Results tagged “Lord's Supper” from Reformation21 Blog

Calvin on the Sacraments

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For some, John Calvin seems to be at his most feisty when he writes on the sacraments. Against those who complain that infant baptism is a travesty of the Gospel, in the Institutes he stoutly insists, "these darts are aimed more at God than at us!" But a little reflection reveals he is also at his most thoughtful, and his analysis of sacramental signs can strengthen credobaptists as well as paedobaptists.

If repentance and faith are in view in baptism, how can infant baptism be biblical?  Calvin responds: the same was true of circumcision (hence references to Jer. 4:4; 9:25; Deut. 10:16; 30:6), yet infants were circumcised.

How then can either sign be applicable to infants who have neither repented nor believed? Calvin's central emphasis here is simple, but vital.

Baptism, like circumcision, is first and foremost a sign of the gospel and its promise, not of our response to the gospel. It points first of all to the work of Christ for us, not to the work of the Spirit in us. It calls for our response. It is not primarily a sign of that response. So, like the proclamation of the gospel (of which it is a sign), baptism summons us to (rather than signifies) repentance and faith.

In fact all believers are called to grow into an understanding and "improvement" of their baptism. This is as true for those baptized as believers as for those baptized as infants.

Consequently, whether baptism follows faith or precedes faith, its meaning remains the same. Its efficacy in our lives is related to (life-long!) faith and repentance. But its meaning is always the same--Christ crucified and risen, outside of whom there is no salvation.

To see baptism as a sign of my repentance and faith, then, is to turn it on its head. It diminishes, if not evacuates, the sign of its real power in our lives--which is to point us to Christ and to the blessings which are ours in him, and thus to draw forth faith.  Grasp this whole-Bible principle, holds Calvin, and all the New Testament's teaching on baptism beautifully coheres.

While Calvin was a theologian of the ages and his theology comes to us clothed in the garments of the sixteenth century some things never change--including many of the arguments, pro and con, in relation to the baptism of infants. This he passionately believed to be a biblical doctrine.

Calvin meets many of the arguments against infant baptism head on. Typically he deals with them by underlining ways in which they depend on a mis-reading of Scripture.

Thus faced with the insistence that regeneration is required for baptism, he questions the use of Scripture that lies behind such thinking.  Rebuffed by arguments that the order of biblical language ("teach, baptize") presupposes instruction prior to baptism, he points out that of course this is the order when adults are hearing and responding to the gospel for the first time. It would be a logical fallacy to think that the corollary of "adults should hear, believe and be baptized" is "infants must not be baptized"!  One would no more deduce that infants must not be fed because Paul states that 'those who do not work should not eat (2 Thess. 3:10).

But there is one argument that credobaptist proponents, then and now, have often used as a kind of reductio ad absurdum: if you baptize infants, you ought also to give them the Lord's Supper.

Calvin sees a serious flaw here. For while both baptism and the Supper point to Christ, they each point to different aspects of union with him. Baptism points to a once-and-for-all initiation into Christ. It is done to us, not done by us. We do not baptize ourselves, we are baptized.

The Supper, however, is not a sacrament of initiation but of communion.  That is why we are active and engaged at the Lord's Table. For it is essential to be able to

• Discern the Lord's body 
• Examine oneself 
• Proclaim the Lord's death 
• Celebrate the Supper "in remembrance" of Christ.

Just why is Calvin so passionate about this--when, after all, baptism is never more than a sign?

One of the perplexities we modern Christians encounter in admiring magisterial Reformers like Calvin is the severity of their attitude to, and treatment of, Anabaptists. In Calvin's case this may seem all the more mysterious since he married the widow of a former Anabaptist! Our problem is partly--if only partly--due to the unspoken assumption that credobaptism involves, virtually by definition, personal faith and a commitment to evangelical fundamentals.

Sadly it has become clear that there is no necessary connection between the two. If a credobaptist can point the finger at the baptized babies who now have no connection with the church, the paedobaptist can note churches of fourteen thousand members baptized on profession of faith with a weekly attendance of only eight thousand. The sign is not the reality it signifies.

Perhaps this makes it possible for us to understand Calvin a little better. For him "Anabaptist" was not a synonym for "Evangelical."  After all, the best known Anabaptist with whom he had long-term, if profoundly unhappy personal dealings, was Michael Servetus. Horrific though it may sound to an enthusiastic credobaptist, Servetus held to "believer's baptism."  His attempted demolition job of orthodox Christianity--none too subtly titled Christianismi restitutio (guess what book that rhymes with!)--included an attack on infant baptism.

Calvin responds in the Institutio with twenty theological "karate chops." Again his underlying contention is that a false hermeneutic is at work--"He always falls back into the same false reasoning for he preposterously applies to infants what was said concerning adults alone."

It is in this context (Institutes IV. 16. 31) that Calvin reveals the reason for his passion in the whole controversy. Baptism is intended to give the Lord's people the assurance of sight (in the visible sign) as well as of sound (in the audible word of promise). Ignore the sign of the promise and little by little the promise itself will be obscured.

