Monday, October 5, 2015

Weekly Communion: Does Scripture Tell Us "How Often?"

* The second in a series on the topic of weekly communion.  Part one: The Flow of the Service.

As we consider the topic of weekly communion our first desire ought to be to hear what Scripture says.  Reformed pastor Douglas Wilson in his book Mother Kirk gives good perspective on this:

[L]et’s pretend for a moment that we have no traditions on frequency of communion to maintain (a big pretend!) and that advocates of every position share the same biblical burden of proof.  We know that we are to observe the Lord’s Supper, but how often?—daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually?  When we come to this question, we should note initially that virtually no biblical case can be made for our most common practices—monthly and quarterly.  While perhaps this is par for the course, it should at least excite some comment.

Wilson notes that annual communion could be defended on the basis of its being founded in the context of the Passover feast that was an annual feast.  However, “apostolic practice shows that they drank from that cup of blessing far more frequently than this.”  Daily communion could also find some support in that Acts 2.46 mentions how the early believers “broke bread daily.”  This daily practice seemed to quickly stabilize into a weekly observance.  Acts 20.7 speaks of the disciples being gathered on the “first day of the week” and breaking bread together.  First Corinthians 11.20-21 strongly implies that when the believers came together they participated in the Lord’s Supper.  Pastor Wilson concludes:

It is therefore fair to say that weekly communion, while not mandatory in any absolute sense, is biblically normative.  We have as much evidence for weekly communion on the Lord’s Day, for example, as we have for meeting on the Lord’s Day to do anything else.  We have more evidence for weekly communion than we have for weekly sermons, or weekly singing.  But why choose?  Why not do it all?

I want to emphasize what Wilson said: weekly communion is not mandatory.  It does, however, have biblical precedent and this should count for something!

So this day, as we partake together, let us remember that we stand in a long line of continuity with the church through the ages as we come to the Table of the Lord.  Let us rejoice together in Christ’s good gift of this sacrament to us!

Weekly Communion: The Flow of the Service

* I started a short series for our church bulletin outlining some thoughts on the practice of weekly communion.

Today we celebrate the Lord’ Table.  In other words, we get to come to Jesus’ table and commune with him.  As 1 Corinthians 10.16 states:

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?

This language of “sharing” is the language of fellowship or communion.  Jesus Christ gave us this meal to strengthen his people in communion with himself.  In light of this think about the flow of our worship service as it leads up to the Lord’s Table.

First we are called to worship.  This is a summons from the God of grace to enter into his presence to worship him.  There is, next, a confession of sin from us and then an assurance of pardon from God based in his word.  We then seek God in prayer through the pastoral prayer and the Lord’s Prayer.  We are then to hear from God’s word.  We do this through the scripture readings and the sermon.  Interspersed throughout all these activities is the singing of God’s people in worship and praise.  From the word we come to the Table of the Lord to commune with him.  This should be a time of joyous fellowship with Jesus Christ and his people.  Having been fed at the Lord’s Table we end the service with a charge to go forth in faithfulness and benediction to bless us as we go.  There is a natural movement in the service from call to confession to pardon, to prayer, to Word to Supper, to benediction.

Why is this important?  Session recently approved the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper.  This means that every week will be following this trajectory of worship which also includes the Lord’s Supper.  Over the next few weeks I will be writing here in the Pastor’s Pen about the biblical, theological, and historical reasons why weekly communion is a good practice.  I hope to also address some potential concerns, such as: “If we do the Lord’s Table every week won’t it be less special?” 

Keeping our eyes on the flow of the service will help us see the journey we are on each Sunday.  The elements of the service are not disjointed pieces thrown together. Rather, they are steps on a journey into the presence of God.  Our journey ends up at the table of the Lord Jesus and then he sends us out into the world with his blessing.  Since the Lord’s Table so clearly speaks of the gospel our participation in this Christ given practice is simply one more way we manifest our love for the gospel message.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

