Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Pastoral Theology of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper

Covenant signs are tangible reminders by which God not only confirms the covenant he made with his people, but also assures them of the certainty of the fulfilment of his promises in the covenant. In Genesis 16, Abraham shows some sign of spiritual decline as evident from the fact that he complies with Sara’s request that he bear a child through Hagar instead of trusting in God’s promise of a son through Sara. It is in this context that God reveals himself again to Abraham to give him another sign to revive his faith.[1] The situation is similar to that in Genesis 15 where Abraham is thinking of the possibility of the execution of plan B where Eliezer of Damascus would be his heir. In response, God shows Abraham the stars in the sky to assure him that the promises, especially the promise of a seed are still valid. In Genesis 17 God gives a more permanent sign of his covenant faithfulness by commanding Abraham to circumcise himself and all the males in his household.
The Passover is another sign of the Abrahamic covenant to remind Israel of his commitment to their forefathers. Indeed, the Exodus happens because God remembers his covenant promises to the patriarch (Exodus 2:24) to bring his descendants into Canaan and possess it by redeeming them from slavery in Egypt. The gracious purpose of the first Passover is that God intends it as “a pledge to strengthen their terrified minds.”[2] The first Passover and its successive annual celebration that involves the sacrifice of the paschal lamb also points to the bigger picture of God’s plan to redeem his people from the slavery of sin through Jesus Christ.[3] In the New Testament, the Passover ordinance continues to be in effect except instead of remembering and celebrating God’s deliverance from Egypt, his people remember and celebrate their salvation through the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross in the new covenant in the administration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) Question 162 defines sacrament as[4]
… a holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of his mediation; to strengthen and increase their faith and all other graces; to oblige them to obedience; to testify and cherish their love and communion with one another, and to distinguish them from those that are without.
Just as covenant signs in the Old Testament serve as means of grace in which God condescends to his people to bestow his blessings of assurance of the fulfilment of his promise in order to sustain their faith especially in the midst of affliction and crisis like what Israel and Abraham went through, so do the signs of the covenant in the New Testament.
This paper explores the pastoral implications of the Lord’s Supper being a means of grace in the lives of God’s people. What graces and how they are bestowed as a result of partaking by faith in the event will be covered first. I will then show some examples based on the practices and the accounts of Evangelical Presbyterians in the 17th and 18th century. After evaluating them, as a conclusion, I will propose what believers today can learn and implement from the materials discussed in this paper.
The WLC Question 168 defines the Lord’s Supper as
…a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to the appointment of Jesus Christ, his death is showed forth; and they that worthily communicate feed upon his body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace, have their union and communion with him confirmed; testify and renew their thankfulness and engagement unto God, and their mutual love and fellowship with each other, as members of the same mystical body.
According to MacLeod, when we partake the Lord’s Supper, we commemorate, profess, proclaim, give thanks to and feed from Christ, commune with him and the Church. Feeding from Christ means that as we partake in the elements of the bread and the wine, we receive him and all his benefits for our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.[5] What do these benefits consist of? MacLeod lists four: assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, impartation of joy and increase of grace.[6] The last may be redundant because the first three are a subset of the last. But MacLeod elaborates that by the increase of grace, he means that by presenting the fundamental Christian fact namely the atoning death of Christ displayed visibly, God quickens faith, hope and love into greater vividness in order to their more active exercise in our lives.[7]
Calvin introduces the concept of sacramental union, the mechanism or the mode by which the graces are bestowed during the Communion.[8] Sacramental union is the union between the sign and the reality represented by the sign during which there are simultaneous divine and human activities.[9] When believers partake in the sign, God brings to pass the truth that the sign represents to bestow graces upon them. Although the sign and the reality behind it are inseparable in that they are intimately connected together, they are still distinct. Sacrament then, is the instrument of gracious divine actions made efficacious by the sovereign operation of the Holy Spirit who not only brings the intended blessings, but also prepares believers to receive them by faith.
In the Lord’s Supper, the fountain of the blessings contained in the occasion is the gift of the whole Christ in his humanity and divinity.[10] Calvin insists that the body of Christ remains in heaven, but during the Communion the Holy Spirit descends and raises believers up spiritually there to feed on his body represented by the elements. The bread and the wine do not change substance, yet nevertheless there is a real spiritual presence of Christ in the ritual of partaking in the elements. In this process, “our souls are nourished by the substance of the body of Christ.”
Christ, then, is absent from us in respect of his body, but dwelling in us by his Spirit. He raises us to heaven to himself, transfusing into us the vivifying vigor of his flesh just as the rays of the sun invigorates us by his vital warmth. No extent of space interferes with the boundless energy of the Spirit which transfuses life into us from the flesh of Christ. It is not necessary that he should descend from heaven in order to assist us since he can assist us by the grace of his Spirit as if he stretched out his hand from heaven. By the virtue of his Spirit and his own divine essence, he unites us with himself in one body so that that flesh, although it remains in heaven, is our food. Christ, though absent in the body, is nevertheless not only present with us by divine energy which is everywhere diffused, but also makes his flesh give life to us. He infuses life from the substance of his flesh and blood into our souls so that no distance of place can impede the union of head and members.[11]
Calvin makes it clear that there is no mingling of substance: Christ’s and ours. There is no transfusion of substance from his flesh to ours so that there is a mixture between his flesh and ours. What is then being bestowed or transfused to believers when they feed spiritually on the whole Christ? What does Calvin mean by “the vivifying vigor of his (Christ’s) flesh”? Although when Jesus speaks of eating his flesh and drinking his blood in John 6, he doesn’t specifically refer to the Lord Supper, this expression contains a communion language. In John 6:32-33, 35, 48-58, Jesus compares himself with the manna that God fed his people with in the wilderness (Exodus 16:31, Numbers 11:7-9). He then makes the claim that he is the bread of life, the fountain of life itself (verse 51), and “whoever feeds on my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, abides in me and I in him” (verses 54, 56).
