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

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!

How to Start Building Your Book Collection

So you want to start building your library, but you’re not sure where to start. I’ve often spoken with folks who wish to dig deeper into the Christian faith, but then find that there are just too many books to choose from—and it’s hard to tell what’s reliable anyway. The proverbial flooded market can certainly be overwhelming—especially when you want solid, trustworthy resources, not just whatever happens to be on TGC’s top 20 list.

So, here’s another list of recommended books!

I’ve started compiling a list of books that would serve well as a starting point for a basic Christian library. And as always, recommending a book does not mean that I necessarily agree with all of its content. Rather, I think these are books which are accessible, solid, and particularly beneficial in their various categories. If you’re interested in learning more and getting serious about the Christian faith and way of life, I recommend starting here. I’ll explain why I give these specific recommendations in another post.

I’d also love to hear about any other books you’ve found to be an essential introduction in a particular area.


Study Bibles

HCSB Study Bible

Ryrie Study Bible

How to Study the Bible

Grasping God’s Word, by Duvall and Hays

Basic Bible Interpretation, by Roy Zuck

An Introduction to Theology

Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God, by Bruce Ware

Systematic Theology, by Norman Geisler

He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom, by Michael Vlach

Understanding End Times Prophecy, by Paul Benware

On Living the Christian Life

Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World, by Michael Horton

Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness, by Ed Welch

When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man, by Ed Welch

Respectable Sins, by Jerry Bridges

The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges

Anger, Anxiety and Fear: A Biblical Perspective, by Stuart Scott

Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace, by Heath Lambert

On Marriage and Family

Her Hand in Marriage: Biblical Courtship in the Modern World, by Douglas Wilson

Reforming Marriage, by Douglas Wilson

Building a Godly Home, by William Gouge

Why Children Matter, by Douglas and Nancy Wilson

Future Men: Raising Boys to Fight Giants, by Douglas Wilson

For Men:

Federal Husband, by Douglas Wilson

Man of the House, by C.R. Wiley

The Exemplary Husband, by Stuart Scott

For Women:

Why Isn’t a Pretty Girl Like You Married? And Other Useful Comments, by Nancy Wilson

The Fruit of Her Hands: Respect and the Christian Woman, by Nancy Wilson

The Excellent Wife, by Martha Peace

Praise Her in the Gates: The Calling of Christian Motherhood, by Nancy Wilson

The Silver Lining: A Practical Guide for Grandmothers, by Nancy Wilson

On Salvation

Free Grace Theology on Trial, by Anthony Badger

Freely by His Grace, by Hixson, Whitmire, and Zuck

Grace, Salvation, and Discipleship: How to Understand Some Difficult Bible Passages, by Charles Bing

On the Life of Christ

The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, by J. Dwight Pentecost

On the Holy Spirit

The New Covenant Ministry of the Holy Spirit, by Larry Pettegrew

Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship, by John MacArthur

On the Church

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, by Mark Dever

Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus, by Jonathan Leeman

Going Public, by Bobby Jamieson

On Ethics

An Introduction to Biblical Ethics, by Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan

Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning, by Wayne Grudem

Devotionals

Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers from Banner of Truth

Morning and Evening, a devotional by Charles Spurgeon

Daily Readings devotionals edited by Randall Pederson (Early Church Fathers, Puritans, Matthew Henry)

The Loveliness of Christ: Selections from the Letters of Samuel Rutherford

Psalms for Trials: Meditations on Praying the Psalms, by Lindsey Tollefson

Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards, by Owen Strachan

New Morning Mercies, by Paul David Tripp

Virtuous: A Study for Ladies of Every Age, by Nancy Wilson

Learning Contentment: A Study for Ladies of Every Age, by Nancy Wilson

Hymns to the Living God

Hymns of Grace


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Proximity and Sprawl: redux

In his book Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus, Jonathan Leeman describes eight ways Christians ought to submit to their local churches. The second of those is completely in line with the articles I discussed in my post on proximity, sprawl, and the importance of living close to your community. Leeman says,

If you can, ‘consider others better than yourselves’ and ‘look to the interests of others’ by living geographically close to the church. When a person lives within walking distance of a church or clumps of members, it’s easier to invite people to one’s house for dinner, to watch one another’s children while running errands, to pick up bread or milk at the store for one another. In other words, it’s just plain easier to integrate daily life when there is relative—even walkable—geographic proximity.

