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By In Theology, Worship

Do This

Rev. Dr. James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis Institute. This post was originally found at Biblical Horizons.

(The essay that follows concerns a rather touchy subject: how the Lord’s Supper is to be done. I am not writing to insult or offend, but to challenge. To that end I have not “held back” but have “gone ahead” and said what I think needs to be said — for your consideration.)

There is only one ritual commanded in the New Testament for routine use in the Church: the ritual of the Lord’s Supper. I believe that Satan does not want the Church to do the rite of the Lord’s Supper, and has expended tremendous energy to prevent our doing it the way Jesus said to do it. (more…)

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By In Theology, Worship

The Prayer of Humble Access

The historic prayer book of the Anglican Communion, “The Book of Common Prayer,” includes some controversial prayers. Despite often receiving praise as a work of the Reformation, its verbiage can also feel uncomfortably Catholic. Its emphases on saints and sacraments can seem wetted from the pen tip of Thomas Aquinas rather than Thomas Cranmer.  One such prayer is entitled the “Prayer of Humble Access.”
“We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.” a

During the Holy Communion service, this prayer is offered following the Lord’s prayer while the kneeling congregation anticipates the words of institution (i.e. “This is my body…”). It is important to note that as a matter of liturgical significance the confession and absolution have already been offered and received in the service. In this way, the “Prayer of Humble Access” builds upon the Reformational apprehensions to any sort of merited righteousness, while also affirming the Reformed tradition’s emphasis on self-examination prior to communion. This belaboring of sin after confession has earned some criticism from liturgical scholars like James B. Jordan: “it focuses on sin and justification to the extent that the entire service feels more like a penitential vigil than a celebration of redemption.” b

Jordan is right if you read the prayer as solely penitential. But this prayer is posturing the Christian up from his knees to a seat at the table. It is bidding the Christian, “dine with God.” Mortal men are invited to Valhalla– what to the Norse meant “Hall of the Slain”– for a feast of flesh and mead. Only the brave souls that died in the triumph of Holy War would feast in Odin’s hall for slain warriors. So it is true of our prayers here. Christ’s absolution has progressed beyond mere forgiveness into conquest. (Romans 8:31-39) And now, those willing to die in and for their sins may enter. Now at the table, we may eat the flesh and drink the blood.

This prayer also offers a narrative to help understand Christ’s presence in the eucharist. Douglas Wilson rightly points out that: “We partake of the Lord in the participles, we partake of Him in the partaking. We cannot say, ‘Look, there is the Lord, stationary, on the table.’ Rather, we say, ‘Here is the Lord in the action of eating and drinking.’ And these actions are part of a series of actions, which together constitute the story. We partake of the Lord’s body and blood in a glorious series of verbs—declaring, praying, blessing, setting apart, taking, breaking, taking, and giving. And each moment in the story says something about the end of the story.” c

(more…)

  1. Press, O. U. (1993). The 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA.  (back)
  2. 1993. Rite Reasons, Studies in Worship, No. 29, Biblical Horizons.  (back)
  3. Wilson, Douglas. (2013). Against The Church. Moscow, ID: Canon Press.  (back)

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By In Theology, Worship

10 Questions Preachers Should Ask Before Sunday Morning

I have been a pastor for almost a decade. I spend between 12-15 hours each week thinking, researching, and writing before I deliver the first words in my Sunday sermon.a The process of writing my sermon goes through a lengthy journey each week. I contemplate several questions from Monday to Friday which force me to edit and re-edit my manuscript. There is no perfect sermon, but a sermon that goes through revisions and asks import questions has a much better chance of communicating with clarity than the self-assured preacher who engages the sermonic task with nothing more than academic lenses.

I have compiled a list of ten questions I ask myself each week at some point or another.

Question #1: Is this language clear? When you write a manuscript ( as I do) you have an opportunity to carefully consider the language you use. I make a habit of reading my sermon out loud which leads me to realize that certain phrases do not convey the idea clearly. A well-written sermon does not necessarily mean a well-delivered sermon. Reading my sermons out loud causes me to re-write and look for other ways to explain a concept or application more clearly.

