Monday, December 30, 2013

The Democratization of the Lord's Supper?

Acts 2:42-47

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.


In these verses we see the importance of the Lord's Supper.  In verse 42 and verse 46, "the breaking of bread" is a reference to the Lord's Supper, and alludes back to Jesus' own practice and institution of the Supper.

These verses come directly on the heels of Peter's Pentecost sermon.  Verse 41 states, "
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls."

The question naturally arises, How could so many people be receiving the Lord's Supper so often in their own homes?  How could this possibly come about so quickly?  

Surely the twelve apostles could not administer the Supper every time it was observed in a home with believers present.  It seems that non-apostles, i.e., the laity had to be administering the Supper in these home settings.  Further, it would seem that this administration by the laity was seen by Luke as a good thing, not a bad thing.

But, today, such a frequent administration of the Supper by lay people in their homes would be seen as a bad thing, not a good thing!  Today, such a frequent administration would be impossible, because only pastors can administer the Lord's Supper, and it takes years and years of training to become a pastor.  And, maybe for this reason, it is almost impossible to imagine a situation, today, where people are being saved "day by day" in our communities.

What might happen in our churches if we democratized the Lord's Supper, and recognized the priesthood of all believers?  What if we stopped limiting the administration of the Supper to just one man, but opened it up to a trained laity?  What if we began to invite our fellow church members, not just to a Bible study, but to teaching and a meal that included the Lord's Supper?  What if our small groups began to experience, the power of the age to come (Heb. 6:4-5) in the form of faithful teaching and the Supper our Lord instituted?

Could it be that by limiting the Supper's administration to one person, who alone is allowed to minister, we are actually limiting Jesus' ministry among us, by his Spirit?  Interestingly, when the church began to make inroads evangelistically beyond Jerusalem, it was because the laity began to preach the gospel, not the apostles:

"And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. . . . Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word."
Fellow Christians, maybe it is time to  democratize the ministry.  If we truly want to see the church strengthened and the lost converted, we may need to allow what Scripture allows (and certainly does not forbid!), namely, the work of the ministry given to a trained and qualified laity.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Theology of Singing Gleaned from the Psalms: Psalm 9

We are continuing to look at what the Psalms teach us about singing.  We primarily are looking at the Psalms to learn about the content of our songs, though we may also learn lessons about worship as we make our way through the Psalms in which we find the word sing.

The third and fourth occurrences of sing are found in Psalm 9.  The first occurrence is found in verse 2:

Psalm 9
To the choirmaster: according to Muth-labben. A Psalm of David.
  I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
    I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
    I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

When we read the Psalms it is important to identify the speakers in the Psalms.  This is fairly easy to do in many of the Psalms, because we are told that the speaker is David.  However, the New Testament throws us for a loop when it sometimes sees the speaker of the Psalms to be Jesus Christ!  For example, in Hebrews 2 we are told that Jesus is the speaker of Psalm 22 (which Hebrews 2:12 quotes), which is a psalm of David:

That is why he [Jesus] is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

The rationale for seeing Jesus as the speaker in many of the Psalms is that David was a type of Jesus.  David was the anointed king, who looked forward to the anointed king, who is the Christ.  David's life patterned beforehand the life of our Savior in that he suffered before entering his glory.  Thus, when we read the Psalms, especially the Davidic psalms, but also others, we hear Jesus speaking to us, just as the writer to the Hebrews teaches us.

When we hear Jesus speaking in Psalm 9, the first thing we are struck by is that Jesus is the worshiper in these first two verses.  It is Jesus who gives thanks to the Lord; Jesus who recounts the Father's wonderful deeds; and Jesus who sings praise to the name of the Most High!

Thus, let us learn that Jesus is the true worshiper, and his people join their voice to his when they sing God's praise.  Jesus' voice of praise may even be heard in their praise and thanks and recounting of the Father's wonderful deeds!

Second, we see that in our singing we exult and delight in the Lord himself.  Yes, we delight in his benefits, but we delight even more in the Father and the Son.  "I will be glad and exult in you," points to a personal relationship that finds delight in the other, who in this case is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Third, we see that our singing ought to speak of the Lord's mighty deeds.  We will see this theme again and again.

