Monday, September 18, 2006

Lord's supper continued

God, who knows our weaknesses and needs, blessed us with tangible signs to seal his promises. To lose sight of those means of grace, even for a little bit, makes us prone to lose the present awareness of his promises to cleanse us completely from our sin.
I wrote yesterday with a visceral impulse on an issue I have refrained from publishing on here because it is not right to create dissention in the church. My rhetorical question was probably a little too obvious though. Matters such as these are supposed to be supervised by those who are ordained to that end (the elders). I do not intend in any way to rebel in the near future over this kind of an issue (in case you were wondering).

However, that doesn't at all limit my depth of feeling on the issue and also what I see as something that has deeply hurt Reformed people in general. The frequency of administration is just a part of it but it is also so easy to misunderstand the purpose and nature, and indeed the interconnectedness of the sacrament with the whole of the gospel.

One thing needs to be made clear--this isn't an issue of "they do it that way and we do it this way." I would rather just point out that this is an issue where the detailed directions are properly derived from scripture, if not specifically, than simply in the spirit of Christ's and the Apostle's teachings.

Ever since the reformation, there have been differences on the issue of frequency. I found one very enlightening article that traces the different practices from then till now. It is Published by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and falls in line against infrequent use--it makes some interesting connections that I were new to me, for example, the roots of the revivalist movement in America was centered around a ritualistic infrequent approach to the Lord's Supper. It is written somewhat aggressively but still worth the read!

I also found some very helpful reading from John Calvin himself who believed that the sacraments are “a form of the word of God given uniquely to the worshiping community," and therefore should be used as frequently as possible because "the more infirmity presses, the more necessary is it frequently to have recourse to what may and will serve to confirm our faith, and advance us in purity of life..."

In his "Short Treatise on the Lord's Supper," he takes a running pattern through many different errors, misunderstandings and misuses from his day. Most of it is just as fresh today as it was then so I encourage you to at least browse through it.

On our need for the supper:
Seeing, then, it is a remedy which God has given us to help our weakness, to strengthen our faith, increase our charity, and advance us in all holiness of life, the use becomes the more necessary the more we feel pressed by the disease; so far ought that to be from making us abstain. For if we allege as an excuse for not coming to the Supper, that we are still weak in faith or integrity of life, it is as if a man were to excuse himself from taking medicine because he was sick. See then how the weakness of faith which we feel in our heart, and the imperfections which are in our life, should admonish us to come to the Supper, as a special remedy to correct them. Only let us not come devoid of faith and repentance. The former is hidden in, the heart, and therefore conscience must be its witness before God. The latter is manifested by works, and must therefore be apparent in our life.
He says this among other things to those who abstain because of their claim of unworthiness:
...he who would exempt himself from receiving the Supper on account of unworthiness, must hold himself unfit to pray to one ought long to rest satisfied with abstaining on the ground of unworthiness, seeing that in so doing he deprives himself of the communion of the Church, in which all our wellbeing consists. Let him rather contend against all the impediments which the devil throws in his way, and not be excluded from so great a benefit, and from all the graces consequent thereupon.

Going back to frequency: Frankly, it is sort of a can of worms. What about our preparatory week (which I sometimes worry is interpreted as a time for "making ourselves good enough to come")? Liturgical alterations are no small matter in Reformed circles. It's easy enough to criticize the current method, but it is certainly another to decide what is the proper way of effecting change if change is decided upon.

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Blogger Crystal said...

Humm...very intersting. I guess I never really gave this issue a whole lot of concerted thought. Frequency that is. I will have to read this post again later to absorb it more but I did have one thought as I read it the first time. While we must not think that we can make ourselves good enough to partake we also should be very careful that we are not partaking lightly because as Paul says, "Many are weak amoung you for this reason." We should do all in power to make sure that are not coming with unconfessed sins or issues with others. To eat and drink unworthily is a seriour matter. I think maybe that might be why some churches do not partkae too often because they are concerned that it will become common place and people will not adiquately prepare because it's not so special anymore and doesn't bear the same weight of importance since it happens all the time. Not sure, just a thought.

7:33 AM, September 19, 2006  
Blogger Ruth said...

Well said, Crystal. I found myself discussing it with a co-worker today; he approached Communion (as Beka and Mark have done, I think) as simply another aspect of the daily Christian life; on par with preaching, repentance, prayer... etc. However, a close examination of what resources are given to us (I Cor. 10 & 11, and our church’s confessions) seem to infer that Communion requires in-depth self-examination, and perhaps by default, more time invested into the Suppers.

I Cor 11:28 “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” -Examine himself; just how? Could this be a warning to unbelievers to stay away from the table? If so, either this is a once-for-all examination (however, follow-up verses seem to indicate this as an on-going process); or it is a continual questioning of one’s state of salvation. The latter, however, is in itself a cause for insecurity for any believer, as well as a demonstration of a lack of faith in Christ’s complete and free salvation. Rather, the passage seems to indicate a comprehensive self-examination before partaking of the Lord’s Supper. vs.31 “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.”

Hmm, I had better stop here :) How does this relate to frequency? With a sufficient amount of time, as well as that “making ourselves good enough to come” sermon :P, we will be able to approach the Table in a worthy manner.

9:44 PM, September 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing to remember--no matter how hard we try, we can never make ourselves worthy. The fact of the matter is that Christ has finished the work on the cross and has made us worthy. Those who come to the Table believing this, (including confession of sin, etc.) are worthy because of this work done at the cross for His people. Praise be to Him alone!

9:22 AM, September 20, 2006  
Blogger Crystal said...