For Calvin, the obscuring of any, and every, divine promise is attributable ultimately to one being: Satan. That being the case, the little Frenchman will muster all the weapons he can to vindicate the promise of God that--even after our death--our God and Father will be to our children everything he has been to us--all within the context of faith. The sign is no more than a sign, but it is never a bare sign (signum nudum)--not so long as the one who gives it is the covenant making and covenant keeping God!

Calvin next turns to the theme of the Lord's Supper. His concern is twofold: (i) to provide a simple explanation of the Supper and (ii) to resolve difficulties related to it. What he does in IV. 17. i is worthy of imitation, namely the provision of a simple but rich exposition of the meaning of Communion. This at least we should share with Calvin: a concern that the Lord's people understand what they are doing at, and how they are to think about, the Supper: What is the Lord showing us at the Table?

The Supper is the Father's provision of nourishment in Christ for his children (Calvin's use of adoptio--adoptive sonship--is particularly striking here, and underscores again how important this is in his theology--as it was in his life). By it the Father means to give assurance to his children.

In essence the Supper is a gospel drama:

• Christ is set before us as the One who was crucified for us 
• Christ is offered to us as food to be received by us 
• Christ is received by us so that we feel him to be working in us.

Calvin's poetic eloquence here should be allowed to stand on its own:

This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, 
he has made with us; 
That, becoming Son of man with us, 
he has made us sons of God with him; 
That, by his descent to earth,    
he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; 
That, by taking on our mortality, 
he has conferred our immortality upon us
That, accepting our weakness, 
he has strengthened us by his power
That, receiving our poverty into himself, 
he has transferred his wealth to us; 
That, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us) 
he has clothed us with his righteousness.

So--urges Calvin--let us make neither too little of the signs by severing them from the living Christ, nor too much so that we obscure him.

As he moves forward in his teaching on the Supper, Calvin's great concern is that Christians should "rightly use the Lord's Supper." He is, from beginning to end, a pastoral theologian. In seeking to serve the church he wants to be sensitive to two things: (i) the mystery of the Lord's Supper, and (ii) the nature of communion with Christ...

With respect to (i) he urges those who can to go beyond him. With respect to (ii) a number of  reformed writers have felt that he has already gone too far!  Statements such as his words in Institutes 4.17.8-9 are typical: "Whoever has partaken of his flesh and blood may . . . enjoy participation in life...The flesh of Christ is like a rich and inexhaustible fountain that pours into us the life springing forth from the Godhead into itself."

These words need to be read in context. Calvin's logic here is: 

• The Father gave life to the incarnate Son so that he might give us life. 
• This life is in the incarnate Son. It is not a commodity extraneous to him. 
• In order to enjoy this life we must be united to the incarnate Son. 
• This union with the incarnate Son is realized through the Holy Spirit

In a word--our salvation and eternal life are resourced in Christ, incarnate, crucified, buried, raised, exalted, ascended, reigning, and returning. Our experience of salvation comes only from Spiritual union and communion with his still-incarnated Person. There is no other source of salvation and life than this incarnate Person. The life he received from the Father he now gives to us.

In our Table communion with Christ, we share his life--just as we share that life in all communion with him.  What is unique about the Supper, therefore, is not so much the mysterious nature of the communion, but the focus in that communion on the bodily Christ specifically as crucified and now risen.

For Calvin, therefore, the communion of the Table is not a communion with the Spirit, but a communion with Christ in and through the Spirit. But there is no other Christ with whom we can have communion than the embodied Son of God.

Sometimes Calvin's view is described as "spiritual." Indeed it is Spiritual (i.e. through the Spirit). But it is so because it is Christological. The Spirit glorifies the incarnate Son in our eyes. In this way, in our Table communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, we "feel his power in partaking of all his benefits" (Institutes 4.17.9).

 

*This post originally appeared as a series of posts on the Institutes, published at Reformation21 in November 2009. 

Hughes Oliphant Old: A Personal Remembrance

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Tomorrow the remains of Hughes Oliphant Old (April 13, 1933 - May 24, 2016) will be interred at the Christian Street Cemetery in White River Junction, Vermont. A prince in Israel has died, leaving behind mourners who will miss both his genteel Christian piety and the vast body of knowledge that he will take with him to the grave. The reward in heaven for this humble servant of Christ will be great.

The dedication page of my doctoral thesis reads as follows:

"To Hughes Oliphant Old,
the dean of Reformed liturgical scholars,
a voice crying in the wilderness,
calling the church ad fontes,
to the sources of Reformed worship in Scripture,
the Fathers, and the Reformers,
that the heirs of the Apostles, Augustine
and Calvin might worship
"according to Scripture." 

There is a true sense in which the ministers of my generation know all that we know about the public worship and ministry of the church generally, and the Reformed church specifically, from the writings and lectures of Hughes "Scoti" Old. My own pilgrimage with the great man may prove instructive.

