Friday, January 30, 2009

Proclaiming the Lord's Death to the Next Generation

For as often as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. I Corinthians 11:26.

What an interesting verse! I, for one, find it easy to overlook the very jarring concept of a dead man coming simply due to the passage’s familiarity and its easy explanation that Jesus has died for our sins. Therefore, we declare his death and resurrection and our justification until he comes again. This is the common understanding of the commentaries. The commentaries on I Corinthians typically conclude that there must be some sermon associated with the Lord’s Supper. I think there is more here.

A careful reading of I Corinthians 11:17-34 impresses one with the prevalence of legal terms in the passage. Words such as “covenant” and “judgment” are significant. In addition, this passage describes a “new covenant.” Further, “remembrance” of a covenant in old testament parlance indicated something more than mere intellectual reflection. It entailed a reconfirmation and affirmation through action of the covenantal obligations. N.T. Wright, in his book Jesus and the Victory of God, has hypothesized that Jesus, in the Gospels, is portayed as taking to himself the symbols of the temple and the Sabbath. This passage would seem to support that hypothesis.

I have previously opined that the fourth and fifth commandment set forth a dance between generations. The fourth and the fifth commandments are unique in that they are cast as the only two commandments with positive obligations. I don’t deny that all of the commandments hang on the positive obligations to love Yahweh and love your neighbor, but the other eight commandments are cast as prohibitions. Not only are the fourth and fifth commandments obligatory, they are also reciprocal. The fourth obliges the older generation to live out the cycle of labor and rest before the younger generation. The fifth commandment obliges the younger generation to obey the older generation as it does so.

As the history of the covenant progresses, this dance becomes more explicit. It is highlighted beautifully in Hosea 4. In this passage, it almost appears as if the fifth commandment takes on a new principle, no longer just a commandment to be obeyed, but a principle of life. It is almost as if there is an unalterable truth that the younger generation will follow after the older generation. Because the older generation commits idolatry, the younger generation will do likewise. Because the older generation commits adultery, the younger generation will do likewise.

Without pushing too hard, there is a sense of this in Romans 1. Because men exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images of mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles, God gave them over to impure lusts and dishonorable passions. While there is no explicit generational reference here, there is certainly an implicit understanding of a progression over time. There is an old adage that a church is only two generations away from apostocy. A true church can become cold in one generation and nonexistent in the next.

What Paul “received” and “delivered” (two more legal terms) to the Corinthians was the covenantal act of remembrance Jesus called his disciples to practice. He called them to enter into the dance of the generations through his body and blood. Just as the old covenant paradigmatic worship service in Exodus 24 ended in feasting before Yahweh, his disciples are to culminate their worship service in feasting on his body and blood. Just as the older generation was to remember the Sabbath before the younger generation, so the older generation is now to remember the body and blood of the Lord before the younger generation. By doing so, they are proclaiming or inculcating the feast of the Lord before the younger generation.

There is a principle of life aspect to this passage as well. The worthy participation in the sacrament has consequences. Life and health are the blessings of the sacrament. Sickness and death are the curses of the failure to observe the sacrament. And it is the failure to observe the sacrament that is the focus, because Paul makes very clear that they are not observing the sacrament at all in their feast.

The act of the participation in the body and blood of the Lord is a proclamation to our children of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the primary means of discipleship of our children. Yes, there are other things that flow from our communion with Christ, such as educating our children in the nurture of the Lord. But it starts at the dinner table with Christ. No, this is not an automatic, magical event. It is better. It is conduct in a relationship with a faithful God, who always keeps his promises to His covenant people. God is faithful to his covenant promises. He wants us to be faithful to the covenant as well. He will remember us as we remember him.

Bipartisanship is Bad

James Madison writes in Federalist No. 10, that the chief fear in a democratic government is the power of factions, particularly a faction that becomes a majority and is able to impose its passions on a minority. It was for this reason that the founders despised democracy. A republican government so diffuses people into factions so that one interest is frustrated in its efforts to impose its passions on a minority faction. Only through republican government could factions be hindered in becoming majorities. It is this same idea that caused them to despise political parties. Political parties seek to combine factions into majorities and minorities, making the republic more akin to a democracy. We now have a majority faction that is seeking bipartisanship from the minority in a bail out plan. But what would the founders say? How would they advise us to counter such an occurrence? It would not be to merge with the majority but to counter the majority and defend the rights of the minority, in this case the tax payer. I quote from Madison at length.

AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice. He will not fail, therefore, to set a due value on any plan which, without violating the principles to which he is attached, provides a proper cure for it. The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished; as they continue to be the favorite and fruitful topics from which the adversaries to liberty derive their most specious declamations. The valuable improvements made by the American constitutions on the popular models, both ancient and modern, cannot certainly be too much admired; but it would be an unwarrantable partiality, to contend that they have as effectually obviated the danger on this side, as was wished and expected. Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. However anxiously we may wish that these complaints had no foundation, the evidence, of known facts will not permit us to deny that they are in some degree true. It will be found, indeed, on a candid review of our situation, that some of the distresses under which we labor have been erroneously charged on the operation of our governments; but it will be found, at the same time, that other causes will not alone account for many of our heaviest misfortunes; and, particularly, for that prevailing and increasing distrust of public engagements, and alarm for private rights, which are echoed from one end of the continent to the other. These must be chiefly, if not wholly, effects of the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations.
. . . . . .
No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity. With equal, nay with greater reason, a body of men are unfit to be both judges and parties at the same time; yet what are many of the most important acts of legislation, but so many judicial determinations, not indeed concerning the rights of single persons, but concerning the rights of large bodies of citizens? And what are the different classes of legislators but advocates and parties to the causes which they determine? Is a law proposed concerning private debts? It is a question to which the creditors are parties on one side and the debtors on the other. Justice ought to hold the balance between them. Yet the parties are, and must be, themselves the judges; and the most numerous party, or, in other words, the most powerful faction must be expected to prevail. Shall domestic manufactures be encouraged, and in what degree, by restrictions on foreign manufactures? are questions which would be differently decided by the landed and the manufacturing classes, and probably by neither with a sole regard to justice and the public good. The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number, is a shilling saved to their own pockets.

It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole.

The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.

If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution. When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens. To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed. Let me add that it is the great desideratum by which this form of government can be rescued from the opprobrium under which it has so long labored, and be recommended to the esteem and adoption of mankind.

. . . . .

Hence, it clearly appears, that the same advantage which a republic has over a democracy, in controlling the effects of faction, is enjoyed by a large over a small republic,--is enjoyed by the Union over the States composing it. Does the advantage consist in the substitution of representatives whose enlightened views and virtuous sentiments render them superior to local prejudices and schemes of injustice? It will not be denied that the representation of the Union will be most likely to possess these requisite endowments. Does it consist in the greater security afforded by a greater variety of parties, against the event of any one party being able to outnumber and oppress the rest? In an equal degree does the increased variety of parties comprised within the Union, increase this security. Does it, in fine, consist in the greater obstacles opposed to the concert and accomplishment of the secret wishes of an unjust and interested majority? Here, again, the extent of the Union gives it the most palpable advantage.

The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.

In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government. And according to the degree of pleasure and pride we feel in being republicans, ought to be our zeal in cherishing the spirit and supporting the character of Federalists.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Because It Works

In the Wall Street Journal today, there is an article detailing China's complaining about the American system. The premier is quoted as blaming an "excessive expansion of financial institutions in blind pursuit of profit" as the cause of the world's financial crisis. Go to to read the entire article.

One must wonder why China invested so much in U.S. investments in the first place. Could it be that the investments were an effort to make money? Could it be that the Chinese government wanted to participate in the "excessive expansion of financial institutions in blind pursuit of profit?" If they had been true to some socialistic principle, wouldn't they have rather kept their money at home in the land of socialism? Our system works and it works well. And the world sees it. Those free to make the choice flee from socialism. Even socialist leaders invest in free market systems. Yes there will be times of trouble, particularly when government policies, i.e. socialism, distort the natural market forces that drive free markets. But that is one of the risks that come from the opportunity for reward. With capitalism there are always risks and rewards. China needs to learn this lesson. But, maybe, they already have. It could be that they are simply looking for a bail out. That is my story and I am sticking to it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Worship as Weapon in Cultural Change

Here are some thoughts by Rev. Bart Martin sent to me by my daughter Erin. Rev. Martin is right on.

“When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent.”
– Jacques Barzun[1]

When a young state senator from Illinois ascended the platform to give the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, many considered him a rising star in the Democratic Party. But even his zaniest fans could not have anticipated that, in four short years, Barack Obama would have made the leap from state senator to United States Senator, and from United States Senator to the President of the United States.

