What About These Communion Alternatives?

A recurring question that arises as many churches deal with the inconvenience and horror and heartbreak that these lockdowns and quarantines entail, is whether it may be appropriate to observe the Lord’s Supper—either virtually with their church, or privately with their own household.

I understand and sympathize with those who are looking for a way to continue to celebrate the Table even while being unable to gather for corporate worship. Some churches have resorted to serving communion “to go.” Others have sought to observe the ordinance virtually via Zoom. Still others have encouraged their members to observe the Supper with their own families.

As I said, I understand the sentiment; but I would strongly urge against such practices. I understand the Lord’s Supper to be an ordinance of the local church, to be observed by the local church, when the local church is gathered as the church. The physical, embodied gathering of the body, and the onetogetherness of partaking of the elements together, is essential to (meaning, not just “really important,” but “of the essence of”) the observance of the Lord’s Supper.

We can no more properly observe the Lord’s Supper virtually or privately, than we can truly assemble for corporate worship without actually assembling. It’s just not possible. We can communicate online; we can maintain unity and some semblance of fellowship online; we can lessen the tragedy of being apart by overcoming relational isolation online. But we can’t assemble as the body online. We can’t teach and be taught face to face online (not really). We can’t greet one another with a holy kiss (or your more sanitary and contextual application of the principle) online. We can’t join our voices together in physical (vs. digital) union as we sing of our God together online. And we can’t observe the meal that marks out who the church is and embodies our union with Christ and one another without actually partaking of the elements together, being together physically as the body of Christ.

Now, I know I’ll receive a lot of pushback for that view, and I’ll share a few articles for further reading that better explain this position. My contention is, first, that we have an emaciated doctrine of the body (individual and corporate). Meaning here, simply, that the fact that so many modern churches do not uphold and cherish the primacy and import of the embodied physical gathering, is a symptom of a larger doctrinal and philosophical famine; and, second, that the desire (nay, the apparent need) to do everything we can to replicate the normal while everything about us tells us there is nothing normal about this, is, I think, indicative of the larger cultural attitude (which—and I say this to our shame—has so seeped into the church that we hardly recognize the problem) that demands the comfort of met expectations. And so, unable to acknowledge the need to accept a time of lamentation and longing as we are hindered in the providence of God from gathering with the body, we seek to replicate our worship services to such a degree that we can continue to deliver our services (and note the strategic equivocation there) to the consumers congregation (uncongregated though it may be).

So, I encourage you to maintain family worship with your households—to pray and read the Bible together, and perhaps even sing together—but do not confuse that for the corporate worship of the church. I’ve encouraged our church to be intentional about keeping in touch with one another, interacting and encouraging one another as best we can, as our modern technology certainly does help mitigate the relational isolation caused by the quarantining. Just don’t be deceived into thinking this distance communication can truly do what physical, face-to-face interaction and edification can do. I have been providing teaching each Sunday and Wednesday via Zoom and Facebook live. But we do not call this “church,” and I’m careful to note that it is a poor substitute for face-to-face teaching, and I dearly miss the embodied interaction and gathering of the regular assembly.

Additionally, bread and wine have, since at least the days of Abraham and Melchizedek, been the standard and common elements of celebratory meals among the people of God, even apart from/in addition to the special significance tied to them as part of the Passover and, later, the Lord’s Supper; and so I would heartily encourage you to recover that ancient habit of celebrating with bread and wine—not just generic merry-making, but truly Godward celebration of the Lord’s blessing through the enjoyment of two foods that represent and epitomize our Creator’s good provision for and blessing on mankind in general, and on His own people in particular (Gen. 14; Judges 9:13; Amos 9:14; Isa. 25:6, 55:1; Dan. 10:3; Deut. 14:26; Ps. 104:14–15; Prov. 3:10; Eccl. 9:7; 1 Tim. 5:23; John 2:1–11).

Just don’t pretend that eating bread and drinking wine (or juice) with your family, or by yourself, or while watching other believers doing the same thing on the computer screen, is actually doing what the New Covenant ordinance of the Lord’s Supper does.

Finally then…

To learn more about this, I would commend to you the following articles. I may not agree with every way they worded something, but I think these three did an excellent job of upholding the biblical understanding of the Lord’s Supper, and articulating well my convictions about the impropriety, ordinarily, of trying to observe the Lord’s Supper in any way other than in the physical assembly of the local church.

