Wednesday, January 25, 2006

THE MYSTERY OF THE LORD'S SUPPER

Is the Lord's Supper merely a memorial? Is it just a remembrance of what Christ did for us? Or is it a means of grace, in which we truly partake of Christ?

THE REAL PRESENCE OF CHRIST IN THE LORD'S TABLE

The following is from Robert Letham:

"Christ does not come down to us in his body and blood. Instead, we are lifted up to him by the Holy Spirit. Christ, being the eternal Son of God, is of course, everywhere. Moreover, he has permanently united himself to the human nature assumed in the incarnation. In that sense, the person of Christ is present with us as we eat and drink. Yet, on earth, the Son of God was not restricted or confined to the humanity he assumed, but was simultaneously filling all things, directing the universe even as (according to the flesh) he walked the dusty roads of Palestine. So, at the right hand of God, the Son fills and directs the universe (Col. 1:15-20), now unbreakably united to his assumed humanity, while in terms of that same humanity he is limited and in one place. Yet that humanity is never separate or apart from the divinity, the eternal Son of God with whom and in whom it is one undivided person. Thus, in the sacrament the Holy Spirit unites the faithful to the person of Christ as they eat and drink the signs, the physical elements of bread and wine. There is an inseparable conjunction of sign and reality. As truly as we eat the bread and drink the wine, so we feed on Christ by faith." (The Lord's Supper, 28-29).

Calvin also says:

"Now if anyone should ask me how this takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare. And, to speak more plainly, I rather experience than understand it. Therefore, I here embrace without controversy the truth of God in which I may safely rest. He declares his flesh the food of my soul, his blood its drink [John 6:53ff.]. I offer my soul to him to be fed with such food. In his Sacred Supper he bids me take, eat, and drink his body and blood under the symbols of bread and wine. I do not doubt that he himself truly presents them, and that I receive them." (Institutes, 4.17.32)

The website of the OPC says,

"In his rich mercy, God "made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:4-6). It is from this position that we come to the Lord's Table, and "they that worthily communicate in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after a corporal and carnal, but in a spiritual manner; yet truly and really, while by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death" (Westminster Larger Catechism, answer 170).

SO WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

The Lord's Table is mysterious and beautiful. Yet here we usually have a rationalistic mindset. We don't think about the fact that Scripture says that we reign with Christ right now, and that we are already seated with Him in the heavenly realms. How is this so? Because the Holy Spirit transcends across eternity and unites us to Christ in heaven.

The apostle Paul makes no bones about it. If you partake of the Table unworthily, you are held guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. He says that the bread we break is a participation in the body of Christ, and the cup we drink is a participation in the blood of Christ.

The Table signifies union with Christ and union with one another. The early church participated in the Supper every time they met for corporate worship. What a privilege it is to partake of this with your local corporate body of believers, and to enjoy the body and blood of Christ!

WHAT THE LONDON CONFESSION SAYS

My confession, The London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, also uses appropriate language when it says in 30:7 that,

"Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually receive and feed upon Christ crucified and all the benefits of his death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses."

In other words, Christ is really and truly present by virtue of our union with Him in the Table. This is a holy mystery to be reverenced.


***SOMETHING SERIOUS TO CONSIDER***

The Lord's Table is much like our relationship with our spouse. What do you think will happen to my marriage if I neglect having union with my wife? It will certainly suffer. However, if I participate in the God-ordained means of having that union strengthened, then we will grow in our relationship to one another.

It is likewise with the Lord's Table. How often we partake of the Lord's Table demonstrates the degree of our union with Christ. God has ordained that this holy ordinance be a means of grace to strengthen our union with our Lord. To neglect it puts our souls at risk, and to scorn it puts our souls in danger.

For Further Reading:
Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper by Keith Mathison

14 comments:

BJ said...

Hey Josh,
I have a question for you. What do you think Jesus meant at the Last Supper when he said "as often as you do this......?" He does not seem to be giving a weekly principle there, or really any prescription accept doing it. The problem for me is the arbitrariness of the regulative principal. I mean, how do you know when you have crossed the thereshold from doing it enough, to not enough, or to much? I am not bothered by those who adhere to it and I maybe wrong for not endorsing it. I also understand your commitment to the importance of it, but Jesus did'nt seem to be so concerned with how often it was administered. I know people who have actually taken it daily in there house, blessing the sacraments themselves and partaking because they read a book called "The meal that heals" by Perry Stone. I was wondering what your thoughts might be on that. I always thought it was wierd. It does raise an interesting question though. Can a person, lets say a husband, bless the sacraments and have family household communion? I know the LBC and am pretty sure the WCF says that the elements have to be blessed by a minister, but this really is not a biblical rule, although I see why the early fathers abided by that rule. What say you?

Josh Brisby said...

B.J.,

I think that I agree with something you said to me once over beer and cigars: that the early church partook of the Lord's Supper every time they met. This is what Acts tells us. But it also tells us that they "devoted themselves to the breaking of bread," along with the apostles' teaching and to fellowship. In other words, it was not something which was optional for the early church. (This is what Mathison argues in his book as well.)

I do not see how the phrase "as often as you do this" means that we can do it only as often as we want. If it did, how far do we go? What if we only do it "as often as" once every ten years? Why would that not be permissible?

Another thing to consider is the nature of the sacrament. As Michael Horton correctly says, nature determines frequently. If it is only a memorial, as the majority of evangelicalism (and many in the Reformed camp) says, then why should it matter how often we do it? But if it is more than a memorial, and if we actually partake of Christ's body and blood, and if it is a means of grace, and if neglecting it neglects our very soul, then why would we not want to do it every time we meet?

