The Three Tenses of the Lord’s Supper

In Richard Barcellos’ helpful book on the Lord’s Supper,  The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace, he outlines in summary form the three tenses of the Lord’s Supper.

There are three tenses of the Lord’s Supper – past (the accomplishment of redemption), present (the application of redemption), and future (the consummation of redemption). When we take the Supper, we do so in remembrance of Christ’s death. At the Supper, we enjoy present communion with Christ. But our Lord said he will drink with his people in the future in his Father’s kingdom. It is of interest to note that at the inauguration of the Old (Exod. 24:1-11) and New Covenants (Matt. 26:26-29) God was with his people, and eating occurred. There is also a prospect held out for us, an eschatological feast in the New Heavens and the New Earth (Matt. 26:29; Luke 14:14; Rev. 19:9). There will be eating and feasting at the consummation. All of this is due to the blood of the Lamb, slain for sinners, in order to bring us to God. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of the past, blesses us in the present, and looks to future eating, future feasting with the Lamb in all his glory. As Vos said, in it ‘there is an anticipation of what the eschatological state has in store for the believer’.

From Richard C. Barcellos, The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace: More than a Memory (Mentor, 2013), 38-39.

I highly recommend Barcellos’ book for a rich understanding of the Supper. It is a great introduction to the biblical teaching on the Lord’s Supper, with a special emphasis on how the Lord’s Supper functions as a means of grace for the believer.

C. S. Lewis on Reading Old Books

C. S. Lewis, in his Introduction to a translation of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, warned that: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.” He went on to explain:

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

Postscript:  I wrote and scheduled this post for publication last week. Since that time, my friend David Schrock posted “Twelve ‘Old Books’ Every Christian Should Read”, inspired, in part, by Lewis’ admonition quoted above. It is a great list that will get you started on your quest to read old books!

Evangelistic Letter to Benjamin Franklin from George Whitefield

On August 17, 1752, the famed Great Awakening preacher George Whitefield penned a letter from London to his Colonial American friend, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin and Whitefield had become close friends during a previous preaching tour of Whitefield in the colonies. They had collaborated on publishing projects and Franklin was fascinated by Whitefield’s preaching, though he remained unconverted. As the following letter reveals, Whitefield had an obvious concern for his friend’s soul. I believe this letter is a model of ways to engage unconverted friends and family. I love the line: “As you have made a pretty considerable progress in the mysteries of electricity, I would now humbly recommend to your diligent unprejudiced pursuit and study the mystery of the new-birth.” Understated on so many levels!

Below see a transcription of the letter and below that an image of the letter as it appears in the 3 volume A Select Collection of Letters of the Late Reverend George Whitefield (London: Edward and Charles Dilly, 1772), 2:440. This letter is accessible on Google Books here.

Dear Mr. F——,                      London, Aug. 17, 1752

Inclosed you have a letter for Mr. R—–. I hope that promotion will do him no hurt. May God help him to make a stand against vice and prophaneness, and to exert his utmost efforts in promoting true religion and virtue! This is the whole of man. I find that you grow more and more famous in the learned world. As you have made a pretty considerable progress in the mysteries of electricity, I would now humbly recommend to your diligent unprejudiced pursuit and study the mystery of the new-birth. It is a most important, interesting study, and when mastered, will richly answer and repay you for all your pains. One at whose bar we are shortly to appear, hath solemnly declared, that without it, “we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” You will excuse this freedom. I must have aliquid Christi in all my letters. I am yet a willing pilgrim for his great name sake, and I trust a blessing attends my poor feeble labours. To the giver of every good gift be all the glory. My respects await your whole self, and all enquiring friends, and hoping to see you yet once more in this land of the dying, I subscribe myself, dear Sir,

Your very affectionate friend, and obliged servant,
G. W.

Letter to Franklin from Whitefield

Make plans to join us in Louisville, Kentucky on October 21-22 for a concentrated two days focused on George Whitefield and his legacy.

