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Fathers and the Lord’s Supper

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

At least in our immediate circles it is agreed that family ties don’t dissolve when passing through the doors of the church. That doesn’t diminish the authority or devalue the role of the church, but it does leave family authority and roles in tact, which leaves us carefully navigating how to rightly interact in circumstances where there seems to be overlap. One such place is in the observance of the Lord’s Supper, specifically, what role a father, as an authority in the family, plays in regulating this ordinance of the church, if any.

I would like to explore this subject and provide a few thoughts which I believe are relevant and important.

When comparing the Mosaic covenant to the new covenant, one thing which is immediately apparent is the dramatic difference in the number of ordinances. Ordinances under the Mosaic covenant seem almost innumerable, while under the new covenant, there are only two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. With the coming of Jesus Christ, all of the shadows that prefigured His coming become unnecessary, and so He has left us with only these two great pictorials – baptism, picturing spiritual resurrection, and the Lord’s Supper, picturing the enlivening and sustaining power of Jesus’ self-sacrifice. In light of this, how important it is that we observe these two ordinances with care and precision! Their close association with the gospel message – a preaching in picture, so to speak – makes it absolutely essential that our observances communicate exactly what was intended. No more, no less.

This brings us to the topic of this post, which is to explore a father’s role in the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Consider these two central points:

1. The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of the church.

Regarding the Lord’s Supper, the Apostle Paul said, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you…” (1 Corinthians 11:23a). That is what we should be striving for: an observance that represents just what Paul received from the Lord and delivered to the churches. And what is that? 1 Corinthians 11 makes it clear that this ordinance is to be observed according to the repeated phrase, “come together” (verses 17, 18, 20, 33, 34). It is an ordinance for a gathered local church, not an ordinance of the family. 

This accords perfectly with what Paul has already said in the previous chapter, “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? For we, though many are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). One important aspect of the Lord’s Supper is our oneness, expressed through our communion with each other and with our great Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Which brings us to the second point. 

2. There is one Mediator between God and man. 

What the Apostle Paul says with such great clarity in 1 Timothy 2:5 has a bearing on our observance of the Lord’s Supper: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus”. The way in which we observe this ordinance cannot risk miscommunicating on this point. Fathers and mothers, sons and daughters of biological families have one relationship with regards to this great remembrance of the life-giving, sacrificial death of our Lord – that of spiritual brothers and sisters. To risk confusion on this point by encouraging or even allowing a father to be the exclusive point of distribution of the bread and the cup to the members of his family is to incur a great risk without a hint of warrant from Scripture.

That does not mean, however, that a father does not have an important role as a spiritual brother to his wife and children. Of course he does! To again quote the Apostle Paul, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any tespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1). This is an important role, it has clear implications for an observance of the Lord’s Supper which includes careful self-examination and repentance, and it is a role that a father may often be in the best position to play. But it is not an exclusive role, and it is not a mediatorial role.

For these two straightforward reasons, it is overwhelmingly the better part of wisdom to avoid having a father distribute the elements of the Lord’s Supper to his family. I would go so far as to say that distribution of the elements exclusively through fathers is a rejection, though likely unintended, of the Regulative Principle of Worship, which constrains its adherents to only do in corporate worship those things which have clear warrant in Scripture, either by command, pattern, or necessary inference.

The Lord’s people have a right – even a duty – to delight in God by delighting in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. It is a beautiful picture of the gospel, and a wonderful time of feeding on Christ by faith and acknowledging our oneness in Him. May our observance of it be what Paul received from the Lord and delivered to the churches.

Divorced from Worldliness, not from the World

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

I am greatly benefiting from reading “The Brokenhearted Evangelist“. It is written by Jeremy Walker, a young-ish pastor who serves alongside his father at a Reformed Baptist church outside of London.

Here is a great quote (page 74):

“Is your church a light to the world? Are you the salt of the earth? Is your light shining before men – all men – from the top to the bottom of society? This is not a picture of a church divorced from the world, but of a church divorced from worldliness and engaged with a fallen world for the glory of Christ.”

I know I must become more of that kind of man.

What about you? What about us?

 

The Gross and Muddy Pleasures of Sense

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

The old writers can be difficult to read, but even so they make use of language in ways virtually unknown to the last few centuries. The unusual word choices drive the meaning home in a profound way.

