Devaluing the Lord’s Table

Every Christian instinctively knows that he or she ought to value the things that God values. After all, believers have a new nature, a nature like Christ, so that the appropriate valuation of the things of Christ is normal Christianity. But most of us are so prone to distraction and having other things compete for our time and energy that normal and godly desires are only maintained and acted on with much diligence and discipline.

One realm in which this principle applies is that of attendance at meetings of Christians. Going “to church” but once a week for an hour on Sunday morning has become the norm for many Christians. Because of the lack of energy in spending time collectively in the presence of the Lord Jesus, many sadly miss out on the full enjoyment of  Christian experience and fellowship that can be found in the various kinds of meetings taught and patterned for us in the Scriptures.

Almost as soon as the assembly of God was founded by the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the testimony of the scriptures is that “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine (teaching) and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).  It seems clear that the early Christians understood the value of each of these meetings, whether for teaching, for worship and praise, or for prayer.  I would suggest that they did not soon let the various characters of these meetings get out of balance in their corporate experience as saints. We find prayer meetings spoken of in Acts 4:24-30, 12:12, and 16:16. We know that teaching took place regularly in meetings of saints by reading Acts 4:31, 11:25-26, 20:7-11, and I Corinthians 14.  And of course, meetings for breaking bread by those purged worshipers were held often, perhaps even more often than weekly at the very beginning, as found in Act 2:46, 20:7, I Corinthians 11:17-34.

Let’s consider the meeting for breaking bread, designated in I Corinthians 11 as the Lord’s supper, to be enjoyed at the Lord’s table.¹  Many believers have the desire for and the privilege of breaking bread in remembrance of the Lord at his table on a weekly basis, normally on the Lord’s day. But there are several attitudes and practices, that if allowed and cultivated, will serve to devalue this precious meeting it our souls, to a level far below what I am convinced is the Lord’s valuation of it.

For more than 1000 years, a ritualistic Christianity carried on the early church’s tradition of observing the Lord’s supper at least weekly, or even more frequently, but sadly, the simple significance of the supper was lost and the communion of the blood and body of Christ became a ritual mass.  It seems apparent that the Lord’s supper at His table was greatly devalued during the Middle Ages, and it is likely that the lifeless ritual it became resulted in some segments of the Reformation responding by decreasing significantly the frequency of the “communion service”. Some Christians still make the case that an infrequent communion helps them avoid the danger of having it become routine, which would apparently foster an indifference to it or a devaluation of it in their hearts. But might not the unintended result of an infrequent remembrance of the Lord Jesus be rather just a devaluation of another kind? I leave this for individual consciences to grapple with.

Some of us have observed a regrettable trend among Christians who meet to break bread each Lord’s day, and also meet for prayer and teaching (ministry) on that day or other days of the week.  Among these brethren, the Lord’s supper and its frequent, fervent observance have been emphasized over many generations. There is no question that this is honoring to the Lord Jesus, and precious in His sight, as scriptures like Luke 22:7-20 and I Corinthians 11:17-29 show us plainly. But did either the Lord or His apostles intend that the importance and gravity of this special institution, this meeting of gathered saints for remembrance and worship, eclipse and render unnecessary the other meetings for which we have a clear pattern in the word of God? I trust that in the consciences of most believers there would echo an unequivocal “no” to this rhetorical question.

It takes real diligence and discipline to cultivate and maintain balance in our Christian lives.²  In light of that principle, I suggest that a lack of diligence or interest in attending and enjoying meetings for prayer and ministry, while maintaining the habit of attending the meeting for the remembrance of the Lord, may result in a regrettable devaluation in one’s heart of all of the meetings of the saints. There is a danger of ritualism in each of our hearts, perhaps even in the thought that there is something meritorious in partaking of the Lord’s supper. Far be the thought. May God continue His work in us by the Spirit, so that we might enjoy Christ in all of our meetings, for He so desires to be found often in the midst of His own³ while they look to Him and await His soon return.

 

¹  I Corinthians 10:21 and 11:20. The Lord’s table and the Lord’s supper have distinct meanings, but for purposes of this article, we consider them together.

²   See, for example, II Peter 1:5-12.

