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.

Now That The Frivolities are Over… L.A., Part 3

We can get back to more serious matters (j/k honey, honestly ;))…

Going back to looking at Limited Atonement I want in this post to focus on the logical implications of accepting an unlimited atonement. In other words for the Reformed Christian what would be the problems associated with taking an understanding of the cross and its efficacious manner for all of humanity in light of how us Reformed folk hermeneutically read the Scripture’s structure and overall composition.

1) Unlimited Atonement denies Unconditional Election

This is a pretty big statement if I might say so myself so I better figure out a way to defend it. So here we go.

As election is understood as God’s unconditional selection (John 6:65) of certain human beings to be glorified through Christ’s righteousness and death it cannot be that Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection could be both efficient and sufficient for all people and then God only elect a few of the righteous to be saved. So if this last clause be true then there must be something we need more than Christ’s imputation and therefore another way we come to salvation outside of Christ’s own righteousness. This means for the Christian man or woman that we must add something to Christ’s work to be saved. This is an untenable position for anyone outside of Rome, Constantinople, and Arminius (and therefore Biblical Christians) to hold. Unconditional Election means what it says, that we bring nothing to the table insofar as our own righteousness is concerned. In other words we bring a peanut to a gun fight and can add nothing to the work Christ has accomplished and applied on or behalf to satisfy the justice that God the Father seeks for our rightful condemnation under the inheritance we receive as being sons and daughters of Adam. Unconditional Election, as John Calvin notes in the Institutes of Christian Religion, 3.21.7:

Although it is now sufficiently plain that God by his secret counsel chooses whom he will while he rejects others, his gratuitous election has only been partially explained until we come to the case of single individuals, to whom God not only offers salvation, but so assigns it, that the certainty of the result remains not dubious or suspended…We say, then, that Scripture clearly proves this much, that God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined once for all those whom it was his pleasure one day to admit to salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, it was his pleasure to doom to destruction. We maintain that this counsel, as regards the elect, is founded on his free mercy, without any respect to human worth, while those whom he dooms to destruction are excluded from access to life by a just and blameless, but at the same time incomprehensible judgment. In regard to the elect, we regard calling as the evidence of election, and justification as another symbol of its manifestation, until it is fully accomplished by the attainment of glory. But as the Lord seals his elect by calling and justification, so by excluding the reprobate either from the knowledge of his name or the sanctification of his Spirit, he by these marks in a manner discloses the judgment which awaits them.

Here we see Calvin marking the distinction that for whom Christ died God has elected through no effort or previous worth of the individual but only through the free and unconditional grace of God.

2) Unlimited Atonement denies Justification by Faith Alone

We touched on this a little bit in the previous section but I want to draw it out a little bit more. First to define Justification by Faith Alone we’ll let the originator, God, speak for himself in Romans 10:9, “That if you shall confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.” O.K., seems plain enough. But for clarification lets take a look at Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” One more for good measure, Galatians 2:21 “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” So we see that we are saved not by works or any addition upon Christ’s work that can possibly come from us. Therefore how can we say that that Christ’s work on the cross is not enough to separate the sheep from the goats? If we say that Christ died for all yet only some are saved that Christ’s righteousness is not enough for salvation.

3) Unlimited Atonement implies Universal Salvation

In other words unlimited atonement logically implies universal salvation. Again if one believes in Justification by Faith Alone then one must believe that nothing can be added to Christ’s imputed righteousness that can lead to our protection from God’s righteous wrath against those who hate his law and mock his Son therefore being condemned themselves by their works to Hell except for Christ’s atoning death. It cannot be stated and restated enough in my opinion. Unlimited Atonement implies and logically must mean Universal Salvation if one holds to an orthodox understanding of Justification and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the elect.

Chapter XI. Of Justification — Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)

I. Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

Images of the Godhead and the Second Commandment, Part 8 (Cont.)