Why ‘Virtual Lord’s Supper’ is Impossible
Can Baptism and the Lord’s Supper Go Online?
There is No Such Thing as Virtual Lord’s Supper

“Eat your break with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart.” — Eccl. 9:7

COVID-19 Update

Not more than a day after I sent out my first email to my church explaining that we were going to continue meeting for the time being, I had to send out a second email with the following update.

Dear church family,

Well, we are here sooner than we expected. In response to the coronavirus hitting closer to home, and in conjunction with the precautions being taken by Fairview Township, we’ve made the difficult decision to suspend our meetings through the end of March. We plan to resume meetings beginning April 1; however, we will be vigilantly monitoring the situation and the wisdom of meeting, and will keep you up to date.

This has truly been a difficult decision to make—not only because of the tension between our desire to faithfully gather and the need to take necessary precautions against spreading the virus, but also because of our awareness that whatever decision is made will bring criticism from one quarter or another. The elders and deacons have been in constant communication over the last twenty-four hours, and we are all very slow to give up meeting together. There is something very real that is missed in not having a physical, embodied interaction and gathering, and we will dearly miss the regular assembly, even if for only a short time.

We will be working on the best ways to keep in touch and to continue to provide teaching each Sunday. I would encourage every household to set aside time these Sundays to pray and sing together. We will keep you posted on Sunday morning teaching and other ways to stay connected.

Isolation tends to foster fear more than it does any real sense of security. So, over the next couple of weeks, be sure not to isolate yourselves from all communication simply because we are not gathering. Keep in touch with one another via phone, text, Facebook, Marco Polo groups, or other similar means. Frequent interaction and constant encouragement will be crucial in the coming weeks.

We, the elders and deacons, are praying for our church, our households, our community, and our country during this time. We trust in a sovereign God who, we are certain, will use this for His glory and our good. Take every opportunity you have to share the good news of the gospel. We don’t fear death and we should not respond in panic like those who do. Let our measured calmness be a testimony to our trust in God and love for others.

For the King,

Christopher Preston
Pastor | Fairview Bible Church

Coronavirus Conundrum

My gut reaction tends to be “people are crazy.” And I certainly am more concerned about what irrational people do when they panic than I am about the source of panic. However, I do think we ought to be thinking seriously about COVID-19 so that we can respond in a manner that is wise, prudent, and faithful rather than fearful. I’ve already had a few people ask me about church being canceled, particularly in light of the CDC’s recommendation to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people. So, how should Christians and churches respond?

My current leaning would be to continue meeting for church until your governor puts out a mandate, as many other states have, banning gatherings of a certain size, or until the virus shows up in your county or surrounding area. Then, I think it may be prudent to cancel services for a week or two at least.

In the back of my mind, I agree that this feels much too close to a test run of flexing government power. This whole crisis has shown that it is, in fact, completely viable to orchestrate large-scale, voluntary quarantining. And so I do think we should be wary of the indications this all might have for moves toward tyranny in the future—perhaps particularly the potential for targeting churches. However, I think that some level of quarantining and recommended restrictions are appropriate and within the lawful authority of the magistrate (not just constitutionally—for states that is—but also biblically: Lev. 13–15; Ex. 20:13; Rom. 13:4). So, I think churches, not only out of love for brother and neighbor, but as a matter of cheerfully submitting to the lawful directives (and not all are) of the governing authorities, should adhere to those directives with joy, patience, courage, and faith. And I believe we can do this without compromising our commitment to Christ or to His commandment not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (thought the spirit of that commandment ought to impel us to be diligent not to readily abandon the regular assembly of Christ’s church).

We, as Christians, must not panic. It’s wise to take common-sense precautions; but we are not overcome by fear. Even if this ended up being on the level of the Black Death, God is still sovereign; and we will never be asked for a reason for the hope that is in us if we aren’t demonstrating a hope that is in stark contrast to the panicking, fearful world around us.

C.S. Lewis gave a wise and balanced perspective in 1948, writing “On Living in an Atomic Age.” (His references to atomic bombs have been changed to the virus so you see the principle applying to our current crisis just as readily as his.)

In one way we think a great deal too much of the [coronavirus]. ‘How are we to live in an [viral] age?’ I am tempted to reply: Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the [coronavirus] was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an [virus], let that [virus] when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about [viruses]. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

Martin Luther once wrote a letter to Johan Hess about how he was responding to the Black Death: “Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague.” His words here convey the calm confidence in God’s providence that ought to characterize all believers.

