Gluten-free Communion?

Ironically, the Lord’s Table can often be an area in which there is much discord and discontentment, as I’ve written about before. At my own church, we’ve recently switched to having gluten-free bread/wafers for everyone, all the time. Unfortunately (unfortunate for a number of reasons), in our day, this is something we have to think about and be aware of. And, while I would prefer it wasn’t made a big deal of, it is something churches should acknowledge as they make that kind of change in a more intentional manner.

Here’s my basic argument: it doesn’t hinder anyone for the church to use gluten-free communion bread; to use bread with gluten will hinder a segment of the congregation—whether rightly or wrongly—from partaking in the Lord’s Supper with the rest of the congregation; it’s incredibly simple now to change to gluten-free bread; why would we not jump at the opportunity to remove an unnecessary obstacle to unhindered participation?

There are two possible answers: 1) people are selfish; and 2) the bread Jesus used wasn’t gluten-free. Well, to make argument #2, you better be ready to switch back from grape juice to wine—which I’m happy to do, as I think we ought to stay as close to the original elements as possible—just be consistent.

Below are some of the thoughts I shared with our congregation when we made the change.

What we want to avoid is giving any believer any reason to refrain from participating in the Lord’s Supper (beyond the restrictions of Scripture: unrepentant sin). This is a meal celebrating the fellowship we have with Christ, and thus with one another; and it’s meant to be taken together, because we are united in Christ. Because of this, we want to make sure there’s no reason for someone who refrains from eating gluten (for any reason)—whether of our own congregation or those visiting—to refrain from partaking of the elements.

Many churches have attempted to address the issue by having a gluten-free option, so that most people will take regular communion bread, and over there is the gluten-free option. But what that does is effectively divide the body into gluten-eating, and gluten-free people—turning a comparatively inconsequential matter into a matter of table-fellowship. This tends to lead toward either self-pity or pride on the part of the gluten-free folks, and either disdain or bitterness on the part of those eating the regular bread. It also defeats the very symbolism of the Lord’s Supper when we make this dietary issue a matter of identity, instead of celebrating our fellowship and communion with one another because of our identity in Christ.

Division in the body is precisely the opposite of what the Lord’s Supper is all about. So we make this adjustment as a wonderful opportunity to show our love for our brothers and sisters, and to seek to maintain that visible unity in partaking of the Lord’s Supper together as one body. This can easily become an area of contention, but we must seek to outdo one another in showing honor and deference to the needs and preferences of others. If the Scriptures’ instruction on grace has taken root at all, we will be eager to remove any obstacle possible in the communion meal so as to show our love for and unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Communion is a time of celebration, remembrance, and thanksgiving for the salvation God provided for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s a meal of fellowship for Christians to enjoy together. As such, this is only for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. It also means that if we are out of fellowship, with another believer, or just in our relationship to God, we need to make that right before we partake of communion as well. 1 John 1:9 says, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So we examine ourselves, as to whether we have any unconfessed sin in our life that is hindering our relationship with God, or with our fellow believers, and we confess that to the Lord, so that we are prepared to partake of the bread and the cup together—as one body in Christ.

“Because there is one bread, we who are many are on body, for we all partake of the one bread.” — 1 Corinthians 10:17

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In Praise of Manly Pastors

I recently had a post about some men—mainly pastors—I would recommend other men follow. That prompted the question: Why is masculinity important in a pastor?

Well, there’s a larger theological discussion to be had here. Masculinity is important because excellence is important, and virtue (moral excellence) in a man—of which elders are to be exemplary—is necessarily masculine. Masculinity is important in a pastor because pastoral ministry is, by nature, agonistic, combative, confrontational. It takes courage, grit, fortitude, perseverance.

(Note the header image e.g.—John Calvin barring the Libertines from the Lord’s Table.)

