Publication:Pastoral Letter, June 2019
Dear Friend in Christ:
Recently, I had the privilege of receiving communion with a friend from another denomination. I’ve known him, his love and service for Jesus, and for me, for many years. It was the first time that he and I had shared communion. It was special as we celebrated Christ and His sacrifice for us and the New Covenant.
I want to share some thoughts on the unity of the Body of Christ. Perhaps the greatest scandal in Christianity is our divisions, and they are many! While I am not opposed to denominations, most have originated in disagreements that have never been resolved. But it is not merely unresolved disagreements between groups; divisions go right down into our personal lives within those groups. Division is the enemy’s favorite tool to mute our effectiveness in the world. I am sad to say that we are a “house divided,” or even splintered. How far have we drifted from the New Covenant?
We need to look again at our origins, the establishment of the New Covenant at “The Last Supper”, because it has most serious implications (see Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-39; John 13:1-17; I Corinthians 11:17-34) Note: all four Gospels record this event. It is impossible to fully explain this sacred event, when God in Christ made a New Covenant with His disciples and all who would even receive Him. Our Lord Himself expressed His “fervent desire” to eat this meal with His disciples before He was to suffer the agony of the Cross.
The disciples were a close-knit group who had followed Jesus personally for more than three years. They had become friends, even family. Jesus wanted to make a New Covenant with them (and us) that would see them (and us) through the most traumatic times. Beyond that, this Covenant would fulfill the Mosaic Covenant, more fully reveal the love of God, and change history. This Covenant would not be for Israel only but would extend to “Whosoever believes.”
The elements of the Covenant meal were one loaf of unleavened bread which He blessed, broke, and gave to each of them, and one cup from which they drank. “This is My body which is given for you….This is the New Covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:19-20). Nothing could be more sacred!
The New Covenant was inaugurated when the Jews gathered in families to commemorate the beginning of the Exodus. The first Passover, the beginning of the Jewish calendar year, was when the Lord instructed them concerning a last meal in Egypt which would consist of unleavened bread, lamb or goat, and bitter herbs. On that first Passover, the Jews painted the blood of the lamb on the door posts, and the Death Angel passed over that house and family (hence the name, “Passover”). They were to eat the meal until midnight and be dressed for the journey out of Egypt.
It was during the celebration of Passover that Jesus established the New Covenant, fulfilling the Mosaic Covenant and beginning a new journey for all who received Him as the “Lamb of God” (see John 1:29). Passover was commemorated on the first of a New Year.
The disciples were certainly naïve about the dangers that they faced, as we often are, but the New Covenant was God’s guarantee of His faithfulness. Covenant was much better understood in their culture than in ours. Covenant-breaking could mean the forfeit of life (note Judas).
Peter would deny Jesus three times and the others would run away, except John. When one receives Covenant, that person is pledging his or her life against all eventualities. I believe that the naiveté’ of the disciples is matched by ours, and we often fail to see the possible dangers in receiving Communion. Here are some dangers:
– Exchanging the reality for mere ritual.
– Seeing the elements but not receiving the Spirit that they represent.
– Receiving the elements as personal but not as family or community.
– Receiving the elements with unforgiveness in our hearts (see 1 Corinthians 11:30).
– Accepting our deep divisions as “normal”.
Each of these dangers, and others, have negative consequences. The greater the possible blessings, the greater the dangers of observing carelessly. We must observe in the awe of God and what He did in Christ. We must never allow reputation to blind us to Christ’s presence in the elements. My personal concern is that I never become familiar with the mysteries of God.
Communion represents numerous mysteries that bring blessings upon us when soberly observed.
– The Presence of God.
– Receiving Christ’s body and blood.
– Receiving His faithful love.
– Remembering what He did for our salvation.
– Receiving His mercy and forgiveness.
– Receiving healing. If the misuse can bring sickness, proper use can bring healing.
– Receiving others in the Body of Christ.
– Receiving eternal things that do not pass away.
