Questions about Inductive Teaching and Closed Communion

Here are a couple of insightful answers from Jonathan Leeman found at the 9marks ministry website:

Dear 9Marks,

I am a newly appointed missionary and am wrestling with the necessity of preaching in the church context. It’s a fad right now to do inductive style teaching in lieu of preaching in house churches. I brought up the imperative to preach from 2 Timothy 4:2 and the response was that Timothy was likely a missionary and the preaching here is evangelism, not Western-style pulpit ministry. Further, it’s not “practical” and as easily reproducible.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the necessity of monological (for lack of better words) preaching as a transcultural imperative.

Thanks for your time,

—Dave

Dear Dave,

I sent your question to Zane Pratt who serves as the Vice President for Training for the SBC’s International Mission Board. I assumed (rightly, he tells me) that he’s encountered this before. He tells me it has become the party line in some places, in part because people are looking for a ministry program that’s quickly reproducible. Here’s what Pratt said:

This is a great question, and it shows the intersection between missions strategy, our understanding of the church, and our interpretation of Scripture. In the example you’ve been told, missions strategy is in the driver’s seat. The controlling concern is the desire to see churches reproduce quickly. That in turn leads to a desire to remove any feature of church life that might take time to develop—like having pastors who are able to preach. This requires redefining the function of Bible teaching in the church to something that anyone can do immediately after conversion, like leading a Bible discussion. Finally, in order to warrant this conclusion from Scripture, it becomes necessary to rule out proclamation-type verses in the New Testament from having application to the internal life of the church. Does such a procedure stand up to scrutiny?

There are two Greek word groups under consideration here. One is kerygma and its related verb forms, and the other is didache and its related verb forms. The first of these is often best translated as “proclamation,” and it is often used in the New Testament to refer to the proclamation of the gospel to the world—hence, to evangelistic preaching. In fact, 2 Timothy 4:2 begins with this word. The second word is usually translated as teaching. However, the line between these words is by no means solid. For example, the verbal form of kerygma is used in both Acts 15:21 and Romans 2:21 to refer to ordinary instruction and preaching in the synagogue. In the case of 2 Timothy 4:2, the explanatory context uses the word didache—teaching—to describe what kind of proclamation is in mind. This verse does in fact connect proclamation or preaching with the teaching that goes on in the church.

Of equal importance is the complete absence in the New Testament of any examples of inductive Bible study as the central teaching event in the church. Following the examples of Jesus, the synagogue, and the apostles (see, for example, Paul in Troas in Acts 20), the normal form of teaching would have been preaching or proclamation by one teacher. That is not to say that some form of discussion is out of order. It can be very useful. However, the normal pattern of teaching in the church from the earliest days of New Testament church life has been centered on preaching. Training pastors/elders/overseers to preach is a necessary part of healthy church formation, and the legitimate desire to see the gospel spread as quickly as possible does not negate that obligation.

Thank you, Zane. So helpful.

I remember encountering similar ideas in the Emergent Church movement about a decade ago. Therefore, I responded to the trend in my book Reverberation. When Moody suggested republishing Reverberation as Word-Centered Church last year, I assumed the conversation mostly had died, so I cut out the section on dialogical preaching. Apparently, it has now shown up in missionary circles! So, here’s what I wrote in Reverberation:

A number of writers have been promoting dialogical preaching lately. Such preaching focuses on the back and forth nature of dialogue, but places this conversation into the preaching event. It’s said to be particularly appropriate in these postmodern days since no one believes anymore that “one man has all the answers.” Dialogues give every member of the community an opportunity to express him or herself and offer a perspective on God’s Word. . . .

No doubt, group conversations about God’s Word, as in inductive Bible studies, can be rich and sweet. It is encouraging to hear the young and old, mature and immature, testify to their experience of God’s grace through the biblical text being discussed.

At the same time, God has gifted some—not all—to be pastors and teachers and given them as gifts to his church (Eph. 4:7–13). And he means to particularly bless and grow his church through them.

The pattern throughout Scripture is for a man—a judge, a prophet, an apostle, a preacher—to speak authoritatively on behalf of God: “Thus says the Lord. . .” The speaker’s authority does not derive from himself; it derives from the Word. It’s tied to his faithful presentation of it. The congregation, on the other hand, learns what it means to submit to God by submitting to his authoritative Word as it’s preached. The goal isn’t to exchange perspectives, but to hear what God says. Every Christian (including the preacher) must understand that first and foremost we live under God’s authoritative Word. This reality is best demonstrated and practiced through the preaching event, a place where we learn to sit quietly and listen. The preacher, if he has been faithful, has been sitting quietly and listening all week!