But the simple reason I wanted to point out a few men to be aware of is because, on the practical level, men want to find pastors whom they can follow into battle. It’s that simple. If you’re a wife reading this, you need to understand that while the children’s ministry may be the most important aspect to you for finding a good church, for your husband it will be having a pastor they would follow into battle. They may not consciously word it that way. Perhaps it’s not even the best way to word it. But wives, you should want to go to a church where your husband respects the pastor. The programs, fellowship, coffee, and “atmosphere” may be terrific; but if your husband does not respect your pastor as a man, he won’t last long.

I hope to explain that a little further soon.

The video below is a good example of the need for manly men in the pulpits of America. I don’t link to this video because I endorse Maxwell. I don’t. I disagree with much of his approach and his theological views (including, ironically, his take on masculinity). But he’s hitting a niche precisely because he is accurately pointing out the failing of modern evangelicalism when it comes to masculinity, engaging the world manfully, and, thus, retaining real men in the churches.

This is why we need men like Wilson, Baucham, Cunningham, Conn, Wiley, and others.

In this video, Voddie Baucham explains that one of the primary reasons men aren’t interested in church is because the pastor is not a man they respect and feel they can follow as their leader.

In this article, C.R. Wiley discusses how to get and keep masculine men in the church.

And when we talk about masculine pastors (or men in general), we don’t—or shouldn’t—mean the machismo and posturing that so often is presented as manhood. Alastair Roberts has some helpful thoughts on that in two articles here and here. I’ll leave you with a quote from Wilson’s Future Men. This is essential in our endeavor to not continue losing future men from the church.

Boys should be able to see masculine leadership throughout the life of the church. From the pulpit, to the session of elders, to the choir, boys should be able to see men they respect. They should not see what is too often the case—missing men or silent men just along for the ride. When men go to church simply to sit in the back, they are teaching their boys to do exactly the same thing, if that.

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Is Your Faith a Political Threat?

So it turns out that Christian convictions actually do matter in and affect the public square. The world rightly sees the church as dangerous. The Christian faith is a political threat. Not quite in the sense that an invading army is a threat to another country… but in the sense of a herald announcing the arrival of the king coming in judgment… in the sense of a community of citizens sojourning in a foreign land who are fiercely loyal to their king… in the sense of an embassy representing and proclaiming the rights of its coming king over all nations.

There are two groups of people who truly understand that threat of Christianity: those who are persecuted because of their Christian convictions, and those who do the persecuting.

Here is yet one more example of the world’s recognition of the truly dangerous nature of Christianity. Dutch authorities are investigating a number of pastors who signed the Nashville Statement on sexuality. They are threatening criminal charges against these pastors for signing an “anti-gay” Christian confession. (See the article here.)

Unfortunately, Denny Burk’s response and commentary on the subject appears a little soft. He seems to imply that the Dutch authorities shouldn’t feel so threatened by the Nashville Statement. He seems surprised that Dutch authorities care so much about “what is essentially a confessional statement.”

The problem, of course, is in the failure to recognize the public and political significance of Christian confessions. When those Dutch pastors signed their names to the Nashville Statement, they were declaring that their highest allegiance is to Christ, not to the Netherlands. Of course, the fact that they are baptized Christians ought to be enough to make that clear, but that’s not often the case anymore. The signing of a public statement articulating biblical morality (particularly one that has entered into the political eye to the degree that sexuality has) is simply another clear message to the nations that we serve a higher sovereign—we serve a king who demands the allegiance of all nations.

And as our allegiance to Christ increasingly comes into conflict with our ability to obey our earthly rulers, we need to be prepared to say with the apostles, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

To read more about the prophetic and political function of the church, I would recommend the book that shaped much of my thinking in this area: Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule. In that work, Leeman writes this:

Churches do not need to take up arms against the state in order to pose a threat to the state; they only need to oppose the gods upon which a nation’s political and economic institutions depend.

And, while the Nashville Statement is commendable, I would rather recommend the Fortified Nashville Statement as an even more faithful and sound articulation of the biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality.

“Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” — 1 Peter 4:19

Honor and Shame in the Advent

When Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem to register for the census, we see yet another aspect of the unimpressive, unfitting arrival of the long-awaited king. In Luke 2:7, it says that Mary laid the baby in a manger “because there was no place for them in the inn.” Now, there are three clarifications to make about that one short statement.

First of all, a manger doesn’t refer to the whole stable. A manger is a feeding trough cut out of stone (not wood with crisscrossed legs like we always see).

Secondly, the “stable” was probably more like a crude stone room that would be attached to the house, or perhaps simply the downstairs of the house itself, which would have troughs available because they would bring in the animals during winter.

Thirdly, the “inn” was not a hotel or a tavern. They didn’t have those in towns. The closest thing to what we think of as an inn would’ve been in the middle of nowhere beside a highway for travelers—but that’s a different word. When you went into a town, you stayed with family. If you had no family in that town, the responsibility of hospitality was so great that someone would have you stay with them. The community is honor bound to extend hospitality to visitors. Joseph was from Bethlehem, so he almost certainly had family there.

The word for inn is usually translated “lodging place,” or “upper room.” And that’s what it was; it was the guest room on the top level of the house. It’s the same word for the upper room where Jesus and his disciples ate the Last Supper. It was the guest room, and it was the place of honor.

Now, another way to read the sentence, that gets the sense across a little clearer to our ears, is to read it, “she laid the baby in a manger, because the upper room was no place for them.” The idea is basically this: that the pall of shame and scandal was still heavy over them, such that for Joseph’s relatives (no matter how distant) to welcome them into their house and place them in the honorable guest room would have brought Joseph and Mary’s shame onto that household as well.

So I think we ought to understand Joseph’s relatives as quietly saying to him, “Joseph, we love you… we love Mary. We’ll love this child when he comes. But we can’t endorse what’s happened by welcoming you into the place of honor. We can move some stuff around downstairs, though, and we’ll put some straw and blankets down, and you can stay there if you’d like.”

When the angels announce his birth to the shepherds, the sign they give of how the shepherds will know they’ve found the king is that he would be lying in a manger. Why? Because a feeding trough is no place for the newborn king! Everything about Christ’s arrival was humble, and unfitting for the one who was the fulfillment of every prophecy of the coming king.

The point is this: from his conception, to his birth, to his rejection and execution, the first advent of Christ was marked by humble obscurity, humiliation, and shame—completely unfitting for the birth of a king. But he took our shame on himself, so that he could one day clothe us with his honor.

His first advent was characterized by humble obscurity, lowliness, shame, and rejection. But his second advent will not be the same. His second advent—when he comes again to establish his reign over all nations—will be inescapable, Christ will be honored by all, and he will be victorious over every enemy. He first came as the Lamb of God to take away our sins. But he’s coming back, as the Lion of Judah, to destroy all those who refused to accept his sacrifice, and to give eternal life to all who have placed their faith in him. Jesus’ first advent was characterized by shame, obscurity, and rejection, but his second advent will be marked by honor, vindication, and victory.

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On the Desire to Be Honored by God

A short follow up to my last post on the reciprocal nature of honor, and how God honors us.

While we’ve been conditioned to feel that no one should care what others think of them, because “how you see yourself is all that matters,” that’s really not what the Bible teaches. The Bible affirms that one’s reputation and social honor (that is, the community’s view of your integrity and moral excellence) is actually very important. The problem is not in caring about image, reputation, honor, having a good name; the problem is in having the wrong standards, and the wrong social context in view. The social context we ought to have in mind is Christ’s kingdom; and God consistently turns the world’s standard on its head.

We ought to seek the name and recognition that comes from God in return for faithful service to him. We ought to long for that commendation, “well done, good and faithful servant.” And we ought to yearn to please the Lord to such a degree that the desire for eternal and God-given honor outweighs any real concern for the opinions of the world. But none of that means honor doesn’t matter… quite the opposite.