When considering what home to buy or apartment to rent, Christians do well to ask some of the same questions that non-Christians ask (How much does it cost? Are there good schools nearby?). But Christians also do well to ask additional questions like these:

  • Will the mortgage or rent payment allow for generosity to others?
  • Will it give other church members quick access to me for discipleship and hospitality?

Must a Christian move close to other members of his or her church? No, the Bible doesn’t command this. But it’s one concrete way to love your church.

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Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 10 — on the Authority of the Doctrinal Statement]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.

This is the last section of the doctrinal statement, and the last post in this series. I hope it’s been interesting and perhaps helpful.


Section 10 — Authority of this Doctrinal Statement [1]

This doctrinal statement does not exhaust the extent of our beliefs. The Bible — as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, itself the very standard of truth — speaks authoritatively concerning doctrine, morality, and the proper conduct of mankind [2], and is the inceptive and final source of all that we believe [3]. For the purposes of this church’s doctrine, the Council of Elders bears the delegated responsibility of interpreting and communicating the Bible’s meaning and application for the church [4]. We do believe, however, that the foregoing doctrinal statement accurately represents the teaching of the Bible and, therefore, is binding upon all members.

(John 17:17; Acts 15:12–21; 20:28; Galatians 1:8; 2 Timothy 4:1–2; Titus 1:9; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:2–3; 2 Peter 1:19–20)


Notes:

1] The National Center for Life and Liberty strongly recommends, for legal and practical reasons, that the local church “should adopt, as part of its bylaws, a statement explaining that the Bible is the sole and final source of all the ministry believes and that the statement of faith, as a reflection of the major doctrinal and lifestyle beliefs of the ministry, is binding upon all members, staff, students, and volunteers.”

2] See the statement on the Scriptures

3] “Inceptive” means that the Bible is not just our final standard — it’s our starting point. The Bible is the first place we go to decide what we believe. What makes Scripture the standard of truth is that God’s word is the very source of truth. See note 3 on section 1 for more info.

4] No matter who you decide must biblically, or will practically, hold the final functional responsibility of “interpreting and communicating the Bible’s meaning and application for the church” — the council of elders, just the senior pastor, or the congregation as a whole — it needs to be specified in your documents, or you will face unbelievable division over who gets to decide on a difficult issue that arises one day. In my view, the elders are clearly given the authority to teach the Word to the congregation, with the congregation given the command to submit to and trust their leadership (while still holding the power as an assembly to remove an elder when he compromises the gospel or is otherwise no longer qualified to be an elder). Thus, this position is reflected in where I place the functional authority in this statement — with the leadership. Read my thoughts on church polity for more explanation.

Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 9 part 4 — on Disputes and Accountability]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.


Disputes and Accountability Between Members: We believe that the church possesses all the resources necessary to resolve personal disputes between members, and that members are prohibited from bringing civil lawsuits against the church or other members of our assembly to resolve personal disputes [1]. Disputes among members are to be dealt with personally and privately, or brought before the Council of Elders [2].

We believe that by seeking membership at this local church, the believer submits himself to the leadership and authority of the church [3], and commits [4] to pursue Christlikeness in thought, word, and conduct, seeking to faithfully love God and love others [5], to make and to be fully committed and competent disciples of Christ, joyfully and humbly seeking accountability with and for fellow members of the assembly, recognizing the potential for loving, corrective discipline in cases of unrepentant sin, as prescribed in Scripture, that the member may be restored to fellowship with both Christ and His church.

(Matthew 18:15–20; 22:37–39; 1 Corinthians 5:1–13; 6:1–8; 2 Corinthians 2:5–11; Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:31–32; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14–15; 1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 3:9–11)


Notes:

1] It may feel strange to include this in a doctrinal statement. But not only does it provide ample legal protection for your church (if a member seeks a lawsuit, all you have to do is point the judge to the member’s signature by which he agreed to this doctrinal statement, thus binding him to not pursue a lawsuit — this has happened and it does work), it is also a biblical standard (1 Cor 6:1-8) that, if understood and followed, fosters a greater depth of community.

2] We should always try to resolve disputes privately, including only the parties involved at first, and then bringing in another mature believer or two when necessary. Disputes should always be dealt with at the lowest level possible (Matthew 18:15–20).

3] Many will react to the language of submitting to the local church and it’s leadership, but in actuality, that language is more biblical than the language of voluntarily joining a church.

4] This commitment to pursue Christlikeness is not unique to those Christian’s who decide to join a church — it is the calling of every believer. The difference is simply that in the context of the local church the believer gains the resources, encouragment, training, and accountability to faithfully pursue this life of discipleship.

5] The two greatest commandments (Matt 22:37–39)