Session-Controlled Communion & 1st Corninthians 11

Last evening my wife, our two little daughters, and I had the pleasure of going to our usually Lord’s Day evening service at North Hills RP Church here in Pittsburgh. We had not been there for a couple of weeks due to car troubles, birth of Mackenzie, being out of town, etc… So it was with a little surprise that we went last night to find out that North Hills was having communion. Also another surprise (actually I had forgotten) that North Hills practices what is called “Session-controlled communion” which means that anyone wanting to take communion at North Hills must meet with the Session and be approved prior to taking the elements at North Hills. As it is with many church doctrines that the mainlines and the more conservative denominations have kicked to the wayside and plain-just forgotten the Presbyterians used to be known for this. While those like NHRPC do not hand out tokens like in days passed they take very seriously the dangers associated with taking the Eucharist with laxity and disregard for its holy nature. The rationale for session-controlled communion can be found in Paul’s warning in 1st Corinthians 11 following the words of institution that we all use. Paul says:

The Lord’s Supper

23For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “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. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.

Paul clearly is teaching here that a person must examine himself/herself before taking the elements and if they do not and take the elements unworthily they will do harm to themselves. Also implicit in this warning is a call to the Elders of the church at Corinth. For as I am sure Paul directed the Elders at Corinth part of the understanding of the role of the Elder in Paul’s day and in the Presbyterian system in our day is that they are responsible for the spiritual health and welfare of those under their care (cf: 1 Tim 3:5, Titus 1:7). Therefore not only does the individual have a responsible to guard themselves but the Elders have a heavenly call to guard the sheep from hurting themselves much like the Elders would protect them from any other danger. This is why many call for quarterly communion so that all can be protected properly. However as I believe that the Scriptures call for weekly communion and because of this if you are to have both session-controlled communion and weekly communion it is imperative for the session of the local church to be active in the preparation for the worship service each Lord’s Day and that includes introducing themselves to any visitors and letting them know what the policy is at the local church (not just about communion but other things as well).

What is the policy of your local congregation? How do you think this would work at a local level in your denomination?

Let me know what you think.

The Abandonement of Hermenuetics, Part 2

Joel 2:28-29 and Acts 2:15-21 are the subject of our next inquiry into the “Science” of Hermeneutics. It has been posited in the comments section of the answer to Part 1 that this should be used as a proof text for those who support Women’s Ordination and to not to leads to “General Assembly-like” pronouncements like women not being able to teach adult men but being able to teach male children.

There are several questions that come up when thinking here and must be understood when looking at these two passages. 1) How should we look at Old Testament passages cited by New Testament authors (inspired by the same Spirit?) 2) How much can we read into a text before we obscure and obfuscate its meaning? 3) Can a text have separate contexts?

However first we need to define the major word of this pericope. PROPHECY. John Calvin in his commentary on Acts 2 says, “…this word prophesy doth signify nothing else save only the rare and excellent gift of understanding, as if Joel should say, Under the kingdom of Christ there shall not be a few prophets only, unto whom God may reveal his secrets; but all men shall be endued with spiritual wisdom, even to the prophetical excellency.” John Chrysostom in his Homily V on Acts 2 also gives the same definition as John Calvin saying,” but for the grace, he fetches the prophet as witness. “I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh.” [“And your sons,” etc.] To some the grace was imparted through dreams, to others it was openly poured forth.” This Prophecy of which both Calvin and Chrysostom speak has nothing to do with teaching or preaching, as some have surmised, but has to do with the revelation of the Will of God. In this case Peter is speaking to the Jews who are wondering why Cretans and Arabs are speaking in tongues they do not understand. They are speaking not only in a tongue the Jews cannot understand but of a way that cannot be understand because the Holy Spirit has not been imparted to them. John Piper in a sermon on Acts 2 says this:

In the Old Testament the Spirit of God is the presence of God in the world to reveal himself by some action or word. Therefore when Joel says that God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh, he means that God will draw near to men and women and make himself known and felt in a powerful way. There is a great difference between perceiving a lake at a distance and being immersed in the lake. So there is a great difference between experiencing God as a distant object of knowledge and being immersed in his presence. The picture of a worldwide pouring compels us to think of being soaked and saturated and swept along by the Spirit of God. Joel wanted his readers to anticipate an unmistakable flood-tide of God’s presence.

