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Invitations to the Lord's Supper

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Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

QUESTION: “When the Lord’s Supper is served at Oakwood, why is the invitation to come to the Lord’s table only offered to those who are ‘members in good standing of a Bible-believing church’?”

ANSWER: The need for elders to be sure that those who come to the Lord’s table make a credible profession of faith is related to two important responsibilities of church leadership: 1.) shepherding care for the congregation; and, 2.) proper church discipline.  Paul makes it clear in I Corinthians 11:17-32 that each professing believer is to examine themselves to be sure that their faith is genuine before they partake of the Lord’s Supper. However, does Paul mean that only that individual believer is to be involved in making that discernment?

             Let me begin with a personal example. I was raised in a church where children traditionally took a membership class when they reached the age of 13. At the end of that class, it was expected that, unless the young person was resistant, he or she would join the church. Many of us were not truly regenerate when we took our vows. In my case, the Lord didn’t save me until I was 16 years old. That means that I took communion for 3 years “in an unworthy manner”, without “discerning the Lord’s body”. I was accountable for that, but didn’t the church leaders bear some responsibility for not making some attempt to discern if I had a credible profession of faith? Wouldn’t that be a failure in their responsibility to shepherd the flock?

            You may rightly ask, “Where in Scripture does it give the elders the responsibility to attempt to discern the genuineness of a person’s faith?” First of all, I believe that Jesus implies it when he says about false teachers, “…you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20). This is only a few verses after He says, “Judge not, that you not be judged.” In other words, we must not pridefully condemn or reject others, but there is a humble and righteous sense in which all believers must seek to discern if a person’s words and deeds give evidence of true faith. This is a necessity for protecting the church from false teaching and sinful lifestyles.

             If every believer must be able to discern the fruit of a person’s profession of faith, then how much more responsibility do the leaders of the church have? It is their responsibility to guard the truth and purity of the church, in submission to the Word of God. This is the whole basis for church discipline. Matthew 18 describes, in general terms, the whole discipline process, including initial appeals for repentance. In I Corinthians 5:1-13, we see the final stage of that process. Paul chastises the Christians at Corinth for not breaking fellowship with a man who was living in open, unrepentant sin. He tells them not to associate with this professing believer, and specifically says that they are “not even to eat with such a one.” Most commentators agree that Paul is referring to communion there, especially since he speaks of celebrating the Passover in the verses which immediately precede that exhortation. The Lord’s Supper is the New Covenant fulfillment of the Passover celebration.

            If elders do not have the responsibility to discern whether or not a professing believer has a credible profession of faith, then the concepts of church membership and church discipline are meaningless. To welcome a new member into a church is to acknowledge their right in Christ to share in the privileges and responsibilities of church membership, especially to come to His table. To fully discipline a member who lives in ongoing, open, and unrepentant sin means to withdraw those benefits in Christ’s name and “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (I Corinthians 5:5; Cf., I Timothy 1:20). Paul also says that, after the excommunication, we are to treat that this person as a brother, not an enemy. So we aren’t to shun them – they can attend services, but they shouldn’t be allowed to come to the Lord’s table until they’ve given evidence of true repentance. After all, the term “ex-communication” means to bar someone from the table, not from the church building.

            We do not see the interviews with potential members or those who just want to come to the Lord’s table as any kind of “inquisition”. Quite to the contrary, we look forward to those times as opportunities to hear wonderful stories of God’s grace at work in the life of sinners like us. These are some of the most encouraging times in all of our meetings. On the rare occasion where someone is not able to give a clear testimony to saving faith in Christ, it usually becomes a great ministry opportunity as we seek to share the true Gospel of Christ with them.

             We, as church leaders, have no desire to put up any obstacles to keep true, repentant believers from coming to celebrate their salvation and relationship with Christ at His table. Requiring to people to give a clear testimony for Christ seems like the least we can do to fulfill our shepherding responsibilities as leaders. Consider that the Lord’s table would become a meaningless ritual if it were left up to only the individual to determine whether or not their faith in Christ was Biblical and genuine. Many cult members claim to follow Christ. Many liberal Christians who deny the deity and resurrection of Christ still claim to follow Him. Many professing believers living in scandalous sins have no qualms about participating in the Lord’s Supper. It is the responsibility of the elders of the church to guard the purity of the Lord’s table and to keep these undiscerning worshippers from eating and drinking judgment on themselves (I Corinthians 11:29).

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with

Talking to Yourself

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

         As many of you know, I grew up in the country – in a house in the woods, six miles outside of a tiny village, to be exact. Add to that the fact that my five siblings were significantly older than me and you get the picture that I spent a lot of time by myself during my childhood. As a result, I had a lot of “imaginary friends” while growing up, of both the invisible human and invisible animal varieties. These imperceptible buddies were crucial to my emotional well-being at the time, but as I grew older I had to part company with them, lest I become like Elwood P. Dowd and his best friend, Harvey the 6-foot Rabbit.

            I still talk out loud once in a while when I’m alone, but it’s not because I think there’s really someone listening.  They used to say that you’re normal if you talk to yourself, but that you should worry if you start answering yourself. But I have to question that assessment in light of two quotes that I came across this week from a couple of my favorite authors and preachers.

            The first quote is from Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?” This quote is from his excellent book called Spiritual Depression, where he shows that the path to emotional health and well-being must be found in dwelling upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Lloyd-Jones points out that our thinking, as born again believers in Christ, is still so corrupted by the flesh, the world, and the devil that we have to consciously speak the truth to ourselves and argue against the lies that still have a stranglehold on our thinking.

            Lloyd-Jones points to Psalms as our model for talking to our souls. How many times does the Psalmist say to himself, “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” In Psalm 116:7, the Psalmist calls upon his own heart, saying, “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” But the best example is in Psalm 42, where the Psalmist chides his own soul for giving in to fear and depression: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.” Lloyd-Jones encourages us to be just as stern with our own souls: “This self of ours… has got to be handled. Do not listen to him; turn on him; speak to him; condemn him; upbraid him; exhort him; encourage him; remind him of what you know, instead of listening placidly to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you. For that is what he will always do if you allow him to be in control.”

            It was this passage of Spiritual Depression that gave me one of my oft-repeated phrases: “We must preach the Gospel to ourselves every day.” Spiritual and emotional health will follow when you spend time each day talking with God and ourselves – conversations about your thanksgiving to God; your total dependence upon the Lord; confession of your sin; reflection on the attributes of God and the cost Christ paid for your salvation at the cross; and requests for His wisdom, strength, and direction throughout the day. We must talk to God and talk to ourselves about God and His work continually.

            The second, related quote that I came across later in the week was from J.I. Packer, in his great book, Knowing God. He calls this practice of talking truth to ourselves “meditation” - meditation in the Biblical sense of the Word, not the Eastern religion sense. Instead of emptying our minds in meditation, we must fill our minds with the truth of God’s Word. Packer says, “…meditation is a lost art today, and Christian people suffer grievously from their ignorance of the practice. Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God. Its purpose is to clear one’s mental and spiritual vision of God and to let His truth make its full and proper impact on one’s mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself; it is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God’s power and grace. Its effect is ever to humble us, as we contemplate God’s greatness and glory, and our own littleness and sinfulness, and to encourage and reassure us…as we contemplate the unsearchable riches of divine mercy displayed in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

            This takes real mental discipline, effort, and reflection, something that our culture discourages and seeks to replace with mindless vegetation in front of the TV or computer. But the immediate and eternal payoff of talking truth to yourself (either audibly or silently) is inestimable, and it is the path to real spiritual and emotional healing, maturity, and health.