Paneled Houses

 

[This will be a little longer post than normal.  Rather than split it up into parts, I wanted to keep the flow together as I interact with MLJ on a very important, albeit controversial subject.]

Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. Haggai 1:3-6

One of the men from whom I have learned from the most is the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  His book The Plight of Man and Power of God was my first exposure to his ministry, but helped me to understand the depravity of man and the sovereignty of God.  His sermons on 1 John were an aid not only my own sermon preparation, but a balm to my own soul when I was bridging the gap as an interim youth pastor.  While his book Spiritual Depression helped navigate me out of the darkness that came with being passed over for a full-time pastoral position.  More recently, his lesser known message, Ecclesiola in Ecclesia completely rocked my ecclesiastical world, from which I have yet to recover.  Alongside this, another prominent message, placed into print, has impacted my views on the nature of the church.  It was delivered to the Westminster Assembly at Welwyn on June 19, 1963, later titled “‘Consider Your Ways’: The Outline of a New Strategy” and may be found in the collected works entitled Knowing the Times.  The text for this message has been included above, from Haggai 1:4-5.

After introducing his message, and walking through his reasons for the subject, Lloyd-Jones says, “…our tendency is to say that all is well.  We are in our ‘cieled [paneled] houses’ (Hag. 1:4); everything is all right with me; my church is flourishing; everything is going well; and we tend to forget the conditions that prevail in the greater part of the country.  I am increasingly appalled at this and troubled about it: faithful evangelical people all over the country cannot get fellowship, cannot get spiritual food, and are at their wits’ end as to what is to be done in their areas.  This is a tremendous challenge to us.” (Knowing the Times, pg. 169)

From here, Lloyd-Jones proceeds to decry various evangelical movements and societies which in his day tried to rectify these issues by unifying for various causes.  This leads him to the major question of his message: What is the Nature of the Church?

“In the light of what I have been saying it is obvious that it is the nature of the church which has become the major question and problem.  What is the Christian church?  What is the real nature of the church?  How do you decide that?  We are all agreed in saying that you can only decide the question by the Scripture, but, as I have already hinted, when it comes to the realm of practice and the realm of actual decisions so often we are influenced more by tradition and history than we are by purely biblical exposition.  We are so influenced by the need to maintain the status quo that we start with that rather than with the scriptural teaching.” (KTT pg. 178)

Realizing, with Lloyd-Jones, that this is indeed THE question that needs to be asked and answered, given the current condition of evangelicalism some 55 years after his message, has led me to read, write, and study much regarding how our practice of doing church, whether you call it liturgy or a worship service or something else, has come to be what it is.  Regardless of where we find ourselves on Sunday morning, is there anything that we participate in that looks like or even resembles anything from the New Testament?  As Lloyd-Jones points out, not only in this message but consistently in his ministry, when faced with this question we are guilty of the great error of reading our existing situation back into Scripture, our inherited position as he calls it.

“The argument is that throughout the centuries certain things have happened and developed so that we find ourselves confronted by an existing situation.  That is all right as an actual historical statement but if we make the traditional ‘existing situation’ our starting point, we face a grave danger.” (KTT pg. 178)

Looking to our present circumstances, even looking to history, particularly the post-Reformation era, is simply a blind guide.  The fact is that if we were to take Scripture alone into the Congo jungle, having no prior knowledge of what a church should look like, it would be impossible to produce what it is that we see and experience today.  Therefore we must, as Lloyd-Jones says, return to the New Testament.

After making the case that our churches are given much to the practice of expediency of the times in which we exist, rather than a consistent application from Scripture, he turns to his second great question, “What is a church?”

This is a question that I’ve Iabored long and hard over, fighting through the tendency to answer this question without reading the present situation back into Scripture.  I commend to you the series on ekklesia found in the Doctrinal Index Tab.

