Sundays are for Babies

“Sundays are hard for babies,” a church member said sympathetically as she handed back my crying daughter. It’s a truth universally acknowledged. On Sundays, the carefully orchestrated nap schedule of the other six days bends and then snaps under the constraints of morning and evening worship. On Sundays, the quiet interactions of family life fade below the noise of an entire congregation. On Sundays, handfuls of Cheerios bridge the gap between one delayed meal and another. On Sundays, things are different.

The weekly interruption of Sunday often leaves Christian parents discouraged and fatigued. Carrying our fussy littles ones to the minivan after worship, we wonder if Sundays are good for children. It can seem much easier to stay home and stick to the usual routine.

Of course, we ought to have compassion on our children every day of their lives. We recognize that they are weak, and we meet their physical and emotional needs with love and mercy. We remember to bring those Cheerios and that comforting scrap of tattered blanket. But we cannot escape the fact that on Sundays, everything is different. And that’s actually a good thing.

If the Lord has called this day blessed (Ex. 20:11) and has made it for our good (Mark 2:27) then we can rejoice in it, not only for ourselves but also for our little ones. The day that comes with proscriptions and provisions for sons and daughters, employers and employees, animals and guests, comes with blessing for babies too. On Sundays, the Lord teaches us—even the youngest of us—something about himself and his grace.

God Is the Lord of Time

On Sundays, we acknowledge that God is the author and ruler of time itself. At creation, God made time. He separated light from dark and established the daily cycle of morning and evening (Gen. 1:3-5). At creation, God also organized those days into a pattern of six and one (Gen. 2:1-3): six days for ordinary work and recreation, one day for rest (Ex. 20:11).

As tempting as it might seem to believe we are masters of our own time—carefully manipulating an interlocking puzzle of Google calendar entries—we are not. God is the one who created time, who set us in it and bound us by it, and God is the one who rightfully directs us how to use it. When we submit to his pattern of six and one, we acknowledge that God is the Lord of time.

For our children, too, the disruption of Sunday is a chance to remember that even our schedules are under the Lord’s authority. Once a week, the Lord breaks into our routine and reminds us that naptimes and snacktimes are not ultimate, nor are they determined by our own desires. In all things, we serve the Lord.

God’s People Are a Corporate People

On Sundays, we affirm that God’s people are a corporate people. We are not lone disciples, following Christ on a solitary path to holiness and heaven, we are a church. Christ came to redeem and perfect his whole body (Eph. 4:1-16). When we gather as the church, we remember that we who belong to Christ also belong to the body of which he is the head.

On Sundays, silence gives way to congregational singing, solitude disappears in a crowd of faces, and the Word read in private rings out as the Word preached in public. For our children, Sundays are filled with new sounds, new smells, and new people. This is an opportunity to learn that God is not merely the Lord of individuals or families, but he is the Lord of a vast multitude of people—so many people that not even a grown-up could count them all (Rev. 7:9). To little ones, the gathered church seems overwhelmingly huge. From the perspective of eternity, it is.

God Gives Rest Better than Sleep and Food Better than Lunch

Sundays are given to us as a day of rest—a reminder of God’s rest at creation and a foretaste of the saints’ everlasting rest in heaven. But the Lord’s Day rest is not simply an extended afternoon nap. True rest is found in pausing from our ordinary work and, as the Westminster Confession explains it, engaging in “the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.” In those activities, we recharge our souls. On Sundays, God gives us a rest even better than sleep.

Sundays are also a day of feasting. The Puritans used to call the Lord’s Day “the market day of the soul.” Just as a market boasts tables overflowing with nutritious meat and bread and produce, the Lord’s Day offers sweet and nourishing supplies for our soul. When we gather to worship the Lord in the assembly of the saints, we learn from his Word and grow in our love for him.

All of this is good news for little children. Sundays may mean disrupted naps and delayed meals, but our children are trading earthly provision for something far better for their undying souls. On Sundays, everything is rearranged so that they might hear the Word proclaimed in the power of the Spirit. On Sundays, every ordinary thing takes a lesser place in favor of “the one thing necessary” (Luke 10:42).

I often wonder about those children whose parents brought them to Jesus so he could pray for them (Matt. 19:13-15). Probably some of them had to miss their naps and post-pone their lunch a few minutes. They may have been fussy and over-stimulated by the crowds. But for the rest of their lives, they would know that Mommy and Daddy brought them to Jesus. For the rest of their lives, they would be changed because the Lord took them in his arms and interceded for their souls.

Every Sunday, Christian parents have an opportunity to bring their little ones to Jesus. It might be disruptive. But that’s a good thing.

Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Reading the Bible: Ordinary Reading (Part 1)

Sitting down to read the Bible isn’t enough. We need to learn how to read it well; and, reading it well is actually more difficult than one might think. Many of us want to grow in our relationship with God, in our knowledge of what he has taught, and in our spiritual lives, and we know that reading the Bible is central to that goal, but we often find our bible reading frustratingly fruitless. What am I supposed to be getting from this text? How does it teach me about Jesus? How does it help me to grow?

Don’t be discouraged. Reading, like anything else, is a skill that needs to be learned, practiced, and trained. You might think “I know how to read,” and once you know how to read it’s simply a matter of increasing your vocabulary. Reading is easy and intuitive, and therefore shouldn’t require any extra training once the skill is acquired. It’s like riding a bike.

But that’s not true. It’s not true for “ordinary” books, and it’s not true for the Bible. In fact, there’s a justly famous book called How to Read a Book (which, I must admit, I have not read) that addresses the complexities of reading, and this is just one of many such books. Reading requires developing certain skills and, like anything else, practicing those skills over and over and over again! That’s true for ordinary books, and it’s also true for the Bible.

The Bible, of course, is not ordinary, so it requires two sets of skills. On the one hand, the Bible requires us to have ordinary reading skills, and we will begin our quest in this post by looking at those. The Bible also requires what we might call Spiritual skills (Matt. 11:15; Rom. 1:21; 1 Cor. 1:6-16), and we will address those later on. For now, though, be encouraged because many of the skills involved in reading ordinary books will pay big dividends when it comes to reading the Bible.

Ordinary reading begins by sitting down and reading the book in question. This may sound obvious, but it isn’t. The first step to reading a biblical book well is to actually read it, and to read it in the “ordinary” way that a book is to be read. To put the matter bluntly, you are probably not doing that right now. In fact, I can almost guarantee it.