My introduction to Dr. Old (I could never bring myself to call him by any name less formal) began soon after my arrival in Savannah to pastor the Independent Presbyterian Church in January 1987. A seminary friend of mine sent me a copy of Old's book, Worship that is Reformed According to Scripture.  Up to that point I had developed certain instincts about public worship after two years of daily chapel at the Trinity College in Bristol, England, an Anglican theological college. All my previous experience in public worship had been comparatively shallow. I was beginning to conclude that when the church gathers, more Scripture should be read, Psalms should be sung, prayer should be more substantial, and communion should be served more frequently that once a quarter. Yet I also was convinced that the read prayers of the Book of Common Prayer were not the answer. The "free" prayers of the Reformed church should not be surrendered easily, nor the commitment to lectio continua reading and preaching of Scripture.

Old's Worship that is Reformed opened up a whole new world for me. A chapter was devoted to a discussion of each element of worship, beginning with its roots in Scripture, followed by surveys of its practice in the early church, its modification (and at times corruption) in the Middle Ages, its restoration during the Reformation, and its continuation by the Reformed church since. Again, for ministers of my generation, there was simply nothing like it to be found. Here was the objective answer to our subjective instincts. Here was the antidote to the seductions on the one hand, of the trivialities of the budding contemporary worship movement of the 1990's, and on the other hand of the ritualization and liturgical formality of Anglicanism. Reading it was, well, thrilling. It was an oasis of sanity, an island of edifying order in a church world spinning out of control.

In 1992 Dr. Old published The Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the Sixteenth 
Century (not a title calculated to produce a best seller). While absorbing its extraordinary scholarship on vacation in Hound Ears, North Carolina, I wondered, is he still alive? Might I talk to him? So I called information for the phone number of a Hughes Old in Trenton, N.J. It was listed! I called. His wife Mary answered. She said he was out working in the garden. I begged her to let him be, but she insisted, no, he'll want to talk to you. So we talked. About an hour. He was endlessly fascinating and a goldmine of information. I called repeatedly as I prepared Leading in Worship for publication, even sending him the manuscript. Likewise, I called as I prepared Reformed Worship and other projects.  Always he was generous with his time and counsel.

At some point I learned that behind his publications was his doctoral thesis, The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship,  a rare but groundbreaking book that vindicates Calvin's claim that the reforms of worship in Geneva were "According to the Custom of the Ancient Church." The reforms of Reformed Protestantism, Old demonstrated, were rooted in the Patristics (the church fathers), such as Augustine, Chrysostom, Tertullian, and Origen, among many others. Patristic Roots is a comprehensive rebuttal of high church claims of the antiquity of their worship and a vigorous defense of the Reformers and historic Reformed practice.

Dr. Old kept churning out the books. Themes and Variations for a Christian Doxology is a brilliant but under-appreciated work that shows how Reformed worship honors various scriptural genres: the prophets critique of Israel's formalism, the poets' love of sung praise, the wisdom tradition's bookish piety ("O how I love your law"), and so on. The Reformed church doesn't rely on a text here and there to justify its practices, Old demonstrated. Whole biblical genres may be invoked to support its ministry.

I read Old's Leading in Prayer  on the way to Scotland for a ministerial conference. Dr. Old, for whom Matthew Henry (1602-1714) is a heroic figure, sought with its publication to revive free prayer in the tradition of Henry's Method of Prayer,  the deterioration of which had become, in his words, "an embarrassment to the tradition." He urges a "full-diet" of biblical prayer, providing practical helps for those leading in public prayer: prayers of praise, confession of sin, thanksgiving, intercession (including the five-fold petitions for the sanctification of the saints, the church, the sick, the civil government, and Christian mission), illumination, and benediction.

Beginning in 1998, Dr. Old began to publish his seven volume History of the Reading and Preaching of Scripture in the Christian Church, a landmark in liturgical scholarship and a monumental defense of lectio continua reading and preaching as acts of worship, indeed, worship at its apex. Finally, he published in Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church, a massive articulation and defense of the communion practices of the Reformed church and the role of the eucharist in nurturing piety.

To my surprise and delight, Dr. Old in 2004 was named the Director of the John Leith Institute for Reformed Worship at Erskine Seminary in Due West, SC, just four hours from Savannah. Immediately several of us determined we'd take every class he taught, which I did from 2004 to 2008, resulting in a D. Min. from Erskine and the doctoral thesis mentioned above. His lectures were not as strictly organized as his writings, yet they were sprinkled with crucial insights and exhaustive bibliographic knowledge. His students experienced his brilliance both formally in the classroom and informally over meals. The value of being his student is easy to establish: it was priceless.

If my vocation is to pastor a local church, my avocation for 30 years has been to popularize Dr. Old's work for the sake of ministry in the late 20th and early 21st century, particularly among conservative Calvinists. My dependence upon him, direct and indirect, has been close to absolute. I have sought to elaborate the connection he suggested between Reformation theology (represented by its mottos: sola scripturasolo Christosola fidesola gratiasoli Deo gloria) and liturgical reform, of which Worshipping with Calvin is the result. I have also sought to elaborate the continuity in the Reformed church through the centuries as to actual practice, also suggested by Dr. Old, resulting in Serving with Calvin, an expansion of an earlier work, The Pastor's Public Ministry. I make these admittedly self-serving references that I might stimulate others to take his many seminal, but underdeveloped scholarly findings and elaborate them for the benefit of the church.