The answer, according to Lloyd-Jones, is that the New Testament picture of the church is, “a gathering of people who have been ‘born again’.  It is the association of people who are the body of Christ and member in particular.  It is those who are ‘in Christ’.  That is how the New Testament regards them; that is how it always addresses them.  They meet together, conscious of His presence in the midst, conscious that they are a spiritual society with the Holy Spirit as their companion, as the one who leads them, and the one who inspires them, as the one who has been given to them to lead them into all the truth.” (KTT p. 179)

This definition is a good working definition and a starting point for understanding and defining a church, or better an ekklesia.  Even using Lloyd-Jones’ definition, is it fitting to refer to a universal church?  This becomes one of his closing questions for discussion, “Is there anything spoken of in the New Testament apart from the local church?” (KTT pg. 193)  This isn’t a fringe, Plymouth Brethren, or marginalized Anabaptist asking such questions, this is the good doctor, the revered Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  Again, questions like this from him is why there are 8 posts and Lord willing more to come untangling this misapplication of a universal church (see the Doctrinal Index).

Returning to our question from Lloyd-Jones on what is the church, he brings us to Acts 2:41-47.  We’ll look at this passage in depth another time, but for now conclude with Lloyd-Jones, “Now that is the church.  The people who are being saved, who believe the truth, are conscious of this change in their lives; they have been taken out of the world, and are conscious of a new life and a new outlook, and have the desire to be with others who are the same; and the others gladly receive them.”

Next, Jones asks, “What, then, are the marks of a true church?”  This is naturally the next question.  What should a church look like or how does the ekklesia function when it gathers together.  Of the entire message, this is the only point of Jones’ that I would offer push back on, mainly because the answer to the previous two questions define how this particular question gets answered.  That said, Jones answers the question in accordance with traditional reformed views, The Preaching of the Gospel, The administration of the sacraments, and The administration of discipline are the marks of a church.

Finally, after making some applications of his message thus far to the situations and occurrences of his own day, Lloyd-Jones turns to his conclusion, a series of questions, in which he clearly points out that his goal is not to suggest a blueprint or a solution, only to ask questions and point us back to Scripture as the source of answers.

His first concluding question, which we mentioned earlier, concerns whether or not the New Testament speaks of anything other than the local church (He seems to be arguing against a visible, Catholic church).  Second, Jones says that in our look at history, we must return to the first two centuries.  He cautions that much of our time has been spent concentrating on the third and fourth centuries.  One may argue that this myopic view of history has resulted in a distorted view of the church, for which we are paying the price today.  Jones’ emphasis on the first two centuries is exactly right, and the reason why in our look at the universal church theory, we began with this period in order to see how the catholicity of the church came to be and why.

Third, Jones says that we then need to re-examine the history of Constantine and his supposed conversion.  This occurs in the fourth century, but remember that we must begin in the centuries prior in order to understand the events and circumstances that led to this.  Here is where we begin to find the putrid marriage of church with state.  The Reformers, as much as we may revere and appreciate them, were wrong to limit their views of church vs. state to Augustine and more specifically Constantine.  Jones writes,

“We have to be bold enough, in the light of the New Testament teaching, to query the most honoured names among us.  We have to venture to question and to query Martin Luther and John Calvin.  It would be a pathetic condition if we found ourselves saying that Calvin could never be wrong.  We have to question everybody, not that we think we are perfect – we know we are not – but we recognize that these men were fallible as we are.  We thank God for them; we rever their memories; but we do not believe they were perfect.  And, after all, they were men involved in such a fight and conflict that they could not possibly cover the whole field, and they tended to take certain things over.  To me, one of the tragedies of the Reformation was the way in which Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli tended to take over the notion of the state church.  They did it in different ways, but I think they all did it.” (KTT, page 194)

There is much more that could be said on this enlightening point from Jones, perhaps in a blog post soon, however the take away is that we simply cannot assume the position of the Reformers and adopt that to the twenty-first century.  They were working in a context that was coming out of the authoritarian abuses of the Roman Catholic Church.  Therefore, their audience was largely ignorant and unbelieving.  Why did Calvin preach every single day?  To get the Word of the Lord out to a starved and deprived people.  Unfortunately, as Lloyd-Jones so deftly points out, their position was proverbially out of the frying pan and into the fire.  In order to keep the momentum of the Reformation, avoid utter chaos from growing larger than it already had, and to provide protection against the power from Rome, the first and second generation reformers aligned their movement with the State, maintaining the concept of sacralism.

Not only the first couple generations of Reformers, but this continued into the time of the Puritans as well.  Per Jones,

“they all believed in a state church up to a point.  Their differences were about what form it should take.  We must examine whether they were not all wrong; whether their belief can be justified from the New Testament; and whether they were not guilty of accepting an inherited position.”