Think about the last narrative you pulled off the shelf. Maybe it was something sophisticated like The Brothers Karamazov, or maybe it was something historical like Chernow’s biography Hamilton. My most recent was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Or maybe narratives don’t appeal to you and you are currently knee-deep in some theological tome or poetic pursuit. Regardless, ask yourself how you read it. What did you do? What kind of questions did you ask? Describe the reading process. How many times did you pull out a commentary? How about a dictionary? Did you pause and meditate after each sentence, or did you read straight through? How long did it take you? If something was confusing did you just move on, or did you make sure you fully understood paragraph ‘A’ before moving on to paragraph ‘B’? Maybe you’re a pretty varied reader and thus would answer those questions differently depending on the book in question—you slowly savor poetry, but devour fiction, for instance. When do you switch over to a different process and why?

The Bible and a “Natural” Reading

The point of all this is to describe what “natural reading” looks like (and what it looks like given different circumstances or types of writing). How do you ordinarily read? Whether you are sitting down with a newspaper, or blog post, or beach reading, or even a textbook, your reading “process” is very natural. You instinctively approach those diverse types of material differently, and you don’t overthink it. It’s natural and intuitive, and for the most part I bet you feel like you got something out of what you read, even though some things were confusing or unexpected.

So back to the Bible. Describe your reading process when you approach a biblical book. What do your devotions look like? Do you proceed sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, or book by book? What kinds of questions do you ask as you read? How long does it take you to read a page of the Bible vs. a page of, say, Harry Potter? How long do you spend on questions like “what does this word mean” or “what’s going on in this paragraph?”

My guess is that you read the Bible totally differently than you read anything else. This is an indication that you are likely approaching Scripture unnaturally. You are not reading it as “ordinary” communication.

But the Bible isn’t ordinary!

But wait! That’s because the Bible isn’t ordinary! The Bible isn’t just another book!

Verily and amen! In the first place, it’s God’s word. The Westminster Confession of Faith describes Scripture as “given by the inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life;” God is its author, and therefore it is to be believed and obeyed “because it is the Word of God” (WCF 1.2, 1.4). So it’s not ordinary. Unlike any other book, the Bible is “inspired” (2 Tim. 3:16), and as such has a multitude of divine characteristics (like its authority, perspicuity, necessity, and sufficiency, to name the classic ones). The Bible is therefore infallible and inerrant, and also relevant to all human beings in all ages, and given for us and for our salvation. That makes it unique and glorious.

The Bible is also ancient and culturally removed from us, and as such is not like the most recent New York Times bestseller. It is an ancient book, and reading an ancient book “naturally” is harder that reading something from one’s contemporary cultural context. Reading Shakespeare, for example, requires a level of care, engagement, study, and rigor that is not required for Tom Clancy. What is more, the Bible represents the work of multiple human authors–men, women, Jews, Greeks, slaves, kings, fishermen, and carpenters, and its final form spans several millennia and three languages. It is God who speaks in these pages, and the God who thus speaks did so first “long ago, at many times and in many ways…by the prophets” and subsequently “in these last days…by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). The Bible isn’t ordinary! You’ve never encountered a book like this!

The Bible is Supernatural Revelation in Natural Language

So the Bible isn’t ordinary, but rather given through divine inspiration. We will need to talk in a later post about how the Divine character of Scripture requires more from us as we read (like faith, prayer, and submission), but for now we need to note that this “more than” is on top of ordinary reading, not a substitute for it. Why? Because inspiration doesn’t mean that God “breaks the rules” of ordinary human communication. OK, sometimes he does, like when he reveals himself through a dream (to Daniel for example), or when one of his prophets speaks in tongues, but these exceptions actually serve to emphasize the point we are making. These instances are not ordinary, which is precisely why Paul calls the Corinthians to make sure interpreters are present when people are speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:6-12). Without an interpreter to translate the non-ordinary into ordinary language, the prophecy is unintelligible, and therefore less ideal than straightforward communication. These exceptions serve to highlight the norm: God ordinarily speaks to us through ordinary language.

This has been the case from the beginning. God speaks to his people in words they can naturally understand and in a manner consistent with their social conventions. He does not use a special “Holy Ghost” language but rather the lingua franca of the times (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). He does not invent new modes of speech or genres but utilizes the ordinary conventions of the day, which is why Biblical histories like Acts seem very much like the kinds of historical narratives with which we are familiar.

In other words, while the Bible is extra-ordinary, it is such through the use of the ordinary ways that human beings speak to one another. It is supernatural revelation that God has given in natural language. The Bible is special and unique, but it is not special and unique in this way, that is, in the manner by which it communicates truth to human beings. That’s why the Westminster Standards go on to describe the meaning of the Bible as accessible “through a due use of ordinary means” (WCF 1.7). The hermeneutical payoff of all this is simple: we need to read the Bible naturally. We need to read it as God speaking to us through ordinary language.

This should be encouraging, despite the fact that you are probably not currently doing this. Though you may have approach the Bible the wrong way in the past, the good news is that you have all the tools at your disposal to retrain the way your read. In the next post we will explore those skills.

Tommy is the Associate Pastor of Family Ministries at Christ the King PCA in Conshohocken, PA. Tommy is married to Sarah and have two beautiful girls, Emma and Kate. Tommy received his MDiv and PhD from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. In addition to his service at Christ the King, Tommy teaches New Testament part-time at Westminster and Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington DC. He enjoys music, playing guitar, writing, and technology.

Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

On Being Forgotten

Last spring, I was asked to speak at a local Christian high school’s graduation ceremony. I felt sorry for the graduating class because a rival high school in the area had invited US Sen. Ben Sasse to be their graduation speaker. These poor kids got stuck with me. But it seemed to fit. Instead of speaking to this graduating class about choosing the road less traveled, making a difference, following your dreams, being a radical Christian, or some other schmaltzy and over-used cliché about graduation, I told the class to plan on ending up living a boring and ordinary life. It might not be inspiring, but it is what the church needs. I think we need a lot more boring, ordinary Christians–not only in the pews but in the pulpit. We need more Christians who strive to be utterly forgettable. We need more people like Tychicus.

There is a good chance that you don’t know who Tychicus is. Perhaps you’ve heard the name before. If you’ve read the New Testament, then you’ve seen his name. But you’ve likely read it and moved on without a second thought.