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Speaking Truth to Power: Thomas Helwys and Our Baptist Heritage

A short Declaration cover pageIn 1612, the proto-Baptist Thomas Helwys published a book entitled A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity. In an original edition of the work preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, there is a handwritten note on the flyleaf of the work addressed to King James I from Thomas Helwys. This volume was apparently a dedication copy to be presented to the King of England. Helwys, who had just returned to England from the Netherlands with a band of baptized believers,* intended to make a statement to the King regarding religious liberty. Apparently, the King received the message as Helwys was unsurprisingly arrested shortly thereafter and languished in the infamous Newgate Prison until he died four years later in 1616. Helwys’ courageous address to the King of England deserves to be read and remembered as we consider the Baptist contribution to religious liberty. Baptists have a rich heritage of speaking truth to power, often at great risk.

Below is a transcription of the text of Helwys handwritten note to King James I and below that is a photocopy of the original.
     Heare, O King, and dispise not ye counsell of ye poore and let their complaints come before thee.
     The King is a mortall man and not God, therefore hath no power over ye immortall soules of his subiects, to make lawes & ordinances for them, and to set spirituall Lords over them.
     If the King have authority to make spirituall Lords & lawes, then he is an immortall God and not a mortall man.
     O King be not seduced by deceivers to sine so against God whome thou oughtest to obey, nor against thy poore subiects who ought and will obey thee in all thinges with body life and goods or els let their lives be taken from ye earth.
     God save ye Kinge
Tho: Helwys.
Spittlefeild
neare London.
Thomas Helwys Dedication to King James
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*Helwys and his followers had been baptized by affusion, i.e., pouring as believers.

“Satan…will do anything to hold up evangelism and divide Christians.” J.I. Packer

e&sJ.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God should be required reading for all who desire to understand and discuss the relationship between divine sovereignty and human relationship with its implications for evangelism. It is at once a plea to take Scripture’s teaching regarding both divine sovereignty and human responsibility seriously and a call to declare the gospel indiscriminately to all. In the paragraph below, first published in 1961, Packer presciently responds to the current debate between Calvinists and Traditionalists in the Southern Baptist Convention. His words are a stern warning against the tendency of both sides “to grow self-righteous and bitter and conceited as they criticize each other.”

This is a question that troubles many evangelical Christians today. There are some who have come to believe in the sovereignty of God in the unqualified and uncompromising way in which (as we judge) the Bible presents it. These are now wondering whether there is not some way in which they could and should witness to this faith by modifying the evangelistic practice which they have inherited from a generation with different convictions. These methods, they say, were devised by people who did not believe what we believe about God’s absolute sovereignty in salvation; is that not of itself reason enough for refusing to use them? Others, who do not construe the doctrine of divine sovereignty in quite this way, nor take it quite so seriously, fear that this new concern to believe it thoroughly will mean the death of evangelism; for they think it is bound to undercut all sense of urgency in evangelistic action. Satan, of course, will do anything to hold up evangelism and divide Christians; so he tempts the first group to become inhibited and cynical about all current evangelistic endeavors, and the second group to lose its head and become panicky and alarmist, and both to grow self-righteous and bitter and conceited as they criticize each other. Both groups, it seems, have urgent need to watch against the wiles of the devil.

J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (InterVarsity Press, 1961, rev. ed. 2008), 94.

Holding Biblical Truths in Tension: The Need of the Hour

One of the most alarming trends in contemporary evangelicalism is the seeming inability for Christian pastors/teachers/leaders to be able to hold biblical truths in tension. As a pastor-historian, I believe this is a symptom of our generation’s failure to know and learn from the past. Almost every theological error in the past or present has, at its core, been a failure to recognize and affirm tension in the biblical teaching on a particular issue. Our fallen tendency is to affirm one area of God’s truth over against another. Early Christians struggled with affirming both the full deity and full humanity of Christ, then the oneness of God’s nature and the three distinct divine persons as revealed in Scripture. The tensions between human and divine authorship of Scripture is a perennial issue, as is the relationship of God’s sovereignty to human freedom/responsibility. Every error seeks to affirm one of Scripture’s emphases to the downplaying of the other. When one reads the Bible honestly and carefully many questions should come to one’s mind:

  • Is Jesus human or divine?
  • Is God one or three?
  • Was the Bible written by human authors or by God?
  • Is God sovereign or are human beings free?
  • Are we sanctified by faith or works?
  • Is the kingdom of God future or present?