Though I genuinely love the Puritans, this indeed was their chief error.  They made some corrections to the positions of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, and they fought against the pretentious ‘church’ buildings of the day, but they didn’t go far enough.  What was their reward for maintaining an inherited position and then realizing its error?  The Great Ejection of 1662.  If the redwoods and oaks of the Reformation were guilty of adopting an inherited position, it is sheer arrogance to think that the same thing is not occurring in our day.  Therefore we must, must, return to the New Testament scriptures.

The final two questions that Lloyd-Jones poses are, “when does the church become apostate?” and the exercise of gifts in the church, specifically, “are we giving the members of the church an adequate opportunity to exercise their gifts?  Are our churches corresponding to the life of the New Testament church?  Or is there too much concentration in the hands of ministers and clergy?”  This section is summarized by the following lengthy, but nevertheless profound statement

“When one looks at the New Testament church and contrasts the church today, even our churches, with that church, one is appalled at the difference.  In the New Testament church one sees life and vigour and activity; one sees a living community, conscious of its glory and of its responsibility, with the whole church, as it were, an evangelistic force.  The notion of people belonging to the church in order to come to sit down and fold their arms and listen, with just two or three doing everything, is quite foreign to the New Testament, and it seems to me it is foreign to what has always been the characteristic of the church in times of revival and awakening.” (KTT, pg. 196)

As he concludes his message, Lloyd-Jones dismisses the idea that he has developed a new blueprint for the church, instead he says, “I do think…the time has come when it behooves us, indeed it is our bounden duty – because we are who and what we are and because of the grace of God to us – to face this question, of the nature of the church, together.

We cannot just go on in the position we have inherited, which we have inherited from mid- and post- Victorianism and Edwardianism.  The machine is still running so many of these things, but is it running to any good purpose?  It is for us to call a halt and to stop.” (KTT, pg. 196)

In my experience, I know of no other question that will generate more controversy, more side-eyed glances, more suspicion, than what is the nature of the church?  Assuming the inherited position is not only expected, it is enforced.  In fact some have gone so far as to suggest that one should not even ask this question, for fear of what might be found.  Jones alludes to as much in the conclusion of his message.

What then are we to do?  Simply put, a reexamination of Scripture on the nature – form and function – of the church, or as we have seen in studies here, the ekklesia.  Those in professional, paid, pastoral positions who assume the inherited position and refuse the allowance of others to Scripturally examine the nature of the church commit malpractice.   Those of us who sit amongst the pews and follow the inherited position like lemmings are guilty of a dereliction of duty.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones was not representing a fringe position in his clarion call to return to the New Testament description and teaching of the church.  His message was as relevant 55 years ago as it is now.  We would do well to follow his guidance and head his call.

 

Knowing the Times

Armed and Dangerous

 

One can only imagine what it would have been like to have the Apostle Paul as a mentor and father figure, not only in the faith, but in life as well.  We can observe and note how this may have been through the letters that he wrote to his young protege Timothy.  His care, encouragement, and desire to impart wisdom is evident, particularly in a well-known passage from 2 Timothy 3.  In the midst of encouraging Timothy to follow and emulate the pattern of his life, Paul encourages him to continue in the faith and to recall his younger days when he was acquainted (literally know or understand) with the sacred writings.  Presumably, this mention of sacred writings leads the Apostle into a brief discourse on the nature of Scripture, which is our passage under consideration in this post.

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Two questions immediately jump out at the reader, first is what is defined as Scripture and second, who is the man of God.  The remainder of the passage seems fairly straightforward.  Whatever the Scriptures are defined to be, they are breathed out by God, theopneustos, literally that they are God-breathed or from the mouth of God.  It would not be difficult to see how the parallel concept of Scripture as the Word of God is likewise valid.

Scripture is the generic word, writings, but its contextual use in the New Testament is always a reference to the inscripturated revelation of God.  We find references to Scripture time and again in the gospel accounts of our Lord’s earthly ministry.  Here, as with nearly all of the other uses, it is a reference to the Old Testament or TANAK.  This fact was never in question.  The difficulty comes by way of trying to understand if Scripture can refer to the New Testament.  Without creating a brand new post for that defense, suffice it to say that there is internal evidence that this is indeed the case, particularly when one considers 2 Peter 1:16-21; 3:16; 1 Timothy 5:18 as well as the overwhelming number of references, allusions, and echoes of the Old Testament, not to mention the words of Christ Himself.  It is therefore without question that both Old and New Testament’s collectively may be referred to as Scripture.