Who was Tychicus? He is mentioned only five times in the New Testament (Acts 20:4, Eph 6:21, Col 4:7, 2 Tim 4:12, Titus 3:12). They are brief mentions, but we can learn quite a bit about who he was and what he did. Tychicus appeared near the end of Paul’s missionary work in Ephesus. He was possibly a convert from Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. If this is true, then Tychicus would have probably witnessed the controversy that erupted when Demetrius the silversmith started a riot because Paul’s evangelism was so successful it was cutting into Demetrius’ financial bottom line making silver idols (Acts 20).

Shortly after this, Tychicus returned with Paul to Jerusalem. He carried the letter to the Ephesians back to Ephesus. He also carried the letter to the Colossians. And if the letter to the Laodiceans was a different letter from Ephesians, then he would have carried it too. Tychicus accompanied Onesimus, the former run-away slave who had been converted, when they went back to Colossae. Tychicus probably carried Paul’s letter to Philemon. Paul entrusted Onesimus, someone he referred to as “his child,” to Tychicus when he returned him to his master, Philemon. Paul must have had a tremendous amount of faith in Tychicus to handle that potentially difficult situation.

It is possible that Tychicus was the one who carried the collection to Jerusalem (2 Cor 8-9). This was the collection that Paul had amassed to care for the poor in Jerusalem. Calvin commented that “nothing is more apt to give rise to unfavourable surmises, than the management of public money.”1. Paul avoided every appearance of evil with the collection by entrusting it to men like Tychicus.

It is likely the Tychicus was Paul’s scribe for the letter to the Ephesians and Colossians. Paul would have dictated that letter to him. Perhaps Paul would sit and explain portions of that letter to him. Perhaps they talked through the Trinitarian doctrine or the application of it. Then Tychicus took the letter to Ephesus and delivered it to the church. Tychicus was probably the first person to ever preach the book of Ephesians.

Tychicus was clearly a trusted and faithful servant who was at the center of much of the history of the New Testament. It seems like Tychicus was right there in the background for every significant event of the second half of Paul’s ministry. And you’ve likely never heard of him or thought about him. Let that sink in for a moment. One of the most important people in the history of the most important institution in world, and he’s nearly completely anonymous. The British New Testament scholar EK Simpson wrote, “that we don’t know much about Tychicus speaks to his desire to make the Gospel known more than himself.”2.

We live in a culture where entertainers are valued more than thinkers. Those who can control the path of a ball or who can convincingly deliver a line are valued more than people who can speak to the real meaning of life. We tend to appreciate people who can entertain us more than people who call us to holiness. Fame is sought for the sake of fame. Even in the church we seek celebrities more than faithful servants. Some pastors become too big to fail. They are kept in the pulpit or put back in the pulpit when they have clearly disqualified themselves by their behavior. In the end, it is the church who suffers because of our preoccupation with fame.

We live in a dangerous day and age. Blogs, social media, and podcasts have the ability to create micro-celebrities. Write enough provocative posts, garner enough followers and just about anyone can have an audience or platform. The quest for fame is seductive. Very subtly we can become enamored with our own voice and forget the voice of the one we have been called to proclaim. But the church needs people who are utterly forgettable, people who desire to make the Gospel known more than themselves. The church needs more people like Tychicus. The church needs faithful servants who don’t care about being recognized or becoming famous. The church needs faithful Christians want to make the Gospel known and don’t care if they ever are. Be like Tychicus. Be boring. Be ordinary. Be forgettable.

1. John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (vol. 2; Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 301–302.

2. E. K. Simpson and F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians, 1st Edition edition (Eerdmans, 1957).

Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Something to Hate

Do you have any words you outlaw in your home? Perhaps you forbid words such as “shut up” or “stupid.” One of the words I limit in our house is the word “hate.” I can’t say that I hate the word, because I think it’s a powerful word that should be used properly. It should be reserved for serious things. When we say we hate something, we make a judgment saying “This is bad. It’s wrong. I loathe this thing so much, I wish it didn’t exist.” Therefore, I don’t want to hear my kids saying, “I hate peas” “I hate homework” or “I hate making my bed.”

However, there are times when I permit the word “hate”: when referring to things like sin and evil.

Hating Sin and Evil

Here are some of the things I think are worthy of the word “hate”:

I hate the Fall of Man. I hate sin. I hate the impact of sin and death in humanity and in creation.

I hate seeing friend’s marriages end in divorce.

I hate the brokenness friends endure from past abuse. I hate the memories that haunt them. I hate how it has marked and changed their life.

I hate how I constantly fall back into old sinful habits of relating, of thinking, of speaking.

I hate how the Body is often fractured, bruised, and stunted by miscommunication, false teachers, bad theology, and the desire to look more like the world.

I hate how precious lives are taken from the womb before they can draw their first breath.

I hate how my heart forgets God’s grace and is so easily prone to self-righteousness, self-reliance, and self-exaltation.

I hate how we all fail to honor God and give him the glory he is due.

Why Hate is Necessary

While hate is a strong word, it is a necessary word. It is necessary to speak the truth about what is evil. We need to use it to think about, talk about, and act against sin. In doing so, it will help us see sin for what it is: an affront against a holy, perfect, and righteous God. Hating sin helps us take it seriously. It helps us put it in its proper place. When we hate sin, it moves us fight against it, to be alert for its work in our lives, and to put it to death. The opposite of hate is love and if we don’t hate sin and treat it as evil, we will grow to love it.

Hating sin and evil is also important because the more we grow in our loathing for it, the more we will appreciate the gospel of grace. Only when things are the darkest do we appreciate the light. When Isaiah stood before the holiness of God and saw him in all his wonder and might, he saw himself in contrast. He realized he was not worthy and responded, “Woe is me!” As we face the truth of sin and realize the depths of humanity’s depravity apart from Christ, we can’t help but be struck at God’s amazing grace. That he would love us, send his son to die for us, redeem us, and transform us—we should all fall on our knees and sing the words in Paul’s doxology, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!… For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33, 36).

In hating sin, we become lovers of the gospel.