³   Matthew 18:19-20; 28:16-17; John 20:19-29

Predestination Misconception

During a recent Bible reading and teaching meeting in which the subject of God’s sovereignty and predestination came up, someone asked a question that might be paraphrased this way:  Are believers predestinated to be a member in a particular fellowship of Christians? It was a sincere and well-intentioned question, and thankfully there were others present who were able to clear up the misconception that gave rise to the question.

Scriptural predestination is neither fatalism nor determinism, both of which are hyperbolic “straw man” concepts set up by some teachers in order to detract from the real truth of the complementary doctrines of election and predestination.  The principle of the flesh in man (including fleshly religion) does not care to receive or attain to anything that it has not worked for and achieved by its own effort, and therefore doubts or downplays God’s sovereign electing and predestinating grace.

The Bible gives us the truth of predestination in two passages.  “[God] has chosen us in [Christ] before the world’s foundation . . . having marked us out beforehand (predestinated) for adoption through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:4-5 Darby translation).  “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). The blessed truth is that God marks us out beforehand as individuals for the dignified position of sonship that He brings us into. The consummation of our adoption as sons of God will occur when our bodies are redeemed and we are fully conformed to Christ’s image (Romans 8:23, 24, 29), but we have already been given a “spirit of adoption”. We who are Christ’s own can actually know even now in our spirits¹ that we will certainly experience that final aspect of our adoption to sonship, which is the redemption of our bodies. A destination is at the end of either a journey or a process, and we have simply been marked out for that “destination” of sonship beforehand, so that we can already live in the conscious enjoyment of it!

But what about the intermediate steps of the journey, of the pathway of faith? Are those ever spoken of in the word of God as being determined beforehand?

There is one sovereign act that the Spirit of God does in us by the Word² of God, according to His own will, and in which neither our will nor inclinations had a part. It is new birth, or quickening (John 1:13; 3:1-12; James 1:18). Before that point, we operated entirely according to our own will and desires, according to the spirit of the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:1-3). When once we who were spiritually dead sinners are born again by His sovereign choice and will, God continues His work in us, using whatever internal promptings or external circumstances He chooses in order to facilitate our desiring and then doing His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 3:10). Some might call this joint work “synergism”.

The work of the Spirit of God in quickening a soul by the Word² is a perfect work, in that an incorruptible, sinless life or nature is imparted to one who was once only a willful sinner (I John 3:9; I Peter 1:23, 25). But after that point in a new-born soul’s life here on earth, the level of conformity to Christ and the progress of growth in the soul are dependent upon the believer’s cooperation with the Spirit, upon obedience to Him. God now has the new nature to work with, but the extent to which the believer allows the flesh (the old nature) to act determines the spiritual progress he makes, as well as the amount of fruit he or she bears in this life while waiting for the Lord Jesus to call believers home. Only then will perfect conformity to Him be attained.³

When we who are Christ’s at last realize that glorious destiny, there will be rewards given out for faithfulness, including what the scriptures call “crowns”.* The Bible does not teach the deterministic or fatalistic notion that every deed done over the whole course of our lives was predestinated to occur just the way it did.  However, the very fact that we will even be there with Christ in glory to receive any reward is solely because of God’s unilateral, sovereign work in quickening our souls so that faith and fruit for Him can result. Our Father so much desires that His children bear fruit for Himself as a result of the atoning sufferings of His Son on the cross of Calvary (Isaiah 53:11-12), that His work in our souls by grace, and His control of our circumstances according to His mercy, will continue until the day of Christ. In that day of the glory of the Lord Jesus, and the “revelation of the sons of God,” I believe that you and I will look back with wonder, and praise Him alone for His sovereign grace in shepherding us all our lives long until that day.º

 

¹  His Spirit bears witness with our spirit as to our place in God’s family. (Romans 8:16)

²   Logos in Greek

³   II Corinthians 3:18; Romans 12:2; Ephesians 2:10; 4:13, 30; I John 3:2-3

*   Matt. 25:23; II Cor. 5:10; II Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; I Pet. 5:4; II Pet. 1:10-11; Rev. 3:11; 4:10

º   Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:28; Genesis 48:15 (Darby translation)