I pray something Zane or I have offered is helpful to you.

Dear 9Marks,

I just found out that the church I am a part of practices closed communion. (“Closed communion” is the practice of restricting the Lord’s Supper to members of a particular local church and only that church.) Could you give me Bible references that speak about this issue? It feels very exclusive and arrogant to exclude even close friends who I know have embraced the gospel and are walking with the Lord. I would appreciate any Bible passages that speak either for or against this idea.

—Amy

Dear Amy,

If I may, first a word or correction, then of consolation, and finally of counsel. The correction: you shouldn’t assume people are being arrogant because they are trying to obey the Bible as they understand it. Now, I don’t agree with this particular view of the Lord’s Supper either, but I assume that the church and its leaders are doing their best to obey and submit themselves to God.

I do find it’s somewhat common to criticize as arrogant people with strong opinions about what the Bible teaches. And certainly, such people might be arrogant. But they might also might be the humblest of all, because they put aside their own opinions or popularity, and submit themselves to God. I’ve known people in both camps. For our part, let’s do our best to give people the benefit of the doubt, particularly when it comes to the motives of their hearts.

Now the word of consolation: I agree with you that closed communion mistakenly excludes people from the Lord’s Supper who should not be excluded. But let me start with what this position gets right. The Lord’s Supper is not an individual Christian ordinance, but a church ordinance. It marks off the church from the world. Listen to Paul: “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:17). We are shown to be one body when we partake of the one loaf. The Supper is a church revealing meal. He then practically concludes, “When you gather to eat, you should all eat together” (11:33).

This is why the Supper is for the gathered church. It’s for church members. It reveals who the church members are. And this much the closed communion position gets right.

Yet there is another principle we need to remember: the universal church is bigger than just our church. Therefore, it’s the practice of my own church to open the Table to members of other churches. Throughout the New Testament we see examples of churches working together, such as John’s commendation of Gaius for receiving the missionaries he sent (3 John 5–8). What’s more, we see John condemning Diostrephes because he won’t welcome other believers (3 John 9). When we open the Table to members of other churches, therefore, we demonstrate a rightful welcome to the larger body of Christ. So you’ll hear our pastors say something like, “If you’re a baptized member of another gospel-preaching church, then you’re welcome to receive the Lord’s Table here.”

Finally, my counsel. What do you do in your position? First, respect your own church and its leaders. Assume they have good reasons for their position. And, who knows, maybe they’re right and we’re wrong. I think it would be fine for you to have a conversation with the leaders about this issue, and even to present a different view. But I would only do this once, and then I would leave it alone. If you stay in the church, do so only if you can be content to leave the topic alone. Don’t be a source of division. If you feel like you cannot remain in the church because of its position here, that’s fine. But do your best to leave humbly, graciously, and with as little wake behind you as possible.

I pray this is useful. Thanks for your thoughtfulness and care.

Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood – What Does This Mean?

Article: “I Am the Bread of Life” by Cameron Buettel (original source here)

Christ’s preaching has a tendency to shock our sensibilities. One of His most vexing statements occurs in the gospel of John: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life” (John 6:54).

All sorts of theories and theological mischief have been concocted around those words. They were simply too disturbing for most of Jesus’ disciples who subsequently abandoned Him (John 6:66). Early on in church history that statement was the cause of pagan rumors that Christians practiced cannibalism. And Roman Catholics now use John 6:54 as justification for their belief that the elements of the Lord’s Table—the bread and the wine—are literally Christ’s flesh and blood.

Like most troubling theological issues, biblical context is critical if we are to come to a right understanding of Christ’s words in John 6:54. And John MacArthur does just that in his sermon, “I Am the Bread of Life.” In it he walks us through John 6:32–59 to bring clarity concerning Jesus’ discourse on Himself as the true eternal food all men need.

Hunger is a natural part of the human experience. We were created by God with a built-in desire for sustenance when our body lacks what it needs. But spiritual hunger is far more elusive to those who are spiritually destitute.

John 6 signifies the high-water mark of Christ’s ministry by every external metric of human success. His popularity had peaked as crowds thronged around Him. Stories of His miracles were spreading far and wide. And His expertise in all matters threatened the influence of every other established religious leader.

But Jesus wasn’t swayed by the veneer of a growing kingdom. Miraculously feeding thousands of hungry people in the desert (John 6:1–14) only inflamed their desires for more temporal satisfaction. They wanted more, but their hunger didn’t extend beyond their empty bellies.