I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.

Christians ought to be marked by a distinctive courage, love, wisdom, faith, and hope, in the midst of a world that is marked by cowardice, selfishness, foolishness, fear, and despair.

So, what does this look like in the weeks ahead? We will continue to meet for worship and study, remaining alert to the spread of the virus. When the virus reaches our area, we will reevaluate and keep our church updated. If you are high risk, it would be wise to stay home. If you or your children have been feeling ill, again, as always, it would be both wise and loving to stay home rather than risk the spread of any sickness, regardless of the scare surrounding the particular disease. This is a matter of course and common courtesy, but it bears reiterating here. Hebrews 10:25 indicates that one of the primary purposes of the local assembly is the mutual encouragement and edification of the church family. So while we recognize the concern surrounding the COVID-19 scare, we want to be slow to give up our time of corporate worship, study, and encouragement on the Lord’s Day, even for a short time.

So, to borrow some helpful direction from Christ Church Moscow:

As we all watch the evening news regarding the coronavirus, one question that naturally occurs to everyone is this: “what about Sunday worship?” We do not want to have any part of spreading either virus—whether we are talking about the coronavirus or the panic virus (which is also quite contagious). The two viruses have this in common—the carriers often don’t know that they are carriers.

So here are a few prudent measures that we would ask you to observe as we worship this coming Lord’s Day.

Please wash your hands before coming, and if you have portable hand sanitizer that you can bring, please bring it, and please feel free to use it; Please don’t shake anybody’s hand. Just beam at them, or do that new and interesting elbow bump… If you have a cough, or a cold, or any flu-like symptoms, please remain home; If you are elderly, or have any underlying medical condition that concerns you, please feel at liberty to remain at home… And if you are fearful or in any way panicky, we would ask you to remain home also (Dt. 20:8). If you are one of those who likes to share scary stories, statistics, or scenarios with the other saints, please stay at home. And if you do decide to come, please wash your hands and heart down with Ps. 91 and 121 first.

Which Children’s Bible Should I Buy for My Child?

A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education. — Theodore Roosevelt

“When children begin to read, let them read the Holy Scriptures.” — William Gouge, 1622

So, you want to get your child his very own Bible. Good! Since our mission as parents is to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, a copy of the Word of God is the single most valuable possession you can give them. But which edition? Which translation? What size? What color?

It’s common for parents to give their children Bible storybooks as their first “Bible.” In my opinion, this is generally unwise. For an example of why, read this helpful review of one of the most popular Bible storybooks, the Jesus Storybook Bible.

My conviction is that the wisest thing to do is put an actual translation of the Word of God into the hands of a child as soon as he can read. There are things to take into consideration, of course, such as readability. But we must be cautious not to sacrifice accuracy for readability. Avoid translations of the Bible that are specifically aimed at young readers. This pretty much always leads to periphrastic renderings or inaccuracy for the sake of simplicity. Remember that early American families taught their children how to read with the Geneva Bible. The Word of God is something worth getting right, even if it’s difficult, right?

Read with your child; and encourage them to come ask for help anytime they don’t understand a word. But give them the actual Word of God. I would recommend the Holman Christian Standard Bible for young readers. Try a large print, compact Bible such as this or this. I also would recommend getting an edition that is not indexed, as I think it actually aids in memorizing the order of the canon to have to find a book or be reminded of its location every time. But, of course, some prefer indexed Bibles, and it may be helpful for your kid. The best Bible for your child (assuming the accuracy of translation) is the one he will actually use.

So then, if you’d like a children’s edition, with pictures and applications directed toward younger readers, what should you get?

Comparing children’s editions (of actual Bible translations), it basically came down to two that I would probably recommend: The “ESV Children’s Bible,” and the “HCSB Illustrated Study Bible for Kids.”

The ESV Children’s Bible has far more pictures, illustrations, and other features for kids, but the translation is definitely a higher reading level—probably not as understandable for kids under 8 or 9. The HCSB has fewer illustrations and resources, but it’s a very readable translation—recommended for ages 6–12.