Here is where Calvin’s analogy between feeding on the whole Christ in his humanity and divinity and the transfusion of the rays of the sun that invigorates us by its vital warmth is useful. When we experience the warmth of the sun, there is no mingling between the substance of the sun and ours. When we partake the bread and the wine, they can’t be the actual body and blood of Christ or else as they enter our bodies, there will inevitably be a comingling between his flesh and ours, yet God bestows his graces in the process, graces derived from the whole Christ. Just as the manna given in the wilderness is the nourishment necessary to sustain God’s people in their pilgrimage, so when we feed spiritually on the flesh and blood of Christ we receive the necessary graces derived from his whole being to sustain us in our Christian walk. Calvin lists “righteousness, forgiveness, sanctification,” as some of the blessings believers receive, although as we will see later, there are more. Our continual dependence on Christ to support us every step of the way for the sustenance of our spiritual life is an evidence that we are his, hence Christ’s remark that those who feed on him abide in him and he in them and thus have eternal life.[12]
Having discussed Calvin’s view, we recognize that there remains a significant element of mystery in the Lord’s Supper and in sacraments in general. As one tries to dig deeper to understand the process of sacramental union more, he or she should not assume that a comprehensive logical system of argument is attainable and does well to heed Calvin’s warning, “He who doesn’t feel that in these few words (i.e., his attempt to expound on the Lord’s Supper) are many miracles is more than stupid.”[13]   
In contrast to Calvin’s view of believers receiving divine graces during the Lord’s Supper, the Roman Catholic view puts a strong emphasis in adoration and thanksgiving. Its doctrine of Transubstantiation is derived from the Aristotelian philosophy that makes a distinction between substance and accident. The outward appearance, the accident, of the elements may look like bread and wine, but after the priest pronounces the word of institution and consecrate them, the substance of the elements changes into the actual body and blood of Christ.[14] Unlike Calvin who maintains a distinction between the sign and the reality behind it, in Transubstantiation, both are indistinguishable from each other.
There are at least three problems with Transubstantiation.[15] The kind of transformation that Transubstantiation advocates is unintelligible to the first century Jewish audience, especially in light of the liturgical context of the Passover. The Passover liturgy includes the words “This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate when they came from the land of Egypt” which certainly doesn’t imply that the Passover bread that the Jews eat every year turns into the same bread that their ancestors ate thousands of years ago. The proponents of Transubstantiation applies what Mathison calls “arbitrary literalism”[16] by insisting that Jesus’ word of institution be interpreted literally while the grammar actually doesn’t demand it. They refuse to acknowledge that just as Jesus uses metaphorical language,[17] it is possible to apply metaphorical interpretation to the word of institution of the Lord’s Supper as well.
Transubstantiation implies ubiquity of the body of Christ contrary to the testimony of Scripture. In Matthew 28:6, the angel would not have told the woman, “He is not here” if the resurrected Christ has a ubiquitous body. The Gospels contain accounts of Christ being tired and hungry (Mark 4:27, Matthew 4:2) and Hebrews 2:14 speaks of Christ sharing in our humanity. If Christ has a ubiquitous body, then it is not the human body everyone has, but a super-human body and that is hardly sharing in our humanity.
The most serious problem with Transubstantiation is it perverts the purpose of the Lord’s Supper. It turns the means of grace into an offering and dangerous idolatry. Instead of God condescending to bless us, Transubstantiation is integral to the message of the Mass, the Roman Catholic’s version of the Lord’s Supper that it is “the same sacrifice that Christ offered on the cross, only bloodless. It is a propitiatory sacrifice offered for the living and the dead.”[18] Mathison clarifies that the Mass is not a repetition of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. It is the same one except it is bloodless. The problem is bloodless propitiatory sacrifice in light of Scripture is an oxymoron. If Christ’s sacrifice is propitiatory, then it must be bloody (Hebrews 9:22, Leviticus 17:11). If it is bloodless, then it is not propitiatory. If Christ’s sacrifice was completed at one point in time, why is it necessary to offer the same sacrifice today, over 2000 years after the event? The underlying presupposition of the Mass appears to be the denial of the perfection and efficacy of the cross, something that the book of Hebrews vehemently insists (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 26, 10:10). Finally, since the sign and the reality are no longer distinct in Transubstantiation, Rome teaches the worship of the elements. Mathison points out a tension that Roman Catholic has to resolve in this case. What are the elements? If they are the actual body and blood of Christ, then they are not sacraments. If they were mere signs, i.e., sacraments, then the worship of them is idolatry, a direct violation of the second commandment.
The opposite extreme of the Roman Catholic view is the Symbolic Memorialism or “Zwinglianism” which is the dominant position of most evangelical churches today.[19] The Zwinglian believes that the elements are purely symbolic. There is no presence of Christ involved in the Communion. The purpose of the Communion is to express our faith and confirm it and other Christian graces. The act of eating and drinking is equivalent to the act of believing in Christ. If in the Roman Catholic view, the sign and the reality are identical, in the Zwinglian view, the two are divorced. There is merely a subjective mental recollection of the events associated with the elements by the believers without any reality presented along with them.
However, as we look at passages such as John 6, when Jesus speaks of partaking in his body and blood as discussed above, it refers to communion with him. In 1 Corinthians 10:16 when Paul speaks of participation in the blood and body of Christ, he uses the word, κοινωνία, which can be translated as sharing, fellowship or communion with Christ as believers celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Mathison notes that “when there is communion, there is presence,” so Scripture rejects the Zwinglian idea of the absence of Christ and communion with him in the Lord’s Supper.
