Wednesday, October 5, 2016

What is a Reformed Church: Preaching and Sacraments (Part 3)

Sacraments: Lord's Supper

Baptism is the rite of initiation. The Lord's Supper however is a rite of covenantal renewal. It is where the Lord feeds us in faith, nourishing our souls as we remember His death and resurrection for us.

The Lord's Supper was first instituted by our Lord on the night he was about to be betrayed, as He partook of the meal together with his 12 disciples. The Last Supper, as the incident is known, started as a typical Passover feast, where commemoration was made of the night where the death of lambs and the application of their blood on their doorposts protected the Israelites in Egypt from the Angel of Death. As the night continued, our Lord Jesus Christ instituted this supper using the common elements of bread and wine. The Lord's Supper then continues on in the church as a sacrament commemorating the death of our Lord, as we can see in 1 Corinthians 11:17-32.

In the Lord's Supper, the bread that was broken and given for us ought to provoke us to recall the death of Christ on the cross; His atonement for our sins (1 Cor. 11:24). As we partook of the wine, we are to meditate on the New Covenant (1 Cor. 11:25), which is to say we are to meditate on the Gospel of free grace that we are justified and saved and loved by God because of Christ, so that we are now all sons of God and co-heirs with Christ (Gal. 4:7). Thus, when we partake of the Lord's Supper "in remembrance of him" (cf 1 Cor. 11:24), we ought to meditate on these two truths as we partake of the two elements of bread and wine.

The Lord's Supper is a remembrance, but it is not just a mere remembrance. It is Christ's body and blood "given for you" (1 Cor. 11:24). Those who partook unworthily are sinning against the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 1:27), which is strange if the Supper was merely a remembrance. No, the Supper is really the body and blood of Christ. There is indeed a "real presence" of Christ in the Supper. Yet, we also know that the bread and the wine are not physically the body and blood of Christ, otherwise that would make Jesus a cannibal at the Last Supper. How then ought we to think about the presence of our Lord in the Supper?

The Calvinist view of the Lord's Supper is that of a presence of relation, where Christ is present spiritually (through the Holy Spirit) to feed our souls with His body and blood (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.10). In the Supper, Christ feeds us spiritually through the Holy Spirit, and thus we partake of the true body and blood of Christ spiritually. It is a nourishing feast for our souls, until Christ comes again (Mt. 26:29).

The partaking of the Lord's Supper is to be done by discerning the body and blood of Christ. This means that one has to meditate on the truths the elements are meant to convey and to have faith in the God who saves. Partaking of the Supper unworthily in 1 Corinthians 11:27 here does not imply sinlessness, for no one on earth is sinless. Rather, to partake of the Supper unworthily implies a lack of reverence for and a lack of faith in Christ, especially when one makes a mockery of this sacred sacrament, which the Corinthians did (1 Cor. 11:18-22). It is this element of discerning the body that is the reason why infants and children are prohibited from partaking of this sacrament even though they are part of the covenant community. Of course, we would wish for the children to celebrate the Lord's Supper with us, which is why we ought to diligently train them in the faith so that one day they will be able to make a confession of faith and join the rest of the church in celebrating the Supper.

It is here to be noted that, while Ulrich Zwingli was an early Reformed minister, his pure memorialist view was not taken by the majority of the Reformed churches. We also reject the views of Lutherans on the matter of the Supper (consubstantiation), and the views of Roman Catholics on the matter (transubstantiation). With regards especially to the Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation, that the elements of bread and wine are transformed in their substance into the body and blood of Christ while retaining the accidents of "bread" and "wine," we believe that to be grotesque and in essence ritualistic cannibalism, as if we all become cannibals when we eat the bread and the wine. Aristotle is not in the Bible, and especially here the appropriation of Aristotelianism is unbiblical and unwarranted. Since Roman Catholicism after Lateran IV has adopted transubstantiation, the Supper among Roman Catholics has degenerated into rank idolatry and wickedness, a fact acknowledged by the Reformed confessions (HC Q80, WCF 29.6)

The Lord's Supper is a sacrament and a means of grace. As such, it is meant for our good. Therefore, while there are no texts telling us how often we are to celebrate the Lord's Supper, we ought to celebrate it as frequently as we can. As we discern and partake of the body and blood of our Lord, God blesses us in Christ and communicate to us His grace and benefits, helping us in our spiritual walk with Him.

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