The Lord’s Supper Gone Sour

Imagine a first-century church (one of the churches Paul and Barnabas planted, for instance), and they’re arguing over the wine they use for the Lord’s Supper. Some people have complained, “why are we using this cheap wine, when we could just as easily get a nice cabernet?” Perhaps they were self-conscious when relatives would visit from Rome and the communion wine tasted like vinegar. But when they then switched to a better wine, some complained about the money they were spending on it; still others said that they couldn’t properly focus on the gravity of Christ’s death while they were enjoying a fine wine.

What do you think Paul would have said in a letter to this church? Would he have said something like, “haven’t I taught you anything about grace? Seek to outdo one another in showing honor and deference to the needs and preferences of others. Think of others more highly, and more often, than you think of yourself…” I bring this thought experiment up because I see many modern churches having similar arguments over the bread we use for communion.

But when Paul says “do all things without grumbling,” he means all things, and he means no complaining. When we have the capacity to complain and grumble about the culinary quality of the elements we use for Communion, we not only show that we have completely failed to internalize and apply the lessons about grace the Scripture teaches us, but we evidence a selfish, self-centered attitude that is in line with the attitude for which Paul rebuked the Corinthian church, saying that because of the way they were treating one another over the issue of Communion, they “make it not the Lord’s Supper.”

In other words, you’re missing the whole point. You’ve sat down at the table of fellowship only to flip over the table and spoil the Supper. This is a meal that proclaims and celebrates the fellowship we have with Christ, and because of our union with Christ then also the fellowship we have with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. And we profane the very purpose of the communion meal when we can’t see past our own preferences and felt needs, and instead allow selfish and discontent thoughts into our hearts over the very practice that Christ instituted to be not only a remembrance of his death and resurrection, but a celebration of the new life in union with him and in fellowship with our new family that we now have.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. — 1 Corinthians 11:27-28

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Devote Yourself to the Public Reading

When it comes to reading the Scriptures, another thing we commonly do today is say “okay, okay, reading the Scripture is important… so let’s all do that—each of us on our own time, by ourselves. Just get alone with God, and have this wonderful personal experience, just you and God.”

What we often don’t remember (or sometimes were never taught), is that the Scriptures were actually written to be read aloud, in community. From Moses, to King Josiah, to Ezra and Nehemiah reading and teaching the word of God to the people, to Jesus reading the scroll in the synagogue, to the apostles sending out letters to various churches to be read aloud before the assembled congregations, the Scriptures were written to be read aloud together with other believers. And we see in Acts 2 that the early church devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, reading the Scriptures together daily.

In 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul calls Timothy to keep this practice going. “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and teaching.” Sometimes we can be all for that teaching part, but actually then fail to give ourselves, in any meaningful way, to the public reading of Scripture. But what would happen if we actually began to devote ourselves to reading the Scriptures together with our brothers and sisters? What would it look like for our church to be unified in our commitment to come together to hear the Word of God read aloud?

Our church is doing just that on Wednesday evenings. We’re coming together to read the Scripture together—several chapters at a time, sometimes letters in their entirety—and then talk about what we just heard. It’s a little new and different for us, but I’m looking forward to this time of fellowship and growth as we follow Paul’s instruction and devote ourselves to the public reading of Scripture.

The grass withers, and the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. — Isaiah 40:8


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1 John’s Purpose Statement [conclusion]

I’ve been arguing that the purpose of the book of 1 John is not to give tests by which believers may be assured of their genuine salvation, but rather that the readers may enjoy intimate fellowship with God just as John does (as well as the other apostles), thus completing the apostles’ joy in the fellowship they have with the readers in the common salvation they share (cf. 1 John 1:3)…

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1 John’s Purpose Statement

Many have assumed that the purpose statement of First John is to be found near the end of John’s epistle. The pertinent verse reads, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13, ESV). This is certainly a purpose statement, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the purpose statement for the entire book. For a couple of reasons, I would argue this is not John’s overarching purpose statement.

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To Whom Was 1st John Written?

An important key to interpreting and understanding the book of First John is in establishing who the recipients of the epistle were. It is vital to understand that John is writing this epistle to believers who know they are believers, and whom John knows are believers…

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Phil Johnson Interview [Part 3]

I recently had the honor and privilege of asking Phil Johnson, a well-known and accomplished writer, blogger, editor and preacher, several questions about ministry, practical church issues, theological concerns etc. Phil was gracious enough to take the time to respond and interact fully with all my questions.

Below are the last few questions. The first set of questions dealt with Phil’s personal life and ministry. In the second part of the interview, Phil talked about Strange Fire, second-degree separation, and addressing errors from the pulpit. In this final set of questions, Phil talks about church discipline, addressing errors with grace, and more.