New Forensic Report on Planned Parenthood Videos

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has released a forensic report on the Planned Parenthood videos that have been taken by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP).  The ADF blog has a post entitled New Forensic Report Flushes Planned Parenthood's "Highly Edited" Talking Point which describes the summary details of a forensic analysis done by Coalfire--a company that specializes in digital forensic analysis.  Here are a few excerpts from the ADF blog post:
 But yesterday ADF released the results of a new forensic report that debunks this talking point. Coalfire, one of the country’s most trusted digital forensic analysis companies, released a report indicating the undercover videos recorded by the Center for Medical Progress are “authentic and show no evidence of manipulation.” 
Forensic analysts were granted access to all of the raw investigated footage recorded by the Center for Medical Progress and checked it against the full length videos posted on the CMP YouTube account. They found the only events not depicted in the publicly available videos fell into five common categories: commuting, waiting, adjusting recording equipment, meals, and restroom breaks. All of the edited content was “non-pertinent” to the actual investigation.
Later the post states:
Even Planned Parenthood’s own paid for “analysis” confirms that there is “no evidence of audio manipulation” and that it did not reveal “widespread evidence of substantive video manipulation.” But Planned Parenthood and its media allies have ignored this fact, focusing instead on their suspicion of the missing parts of the full videos available on YouTube. And now we have confirmation of just how ridiculous this fixation has been.
Be sure to read the full blog post by ADF.  The full report from Coalfire is linked to from the ADF blog post as well.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Elders in the Church: Who They Are and What They Do

* Notes from a Bible study on elders in the church.

The Church: Elders—Who They Are and What They Do

1.     Plurality of Elders

a.     Acts 11.30; 15.2—elders in the Jerusalem church

b.     Acts 14.23—“in every church”

c.      Acts 20.17—“sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church”

d.     1 Timothy 4.14—“by the presbytery”

e.     Titus 1.5—“appoint elders in every city as I directed you”

f.      James 5.14—the sick “must call for the elders of the church”

“This is a significant statement because the epistle of James is a general letter written to many churches, all the believers scattered abroad, whom James characterizes as ‘the twelve tribes in the Dispersion’ (James 1:1).  It indicates that James expected that there would be elders in every New Testament church to which his general epistle went—that is, in all the churches in existence at that time.”[1]

g.     1 Peter 5.1-2—also written to scattered churches throughout the Roman provinces in Asia Minor (cf. 1 Peter 1.1)

h.     Hebrews 13.17—the word “elder” is not used but leaders are mentioned

2.     Names and titles in the New Testament

a.     “Pastor”

“The English word pastor is derived from a Latin term that means ‘one who cares for sheep,’ and the English word pastor earlier meant ‘shepherd’ in the literal sense of one who took care of sheep (see Oxford English Dictionary, Vol. P, p. 542).”[2]

                                               i.     Ephesians 4.11

1.     “pastors and teachers” (NASB; NIV;NRSV)
2.     “shepherds and teachers” (ESV)
3.     “shepherd-teachers” (ESV footnote)
4.     “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers” (NLT)
                                              ii.     Interpretation issue: one group (pastor-teachers) or two (pastors and teachers)

1.     The article (“the”) precedes the first noun and is connected to the second noun with an “and” (kai) but the second noun does not have the article.

2.     One group view

“’Pastor’ is coupled with ‘teacher’ here, and together they denote one order of ministry.  In other words, the Greek construction favors interpreting this phrase as one office: the pastor/teacher.  There is not one office of pastor and a separate office of teacher.”[3]

3.     Two group view—both words are connected; there is some relationship between the two groups since both are joined by the one article.

a.     Pastors are a subset of teachers

“This text seems to affirm, both grammatically and exegetically, that all pastors were to be teachers, though not all teachers were to be pastors.”[4]

b.     Teachers are a subset of pastors

“If ‘teachers’ are a separate group, they can be understood as a special branch of shepherds (overseers, elders) responsible for instruction in God’s Word (cf. 1 Tim. 5:17).”[5]

                                            iii.     “Although this term is commonly used in our modern church context, the noun ‘pastor’ (or ‘shepherd’) is used only one time in the New Testament in reference to a church leader (although the verb ‘to shepherd’ and the noun ‘flock’ are occasionally found.”[6]

                                            iv.     Acts 20.28; 1 Peter 5.1-2—all elders are to “shepherd” the church of God

b.     Elders and Overseers—arguments that these terms refer to the same group

                                               i.     NOTE on language:

·      Elder = presbuteros

·      Overseer = episkopos  (sometimes translated “bishop”)

