I’m Going Crackers

Sigh. I know that the church we are attending is not everything I hoped and dreamed of. I know it, I do. But why oh why do churches use grape juice and crackers in the Lord’s Supper? It probably doesn’t phase a lot of folks, because they don’t think about it much, but once you think about it, it drives you…crackers…as the Brits say. People who know that every word of Jesus is important and to be obeyed think nothing of ignoring him when he says “bread” and “wine.” As if bread is the same as Saltines and wine can be grape juice.

James Jordan has put it better than I can:

But do the churches do these things? Let’s see. First of all, Jesus said to bring wine. How many churches use wine today? The American evangelicals have decided to give wine over to the devil, instead of claiming it for Christ. As a result, they use grape juice. Jesus, however, used (alcoholic) wine. He turned water into wine as the first manifestation of His Kingdom. He ate and drank with publicans and sinners, and was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard which shows what He was drinking (Matt. 11:19). He prescribed just this kind of liquid for His meal.

But do we do what He said? Usually not. And this is nothing new. For centuries the Western Catholic Church (“Roman” Catholicism) rejected the cup altogether. It has only been since the Second Vatican Council that Catholics have been able to drink wine in communion.

Well, what about bread? Suppose my wife phoned me at work and said, “Jim, would you go by the store and get some bread on your way home?” Now, let’s say I bought some saltines instead. My guess is that she would be unhappy. She would say, “Jim, that’s not bread; those are saltines. Don’t you know the difference between bread and saltines?” Or suppose I brought some pressed-out wafers home?

I think we know what bread is. I do. Don’t you? Bread is bread. If we believe in using unleavened bread, it should still be unleavened bread and not crackers or wafers.

Amazing, isn’t it? Jesus asks us to do two simple things, and century after century the Church comes up with weird substitutes. Why is this? Why can’t we just do what Jesus said to do? As I reflect upon this, it seems to me that the reason has to be that there is real grace in the Lord’s Supper, and that Satan fears that grace. Thus, Satan has persuaded people not to do what Jesus said to do.

I thought that at least a Presbyterian church would use real wine, never mind that they don’t allow baptized Christians to partake (the youth). But lo, they do not. Grape juice and crackers, just like every other shallow church on the block. Gag. Truly, the Protestant churches are much like the Medieval Catholics, as more and more folks are noticing:

Third, communion is administered infrequently, as in the late Middle Ages, so the faithful only receive a few times a year. And Evangelicals have found a new way to effectively deny the cup to the laity by avoiding the biblical element of wine. (Where is Jan Hus when we need him?) Against dominical command and the clear words of the New Testament, most Evangelicals persist in employing grape juice rather than wine in the sacrament. Paradoxically, those whose approach to Scripture might be deemed most literalistic choose to set aside Christ’s clear injunction.

Here, in a sense, is a modern Evangelical version of what the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles call a “work of supererogation.” Evangelicals may still reject the idea of accumulating surplus merit, but the implication of substituting grape juice for wine in the sacrament is that we know better than our Lord and can be more pious than Jesus. And some Evangelicals have an attitude toward alcohol that one could only describe as superstitious.

It’s really difficult to be a Christian in America when basic things like creeds, sacraments and liturgy are unheard of and wild notions to the vast majority of flocks. I hope it changes someday.

Dead Sea Scrolls: The Scroll of the Rule

I have been reading the Dead Sea Scrolls and I am currently in the Scroll of the Rule. Some things that have caught my eye are:

[1] The interpretation of Isaiah by these Essenes…close, but yet so far off to the truth. The Essenes had to leave the cities for their desert caves, and the Scroll refers to this by saying:

…they shall be separated from the midst of the habitation of perverse men to go into the desert to prepare the way of ‘Him’: as it is written, In the wilderness prepare the way of …. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. This (way) is the study of the Law which He has promulgated by the hand of Moses, [Scroll of the Rule VIII:13-15]

So just as John the Baptist went into the desert and lived apart from the mass of Israel, calling them to repentance and fulfilling the Isaiah passage, the Essenes withdrew. But they missed both the forerunner and the Messiah with their interpretation of the passage.

[2] The Essenes forsook the sacrificial system of the Temple much as later Rabbinic “Judaism” would do and yet claimed to be zealous for the law. I don’t know how they squared this circle. The law contains the sacrificial system for atonement but the Essenes believed the priesthood and the Temple to be corrupted and impure. The Scroll says:

…they shall expiate guilty rebellion and sinful infidelity and (procure) Loving-kindness upon earth without the flesh of burnt offering and the fat of sacrifice, but the offering of the lips in accordance with the law shall be as an agreeable odor of righteousness, and perfection of way shall be as the voluntary gift of a delectable oblation. [Scroll of the Rule IX.3]

and yet:

And they shall not depart from any maxim of the Law to walk in all the stubbornness of their heart. [IX.10]

Just as modern Judaism and Islam claim to keep Torah but in no way keep the sacrificial system, so the Essenes forsook the Law while claiming to keep it. I am interested to see if the other scrolls address these subjects in more detail.