This from “The Life of God in the Soul of Man” by Henry Scougal (1650-1678):

“Amidst all our pursuits and designs, let us stop and ask ourselves, For what end is all this? At what do I aim? Can the gross and muddy pleasures of sense, or a heap of white and yellow earth [silver and gold], or the esteem and affection of silly creatures like myself, satisfy a rational and immortal soul? Have I not tried these things already? Will they have a higher relish, and yield me more contentment tomorrow than yesterday, or the next year than they did the last? There may be some little difference betwixt that which I am now pursuing, and that which I enjoyed before; but sure, my former enjoyments did show as pleasant and promise as fair, before I attained them; like the rainbow, they looked very glorious at a distance, but when I approached I found nothing but emptiness and vapour. O what a poor thing would the life of man be, if it were capable of no higher enjoyments!”

To what extent have you traded the imperishable pleasures of knowing God in Christ for the gross and muddy pleasures of sense?

That, friends, is an awful trade.

The Lord Jesus Makes No Mistakes

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

This from J.C. Ryle’s Practical Religion, Chapter 14, titled “The Best Friend”:

“The Lord Jesus makes no mistakes in managing His friends’ affairs. He orders all their concerns with perfect wisdom: all things happen to them at the right time, and in the right way. He gives them as much of sickness and as much of health, as much of poverty and as much of riches, as much of sorrow and as much of joy, as He sees their souls require. He leads them by the right way to bring them to the city of habitation [heaven]. He mixes their bitterest cups like a wise physician, and takes care that they have not a drop too little or too much. His people often misunderstand His dealings; they are silly enough to fancy their course of life might have been better ordered: but in the resurrection-day they will thank God that not their will, but Christ’s was done.”

We should think of God’s management of our lives in terms of His friendship toward us, even in the hard things which don’t seem friendly at the moment. He is unfailingly working all things together for our good.

Consistent with this, John Newton, also the author of the classic hymn of the faith “Amazing Grace,” wrote a beautiful hymn named “I Asked the Lord” (alternate tune by Indelible Grace).

Take a listen and be helped.

Wanted: Hard Muscles

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Friends that will tell you the truth as they see it are a rare blessing. I have a friend like that in Malawi. The day before leaving Malawi, after an invigorating two weeks there, this friend asked me, “What are you taking home with you?” We had done some souvenir shopping the day before, so I asked for clarification. Souvenirs were not what he was asking about. He wanted to know what we had learned from the church there that we planned to share here at home.

It didn’t take me long to answer. Two things. First, their church drips evangelistic zeal. We need more of that, and time with those brothers helped our team make progress that can spread here. Second, they are starting to make waves in areas of sound doctrine, biblical manhood and womanhood, and homeschooling, and even though it is already costing them with family and friends, none of them are blinking. In Acts 20:22-24, Paul says this: “And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there,  except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.  But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” It is not overly dramatic to say that these are unflinching sons and daughters of Paul. We need more of that kind of resolve and courage too.

Then I flipped the question on him. What should I be taking home with me, not in souvenirs but in lessons learned. It didn’t take him long to answer either. “Tell your young men to WAKE UP!” Huh? Clarification, please… Last November, this friend had come from Malawi to North Carolina and stayed with us for almost a month. He watched, and his observation was simply this: our young men have the luxury of not fighting for their faith every day. By contrast the young men of their church in Malawi, almost to a man, are first-generation Christians, many of them saved within the past year or two. They might be behind our young men in doctrine, but because they are swimming upstream every day, contending with active opposition against their faith at every turn, their spiritual muscles are hard. They are ready for battle because they are in the battle. Ouch. I think my friend’s observations extend beyond the young men.

I shared this at a joint gathering of Hope Baptist and Sovereign Redeemer, the two churches that sent our team. Afterwards, my eight-year-old daughter said this to me: “It’s not our fault we have Christian parents!” Fair enough. And I thank God for every advantage that is gained from a Christian heritage. There are many and those advantages are obvious enough not to need listing. But something needs attention when having Christian parents puts children at a disadvantage, and it has me thinking about my own spiritual muscles, and those of my children. Yes, I am as committed as ever to keeping our family “unspotted from the world” (James 1:27), and no, the answer isn’t throwing our children to the pagans under the banner of “salt and light.” But in between, second and third and fourth-generation Christians have to be ushered into the fight earlier, at the elbow of parents who have hard muscles themselves and a clear vision for hills to be taken for the kingdom of heaven, by God’s grace.

At least in Malawi it is abundantly clear that a war is on, and to whatever extent we have lost sight of that here, we are terribly deceived and desperately in need of this wake-up call (thank you, friend from Malawi). We have a great King and his kingdom is advancing, and to participate requires hard spiritual muscles.

So I leave you with this question: Into what part of the war to expand the kingdom of heaven are you ushering your sons and daughters, so that their muscles become a little harder and they become a little more ready for the day when you won’t be at their elbow? May God give us grace to enter the fray for the glory of God, bringing our sons and daughters with us wherever it is wise.