No Fear in Hate

Sometimes we can grow fearful of the things we hate. We see this all the time in how fallen mankind treats one another. But when it comes to sin and evil, we don’t have to fear what we hate. That’s because God hates sin and evil even more than we do (see Isaiah 61:8, Psalm 5:4, Proverbs 6, Zechariah 8:17). In fact, God had every reason to put an end to the entire human race. But instead, he entered the misery of this world, took on frail human flesh, and lived among us. He faced the horrors, sorrows, and temptations of this world yet never once sinned. He lived the life we could not live. And on the cross, he was made sin so that we could be made righteous. As Tim Keller wrote “God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.”1

This truth gives me great comfort. It gives me hope when I encounter all the things on my list above. Because I can’t imagine facing a single one of the above circumstances without an understanding of the gospel and God’s work of redemption in me and in the world. I can’t imagine going through a trial without the knowledge that God is not at work in it. I can’t imagine seeing abuse, disease, and death without the hope that God’s story is not over. I can’t imagine living in this fallen world without the knowledge and presence of God. I can’t imagine enduring suffering without the assurance of salvation and the hope of eternity.

We all should hate sin and evil. But even as we hate it, we have no reason to fear. God has answered the problem of evil by crushing his own Son. And one day, the Son will return to restore this world and make all things new. On that day, the word “hate” will cease to exist from our vocabulary altogether.

1. Keller, Timothy. Reason for God p. 30.

Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

A Reformation Hymn

In peace and joy I now depart At God’s disposing;

For full of comfort is my heart, Soft reposing.

So the Lord hath promised me, And death is but a slumber.

‘Tis Christ that wrought this work for me, My faithful Savior,

Whom Thou hast made mine eyes to see By Thy favor.

Now I know He is my Life, My Help in need and dying.

Him Thou hast unto all set forth Their great Salvation

And to His kingdom called the earth, Every nation,

By Thy dear and wholesome Word, In every place resounding.

He is the Hope and saving Light Of lands benighted;

By Him are they who dwelt in night Fed and lighted.

He is Israel’s Praise and Bliss, Their Joy, Reward, and Glory. Amen

He is Israel’s Praise and Bliss, Their Joy, Reward, and Glory. Amen

Using Luke 2:29-32 as the starting point of his text, Martin Luther wrote this hymn (Mit Fried’ und Freud’ ich fahr’ dahin) in 1524 from Wittenberg. His first hymnal of vernacular songs for the church was first published in 1523. Leonard W. Bacon translated this version of the text in 1884.

Martin Luther wrote the following about music: “My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.” And, “Music is one of the fairest and most glorious gifts of God, to which Satan is a bitter enemy; for it removes from the heart the weight of sorrow, and the fascination of evil thoughts.”

This song of comfort and hope would have been particularly consoling during the unrest and uncertainly of the early days of the Reformation. Reminding the people of the truth of the Gospel, the promises of life in death, and the glory of Christ that drives away the darkness of the lands under the shadow of death.

On Sunday evening, October 29, I was privileged to be a part of Reformation concert that brought together pastors, choirs, and musicians from several churches in our presbytery for the purpose of celebrating the legacy of the Reformation in song. We sang congregational hymns reflecting the impact of the Reformation in Germany, England, Scotland, and Wales, and we also sang choral pieces from the centuries since the Reformation.

The choir started the evening with a setting of “Psalm 150” from Heinrich Schütz, a 17th century German composer who did more than anyone to translate Luther’s ideas of congregational singing into practical use. J. S. Bach’s Cantata 140 is an 18th century example of how congregational hymns (chorales) were woven into the weekly church services as the congregation could readily sing along with the melody that they already knew. Felix Mendelssohn provides an early 19th century work as yet another German Reformed composer. Mendelssohn was a champion of music and the Reformation — which included composing a symphony on the tune from “A Mighty Fortress.” For the later 19th and 20th century, the American folk hymn, “Death Shall Not Destroy My Comfort,” provides a work from 1878 which was written as a congregational hymn that was later arranged for choir by Mack Wilberg (b. 1955).

For the 21st century, I took the Martin Luther text, “In Peace and Joy I Now Depart,” and composed a new choral work with the desire to show the relevance and continuation of the Reformation in song.

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Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Gospel-Motivated Work

Americans in the 21st century have a complicated relationship to work. On the one hand, many have seen their jobs disappear due, among other reasons, to automation, outsourcing, or the hiring of less expensive, more efficient, or more willing immigrants. We are increasingly bombarded by doomsday claims that robots and artificial intelligence will in time take over nearly all vocations, leading many to argue that the government should provide a guaranteed universal basic income to every citizen of our country, since most of us will supposedly be out of work soon. From this perspective, work is viewed as something that we have lost, or has been taken away from us.

On the other hand, we struggle mightily with laziness, benumbed by the soma of endless distractions on our artificially intelligent devices, bowing down to the idol of comfort, desiring to enjoy a perpetual “weekend” of life. This perspective views work as something we try to avoid. Because it’s true – work is hard. It’s labor, a word that carries connotations of struggle, aches, tediousness, toil, grinding it out through difficult circumstances, and pain (it is no accident that the process of childbirth is called “labor”) – and we’d rather not have to endure pain.

In such a state of affairs, how are Christians to think, respond and live? Five hundred years ago, the Protestant Reformers brought about a transformation in the way that work was viewed. Yet the need for our thought and action to be conformed to the Scriptures is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process of reformation, particularly for new generations of believers. To this end, as with so many topics, it is surprisingly fruitful to apply a simple creation-fall-redemption grid to work.

Work is not a result of the fall. It was a gift of God in the Garden of Eden before man’s rebellion. Far from being a curse to be avoided at all cost, labor is a tremendous blessing, in which we can find fulfillment and meaning. In our working, we reflect the image of God. For God was the first worker, creating the heavens and the earth in six days and resting on the seventh day. Built into the fabric of the moral universe, and our humanity, is the pattern God set: the principle and command to work six days and rest one day. Adam and Eve were commanded to subdue the earth, and to rule over all living creature (Genesis 1:28); they were to cultivate and keep the garden God had planted (Genesis 2:15). From the very beginning, humans were created with an abundance of creativity for a variety of tasks. John Murray, in his book Principles of Conduct, puts it well:

“The subduing of the earth must imply the expenditure of thought and skill and energy in bringing the earth and its resources under such control that they would be channeled to the promotion of certain ends which they were suited and designed to fulfill but which would not be fulfilled apart from the exercise of man’s design and labor…The nature of man is richly diversified. There is not only a diversity of basic need but there is also a profuse variety of taste and interest, of aptitude and endowment, of desires to be satisfied and of pleasures to be gratified. When we consider the manifold ways in which the earth was fashioned and equipped to meet and gratify the diverse nature and endowments of man, we can catch a glimpse of the vastness and variety of the task involved in subduing the earth, a task directed to the end of developing man’s nature, gifts, interests, and powers in engagement with the resources deposited by God in the earth and the sea.”