We then arrive at four given functions of Scripture.  The Apostle informs Timothy that the Scriptures, which have come from the mouth of God, are profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.  Strong’s defines profitable as helpful or serviceable, advantageous, each of which help to draw out more clearly the idea that is being conveyed here.  Combining this with our four functions and we see that the Scriptures are a helpful, even more – advantageous, companion for teaching or instruction, which elsewhere Paul has described as communicating doctrine (Titus 1:9).

Likewise, the Scriptures are helpful for both reproof and correction, which sound similar and would seem to be communicating a similar concept.  In reality however, it is likely that the former means the Scriptures are advantageous for correcting doctrinal errors and reproving those who would hold to beliefs that are contrary.  The latter however uses a different word, which the ESV translates as correction, which better communicates the idea of correcting moral behavior.  Together then, we see that the Scriptures are helpful for correcting both doctrinal deficiencies and moral deficiencies of character.

Finally, we arrive at our fourth function of Scripture, that it trains in righteousness.  Elsewhere in Scripture when this word for training is used, it is in the context of discipline and instruction, as with a Father to a son (Eph. 6:4; Heb. 12:5, 12:7, 12:11).  Turning to Strong’s again and we find that it also connotes the idea of cultivation.  In farming, this would include the entire process from plowing the ground to planting the seed and watering all the way to the production of the fruit.  It is easy then to see how the Scriptures would function in this way in the life of a believer, from the rather painful discipline of plowing the hard heart to the joyful producing of spiritual fruit.

All of this brings us to our second question, who is the man of God.  If we relied on some common understandings of this passage, we would be left with a limited application of the man of God referring exclusively to pastors or preachers.  But that’s too technical of a definition and would be a sad outcome leaving the rest of the “lay” population of believers on the outside looking in at this magnificent discourse on the nature and purpose of Scripture.  Along this line of thought, the everyday believer would figuratively hand over the Scriptures to the professional man of God so that they could be used properly for the functions as described.  But though the Scriptures are a sword, they are not the sword in the stone waiting only for the professional Arthur to come along.  The Sword of God fits all hands of believers who by faith wield it in the power of the Spirit, particularly for the functions mentioned here.

The man of God, as the footnote in some Bibles indicate, also means the messenger of God and echoes a common Old Testament reference.  Essentially it is the man (anthropos), belonging to God (possessive) that articulates or communicates the truths of God’s Word, the Scriptures.  This could occur on a street corner, at a dinner table, in a gathering of believers, 1 on 1, 1 on 50, anywhere that a person takes a stand and proclaims the Word of God.  Which brings up a second point.  Anthropos here is not restricted to males only.  It is most often used generically as a reference to mankind.  So, therefore, women need not feel inferior that the power and function of Scriptures are limited to men only.  This promise is for the man or woman of God who communicates the message of God using the Word of God (1 Timothy 2:12 & 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is for another day).

Take heart believers, God has equipped us in this twisted and corrupt generation to proclaim His Word.  Not only has He fulfilled His promise in giving His Holy Spirit, but He has armed us with the Sword of the Lord, His Scriptures, which have proceeded from His very mouth.  These Scriptures complete and equip the man or woman of God for every good work.  We are not adequate for such things on our own, literally we are unarmed.  Thus the power of Scripture to equip, or to furnish us with the means necessary to do the good work that God has set before us.  Be bold and confident in the Lord.

The Check Engine Light of Worship – Part 2

 

In this Series:

Part 1

Recently, we introduced a somewhat familiar passage, at least in how often it’s quoted, from 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.  On a personal level, the motivation for this particular study, from the Apostle’s first letter to the ekklesia at Corinth, stems out of a desire to engage in meaningful discussions on ‘the the sufficiency of God’s Word, Sola Scriptura, and how the authority of God’s Word not only influences how we live, but likewise how we worship.’

In that previous post, we outlined this passage as follows:

  1. A Statement of the Problem (11:17-22)
  2. An Appeal to Christ’s Institution of the Lord’s Supper (11:23-26)
  3. A Rebuke (11:27-32)
  4. An Exhortation (11:33-34)

Having already looked at the Statement of the Problem in 11:17-22, we now turn our attention to an exposition of 11:23-26, with a goal to further unpack the passage by setting the context.  In this passage, the Apostle recounts for us the institution of the Lord’s Supper, as it has become known (from 1 Cor. 11:20).  This event is also recorded for us in Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-38.  The setting for the Lord’s Supper may also be found in John’s gospel chapters 13-17.