Continuing the post below looking at Hezekiah’s reforms as a good analogy for today’s problems with the 2nd Commandment we see that Hezekiah does not hesitate to return Judah to proper worship of God. While we unfortunately in my view neither have the ability to in a manner of speaking direct the worship of an entire nation as Hezekiah did nor do we have the right to go around smashing idols like our Orange brethren at Utrecht we do have the duty to make sure our Evangelical brothers and sisters know how they are defaming the Word of God by trying to picture him in any way (including injection-mold, heat transfer, or screen printing ChipB). And especially since most representations do not do proper justice to the ethnic origins of Jesus of Nazareth let alone his majesty and holiness. So we must ask ourselves at this point having shown that images of the Godhead do not do justice to the plain reading of the 2nd Commandment  and cannot be tolerated in any Orthodox manner or setting how do we go about directing the proper worship of Christ so that it is compatible in this regard to the 2nd Commandment? Do we have “Idolatry Awareness Month” or “2nd Commandment Sunday”? Do we write polemics and browbeat?

Well what say you?

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.

The Abandonement of Hermenuetics, Part 1.

The study of Hermeneutics or better said the way in which we read and study biblical text is a dying art in the evangelical, let alone the liberal, world. There used to be a very serious set of principles that a person would employ when they came to the Biblical text that was nearly as sacrosanct as the text itself. For those of us in the Reformed circles this was done in the guise of reading the Scriptures in the framework of the Covenants between God and man. In other words when a Reformed pastor or theologian would come to a biblical text he would read it first with the idea that the Bible was constructed with a certain organizing principle, constructed by the Holy Spirit so that we could both understand the larger picture and how the little things work for the overall Glory of God in history. We all come to the text with presuppositions about the nature of the text, the way we understand God to work in his creation, etc. Through all this we take things like God’s covenant with Noah and Abraham through different eyes than Talmudic or Dispensational scholars. The Talmudic scholar will read the promises to Noah in relation to the modern Jewish milieu. The Dispensationalist will see the Noahic Covenant as the beginning of a new dispensation that is different than the one given to Adam or Moses. Once we come to this understanding the question that comes before us is why do we think we can read Scripture in such a way that it does not inform on itself? For example in the arguments between those who support Women in Ordained ministry and those who do not the defenders of the egalitarian position often posit the observation that Jesus employed women to bring the news of his resurrection to his Male disciples as one fact supporting ordained female clergy. In other words Jesus uses women to bring the Good News to the disciples, therefore women can be messengers of the Gospel, ergo Women can be preachers of the Gospel and enter ordained ministry. Understand the argument? Ok. This argument sounds pretty good on the surface and looks secure in its logic, which if taken by itself it is logical.

Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees in Matthew 12:38-41 is a good place for us to start in working with a Biblical hermeneutic. What are the details in this text? Pharisees and Scribes are asking Jesus for a sign after the crowds call him the “Son of David” for healing the blind and mute man possessed with a demonic force. The Pharisees want him to prove that he is this person whom the crowd claims him to be. So after Jesus and the Pharisees exchange pleasantries Jesus reminds them of Jonah (whom Jesus recognizes as both real and verifiable, which is another issue for another day) and what it was that happened to Jonah. He also reminds them of Nineveh and Nineveh’s repentance and applies this text not only to himself but to the recompense that is coming. All in order to show them that the signs have already been given to them in the Law and the Prophets (cf: The Rich Man and Lazarus) and that they have no need of new signs because why? Because there is nothing new in what Christ is teaching and what he is coming to do in their time. Jesus understands (and so does Zacharias) that the Law and the Prophets not only speak of him but are about him. This is all to say that a proper Biblical hermeneutic takes into account more than just what is in front of us on the page, more than the bare logic of a pericope.

Which brings us back to Matthew 28:1-10 (also Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, and John 20:1-10) and the reporting of the Resurrection. Now as we saw before the argument brought forward by egalitarians makes perfect sense, in isolation. Now how does the story look in context? We’ll answer that in the next post. But for now I want you to think about it and come up with your own explanation using a Covenant hermeneutic.

A Few Words To End the Week

Here are a couple MP3’s from J.I. Packer on the Sufficiency of Scripture. The greatest mistake we have made in the modern Church is denying the power and the veracity and most especially the reality of Holy Scripture. Hopefully these will help move you to understanding why it is we can trust Scripture (look at Dr. Wilson’s quote to your right)…

J.I. Packer on Sufficiency

J.I. Packer on the Unity of Scripture Part 1
Part 2
Part 3