Truth We Can Touch – foreword by Sinclair Ferguson

Here’s the foreword which Sinclair Ferguson kindly wrote for Truth We Can Touch, my new book on the sacraments.

It is a privilege to introduce Truth We Can Touch and to commend it to you. This is a much more important book than its size might suggest, because it will help you to understand and enjoy two of Christ’s special gifts to you—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Reading it reminded me of two incidents in my life.

The first was a conversation I had years ago with a doctoral student from the Far East. I knew him as “Timothy.” But one day, when I felt I had come to know him well enough, I asked him, “Timothy, what’s your real name?” He smiled and said, “Timothy.” I smiled back, knowing he would see that I wasn’t convinced this was the whole truth! “Come on, tell me, what is your real name?” Again, he replied, “Timothy.” So, I tried a different maneuver. “What is the name your parents registered for you?” This time he responded with his native Asian name. Despite feeling we were in the endgame of a little chess match and that somehow he had a secret move up his sleeve, I said, “So that’s your real name!” “No” he said—and then theologically checkmated me! “Timothy is my real name. That’s the name I was given when I was baptized.”

Timothy taught me a great lesson that day. The name you were given at your baptism is even more important than the name by which your birth was registered. Timothy’s baptismal name had not changed Timothy’s heart any more than his ethnic name had. But since the day of his baptism, it had reminded him who he was as a Christian and had called him to live in the light of that.

The conversation left me wondering if Timothy was in the minority of Christians—someone who understood his baptism well enough for it to have an ongoing significance for him every day of his life.

You might think from this that it would be a neat idea to give people new names when they are baptized. But we don’t need to do that, because that has already happened. Your own baptism was a naming ceremony: you were baptized “in[to] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). That naming ceremony no more changed your heart than did the name you were given at birth. But like the registration of your family name, this new name expresses who you really are as a Christian believer; it is a constant reminder to you of the family to which you belong and what it means to be part of it. Our baptism is meant to be a daily reminder of this—for the rest of our lives. That is why the New Testament has so much to say about its ongoing significance for believers.

The second incident also happened in the Far East. With three other men I was invited by the owner of a famous hotel to have dinner with him—the kind of hotel where the suites would cost you more than $15,000—per night! The owner wore one of those watches you see advertised but learn online that you could never afford! He was a very gracious host. His splen- did European chef appeared in the private dining room to explain the menu he had chosen for us—including “zee special white truffle” on the soup, and a steak that almost melted in the mouth. The company was enjoyable, and the food was exquisite. The whole experience was memorable, not least the way, when we arrived, it seemed that a pathway through the hotel had been created by the staff—we were surely very important people to the owner!

But the truth is, all the evening gave me was a story to tell you. For all the kindness of our host, he inhabited a different so- cial world than I. The watch he was wearing was probably worth more than the house I live in. I could never afford to spend a night in his hotel. It was very thoughtful of him to invite me to come, and I said so as his driver opened the door of his magnificent limousine to take him home! It was a little like a holiday abroad—for a night!

But I tell you the story to make a point. An “experience” though it was, I would readily swap it for the opportunity to sit down at a table and have something to eat and drink with the Lord Jesus. And the wonderful truth is that I can and do, every time we share the Lord’s Supper. That is why many churches refer to it as the Communion service. It isn’t because we “take Communion.” It is because we experience communion with Christ. For that is what Communion is. The most expensive meal we ever have on earth cannot hope to compare to that.

This is what Truth We Can Touch will help you to see more clearly. It will help you to understand how your baptism can be a lifelong help to living for Christ. And it will show you that the Lord’s Supper isn’t so much something we do but the way Christ enables us to enjoy his presence. In it he says to us, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). When that happens, we discover—as the two disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus also did (Luke 24:28–31)—that when he comes and is present at the table, he becomes the host and gives us his little love gifts of bread and wine—visible, tangible, tasteable expressions of his dying love for us. And we recognize his presence with us. What meal could possibly mean more to us?

It is because the Lord Jesus Christ gave baptism and the Lord’s Supper to us in order to bless us that I especially appreciate Tim Chester’s whole approach in Truth We Can Touch. He has his own convictions about the various theological and practical controversies that have surrounded these gifts of Christ. But his goal here is not to satisfy our sometimes-warped desire to have the “right” positions on these sad disagreements. He has chosen a better way: to show us how to appreciate, rightly use, and enjoy the gifts themselves, because through them we come increasingly to know, trust, love, and enjoy their giver. This, after all, is why our Lord Jesus gave them to us.

So I, for one, believe that what Tim Chester writes here can only bring more and more blessing to us as individuals and as churches, and that it will enhance our appreciation and enjoyment of the privileges we receive as Christian believers. And in encouraging you now to turn over the page and read on, I feel sure that if you want to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, you will not be disappointed.

