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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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

The Puritans: Daily Readings edited by Randall Pederson

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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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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Learning to Follow Christ

Sitting at the feet of Christ, learning from His teaching, is of ultimate and lasting value. But it’s also the only way to pursue a life of holiness that truly honors Christ. We often think of the Great Commission as primarily about evangelism, but that’s only the first part. After we have proclaimed the gospel, and baptized those whom Christ has saved, we then are to begin the task of teaching believers to observe everything Christ has commanded.

And it’s not just a matter of head knowledge. Learning from the Scriptures isn’t merely about gaining understanding; it’s about living fruitful and holy lives. As Psalm 119 says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word… I have stored up Your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”

This one thing is necessary.

On The Reading of Scripture

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. — Psalm 27:4

I think we’ve lost that fervor for time spent simply inquiring of the Lord, gazing upon his glory, contemplating who He is and what He’s done—learning from our Savior.

Remember the account of Mary and Martha in Luke 10? Jesus and his disciples stop at the house of Martha in the village of Bethany. And we see Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his teaching, but Martha, Luke says, “was distracted with much serving.” She was preparing and tending to the meal, she gets frustrated with her sister for not helping, and she actually tells Jesus to rebuke Mary.

“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” — Luke 10:40-42

In our churches today, I think we pay lip service to the devotion of Mary, but in reality have too many Marthas, anxious and flustered about so many other things in life. We often feel the need to stay busy, as though if we’re not doing something all the time then we’re not being useful; and then we can start to look down on others who do take the time to just sit at the feet of Christ and hear his instruction. People say “the times have changed; it’s different now; we don’t have time to just stop, and spend time in the Scriptures. There’s too much to be accomplished!”

But Jesus says this one thing is of lasting value—what Mary’s doing.

How can we then justify keeping ourselves so busy, and fretting over temporal matters so much, that we neglect the one thing that Jesus says is necessary—to sit at his feet and hear his instruction?

All throughout Scripture, this is the ultimate priority of the follower of God—to learn His Word. But we’ve lost that. We’ve left that commitment. Now, people are all about what we think, and what we feel about something. But what we think and feel just doesn’t matter if our thoughts and feelings and affections are not aligned with God’s thoughts and affections. So doesn’t it make sense then that we would want to turn to his Word—His revelation of Himself—that we might begin to better understand His thoughts, and His ways, knowing they are far superior to our own, and to allow Him then to mold us and conform us to His likeness by His Word working in us, as Paul says, to bring us to glorify God in our lives more and more?

It’s no wonder that we are easily overwhelmed by the worries of the world and the needs of our every-day life when we’ve unmoored ourselves from the unwavering truth of the Word of God. The psalmist says in Psalm 119:

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” And, likewise, Solomon says, “The Lord gives wisdom; and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

See, the way to gain stability, wisdom, peace, contentment, and joy, is to devote yourself to the instruction of the Word of God. Psalm 1 says that to meditate on the instruction of the Lord makes someone like a tree planted by streams of water that produces abundant fruit, and whose leaf doesn’t wither, because it is rooted at a constant, consistent, source of life. And if we are planted at the life-giving water of the Word of God, we can then be fruitful, and we won’t have to fear the times of drought, as Jeremiah says, because we have sent out our roots to that living water—the Lord Himself. How can we neglect that? How did we drift so far from the commitment of God’s people throughout history—the overwhelming passion for this one thing: to listen to the teaching of the Lord!

 


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What is the Church’s Social Responsibility?

I believe the primary mission of the local church to the lost is to provide not material, but spiritual relief by proclaiming the good news of eternal life by grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In times of crisis, our primary mission as the local church is to offer comfort, hope, and biblical counsel to help people respond to trials and suffering in a way that glorifies God and helps them grow to better know, love, and follow Christ.

This position is rather unpopular in our current climate, especially in light of the recent conversations surrounding social justice and the gospel. One of the issues that I’ve seen rise to the surface in the midst of the vitriolic attack, debate, and defense of the SJ&G Statement, is a failure to distinguish between an individual Christian’s responsibility and interaction with the world, and the local church as a corporate body holding the keys of the kingdom. That distinction is crucial in understanding our role in the community, culture, political sphere, and world.

It’s challenging to sort through the various factors at play in seeking to understand the church’s social responsibility, and especially difficult to articulate this position, for a number of reasons. I encourage you to prayerfully consider this list of resources as you seek to understand the church’s responsibility, our responsibility as individual Christian citizens, and the relationship between evangelism and material aid.

The Social Responsibility of the Local Church and the Mission of Missions

Series on Christians, the Church, and Culture

Are All Biblical Commands Corporate?

My Church Loves the Poor, So I Don’t Have To

Discontinuity, Israel, and the Church

Mercy Ministry is not Kingdom Work

Responding to Tragedy by Giving Money (practical steps)

The Call to Minister to the Poor

Dispensationalism, Keller, and the Poor

Biblical Pillars of Mercy Ministry

Examples of Mercy Ministry

What’s Wrong With the Recent Evangelical “Social Justice” Movements?

“Churches” or “Christians” and Culture?

How Christians and Churches Prioritize Going About the Doing of Good

Transforming Culture with a Messiah Complex

The Social Responsibility of the Church (PDF by Benware)

Problems with Social Action in Missions (Cripplegate Series):

Missions: Ecclesiology with a Passport

2 Problems with Social Action in Missions

8 Problems with the Theory of “Social Action” Missions

8 Problems [part 2]

So, What is the Mission of Missions?