These creation mandates have not been set aside. Just as we are to continue to be fruitful and multiply, we are to continue to subdue the little and big corners of the universe that God has set before each one of us.

This creational reality is why I’m not persuaded by those who assert that artificial intelligence and robots will lead to an end of work. To be sure, certain jobs will disappear or be greatly reduced in terms of the number of people needed to fulfil them for society. But humans will constantly be creating new jobs to meet new needs and wants. Twenty-five years ago, the internet as we know it did not exist. Ten years ago, the smartphone and the tablet with its accompanying hardware and software did not exist. Consider all the jobs that have been created by the advent of these technologies. Yes, we must recognize that the transition for many people has been and will be difficult and painful. New skills will have to be learned as jobs are destroyed and created. But the fact that mankind is made in the image of God teaches us not only that we were made to work, but also that we have the creativity to respond to the innovations that our fellow image bearers might one day bring to – and upon – us.

Creation tells us that work is a blessing. But the fall tells us that work will always be hard. There is no escaping the pain of work, this side of the return of Jesus. In God’s response to Adam’s sin, he cursed the arena in which our work takes place: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread…” (Gen. 3:17-19). Now, work is hard, sweaty, toilsome, painful, and frustrating. The creation works against us. Things fall apart. Futility sets in (Eccl. 1:3; 2:18-23).

Not only is the arena of work affected by sin, we the workers are affected as well. The ways we relate to work after Eden are broken. Whether we are dead in our sins and trespasses or made alive and still fighting against indwelling sin, we see the effects of the fall in a variety of ways. Sometimes we hate work. As noted above, we are lazy, worshipping an idol of comfort. John Murray again expresses it pointedly in his Principles of Conduct: “The principle that too often dictates our practice is not the maximum of toil but the minimum necessary to escape public censure and preserve our decency…[Modern man] is out to do the least he can for the most he can get. He does not love his work; he has come to believe he is very miserable because of the work he has to do. Labor is a burden rather than a pleasure.” Some struggle not so much with hating work, as with over-loving work. Our work is the idol we worship, so we overwork, neglecting other responsibilities for the sake of the promotion, the recognition, or the bonus. Even when we are able to avoid these two ditches, our motivations to work can be skewed: we struggle with discontentment, envy, a love of money, or a belief that we really are just working for the weekend or for retirement.

As we reflect on the way sin has affected our work, perhaps we are tempted to say with the disciples, “If the relationship of the man with his work is like this, it is better not to work!” (Matthew 19:10). Just as with marriage, however, fleeing to the monastery is not the solution for the difficulty of work. Indeed, the New Testament is clear: “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (II Thessalonians 3:10). We are to work in a quiet fashion and eat our own bread (II Thessalonians 3:12). It should be our ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to our own business and work with our hands, so that we will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need (I Thessalonians 4:11-12). Not only are we to work so that we won’t be in any need, but we are to work so that we will have something to share with the one who is has need (Ephesians 4:28).

The Christian has been called by God’s grace to work, and is being sanctified by the Holy Spirit to work in a particular manner. We are to work six days and rest on the Sabbath day, the Lord’s Day (Exodus 20:8-11). We are to work for the Lord Jesus. “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free” (Ephesians 6:7-8). “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:23-24). Finally, we are to work with all our heart. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10; cf. Colossians 3:23).

As an aspect of the priesthood of all believers, the Reformation recovered the notion of vocation and the goodness of work outside of the ecclesiastical domain. John Calvin explained in his commentary on Luke 10:38-42: “We know that men were created for the express purpose of being employed in labor of various kinds, and that no sacrifice is more pleasing to God, than when every man applies diligently to his own calling, and endeavors to live in such a manner as to contribute to the general advantage.” B. B. Warfield, in his little pamphlet “The Religious Life of the Theological Student,” reminded us of the Protestant ethic: “It is the great doctrine of ‘vocation,’ the doctrine, to wit, that the best service we can offer to God is just to do our duty—our plain, homely duty, whatever that may chance to be. The Middle Ages did not think so; they cut a cleft between the religious and the secular life, and counseled him who wished to be religious to turn his back on what they called ‘the world,’ that is to say, not the wickedness that is in the world— ‘the world, the flesh and the devil,’ as we say—but the work-a-day world, that congeries of occupations which forms the daily task of men and women, who perform their duty to themselves and their fellowmen. Protestantism put an end to all that.” Whatever it is that God has called us to do, we are to love God and love our neighbor through what we do and how we do it. Competence, diligence, quality, integrity, faithfulness are to mark us as believers in Jesus.

Creation, fall, redemption. Viewing our work through this threefold grid will change the way we approach our day to day experiences, whether in an office, a store, a factory line, or at home. Jesus has saved us and is transforming us into His likeness. He came to accomplish the work the Father sent Him to do (John 4:34). In the same way, as those made and being remade in the image of God, we are to accomplish the good works He has prepared beforehand for us to do. Our work, our labor, as difficult as it might be, is one of the most important works He has given us to do.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

The Serpent-Conquering Last Adam and True Israel

In that first great prophecy of biblical reveleation, God promised to send a Redeemer who would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). In keeping with the fulfillment of this promise, Jesus faced off–at the beginning of his public ministry–with the devil in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). After that initial victory, He went around the Promised Land casting out demons–giving men and women their lives back from the oppression of the evil one. In this way, the Lord Jesus was “binding” the evil one. He is the last Adam and true Israel, coming to take possession of the inheritance by expelling all of the enemies of God who had illegitimately taken possession of God’s people. Jesus stepping out of the waters of the Jordan and into the promised land to be tempted by the devil was a picture of what he had come to do as the last Adam and true Israel. G.K. Beale explains:

“Jesus’s victory over temptation appears to have prepared him to conquer the one who was the ultimate satanic prince of the Canaanites and of all wicked nations and to conquer the land in a way that Israel had not been able to do. His very resistance to these satanic allurements was the very beginning of his defeat of the devil. Jesus’s ministry of casting out demons continues his holy warfare as the true Israel. His exorcisms were an expression of his incipient, though decisive, defeat of Satan, who had brought creation into captivity through his deception of Adam and Eve. This is perhaps part of the significance of the parable of the binding of the strong man (Matt. 12:29 // Mark 3:27). By casting out the devil and his forces, Jesus was accomplishing the latter-day defeat of Satan that Adam should have accomplished in the first garden.”1

Immediately after explaining to his opponents that he was casting out demons by the power of the Spirit of God (Matt. 12:22-30), Jesus made this remarkable statement: “How can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house” (Matt. 12:29). He was, of course, referring to the binding of Satan–whose works he had come into the world to destroy (1 John 3:8). Jesus came into the world to conquer the one who had conquered man–and to set men free from from the one who held them under the captivity of his sway (1 John 5:19).