This article was also brought to my attention as pertinent to what I’m discussing here. The whole series may be a helpful place to start to gain a fuller perspective on the matter of honor and shame in the biblical worldview. However, as per usual, be wary of overstatements and whatnot as you peruse the site. Still, a helpful resource it may well be.

1 Sam. 2:7–8; Psalm 58:11; 62:7; Prov. 21:21; 22:1, 4; Luke 14:12–14; Rom. 2:6–10; 2 Cor. 5:9–10; Eph. 6:8; 1 Pet. 2:6–7,12; 1 John 2:28; Rev. 22:12

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Honored by God: The Role of Reciprocal Honor

I’ve been teaching through First Samuel recently, and two of the main themes running through the book are (1) that God is providentially providing righteous leadership to his covenant people, and (2) that, as God puts it in 1st Samuel 2:30, the Lord will honor those who honor Him. That second focus is what I’d like to talk about briefly in this post: the Lord will honor those who honor Him. That can be a rather jarring claim. So here are four important points that need to be understood about this principle—which comes up several times throughout Scripture.

1

First, this is different from the idea that “God helps those who help themselves.” That’s not biblical. God helps those who recognize that they cannot help themselves, and so turn to God for strength and aid. “God helps those who help themselves” is not in the Bible. “God honors those who honor Him” is all over Scripture, and that’s an entirely different claim. But that leads to the second point to keep in mind.

2

Second, we need to define the term honor. In our day, if the term honor is used at all, it’s often in jest or in mocking. But it also generally means nothing more than personal integrity. Honor is a synonym for integrity or character, right? But that’s not what the word meant until very recently. When you hear the word honor in the Bible, you should be thinking “respect, praise, accolades, status.” It’s in the context of a community, and it has to do with one’s recognition and reputation within a community. Now, there’s too much to say about the concept of honor—far more than we have time for just in a short introduction.

There are overlapping contexts of honor, different kinds of honor, different standards for honor, and on and on. But for our purposes, I just want to explain two kinds of honor, because it’s important for God’s statement in chapter two of 1st Samuel—that he honors those who honor Him.

First, there is what anthropologists sometimes call “horizontal honor.” Horizontal honor is defined as “the right to have respect among a society of equals.” Think about a gang: there’s a code of honor; and as long as you abide by it, you have the respect of the other members. To fail to live up to the honor code results in shame—your reputation in the community is soiled.

But there’s also what is called “vertical honor.” Vertical honor isn’t primarily about mutual respect within a community. Vertical honor has to with praise, esteem, admiration, and accolades. And there are three varieties of this. First, a society of equals can give a member of the group vertical honor. In other words, someone is not only living up to the code of conduct, they excel at it, and so they receive special recognition from the group.

Another variety of vertical honor would be from a subordinate to a superior. This would be the kind of honor paid to patrons by their clients in a patronage relationship. When someone agreed to be someone’s patron, the client owed their patron their loyalty and praise—they were to retell the stories of their patron’s courage, grace, wisdom, etc. to spread and better their patron’s reputation.

The third kind of vertical honor is that given by a superior to a subordinate. This can be done by association—as in the client-patron relationship. The client is honored by his association with an honorable patron. That’s also the case with slaves. So, for example, to be a slave in the household of Caesar was far more reputable than to be the slave in a small lower-class household. That’s why the apostles claim with pride the title “slave of Christ.” To be a slave in the house of the King of kings and Lord of lords is the highest honor. So we have honor by association. But honor can also be bestowed on a subordinate by a superior. A superior can give recognition and praise to someone, and that then raises their status of honor, esteem, and reputation.

