Puritan Gems

Monday, March 30, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Lord’s Supper

“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another-- if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home--so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.” (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)

A Multitude of Mystical Errors

In an age where individualism is prized over corporate worship, there abounds a serious abuse of the Lord’s Supper among Christian’s today. Strange mysticism has been tied to this sacrament, and this is nothing new. In the middle ages, the Communion table became surrounded by the mysticism of “Transubstantiation”, where it was believed that the bread and wine actually became the literal body and blood of Christ. Though the elements appeared to still be bread and wine, it was believed that Christ was being sacrificed yet again for sins. Shreds of this Roman ignorance found its way among the early Reformers, as the Lutherans held to “Consubstantiation”, where Christ’s physical body was present, hiding under the physical elements of the bread and the wine. Both Romanism and Lutheranism hold these erroneous views to this very day.

Aside from being nothing more that sheer cannibalism (as well as gross idolatry), these views of the Lord’s Table give attributes to Christ’s humanity that are not human. Giving ubiquity to Christ’s physical body is not compatible with Chalcedon Christology, and denies the fact that Christ has “entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:12).

In today’s evangelical world, strange mysticism continues to surround the Communion Table. Perry Stone has taken it upon himself to teach that the Lord’s Supper, instead of being a sacrament in remembrance of Christ’s death and burial, is actually a “Meal that Heals”. Stone boldly proclaims that “this revelation of daily Communion has been lost in the traditional church” (backcover), so he takes it upon himself to correct the church and share this “life-changing spiritual revelation of God’s healing covenant through the bread and fruit of the wine”. In all humility, Stone declares that he is “not interested in convincing a theologian, or receiving applause from a denomination, or debating those folks whose unbelief is founded upon tradition and not upon truth” (Introduction, p. vii). So despite the fact that there is absolutely nothing in Scripture that suggests that the Lord’s Supper is to be used for physical healing, Stone has declared it to be truth, and those who disagree are in “unbelief”. As a compliment to this book, the “The Healing Room” advertises a home communion set where believers can “at home or away, participate in all the blessings of daily communion.” (Of course, with no money back guarantee if one is not healed.)

A Proper View of the Lord’s Supper

In the orthodox, biblical view of the Lord’s Supper, there is nothing mystical about the bread and the wine. They don’t mysteriously change into Christ’s body, nor do they provide a magical healing potion for ones physical ailments. Christ’s presence at the Lord’s Supper is Spiritual, yet very real. The elements are external signs of the Covenant of Grace, done in remembrance of Christ, not in order to become Christ. A proper practice of the Lord’s Supper must be void of all charismatic superstitions and popish delusions.

Paul addresses the church at Corinth concerning the proper manner to worship in the Lord’s feast.

The Church alone has the authority to oversee Communion. The individual members of the Corinthian Church, like Perry Stone’s audience, were treating communion as a regular meal in their homes. This treatment of the Lord’s Supper is exactly what Paul was condemning in the opening passage. God gave Communion to His Church, not to individuals or families. The communion is to be taken “when you come together in one place” (1 Corinthians 11:17, 18, 20). We are instructed to “wait for one another” (1 Corinthians 11:33). Communion is not to be done in a family or individual setting. Home was distinctly presented as a place for the regular meal, not Communion (1 Corinthians 11:22, 34). (In fact, the word “communion” itself denotes togetherness). Great care must be taken not to usurp the authority of God’s ecclesiastical government (His Church). Paul asks “do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing?” (1 Corinthians 11:22). The elements were blessed by church leadership (1 Corinthians 10:16), and the whole body of partook of one bread (1 Corinthians 1:17). R. J. Anderson explains:

“Every place in God’s Word where we are told any thing about the observing of "The Lord’s Supper" it is a local church (and there is no other kind) that meets together to observe it. There is not a case in the Scripture; I have ever been able to discover, where messenger bodies or groups of Christians other than a local church ever observed "The Lord’s Supper." In as much as "The Lord’s Supper" is a church ordinance we must agree that all who are not members of a Scriptural church are scripturally barred from the Lord’s Table.” (R. J. Anderson – Vital Church Truths)