The main problem of Zwinglianism is the same as that of the Roman Catholic view I described above, namely it misunderstands the purpose of the sacraments. If the Roman Catholic believes that we offer to God the sacrifice of Christ during the Lord’s Supper, the Zwinglian believes that we offer to God our faith. It is also a confirmation from our side that we are indeed believers in Christ. The misunderstanding about who does the offering is unfortunate. By believing that it is we who offer God something, we deprive ourselves of the blessings God intends to bestow through our participation at his Table. I can’t think of any right-minded Christians who would refuse God’s invitation to an intimate communion with his Son and in the process they would receive his blessings too. But for those who reject Calvin’s view, this is precisely what they are doing. The Zwinglian and the Roman Catholic turn the Lord Supper into an act of human work instead of a gracious act of God where we are the recipients of his blessings.
To have a better idea on the benefits that believers receive by partaking in the Lord’s Supper as a result of communion with him that Calvin speaks of, Eric Schmidt provides useful accounts of the experiences of 17th and 18th century Scottish Evangelical Presbyterians not only during the Communion itself but also during the preparation that leads to it.[20] In this period, the Communion was held only a few times a year. There were a number of ways ministers guarded the solemnity of the celebration particularly by ensuring that only worthy believers partake in the communion. First, they examined communicant candidates by asking relevant questions such as whether or not they had experienced the work of grace in their lives, whether or not they lived a godly life and if they understood the doctrine of faith and the meaning of the sacrament. Second, they preached several sermons even during the preparation week. For example, on Saturday, sermon on the dying love of Christ was preached with further elaboration on who was invited to the feast and who was not.[21] The list was extensive but there was also a gracious reminder that despite all these sins that one may struggle with, “all penitent souls, all who were ready to part with their sins and turn their back on the devil, all thirsty panting souls and all poor cloudy believers” were invited.[22] Third, ministers distributed tokens to worthy communicants on the same Saturday to be turned in to the elders the next day during the Communion. On Communion Sunday, ministers fenced the table “with awful solemnity” debarring all the unqualified. The Ten Commandments were reviewed again with the same exhaustive list of those who fall under the category of the unworthy, while true penitents were invited to come and partake at the Lord’s Table.
For communicants or as Schmidt puts it, “the saints,” the preparation week began with the preparation Sabbath, namely the Sunday before the Communion Sunday where ministers expounded on the Lord’s Supper, its powers for the worthy and its danger for the unworthy in the morning and afternoon. Wednesday was the day of “public fast and humiliation” where the saints listened to the exposition of the Ten Commandments to facilitate self-examination, confession and repentance. The fast, lasted for 24 hours from sunset on Tuesday to sunset on Wednesday without refreshment. It was a symbol of inward repentance and humiliation, an expression of “a deep sense of guilt the saints had for sin, for all that disordered their lives and estranged them from their neighbors and God, for their thanklessness and disobedience, a plain acknowledgement of our unworthiness of the least mercy.” They were to abstain from “worldly labor, discourses and thoughts” as well as “all bodily delights," in order to “discipline the body, placing it more and more in subjection to the soul.” The focus of this public fast was Christ-centered,[23]
The chastened body was an emblem of the humbled heart. A body that hungered and thirsted suggested a soul that was hungering, thirsting, panting, fainting, almost dying to meet with Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Empty stomachs symbolized empty souls longing to be filled with the bread of life and the cup of salvation.
It is easy to misunderstand the purpose of the fast, but the saints were reminded that the fast was not an efficacious act that merits God’s grace. The fast was supposed to be a voluntary act of self-humbling before God out of reverence and holy affection to the Lord. Along with confessions of sins, the saints were brought to weeping and mourning for sin because of which Christ had to suffer and die. The saints also attended public singing of Psalms on the same Wednesday and Saturday and the “public reading of the sacrament.”[24] 
In addition to public preparations described above, the saints prepared for the Communion privately through the following activities.[25] First, self-examination consists of “careful reflection and painful self-awareness through introspection and retrospection.” The questions they asked themselves were similar to those asked by the ministers.[26] Second, personal covenanting is a personal resolution upon realization of one’s unworthiness to be in the Lord’s presence at the Communion, to renounce sin, accept Christ, dedicate the entire being: head, tongue, eyes, ears, hands and feet to God. These expressions were usually put in written form[27]
…on bended knees in a posture of reverence and humility, the saints took up their pens in the sight of God and bound themselves (and often their families as well) to the Lord. These documents help assure the saints of their worthiness and help them give focus on the difficult and sometimes nebulous task of self-examination.
Included in this personal covenanting was a moment of profession of faith for the first time, especially for the youths as they embraced Christ according to the Gospel and resolved to live in obedience to God. Regardless of whether one did it for the first time or for the renewal of his or her commitment to the Lord, personal covenanting is “a monument that attested to the solemn transaction that had passed between God and the pilgrim soul, a transaction sealed in the Lord’s Supper.”
Third, the saints offered “secret prayers,” that Schmidt describes as “incessant day-in and day-out activity with lengthy vigils often lasting all night… long fervent prayers uttered in humility before God.” This was the moment where the saints often poured out their hearts to God in an extended devotion at an isolated place where the dominant themes were “confessions of unworthiness and fervent entreaties for blessings during sacrament.” Fourth, as the saints retired from the world, they focused on spiritual objects. In particular, they meditated on the sufferings of Christ, the nature of sin and atonement and labored to marvel at the sights that accomplished their redemption. Fifth, devotional reading from Scripture was used to aid the meditation, most importantly the passages about the sufferings of Christ. Other readings such as manuals about the nature of the Lord’s Supper, its symbols and actions, the qualification for partaking in them, the dangers of approaching the Table unworthily and the preparation duties were often incorporated as well to supplement the meditation.
On Communion Sunday, the saints surrendered the token they received on the previous day to the assisting elders to indicate their qualification. They participated in prayer, Psalm singing and listened to sermon and the Word of Institution in 1 Corinthians 11 and its exposition before partaking in the elements. The Monday after the Communion Sunday was usually an occasion of joyful thanksgiving capping the transition from weeping and mourning for sin that caused the sufferings and death of Christ to joyful praise for his love and redemptive work.