Biblical Theocracy

James Jordan says:

The gospel is the announcement that Jesus is now king of the entire world, and that all nations are to be discipled. Israel was the model discipled nation, and now all nations are to be discipled. Israel’s history relates typologically to all the world now, as we are put into the olive tree. Everything God told Israel, including the Law, is typologically normative for all the world, for all nations. I call this “Biblical theocracy.”

The gospel is not theology or ideas. It is not experiences. It it not even the church considered merely as some kind of annabaptist worshiping community in the midst of a world that will never be changed. The gospel is a new creation, a new world. It is Christendom. It is theocracy. This is not “theonomy” as Bahnsen defined it, but it is close enough that it looks like it to many people. And the practical implications of Biblical Theocracy are often quit similar to “theonomy” as regards the discipleship of nations, because typological application is still application. And just as the early church directly challenged Caesar’s purported lordship, there is a need today for the prophetic people of God to directly challenge modern ideas of law and democracy and insist on the crown rights of King Jesus.

Jordan on Pastors

James Jordan says:

Second, by no means are all pastors, teachers, and preachers gifted as exegetes or expositors. Pastors are curates of souls primarily. Teachers often are called to pass on the heritage of the faith, not rework it for modern times. One of the errors I encountered in seminary was the notion that all pastors should develop their sermons out of an in-depth exegesis from the original Hebrew and Greek. Virtually nobody ever does this, of course, but it was held out as an ideal. There is nothing ideal about it, however. Preachers need to pass on the heritage of the church to their people, with a pastoral eye to their psychological and spiritual situation. If they get their homilies by borrowing from Spurgeon, or from other people’s outlines — what’s wrong with that?

Spurgeon on Depression

I am reading a book called Bright Days, Dark Nights on depression which deals with depression from the point of view of the life and writings of Charles Spurgeon. I have only started reading it and have already been impressed with the insights of the author, Elizabeth Skoglund.

Spurgeon struggled mightily with depression. He said:

I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to, but I always get back again by this–I know I trust Christ. I have no reliance but in him, and if he falls I shall fall with him, but if he does not, I shall not. Because he lives, I shall live also, and I spring to my legs again and fight with my depressions of spirit and my downcastings, and get the victory through it; and so may you do, and so you must, for there is no other way of escaping from it. In your most depressed seasons you are to get joy and peace through believing…Do stick to this, dear friends, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.’

I find the simple fact that Christians can admit to depression to be encouraging. As I mentioned in my post on joy, the ‘right up, right downright happy all the time’ type of Christianity sickens me. The veneer that everything is alright when things are really a grind and a bore is not helping anyone. I thank God for honest Christians and for the Psalms.

Schism and Heresy

In the letters of John Hales to D. Carlton on the Synod of Dort, Hales relates how a member of the Synod defined heresy and schism. A certain Lydius of South-Holland proposed this distinction between schism and heresy:
…For a Schism is only a breach of Charity and Peace of the Church, the Doctrine remaining entire. If there were a separation by reason of Doctrine Heretical (as here he thought there was) it was not to be called a Schism.

Church Government = National Government?

I’m wondering if the church often reflects the governing paradigm of the world-empire that it is situated in. In Roman times this meant the highly-structured governmental organization that mirrored the Imperial government. In America it means a reflection of corporate governance, with the pastor as CEO and maybe a “board” with some other trappings of democracy. My impression is that even in the Catholic Church, democracy has invaded at the local level to a large extent.


James Jordan writes “One of the essential failures of the Protestant Reformation was the forfiture of a truly international ecclesiastical organization, and too close a tie of the church to national interests.”

Joy

One of the puzzling facets of the Christian life as I live it and see it lived is the lack of joy that we have. It seems to me that many Americans are living lives of quiet desperation, under layers of regret, hopelessness, frustration and outright depression. This applies to the unsaved as well as the saved, but in our case it is puzzling because of what Jesus has told us.

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” I imagine that the joy of Jesus is of such an infinite magnitude that it would be wonderful to experience. Furthermore, God sternly rebuked Israel for not serving him with joy. He said, “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and lacking everything.”

That seems to summarize our American condition succinctly – an abundance of things but no joy or gladness of heart. I’m sure that the reasons for this condition are many, “you must realize the depth of your sin and the reality of God’s sacrifice” I can hear someone saying. But I have some ideas on why we feel down in the middle of everything, or sometimes in the face of great actual suffering. In no order they are:

1. We don’t do what we should due to fear of man, i.e. we don’t suffer because we are too worried about our reputation. I often hold back in public situations when I think I will be mocked for Christ, I don’t identify with him when I should. Jesus said that in this world we will have suffering and he is the prime example of it. The Apostles rejoiced to be counted worthy to suffer with him. The mockery, beating and death they endured was a liberating cause of great joy for them. I avoid this kind of suffering and therefore my joy is not full.

