In A Worthy Manner

“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.” (1 Cor. 11:27)

Calvin-John7John Calvin:

In seeking to prepare for eating the Lord’s Supper worthily, men have often dreadfully harassed and tortured miserable consciences, and yet have failed to reach their goal. They have said that you must be “in a state of grace” in order to eat worthily. What does it mean to be in a state of grace? They have interpreted this to mean being pure and free from all sin. By this definition, all the men that ever have been, and all who are on the earth now, are barred from the use of this sacrament. For if we are to seek our worthiness from ourselves, it is all over with us; only despair and fatal ruin await us. Though we struggle to the utmost, we will not only make no progress, but we would only be more unworthy after we have labored most to make ourselves worthy.

To cure this ulcer, they have devised a mode of procuring worthiness: After having, as far as we can, made an examination and taken an account of all our actions, we are to be cleansed of our unworthiness by contrition, confession, and satisfaction. I say that such things, at best, give poor and fleeting comfort to alarmed and downcast consciences, struck with terror at their sins. For if the Lord admits only the righteous and innocent to partake of his Supper, every man would have to be very cautious before feeling that he had righteousness of his own which God requires.

How could we be assured that we have truly done everything in our power to discharge our duty to God? Even if we could be assured of this, who would then venture to assure himself that he, in fact, had done all that he could do? So, we would have no certain security for our worthiness, and access to the Supper would always be excluded by the fearful warning, “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.” (1 Cor. 11:27)

It is now easy to judge what is the nature, and who is the author, of this kind of teaching. Certainly the devil could have no shorter method of destroying men than by thus excluding them from the taste and savor of this food which their most merciful Father in heaven is pleased to feed them. To avoid running off such a cliff, let us remember that this sacred feast is medicine to the sick, comfort to the sinner, and bounty to the poor. To the healthy, the righteous, and the rich (if any could be found) the Lord’s Supper would be of no value. For Christ is given us for food in the Supper, and we perceive that without him we fail and waste away, just as hunger destroys the vigor of the body. As he is given to us for life, so we perceive that without him we are certainly dead.

So, the best and only worthiness which we can bring to God, is to offer him our own vileness, and unworthiness, that his mercy may make us worthy:

to despond in ourselves, that we may be consoled in him
to humble ourselves, that we may be elevated by him
to accuse ourselves, that we may be justified by him
We are also to aspire to the unity which he recommends in the Supper; and, as he makes us all one in himself, we are to desire to have all one soul, one heart, one tongue.

If we ponder and meditate on these things, we may be shaken, but will never be overwhelmed by the consideration of this vital question, “How shall we, who are devoid of all good, polluted by sin, and half dead, worthily eat the body of the Lord?” We shall rather consider that we, who are poor, are coming to a benevolent giver, sick to a physician, sinful to the author of righteousness, in fine, dead to him who gives life.

The worthiness which is commanded by God, consists especially in faith, which places all things in Christ, nothing in ourselves, and in love, which, though imperfect, may be sufficient to offer to God, that he may increase it, since it cannot be fully rendered.

Some, agreeing that worthiness consists in faith and charity, have demanded a perfection of faith to which nothing can be added, and a love equivalent to that which Christ manifested towards us. And in this way, they, too, bar all men from access to this sacred feast. For, if they are correct, everyone who receives the Supper must receive unworthily, since all, are guilty of great imperfection. And certainly it is too stupid, not to say idiotic, to require, as the basis for receiving the sacrament, a perfection which would render the sacrament vain and superfluous. The Lord’s Supper was not instituted for the perfect, but for the sick and weak, to stir up, excite, stimulate, exercise the feeling of faith and love, and at the same time correct the deficiency of both.

[From Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 4, Ch. 17, Sec. 41-42, trans. by Henry Beveridge, ed. by Jason Van Bemmel.]

Ten Things About the Lord’s Supper

communion02Article by Dr. Sam Storms, also known as Communion or the Eucharist (from the Greek word for the giving of thanks) is 1 Corinthians 11:23-34. Here are ten brief observations on what we see in this text.