John MacArthur’s message, “I Am the Bread of Life” digs right into the discussion between Christ and His legions of followers. He explains what really transpired and why Christ continually referred to Himself as “the bread of life” in contrast to the perishable bread the crowds longed for. And he reveals how God is the author of spiritual hunger as well as physical hunger. Ultimately, Pastor John answers two fundamental questions: Where do we find the bread of life, and how do we eat the bread of life?

Those questions form the dividing line between those who are Christ’s true disciples and those who are false disciples destined for apostasy. Answering them explains how we are to eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood and inherit eternal life.

Click here to watch or listen to “I Am the Bread of Life.”

The Lord’s Supper

Heidelberg Catechism: Dr. Joel Beeke

Celebrating the Lord’s Supper Rightly:

(1) Its right versus wrong meaning (Q. 80)
(2) Its right versus wrong participants (Q. 81-82)

Union and Communion with Christ at the Lord’s Table:

(1) An assuring, promised union (75,77)
(2) A saving, spiritual union (76a)
(3) A growing, mysterious union (76b)

In A Worthy Manner

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Cor. 11:27)

Calvin-John7John Calvin:

In seeking to prepare for eating the Lord’s Supper worthily, men have often dreadfully harassed and tortured miserable consciences, and yet have failed to reach their goal. They have said that you must be “in a state of grace” in order to eat worthily. What does it mean to be in a state of grace? They have interpreted this to mean being pure and free from all sin. By this definition, all the men that ever have been, and all who are on the earth now, are barred from the use of this sacrament. For if we are to seek our worthiness from ourselves, it is all over with us; only despair and fatal ruin await us. Though we struggle to the utmost, we will not only make no progress, but we would only be more unworthy after we have labored most to make ourselves worthy.

To cure this ulcer, they have devised a mode of procuring worthiness: After having, as far as we can, made an examination and taken an account of all our actions, we are to be cleansed of our unworthiness by contrition, confession, and satisfaction. I say that such things, at best, give poor and fleeting comfort to alarmed and downcast consciences, struck with terror at their sins. For if the Lord admits only the righteous and innocent to partake of his Supper, every man would have to be very cautious before feeling that he had righteousness of his own which God requires.

How could we be assured that we have truly done everything in our power to discharge our duty to God? Even if we could be assured of this, who would then venture to assure himself that he, in fact, had done all that he could do? So, we would have no certain security for our worthiness, and access to the Supper would always be excluded by the fearful warning, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Cor. 11:27)

It is now easy to judge what is the nature, and who is the author, of this kind of teaching. Certainly the devil could have no shorter method of destroying men than by thus excluding them from the taste and savor of this food which their most merciful Father in heaven is pleased to feed them. To avoid running off such a cliff, let us remember that this sacred feast is medicine to the sick, comfort to the sinner, and bounty to the poor. To the healthy, the righteous, and the rich (if any could be found) the Lord’s Supper would be of no value. For Christ is given us for food in the Supper, and we perceive that without him we fail and waste away, just as hunger destroys the vigor of the body. As he is given to us for life, so we perceive that without him we are certainly dead.

So, the best and only worthiness which we can bring to God, is to offer him our own vileness, and unworthiness, that his mercy may make us worthy:

to despond in ourselves, that we may be consoled in him
to humble ourselves, that we may be elevated by him
to accuse ourselves, that we may be justified by him
We are also to aspire to the unity which he recommends in the Supper; and, as he makes us all one in himself, we are to desire to have all one soul, one heart, one tongue.

If we ponder and meditate on these things, we may be shaken, but will never be overwhelmed by the consideration of this vital question, “How shall we, who are devoid of all good, polluted by sin, and half dead, worthily eat the body of the Lord?” We shall rather consider that we, who are poor, are coming to a benevolent giver, sick to a physician, sinful to the author of righteousness, in fine, dead to him who gives life.

The worthiness which is commanded by God, consists especially in faith, which places all things in Christ, nothing in ourselves, and in love, which, though imperfect, may be sufficient to offer to God, that he may increase it, since it cannot be fully rendered.

Some, agreeing that worthiness consists in faith and charity, have demanded a perfection of faith to which nothing can be added, and a love equivalent to that which Christ manifested towards us. And in this way, they, too, bar all men from access to this sacred feast. For, if they are correct, everyone who receives the Supper must receive unworthily, since all, are guilty of great imperfection. And certainly it is too stupid, not to say idiotic, to require, as the basis for receiving the sacrament, a perfection which would render the sacrament vain and superfluous. The Lord’s Supper was not instituted for the perfect, but for the sick and weak, to stir up, excite, stimulate, exercise the feeling of faith and love, and at the same time correct the deficiency of both.