Sinclair B. Ferguson

Content taken from Truth We Can Touch by Tim Chester © 2020. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

Truth We Can Touch: interview with Together magazine

Here’s an interview on Truth We Can Touch, my new book on the sacraments, which I conducted with this month’s edition of Together magazine and which is reproduced with their kind permission. For more information on their publications see www.christianresourcestogether.co.uk.

Truth We Can Touch: How Baptism and Communion Shape Our Lives by Tim Chester

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are more than just water, bread and wine, they are God’s promises to us in physical form. What is happening when someone passes through the waters of baptism? What’s the significance of eating bread and drinking wine together as a church on Sunday mornings? What’s the point of these physical substances? Tim Chester guides us through the Bible, explaining how the sacraments, embodying the promises of God in physical form, were given to us to strengthen our faith and shape our lives.

Together: What was your purpose and motivation for writing Truth We Can Touch?
My primary concern was to explore how baptism and communion shape our everyday lives as Christians. I think we can all too easily see the sacraments as peripheral, perhaps even optional. But they are gifts from Christ for his church and I want readers to appreciate their power to nurture our faith.

Together: What made the gifts of the Last Supper and baptism stand out to you as topics to write about?
The main things I wanted to think through were how the sacraments shape our shared life as local churches and how they form part of our discipleship. But I was also interested in their physicality. Why water, bread and wine? Why did Jesus says, ‘Do this in remembrance of me?’ and not ‘Think this …’ or ‘Say this …’? I was interested in the way the sacraments embody the promise, grace and presence of Christ.

Together: What initially sparked your interest in the Sacraments?
I’ve been working on these themes for over a decade now so it’s hard to remember where it all started! I think it was a recognition that many of my congregation didn’t really know what to make of the Lord’s Supper. Then I noticed how the New Testament writers often refer their readers back to their baptism – something I rarely did. The apostles clearly intended baptism and communion to shape the identity of Christians. I wanted to articulate this in a way that helped church leaders and church members fully appreciate the value of the sacraments.

Together: What are the most common misconceptions about baptism and Holy Communion?
Many Christians see the sacraments only as memorials that don’t really ‘do’ anything other that prompt our thoughts. Others invest them with almost magical properties. Perhaps the majority of Christians are put off by these debates and choose instead to steer clear of ‘controversial matters’. But I fear that as a result we miss out in a big way. I want to explain in a Bible-based, gospel-centred way what is happening when someone is baptised and when we take communion.

Together: What do you feel has shaped modern views of the Sacraments?
The debates of the 16th-century Reformation continues haunt us in many ways. As a result, we’re often so concerned to say what the sacraments do not do that we never really say what they do actually do. The second big factor is the Enlightenment – the intellectual movement that still dominates the modern world. The Enlightenment enthroned human reason. What matters is what I think, so the action that matters takes place in my mind. This makes it hard for us to see meaning in physical objects – like water, bread and wine.

Together: In what way do you hope this book will impact the faith of its readers?
I would love it if readers came to appreciate baptism and communion more. I want people to see themselves as baptised people and for this identity to shape their lives. And I want people to understand what’s happens in communion so they receive grace from Christ and encounter him in a personal, dynamic way as they eat together.

Together: Would you describe Truth We Can Touch as an academic book or one all Christians should read and in particular those thinking of baptism?
Whenever I write the people I’m ‘talking’ to in my head are the members of my congregation. So I’ve written with all Christians in mind. But I’ve also had in mind other pastors who want a clearer sense of how the sacraments can shape the lives of their congregations.

ISBN 9781433566578/Crossway/Tim Chester/PB/176 pp/£12.99/Publication January 2020

New book: Do Miracles Happen Today?

My latest book, Do Miracles Happen Today?, is published today by The Good Book Company.

Here’s the blurb …

Many extraordinary things happen in the Bible. People walk on water. People touch handkerchiefs and are healed. People disappear into the sky. Did these events really happen? What was their purpose?

And do miracles happen today? How do we respond if someone says they’ve seen a miracle happen? Should we hold healing services? What can I say to a child about praying for healing? How should we react when prayers for healing aren’t answered?

In this warm and accessible book, Tim Chester looks at the Bible’s view of the existence and purpose of miracles and gives a careful and balanced view on whether healings and other miraculous things happen today.

It will help Christians to explore these questions and others regarding miracles, signs and wonders, and know how to pray.

Includes additional questions on:
• Why did Jesus tell people not to tell others about his miracles?
• How should I respond when I hear a claim that a miracle has happened?
• Should we hold healing services?
• What can I say to a child about praying for healing?

Questions Christians Ask are short, readable books which clearly explain how the Bible answers the tough questions Christians are asking.