1) The Lord’s Supper is primarily (but not exclusively) designed to elicit or to stimulate in our hearts remembrance of the person and work of Jesus: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25).

2) This remembrance is commanded. Participation at the Lord’s Table is not an option. Prolonged absence from it is spiritually unhealthy and willful neglect of it may be grounds for church discipline.

3) This remembrance entails the use of tangible elements: bread and wine. It isn’t enough simply to say, “Remember!” The elements of bread and wine are given to stir our minds and hearts. The physical action of eating and drinking is designed to remind us that we spiritually “ingest” and depend upon Jesus and the saving benefits of his life, death, and resurrection. Just as food and drink are essential to sustain physical existence, so also the blessings and benefits that come to us through the body and blood of Christ are paramount to our spiritual flourishing.

4) It is a personal remembrance. We are to remember Jesus. The focus isn’t on Abraham or Moses or Isaiah. The focus is no longer on the Jewish Passover or the night of his betrayal or anything else. The focus is Jesus. “Do this in remembrance of ME” (1 Cor. 11:25).

5) In this remembering there is also confession. In partaking of the elements we declare: “Christ gave his body and blood for me. He died for me.” This is one among many reasons why I reject the practice of paedo-communion (the giving of the elements of the Table to infants). If one cannot and does not personally and consciously confess that the bread and wine symbolize the body and blood of Jesus sacrificed for sinners, he/she should not, indeed must not, partake of them. Continue reading

Approaching the Lord’s Table

stormsArticle by Dr. Sam Storms: “LET EVERY SAINT THY GLORY SEE”: REFLECTIONS ON OUR ATTITUDE IN APPROACHING THE TABLE OF THE LORD” – (original source while others draw near with a joy that often borders on frivolity.

It’s important that we do not confuse spiritual sobriety with somberness. Yes, partaking of the Eucharist is serious, but it is not sad. The elements lead us to the Cross, but they never leave us there. The elements are also designed to carry us on to an empty tomb and a celebration of the risen Christ and his soon return!

Is it possible then to be both reverent and to rejoice? Yes!

Never come to the Lord’s Table thinking that by partaking of these elements you are pacifying an angry God. Never come to the Table thinking that by doing so you are transforming an irritable and wrathful God into a joyful and loving one. The elements are designed to remind us that whatever wrath and anger and righteous judgment that God had toward us as sinners has been forever and eternally endured and satisfied by Jesus!

Is that not cause for joy and celebration and thanksgiving? Yes!

Do not come to the Table beating yourself up over your failures. Do not come berating your soul for all the ways you’ve failed God. Yes, acknowledge your sins and then rejoice that the body and blood of Jesus have forever secured for you the forgiveness and freedom you so desperately desire.

Charles Spurgeon wrote this hymn to be sung at communion. It truly expresses the range of appropriate thoughts and emotions that we should experience as we approach the Table:

“Amidst us our Beloved stands,
And bids us view His pierced hands;
Points to His wounded feet and side,
Blest emblems of the crucified.
What food luxurious loads the board,
When at His table sits the Lord!
The wine how rich, the bread how sweet,
When Jesus deigns His guests to meet!
If now with eyes defiled and dim,
We see the signs, but see not Him,
Oh may His love the scales displace
And bid us view Him face to face.
Our former transports we recount,
When with Him in the holy mount;
These cause our souls to thirst anew,
His marr’d but lovely face to view.
Thou glorious bridegroom of our hearts,
Thy present smile a heaven imparts
Oh lift the veil, if veil there be,
Let every saint Thy glory see.”

Calvin’s View of the Lord’s Supper

communion03In an article entitled, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper,” Keith Mathison writes:

John Calvin is widely considered to be one of the greatest theologians of the Reformation era. Many associate his name with doctrines such as the sovereignty of God, election, and predestination, but fewer are aware that he wrote extensively on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. The topic occupied many of his sermons, tracts, and theological treatises throughout his career. Calvin’s emphasis was not unusual. Among the many doctrines debated during the Reformation, the Lord’s Supper was discussed more than any other.