Question #2: Is there a need to use high theological language in this sermon? Seminary graduates are often tempted to use the best of their training in the wrong environment. People are not listening to you to hear your theological acumen. I am well aware that some in the congregation would be entirely comfortable with words like perichoresis and Arianism. I am not opposed to using high theological discourse. Words like atonement, justification, sanctification are biblical and need to be defined. But extra-biblical terms and ideologies should be employed sparingly. Much of this can be dealt in a Sunday School class or other environments. High theological language needs to be used with great care, and I think it needs to be avoided as much as possible in the Sunday sermon.

Question #3: Can I make this sermon even shorter? As I read my sermons each week, I find that I can cut a paragraph or two easily, or depending on how long you preach, perhaps an entire page. This is an important lesson for new preachers: not everything needs to be said. Shorter sermons–which I strongly advocateb–force you to say what’s important and keep some of your research in the footnotes where it belongs. Preachers need to learn what to prioritize in a sermon so as not to unload unnecessary information on their parishioners. (more…)

  1. Thankful for great interactions before this article was published. It helped sharpen my points  (back)
  2. By this I mean sermons no longer than 30 minutes  (back)

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By In Theology

The House and the Ascension

Long ago, our Father in Heaven had a plan. His plan was to create the world as a theater to display his glory. The world was to be a house that reflected his name. The Shekinah glory was to remain there forever. And through many dangers, toils, and snares, the house was little by little losing the purpose the builder had for it.

It would appear that God’s building project had become an abysmal failure. But God’s construction plans are not like our building projects. His ways are not our ways. He had a plan. He had a restoration project. He was going to restore, rebuild, and reclaim his own house. This time, the house was not going to be built on spiritual adultery or religious idolatry. It would be on the Rock, which is Christ. The builders rejected him, but the new humanity composed of men and women, and children united to the Rock, will no longer deny him.

In the life of Jesus, the foundation was poured on the earth. In his death, the wall and roof were placed to cover the world and give it shade. In his resurrection, fresh, clean water is available. Come and drink of the river that never runs dry. But there is one part of this earthly construction that is missing. There is a foundation, a roof to protect you from the storms, running water to shower and be replenished, but now we need to turn it on. We need electricity! We need the power to turn the refrigerator, stove, microwave, air conditioner, heater, fan, laptops, cell phones, etc. We need to activate the house so that everyone can live with a purpose. I propose that the Ascension of Jesus is that singular event in history that gives life to everything; that sets everything into motion. It is the electricity that the Church needs to disciple the nations.

Without the Ascension, we are living in an almost finished property. The Ascension means that the house/world is ready to be inhabited once and for all. The power is on. We can now move in together as a Church and take care of it. The workers can all go home. Our only task is now maintaining the house. Now, this house is the world. And the world is a big place. It needs to be energized by the Ascension. The Ascension is God’s way of saying: “My Son’s work is done! Now it’s your turn!” (more…)