And here are some nice things some nice people have said about the book …

In an area of great confusion Tim Chester provides compelling arguments and clear guidance. Thoughtful, careful and caring, this little book will be immensely helpful to all who read it. (Graham Beynon, Minister, Grace Church, Cambridge; Director of Independent Ministry, Oak Hill College, London)

This short book packs a punch! Tim Chester tackles our questions about miracles honestly and biblically, challenges our assumptions, and leads us to a God who is even bigger than we imagined. (Elizabeth McQuoid, Writer and Commissioning Editor, Keswick Ministries)

Tim Chester has written a profoundly helpful book on miracles. As a pastor I am frequently asked if we should pray for miracles, why we don’t see more of them, and what to do when God doesn’t grant a miracle. This book answers all of these questions but does more. Its compelling focus on Jesus orders miracles beneath the Miracle-worker himself in a way I’ve not seen before. Refreshing, insightful, thought-provoking and hand-out worthy! (Jonathan Dodson, Lead pastor, City Life Church, Austin, Texas; author, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Here in Spirit, and Our Good Crisis: Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes)

Podcast: Are We Undervaluing the Lord’s Supper?

In this episode of The Crossway Podcast, Tim Chester, author of Truth We Can Touch How Baptism and Communion Shape Our Lives, discusses the Lord’s Supper, explaining why he thinks many evangelical churches undervalue communion, the significance of the fact that Jesus gave us the physical elements of bread and wine, and what it means when we say that Christ is present in our celebration of the Lord’s supper.

 

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

10 Things You Should Know about the Lord’s Supper

Here’s a link to an article entitled “10 Things You Should Know about the Lord’s Supper” that I’ve written for the Crossway blog. It’s linked to my book Truth We Can Touch which is a theological exploration of how baptism and communion shape our lives together as God’s people, explaining how the physical water, bread, and wine embody the promises, grace, and presence of Christ.

Truth We Can Touch

New book: Truth We Can Touch

My latest book, Truth We Can Touch: How Baptism and Communion Shape our Lives, is published today by Crossway. I’ve been working on this book for about ten years and it’s very precious to me. Sinclair Ferguson has generously written the foreword. Here’s the blurb …

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are more than just water, bread, and wine. They are God’s promises to us in physical form.

What is happening when someone passes through the waters of baptism? What’s the significance of eating bread and drinking wine together as a church on Sunday mornings? What’s the point of these physical substances?

Tim Chester guides us through the Bible, explaining how the sacraments, embodying the promises of God in physical form, were given to us to strengthen our faith and shape our lives. The physical bread, wine, and water are a confirmation of our union with Christ. Chester aims to help us treasure baptism and Communion and approach them rightly, so we can receive the full benefit God intends them to physically bring us.

And here are some endorsements:

“In Truth We Can Touch, Tim Chester makes a compelling case for evangelicals to recover an understanding of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as God’s promise that comes to us in physical form. Deeply biblical and yet eminently practical, this book provides an alternative to a theology of the word limited to our heads. God’s word in Christ comes to us not only in preaching but also in baptism and at the table. As embodied creatures, we embrace God’s promises in touch and taste, with delight and praise. This accessible and winsome book is a joy!”
J. Todd Billings, Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan

“This is hands down the best book on the sacraments I’ve read—warm, compelling, eye-opening, and saturated in gospel encouragement. I hadn’t realized how much I needed it.”
Sam Allberry, Speaker, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries; author, Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With? and 7 Myths about Singleness

“In this delightful book, Chester reminds us that baptism and Communion are God’s gifts to us that convey the gospel and grace in powerful ways. As a Baptist I would put some things differently, but I celebrate and rejoice in the main thesis set forth by Chester. Baptism and Communion are central in the New Testament, and something is wrong if they are neglected or ignored by us. Take up and read and be instructed, challenged, and—most of all—encouraged by the gospel, which is displayed so beautifully in baptism and the Eucharist.”
Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“After reading Tim Chester’s Truth We Can Touch, I sent our pastoral staff a message: ‘Add this book to our reading list for our interns, and add it to our book nook.’ Chester is one of our favorite writers, and his books have blessed our local church. Once again, he combines theological clarity with gospel warmth, conveying the beauty of Christ to the reader. By reading this accessible book, you will value baptism and Communion more, and you will be moved to worship the Savior as you consider Chester’s explanation of baptism as the embodiment of our union with Christ and the Lord’s Supper as the embodiment of our communion with Christ.”
Tony Merida, Lead Pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh, North Carolina; author, Ordinary

“At last, here is a great evangelical book on the sacraments. I have longed for such a book for years, one that is deep yet accessible, theologically robust and biblically grounded, and—perhaps most of all—one that touches the heart with wise pastoral application. This is a valuable resource for all ministers and a treasure for all God’s people. I cannot commend it highly enough—a delight from beginning to end.”
Melvin Tinker, Senior Minister, St. John Newland, Hull, United Kingdom; author, Language, Symbols, and Sacraments

“The sacraments are integral to the history of redemption, yet the evangelical church has tragically neglected them as secondary and nonessential. Tim Chester sets baptism and the Lord’s Supper vividly in their biblical and historical contexts. Superbly written, easily accessible to a wide readership, rooted in Scripture and the theology of the Reformation, this book can be a catalyst for widespread recovery of the supreme blessing God gives through his appointed signs.”
Robert Letham, Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Union School of Theology