Communion is not for the purpose of filling the stomach. This is not a “meal that heals”, nor is it for the purpose of satisfying of one’s physical body. Instead, the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to “discern the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:29). The Corinthians, instead of sharing Communion with the Lord’s body, were eager to stuff their faces in disregard for “those who have nothing” (1 Corinthians 11:22). Because of this “one is hungry and another is drunk” (1 Corinthians 11:21). (The Lord’s Supper consists of wine, as “grape juice” is a mid-19th century invention). Paul instructed the Corinthians to eat their own meal at home, but when they come to the Lord’s Table, they were “to wait for one another” (1 Corinthians 11:21)

Communion is a Token of the New Covenant, and is only for His people. Communion is Covenant Renewal, and therefore is exclusive. Where baptism is the initial sign of the Covenant, the Lord’s Supper is the continuing sign. The meal is not open for just anyone. It is only for those who have been accepted as part of the New Covenant (1 Corinthians 11:25). Ray Sutton explains the importance of a “demonstration” of faith.

“Paul says, “Let a man examine himself” (I Cor. 11:28). The command means demonstration of faithfulness. The word ‘examine” should be translated demonstrate. In other passages Paul uses the same Greek word where it is translated “prove.” He says, “But let every man Prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another’ (Gal. 6:4). This is a fundamental aspect of Christian self government.” (Ray Sutton – That You May Prosper: Dominion By Covenant, p. 306)

In is in this area that Communion is distinct from Baptism. Communion is tied directly to the work of Christ at Calvary, and requires self-examination. Baptism, on the other hand, is more passive, as no one can baptism themselves, even a professing adult.

It is no coincidence that Satan entered Judas Iscariot immediately after he received the Lord’s Supper as a Covenant breaker (John 13:26-27). Each person needs to examine himself before coming to the Lord’s Table (1 Corinthians 11:28).

The Lord’s Supper is not to be refused by Christians to whom it is offered. There is a gross misunderstanding that surrounds the “worthiness” spoken in Scripture, as if we needed to be sinless before coming to the Lord's Table. Do not assume that one is unworthy of Communion because he is battling sin, for that is when it is most needed. Rather it is the one who is not battling sin that is truly the unworthy one. To reject this sacrament is to suggest that Christ’s work is not sufficient to overcome sin.

The Lord’s Supper is a time for sharing a meal with the corporate body. Communion is a time of corporate judgment (1 Corinthians 11:31), not just for individual contemplation or meditation. As the token of Covenant Renewal, Communion is a time for sharing. Otherwise, “it is not the Lord's Supper that you eat…each one goes ahead with his own meal.” (1 Corinthians 11:20-21)

Communion separates us from the world. This is the positive result of internal judgment. “But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:32). Communion, like baptism, is a ceremonial cleansing, setting us apart from the world. Yet in order to be taken in a worthy manner, it also requires a moral cleansing as well. “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29).

A Proper Practice in Observing the Lord’s Supper

The Bible prescribes no set time for partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Some churches honor this sacrament monthly, some bi-monthly, and some weekly. Scripture's only admonition is that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Wilhelmus a’Brakel outlines the proper practice of those who participate in the Lord’s Supper.

1.) Preparation: consisting of…

  • A strong desire to be among God’s People.

  • An examination of self.

  • Spiritual Adornment by a quite and contemplative reflection on Christ’s redemptive work.

2.) Celebration: Consisting of…

  • Letting our heart distance itself from the world on the way to church.

  • Letting Holy Reverence arise upon entering church.

  • Let your heart be focused upon joining God’s People during the reading of God’s Word, singing, praying and preaching.

  • Reflecting upon the aspects of Christ’s suffering while approaching the table.

  • Considering oneself to be in the presence of God while at the table.

  • Enlivening ones heart to remain dear to Jesus upon departing from the table.

3.) Reflection: Consisting of…

  • A Reflection upon what your condition has been.

  • An Expression of Gratitude.

  • An Anticipation and enjoyment of having fellowship with God.

  • A Despising and Abandonment of the world.

  • A Public Manifestation of one’s Christianity.

  • A Public Confession of the Lord Jesus.