The rigorous preparations of these 17th-18th century Christians may seem excessive today, but they are not something we can completely dismiss. In partaking in the Lord’s Supper we come into God’s presence in a special way. God is gracious to condescend not only to meet us, but also to bless us. The tabernacle in the Old Testament symbolizes not only God’s presence among his people, but also his solidarity with them. To use Poythress’ words, [28]
(God) is majestic and beautiful. But He would not simply remain in heaven and let Israel go its way. He would come right down among them. They were living in tents. He too would be in a tent, side by side with their own tents.
Therefore, the tabernacle teaches us the gracious character of God, his accessibility by dwelling among his people and allowing them to draw near to him. On the other hand, it also teaches us that he is holy and inaccessible as we look at the strict requirements where only the high-priest is allowed to enter the Holy of Holies (Hebrews 9:6-7, Leviticus 16:2-34). The penalty for violations of his tabernacle rules is death. This reality teaches Israel that they ought to approach God with holy reverence. Likewise, we ought to keep this attitude in mind when partaking in the Lord’s Supper. We rejoice in his goodness inviting us to his Table in order to bestow abundant blessings for the nourishment of our souls that we may be strengthened and encouraged in our walk with him. Yet proper heart conditions are in order as we consider the solemnity of the occasion, the fact that we come in the presence of a holy God just like Israel did when they approached the tabernacle.
Are the preparations done by ministers and the saints that we just reviewed above biblically warranted? While ministers must indeed warn their congregation of the danger of partaking in the Lord’s Supper unworthily as 1 Corinthians 11:28-30 suggests, I can’t find any biblical support where they need to personally examine individuals. Paul says, “Let a person examine himself,” so the examination should be done by individual Christians. However, public exposition of the Decalogue, preaching and fasting may be appropriate to facilitate the self-examination process. Likewise, the five devotional exercises are helpful to prepare one’s heart that he or she may partake worthily.
What are the effects of partaking in the Lord’s Supper in the lives of the 17th and 18th century Evangelical Presbyterians that includes the rigorous preparation which is integral to the Communion itself? Schmidt indicates that the preparation itself is often the means God uses to bring the benefits, the blessings associated with the sacrament. These blessings are not merely the graces that MacLeod lists above: assurance of God’s love,[29] peace of conscience,[30] impartation of joy,[31] renewed repentance,[32] resolution and strength to live a holy life[33] but also benefits to the community. There are internal and external elements in the blessings to the community. The internal one consists of the strengthening of the bonds among Christians in the congregation that includes reconciliation of enemies. In fact, harmony with neighbors was an essential qualification for Communion.[34] When Paul rebukes the Corinthians in l Corinthians 11:17-22, he criticizes the division in the church that has to do with social barrier between the rich and the poor.[35] Proper Lord’s Supper celebration is supposed result in reducing instead of increasing barriers between the sexes, races and people of different economic standing. [36] The same spiritual benefits - communion with Christ at his table were available to all believers of all walks of life regardless of sex, race and social status, “All were Christ’s guests equally at his table.” The external element of the blessing to the community is displayed in the giving of alms to the poor. Schmidt observes that “communion seasons were also high days of charity and mutuality, periods of particular care and concern for the poor of the parish.”[37]
The experiences of personal blessings among these Christians often involved dramatic manifestations such as lapsing into trances, fainting or falling down as if dead, dreaming and seeing visions.[38] Schmidt remarks that during these festal events, “laypeople often had very direct and overwhelming encounters with the divine.” However, ministers often hesitated to discuss or include them in their journal for fear of being charged of enthusiasm and disorder and in order to affirm the rational and scriptural soundness of evangelical spirituality. It may be encouraging to witness what appears to be the power of God at work bestowing graces during the Lord’s Supper and the rituals surrounding it through these extreme bodily and emotional expressions of joy and repentance. On the other hand, they may intimidate other believers that do not have the same experience, yet are genuinely and positively affected by their participation at the table. Furthermore, how can we be sure whether such expressions are genuine? Another problem is that the imagery often conjured up especially by female believers is that of marriage with Christ which is misleading doctrinally. Scripture depicts marriage relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32), not between Christ and individual believers. Male believers may not be comfortable relating to the testimonies of female Christians when they see themselves as the bride(s) of Christ experiencing his love through the use of the imagery in Song of Solomon. This marriage imagery may also easily lead to a blasphemous conclusion that Christ has many brides.
As we look at the various views on the Lord’s Supper, although  not without some remaining mystery, Calvin’s view is the most compelling not only scripturally but also when we consider the implications of this view in the Christian life. Compared to the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Zwinglian views, Calvin’s view is the only one that explicitly recognizes the Lord’s Supper as the means of communication of God’s grace to us in continuity with the purpose of the Old Testament signs of the covenant, as opposed to the means by which we offer God something; whether it be the bloodless sacrifice of Christ or our faith. As we acknowledge God’s purpose to bless his people by nourishing their souls as they partake in the elements in communion with him, he enables us by virtue of sacramental union to experience the sweetness and assurance of his love, to grow in obedience and usefulness for the church and the community around us: to be faithful witnesses of him who has redeemed and claimed us to be his own. The lessons learned from the examples of the gracious effects of partaking in the Communion from the 17th and 18th century Christians seem to validate Calvin’s view. They encourage us to be more serious in our preparation not only in order to render the Lord the reverence, holy fear and appreciation due to him as we approach his Table which is for our benefits too, but also as an expression of our longing for him to pour out his blessings in a greater way to sustain us in our pilgrimage in this world and bring glory to him by the testimonies of his goodness in our lives.