By the time Calvin became a prominent voice in the late 1530s, the Reformers had been debating the Lord’s Supper with Roman Catholics and with each other for years. In order to understand Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, it is necessary to understand the views he opposed. Throughout the later Middle Ages and up until the sixteenth century, the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Mass was the received view in the Western church. Two aspects of the Roman Catholic doctrine require comment: Rome’s view of the Eucharistic presence and Rome’s view of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

According to Rome, Christ’s presence in the sacrament is to be explained in terms of the doctrine of transubstantiation. The doctrine of transubstantiation asserts that when the priest says the words of consecration, the substance of the bread and wine is transformed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ. The accidens (that is, the incidental properties) of the bread and wine remain the same. Rome also teaches that the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice; in fact, the same sacrifice Christ offered on the cross. The Eucharistic sacrifice is offered for the sins of the living and the dead.

The Reformers were united in their rejection of both aspects of Rome’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. They rejected transubstantiation, and they rejected the idea that the Lord’s Supper is a propitiatory sacrifice. In his book The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), Martin Luther attacked both of these doctrines. Also opposed to Rome’s doctrine was the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli. However, although Luther and Zwingli agreed in their rejection of Rome’s doctrine, they were not able to come to agreement on the true nature of the Lord’s Supper.

Zwingli argued that Christ’s words “This is my body” should be read, “This signifies my body.” He claimed that the Lord’s Supper is a symbolic memorial, an initiatory ceremony in which the believer pledges that he is a Christian and proclaims that he has been reconciled to God through Christ’s shed blood. Martin Luther adamantly rejected Zwingli’s doctrine, insisting that Christ’s words “This is my body” must be taken in their plain, literal sense. Continue reading

Rome’s View of the Eucharist

William A. Webster is a business man, living with his wife and children in Battle Ground, Washington. He has already authored The Christian Following Christ as Lord and Salvation, The Bible, and Roman Catholicism, The Church of Rome at the Bar of History, from which this article is taken, and the three volume series, Sola Scriptura, co-edited by David T. King. Mr. Webster is a founder of Christian Resources, Inc., a tape and book ministry dedicated to teaching and evangelism. You can visit his website at http://www.christiantruth.com/

Here is an excellent article he wrote concerning the Roman Catholic view of the Eucharist.

Remember Me

Dustin Crowe serves as the local outreach coordinator at College Park Church in Indianapolis. He has a degree in historical theology from Moody Bible Institute. In an “What Does It Mean to Remember Jesus in the Lord’s Supper?” he writes:

Evangelical churches typically recite these words when taking communion—or the Lord’s Supper: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Whether your theology of communion leans toward the Calvinistic “spiritual presence” or Zwingli’s memorial view, I would guess we all desire a heightened sense of what God holds out to us in these dynamic symbols. Continue reading

The Sacraments (1)

[Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised” (v. 11a). – Romans 4:9–12

God uses means to convey grace to His people. While our understanding of the sacraments is firmly rooted in the teaching of the New Testament, the altar call (as used in most Churches today) is not. It actually is a very recent development in Church history.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that there are seven sacraments:
• Baptism (Christening)
• Confirmation
• Holy Eucharist
• Penance (Confession)
• Anointing of the Sick (known prior to the Second Vatican Council as Extreme Unction (or more literally from Latin: Last Anointing), then seen as part of the “Last Rites”)
• Holy Orders
• Matrimony (Marriage)

Protestant (Evangelical) Churches teach that there are two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

In an over-reaction to Roman Catholicism, many Protestant/Evangelical Churches downplay sacraments altogether. Yet to do so violates Scripture itself. God is aware of our weakness and our need to be reassured of our standing with Him. God promises that we are His in the Gospel, and He confirms His favor toward us through baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Yes, God invites believing sinners to come to Him — not to an altar — but to a baptistry (where the water of baptism is applied) and to a communion table (where bread and wine are given to struggling sinners to remind them of God’s favor and to strengthen weak faith).