Regarding the regulative principle, every Christian must hold to some form or another of it. When Paul tells Timothy to "devote yourself" to the public reading of Scripture, is that optional? I don't think so. Paul tells him to devote himself fully to it. It is not something which is optional for corporate worship. The real question is, how far do you go if you DON'T embrace the regulative principle? Ever since the OT, God has told us how He is to be worshiped. He tells us how He is to be worshiped in the NT as well.

As far as when the sacrament should be administered, I think since it is the sacrament of union with Christ and union with one another, it is properly administered only in the corporate worship setting. I do not believe it is permissible to partake of it outside of this setting, although I may be open to exceptions with regards to human need, such as the sick or dying.

I hope this helps.

In Christ,
Josh

lewisjackson6898144880 said...
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Randy said...

Regarding the "proper" administration of The Lord's Supper..would you say that only an ordained minister is qualified to perform it? If so, then is only a qualified minister to perform a valid baptism? This smells of popery....

Josh Brisby said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Josh Brisby said...

Brother Randy,

Good questions. I think that at least the elders of the church should have oversight of it, as they have oversight of both sacraments. I think it is permissible for laymen to administer it under the oversight of the elders, as well as for baptism.

In Christ,
josh

Randy said...

Josh, first congrats on the new arrival...secondly, what is your Scriptural basis for "elder" oversight of baptism and the Lord's Supper?

Josh Brisby said...

Brother Randy,

Thanks for the congrats! The Lord is good, and Emmie is beautiful!

I suppose I would say that my Scriptural precedent for elder oversight of the sacraments would be the fact that the elders should oversee everything that happens in the church. It is their duty to shepherd the flock. I would also add that it is something I think necessarily deduced from the doctrine of the church. For example, when Christ gives the disciples the Great Commission, we would of course make the case that it was not only to His disciples, but to us as well that He gave the Great Commission. I think we can deduce something similar with the sacraments. God has given us elders to guard the watch care over the flock.

A good book on this subject is Biblical Eldership by Staunch (I think that's his name).

How are things going with your family?

In Christ,
Josh

Randy said...

If we do in fact hold to the belief that the Great Commission does apply to each of us individually, where in that does elder oversight fall? Is it not incumbent upon each of us, if someone comes to faith because of the Lord working through us, and they wish to be baptized, to act as did Philip with the eunuch, and not delay in the baptism of this new believer? I can find no place where it is solely the elders' job to baptize and oversee the Lord's Table. On the contrary, there are many instances which lead me to believe that this responsibility and awesome privelege belong to each of us as part of the Body of Christ. In such a belief, then for any one group to usurp that from the body as a whole or individually would be tantamount to tyranny, much as was the case with the Catholic Church in the times leading up to the Reformation. What say you?

Josh Brisby said...

Brother Randy,

I was not saying that only the elders have the right to administer the sacraments. What I meant was that they should oversee them. In other words, I have no problem, say, having a father baptize his daughter or son who has professed faith; I'm just saying that that has to be overseen by the elders of the church, as do other matters. The elders of the church are responsible for the souls of the flock in that sense.

In Christ,
Josh

Randy said...

I guess what I'm saying is this: define "oversight". Does this mean that a baptism or observance of communion without elders' okay or blessing is invalid or necessarily wrong?

Josh Brisby said...

Brother Randy,

I would have to say that yes, if a baptism takes place without the elders' knowledge, then I would say it is wrong. I have no right to baptize Gabriel, if, by God's grace, he professes faith to my satisfaction. However, if he professes faith to my satisfaction, the next step is to lovingly submit to the elders of my church, and bring him to them to be questioned for baptism.

In other words, the elders are shepherds. A shepherd guards his flock and knows what his flock is doing. He knows his flock by name and cares for them. But he has authority over them. I believe we can deduce this from Scripture.

The book which I referred to earlier is by Strauch (that is his last name). It is called Biblical Eldership. Have you read it? I was wondering what you think of it if you have.

In Christ,
Josh

Shamgar said...

I know this is a rather old post at this point, but I stumbled on it as a result of a google search and thought I'd make a brief comment.

I think you left behind a key point in regards to the aspect of these ordinances being a part of the church.

Baptism, in particular, is clearly an aspect of being joined to Christ's church. This is significant and not to be taken lightly (as some are in the habit of doing.) The difference (at least for baptists like myself) between this and popery is manyfold. First, as noted in the confession, Christ is the head of the church, and his authority flows downward through the gathered body to the elders as Christ's chosen overseers. As such the elders execute the will of the body, and of Christ.

Communion is similar. When you partake of the Lord's Supper you are joined to the body and blood of Christ. As a local body we are clearly to guard the table with as much wisdom as we are given. We do that as a body through the Elders which are chosen from among us to shepherd the flock.

As you well noted Josh, this is an act which involves not just you, but rather is an act which joins the local body together. Yet I would say it goes further than that, to join us with all Christians around the world and throughout time as we together proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

We must be careful not to lose sight of this aspect of the Lord's Supper when looking at it through our modern individualism.

Anonymous said...

How many denominations describe scripture as sufficient? Why is it then that in answering questions we act as if we must add to scripture, go beyond what it says? That's the difference between "scripture says" and "I think". If issues such as frequency of communion, who can give it, and when were important, scripture would have made it plain. "Closed communion", where you have to be a member of that church or a local church of that denomination, is a classic, and is as classically malicious in its ends as any perverse addition of men to the Holy Word of God.