At the cross, Jesus “crushed the head” of the great Serpent of old, and “disarmed principalities and powers…making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them” (Col. 2:13-14). The death of Jesus was the exorcism of all exorcisms–namely, the casting out the evil one (John 12:31-33). From the wilderness to the cross, Jesus was showing himself to be the long-awaited Redeemer who came into the world to “destroy the works of the devil.” But, the question remains, “If Jesus conquered and bound Satan at the cross, why does the New Testament speak of his ongoing destructive work in the world?” “In what way can we say that Jesus has ‘bound’ the devil?”

In his excellent book, The Momentous Event, W.J. Grier made the observation that the “binding of Satan” is to be considered as part of the already of eschatology. This understanding of the binding of Satan does not mean inactivity–but limited activity. Grier gives the illustration of Al Capone, who, while in prison for his crimes, nevertheless, still ran the streets of Chicago from behind bars. In the same way, the New Testament talks about Satan as already being bound (Matt. 12; Rev. 20) as well as about him “walking about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Consider the following ways by which the Scriptures speak about Satan being already bound and His dominion already weakened:

1. The Devil is Bound so that the Gospel may Spread for the Conversion of the Nations: The devil is bound so that he can no longer deceive the nations (Rev. 20:2). Before Christ came into the world, the nations were completely under the darkness and enslaving power of idolatry. This was Satan’s premier stronghold. He is a liar and the father of lies. He holds men in captivity by holding them under the lying deception of false teaching and beliefs. In the death of Jesus, God so bound the devil that the Gospel might go to the nations. The spread of the Gospel to the nations in the New Covenant is a direct manifestation of the binding of the evil one. The preaching of the Gospel has free course for the conversion of God’s people “out of every tongue, tribe, nation and language.” We now go bolding into the world to proclaim what our Savior has done in His death on the cross. Interestingly, the very message that we proclaim for the salvation of the nations, includes the message of the binding of the One who deceives the nations. When we preach the devil-defeating, sin-atoning, wrath-propitiating, death-conquering death of Jesus, men and women are set free from the enslaving power of Satan.

2. The Devil is Bound so that the Consciences of Believers May Be Protected: Jesus is said to have “disarmed principalities and powers”  by His death (Col. 2:13). What were the weapons of the devil’s warfare that Christ is said to have taken away through His death? Beside his power to hold the nations under the bondage of false religion, the devil also had power to hold men under the enslaving dominion of death and condemnation. The writer of Hebrews tells us that “through death, Christ destroyed him who had the power of death–that is, the devil–and released those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15). Jesus died to take away the devil’s power over the consciences of God’s people. Death that was once an enemy to believers–and that held them under the captivity of fear of judgment–“is now our entrance into glory.” Christ has conquered death, and in doing so, tool away the devil’s power to use it to keep men in bondage.

In addition, the devil is said to be the accuser of the brethren. When believers sin the devil is there ready to cast condemnation on them. “How could you do this? You’re not a Christian. A believer would never do something like this. You have surely out-sinned the grace of God.” These, and such, accusations, the devil hurls at believers. Sinclair Ferguson puts it so succinctly when he says, “Satan trades in accusations.”2 However, just as Christ took away the devil’s power to hold men under the bondage of the fear of death, he takes away the devil’s power to paralyze believers under his condemning accusations. Carl Trueman captures this truth when he notes how Martin Luther dealt with the devil’s attacks:

“It is well-known that in his writings in table conversation Luther would often refer to visits from the Devil, how the Devil would come to him and whisper in his ear, accusing him of all manner of filthy sin: “Martin, you are a liar, greedy, lecherous, a blasphemer, a hypocrite. You cannot stand before God.”

To which Luther would respond: “Well, yes, I am. And, indeed, Satan, you do not know the half of it. I have done much worse than that and if you care to give me your full list, I can no doubt add to it and help make it more complete. But you know what? My Saviour has died for all my sins – those you mention, those I could add and, indeed, those I have committed but am so wicked that I am unaware of having done so. It does not change the fact that Christ has died for all of them; his blood is sufficient; and on the Day of Judgment I shall be exonerated because he has taken all my sins on himself and clothed me in his own perfect righteousness.

Luther knew what temptation looked like; he knew his own wickedness; but he also knew the all-surpassing perfection and grace of Christ.”2

In the death of Jesus, the evil one has been bound and conquered. Our Savior has taken possession of his eternal inheritance by overcoming the evil one. We are now called to “go into all the world and make disciples…” (Matt: 28:18-20). We are to gather the spoils of the One who destroyed the works of the devil by his death on the cross. While we await the full manifestation of this victory (Matt. 25:41; Rom. 16:20 and Rev. 20:10) we are to be confident in the Satan-binding nature of the death of our Savior. We live in light of the freedom we have from his condemning accusations and the fear of death that, for far too long, held all of us in bondage. As the hymn-writer so powerfully put it:

“When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see Him there who made an end of all my sin; Because the sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free, for God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me.”

1. Beale, G. K. (2011). A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (pp. 419–420). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

2. An exceprt from Sinclair Ferguson’s sermon, No Accusation, No Condemnation.”

3. Carl Trueman, “Thank God for Bandit Country” (Reformation21, June 2009).

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Reflections on Preaching Revelation

Last November I made the decision (as a newly ordained minister) to preach through the book of Revelation. This decision may have been driven by a touch of hubris, or perhaps merely by my own curiosity. More than anything else, I wanted our congregants to make this book their own–to have it demystified and made plain for their spiritual growth in grace.