The context of Peter’s commentary and quotation of Joel 2 belies nothing that would tell us Peter here is speaking about teaching and preaching in the Church. Peter is speaking to the Jews during the event of Pentecost when Jesus’ words to the Apostles were fulfilled. To make the argument that Peter here is is quoting Joel to give the office of teacher to both men and women is stretching the meaning of the text. As we see from the several commentators we cannot give a meaning to a text that it itself cannot and does not give. This on its own not only breaks Scripture’s internal hermeneutic but it violates the rules of literary analysis, tools that even wacko conservatives use to help determine the meaning of the text. Also as Reformed Christians who hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith as the best summary of the Doctrine of the Christian life we must (unless you are like our dispensational friends that believe that we can still receive prophecy after the death of the last Apostle) say that Prophecy has ceased. Richard Gaffin, Professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia in his book Perspectives on Pentecost in summary says, “The apostolic witness, prophecy and tongues were bound up with the foundation of the church following the ascension of Christ, and therefore, since the foundation has been laid, have no purpose for today.” For a Reformed believer if Prophecy has ceased then what Joel and Peter speak of in this passage cannot have bearing on us because we do not live in the Apostolic age. The Westminster Confession says:

The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 1, section 1:

Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.
Chapter 1, Section 6:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

Even moreso Paul in 1st Timothy 5:17 says, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” Now who is to be preaching and teaching? Elders. What are the qualifications for Elders according to Paul (who like Peter and Joel is inspired by the Holy Spirit)? Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 that the office of Overseer, or Elder is restricted to “…the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

Now where do Elders receive their call to head the Church? For that let us take a look at Acts 20:17-38. In this passage Paul is writing to the Elders at the church in Ephesus. He is giving them a sort of pep talk and exhorting them to keep strong in the faith that has been delivered to them and to be vigilant like a shepherd tending to their flocks. Now what does this description sound like to you? Sounds like the daily work of a Pastor does it not? Also worth remembering is the location of Timothy when Paul writes to him. Where is he? Ephesus. So if Paul believes that only qualified men (not all men) can be Elders, and Elders are the Shepherds of the Church, and Elders are to be the ones preaching and teaching what does that say about Joel and Peter and there speaking of Prophesy? Well we can be sure that it does not mean that Peter in Acts 2 and Joel in his book chapter 2 cannot be, if taken with the whole counsel of Scripture, to mean that the act of “Prophesy” which both men and women are called can be conflated to therefore mean that both men and women are called to and can preach and be Teaching Elders in the Church of Christ.

Plans for the Summer

Well after Friday at 9:30am I will be done with Finals and will have all my papers turned in and completed. Then my summer reading can begin in earnest. Also more importantly in the next couple of weeks my wife and I are expecting our second child (do not know the sex as of yet). So this expects to be a busy summer as I read two thick and long volumes of Reformed Theology and begin raising a new little one (while also giving time to the older sister).

These are the two books:

Institutes of Elenctic Theology by Francis Turretin

The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by Herman Witsius.

Also I have promised a post on the 2nd Commandment concerning symbolic images and idolatry. I also will continue my long lost series of posts on 1st Timothy and the rest of the Pastoral Letters as well as update you on my reading.

Soli Deo Gloria

Slow and Steady Wins the Race; Paul’s "Opinion"

It may take me till August to get through the Pastorals but I promise I will eventually do it. So here we are with the next section of 1st Timothy, 1 Tim 2:7. (No one can say the Pastorals lack good and full verses). Now it may seem off that I am choosing to isolate verse 7 of this chapter but I want to do so as to group together verses 8-15 for a full discussion on a very controversial passage in most circles. So without further ado here is 1st Timothy 2:7.