Dr. Old has been the leading figure in a third liturgical movement of recent years (after the better known ecumenical liturgical movement and the contemporary worship movement), promoting the revival of the elements of historic Reformed worship: lectio continua reading and preaching of Scripture, psalm-singing, a "full-diet" of biblical prayer, and the administration of the sacraments as covenantal signs. Many hands shall have to take up his mantle if the momentum of revival is not to be lost. I say many hands, given that "Scoti" knew more than any of the rest of us, and likely, more than all the rest of us combined.

Why Intinction Matters

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One of the Book of Church Order amendments making the rounds of PCA presbyteries this year is a proposed change to forbid the practice of intinction.  For those not in the know, intinction is the procedure of receiving the Lord's Supper by dipping the bread into the cup. Instead of eating the bread and drinking the cup, one eats the wine or grape-juice saturated bread.  


 

It seems likely that this amendment is going to fail to achieve the necessary 2/3 of presbyteries to be approved, so that we will see the novelty of a Reformed Presbyterian denomination approving a procedure historically associated with the Roman Catholic Mass.  What is more revealing, and to me discouraging, is the kind of argument being reported in presbytery after presbytery.

The Lord's Supper

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Lord's Supper.jpg

 It is a pleasure to recommend this latest book on The Lord's Supper by my friend and colleague Dr Malcolm Maclean of Scalpay Free Church. What I like about it is not only the survey of the biblical, historical and theological basis of the Supper, but the emphasis on what it is that makes the Lord's Supper a means of grace - the action of Christ in it. As I say in my recommendation, 'The question of what Jesus is doing in the Lord's Supper rather than what we are doing challenges the subjectivism that drives much of our practice, and restores a much needed emphasis on the Supper as a means of grace'.




Results tagged “Lord's Supper” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 29.7, 8

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

viii. Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament; yet, they receive not the thing signified thereby; but, by their unworthy coming thereunto, are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation. Wherefore, all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with Him, so are they unworthy of the Lord's table and cannot, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto.

The Spiritual Presence of Christ in the Supper

The remedy to a doctrine of the real physical presence of Christ is not a doctrine of real absence, but a doctrine of Spiritual presence, and paragraph seven presents that old Calvinistic doctrine of the spiritual presence of Christ in the supper. When we are properly receiving the supper (including an examination of ourselves, 1 Cor. 11:28), we are 'inwardly' partaking of Christ while 'outwardly partaking of the visible elements'. The apostle Paul calls this 'participating' or 'fellowshipping' in the blood and in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16) - a concept which usefully challenges conventional assumptions in evangelicalism that the Lord's supper is merely a memorial moment to remember Jesus. 

This participation in Christ in the supper is 'by faith' and 'spiritually'. That is to say, when we come to the supper, trusting afresh in Christ and the triumph of his cross, we find Christ present by his Holy Spirit in the supper. And through this meal we by faith receive him, with all the benefits of his death that are reserved for believers. We feed upon him. We are nourished by him. And although that receiving and feeding is not carnal or corporal, it is real and actual. 

To state it a different way, and even more emphatically, 'the body and blood of Christ' is not during the supper 'corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine'. Christ is not present in the body or in the flesh. No Catholic, or Lutheran, or 'high Anglican' formula of real presence in the sense of physical presence is correct. But nor are these doctrines necessary! Spiritual does not mean artificial. Spiritual realities are true realities. And so this confession rightly insists that Christ is present 'really, but spiritually' in the supper. He is as 'present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves' are present 'to their outward senses'. 

Eating and Drinking Damnation

Along with the theory that Christ is physically present in the supper, came the puzzle of unworthy participants eating the bread of the supper. Did they partake of Christ in the supper? The early medieval answer to the questions was yes, but without benefit. Later theories argued that any participation in the mass had almost automatic benefit. Medieval skeptics about physical presence, and the Protestant Reformers with them, parodied the theory by asking about the mice. Did mice eating the crumbs that had fallen on the cathedral floor also partake of Christ's body? Unlikely, it seemed. But how could the conclusion be avoided?
 
The Westminster assembly, like the Reformers before them, concluded that 'ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament' but 'not the thing signified thereby'. They get food and drink. They do not get the Saviour or any benefit from him. 

Nevertheless, not only is there no positive benefit in coming to the table, there is also real harm. As scripture states so clearly, by unworthy participation in the supper, people become 'guilty of the body and blood of the Lord' (1 Cor. 11:27; c.f., vv. 27-29). That is to say, they drink to their own damnation. 'Ignorant and ungodly persons . . . are unfit to enjoy communion with' the Lord and 'so are they unworthy of the Lord's table. The problem is not simply that unbelievers should not hide in the ranks of believers. It is much deeper than that. This meal speaks of Christian partnership and fellowship and as Paul asks, after all, 'what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? Christ with Belial? God with idolatry? (2 Cor. 6:14-16). Partaking of 'these holy mysteries' while remaining an unbeliever is not merely a mistake, it is a 'great sin against Christ'. Ministers need to speak words that force a serious rethink for non-Christians who assume they are entitled to partake of Christ's supper.