When I announced this series, one of my mentors told me that after starting to preach through Revelation years ago he made the decision to stop halfway through. During my time in seminary, I remembered how one of my professors had sometimes joked that most pastors have preached the book of Revelation – at least the first three chapters! Calvin famously never wrote a commentary on the book of Revelation (a fact that I often lamented as I worked through this series). Knowing these things, and hearing the warnings, I resolved that as soon as I felt I couldn’t press through the book, I would follow my mentor’s example and wave off from this series to follow a different course.

At the end of the series, I discovered that I had preached thirty-seven sermons. I wouldn’t dare claim that it was a homiletical masterpiece. An objective evaluation of ones own sermons is nearly impossible. Those sermons ministers enjoy preaching the most often seem to garner no response, and those they feel the worst about often seem to be those that impact God’s people the deepest. I can, however, reflect on what I found most helpful and what I found most challenging when preaching through this book.

The greatest challenge came from the repetition of themes we find in the book of Revelation. Toward the middle of John’s heavenly vision we read about recurrent judgment cycle. These judgment cycles are different perspectives on what is ostensibly the same event. When a minister preaches through theses cycles, the people of God hear multiple takes on the idea of God’s judgment. We are given ample time to reflect on God’s judgment, why it’s important, and how we can love and treasure a God who must necessarily pour His wrath out on sin. In light of the Gospel, the people of God can delight in God’s wrath and judgment as they remember that the wrath he showed to the Son is the doorway to life for wrath-deserving sinners like us.

Still, preaching through this repetitive theme of judgment cycles, is one of the most challenging aspects of preaching through the book of Revelation. Finding ways to discuss the same issue while keeping it fresh helps to stretch the minister. Homiletical commentaries on the book become the most helpful resources in this regard.

While I own quite a number of commentaries on Revelation, in the end, I consistently relied on two of them. G.K. Beale’s excellent, comprehensive commentary on Revelation was the primary source to which I constantly returned in my sermon preparation. Anyone who plans to preach on Revelation would be foolhardy to approach the book without an overall plan to approach to the book. This book provides the minister with a variety of ways to outline John’s visions. Beale’s introduction helps us understand what we are getting ourselves into as we approach a sermon series in the Apocalypse.

Beale often draws the connections between Old and New Testaments. No one is more insightful into the use of the Old Testament in the New better than Beale. Whenever a symbol or image surfaced, Beale shows the connection to Old Testament passages and attempts to give it the proper theological and spiritual meaning. While I didn’t always find myself agreeing with his conclusions, Beale was the most excellent guide when dealing with the text.

One benefit of jumping back and forth between Testaments when preaching through Revelation is that ministers teach their congregants to have the Bible memorized in order to understand or appreciate the interconnectedness. Of course, sparing appeals to Old Testament texts–even when preaching a book as Old Testament-rich as Revelation—is always in order. It is altogether possible to exhaust your readers and strain their minds to stay with the main text if you move away from it too often. The minister’s goal should be to make it the book more accessible, not like a code that has to be deciphered. It is too easy for a minister to take his hearers on a sightseeing tour, showing them how many Old Testament references are in some passage or another. People aren’t excited by the Old Testament references unless it illuminates the text and helps the main point of the sermon to come alive for the well being of their souls.

The other resources upon which I relied heavily is Joel Beeke’s recent commentary on Revelation. It is a homiletical commentary. When I was puzzled as to how I should preach a certain passage, I appealed to Beeke and his outlines. In the end, I resolved not to let too many cooks into the kitchen when preaching this series. It is better to have two or three guides than to have a dozen.

It is my sincere desire that other preachers would open up this book for their people. There are no pictures of worship in the entire Bible like there are the book of Revelation. While I frequently found myself intimidated by the grandeur of the content of the book (especially as the vision comes to a close), the problems that I encountered in preaching through the book were never on acocunt of the text itself. There is no shortage of extraordinary vistas of the beauty of God in this book. Ministers shouldn’t be intimidated by prospect of preaching through this magnificent book. Everything passage we preach will be a pale image of the text that we aspire to explain and apply; but, that should never dissuade us from tackling the task God sets before us.

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Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Weapons in the Fight Against Anxiety and Fear

A two-year-old will never obsess about world economies. A three-year-old will never ask for lectures on totalitarian regimes. It is beyond them. If you think otherwise, just try and lecture them about it. They won’t pay attention. Their tiny minds can’t be filled with such thoughts. There is a benefit to their limited capacity. At that age, they will never worry about failed economies, stock market downturns, or corrupt elections. Some anxieties, fears, worries, and even desires escape them. There is a lesson for Christian adults in this.

In Psalm 131:1, David says, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” Most of us would benefit from such a frame of mind. We would experience less sleepless nights, obsessing over things beyond our reach creating anxieties about tomorrow. David is not dismissing the benefits of growing in knowledge or understanding. Rather, what David has in mind are things that lie outside his purview and sphere of responsibility. Some things remain too great and too marvelous for him, because they were not meant for him to know and understand.

The desire to know why things are happening in our life and even more so to control things in our life is one of the greatest killers of contentment. It also proves to be one of the greatest engines of anxiety.

We can save ourselves a lot of heartache if we would put into practice what David had learned. There are things that we are meant to leave to God if we would dwell in contentment. We possess finite minds, limited perspective, and true inability. We cannot grasp everything. We weren’t meant to—some things are too great and too marvelous for us.

Little children model this well. I love their small inquisitive minds and equally love that if they can’t understand a conversation they quickly move on. I sat at the dinner table with my family this past week and I began discoursing on what I thought was a very helpful and erudite commentary on a locus of theology. After demonstrating its intricacies and importance, I paused to see if everyone was tracking with my monologue. One of my children breached the silence and said, “Daddy, this chicken is good. What is for dessert?” Whatever I was talking about was too great for that child’s brain and he wasn’t going to be occupied with it.

We can save ourselves a lot of heartache, unnecessary anxiety, tossing and turning upon our beds by recognizing that some things remain too great and too marvelous for us. I can’t explain everything. God never intended me to do so.

Job is reminded of this after his inquiries. How could these things happen in this believer’s life? What benefit do such trial provide? Some are frustrated by God’s response at the end of this book, because the response is less than direct. God replies with a litany of questions. Here is a short sample: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who shut in the sea with doors? Have you commanded the morning? Where is the way to the dwelling of light and where is the place of darkness? Do you know the ordinances of heaven? Can you establish their rule? Can you send forth lightnings? Can you hunt prey for the lion or satisfy the appetite of young lions?” The Lord places marvelous question after marvelous question before Job. What was Job’s response? He is struck with the fact that God knows all these great things and he is not God. “Behold, I am of small account,” he answers the Lord. “I lay my hand on my mouth.” Too great for me. I leave it in your hands.

