Monday, September 1, 2008


If you read the first post of reflections from my trip this weekend, here are the rest of the lessons I gleaned:

5.Man was not meant to fly! OK this is has no theological or practical significance, but I hate to fly on planes and felt it necessary to emphasize that there is a reason we do not have wings. The Seraphim of Isaiah 6 I imagine are a glorious sight to behold before the throne of God, but me in a flying Tylenol at three thousand feet is not!

6.Family is a gift from God. This weekend afforded me the opportunity to spend extended time with my wife’s side of the family. This was a unique opportunity because usually they only interact with me around Emily, thus discomfort was a real possibility for us all. Yet the entire trip provided sweet fellowship and fruitful conversations. They have accepted me as part of the family from day one and demonstrated genuine hospitality with such love. For that I praise God.

7.Jesus is a Notre Dame fan, and Moses must be an alumni. Saturday morning allowed an opportunity for a guided tour of the campus of the University of Notre Dame. I have been to many college campuses, but Notre Dame is truly in a league of their own. But one of the striking things about the campus is that on one of main buildings facing the football stadium is a mural of Jesus with His arms extended as in a receiving gesture. But in front of a football stadium I swear he looks like he is holding up his arms as motioning “touchdown!” So the fans have affectionately labeled that painting “touchdown Jesus,” and quite honestly that may be why they are such a dominant football program! Also on campus is a stone statue of Moses with his finger pointing toward heaven; however most fans believe he is saying “We’re number one!”

8.There is much to learn from our “high church” brothers and sisters in Christ. The wedding I attended was in an Episcopal church, and it was my first exposure to that protestant tradition. A few aspects took me aback (such as the icons of Jesus and Priests wearing bathrobes), but for the most part I learned a great deal. The architecture is breathtaking in displaying the majesty of God and glory of His presence. Stepping into the building reminded me I am in the presence of the King of Kings. I was also struck by the reverence given to the Word of God. I asked one of the clergy if there were any traditions I needed to be aware of to observe, and he mentioned bowing at the front of the alter before a cross. Doing that reminded me as I walked to recite Scripture that I am coming on the basis of what Jesus did for me on that Cross. And after I read the text, I was to say “The Word of the Lord,” and the congregation responded, “Thanks be to God.” When this is done not out of ritual but out of genuine love and reverence, it is a tradition my Baptist roots would benefit from immensely.

9.Marriage should always remind us of the mysterious, profound and glorious union we have been called into with Christ. I am so grateful for my cousin Kevin and his new bride Sara because they preached the Gospel to my heart by their union. Ephesians 5 played in my head as they committed their lives to one another. Paul told us that marriage is an illustration of Christ and the church, and not the other way around. I pray I never see two people joined together in marriage without seeing behind the curtain the greater reality that union is pointing to, namely that I have been united to my bridegroom by grace through faith in His blood atonement.

10.Receiving Communion must not be entered into lightly with little thought. I faced a difficult dilemma in that communion was offered to all at the wedding as an act of worship. I love coming to the Lord’s Table, as it celebrates His work on my behalf. Yet I wrestled with whether not I should participate. On one hand it was a time of worship and afforded the opportunity to glorify Christ and enjoy fellowship with a community of believers outside my denomination. But on the other hand, I have serious doctrinal differences with the church in which I was a guest. I believe that the church is “disorderly,” by which I mean that the ordering of the body in both government and practice does not match what the New Testament teaches about the local church. Issues such as what do the bread and wine represent, baptizing infants, the priestly role of clergy, and others are serious issues that hinder me from ever becoming a member of that community. So I decided because of my conscious to refrain and respectfully and prayerfully observe the act of worship. I think this topic may open a good discussion on the blog: what would you have done in my shoes, and is it appropriate to receive communion when serious doctrinal differences are present among a believer and the local church. Let’s hear your thoughts!


Amy said...

John, I've enjoyed reading your "Lessons" blog. Although I am not as learned as you concerning doctrine I do feel primarily the way you do about what you described. I'm so glad to be able to read your reflections and one that we had in common was that of spending time with family. I began praying last Tues or Wed that God would change my attitude of dread, mainly the drive, and show me what He wanted me to see. I could so easily have been blinded to anything He wanted to show me simply because of my attitude. However, it was a great time of family bonding and I am so thankful that I went. God made it a wonderful trip. Love you!

Jamie Fugate said...

John when did you get clever, great post man and not just clever but also insightful and meaningful, thanks man. But I would have made the same decision about taking the Lord's Supper. I agree with your reasons for not taking, but also I believe that baptism and the Lord's Supper are the two ordinances of the New Covenant and if you have the iniatory ordinance wrong then you cannot properly observe the continuing ordinance.

Joshua Owen said...

John, I can certainly appreciate your refraining from taking communion in light of ecclesiology. There is certainly much baptist tradition and theology in favor of this position. But let me play devil's advocate.

The Lord's Table has its background in the passover feast and the fellowship offerings that would be offered with the sin/burnt offering. This fellowship offering was a shared "meal" between God, the priests, and the one who brought the sacrifice. It is a beautiful picture of familial communion. If the blood of Jesus Christ has bridged the gulf between a holy God and sinful men, might not His blood be sufficient to bring men of different ecclesiastical practices to the table together with the One they call Lord and Father.