But why does coming to the table unworthily involve eating and drinking damnation? Why is it a great sin? What is so dangerous about a pretended communion with Christ and his church? The answer is found in the great privilege that it is to partake of a meal which so perfectly pictures our participation in Christ. It is intended to nourish Christian faith. To come to the table without that Holy-Spirit-worked faith in the Saviour is to try to seize a gift which can only be given. Coming to the table then becomes the personal symbol of a man or a woman's presumption. The supper becomes an emblem of the arrogance of someone who fancies he or she can fellowship with the Father, without coming through his Son. 

Out of concern for unbelievers themselves, we warn them not to partake of the table. We also refuse to invite them to the table because those who reject Christ and his church must not be admitted to the fellowship meal designed for those who accept him and his people. Here, what is true of the membership of the church is true for the sacrament of the church. What Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5 applies to his discussion in 1 Corinthians 11. 'Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed' (1 Cor. 5:6-7). The church and the table need to be 'purged' (1 Cor. 5:13). We must, in the strong words of Jesus for those who reject truth, not 'give dogs what is holy' or 'throw pearls before pigs' (Matt. 7:6). As a serious warning to those who are erring, we must avoid fellowship and warn 'any brother' who is idle and unwilling to be instructed - surely a command which sometimes justifies suspending a member of the church from the communion table of the church, and always justifies insisting that those who come to the table be members in good standing with a church that loves and preaches the gospel of the Triune God (2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15).

Dr. Chad B. Van Dixhoorn is Professor of Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. This article is taken from his forthcoming commentary on the Confession, published by the Banner of Truth Trust.

Chapter 29.5, 6

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v. The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to Him crucified, as that, truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ; albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before.

vi. That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ's body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason; overthroweth the nature of the sacrament, and hath been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions; yea, of gross idolatries.

A Reader's Guide to the Sacraments

The fifth paragraph of the chapter offers a condensed reader's guide to the sacramental sections of the Bible, one of a number of such guides to Bible readers found in the Confession. It is designed to explain the vivid language used in Scripture to describe the Lord's supper: 'The outward elements in this sacrament', the bread and the wine, when 'duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ', have such a close 'relation to Him crucified' that 'they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent'. 

We see this kind of language, for example, in Matthew 26:26-28. There 'Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant"'. The Westminster assembly's observation here is that Jesus did not say that the bread was like his body. He did not say that the wine was like his blood. He effectively, and shockingly, told his disciples to eat his body and drink his blood. The Westminster assembly's conclusion here is that what Jesus spoke, he spoke 'truly'. That is to say, there is nothing inappropriate or problematic about this kind of talk. It is just as acceptable for us to use this language today as it was for Jesus to use that language himself. He substituted the reality for the symbol, instead of the symbol for the reality. And so can we.

Evidently Jesus spoke this way because his sacrament and his sacrifice are so closely related; because the symbol chosen by Christ is so perfectly suited to represent himself. Nonetheless Christ's statement (made by a Saviour of flesh and blood) was true in a sacramental sense only. That is to say, the bread is a true symbol of Christ's flesh. In substance, in nature, the bread is bread and the wine is wine. 

The interchange between symbol and substance is amply illustrated in 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul moves back and forth between mentioning 'the body and blood of the Lord' (once, referring to the crucifixion and the supper), and eating the bread and drinking the cup (three times, referring to the supper). The Apostle's continued references to the bread and cup illustrate the fact that references to 'the body and blood of the Lord' do not change the fact that even after these common elements are properly set apart for holy use 'they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before'.

The Physical Presence of Christ in the Supper: The Trouble with Transubstantiation

If the fifth paragraph's instructions on reading biblical language is correct, then the truth of the sixth paragraph carries real force. The Roman Catholic 'doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ's body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation)' is simply incorrect. The doctrine of transubstantiation teaches that when the elements of bread and wine are consecrated, or ceremonially set apart by a priest, that the real substance of the bread and wine changes into flesh and blood even though all the apparent characteristics of the bread and wine don't change. The bread still looks and feels and smells and tastes (and if you drop enough of it on the floor it still sounds) like bread. The wine still tingles on the tongue and smells like the South of France or Napa Valley. But Roman Catholics are taught that it is really Christ's flesh and blood.

Transubstantiation was the dominant theory, but by no means the only theory, employed to explain how the elements of the supper could become the body and blood of the Lord. Here the Westminster assembly is rejecting not just transubstantiation, but any theory that attempted to justify a doctrine of the real physical presence of Christ. Neither the 'consecration of a priest', nor any other special words or actions, are capable of changing the substance of the elements of the Lord's supper. The idea of transubstantiation or any similar theory really is 'repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason'. Without doubt it is contrary to Scripture. After all, as the resurrected Jesus explained to his disciples, he has normal 'flesh and blood' (Lk. 24:39). As Peter preached at Pentecost, heaven has received Jesus and will keep him until all things are restored at the last day (Acts 3:21). We celebrate the supper 'in remembrance' of Jesus, but 'remembering' is certainly an odd thing to do if Jesus is actually present with us bodily, first on the table, and then in our mouths (1 Cor. 11:24-26). Angels once had to tell people standing around an empty tomb, 'He is not here, but has risen' (Luke 24:6). We sometimes need to tell people standing around the Lord's table, 'He is not here, but has ascended'. 