The next mention of the word sing occurs in verses 11 and 12:

11 Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion!
    Tell among the peoples his deeds!
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
    he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

Here we see that praise comes from a people who are afflicted even to the point of martyrdom.  Just as Jesus' people join in his praise, so Jesus' people join in his affliction.  They too are hated by a world that values things other than the triune God.
Verse 13 shows us the suffering and affliction of our Lord and Savior, as he speaks in the first person.  But verse 14 shows us his exaltation after suffering death on our behalf, who for the joy set before him endured the cross and was raised to the heavenly Zion:

13 Be gracious to me, O Lord!
    See my affliction from those who hate me,
    O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may recount all your praises,
    that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
    I may rejoice in your salvation.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Theology of Singing from the Psalms: Psalm 7:17

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness,    
and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High. (Ps. 7:17)
We continue our look at what the Psalms teach us about singing.  The second occurrence of the word sing  is found in Psalm 7.  This psalm is ultimately a psalm about the Father's vindication of his Son because of his righteousness. Through David, we learn about the true David's vindication. The psalm begins with these words:

Lord my God, in you do I take refuge;    
save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,
lest like a lion they tear my soul apart,    
rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.

Our Lord was hated and put to death by his enemies (see v. 3-5), but these enemies did not have the last word.  The Father raised him from the grave on the third day.  Jesus was vindicated by the Father because of his righteousness. Though the world persecuted him and put him to death, the Father vindicated him and reversed the world's condemnation.

In Psalm 7, David is a type of Christ.  David was righteous and innocent in the incident he describes, but he was not altogether righteous, as his life clearly shows. Ultimately, Psalm 7 can only be applied to Jesus, who alone was without sin.

So what do we learn about the content of our singing in Psalm 7:17?

We learn that the great reversal of the death and resurrection of Jesus should be at the heart of our thanksgiving and praise when we sing.  Righteousness is a reason for thanks for us, because Jesus' vindication is his people's vindication! We can joyfully sing of God's final judgment, not because we are righteous, but because Jesus, to whom we belong, is righteous.  His vindication because of his righteousness belongs to those who turn from a wicked world that put him to death, and who turn in mercy to the Father, who has provided a place of refuge for us in his Son.

We also learn in this psalm that our praise of the Most High includes his judgment of all people.  While he has graciously made a way of escape from judgment through his Son, this way is only through repentance and faith in his Son.  Thus, our praise includes praise for the Lord who will come to judge in righteousness, vindicating his own, but condemning those who do not trust him. Thus, our praise of God's mercy is always against the backdrop of the judgment we deserve because of our sin.  Here in Psalm 7 we have a clear warning of this judgment:

If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;   
 he has bent and readied his bow;
Thus, in love we warn unbelievers to flee to Jesus, for he alone can vindicate and justify his people, for he alone was righteous.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Theology of Singing from the Psalms: Psalm 5:11-12

There are 62 references to the English word sing in the Psalms.  From time to time I would like to look at these verses in the Psalms and see what they might teach us about the nature, the purpose, and the content of singing, according to the Psalms.

In my view, this current generation of Reformed and Evangelical Christians has a faulty view of music's role in congregational worship. Some churches sing almost to the exclusion of reading the Word of God.  Some churches give music almost a sacramental place---a kind of power that draws us into God's presence.  And, in almost all Reformed and Evangelical churches, the content of some of our songs is shallow, and sometimes, even unbiblical.  So there me may be some profit in seeing what can we learn about singing from the Book of Psalms.  We will begin with Psalm 5, and verses 11 and 12, where we have the first occurrence of the word sing.

11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you.
12 For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
you cover him with favor as with a shield.

First, notice that singing is associated with joy.  Verse 11b shows that singing is what people do when they are joyful.

Second, but also notice that singing is not the cause of joy.  Joy comes from what the Lord has done, according to verse 11a, in giving his people refuge.

Third, the content of singing concerns this refuge the Lord has given his people.  It includes blessings like protection, favor, and blessing, and it results in joy and love for the Lord and his character (11b)---a personal knowlege of the Father (David is the speaker of the psalm, who was a son of God as the anointed king, and through him, Christ, speaks this psalm).  The content of singing also includes deliverance, as the context of Psalm 5 shows.  This deliverance is a deliverance from enemies and a transfer into the realm of God's kingdom via the anointed king.