– Receiving the bonds that make us stronger and a better witness to the world (see John 17:21).
Christ is not divided. We are not all always united in doctrine, or forms, or persons whom we follow, but we are united in Christ Whom we receive (see 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:4).
Communion is not my Covenant with Jesus; it is His Covenant with me. As He was faithful to His disciples in their naiveté, He will be faithful to us in our weakness, and we do indeed have weaknesses! That is another good reason for not judging our brothers or sisters (see 1 Corinthians 11:31). We must judge ourselves; if so, we will be secure. As the Lord is unchanging in His nature and love, so we will be secure and steadfast in this journey ahead. We will need to know that as we find ourselves in some wilderness or place of major decision.
Sandwiched between I Corinthians 12 (the chapter on spiritual gifts) and chapter 14 (the chapter on how they are to be used) is chapter 13, the great chapter on love. Love must be the motive behind every act towards others. The apostle Paul says that love is even greater than faith and hope, and that is saying a lot! Motive matters, especially as we journey toward God’s promises to us.
We are not speaking of human love, but God’s Covenant love. That alone will bind us together on the sometimes daunting journey. God’s love sent His unique Son to die in our place. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for His friends” (John 15:13). If we are willing to lay down our lives for one another, that is God’s love and the bond of unity. That is Covenant and that is security!
Lucifer’s primary plan is to divide, and he has had a lot of success with hatred, unforgiveness, wars, and all kinds of injury. If we fight one another, we are already defeated, and under the dominion of darkness (see Galatians 1:13). If we truly love one another with God’s love, we can overcome the works of darkness.
Recently a dear minister friend fell morally; and we were close friends. His sin caused a lot of hurt, but he is still loved. He is not alone in his having sinned. I am not, nor are others, in a place to be his judge. He rightfully stepped aside from his position to enter restoration. What I hate to see is the hypocritical nature of many who “pile on” their condemnation. This has happened all too often.
Paul told the Galatians, “Brethren, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2 ESV). The culture that Paul describes makes for a secure culture. Where there is fault-finding and criticism, we are all in danger. Remember, without love, we are just noise.
When the Jews came out of Egypt, a lot of Egypt was still in them. And so it is with us. First Corinthians 10 tells us that Israel’s journey is an example to us. Though they all had the same Passover, Baptism, and leader, God was not pleased with most of them (see verse 5). They did not get to the promises. They were naïve, to say the least, and rebellious.
The disciples were also naïve, but God’s Covenant brought them back together and they did receive the promises. I think that most of us begin with a lot of “Egypt” in us and no small amount of naiveté. I know that I did. I had a lot of trepidation because my Dad was a preacher. I saw the challenges a little closer than some, but I was still naïve. None of us really know what the future holds, but we must know who holds the future.
I love the verse of Amazing Grace that says, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ’tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home” (John Newton). I love the entire hymn, but that verse is special to me. “Grace will lead me home!” So, if we want grace and mercy, we must give grace and mercy. Love covers.
The next time you take communion and receive those blessings, remember Christ’s suffering for us. And, remember the dangers of taking it lightly. Give others the same love that He gave you. No matter how you take it, realize that your wafer really comes from “one bread” and your cup came from “one cup”, shared by all. See yourself as a member of His family; one diverse body with many parts, yet one body.
As we journey, only God knows what is ahead, but Jesus is the Way. I pray that your journey will not be alone, but part of a great company that has already overcome and is waiting for us to arrive; that you are in company with friends who have already laid down their lives and will continue to do so in order to help you along the way.
Please continue to keep CSM in your prayers and in your giving this month as we continue to reach out to sow the seed of the Gospel among the nations. Visit us online for more information on how you can stand with us, as well as information on how you can receive other ministry resources. Thanks for standing with us!
Scripture references: Matthew 26:17-30; John 13:1-17;Mark 14:12-16; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; 1 Corinthians chapters 10, 12, 14; Luke 22:7-39; John 1:29; John 17:21; John 15:13; Galatians 1:13; 6:1-2; 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:4