1.      John Calvin, The Gospel According to St. John 1-10 (Grand Rapids: Christian Classic Ethereal Library, 1974).
2.      John Calvin, The Gospel According to St. John 12-20 (Grand Rapids: Christian Classic Ethereal Library, 1974).
3.      Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids: Christian Classic Ethereal Library, 1984).
4.      Leigh E. Schmidt, Holy Fairs: Scotland and the making of American Revivalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989).
5.      Vern S. Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1991).
6.      Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996).
7.      Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1997).
8.      Keith A. Mathison, Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002).
9.      The Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Willow Grove: Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2005).
10.  Donald MacLeod, “The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace”, Banner of Truth Magazine 64 (1969): 16-22.
11.  Donald MacLeod, “Qualification for Communion,” Banner of Truth Magazine 65 (1969): 14-20.
12.  Mercy Amba Oduyoye, “The Eucharist as Witness,” International Review of Mission 72:286 (1983): 222-228.
13.  Antti Raunio, “Faith and Christian Living in Luther’s Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper (1528),” Lutherjahrbuch 76 (2009): 19-56.

[1] Calvin seems to allude to this in his remark on Genesis 17:11, “For the signs which God has appointed to assist our infirmity, should be accommodated to the measure of our capacity, or they would be unprofitable,” in John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Christian Classic Ethereal Library, 1974).