What does Barack Obama’s rise to power mean? For one thing, it means that the “absurd” has become “normal”: when a large proportion of younger “evangelicals” vote for a man who will help perpetuate the war against the unborn, decadence has obviously set it. For another thing, it means that modern conservatism—the conservatism of William Buckley and Russell Kirk, of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan—is dead. As a matter of fact, it has been dead for a number of years: Election Day 2008 simply provided us the coroner’s report.

For we who consider ourselves “conservative,” it will do us no good to pine away for the glory of days gone by. We can’t re-live the Barry Goldwater campaign; we can’t call Ronald Reagan back from the dead—nor would we want to if we could.

What we Christians in America need to do is to rediscover what our vocation is: we are salt and light; we are strangers and sojourners; we are a nation of priests. This does not mean, as the pietistic Christian might take it to mean, that we are to withdraw from the public square, and simply build our own little Christian ghettoes while clutching our Bibles and waiting for the end of the world. No: the Scriptures call on the people of God to take dominion by being salt and light, to take dominion by being strangers and sojourners, to take dominion by acting as priests on behalf of the world. We are not called to withdraw; rather, we are called to engage the world, ruling as God’s co-regents.

But we have forgotten what it means to rule. We have confused the biblical mandate to “rule” and “take dominion” with the hackneyed imperative to “win the next election.” So what should Christians do in the world of President Barack Obama? How can we better prepare ourselves to be the vice-regents that God wants us to be? I would suggest three things:

1. Pray like a Saint Augustine
2. Know the times like an Edmund Burke
3. Love the law of God like a King Josiah.

To read more, go to

I would like to expand a bit on Rev. Martin’s comments as they pertain to loving the law of God like King Josiah. The first thing to note about King Josiah is that when he found the book of the covenant he re-established right worship. And that worship carried forth to destroy the pagan culture in the nation. Worship is our primary weapon in these absurd times. Therefore, change is a product of the effort to the Church community and not individuals.

It is abundantly clear from Scripture that people take on the characteristics of the thing that they worship. If we worship God, we become more like God. If we worship stone or wood, we become more like stone or wood. If we worship man or a human institution, we become more of the same.

To the extent we as individuals pin our hopes on a man or a political party, we worship them. We become more like them. In the past Christians have put their hopes for political change in political parties. This has not stopped the increasing shift to worshipping government. It has only increased it. Both Republicans and Democrats have continued in this shift. Can any now deny that there is a significant segment in our population that worships the president? You can’t if you have watched any of the media coverage of the recent election. It is time for the Church to become the Church and stop relegating itself to the position of a philosophy club intended to improve our own and save a few other souls, while allowing individual Christians to try to reclaim culture through their preferred political party. Christ came to create for himself a new worshipping body, one that would take dominion over creation.

In the early days of our yet unborn republic, the pulpits in the colonies resounded with sentiments of freedom and moral change for the people and their culture based on Scripture. They sent their people out to affect change in culture. The pulpits have lost that voice, fearing to lose their tax exempt status. The Church must find its voice once again. Only by the Church regaining its voice and heralding a message into the culture may we again find a rallying point worthy of our devotion. There is one man that we worship and His name is Jesus, the Christ. It is Christ who is head of his body the Church. We must look to him for change in our culture and the Church must herald that truth through its worship and especially in its benediction. Then the Church as a community must act in accordance with the benediction.

What Others Think of Socialism.

"History affords us many instances of the ruin of states, by the prosecution of measures ill suited to the temper and genius of their people. The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy... These measures never fail to create great and violent jealousies and animosities between the people favored and the people oppressed; whence a total separation of affections, interests, political obligations, and all manner of connections, by which the whole state is weakened."
--Benjamin Franklin, Emblematical Representations

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Blagojevich and US

How many of you are appauled at Governor Rod Blagojevich’s attempt to sell Illinois’ U.S. Senate seat? I certainly am. There is nothing that so compromises our system of laws and the integrity of our government as giving it to men who would use it for gain. Justice in the final analysis goes to the one with the most money or the most power.

And yet I wonder, how would you look at our last election for U.S. President? What is it that we cast our votes for? If you listened to the campaigns at all, both candidates believe that you cast your vote for the one that will do the most for you. Who will bring you the best health care? Who will spread the wealth around the best? Who will provide the biggest tax cuts? We are used to this type of campaigning. What is it these candidates bring to us? Social security? Food stamps? Welfare? Entitlements? Did you sell your vote this year? What do we anticipate getting from our election this year? As for me, let the government bring me nothing and take from me nothing except what I deserve as punishment for my crimes and protection from those who would commit crimes against me.