Transubstantiation and the family of associated theories are also contrary to common sense. We should not require a simile in order to identify a metaphor. When Jesus stated that the bread or wine was his body or blood, we should not need for him to spell out that he means that the bread or wine 'is like' his body or blood. It is no exaggeration to say that the idea of a physical presence of our Lord in the Lord's supper theologically and linguistically 'overthrows the nature of the sacrament' but also, historically, has been the cause of many superstitions - yes even obscene idolatries.

Dr. Chad B. Van Dixhoorn is Professor of Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. This article is taken from his forthcoming commentary on the Confession, published by the Banner of Truth Trust.

Chapter 29.3, 4

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iii. The Lord Jesus hath, in his ordinance, appointed His ministers to declare His word of institution to the people; to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use; and to take and break bread, to take the cup and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants; but to none who are not then present in the congregation. 

iv. Private masses, or receiving this sacrament by a priest, or any other, alone, as likewise, the denial of the cup to the people, worshipping the elements, the lifting them up, or carrying them about, for adoration, and the reserving them for any pretended religious use; are all contrary to the nature of this sacrament, and to the institution of Christ.

Celebrating the Supper

Having defined the essence of the supper in paragraphs one and two, the Confession directs the celebration of the supper in paragraphs three and four. The place to find basic directives on the celebrating of the supper is in the fourfold summary of the first supper recorded in the first, second, and third gospels and in one epistle (Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). There we find three key features.

First, Jesus, serving as the prime minister of the new covenant, declared his word of institution - he directed his disciples, telling them what to do and when, and explaining what the elements and actions meant. His disciples then passed this instruction on to other disciples, although the subject of the supper is important enough that the Apostle Paul appears to have received instructions on the supper directly from the risen Christ himself. 

Second, we can see from these four accounts that as an essential ingredient of the supper we are to mix in prayer, as we see Jesus himself doing. These prayers are to include a petition for the blessing of the elements, asking God to set apart what is common to be used for a purpose that is holy. We are to ask that God would take this ordinary bread, and ordinary wine, and bless it by his Holy Spirit for extraordinary good.

Third, the minister is 'to take and break' the bread, and 'to take the cup' and, not forgetting to partake of the meal themselves, they are to give the supper to all those who are communing with Christ and his people at that supper, as Christ did on the night when he was betrayed.

Private Communion

The last line of the third paragraph specifies that the Lord's supper is not to be received privately. One reason why the Westminster assembly frowned on bringing the bread and wine to persons not present in the worship service, was presented in paragraph one: this meal is intended to celebrate communion with Christ, but also with fellow Christians.
 
A second related reason why the Westminster assembly disapproved of private communion is found in the Bible itself: not only did the individualistic approach of the Corinthians earn an apostolic rebuke (1 Cor. 11:20; c.f., 17-22), it seems to have been the settled pattern of the first Christians to 'gather together to break bread' rather than to eat in isolation (e.g., Acts 20:7). 

A third reason why the assembly worked to banish the still-popular practice of private communion is suggested in paragraph two and clarified in the opening line of paragraph four: Roman Catholics had long inflated the saving efficacy of the mass and offered private masses as a kind of life-line to grace. The assembly considered the continuation of private communion a poor example, even in churches where the theology of the Lord's supper had been corrected. Like the Israelites who were to remember the rebels of the wilderness days, Protestants were to remember the Romanists of the theological wilderness and avoid their ways (1 Cor. 10:6).

Pretended Religion

Having forbidden private communion, the assembly tackled other ceremonial abuses too. The most egregious was the Roman Catholic practice of forbidding people to drink of the cup, lest they accidentally spill the blood of Christ on the floor of the church. Suffice it to say that when Jesus gave the cup, he gave it to all disciples, both the coordinated and the clumsy (Mark 14:23; 1 Cor. 11:25-29). The practice of withholding the cup from the laity was a gradual, natural, and tragic development from the idea that the wine miraculously become blood when blessed by the priest - a theory which the assembly confronts in paragraphs five and six. 

Actually, any additional ceremonies attached to the supper and required either of those who administer or of those who receive the supper is an offence to God. Bowing down to the elements, lifting up the elements, parading the elements, adoring the elements, storing them for later religious purposes - all of these activities oppose the true nature of the sacrament and subvert the simple institution of Christ. It is vain worship - empty and useless. Yet all of these practices were commanded by the Roman Catholic church, with penalties for nonconformity. Some of these practices were commanded by the Church of England, with penalties for nonconformity. Both the Reformation and post-Reformation histories vividly illustrate the drift and the danger to leaders in the church who 'teach as doctrines the commandments of men' (Matt. 15:9). 

Dr. Chad B. Van Dixhoorn is Professor of Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. This article is taken from his forthcoming commentary on the Confession, published by the Banner of Truth Trust.