[2] The Passover is “a solemn symbol of their redemption, whereby the people professed their obligation to God their deliverer, and in a manner devoted themselves to His dominion. In effect then, the celebration of the Passover taught the Israelites that it was not lawful for them to have regard to any other God besides their Redeemer; and also that it was just and right for them to consecrate themselves to His service, since He had restored them from death to life; and thus, as in a glass or picture, He represented to their eyes His grace; and desired that they should on every succeeding year recognize what they had formerly experienced, lest it should ever depart from their memory. He awakened the minds of the faithful to the hope of this salvation, by the interposition of a sign; whilst He instituted a perpetual memorial of His grace, that the Passover might every year renew the recollection of their deliverance. For the first Passover was celebrated in the very presence of the thing itself, to be a pledge to strengthen their terrified minds; but the annual repetition was a sacrifice of thanksgiving, whereby their posterity might be reminded that they were God’s rightful and peculiar dependents (clientes),” John Calvin on Exodus 12:1-2 in Harmony of the Law, vol.I (Grand Rapids: Christian Classic Ethereal Library, 1974).

[3] The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) VII.5 states that the Old Testament covenants are administered by such things as “…the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come” This view aligns well with Calvin’s on Exodus 12:1-2 “Yet both the original institution and the perpetual law had a higher reference; for God did not once redeem His ancient people, that they might remain safely and quietly in the land, but He wished to bring them onward even to the inheritance of eternal life, wherefore the Passover was no less than Circumcision a sign of spiritual grace; and so it has an analogy and resemblance to the Holy Supper, because it both contained the same promises, which Christ now seals to us in that, and also taught that God could only be propitiated towards His people by the expiation of blood. In sum, it was the sign of the future redemption as well as of that which was past. For this reason Paul writes, that “Christ our Passover is slain,” (1 Corinthians 5:7) which would be unsuitable, if the ancients had only been reminded in it of their temporal benefit.” John Calvin, Harmony of the Law, Vol.I (Grand Rapids: Christian Classic Ethereal Library, 1974).

[4] Similar to Berkhof’s definition: “a sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ, in which by sensible signs the grace of God in Christ, and the benefits of the covenant of grace, are represented, sealed and applied to believers, and these, in turn, give expression to their faith and allegiance to God,” Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 617.

[5] Donald MacLeod, “Qualifications for Communion,” Banner of Truth Magazine, 65 (1969): 18-19.

[6] Donald MacLeod, “The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace,” Banner of Truth Magazine, 64 (1969): 21-22.

[7] WCF XXIX.1 highlights the commemoration part of the Lord’s Supper being “the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of himself in his death,” and its benefits being our spiritual nourishment and growth in him that enable a greater faithfulness and obedience, as well as “a bond and pledge” of our communion with him, and with each other as members of his Church.
[8] Throughout this paper, I use the term Communion and the Lord’s Supper interchangeably.

[9] Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1997), 159-174.

[10] Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament, 201, “The substance of Christ’s flesh and blood is our spiritual life that is communicated to us under the symbols of bread and wine. Since the gift in the sacrament is the whole Christ, there is given along with him those benefits that he has won for his people through his death and resurrection.”

[11] Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament, 206-207.

