Andrew Wilson from Think Theology praises PJ Smyth’s analogy of church elders as bridesmaids:
I once took a wedding where it was pouring with rain and muddy outside the church. I was moved watching how the bridesmaids selflessly got wet and muddy to ensure that the Bride didn’t. They were clear in their minds that the day was about the Bride, not them. They were resolute in their endeavour to present a clean, dry beautiful Bride to the Groom, even if they got grubby in the process.
About a week later I preached a message entitled “Elders are Bridesmaids.”
The Bride we serve belongs to Him. We are stewards of the Son of Man’s wife. And, one day we will give an account to God for how we stewarded our responsibility as maids to his Bride (Heb. 13.7).
Last I checked, Jesus is the one who presents the bride to himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle, holy and blameless, having sanctified her with his baptism and word.
I reread J. I. Packer’s classic Knowing God last week for the first time since my teenage years. It was an overlong return, and well worth the read. Something I had not recalled, and was pleasantly surprised to find, was the Anglican Packer’s rejection of the use of images of God in worship. The edition of Knowing God I reread was from 1993, and Packer had faced so much pushback on his original position that he included an additional section in that chapter explaining why he had not changed his mind in the 20 years since the book’s original publication. So, evidently, this was a significant enough feature of the book to have warranted a lot of attention, and yet I had managed to forget it. The thing I was delighted to find in Packer’s argument was that his conclusion generally overlapped with my own: Images of God, including depictions of Christ, should not be used in worship; ambivalence in regards to the appropriateness of images of God for didactic purposes outside of worship; and finding prudent uses of images of God in art limited but acceptable.
Packer lays out his argument in these ways…
One of the issues I have shifted my views on since graduating seminary is intinction, the practice of administering the Lord’s Supper by dipping the bread into the wine rather than drinking of the cup. I was in seminary and on staff at a PCA church when the denomination was vigorously debating the issue. The PCA’s General Assembly had unexpectedly approved a constitutional amendment banning the practice, which a majority of presbyteries subsequently rejected. I was actually under care of the presbytery whose rejection of the amendment made it mathematically impossible for it to pass. This whole process left a deep impression upon me. My seminary context was confessionally ecumenical, with lots of people attending non-presbyterian churches. This left me inclined to be deferential on something like intinction, whose opponents initially appeared to me too doctrinaire. The PCA was also being roiled by the debate, and the possibility of a real conflict over a seemingly insignificant issue was shameful…
The coronavirus has forced churches to stop meeting and begin taping or livestreaming their services. My own congregation has done this several times, and it has been simultaneously a blessing to have the technology to remain connected and a horror that the church is left with a facsimile of corporate worship. This unprecedented crisis and the quality of technology have led to a significant debate for the church: can we consider the livestreaming of church services, church? Followed closely behind is the question of whether or not people participating (i.e. viewing) the livestream should be encouraged to give themselves the Lord’s Supper. This issue was further complicated within my own denomination when our Stated Clerk, Jeff Jeremiah, issued a provisional opinion permitting the practice of virtual communion, an action not unique to the EPC in this moment.
This is a serious issue: the administration of the sacraments is one of the marks of the church. Not our sacramental theology, but our sacramental practice. I am sympathetic to those who wish to have the Lord’s Supper, and hunger for it myself. And I am also sympathetic to Jeff and the calls he has to make, and acknowledge that this is only a provisional decision. But the decision is wrong and should be retracted. Yes, these are exceptional times, and the church should use all available tools to minister during them. But even with the conditions being what they are, neither the teachings of scripture, nor our confession of faith, permit people to take communion at home away from the congregation of the church– even with access to a livestreamed service…