I had the pleasure of drinking beer and sharing conversation with a couple of brothers in Christ last night, and it was a reminder of how much I enjoy and appreciate such opportunities. One of the main things that I like about blogging is the chance to "think out loud" about various and sundry matters, as that really is the way that I typically process things and sort them out. But as helpful and beneficial as a blog can be — and really, I do thank God for this new mode of communication, which is surely among His good gifts of creation — nevertheless, it is no substitute for the chance to sit down together and chat. There is something that happens in a face-to-face discussion that isn’t possible otherwise. No need to despise or dismiss phone calls, letters or e-mails, but being in the bodily presence of another person is significant and should not be allowed to go by the wayside.
In a recent conversation with another brother about the significance of the Lord’s Supper, I was trying to make the point that it does make a difference whether or not the Holy Communion is celebrated. It ought to be obvious that it makes a difference, but his argument was that the Word of God does all that is necessary, and that the people can still believe in Jesus and pray to Him without the Sacrament. To speak of what is "necessary" is already to be thinking in terms of the Law instead of the Gospel. It is also a kind of minimalism that seems to have more regard for our own works and efforts than those of Christ Jesus. Aside from that, it seems naive to me. Having my older children away from home has made me more aware of what a difference it makes, whether someone you love is with you in person or not. They’re still my children, and I’m still their father, no matter how far apart we may be. And believe me, I’m thankful for phone calls and e-mail messages, which enable us to communicate more readily than earlier generations could ever have imagined. But it’s not the same as living together in the same house and sharing space in the same room. I believe, teach and confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is omnipresent as the Son of God, also in and with His human nature as true Man, and that He truly reveals and gives Himself to His disciples in the preaching of His Word of the Gospel. Yet, I also believe that when He puts His holy body and precious blood into my mouth, into my body, He is laying hold of me and relating to me in a way that is uniquely and profoundly personal. He is infinite, but I am not. I am not able to comprehend Him apart from the ways and means by which He comprehends me. I am grateful that He does so, not only with His Word in my ears, in my head and in my heart, but also with His flesh and blood in my mouth and in my body.
Anyway, I think it is a similar sort of blessing and benefit to engage in the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren, not only over the phone or via the computer, but in person. God’s good gift of beer isn’t necessary to such conversations, but it contributes another kind of blessing and benefit, and it is good to share such joys in the company of brothers. There is a freedom of expression, a sense of relaxed comfort, a safety and confidence, all of which encourage the sort of discussion and debate that challenge and sharpen our thinking, correct and clarify our understanding, expand and refine our perspectives. I think there are insights to be gained from these face-to-face fraternal "symposia" that are not possible in any other way. I know that I am helped to be a better pastor as a result.
I relate to the people of God under my pastoral care with more sensitivity and sympathy when I have the opportunity to converse with my brothers in Christ. Because, along with the freedom, the comfort and safety of the brethren, there is also an accountability in place, a consideration and compassion for one another, which give us pause for more careful thought and temper our speech. It’s far too easy in communicating via computer to fire off words without stopping to consider the people they will affect, or to misinterpret words that have been written to or about us. To speak in the presence of another person, especially in one-on-one or small group conversation, requires and enables a far more sophisticated and responsible kind of communication. It can be very relaxed and jovial, and yet there is a give-and-take, an adjustment of both thinking and expression, that curbs our sinful self-centeredness and allows us to be corrected and instructed, so that we grow in knowledge, wisdom and maturity.