For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Paul here is reminding both Timothy and the readers/hearers of this letter that he was appointed for three specific works by Christ on the road to Damascus. He was to be 1) a Preacher, 2) an Apostle, and 3) a Teacher of the Gentiles. Now to be sure while these offices are interrelated for Paul they are significantly different for Paul’s ministry imparticular. For one Paul derives his authority to preach the Gospel from where? His time with Prof. Gamaliel, graduation from Jerusalem Theological Seminary, and ordination by the Presbytery of Tarsus? No! Paul receives his authority to preach from Jesus Christ himself!!! Paul is a full apostle with the same rights and privileges of the 12 Apostles present at Pentecost. This is vitally important when reading Paul’s letters and listening to those who challenge Paul’s authority, both at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 and today when “Professors” dismiss Paul’s “personal thoughts” as mere opinion and conjecture which has no more weight than my own discretion. This is bubkus pure and simple. Who are we to challenge the words of an Apostle sent by Christ himself? Well simply to put it in words a 3rd grader could understand, Paul is an Apostle and we are not so it may be a good idea to listen to the Apostle’s “opinion” and not our own.

Also worth thinking about is Paul’s use of the word “this”. For what is it that Paul has been appointed to teach and preach? To use Paul’s own words in 1st Corinthians 15:1-19:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead. But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

Getting Back To Timothy (again); Christ the Mediator


Paul in this next section of 1 Timothy 2 after exhorting us to pray for our fellow man and even those in authority over us now tells us who it is that allows us to be able to pray to our Father in heaven. Nothing separates us more from our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters (excepting of course JBFA) than the idea that we who have been born-again in Christ now have been given the ability to speak directly to God the Father through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. This should be earth-shattering information for us. Stop and think about this for a second…….

We who have been alienated from the Father because of our complicity in Adam’s sin now have been given the right by our residence in the bosom of Christ to speak DIRECTLY to the Father through his Son. Read verses 5 and 6 and think on this:

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.

Back to Business; Prayer For All Men


Moving back into the swing of things we will now take a look at the beginning of Paul’s second chapter in his first letter to Timothy. In this pericope Paul is teaching Timothy here to remember all things in his prayers, not just those things that seem enviable or close to him but all things in prayer. I often have heard people question the validity of praying for civil authorities and dignitaries but we will see that Paul expressly commands Timothy to lead prayers for these men as well. This has much to say in our day of political division and ideological causticity. So without further ado here is the first two verses of 1 Tim 2.

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

Paul makes to me a fascinating statement here at the end of verse two concerning why it is we should pray for kings and all who are in authority. What does he say? He says, “…so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Wow! What a statement! Paul is calling for prayers on civil authority so that what? We can live in peace and solitude. Imagine that. Paul has such faith and trust in the power of prayer that he thinks if we pray for the authority we can be Christian without pagan intervention. Think on that for a second. Think what it would be like, since we have deluded ourselves into thinking we can live truly Christian lives in our pagan environment, to live in peace and tranquility. What does that look like for the Christian and why is Paul exhorting Timothy here to seek its finality in prayer? One of the first things that degrades in the Christian person after they have become complacent in their faith is an understanding of the supreme importance of prayer (I cannot stress that enough) in their cognitive daily routine. This is why Paul exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to rejoice to the Lord always, to pray without ceasing. It is because Paul understands the TRUE POWER OF PRAYER. This is one thing that certainly has been atrophied in our churches is this focus upon prayer and its purpose in the Christian life. So I ask you know. If Paul believed that peace for the Christian could come through prayer for civil authorities and for all men why do we not?

The Commisioning and Calling of Timothy


As we come to the end of Chapter 1 of Paul’s First letter to Timothy there are in these last 3 verses a plethora of interesting and downright mysterious phrases. Though before we look at the individual clauses here are the last three verses

This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.