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By In Scribblings

John Calvin on the Sacraments

John_Calvin_by_Holbein1. After God has once received us into his family, it is not that he may regard us in the light of servants, but of sons, performing the part of a kind and anxious parent, and providing for our maintenance during the whole course of our lives. And, not contented with this, he has been pleased by a pledge to assure us of his continued liberality. To this end, he has given another sacrament to his Church by the hand of his only-begotten Son—viz. a spiritual feast, at which Christ testifies that he himself is living bread (John 6:51), on which our souls feed, for a true and blessed immortality… First, then, the signs are bread and wine, which represent the invisible food which we receive from the body and blood of Christ. For as God, regenerating us in baptism, ingrafts us into the fellowship of his Church, and makes us his by adoption, so we have said that he performs the office of a provident parent, in continually supplying the food by which he may sustain and preserve us in the life to which he has begotten us by his word. Moreover, Christ is the only food of our soul, and, therefore, our heavenly Father invites us to him, that, refreshed by communion with him, we may ever and anon gather new vigour until we reach the heavenly immortality. But as this mystery of the secret union of Christ with believers is incomprehensible by nature, he exhibits its figure and image in visible signs adapted to our capacity, nay, by giving, as it were, earnests and badges, he makes it as certain to us as if it were seen by the eye; the familiarity of the similitude giving it access to minds however dull, and showing that souls are fed by Christ just as the corporeal life is sustained by bread and wine. We now, therefore, understand the end which this mystical benediction has in view—viz. to assure us that the body of Christ was once sacrificed for us, so that we may now eat it, and, eating, feel within ourselves the efficacy of that one sacrifice,that his blood was once shed for us so as to be our perpetual drink. This is the force of the promise which is added, “Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you” (Mt. 26:26, &c.). The body which was once offered for our salvation we are enjoined to take and eat, that, while we see ourselves made partakers of it, we may safely conclude that the virtue of that death will be efficacious in us. Hence he terms the cup the covenant in his blood. For the covenant which he once sanctioned by his blood he in a manner renews, or rather continues, in so far as regards the confirmation of our faith, as often as he stretches forth his sacred blood as drink to us.


10. The sum is, that the flesh and blood of Christ feed our souls just as bread and wine maintain and support our corporeal life. For there would be no aptitude in the sign, did not our souls find their nourishment in Christ. This could not be, did not Christ truly form one with us, and refresh us by the eating of his flesh, and the drinking of his blood. But though it seems an incredible thing that the flesh of Christ, while at such a distance from us in respect of place, should be food to us, let us remember how far the secret virtue of the Holy Spirit surpasses all our conceptions, and how foolish it is to wish to measure its immensity by our feeble capacity. Therefore, what our mind does not comprehend let faith conceive—viz. that the Spirit truly unites things separated by space. That sacred communion of flesh and blood by which Christ transfuses his life into us, just as if it penetrated our bones and marrow, he testifies and seals in the Supper, and that not by presenting a vain or empty sign, but by there exerting an efficacy of the Spirit by which he fulfils what he promises. And truly the thing there signified he exhibits and offers to all who sit down at that spiritual feast, although it is beneficially received by believers only who receive this great benefit with true faith and heartfelt gratitude. For this reason the apostle said, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ”? (1 Cor. 10:16.) There is no ground to object that the expression is figurative, and gives the sign the name of the thing signified. I admit, indeed, that the breaking of bread is a symbol, not the reality. But this being admitted, we duly infer from the exhibition of the symbol that the thing itself is exhibited. For unless we would charge God with deceit, we will never presume to say that he holds forth an empty symbol. Therefore, if by the breaking of bread the Lord truly represents the partaking of his body, there ought to be no doubt whatever that he truly exhibits and performs it. The rule which the pious ought always to observe is, whenever they see the symbols instituted by the Lord, to think and feel surely persuaded that the truth of the thing signified is also present. For why does the Lord put the symbol of his body into your hands, but just to assure you that you truly partake of him? If this is true let us feel as much assured that the visible sign is given us in seal of an invisible gift as that his body itself is given to us.

11. I hold then (as has always been received in the Church, and is still taught by those who feel aright), that the sacred mystery of the Supper consists of two things—the corporeal signs, which, presented to the eye, represent invisible things in a manner adapted to our weak capacity, and the spiritual truth, which is at once figured and exhibited by the signs. When attempting familiarly to explain its nature, I am accustomed to set down three things—the thing meant, the matter which depends on it, and the virtue or efficacy consequent upon both. The thing meant consists in the promises which are in a manner included in the sign. By the matter, or substance, I mean Christ, with his death and resurrection. By the effect, I understand redemption, justification, sanctification, eternal life, and all other benefits which Christ bestows upon us. Moreover, though all these things have respect to faith, I leave no room for the cavil, that when I say Christ is conceived by faith, I mean that he is only conceived by the intellect and imagination. He is offered by the promises, not that we may stop short at the sight or mere knowledge of him, but that we may enjoy true communion with him. And, indeed, I see not how any one can expect to have redemption and righteousness in the cross of Christ, and life in his death, without trusting first of all to true communion with Christ himself. Those blessings could not reach us, did not Christ previously make himself ours. I say then, that in the mystery of the Supper, by the symbols of bread and wine, Christ, his body and his blood, are truly exhibited to us, that in them he fulfilled all obedience, in order to procure righteousness for us— first that we might become one body with him; and, secondly, that being made partakers of his substance, we might feel the result of this fact in the participation of all his blessings.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Chapter 17, §1 & 10-11 (All the stuff in between is really good too and I would encourage you to read it.)