                                              ii.     Used interchangeably in same context

1.     Acts 20.17 “elders” (presbuteros ); Acts 20.28 “overseers” (episkopos)

2.     Titus 1.5 “elders” (presbuteros ); Titus 1.7 “overseers” (episkopos)

                                            iii.     1 Timothy 3.1-2—“overseers” used 2 x’s episkopos

“We must remember that Paul is writing to Timothy when Timothy is at Ephesus (see 1 Tim. 1:3, ‘remain at Ephesus’) and we already know from Acts 20 that there are elders at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38).  Furthermore, in 1 Timothy 5:17, we see that the elders were ruling the church at Ephesus when Timothy was there, because it says, ‘Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor.’  Now the ‘bishops’ in 1 Timothy 3:1-2 also are to rule over the church at Ephesus because one qualification is that ‘He must manage his own household well… for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church?’ (1 Tim. 3:4-5).  So here it also seems that ‘bishop’ or ‘overseer’ is simply another term for ‘elder,’ since these ‘bishops’ fulfill the same function as elders quite clearly do elsewhere in this epistle and in Acts 20.”[7]

                                            iv.     Philippians 1.1—“overseers (episkopos) and deacons”

“Here it also seems appropriate to think that ‘bishops’ is another name for ‘elders,’ because there certainly were elders at Philippi, since it was Paul’s practice to establish elders in every church (see Acts 14:23).  And if there were elders ruling at Philippi, it is unthinkable that Paul would write to the church and single out bishops and deacons—but not elders—if their offices were both different from that of elders.  Therefore, by ‘bishops and deacons’ Paul must have meant the same thing as ‘elders and deacons.’  Although in some parts of the church from the second century A.D. onward, the word bishop has been used to refer to a single individual with authority over several churches, this was a later development of the term and is not found in the New Testament itself.”[8]

                                              v.     Elders and overseers are never listed as separate offices

                                            vi.     Elders are never given separate qualifications

                                           vii.     Why two terms?

“If the two terms represent the same office, then why was it necessary to employ both terms?  The reason could be explained by the general use of the terms: elder is more a description of character, whereas overseer is more a description of function.  It appears that originally various congregations preferred one term over the other. The Jewish congregations apparently favored the term presbuteros, while the Gentile congregations favored the term episkopos.  Over time, however, these two terms came to be used in the same congregations and could be used interchangeably since they referred to the leaders in the congregation.  It is likely that both terms remained due to the important connotations each term carried.  The term presbuteros conveyed the idea of a wise, mature leader who was honored and respected by those of the community.  The term episkopos spoke more to the work of the individual whose duty it was to ‘oversee’ and protect those under his care.”[9]

3.     Function of Elders

a.     They govern and rule in the church

                                               i.     1 Timothy 5.17

                                              ii.     1 Timothy 3.4-5

                                            iii.     1 Peter 5.2-5

                                            iv.     Hebrews 13.17 (cf. Acts 20.28)

                                              v.     1 Thessalonians 5.12-14

b.     They teach the word of God

                                               i.     Ephesians 4.11

                                              ii.     1 Timothy 3.2 à 1 Timothy 5.17

                                            iii.     Titus 1.9

4.     Installation and Ordination of Elders

a.     Laying on of hands—1 Timothy 5.22—context of 1 Timothy 5.17-22 is about elders

                                               i.     Other mentions of this action of laying on of hands:

1.     1 Timothy 3.10 regarding deacons

2.     Acts 6.6; 13.3

3.     1 Timothy 4.14 (cf. 2 Timothy 1.6)

b.     Prayer and fasting—Acts 14.23 (cf. Acts 13.3)

5.     Summary

a.     There should be a plurality of elders

b.     All elders shepherd the flock of God

c.      Elders govern/rule and teach in the church

d.     Elders are especially prayed for and marked out

     [1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994), 912.
     [2] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 913.
     [3] Benjamin L. Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2008), 55.
     [4] Daniel B. Wallace, The Basics of New Testament Syntax: An Intermediate Greek Grammar (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zonderan, 2000), 126.
     [5] ESV Study Bible—note at Ephesians 4.11, page 2268.
     [6] Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons, 55.  Merkle adds the following in a footnote: “The verb ‘to shepherd’ (poimaino) occurs in Matt. 2:6; John 21:16; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2; Jude 12; Rev. 2:27; 7:17; 12:5; 19:15.  The noun ‘flock’ (poimen) occurs in Matt. 26:31 and John 10:16.  In Luke 12:32; Acts 20:28-29; and 1 Peter 5:2-3, the diminutive form (poimnion) is used.”
     [7] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 914.
     [8] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 914-915.
     [9] Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons, 82-83.