Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Lord's Supper

Our Lord gave us two ordinances to remind us of Him. The first is baptism, and the second is the focus of our current discussion which goes by the various names of communion, the Eucharist and the Lord's Supper. The institution is recorded in all of the Gospels, Matthew 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-26, Luke 22:14-23 and John 13:18-30 and was followed by the church as we see in Acts 2:42,46, 20:7, 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 and 11:23-34. The focus of the ordinance is Christ and His sacrifice for our sins. When I say "our" I want to be explicit that I am referring to the elect. Jesus said in Mark 14:24 that His blood is shed for the "many" and not every human being to walk planet earth and again in Luke 22:20, Christ specifies "shed for you" speaking of His followers, which if you believe you too are a follower. The objects used to sybolize Christ are bread and "the fruit of the vine". The bread represents His body which was given for us. The fruit of the vine represents the blood of Christ which was shed for "many". Again I want to be clear The bread and fruit "represent" Christ and are not literally Christ. Catholics hold to a doctrine called "transubstantiation" which claims that the bread and fruit transform into Christ's body and blood when you eat them. Similarly, Lutherans hold to a doctrine called "consubstantiation" which claims that Christ's body and blood permeate the bread and fruit. Both of these doctrines are in error. First, Jesus instituted these while He was still alive and used bread and the fruit of the vine specifically for the purpose of representing His body and blood. Second, the book of Hebrews tells us repeatedly that Christ was offered once (Heb. 9:12,26,and 28, 10:10) and so this would preclude a repeated sacrifice everytime we observe the Lord's Supper. Third, Colossians 3:1 tells us where the body of Christ is presently, it is at the right hand of God. Lastly, common sense tells us that it is not flesh we are eating and blood we are drinking when we participate in the supper.

What Is The Fruit Of The Vine?

This question is often a divider amongst churches that would hold to other doctrines unanimously. Was Jesus referring to alcoholic wine or grape juice? Jesus specifically used the term "fruit of the vine" so that we could decide for ourselves what to use. Presbyterians, Methodists,Episcopalians, Lutherans and Primitive Baptists typically use alcoholic wine or offer both, whereas most Baptists and Pentecostal groups (Assembly of God and Church of God) use grape juice solely. Surely we are all in agreement that it is wrong to be drunk ( Eph. 5:18) but the small amount in the communion cups would not make anyone drunk. Some ardent Presbyterians argue that it must have been wine as they had no refrigeration in Jesus's day to keep grape juice and 1 Corinthians 11:21 says some were "drunk". This proves nothing ,however, as Jesus may have used fresh grape juice and the Corinthians were abusing the Lord's Supper. 1 Corinthians 11:21 clearly seems to be contrasting lack with indulgence. Paul using the word drunk in this context is not necessarily referring to inebriation but instead whereas some are hungry others are full. This seems to make more sense as Paul says not to fellowship with drunkards earlier in 1 Corinthians 5:11 and he does not say to cut the drunk ones off from fellowship. Primitive Baptists take a different twist and argue it must be wine because the bread used was unleavened and the fermentation process kills the leaven in grape juice and so to be consistent one should use wine. This is an interesting perspective but does not seem to coincide with the fermentation process as I understand it. In making wine from juice, cultured yeast is added to the juice similarly as it is in dough to make bread. While it is true there is an "ambient yeast" present in grape juice that will ferment on its on in time, processed wine usually uses a cultured yeast to both speed the process and control it. Also It does not seem that the process necessarily kills the ambient yeasts hence why wines get "better" with time. Therefore, unfermented juice seems to be more consistent with unleavened bread than fermented wine. Temperance goups argue that unleavened bread and unfermented wine (grape juice) should be used to be consistent and that we should not even have a taste for alcohol barring medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23) and I am personally inclined to this argument but we must not be legalistic about this as it is a conscience matter. One last thing must be said before leaving this section. Some churches are using milk and cookies or even cola and pizza for the service. We must not treat this as any ordinary meal and cheapen it with silliness. Whether you use unleavened or leavened bread or crackers, fermented or unfermented wine(grape juice) or vinegar it is important that this be a proper representative of Christ.

How Often Are We to Partake?

1 Corinthians 11:25 simply states "as often as you drink it" again leaving it to the individual fellowship to make this decision. Some groups argue to follow scripture we must do it every week (Acts 20:7). This assumes Acts 20:7 is indicating the disciples did it only on the first day of every week and every first day of the week. These same groups ,however, probably do not continue there messages until midnight as Paul did. Some groups do it quarterly (3 or 4 times a year) or once a month so that it does not come to be treated as a common thing.

Who Can Partake?