The first thing that should pop out to you is the question of “What command?”, what is Paul referring to when he speaks to Timothy concerning his “command”? Well if we go back to verses 3 and 4 we see that Paul has charged Timothy with setting up a Seminary of sorts here in Ephesus so that the Elders (who we will get to in due time) can properly instruct the people in True Doctrine so that they will not go astray. Now I am sure that if Paul just knew better and he went to a mainline Seminary he would understand that Orthopraxy is more important than Orthodoxy. But what is that you say? Oh yeah Paul has already discussed this way back in Romans 4. What good is right action if it is not accompanied by right knowledge. Even the Pagans do good works. But what the Pagans do not have are the words of eternal life which Paul has entrusted with Timothy. (Seem to remember Peter telling Jesus this somewhere????).

The next curious clause is also in verse 18. Paul says, “in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you”. What can Paul possibly mean here? Calvin has this to say concerning the phrase:

In order to encourage him still more, he reminds him what kind of testimony he had obtained from the Spirit of God; for it was no small excitement, that his ministry was approved by God, and that he had been called by divine revelation before he was called by the votes of men. “It is disgraceful not to come up to the expectations which men have been led to form; and how much more disgraceful will it be to make void, as far as lies in thy power, the judgment of God?” But we must first ascertain what are the prophecies of which he speaks. Some think that Paul was instructed by revelation to confer the office on Timothy. That I acknowledge to be true, but I add that others made revelations; for it was not without reason that Paul made use of the plural number. Accordingly, we conclude from these words that several prophecies were uttered concerning Timothy, in order to recommend him to the Church. Being still a young man, he might have been despised on account of his age; and Paul might also have been exposed to calumnies, on account of having ordained youths, before the proper time, to the elder’s office. Besides, God had appointed him to great and difficult undertakings; for he was not one of the ordinary rank of ministers, but approached very closely to that of the apostles, and frequently occupied the place of Paul during his absence. It was, therefore, necessary that he should receive an extraordinary testimony, in order to make it manifest that it was not conferred on him at random by men, but that he was chosen by God himself. To be adorned with the applauses of the prophets was not an ordinary occurrence, or one which was common to him along with many persons; but because there were some circumstances to Timothy, it was the will of God that he should not be received by men until he had been previously approved by his own voice; it was the will of God that he should not enter into the exercise of his office until he had been called by the revelations of the prophets. The same thing happened to Paul and Barnabas, (Acts 13:2,) when they were ordained to be teachers of the Gentiles; for it was a new and uncommon occurrence, and they could not otherwise have escaped the charge of rashness. It will now be objected by some, “If God had formerly declared, by his prophets, what kind of minister Timothy should be, what purpose did it serve to admonish him, to show that he was actually such a person? Could he falsify prophecies which had been uttered by divine revelation?” I reply, it could not happen differently from what God had promised; but at the same time it was the duty of Timothy, not to give himself up to sloth and inactivity, but to render a cheerful compliance with the providence of God. It is therefore not without good reason, that Paul, wishing to stimulate him still more, mentions the “prophecies,” by which God might be said to have pledged himself on behalf of Timothy; for he was thus reminded of the purpose for which he was called.

Amazing how much one person can say about a single word. Interestingly enough Calvin spends the most time in Chapter 1 on this subject. Those of us who have been called to the Gospel ministry would do well to take heed the words of Paul in this pericope.

The final part we will look at on this subject is the words concerning Hymenaeus and Alexander who have been excommunicated, given over to Satan, because they have “shipwrecked” their faith. This of course points one back to the episode with the man who was sleeping with his Step-Mother in 1st Corinthians 5. Now these are especially hard words for us to here in our day and time mostly because any idea of discipline in the mainlines and even the more “orthodox” Presbyterian denominations have started to slide in this regard. Why is it we are so afraid to discipline? Is it because we refuse to even discipline ourselves or can it be that we fear the condemnation of the world more than the leavening of the whole loaf?