[12] Henry holds a similar view, “So that the flesh and blood of the Son of man denote the Redeemer incarnate and dying; Christ and him crucified, and the redemption wrought out by him, with all the precious benefits of redemption: pardon of sin, acceptance with God, the adoption of sons, access to the throne of grace, the promises of the covenant, and eternal life; these are called the flesh and blood of Christ, 1. Because they are purchased by his flesh and blood, by the breaking of his body, and shedding of his blood. Well may the purchased privileges be denominated from the price that was paid for them, for it puts a value upon them; write upon them pretium sanguinis—the price of blood. 2. Because they are meat and drink to our souls. Flesh with the blood was prohibited (Gen. 9:4), but the privileges of the gospel are as flesh and blood to us, prepared for the nourishment of our souls. He had before compared himself to bread, which is necessary food; here to flesh, which is delicious. It is a feast of fat things, Isa. 25:6. The soul is satisfied with Christ as with marrow and fatness, Ps. 63:5. It is meat indeed, and drink indeed; truly so, that is spiritually; so Dr. Whitby; as Christ is called the true vine; or truly meat, in opposition to the shows and shadows with which the world shams off those that feed upon it. In Christ and his gospel there is real supply, solid satisfaction; that is meat indeed, and drink indeed, which satiates and replenishes,” Matthew Henry on John 6, in Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids: Christian Classic Ethereal Library, 1984).

[13] Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament, 207.

[14] Keith A. Mathison, Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 240, “Christ is whole and entire under the form of bread and under any part of that form; likewise the whole Christ is present under the form of wine and under all its parts.”

[15] My criticism of Transubstantiation, mostly taken from Mathison, also applies to the Lutheran doctrine of Consubstantiation that teaches that the substance of the bread and wine as well as the substance of the body and the blood of Christ are present together in the elements. The body and the blood of Christ are said to be in and under the bread and wine (Mathison, Given for You, 256). Like the Roman Catholic’s view, the Lutheran’s view is also guilty of arbitrary literalism. However, the Lutheran view rejects the doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass and the idea of worshipping the consecrated elements (Mathison, Given for You, 257). It is also important to note that the Lutheran view acknowledges the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace, see for example, Antti Raunio, “Faith and Christian Living in Luther’s Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper (1528),” Lutherjahrbuch 76 (2009): 26, “… his (Luther’s) purpose is to give an argument for the belief that Christ is present in the elements of the Lord’s Supper and delivers his merit there to the believers.”

[16] Mathison, Given for You, 243.

[17] For example, when Jesus says, “I am the door” (John 10:7, 9), he doesn’t mean that he is a door literally.

[18] Mathison, Given for You, 249-250.

[19] Mathison, Given for You, 260-267.

[20] Leigh E. Schmidt, Holy Fairs: Scotland and the making of American Revivalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989).

[21] Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 109, 111. Examples of those who are debarred from partaking include “atheists, deniers of the Trinity, enemies of Christ, witches, charmers, warlocks, all who were in compact with the devil, ignorant persons who know no God, worshippers of images, cursers, swearers, tearers of God’s name, all Sabbath breakers, those disobedient to natural parents or civil parents, sinners of the flesh: unclean persons, effeminate, incestuous, persons guilty of bestiality, self-pollution, sodomy, gluttons, drunkards, promiscuous dancers, thieves, robbers, oppressors, cheaters, liars, backbiters, slanderers, covetous persons that cannot be content with their own state and condition.”

[22] The WLC Question 172 offers some further guidelines:
Q.172. May one who doubts of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation come to the Lord’s Supper?
One who doubts of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper may have true interest in Christ, though he be not yet assured thereof, and in God’s account has it, if he be dully affected with the apprehension of the want of it and unfeignedly desires to be found in Christ, and to depart from iniquity: in which case (because promises are made and this sacrament is appointed for the relief even of weak and doubting Christians) he is to bewail his unbelief and labor to have his doubts resolved; and so doing, he may and ought to come to the Lord’s Supper that he may be further strengthened.

[23] Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 78.

[24] I take “public reading of the sacrament” to mean the reading of passages related to the Lord’s Supper such as those in the Gospel (Matthew 26:1-29, Mark 14:1-25, Luke 22:1-23) and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.

[25] Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 135. The preparatory activities that Schmidt lists are similar to the WLC Q.171, How are they that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to prepare themselves before the come unto it? They that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper are, before they come, to prepare themselves thereunto,
-    by examining themselves: of their being in Christ, of their sins and wants, of the truth and measure of their knowledge, faith, repentance, (of their) love to God and the brethren, (of their) charity to all men,  forgiving those that have done them wrong, of their desires after Christ, and of their new obedience,
-    and by renewing the exercise of these graces,
-    by serious meditation and fervent prayer.