As an ordinance of the Lord Jesus Christ only believers are to partake of the supper. To this I might add baptized believers as this ordinance should follow the first which is baptism. Some churches hold to a "closed communion" and only allow the particular members of that church to partake others allow for any visiting believer who has been baptized to participate or "open communion". Closed churches do so to prevent anyone from eating damnation on themselves ( 1 Cor. 11:27) but the key thing to remember is the man is to "examine himself" (1 Cor. 11:28). As long as the church is coming together in a "worthy manner" they are not to blame for any individuals eating unworthily. The "worthy manner" referred to is they meet for the purpose of unity in the body of Christ remembering His sacrifice for their sin. The Corinthians were treating it as a common meal and were not sharing appropriately so many of them were killed by the Lord or made sick (1 Cor. 11:30). Unfortunately, these passages have been so misconstrued that "for generations many in the Scottish Highlands have refused to receive the communion elements because of the want of personal assurance of their salvation. Although believing that Jesus Christ is the Saviour and the Son of God, self-examination fails to yield sufficient evidence of their election to salvation. Fearing that apart from such assurance they may eat and drink in an unworthy manner, and thereby incur the judgment of God, they abstain from receiving the Lord's Supper."( Charles Bell, Calvin and Scottish Theology p.7) Charles goes on to say that he had the same problem growing up in a Presbyterian church in southern California. Michael Horton has rightly said, "Some have carried this threat too far, however, using it as a source of terror for those who come to the Lord's Table as sinners. But eating and drinking 'worthily' does not mean that we are required to have pure hearts and lives in order to take communion. Not only is communion available to sinners; it is available only to sinners. Eating and drinking worthily means, at least in part, that we come dressed only in the righteousness of Christ."(Michael Horton, In The Face Of God p.20) Unfortunately, the other extreme is also happening as many churches are calling the Lord's Supper a "converting ordinance". They mean by this it is for unsaved people to either get saved or to lead them to the Lord to be saved. This is not scriptural! This argument is usually seen in paedobaptist communities that allow for paedocommunion. The scripture is clear that we partake of the Lord's Supper in remembrance of Him indicating a first belief and the partaker should be able to examine himself. Babies and very young children do not meet this qualification and therefore should not participate.

The Spiritual Presence View

In some circles you may here discussed the Spiritual Presence view. A big debate ensued between the Reformers Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli. Luther's view of consubstatiation was covered earlier, but Zwingli's view is usually held to have been the commemoration view. Luther accused Zwingli of holding to a bare memorial rationalism and Zwingli in turn denounced Luther's view as mystical nonsense. Along came Calvin who tried to moderate between the extremes and came up with a Spiritual Presence view, which says Christ is spiritually present in the bread and fruit. Presbyterian theologian R.L. Dabney called Calvin's view "not only incomprehensible, but impossible"(quoted in Ligon Duncan, The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century volume 2 p. 447) and Scottish Free Church theologian William Cunningham said that Calvin's view was "altogether unsuccessful, and resulted only in what was about as unintelligible as Luther's consubstantiation. This is, perhaps, the greatest blot in the history of Calvin's labours as a public instructor" (William Cunningham, The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation p. 240). As can be seen Reformed theologians are not in agreement on this issue with some as R.L. Dabney, William Cunningham, B.B. Warfield, J. Oliver Buswell, Donald MacLeod and Robert Reymond tending toward the Zwingli side of the spectrum and R.C. Sproul, Michael Horton, Douglas Kelly, R. Scott Clark, Keith Mathison and Sinclair Ferguson tending more toward the Calvin side. There are, however, a whole new breed claiming Calvin's side but who in reality have gone far beyond Calvin in making the Lord's Supper efficacious for salvation. These theologians include Ronald Wallace, James Jordan, Peter Leithart, Doug Wilson, Rich Lusk, Mark Horne and others associated with the Federal Vision movement.


Regardless of where your favorite theologian stands, at the end of the day all that matters is what sayeth scripture. The Bible, as already shown, clearly says it is in remembrance of Jesus. The greek word translated remembrance is Anamnesis, and means simply that to remember. It is the opposite of a similar word we have in english, amnesia, which means to forget or more properly, not to remember. Theologians in their doubt of God's word often degradate it by adding words like "bare" or "mere". Faith, they say, is not mere belief it has to be something more, although they cannot say what, and still claim to hold to sola fide. This same thing is done to the Lord's Supper. It cannot be a bare memorial but must be something else to them. I believe the bare words of the Bible are the words of mere God and Christ is His bare Son and merely believing in Him is the bare good news to the dying sinner and the Lord's Supper is a mere memorial to Him and this truth.

1 comment:

mandolinartist said...

It is too bad that churches must argue over details of something so meaningful and often forget about the true purpose and meaning. On the other hand, personal convictions, traditions, and cultural standards play a huge role in how such ordinances are carried out. While the Bible is specific that we should and must keep this ordinance, as you said, some will argue that it is not specific as to how it should be carried out. (BIBLE STANDARDS PREVAIL OVER TRADITION!) As far as scheduling, I have been in churches that have communion once each month, every third month, and even once each year.