Alexis De Tocqueville once wrote, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.” When our hard earned tax dollars become the trough for bribing the public, the wealth of the entire nation is at risk. How long will we endure?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Why Socialism?

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" 2And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" 4 But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. 5For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. [Genesis 3]

1Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth." 5And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. [Genesis 11]

Have you ever wondered why the U.S. government, having started small, continues to expand and usurp more and more authority and become increasingly socialistic? Here is the problem. Man, by his fallen nature wants to be God, controlling all things. Socialism, by its very nature, attempts to control all things. We can see this in the economic bailout. Our politicians, not content to allow us to have our own money, will bail out the economy by taking our money from us and spending it for us as they see fit. (Remember, government never produces anything. It can only take from those who produce.) Congress thinks that it can plan the economy better than we can. This is the theory of socialism. As the bailout continues, watch for the agenda that our economic planners will follow and ask yourselves, is what they spend our money on the most effective way to grow the economy for us.

While it is likely that socialism will increase in America for some time, it will not increase forever. There is an end to socialism.

6And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech." 8So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth. [Genesis 11]

This is how God works, bringing confusion to the self-seeking efforts of men. This is how He has worked throughout history. When the time comes, there will be confusion, but God will also put something in its place.

1Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." [Genesis 12]

Notice how God promises to give Abraham what the nations wanted to take in Genesis 11. And this is how God will work out history today. Christ is the blessing to the nations promised to Abraham. His church, small and seemingly insignificant, is His remedy to socialism. My prayer is that it would engage that challenge today.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What is Worship

How are we to worship? I ask this question a lot. And by this I mean what is the Sunday worship service to look like. The other six days of the week we are to worship the Triune God in what we do by acting so as to glorify him. How we conduct our lives in this day and age is directed by the calling of God and the circumstances in our lives. But when we gather together on the Lord’s Day, how should our worship look? Before we may answer this question there are several prior questions. Most people, in responding to the question how we are to worship start with the correct question, but, I believe, miss the foundational answer and so miss the ultimate purpose of worship. The first question is what worship is. Only by getting this question and answer right may we conform our conduct to the correct purpose and so answer how we are to worship. Most people answer the first question in one of two ways. Either it is an opportunity for us to praise God or it is an opportunity for us to be edified by the word of God. I will agree that both these answers are in part correct, but they fail to capture the overarching answer. Worship is a legal transaction.

What, you say, should we accept the proposition that worship is an legal formality? This is not my point at all. We should all agree that marriage is primarily a legal transaction in which two people, a man and a woman, become one. It is a legal transaction to joy and to a purpose. The consummation of that legal transaction is found in the marriage bed. What more intimate and emotional experience could there be than a loving couple consummating their covenant vows on their wedding night.

Exodus 19-24 describes this legal transaction for the nation of Israel in a paradigm worship service. In Exodus, God calls His people out of bondage, gives them His law, and vows to be their God. The people of God respond to His call in Exodus 24 and vow to be His people. God consummates the covenant with the “blood of the covenant,” and the people consummate that relationship by eating and drinking in His presence on the mountain of Sinai. They “remember” the covenant through “remembering” the Sabbath.

The Apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians that they too are entering into a legal transaction every time they gather together on the Sabbath:

17But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
23For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25In 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." 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

This is legal rhetoric. It is founded on tradition. They are undertaking an act that, based on that tradition may be performed properly or improperly. And how they perform that act has significant consequences.

The gravity of the event should not cause us to shun its practice. It is the consummation of our relationship with our covenant God Yahweh. Note the language. The cup is the “new covenant in my blood.” We are to partake of the bread and the cup “in remembrance of me.” Both of these phrases echo Exodus 19 and 24. We proclaim Jesus death until he comes. (Now there is an interesting irony. One who is dead is coming. I must reflect on that some more.) As the people rejoiced in the presence of the Lord in Exodus 24, we are to do likewise. Yes, this is a legal transaction, but it is a transaction of love. James Torrance has captured this idea well in his little book Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace. We have been created to commune as co-lovers with the Trinity.

So as we enter into worship, let us remember that we are consummating our relationship with our loving God. Yes, we are consummating a legal relationship, but also a loving relationship. It is a relationship of joy with a purpose. There is a progression in worship of leaving this sinful world, being cleansed and approaching Him. We consummate that relationship by hearing His law and feasting with and on Him and with each other. And in so doing, we are made proper vessels for discipling the nations in this world.