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By In Theology

This Is My Body Broken For You

Guest post by Michael Hansen

One of my deepest concerns with the way many churches now operate is in their exclusion of the Lord’s Supper from their services of worship. The reason this concerns me is because the Lord’s Supper is a place where the church is forced to look itself in the mirror. When Christ welcomes the congregation to the table of fellowship, we are confronted with the reality that he is far more welcoming and hospitable than we are.

Look around the congregation.

How many people can you count that you would invite to your table? There are great sinners in the congregation. There are people you don’t like. But all of these people are welcomed to the Lord’s table at the Lord’s invitation.

Jesus once told his disciples that he will draw all men to himself when he is lifted up (John 12:32). What happened to Jesus when he was lifted up? He was broken. What happens to the bread when the minister lifts it up before the congregation? It is broken. The Lord’s Supper is much more than an act of remembrance for individual Christians. The Lord’s Supper is a participatory event where all men find themselves drawn to Christ’s broken body.

When Jesus’ body was broken, the walls of separation between Jew and gentile, male and female, slave and free, black and white were broken as well (Gal. 3:28). This happens in the Lord’s Supper.

Look around the congregation.

How many people look just like you? Are they all white (let’s hope not)? Are they all black (let’s hope not)? Are they all republicans or democrats (let’s hope they’re libertarians)? No, there are people from all walks of life, all races, all socioeconomic classes and ideologies, being drawn to the broken body of Christ.

The church is a body of many members. Further, God’s word serves as a two-edged sword cutting to the hearts of his people (Heb. 4:12), who have become living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). Throughout the service, God’s word has cut His church into pieces just as the Levitical sacrifices were cut into pieces. But the service does not end here. The church must learn that we are only broken by God’s Word because the Word of God was broken for us: “This is my body broken for you.” Moreover, as the body of many members (the church) partakes of the broken body of Christ, we are made whole again by our participation in the one loaf (1 Cor. 10:17).

Perhaps the reason there is so much strife in the church nowadays is because we are not communing with one another as we ought. Our ultimate allegiances need to be formed not by who we would invite to our tables, but by whom Jesus, weekly, invites to his.

(Originally published on Torrey Gazette)

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By In Theology, Worship

Paedocommunion: Calvin Misunderstood “Discerning the Body”

by Luke A Welch

CALVIN IS FLAT WRONG BECAUSE HE MISSED THE CONTEXT
Calvin fears that, in paedocommunion, tender children will poison themselves by being intellectually incapable of having a formed mental opinion about the presence of Christ in the elements. Paul is actually just saying that we can’t use the unity meal to despise the church by ignoring the weaker or lesser members while we eat. But Calvin misses all the context (see my post containing a quote of Calvin’s treatment in the Institutes).

 

dives_lazarus_Bonifacio VERONESE

Dives and Lazarus – Bonifacio Veronese

 

If Calvin is right about the meaning of 1 Cor 11, then children have no business at the table, but this is contextually impossible in a section that repeatedly tells us that all the baptized are also unified in the eating of the meal. Calvin has missed tying the phrases in question (“discerning the body,: and “eating in an unworthy manner”) to their immediate context, and to the context of the surrounding chapters. If you have time to wade through a few reasonably simple arguments, I beg you to stick around through the end of this. I believe this post, and the future post on self-examination, to be able to remove the obstacle of 1 Cor 11 from giving all covenant members their due invitations to the meal of the Lord. So we start here: (more…)

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