[26] Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 135. Self-examination questions, perhaps taken from the manual distributed by the ministers include what evidences did they have of saving grace? Did they long for greater conformity to God’s commands? Did they war against lust and backslidings? Did their minds turn regularly to spiritual and heavenly things and away from earthly and sensual ones? Did they express love and affection to their neighbors? Did they have solid doctrinal knowledge, particularly in regard to the Lord’s Supper so that in communing they would show forth Christ’s death?

[27] Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 136. The main theme of personal covenanting are repentance, faith, love, redemption, surrender and service.

[28] Vern S. Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1991), 11-12.

[29] Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 120, “I cannot express the joy with which I was filled in time the Tables were serving, and I could not endure to look down to earth, but looked up, mostly to heaven and thought, I heard Christ speaking to me from thence and saying, ‘Arise my love, my fair one and come away, and saw him, as it were reaching down his hand and drawing me up to himself, and at the same time, I felt my heart powerfully drawn to him with the cords of love.”

[30] Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 119-120, “Dedicated the week to extensive prayer, devotion and fasting, meditated on the sufferings of Christ and gained an ever greater sense of her own sin…On Saturday before the sacrament: ‘I slept none that night, but went out to the fields for secret prayer.' The morning after her vigil, she wept much during the sermon preceding the Lord’s Supper and at the table she felt much of a hungering and thirsting after Christ’… On Sabbath morning, the sight of the communion table filed her heart with sadness at the thought of Christ’s sufferings and with joy at the thought of her near approach to him in this sacrament. When she sat down at the table and the elements were about to be distributed, she burst out into a flood of tears of gratitude and penitence. When she received the cup of the Redeemer’s blood, she believed Christ spoke to her saying, ‘My blood is sufficient to wash away all thy sins.’ She was filled with peace at the knowledge of Christ’s forgiveness and went from the table convinced of her salvation.

[31] Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 137, “Enjoying sweet communion and fellowship with God and had a sweet time as ever I had in my life and thought I could not have a sweeter time in this world. I continued in that frame all the next day and was much refreshed and delighted with what I heard and found in sermons and at the Lord’s Table.”

[32] Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 138, “I went out to the fields by myself for prayer and there falling down, while I was earnestly pleading that the Lord might give me a clearer sight and more affecting sense of the evil of my sins as dishonoring to him, and as the procuring cause of Christ’s sufferings that ever I had yet got. The Lord was pleased accordingly to give me the desire of my heart in that matter, and more than I asked or could think of. For I then got a most humbling sight and sense of the exceeding sinfulness and hatefulness of sin and I was made to see my sins especially my unbelief as the nails and spear that pierced his hands, feet and side and was made spiritually and in the most evident manner by faith to look as it were through his pierced side into his heart and see it filled with love to me and his love engaging him to undergo all these his bitter sufferings for me.”

[33] Schmidt reports the account of a soldier who “received faith and went on to seal his salvation at the Lord’s table making on this occasion a personal covenant to lead a godly life. He reported no dramatic experience at the communion, only a solemn and self-made vow to resist all filthiness and pollution of the flesh. In the sacrament he had found moral strength and had been guarded against unbelief. After several years of indifference and immorality, he finally hardened his resolve to resist sin and to lead a godly life,” Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 129.

[34] Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 99, “No one participating was to harbor malice and envy in their hearts against their brethren. Those who did not put aside their unchristian quarrels and seek peace and friendship with all were debarred from the Lord’s table.”

[35] Matthew Henry on 1 Corinthians 11:17-22, Commentary on the Whole Bible.

[36] Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 105.

[37] Oduyoye acknowledges the positive impacts of the blessings that believers receive during the Communion that are to be extended to their community, “When we break the bread and drink the wine, we proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes. That proclamation ought to strengthen us to do the Lord’s work till he comes to bring the fullness of the kingdom of God. It should motivate us to plan and execute actions that will constitute Good News to the poor, bring liberty to the captives, freedom to the oppressed, recovery of sight to the blind, and usher in the joyful presence of the Lord… Experiencing the self-giving love of Christ in the Eucharist, we are strengthened to go and do likewise,” Mercy Amba Oduyoye, “The Eucharist as Witness,” International Review of Mission 72:286 (1983): 226.

[38] Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 146-148. Schmidt records a number of reports documenting extraordinary experiences that some had associated with their partaking in the Communion. They include someone falling into a trance and saw Jesus in a vision showing his wounds to assure him that his suffering satisfies divine justice. Afterwards this person was “filled with great joy and comfort and thankfulness to God, assured of pardon and salvation” (p.146). Other reported similar experiences of seeing Jesus in his bloody suffering on the cross (p.148). 

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