Now, for your teens, I’d encourage you to avoid the “teen edition” Bibles. Get them a solid translation, such as the HCSB or ESV, in a helpful edition. For a solid study Bible, try the HCSB study Bible, the MacArthur Study Bible, or the Ryrie Study Bible. If your teen is more artsy, try out the Illumination ESV

For the note-takers out there, I would recommend the Bible I actually use for my own personal study and for preaching (it has 2-inch wide margins). I would love to find a double-column ESV (I don’t care for single-column), with wide, note-taking margins, that still has helpful cross-references as well—that’s the one drawback of this edition I use. I’ve yet to find that. Better yet, I’d love that in the Lexham English translation, which is probably my favorite current translation—but that’s only available digitally so far. It’s on the Bible app if you’re interested.

And for your note-taking, you’ll also need a good pen that’s actually designed for it!

I hope this has been helpful. What other editions have you found beneficial for your kids?

A Charge to Christian Parents

As we head into a new season, and settle back into the rhythm of the school year, I’d like to draw your attention to a few important matters.

The apostles instruct us to not forsake the assembly, as is the habit of some, but to encourage and stir one another up to love and good works (Heb. 10:25). This means the weekly assembly of believers is for the encouragement and edification of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and it ought to be a priority in the rhythm of your weekly routine as a family. By neglecting the regular corporate worship of the church we’ve committed ourselves to, we not only become a discouragement to our brothers and sisters, but we inadvertently teach our children to devalue the local church—while also keeping them, during their most formative years, from one of the primary means God has given for the spiritual growth of His people.

Additionally, as we head into a new season, it would be wise to review with your children the expectations for respectful and godly conduct that they ought to strive for—whether culture and friends encourage it or not. This includes things like not running in the church building (because we must be considerate of others, especially considering the safety of older saints), listening to one’s Sunday School teachers, being kind to others, being respectful to adults, etc. Our society as a whole is facing a crisis as young people become increasingly disrespectful, selfish, unruly, and undisciplined—and this has seeped into the church. That ought not to be the case. The church is to be a contrast-culture. We are to demonstrate the righteousness of Christ, and to shine out as distinct and different and holy in the midst of the darkness.

The temptation, of course, is to say, let them be kids. But one of the most important aspects of raising children to be wise and godly adults is teaching them self-control, self-discipline, humility, respect for authority, and the importance of context (e.g. you don’t run in church, you run outside; you don’t talk in class without being called on) (Acts 24:25; Eph. 6:1–4; Phil. 2:3; Titus 2:4–6; 1 Pet. 5:5). Or, an even more subtly unbiblical temptation yet: they’re just going to be kids, what can we do about it? Well, train them. Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord—that’s our job (Eph. 6:4). Letting them be kids shouldn’t mean we allow them to do as they please. The goal is to train and teach them to be the kind of kids who know, love, and follow Christ.

And that is, first and foremost, our job as parents. At Fairview Bible Church, we believe the responsibility to raise children and train them to follow Christ rests ultimately and primarily with the parents. At the same time, we as a church body want simply to come alongside one another as we seek to cultivate Christlikeness in our children; and this means being involved in their lives, teaching what it means to be respectful, kind, and self-controlled young people who know God, think biblically, and live wisely. And that is a tall task—but it’s just one component of the church’s mission to make competent and committed disciples of Christ.

So, I encourage you to be in prayer for the young people in our church, our teachers, and for our congregation as a whole. We’re excited to see what God has in store for this next year!

Households and Warring Over the Cosmos

Pastor C.R. Wiley… Familiarize yourself with his work.

I’ve previously recommended his book, Man of the House: A Handbook for Building a Shelter That Will Last in a World That is Falling Apart. It’s exactly as the subtitle claims—and worth every penny and every minute.

Pastor Wiley has now published a follow-up work: The Household and the War for the Cosmos: Recovering a Christian Vision for the Family.

One of the biggest dangers to the modern church is the downplaying, fragmentation, and recreationalization of the household. We need to get back to a biblical understanding of the strategic and central role the household plays in God’s plan for the cosmos.

Here, Wiley introduces a couple of the concepts he explains through the book.

In order to prepare for some of the concepts Wiley deals with, watch this helpful introduction and summary of the biblical doctrine of the household from Alistair Roberts…

…and this clip of Wes Calihan, of Roman Roads Media, explaining the Roman concept of piety—akin to the Christian paradigm, and an all important concept to grasp, as the idea of piety has been misused and relegated to an effeminate, quietistic cliche. It’s actually one of the core biblical principles of the Christian life.