Good points Ruth. Much more indepth than I was going to go! "Mom"... How very true that we can never make ourselves worthy but that doesn't negate the work that we should do, those things that are in our power to do like confession, meditation, etc. to prepare our humanness to be able and willing to enter into the reverance that this service demands. Like Ruth said there is a work that must be done and that shouldn't be something that is cast aside in favor of "just believe and it's all good". I don't think that is where you were going but just wanted to make that comment. Very interesting topic here Mark!

11:25 AM, September 20, 2006  
Blogger Rebekah said...

Crystal, you said:

"Like Ruth said there is a work that must be done and that shouldn't be something that is cast aside in favor of 'just believe and it's all good'."

I can't do any better than Christ--to say so would be blasphemous. I can believe that Christ's sacrifice was completely sufficient and come to His table justified. My recognition of my own sin--rather than scaring me away from the Lord's Supper, draws me to it continually because I need Christ like I need breath, or water for washing.

Ruth, you said:

"...a close examination of what resources are given to us (I Cor. 10 & 11, and our church’s confessions) seem to infer that Communion requires in-depth self-examination, and perhaps by default, more time invested into the Suppers."

Would it not be infinately more beneficial to the believer if, partaking of the Lord's Supper with more frequency, he finds himself needing to "prepare" for said sacrament more often. Thus our lives would be permeated with self-examination and subsequently the tangible clinging to Christ we find in Communion.

Just some thoughts.

5:48 PM, September 20, 2006  
Blogger Ruth said...

Couldn’t this be likened to predestination; God is fully in control, but man is held fully responsible. Here as well, Christ paid the full price for us (and it is by Him and Him alone that we are declared righteous/ worthy) but we are yet commanded to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”(Phil. 2:12) for “faith without works is dead”(Jas. 2:26). How is the second part accomplished? Solely through the strength of God; “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Another thought; how is it possible to come to the Table in an “unworthy manner” if the passage speaks strictly of Christ’s imputed righteousness?

As to Beka’s question of increasing the frequency of the Lord’s Supper to increase the necessity for self-examination, I heartily agree. Four times a year seems to be insufficient. I think what possibly lies at the base of this discussion is the question; is the Lord’s Supper like every other facet of the Christian’s life, or is it different?

Thanks to Mark for causing me, us to thoughtfully consider this :)

8:39 PM, September 20, 2006  
Blogger Mark said...

Thanks for the discussion everyone! I hope we all are motivated to study and learn more...I still have so many unanswered questions on my part...but for now:

On the several issues involved...first self-examination. Of course this is required--if we didn't believe that, we would be endorsing paedocommunion--something I don't want to do. However, we need to keep in mind the point of the passage which was to rebuke the Corinthians for abusing the supper with feasting and even disunity (some are hungry and others drunk), which, as Matthew Henry puts it, "perfectly destroyed the purpose of the institution" as in verse 20 "therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper." The whole point was lost on them.

The examination that Paul cites seems most specifically driven to warn us not to partake in ignorance of what we do (i.e. we are instructed each time in the purpose and proper use of the sacrament so that we don't misuse it--paedo-communion is out as a direct result). Obviously part of this misuse would be to partake without a "credible profession of faith" (faith without works is dead). However, I believe true Christians get hung up by over-applying this examination--when in fact, properly speaking, an unrepentant person, living in sin (as mentioned in the form), would in the ideal case be barred from the table by the eldership anyway (under discipline), thereby making the admonition in the form a little bit superfluous in my mind. Why is the one who lives in sin there to partake in the ideal church anyway, if in fact, the church is functioning as it is called to in the first place? Perhaps the form is meant as a part of “formal” charge—just as we preach the gospel to all.

Regarding the cited danger of apathy by virtue of frequency (the main reason many reformed churches follow Zwingli’s, infrequent model), there is no point at all, from any part of scripture, to single out the Lord's Supper for this danger. We do already become apathetic in our worship. Any time we are standing in God's presence and worshiping we are supposed be engaged in the holiness and sanctity of our activities. No apathy in worship is more or less sinful to God...hence my original question: the charge of heresy would probably be applied if someone decided they must not perform other acts of worship too often for fear of taking them lightly or apathetically as a result of frequent use.

Instead of getting too dogmatic about it (the unscriptural argument), I should probably just say that I believe the benefits of frequency far outweigh the "dangers" people cite. I think (as many others do) a more regular partaking, both simplifies worship normalizing it, but also makes us more likely to make us understand it's true purpose --which would make self-examination a more straightforward task.

12:51 AM, September 21, 2006  
Blogger Crystal said...

agreed Mark. I am not sure what Beka was saying but that's ok. I agree with you final remarks. This has been an interesting discussion.

8:39 AM, September 21, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Mark! Great food for thought. I'm remembering a sermon I heard by Pastor Camarigg that talked about the fact that we must eat "discerning the Lord's body." Not only are we to discern the Lord's body when we eat, but we are to eat when we discern the Lord's body. Pastor pointed out that we are commanded to eat. To not eat means that we are not discerning the Lord's body! That falls right in with what Calvin wrote about being worthy to pray!

Also, here's a question for you--how often should we be examining ourselves? How often should we be repenting? How often should we be seeking to be reconciled to each other? Do we need a whole week to prepare for the Supper? Or should preparedness be the natural condition of the life of a Christian? Since the Christian's life is defined by the reality of faith and repentance. The Christian life is nothing it is not a life lived "before the face of God."

BTW--I haven't spent time evaluating the application of weekly communion--I only know these other things to be true. Am I missing something to add to the mix in order to draw a conclusion about "how often?"

your sis on the nest

8:47 AM, September 21, 2006  

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