Now, the only reason I go through all of this is because understanding something of the culture and concept of honor as a “reputation worthy of respect and admiration,” and how that’s gained, is important to understanding how Scripture uses certain words in relation to both God and man. For example, we know that God blesses us in many ways by His grace. But we are also told to bless God. How can that be? Well, it means something different based on whether the superior is giving or receiving the blessing. When we bless God, that means to give him praise, to recount his mighty works, to worship him together. When God blesses us, it refers to him giving us gifts out of his grace and love. We see something similar with the word “glory,” which is closely related to honor. We give God glory by praising him, speaking of him or representing Him in a way that causes other’s to raise their opinions of him. But God is also said to give us glory. And Paul speaks of pursuing immortality and glory. The same is true with the word “honor.” When God says in 1st Samuel that he will honor those who honor him, it’s not mutual respect between peers that we’re talking about. It means that God will give recognition, esteem, accolades, and a good name to those who give God praise, loyalty, reverence, and obedience.

3

But that leads to the third point to remember, which is that, in the church age, we don’t have any warrant to expect God to bless us materially or to give us a status of honor in the world in this life as compensation for our devotion to Him. We do still have, in the New Testament, passages like John 12:26, where Jesus says, “if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him,” so the principle still stands, but the context of our honor and reward is the bema seat and the kingdom, not the here and now. Now, there are times when God will give honor to believers in this life, whether just amongst believers, or, at times, in the world. But, generally, the honor and blessings we look forward to, as the New Testament authors make clear, will not be received until the judgment seat of Christ, as we enter the kingdom—where God will dispense rewards and honor based on how we as believers live out the Christian life, and how we’ve stewarded the resources he’s given us for our walk.

4

And that leads to the final clarification to remember. We need to remember that the context of this reciprocal vertical honor is covenantal, not salvific. In other words, in salvation, God gives us honor and status by our association with Christ through no merit of our own, but only by His grace, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. But, within the context of the Christian life, how we live has great bearing on the rewards and honor we receive at Christ’s return. This is different than saying God saves those who live lives of faithful obedience. It’s a separate conversation from how you are justified—how you receive forgiveness for sins. Our works, our personal merits, how we live… none of that earns salvation. The only thing that determines whether you will enjoy the forgiveness of sin, and eternal life in the presence and fellowship of Jesus Christ, is faith in the sufficiency of His death on the cross in our place. The only relevant question for your salvation is what are you trusting for that salvation. The only way to receive eternal life is by placing your trust for salvation in Jesus Christ alone. But, now that we have been justified, now that we have received eternal life and been reconciled to God, given a new nature, and called to walk after Christ—we need to start walking! And we can do that well, or not so well. And as we seek to live out the Christian life, growing in our knowledge of, love for, and obedience to Christ, we look forward to the day when we stand before him and are given rewards, of which honor is one of the most important aspects; and we ought to live our lives now in light of the fact that we can receive rewards and honor, or lose that honor for failing to live as Christ has called us to live. And sometimes that’s not fun to think about because we all know that we fail every day. But Scripture teaches that we ought to live lives of faithfulness to God, trusting that one day he will bestow rewards and honor on us in measure. And again, this doesn’t speak to our security—to our salvation—the issue is one of reward and honor, not eternal destiny.

And as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3, some will be saved, and yet will suffer the loss of rewards and honor—they will be saved, but as through fire. They will suffer loss. So Paul encourages us to keep in mind the fact that we will receive rewards and honor as we seek to live lives of service to Christ worthy of our calling. Paul says in 2Corinthians 5:9–10, “whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or bad.”

So although it plays out differently in our time (the mechanics are different under the New Covenant than under the Old, and we have to wait longer), the principle is still the same that God will honor those who honor Him. In the larger canonical context of the Former Prophets (which is where Samuel falls in the Hebrew Bible), this account of the rise of Samuel, and later of David, challenges the readers to honor the Lord so that they too may experience a renewed relationship with their king, culminating in the restoration of the nation under the authority of an ideal king—and we know that that promised king is Jesus Christ.

I hope this was helpful, but to explore further the themes of honor, shame, patronage, and how they affect the biblical world, I would recommend reading Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity, by David deSilva.

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