Chapter 29.2

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ii. In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; not any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same, so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ's one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect.

Not an offering, not a sacrifice

Having once charted out what the Lord's supper is, the Confession now adds in many comments about what it is not. It is not, in the first place, an offering. 'In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father'. In fact, in the ceremony of the supper, there is 'not any real sacrifice made at all'. Jesus is not given up once more either for the forgiveness of the sins of the living, or of the dead, or for any other purposes.

As students of history will know, the Westminster assembly is here refuting the notion of a 'sacrifice of the mass'. As students of world religions will know, this continues to be an abiding error in the sacramental theory of the Roman Catholic Church. As students of the Bible will know, that Christ can ever be sacrificed again is denied in the most emphatic terms in the New Testament, especially in Hebrews 9.

First, in contrast to the Old Covenant regime, Jesus has no intention to 'offer himself repeatedly', or to 'suffer repeatedly'. The very thought is absurd to the author of the Hebrews. We see this in Hebrews 9:25-26.

Second, there can be no repetition to Christ's finished work. Jesus 'has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself'. Nothing more will ever be needed. There is only one Christian sacrifice and it is seen on the cross and not in a supper. We see this in Hebrews 9:26.

Third, the so-called bloodless 'sacrifice' that is supposedly offered in the Roman Catholic mass can have no merit because 'without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins'. We see this in Hebrews 9:22.

A commemorative offering or a commemoration of an offering?

The second point made in this second paragraph is that this sacrament is not a commemorative offering but a commemoration of an offering. Roman Catholics under siege will describe the mass merely as a commemorative offering of Jesus - a memorial offering. Given the stern statements of Hebrews 9, the Westminster assembly is right to see the supper instead as a commemoration of an offering - the one offering up of Jesus himself, by himself, upon his cross, once in history for all time. That is why Jesus kept saying that Christians are to observe the supper in his remembrance (1 Cor. 11:24-26): because it is that important, and because it will not be repeated.

By its very nature the Lord's supper is the kind of commemoration which is also a 'spiritual oblation'. Christians engage in this supper, like Christ, by blessing God and giving thanks (Matt. 26:26-27). As it is a meal which offers spiritual rather than physical benefit, in doing so we are giving thanks for Jesus more than we are giving thanks for wheat or wine. We are offering heartfelt sacrifice of praise to God for Jesus. We are publicly proclaiming the good news of what Jesus has done, which is yet another way of offering praise (1 Cor. 11:26). Nonetheless, it is praise that we offer again and again in the supper, not Jesus. The meal remains a commemoration. 

It is for that reason that Reformation era theologians protested effectively, against what some major medieval theologians had earlier protested ineffectively: the 'popish sacrifice of the mass'. And for those reasons it is not an exaggeration to say that the mass 'is most abominably injurious to Christ's one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect'. The 'sacrifice' of the mass requires the return to a priesthood, while we have priests enough in the one permanent priest who is Christ (Heb. 7:23-24). The 'sacrifice' of the mass calls for continued offerings when Christ has 'once for all . . . offered up himself' (Heb. 7:27). 

So let us listen to the Scriptures! They tell us that Jesus 'offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins'. Let us trust the Word of God, which tells us that after Jesus offered himself and completed his work, 'he sat down at the right hand of God' (Heb. 10:11-12). Let us never drift into a church that ceremonially re-sacrifices Christ when 'by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified' (Heb. 10:14). Let us not look for grace or forgiveness mediated through the mass when we find it directly from Christ himself. 

After writing eloquently about the end of daily sacrifices in the final sacrifice of Christ, the author of the letter to the Hebrews reflected on what this means for Christians who will one day be summoned to meet God. By the inspiration of the Spirit, he was brought to recall two promises of God in Jeremiah 31:33 and 34. In the first, God promised to put his law on our hearts and write it on our minds. In the second, he added, 'I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more'. 

If that is the essence of God's gracious covenant with us then, as Hebrews 10:18 rightly states, 'where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin'. The Lord's supper witnesses to what Christ has already done - the one who is the only propitiation, the only wrath remover, for all God's chosen ones. 

Dr. Chad B. Van Dixhoorn is Professor of Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. This article is taken from his forthcoming commentary on the Confession, published by the Banner of Truth Trust

Chapter 29.1

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i. Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein He was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of His body and blood, called the Lord's Supper, to be observed in His Church, unto the end of the world for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of Himself in His death, the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body.

One reason for the particular poignancy of the Lord's supper in the life of the Christian church is its birthdate: this sacrament came into being the night Jesus was betrayed. The gospel histories highlight this fact. The Apostle Paul recalls this context again in his letter to the Corinthians. And Paul in turn was only delivering what he had received from the Lord himself. Here, in a paragraph which paraphrases a passage from Paul's epistle to the Corinthians, the Westminster assembly brings us back once again to the night of the betrayal. In returning to that scene, we are reminded of all the cardinal truths about this supper and what it represents. 

