Monday, October 20, 2014

Renew The Table: A Hill to Die On?

After my last post, some might get the impression that I was charging the down the aisle of the sanctuary full speed atop a donkey like Bacchus, with a grapes in one hand and a sloshing glass in the other saying, “Drink Ye Wine Or Nothing At All!” And in a sense, sure I’ll take that. As the old song goes, I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause. As far as the gospel goes, I’ll accept no substitute, and insofar as I can tell, grape juice is a substitute symbol for the blood of Christ, and the blood of Christ is the life of the gospel.

But is it a hill to die on? Is it a line in the sand? Well, yes and no.

A Hill to Die On
photo via Al Arabiya
Last October four Iranian Christians were sentenced to 80 lashes each for drinking wine in communion. Iran carried out the sentence for two of those four men, whipping them "with extreme violence". An Executive for Christian Solidarity Worldwide said, “The sentences handed down to these members of the Church of Iran effectively criminalise the Christian sacrament of sharing in the Lord's Supper and constitute an unacceptable infringement on the right to practice faith freely and peaceably.” This leads me to ask all sorts of uncomfortable questions. Such as: Who among us in the US would be charged for this crime? Who among us would  willingly put ourselves into a position to be charged for this crime? Who among us would go so far as to risk 80 lashes just for drinking wine in communion? How soon would we switch to grape juice? Or if we are already drinking grape juice, how much more would something like this deter us from using wine? Would your observance of the Lord’s Supper be a criminal offense in Iran?

Look how this goes against our American evangelical sensitivities. These men carried out their Lord’s command in a place that makes the Temperance Movement look like a dog and pony show. How many American churches would have used grape juice over wine in an effort to be relevant to their Muslim neighbors? Or how many would simply just use grape juice for fear of persecution? To many American evangelicals, this persecution looks highly avoidable. These men chose to fear God over man and so they drank wine.

So on one hand, this really is a hill to die on because the gospel is a hill to die on. If the option is between rejecting the Word of God for the laws and scruples of men or embracing the Word of God for 80 lashes and/or scornful looks from blue haired ladies and their nice sons, then give me the latter.

The Enchanted
On the other hand, it’s not a hill to die on. Not yet. This too is gospel. Love covers a multitude of sins, even sins that have tinkered (knowingly or unknowingly) with Christ-ordained worship. For this to become a hill to die on, one must first ascend to the top of the hill, and this is a gradual process. Right now the King of the Hill is everything we've been talking about; Memorialism, Pragmatism, Infrequency, Grape Juice, etc. Most folks are just going with the flow. That’s not okay, but in some sense, it’s not their fault. The Church is not our enemy. The vast majority of our brothers and sisters are under an enchantment. A waking up needs to occur. Like Narnia the Lord’s Supper in the American evangelical church is in a state of Always Winter. Before the snows can melt, before the people can be un-stoned, before the rebels can go public, we need Aslan to be on the move.

In spite of my wine-boasting, I have not once imbibed wine during communion. I would not yet be charged with an Iranian crime. I've never attended a worship service where it was offered to me. Nor have I partaken on a weekly basis. I desire greatly to do so. Like the whole of creation I am waiting with eager longing. But I can see the situation for what it is. The landscape is barren. Were I to align myself only with those who drink wine in communion, I would likely find that to be nearly the only thing we agree on. It’s a weird and lonely world for a vino-baptist.

Perhaps a day will come when God chooses to breathe new life into the evangelical understanding of the Supper and this will become a bigger issue. That’s likely when the line will be drawn. And to be honest, I don’t think wine, in and of itself, will be the line of demarcation. The real issue is a fuller and more complete understanding and practice of the Lord’s Supper, of which wine is only a small part.

Right now, at least for me, it’s a time for love with longsuffering and a bit of underground disruption. Like Mr Beaver I’m on the lookout for signs and allies that signify Aslan’s arrival. I’m in no position of authority to bring about a change. I’m just someone on the internet who desires to see Christ magnified to the fullest extent at the Table. If you’re on board with me and have a desire to renew the table I want to ask you to do the same. Let’s love and teach and love and get punched in the mouth and love and teach and love. Let’s fellowship with our brothers and sisters, bearing with one another, eating crackers and drinking grape juice because we desire to be one, and yet let’s not remain satisfied while the Supper remains incomplete. John Newton shares some wisdom,

“I have been thirty years forming my own views; and, in the course of this time, some of my hills have sunk, and some of my valleys have risen: but, how unreasonable within me to expect all this should take place in another person; and that, in the course of a year or two.”

Let’s look for change, but not change overnight. The enchantment needs to be broken. When that happens, when enough people are awake to the reality of the situation, that’s when, for the sake of truth and the gospel, the lines begin to be drawn.

The Enchanters
At the same time, let’s not back down from legalists and their brood. There are those who are enchanted, but there are also those wily sorcerers who enchant. Jesus and the Apostles warn us all over the place about slinkers and stinkers who make their way into the church. Paul tells Timothy that the Spirit warns us about “men who…advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.” Jesus was patient with those who were held captive by the tradition of men, but held back no punches for those who sought to chain them. We see this encounter with the Pharisees in Matthew 7,

“'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;in vain do they worship meYou leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

So there are the Enchanted and the Enchanters. From what I can see, the American evangelical church is chock full of the Enchanted. And for this reason, I refuse to break fellowship with them. With them, I will draw no line. I pray that God reveals His truth among His people and His Table is renewed in a powerful way among the church in America. But I also pray that God steels me to do battle with the Enchanters, those wolves that seek to enslave and feed on the flock, who make the word of God void for the sake of their tradition. They are fewer in number but they crop up like weeds even in the most well tended gardens. God’s word is a sword and thus far, Memorialism and Pragmatism, offer only feign defense. They are easily cut. But as long as they are still infused with the power of the Spirit of the Age (and they are), then they, like the White Witch, remain a formidable obstacle.
Mr Fox and his fellow vino-baptists, pre-stoning

Of course all of this requires discernment, which is why I felt I needed to write this piece in the first place. My goal in this series has simply been to call for the renewal of the Lord’s Supper and the best way I know to do that is to just speak the truth. I understand that I’m in the minority. In this epoch of time I am currently on the losing side. So I can see how some posts might give the impression that the majority is the enemy. That’s not the case and I hope I have shown why. But thankfully, God wants His worship more pure and to a greater degree than we do. Ultimately He will bring about a change in His own time and His own way. Is this a hill to die on? I think the answer must be: yes and not yet. We just need to be faithful. Faithful to love and faithful to fight. Sometimes at the same time.

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