2. Church isn’t what it should be. I don’t mean this in terms of a primitive, “New Testament” church or in terms of doctrine (thought it might be that too), but rather in terms of love, relationships, care for the poor, missions mindedness, and so on (think about the ‘one anothers’). To me, this is a huge factor in joylessness. Our relationship with Jesus is supposed to be lived out horizontally amongst God’s people. Instead, churches are full of people with no clue about how to be hospitable, how to love, how to eat together, talk to each other, or otherwise be the body of Christ. When your church situation is good, the rest of life coheres and is easier. When it isn’t, the rest of life suffers from isolation, alienation and depression.

3. Debt. Our society is structured around debt slavery. Because we are in debt, we cannot contribute like we should, help those in need like we should and so forth. In my case, there aren’t good church options around me and I can’t move close to a good church due to the housing situation which essentially boils down to a debt situation.

There is a certain grim determination to put one foot in front of the other that gets many of us Christians through life and I think that is fine in a sense. The lie of “happy all the time” positive-thinking Christianity is a nauseating answer to legitimate suffering and depression. That’s not what I’m advocating at all. We will all suffer. Until recently, when I thought of suffering I thought of persecution, medical problems or death. But now I think suffering includes (and perhaps primarily includes) the daily grind, boredom, Groundhog Day like repetition, rejection from the Church you are part of, not being able to exercise your gifts for God, things like that.

There are many other legitimate reasons for this lack of joy. I don’t have the answers, I just know the dilemma. Thank God we do have Jesus, for without him this joylessness would be truly overwhelming. The world if full of people numbing themselves  with movies, consumption, hobbies, family activities or whatever and all for nothing. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. Fear God and keep the commandments, this is the whole duty of man.

Sailhamer’s Biblical Theology, I

In his book Introduction to Old Testament Theology, A Canonical Approach, John Sailhamer outlines four contrasting approaches to doing Scriptural theology (in this case OT theology). These four contrasts are:

1. Text or event;
2. Criticism or canon;
3. Descriptive or confessional;
4. Diachronic or synchronic.

I. Text vs. Event

What does Sailhamer mean by these terms? First, let’s look at text vs. event. Sailhamer writes:

Does an OT theology focus its attention on the scriptural text of the OT itself, or is the text primarily a witness to the act of God’s self-revelation in the events recorded by Scripture? […] We will maintain in the following discussion that while professing to be text-centered in their approach, evangelical biblical theologians sometimes treat the text of Scripture as a means of getting at what they perceive to be the real locus of God’s revelation-the events in the history of Israel or the religious ideals that lie behind the text.

While we may think that we have a clear picture of events, what we have in fact is the events selected for presentation by the author according to a narrative strategy. Sailhamer says:

The recounting of events in the narrative is not intended to direct the reader’s attention outside the text but rather within the text and to the narrative world depicted there. The reader, as audience, is to understand the meaning of the events through the author’s development of the plot structure and characterization of the narrative. Thus divine revelation may be thought of as lying within the narrative text of Scripture as a function of the meaning of the events in their depiction.

I would note that you hear this in sermons all the time. The preacher is often not seeking to explain what the author intended, the narrative strategy, and so on, but rather wants to talk about what the character was up to in his estimation, what else was going on back then, things like that. It is a subtle difference but one with large ramifications. I think it springs mainly from ignorance about what a book is, what an author does, etc. In other words, the Biblical authors have already interpreted the events for us in their writings, they do not present us with the events in order for us to interpret what the event meant. We are rather to focus on what the text says the event meant. Sailhamer explains that we often lack a text theory and describes what a text is:

By its very nature a narrative text is something that does not project itself on us as such. When reading a text we are not constantly reminded of the fact that we are looking at words on a page, just as in watching a movie we are rarely conscious of looking at light on a screen. The function of a narrative text is to be a vehicle for telling a historical story.

He provides an example:

A photograph of a tree is a good example of the distinction between a text and the event depicted in it. A photograph is a representation of a tree. It represents the tree accurately and realistically, yet it does not have bark and leaves, nor is the sky behind the tree in the photograph a real sky. Nevertheless the actual bark and leaves of the real tree are represented in the photograph and so is the real sky…To say that a photograph only represents the tree but is not actually the tree, does not mean that the tree never existed or that the photograph is inaccurate because it only shows one side of the tree.

Sailhamer has many other helpful things to say on this subject, but let me skip ahead. He says:

The effect of overlooking the text of Scripture is favor of a focus on the events of Israel’s history can often be a “biblical” theology that is little more than a philosophy of history, an exegetical method that is set on expounding the meaning of the events lying behind Scripture rather than those depicted in Scripture itself.

Needless to say, Sailhamer chooses a text based approach rather than an events based one.