Christian, we do not have answers for all the happenings in this life. Somethings remain outside our sphere of comprehension and necessarily outside our sphere of responsibility. We serve a God who reigns over all. He can be trusted; He can be relied upon. There are times we just need to quiet our minds and rest in Him. When we do, we will find that many of our anxieties, worries, and fears quickly disappear.

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Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.

Bringing Our Children to the Table

In doctrinally serious churches, welcoming the children of believers to the Lord’s Supper is one of the most important elements of the life of the church; it is also one of the most difficult and widely debated matters. On one side of the debate are those who believe that our children should be well into their teenage years prior to bringing them to the table. On the another side of the debate are those who want to bring their children to the table at infancy or an extremely young age. In between these two extremes are those many churches that have a confirmation class to prepare the children of believers doctrinally and then bring them to the table when they are in their latter adolescence or early teenage years. There are also those churches that encourage the parents to work closely with their children and then to bring them to the elders of the church when they believe that they might be ready to be examined for communing membership in the church. We might call that view the “parent-elder conference approach.” It is this latter category into which the local church that I pastor falls. We believe that every child is different and that the parents should work closely with the pastor/elders of the church to determine when a particular child should be welcomed to the table. 

Part of the difficulty of this subject is that the Scriptures do not give us an age with we may resolve the tension. Rather, the Scriptures give us general principles to which we must adhere–principles that require a great deal of wisdom. For instance, the Apostle Paul–in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32–gives warnings to the members of the church. Each member must be able to examine himself or herself prior to partaking of the bread and the wine. At what point is a child mature enough to examine his or her own heart to see whether or not he or she is discerning the body or not? Certainly, there is absolutely no reason why we would ever assume that an infant could examine his or her own heart with any sort of conscious maturity. This is not to say that an infant cannot be regenerate by the sovereign working of the Holy Spirit. David , Jeremiah and John the Baptist are all examples of those regenerate from the womb (Ps. 22:9; Jer. 1:5; Luke 1:15, 41). We may all agree that a 3 or 4 year old may have a sincere profession of faith in Christ (and may be saving united to the Redeemer); but, we may disagree about whether or not he or she is mature enough to discern the body in the Supper. We are to be looking for both sincerity and maturity

In recent years, some have suggested that the Covenant Lord wants us to bring our infants to the table, since they are members of the covenant family of God. The problem with paedocommunion is that, de facto, it changes the nature of the sacrament and lays aside the clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 11:27-32. It seems to be a simple solution to the problem of knowing when to admit the children of believers to the table, but it lacks biblical support, any substantial place in church history and functionally suggests that the sacraments work ex opere operato (out of themselves irrespective of whether or not the infant is examining himself or herself and is so exercising faith when they come to partake of the bread and wine). In addition, paedocommunion demands changing the symbolism of the elements (the separation of the bread and the wine symbolizing the separation of the blood of Jesus from the body of Jesus) since an infant cannot chew or swallow bread.

Many churches seek to solve the difficulty of children and the Supper by carrying out a confirmation class. The downside of a confirmation class is that it tends to treat all of the children of the congregation as if they are at the same spiritual stage of development. A confirmation class runs the risk of giving assurance of salvation to unregenerate youth who have “made it through” a class in which they have merely grown in assent to theological truths. Another reason we opt for the “parent-elder conference approach” at New Covenant is that we are situated in a military town with an unprecedented amount of turnover. This makes it impossible to work with the children of the congregation in order to prepare them for coming to the table. We are intentional about incorporating biblical teaching–together with memorization of the Westminster Shorter Catechism–into our children’s Sunday School classes in order to help prepare them for coming to the table. However, we do not have most of the children long enough to do any kind of systematic theological approach leading up to a confirmation period. 

I have, on quite a number of occasions, met with the parents of a very young child about whether or not to bring their child before the elders for examination. I generally ask the child a number of questions about the nature of Christianity: “Who is God? What is God like? How many persons are there in the Godhead?” Who is Jesus? Is Jesus God or man? How did God make you? What happened to our first parents? What do your sins deserve? What did Jesus do at the cross?” etc. I frequently find that when I examine a child with his or her parents, a fairly serious lack of knowledge about basic Christian truth tends to surface. At that point, I usually meet with the parents without the child being present in order to encourage them to continue fanning the flame of faith in the heart and life of their child. Then, I tell them to consider meeting with me again in the near future to see whether there is a development of maturity in the mind of the child. My reservation about bringing them before the elders of our church at a very young age is that if the elders do not believe that they are adequately mature enough to examine themselves in light of the truth of Scripture, we may inadvertantly do harm to their assurance of salvation. If they are sincerely regenerate–and just not mature enough to examine themselves–they may think that we are telling them that they are not regenerate.

One of the ways in which a church may adopt the “parents-elder conference approach” is by having the pastor directly address the children at the administration of the Supper. After reaching the words of institution from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, and then giving the warnings in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, I will sometimes address the children, saying something like, “Children, maybe you haven’t yet made a profession of faith and cannot yet partake of the elements. Still, you can feed on Christ by faith as he has been presented to you in the preaching of the Gospel that you have heard this morning.” A pastor can also use this time to encourage the parents to be talking with their children about the precious truths of the Christian faith in order to help bring them to a place where they will be ready to be admitted to the table.  

Nevertheless, when all of the biblical teaching is examined and when all of the practices of church history are considered, we are still left with quite a number of difficulties in pressing forward with an approach that is faithful to Scripture, wisely instituted by the elders and that fits the context of the local church in which we worship and serve. Thankfully, several helpful volumes exist to help pastors and churches make their way through the mire of not knowing how to proceed in respect to this subject. Ligon Duncan and Guy Waters edited a volume titled Chidren and the Lord’s Supper and Cornelius Venema wrote one titled Children and the Lord’s Table in order to tackle some of the difficult questions from a biblical, theological and historical perspective. J.W. Alexander wrote a small volume in order to encourage newly admitted communicants titled Remember Him. I encourage all pastors and parents to work through this important subject as they seek to shepherd the hearts of their children. 

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

Christward Collective is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Christward Collective and the mission of the Alliance.