Below is the passage from 1 Corinthians

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Working through this passage, we need to note that the Apostle is communicating to the Corinthians what he had himself received.  It is difficult to determine whether he had received this from the Lord, by means of the apostles who had experienced this supper firsthand, or whether it was communicated directly to Paul from the Lord (Gal. 1:12).  Regardless, it is clear that the source is directly attributed to our Lord Jesus Christ, not from human wisdom or preference, and that the Apostle is laying down the pattern as delivered from the Lord.

With this in mind we come to our first observation and the phrase on the night when he was betrayed.  This oft-overlooked expression is how the Apostle introduces the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  Here we need to ask, is this a throw away phrase?  Is it simply inserted to call our minds to that night?  Or is it significant for reestablishing the pattern?  We’ll dig into this more in a subsequent post when we examine the heart of this institution, but for now we must simply observe that the initiation of the Lord’s Supper was on the night of Christ’s betrayal establishing for us a time context.  

Turning to the Gospel accounts, we are informed of an additional time indicator, namely that the night of Christ’s betrayal was also the night that the Lord and His disciples celebrated Passover.  So, here is the setting: The Lord’s Supper was instituted on the night of our Lord’s betrayal, in which He and His disciples were also celebrating the Old Covenant Feast of Passover.  

Our second observation is the tiny phrase, as often, which is used twice in the passage cited above and only one other time in the entire New Testament (Rev. 11:6).  The first occurrence in our passage,as often as you drink it”, is included in the quotation from our Lord’s institution.  The second usage is in the closing summary from the Apostle, “for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup….”  Of our brief contextual observations that we’ll make in this post, this seems to be the one that has attracted all of the attention and usually causes the most disagreements.  As often has been used as a license to observe the Lord’s Supper daily, weekly, monthly, even quarterly.  Read into this tiny little phrase, used only 3 times in the New Testament, has been a wide range of Christian liberty.   How can there be such wide discrepancies in the observance of this covenant meal?  Why do some congregations celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week, while others one a month, and still others less frequently?

Which brings us to an important question, what would have been the frequency of observance for the early congregations?  Would they have understood what as often was referring to?  Would they have recognized any inherent pattern from our Lord’s institution of this practice for them to follow?  Or would as often had been left open to interpretation as it is now?

Our final observation, is another time reference, until he comes.  Here we are given a time-frame for the continual observance of it, namely until Christ returns.  When we look at the Gospel accounts of the inception of the Lord’s Supper, this ongoing time reference will be significant again.  The occurrence of this covenant meal, which as we’ve seen was on the night our Lord was betrayed, coincided with the annual Passover observance, and was to be continued until the coming again of Christ.  

As a side note, it’s important to remember that the date for the institution of the Lord’s Supper was either 30 or 33 A.D., depending on when the birth of our Lord is dated.  The Apostle Paul visited Corinth, laboring to establish a community of believers around 51 A.D.  It’s likely that he penned his letter to Corinth while he was in Ephesus, around 55 A.D. (possibly as early as 53 A.D.). If at best we assume that there were believers in Corinth who had been taught the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper, then we arrive at around 20 years for the correction to come at the pen of the Apostle.  If we allow that they learned the observance of the supper originally from Paul, then we arrive at around 4 years, and as little as 2 years, for it to become a distortion worthy of Apostolic rebuke.  May that be a stark warning to us who stand 2 millennia after Christ’s institution of this covenant meal!!

Let’s summarize the questions and conclusions that we have seen in this post concerning the context of the Lord’s Supper inception,

  • When was the Lord’s supper instituted? On the night Jesus was betrayed.  This coincided with His observance of the Passover meal.
  • How frequent was this observance?  As often as you drink it.  Debate surrounds whether this means freedom for frequency or whether as often is connected to the night of the Passover.
  • How long was this commemoration to continue?  Until He comes.  A reference to the second coming of Christ.

In our next post, we will look more closely at the details of the institution of the Lord’s Supper and draw more upon the significance and connection with Passover.