The answer to all of these questions is: YES! A careful reading of Scripture shows that Jesus is declared and demonstrated to be fully human and fully divine, that God is both one in His essence and exists eternally in three distinct persons, that Bible was written by human authors and that it has God as its author, that God is totally sovereign and that humans are completely free and responsible beings, that Christians are sanctified by their faith and works, that the kingdom of God is future and is here now. Deal with it!

As Bible-believing Christians, our responsibility is to affirm what Scripture says, even when it seems contradictory in our minds. Since all of Scripture is God-breathed and God cannot err or contradict Himself, there are no real contradictions in Scripture. Since this is true, we must find ways of talking about all these apparent contradictions without denying what Scripture clearly affirms. By the way, you don’t have to do this on your own. Christians have been working on this for nearly 2,000 years and have already worked through biblically faithful ways to talk about these matters.

May I suggest that we add a few words to our vocabulary? We need to learn (no, really learn) the meaning of the words paradox and mystery.

  • A paradox is when two apparently contradictory things are, in fact, both true.
  • Mystery is when something is difficult or impossible to explain.

No matter how much two teachings of Scripture may appear to be contradictory, they are not. They may be paradoxical, but they can never be contradictory. When biblical truth is properly understood it will not contradict another properly understood biblical truth. I believe that we should try our best to resolve as many tensions as possible by seeing how the biblical truths are harmonized in Scripture, but at the end of the day, whether we have been successful or not, we must affirm what the Scripture teaches. On some doctrines, we may honestly have to throw our hands in the air and acknowledge the mystery in Scripture’s teaching. But denial of one set of biblical truth in order to affirm another is never an option for the faithful student of Scripture.

Why Inerrancy Matters! Reflections on the 30th Anniversary of the Death of Francis Schaeffer

Thirty years ago today, the theologian Francis Schaeffer died. His widow and partner in ministry, Edith, would later write about the comfort that she received in those lonely moments. Her confidence rested in the inerrant Bible that her husband had defended throughout his ministry.

It was 4 A.M. precisely that a soft last breath was taken…and he was absent. That absence was so sharp and precise! Absent.  Now I only observed the absence. I can vouch for the absence being precisely at 4 A.M. As for his presence with the Lord, I had to turn to my Bible to know that. I only know that a person is present with the Lord because the Bible tells us so. I did not have a mystical experience. I want to tell you hear and now that the inerrant Bible became more important to me than ever before. I want to tell you very seriously and solemnly—the Bible is more precious than ever to me. My husband fought for truth and fought for the truth of the inspiration of the Bible—the inerrancy of the Bible—all the 52 years that I knew him. But never have I been more impressed with the wonder of having a trustworthy message from God, an unshakable word from God than right then! I did not have to have, nor pretend to have, some mystical experience to prove that Fran had left to go somewhere, that he had gone to the prepared place for him, and that he was indeed OK. I could know that by turning to my precious Bible, and to his precious Bible (and we each have had several), and read again that absent from the body is present with the Lord—and that it is far better. It is far better for the one who is thus present, but not for those left behind. God knows all about the pain of separation and is preparing that separation will be over forever one future day. I also know that because the Bible tells me so. I feel very sorry for the people who have to be “hoping without any assurance”…because they don’t know what portion of the Bible is myth and what portion might possibly be trusted. (1)

This is what is at stake when we talk about the inerrancy of Scripture. The inerrant Word of God is the Christian’s only sure basis for hope.  Based on Scripture’s truthfulness and authority, we can have hope—confident assurance in a future reality—that our bodies will be redeemed, the curse on this earth will be removed, Christ will establish His eternal kingdom on a new earth where sin and its effects are finally removed!

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(1) Edith Schaeffer, Dear Family: The L’Abri Family Letters, 1961-1986 (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), 388-389.