First, it was our Lord Jesus who instituted this new sacrament. No one less than Jesus could and did replace the Passover meal with another meal. No one less than Jesus could and did command the Christian church to celebrate a meal that centered completely on himself. As Paul explained to the Corinthians, this meal is 'the table of the Lord' and 'the cup of the Lord'; it is 'the Lord's supper' and we are to observe the meal as he requires (1Cor. 10:21; 11:20).

Second, it was on that night that Jesus instituted a sacrament of 'his body and blood'. This is a striking phrase, not popular in Protestant churches today, but historically very accurate in its emphasis. When Jesus instituted the Lord's supper he showed, he ate, and he drank the elements of bread and wine. But his words emphasized not the elements of the supper, but the reality they represented. For what did Jesus say? 'This is my body which is for you.' 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood' (1 Cor. 11:24-25; c.f., Matt. 26:26-28; Mk 14:2-24; Lk. 22:19-20). 

Third, the sacrament of Christ's body and blood is 'to be observed in his church'. This is a point which paragraph three will take up in greater detail, but it is evident enough in the very context in which the Lord's supper was originally delivered. This meal was not given to Peter, James, and John - a few favourite friends of Jesus. It was given to all the disciples (Matt. 26:20; Mk 14:17; Lk. 22:14-15). It is be observed, or performed, in the church.

Fourth, this supper is to be observed until 'the end of the world'. Christians have always understood that when Jesus twice told his disciples to remember him, that he intended a 'perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of Himself in His death'. This is why the Apostle Paul repeated both of Jesus's calls to remembrance, and then concluded by saying that 'as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes' (1 Cor. 11:24-26). It is unthinkable that Christians would forget Christ's sacrifice. On the contrary, we proclaim his death until he returns, not only with our words, but also with his supper.

Fifth, a return to the events of that dark night helps us to see that Jesus was promising benefits to true believers. We celebrate the supper not only in remembrance of Christ's sacrifice of himself, but also in remembrance that Jesus promised his body for us, and that his bloody covenant is with us (1 Cor. 11:24-25). Jesus gave himself in our place, and for our sake, and the supper was designed to keep this glorious fact before our eyes. It's because the supper serves as a seal of the benefits and treasures of redemption that Paul refers to the wine as 'the cup of blessing' (1 Cor. 10:16; for 'sealing' see WCF 27.1). 

Sixth, this supper is to be observed for our 'spiritual nourishment and growth' in Christ. We can see from the gospels that the Lord's supper was, at least in part, a ceremonial addition to an existing meal. It was not a normal meal. It was not intended for bodily nourishment and growth. Paul had to remind the Corinthians of this because they were hurrying to serve themselves so that they would have enough to eat (1 Cor. 11:17-22). That is one reason why we need to remember that Jesus took the symbolic cup and used it as an emblem of his own sacrifice 'after supper' (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). The Lord's supper is like a good sermon: it is intended as food for the soul.

Seventh, we are to celebrate the Lord's supper for our 'further engagement in, and to, all duties' which we owe to him. In saying this the Westminster assembly is not drawing on a particular passage in Scripture. The gathering is simply noting the gratitude that guilty Christians show in response to grace. In realizing that Jesus not only gave us himself, but also gave us this abiding reminder of his gospel, we are moved to thought and action. We are renewed in our commitment to Christ and in the service that we owe him. These are reasons enough to observe the supper, nonetheless, participation in this meal is also a profession of exclusive loyalty to Jesus Christ that implies submission to his lordship alone. After all, as Paul warned the Corinthians, 'You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons' (1 Cor. 10:21).

Eighth, the Lord's supper is to be observed in the church as a powerful symbol of our communion with Christ, by his Holy Spirit. We can see that this meal is communal by thinking about its first participants: the disciples were there communing with Jesus. Naturally, Jesus was there with those disciples in a way that he is not with later disciples. Nonetheless, Jesus Christ is present with us by his Spirit in this supper (see WCF 29.7), a fact which is central to one of the proof-texts proffered by the authors of this confession. In fact the Apostle Paul speaks of Christians partaking of the cup as those who 'drink of one Spirit' (1 Cor. 10:13). He also refers to the act of drinking the cup as 'a participation' or 'fellowship in the blood of Christ', and the act of breaking bread as 'a participation' or 'fellowship in the body of Christ' (1 Cor. 10:16). 

Ninth, recollection of that first supper and reflection on 1 Corinthians 10 is clearly calculated by God to underscore the closeness of our communion not only with Christ, but with Christians. The disciples communed with Christ at the Last Supper, but they also communed with one another. And while 1 Corinthians 10:16 stresses our union with Christ in this supper, 1 Corinthians 10:17 stresses our union with other believers in this same supper: 'Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread'. This unity with one another in Christ, reinforced in this supper, is also a unity with one another in the Spirit. Just as 'in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body' so also, now thinking of the Lord's supper, 'all were made to drink of one Spirit' (1 Cor. 12:13). No wonder that the assembly concluded that the sacrament of Christ's body and blood is to be observed as 'a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body'. The meal so often called the Last Supper was really the first supper.

Dr. Chad B. Van Dixhoorn is Professor of Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. This article is taken from his forthcoming commentary on the Confession, published by the Banner of Truth Trust.