Summarizing the teaching of Scripture, the Heidelberg Catechism (Question 65) defines the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as: “holy signs and seals for us to see. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and might put his seal on that promise.” And what is the promise of the Gospel? “To forgive our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ’s one sacrifice finished on the cross.”

Sacraments are tangible signs and seals of God’s invisible grace promised to His people in the Gospel. They are given by God to confirm that faith already given through the preaching of the Gospel. Just as the altar call seemed to be the logical outcome of a sermon — the Word often calls us to do something — so too the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments are intimately connected.

What God promises to us in the Gospel (the forgiveness of sins) is confirmed in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Gospel is both promised and then made visible when the Word is preached and when the sacraments are administered.

Yet, there is one huge difference between the altar call and the Reformed understanding of the sacraments. In the altar call the qualification was “if you truly meant it,” which made the subjective state of the sinner the critical factor in whether or not one actually benefited from going forward. In both sacraments, however, the emphasis falls squarely upon God’s sovereign oath: “I will be your God and you will be my people,” an oath that can be paraphrased as God stating to struggling sinners, “I really mean it!”

In the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the emphasis falls squarely upon what God has done for sinners in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, and not upon the strength of a sinner’s faith.

Circumcision was a sign — a visible act that pointed beyond itself to an invisible reality. This invisible reality was the fact that Abraham was cut out from the world and set apart unto God through faith alone (Gen. 15:6; 17). It was a visible reminder of the Lord’s promise to cut out of this fallen world a people for Himself. Circumcision, Romans 4 also reveals, was a seal. In the ancient world, a seal marked off ownership — people knew to whom an object belonged based on the seal affixed to it. Thus, circumcision was the mark of God’s ownership, tangible proof that those who bore the mark actually belonged to the Lord and would inherit all His promises if they had faith in Him.

“[As with circumcision, the new covenant sacraments are also visible and tangible ways in which we are reminded of God’s promises and marked off as His people. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have no inherent power to make us the children of God. That is, the performance of these rites themselves does not benefit us if we have no faith. We can access the grace available in them only if we believe the gospel. In fact, if we receive the sacraments without faith, we call down curses upon ourselves (1 Cor. 11:27–30).

John Calvin writes in his famous Institutes that a sacrament “is an external sign, by which the Lord seals on our consciences his promises of good-will toward us, in order to sustain the weakness of our faith, and we in turn testify our piety towards him, both before himself and before angels as well as men” (4.14.1). Using elements that we can taste, see, and touch, the sacraments help us, as embodied creatures, to understand spiritual realities. In turn, when we participate in the sacraments, we testify to our faith in God’s promises before a watching world.

In what way do the Scriptures represent the sacraments of the church as being different from other practices, such as the reading of Scripture or prayers, which are not sacramental? What constitutes a sacrament? There are four elements (Boice):

1. The sacraments are divine ordinances instituted by Christ himself.
2. The sacraments are ordinances in which material elements are used as visible signs of God’s blessing.
3. The sacraments are means of grace to the one who rightly partakes of them.
4. The sacraments are seals, certifications or confirmations to us of the grace they signify. The sacraments are God’s seal on the attestation that we are his children and are in fellowship with him.

Invitation to the Table

A Poem by Nathan Pitchford

Away,
And in fine linens wrapped, as white as shrouds;
And you who healthy are, and wise, and strong,
Who have full-stuffed with minted coin your purse,
You are not welcome here, howe’er so long
You thumb your ros’ry or bejewel your hearse;
Get hence! your fond excesses all are wrong,
Your feigned good deeds and penances are worse.
Feigned-free, you ‘re slaves; feigned-blest, you are a curse.

But come, stooped-over, come grotesque and maimed;
All naked, come, and halt and blind and poor;
Come, feast, who guilty are, and pale-ashamed,
And covered with full many an oozing sore.
You will not stain this table with your slime
Nor turn the cup to salt with bitter tears,
Convicted though you be of many a crime,
And tortured by grim-stalking doubts and fears, –
You are welcome here, who’ve squandered all your time,
And left your whole estate in sad arrears!
Come, enemies, come – and leave God’s choicest dears. Continue reading