[From Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 4, Ch. 17, Sec. 41-42, trans. by Henry Beveridge, ed. by Jason Van Bemmel.]

Ten Things About the Lord’s Supper

communion02Article by Dr. Sam Storms, also known as Communion or the Eucharist (from the Greek word for the giving of thanks) is 1 Corinthians 11:23-34. Here are ten brief observations on what we see in this text.

1) The Lord’s Supper is primarily (but not exclusively) designed to elicit or to stimulate in our hearts remembrance of the person and work of Jesus: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25).

2) This remembrance is commanded. Participation at the Lord’s Table is not an option. Prolonged absence from it is spiritually unhealthy and willful neglect of it may be grounds for church discipline.

3) This remembrance entails the use of tangible elements: bread and wine. It isn’t enough simply to say, “Remember!” The elements of bread and wine are given to stir our minds and hearts. The physical action of eating and drinking is designed to remind us that we spiritually “ingest” and depend upon Jesus and the saving benefits of his life, death, and resurrection. Just as food and drink are essential to sustain physical existence, so also the blessings and benefits that come to us through the body and blood of Christ are paramount to our spiritual flourishing.

4) It is a personal remembrance. We are to remember Jesus. The focus isn’t on Abraham or Moses or Isaiah. The focus is no longer on the Jewish Passover or the night of his betrayal or anything else. The focus is Jesus. “Do this in remembrance of ME” (1 Cor. 11:25).

5) In this remembering there is also confession. In partaking of the elements we declare: “Christ gave his body and blood for me. He died for me.” This is one among many reasons why I reject the practice of paedo-communion (the giving of the elements of the Table to infants). If one cannot and does not personally and consciously confess that the bread and wine symbolize the body and blood of Jesus sacrificed for sinners, he/she should not, indeed must not, partake of them. Continue reading

John 6 for Roman Catholics

A live walk through the 6th chapter of John based upon the original language text. Roman Catholicism teaches that Jesus taught transubstantiation in this chapter, but a fair reading of the text reveals otherwise.

Dr. James White writes, “while one cannot help but deal with the central issues of the gospel in 6:35-45, we continue on to make application and demonstrate that Jesus’ words concerning eating His flesh and drinking His blood, contextually, has nothing to do with Aristotelian philosophy and categories of being. Was Jesus really teaching transubstantiation a thousand years before the term came into usage? And did the disciples walk away because of that teaching? Or was it something else, something made plain in the text, if one is but willing to listen?”

This is a program we hope will be shared with many Roman Catholics.

Approaching the Lord’s Table

stormsArticle by Dr. Sam Storms: “LET EVERY SAINT THY GLORY SEE”: REFLECTIONS ON OUR ATTITUDE IN APPROACHING THE TABLE OF THE LORD” – (original source while others draw near with a joy that often borders on frivolity.

It’s important that we do not confuse spiritual sobriety with somberness. Yes, partaking of the Eucharist is serious, but it is not sad. The elements lead us to the Cross, but they never leave us there. The elements are also designed to carry us on to an empty tomb and a celebration of the risen Christ and his soon return!

Is it possible then to be both reverent and to rejoice? Yes!

Never come to the Lord’s Table thinking that by partaking of these elements you are pacifying an angry God. Never come to the Table thinking that by doing so you are transforming an irritable and wrathful God into a joyful and loving one. The elements are designed to remind us that whatever wrath and anger and righteous judgment that God had toward us as sinners has been forever and eternally endured and satisfied by Jesus!

Is that not cause for joy and celebration and thanksgiving? Yes!

Do not come to the Table beating yourself up over your failures. Do not come berating your soul for all the ways you’ve failed God. Yes, acknowledge your sins and then rejoice that the body and blood of Jesus have forever secured for you the forgiveness and freedom you so desperately desire.

Charles Spurgeon wrote this hymn to be sung at communion. It truly expresses the range of appropriate thoughts and emotions that we should experience as we approach the Table:

“Amidst us our Beloved stands,
And bids us view His pierced hands;
Points to His wounded feet and side,
Blest emblems of the crucified.
What food luxurious loads the board,
When at His table sits the Lord!
The wine how rich, the bread how sweet,
When Jesus deigns His guests to meet!
If now with eyes defiled and dim,
We see the signs, but see not Him,
Oh may His love the scales displace
And bid us view Him face to face.
Our former transports we recount,
When with Him in the holy mount;
These cause our souls to thirst anew,
His marr’d but lovely face to view.
Thou glorious bridegroom of our hearts,
Thy present smile a heaven imparts
Oh lift the veil, if veil there be,
Let every saint Thy glory see.”