My questions are in bold, with Phil’s responses in regular text.

Phil Johnson is the Executive Director of Grace to You. He has been closely associated with John MacArthur since 1981, and edits most of pastor John’s books. But he may be best known for several popular websites he maintains, including The Spurgeon Archive, The Hall of Church History, and (formerly) the Pyromaniacs blog. Phil has a bachelor’s degree in theology from Moody Bible Institute (class of 1975) and was an editor at Moody Press before joining Grace Community Church. He is an elder at Grace Church and pastors the GraceLife fellowship group. Phil and his wife, Darlene, have three adult children and five grandchildren.


Could you briefly explain the role and importance of church discipline in the life of the local church?

                  Proper biblical discipline is as essential as proper exposition of the Word of God for purity in the fellowship of God’s people. It’s a command, not an option. See 1 Corinthians 5.

Speaking of church discipline, I see people (adults, as well as kids in our youth group) often posting pictures or even bragging about sinful activities on Facebook and Twitter. If I find out about a sin pattern a brother or sister in Christ is letting the world know about, how do I respond? Do I confront them on these things? What is our responsibility in these situations?

The person who is concerned about this should confront the offender privately, not in the comment-section of some public forum. We all know that the temptation to speak unwisely in social media is HUGE, and pastors and churches simply cannot (and should not) spend time policing their members’ Twitter feed or Facebook page. But our duty to one another as Christians is to hold one another accountable when we do see something truly sinful or shameful. Our first response should not be to report the infraction to the pastor; each Christian should fulfill his duty as a fellow believer and go to the person alone. Admonitions about things like this are best when they are spontaneous feedback from friends and fellow church members. And most people, when admonished, will remove any overtly sinful material.

If the sin is truly egregious and the offender refuses to repent or correct the wrong, it may become necessary to bring church leadership into the matter and follow the steps of church discipline. But I would think this should be very rare. Indiscretions on social media aren’t really the sort thing churches should be regularly threatening people with discipline over.

What is your position on a pastor who is found to have been living in immorality? Even after repentance and restoration to fellowship, should that pastor ever be restored to the eldership?

Proverbs 6:33 says the reproach of sexual sin can’t ever be completely wiped away. Since the overarching requirement for elders is that the man “must be above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2), it would seem to me that adultery, fornication, or any equivalent kind of scandalous marital infidelity or sexual sin would be permanently disqualifying.

What advice would you give regarding critiquing/answering those in one’s own camp about errors in doctrine, attitude, or behavior, in a gracious and loving manner?

Always attack bad ideas, not the people who propagate them. Be as vigorous as you like in denouncing fallacies and refuting errors. In extreme cases, sarcasm or ridicule can be legitimate tools for showing the fallacy of terribly wrong ideas (1 Kings 18:27). But never stoop to mere personal insults or bare ad hominem just for the sheer pleasure of degrading or humiliating an enemy.

It’s true that no matter how careful you try to be, in these postmodern times, you will automatically face critics who will accuse you of being cruel and unkind (or arguing ad hominem) any time you point out the fallacies of someone else’s beliefs. Don’t be swayed by those accusations if they are false.

On the other hand, don’t be guilty of merely trying to injure or abuse the person whom you disagree with. “Speak evil of no one . . . avoid quarreling . . . be gentle, and . . . show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:2-3).

That’s a universal guideline. When circumstances make it necessary to voice reproof, dissent, or criticism publicly and the person whose views you are refuting is a friend and partner in ministry, an extra dose of grace to season the rebuke is surely in order.

What Systematic Theology have you found most helpful?

They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Grudem is good, except for his charismatic slant. Robert Culver’s massive tome is probably the one I agree with most, but he’s awfully wordy. I frequently turn to Berkhof (because that was our textbook in theology when I was a student). Strong (though sometimes wrong) is a gold mine for good quotes and helpful insights. If I were sent to prison and permitted only two volumes, I suppose I would choose Grudem and Berkhof. But I would be loath to give up Culver.

What is one of your favorite books on apologetics?

That’s a tough one. I suppose Faith & Reason by Ronald Nash. But I’m not an avid reader of books on apologetics, either.

Any quick word of advice for those of us in seminary? What is something that many beginning pastors, perhaps coming right out of seminary, struggle with?

The most valuable thing about seminary is that it equips you with study tools. Don’t imagine that it makes you an expert in the practical side of pastoring. This is an empirical observation, so take it for what it’s worth, but it seems to me that the main reason for failure among seminary graduates is that they enter their first pastorate with the attitude of a know-it-all. They tend to be aggressive and unyielding, and those qualities, blended with inexperience, are a surefire recipe for failure. Don’t fall into that trap.

 Phil, thanks so much for taking the time to interact with me on these questions. I really appreciate the responses; it was an honor.