpolation from the KJV into the BOM not knowing the difference. 6

Runnells provides various other places where KJV errors make their way into the BOM.  You can download the PDF of “Letter to a CES Director” here and see them for yourself.

What’s the Point?

I have in my lap The Book of Mormon.  In the very front it says this:

“The Book of Mormon: An account written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi… Translated by Joseph Smith, Jun.”

What we have seen, however, casts serious doubt that the BOM is in fact what it’s opening pages claim.  There seems to be no way around the conclusion that Joseph Smith used the KJV Bible as original source material for parts of the BOM, and not some alleged “golden plates” (or visions) which were revealed to him and later translated.

  1. Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults: The Definitive Work on the Subject (Bethany House Publishers),
  2. The assumption here, of course, is that Joseph Smith simply copied or paraphrased these parts of the BOM directly from the King James Bible and did not in fact translate them from any alleged golden plates.
  3. Jeremy T. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director.” Accessed on 6/23/15. Please see Creative Commons License.
  4. Bruce M. Metzger, “The Text of the New Testament, ” 3rd Ed.  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 62.
  5. “Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible is the Best Translation Available Today.” Accessed on 6/23/15.  Can be found at https://bible.org/article/why-i-do-not-think-king-james-bible-best-translation-available-today.
  6. Christians of course would affirm the truthfulness of the statement, that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one.  But it would be wrong to assume that our affirmation of this truth is dependant upon this single passage.  In the words of James R. White “We are in no way dependant upon the phrase for our knowledge of the Trinity or the unity of the three Persons: Father, Son and Spirit.  The doctrine of the Trinity does not stand or fall upon the inclusion of the Comma.  Beyond this, however, we have a phrase that is simply not a part of the ancient Greek manuscripts of John’s first epistle.”  Quoted from his book “The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations?” (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1995), 61.

The Necessity of the Church

…and I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church… — from the creed of the Council of Nicaea, 325 A.D.

After three hundred years of persecution, threats of internal disruption, and false doctrines, the leaders of the local churches met at Nicaea to draw up a common, unified, concise statement of the articles of faith for all Christians.  They sifted through hundreds of traditions, writings, oral reports, and customs; when it was over, they chose those which they considered foundational for Christian life and transcribed them as a creed.

One phrase contained in that creed begins this article.  Why did the Church Fathers choose to include it among the statements about the divinity and incarnation of Jesus, the Trinity, the atonement, the communion of saints, the hope of future glory?  Obviously they knew it to be important.  But is it as important to the believer as the other creedal beliefs?  The answer is yes.  Many volumes have been written on this subject, but let me present this simple progression to defend my answer.

God, after He spoke long ago to the Fathers in the prophets, in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, Whom He appointed heir of all things…– Hebrews 1:1-2.  The revelation of the Father to this earth is found in the Son.  The Apostle John called Him the Logos, the Word of God.  Paul referred to Him as the fullness of the Godhead.  Peter referred to Him as the cornerstone of the spiritual house of God.  Jesus Himself proclaimed that if we have seen Him, we have seen the Father.  If Jesus was the final revelation of God to man, then in what form do we now possess this revelation.  The answer is simple, in the vessel which He left behind to bear witness to Himself, the Church.

I write to you so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth – I Timothy 3:15.  And again in II Corinthians 5:18-20:

Now all these things are from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Or again in Matthew 16:18-19:

And I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever shall be loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

One more:

And He (the Father) put all things in subjection under His (the Son’s) feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:22-23.

It is a simple truth that is often easy to overlook in the vast collection of doctrines, interpretations, literature, and tradition.  It is even easier in today’s world of hyper-individualism to discount the truth of the Church as unimportant.  Because of divine direction it was not overlooked by the Fathers of Nicaea.  Let us never discount the Church’s role in the plan of God’s reconciliation of the world, or think less of it because of its claim to speak into our own relationship with God.  It alone can say what we could never begin to speak:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled concerning the Word of Life…what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also that you also may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  – I John 1:1-4.

Jesus and the Supernatural

Do you believe in the supernatural?

A survey from 2004 showed that thirty-nine percent of those living in the UK consider themselves atheists or agnostics.(1) Yet a more recent poll found that, while many of those in Britain are abandoning Christianity, their interest and faith in spirituality hasn’t gone anywhere. Over half (fifty-five percent) of those surveyed professed belief in the supernatural and superstition; twenty-nine percent claim to be able to see into the future; and a similar number reported that they had knowledge of past lives or possessed telepathic powers. In comparison, less than ten percent attend a Christian church weekly.(2)

In the US we have our own national fascination with the supernatural. A 2007 poll found that a significant number of Americans believe in UFOs (thirty-four percent) or have personally encountered a ghost (twenty-three percent). Lest we think that a lack of education is to blame, Americans with at least a college degree were more likely to believe in ESP (fifty-one percent) than those with a high school education (thirty-seven percent).(3) And of the top ten most popular TV shows last year, five were based on the premise that the supernatural is real and at work in our world.(4) At the same time as more and more of our neighbors are claiming no religious faith (or claiming to be opposed to it entirely), our interest in the weird and bizarre has stayed put. One could even argue that the decline of Christian belief has led to an increased appetite for the paranormal.

Christians shouldn’t be surprised by this, since the Bible reveals our world to be chock-full of beings and realities that transcend the scientific definition of “natural.” Aside from God himself, spiritual beings like angels and demons are unapologetically presented as real and relevant to human life. Heaven and hell are not metaphors, and their inhabitants play as much of a role in the affairs of our lives as flesh-and-blood people — if not more.

Yet that is not to say that the spiritual world is an angelic Wild West. Hebrews 1:1-3 has already shown that Jesus, having accomplished the earthly work necessary to save his people, is now seated in heaven “at the right hand of the Majesty.” In other words — the King is on his throne, and the spiritual world is subject to him:

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” He also says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
Hebrews 1:4-14 (NIV)

The author of Hebrews affirms what many post-Christendom Westerners believe (and what the overwhelming preponderance of the citizens of the Majority World have always believed): there exists a world that our minds can only barely comprehend. Yet he goes further to say that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rules over it all and directs its affairs. He quotes multiple passages from the Old Testament (especially the Psalms) to show that this has always been true — the eternal Son of God has eternally ruled over angels, who were created through him (1:2).

So are we crazy for believing in the supernatural? Not at all. But more importantly, we have to ask ourselves whether we submit to the rule of the King of the supernatural. Do we acknowledge Jesus, not only as the Ruler of the angels, but as the Ruler of our hearts? We’d be crazy not to.

 


1 – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/programmes/wtwtgod/pdf/wtwtogod.pdf
2- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2590349/God-Were-likely-believe-supernatural-Number-people-think-sixth-sense-higher-regularly-attend-church.html
3 – http://www.christianpost.com/news/how-many-americans-believe-in-ghosts-spells-and-superstition-29857/
4- http://www.imdb.com/search/title?title_type=tv_series