Finally, this psalm teaches us that only those who take refuge in the Father through believing the Son, are able to sing and worship.  True worship is the prerogative of the righteous only, who have taken refuge in Christ.  This is seen by noting the contrast between verses 9-10 and 11-12.  Enemies of the Lord and his Anointed One (verse 8) cannot be his worshipers.

May our songs in the church reflect this joy that comes from experiencing the Father's deliverance through His Son and knowing him as our God and Father, and his Son as our Lord and Savior.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Two Important Truths Concerning the Lord's Supper

Ignatius of Antioch was a church father, who was a student of the apostle John, became the bishop at Antioch, and was martyred in Rome by being fed to the lions. I came across two quotes of his in a book I am reading, concerning the Lord's Supper:

"I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life --- which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. . . . And I desire the drink of God, namely his blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life."

The Lord's Supper is more than a memorial. The sign (bread and wine) is joined to the thing signified (Christ's body and blood), and thus we are given Christ's body and blood in the Supper, and through these, the benefits of Christ. How this happens is a mystery. What is important is that we do not merely receive the sign, but hunger and thirst to receive what the sign signifies.

The second quote of Ignatius, points to another important truth about the Lord's Supper:

"Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop or by one to whom he has entrusted it."

The bishop was the pastor. The pastor usually administered the sacrament. But notice that the pastor could entrust this administering of the sacrament to others, who were not pastors. This is an important point if we are ever to return to a weekly or even more frequent partaking of the Supper. We must see that just as lay people can be licenced to preach, so lay people can be trained to administer the Lord's Supper. If we are ever going to return to the apostolic pattern of at least weekly communion, then more people must be trained and entrusted to administer it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Jesus Speaks in the Psalms

One of the things people miss in reading the Psalms is that the speaker of the Psalms is often Jesus Christ our Lord! This is what Hebrews 2 teaches when it says that Jesus said what David said in Psalm 22! Hebrews 2:11-12: 

"That is why he [Jesus] is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”"

As David's greater Son, the righteous sufferer, and the resurrected Lord, Jesus speaks to us throughout the book of Psalms. The Psalms are not only about Jesus, but Jesus is often the very speaker of the Psalms! How wonderful it is for his sheep to hear his voice in the book of Psalms!

Monday, December 2, 2013

"The Case for the Psalms"

I finished N. T. Wright's book, "The Case for the Psalms." He made a case for the use of the Psalms in churches that no longer go through the Psalms in their worship in a systematic way. His basic argument is one I resonated with and have articulated myself, namely, that the Psalms can have a transformative effect because they teach us the biblical worldview so different than the worldview of the secular world around us. The Psalms teach us to see the glory of God in creation, to long for His new creation when his glory will drench his creation in a greater way, and to see how in Christ that new creation has already dawned, just as the Psalms themselves prophesied. To see and live in this new way is a wonderful blessing!

As for the Evangelical and Reformed churches that have displaced the systematic reading and singing of the Psalms in the liturgy with praise choruses, I am not optimistic they will return to the practice most abandoned in the twentieth century. For that reason, it is imperative that individual Christians read at least one Psalm per day. Wright's own practice has been to read through the Psalms once a month, which works out to five psalms per day, which would mean about 40 verses per day. Here is a plan for reading through the Psalms once a month that takes into account the problem of Psalm 119:

Each day you read five Psalms. On the first day of the month read Psalms 1, 31, 61, 91, and 121. On day 19 you’ll read Psalm 19, 49, 79, 109, and 139. On day 29 you’ll read Psalms 29, 59, 89, and 149, skipping 119. Why skip Psalm 119? Because it is the longest chapter in the Bible---176 verses!

In months with 30 days (April, June, September, November), you won’t read Psalm 119. But when there is a 31st day in the month (8 of them), you’ll read only Psalm 119. Reading only Psalm 119 on day 31 assures that all chapters in Psalms are read only one time. 

Kind of ambitious, but it might be valuable to try. Wright says that he generally reads his five Psalms at various times of the day, rather than reading them all in one setting.

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