Secondly, if I am right to regard the Lord's table as a foreshadowing of the marriage supper of the Lamb in the eschaton, then should we exclude ourselves from fellowship with those at His table now, whom we will undoubtedly feast with in eternity?

These are just some initial thoughts/questions. Already, I can come up with some answers to possibly refute this, but you opened the discussion, so I will leave it to you to continue it. Thanks, John.

I enjoy the dialogue a lot more than posting my own thoughts only to wonder if anyone is even out there reading them.

John Lucas said...

Well Josh, I should have guessed you would be the one to make this hard for me. Why can you not just sit back, agree with me and praise me as the most gifted theological mind you have ever encountered?

That said, here are my simple thoughts upon reflection. You make a great argument for receiving communion in a different ecclesiastical tradition, but would you argue the same for offering it to another? By that I mean would you open the table in your church that adheres to believer’s Baptism to an Episcopal who holds to infant baptism? Pick any doctrinal issue, but I think it is worth pursuing, as I would not nor have I been in a church that would either. This was brought home to me in the phrasing used by the priest as he opened the table. He stated, “any person who is a baptized believer may receive the bread and wine,” (yes fellow SBC folk, they used REAL wine, not sparkling grape juice!). I say almost the same thing except for one additional word: “any person who has been Baptized AS a believer may receive the Lord’s Supper.” Those statements are world’s apart in meaning, as his opens the door for many of whom would be disqualified by mine. And by the way, this is not a statement about their salvation or lack of regeneration, it is simply a question of Biblical fidelity in obeying the ordinance of Christ.

Another question I have is regarding your second point. If you would not exclude yourself from fellowship with others based on the foreshadowing of the marriage feast of the Lamb, would you exclude yourself from membership in such a church based on the same argument? It seems to me that taken to the next logical step, we could say that such a person could be received into membership, without any change in doctrinal conviction, based on the eternal union we have with Christ and each other at the Second Coming. Maybe I am out in left field here, so bring correction to my thinking brothers.

Joshua Owen said...

John, you are a brilliant thinker. Your questions are some of the same questions I had when I posted my comments. I have heard similar arguments used for dismantling all denominational distinctions. I'm not advocating that. I think all true believers should be united by tier one theological concerns, relating primarily to the nature of God and salvation. I express my unity with other believers through the Lord's Table based on this shared experience and belief.

A true church may be comprised of people who agree only on tier one issues. A healthy church, however, requires greater agreement among the church body (particularly if that church is congregational in government). I would agree that tier two doctrines become more significant for church membership (i.e., believers baptism).

Church leadership should be further scrutinized and held to a higher standard of agreement for the health of the church.

I refuse to take communion in a Roman Catholic church because of that church's Pelagian view of salvation that undermines justification by faith alone, apart from the works of the law.

However, I fence the table much as the Episcopal priest in your experience, "If you are a baptized believer in Jesus Christ, in good standing with an evangelical church, you are welcome to join with us at the Lord's Table."

Regarding the question of joining a church that practiced the ordinances unbiblically, of course, I would hope to always find or establish a church with which I am in substantial agreement on at least tier two issues such as ecclesiology. I would, however, join a church with a different ecclesiology, without the expectation of being put in leadership. This would not be ideal, and I would only do this in less than ideal circumstances.

John Lucas said...

Arguments like this are why you have the PhD. I thank you for the clear and thoughtful discussion you have brought. I am finding myself challenged by new questions through this dialogue. I think you make a helpful distinction between the Tier 1 and Tier 2 issues (Dr. Al Mohler used the illustration of a Triage unit in a hospital). I think the problem I had in receiving communion this weekend was that these distinctions were not taken seriously. So while I do not come to the same conclusion as you on this, I do find myself moving closer to a middle ground in closer proximity to you.

I would wonder if for men like you who are so grounded in biblical fidelity and convictional in your Baptist distinctive, if planting a church would not be the better alternative in a location without a church matching your ecclesiological standings.

John Lucas said...

Josh one more thing I would like for us to discuss. When you fence the table, you require baptized believer, good standing, and within an evangelical church. Why the evangelical tag if your conviction is that Tier 1 issues are the only criteria for recieving communion? I have serious doctrinal issues with mainline churches as I know you do as well. It is possible to be a baptized believer who is a member in good standing of a mainline denomination AND hold to all the Tier 1 doctrines we have discussed. So is the "evangelical church" fencing neccessary?

Joshua Owen said...

John, good question. The term "evangelical" is probably too amorphous to use in that context. What I mean by "evangelical" is a church that holds to the solas of the Protestant Reformation. Historically the mainline denominations held to these. Of course, these days there is division in these denominations. I think many of the grass roots are still "evangelical" by my definition, though the political machinery in these denominations has been increasingly given over to modernists/theological liberals.

One way to fence the table is to preach such an offensive, non-politically correct message that extols the bloody sacrifice of Christ before communion that all the squeamish liberals get up and leave during the ministry time (which we do before communion)!

Catherine said...

Just to be the troublemaker, let's hear the open v. closed communion arguments. Gentlemen? :)