Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Church Ordinance of the Lord's Supper

Baptism is a one-time ceremony. The Lord’s Supper is a continuing ceremony signifying our growing fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church. The Lord’s Supper is the only act of worship which comes with specific instructions and therefore should be given more attention than Baptists generally afford it.

The Bible calls the Lord’s Supper by several terms: the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42), the Lord’s Table (1 Cor. 10:21), Communion (1 Cor. 10:16), the blessing (1 Cor. 10:16), the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20, here it is a complete meal), the Thanksgiving or Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:24). The Catholic term, mass, is not found in Scripture but comes from a Latin verb mittere (to send) and was used as early as the late 4th century by Ambrose.

Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-30; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; also Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:14-22) in the midst of the observance of Passover (Exodus 12) with his disciples. The Lord’s Supper is a covenant meal (Luke 22:20: “this cup is the new covenant”), and Christ is our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7).

The words of institution “This is My body,” in Latin, “Hoc est corpus meum,” (the magic words “hocus pocus”), have caused a lot of controversy. There are four interpretations.
  1.  TRANSUBSTANTIATION – (Catholic view) When a properly ordained priest lifts the elements (host), and repeats “hoc est corpus meum,” a miracle occurs. While they appear as bread and wine, the elements are literally become in substance (transubstantiated) into Christ’s body and blood. The celebration of mass thus involves a recrucifixion of Christ, granting forgiveness for venial sins, increases grace, preserves from mortal sin, and gives hope of salvation. How did they come to this? Gradually over the centuries, ideas of grace through the sacraments, the power of the ordained clergy, and a desire for magic in religion led to the official adoption of this view at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). Unfortunately this position is defective theologically (contradicting Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice), exegetically (the literal interpretation of John 6:32-39 is unnatural and forced – Jesus literally distributing his own body), ecclesiologically (the effectiveness of the priest’s ordination is more important than Christ’s blessing on those who take it by faith), and philosophically (using Aristotelian categories that are foreign to Scripture). That’s good reason why the Reformers opposed it as blasphemous and a chief error of the Roman Catholic Church.
  2. CONSUBSTANTIATION – (Lutheran view). While Martin Luther denied the Roman Catholic view, he believed that faith was necessary for a blessing in the Supper, and he affirmed the real, bodily presence of Christ by Christ’s power “in, with, and under” the elements. Christ comes clothed in bread and wine. While there are some philosophical ideas foreign to Scripture, the larger problem is exegetical. Perhaps because of his Catholic heritage so dear to him, Luther could not accept an interpretation that was less than totally literal. For him Christ was omnipresent everywhere the Supper was being conducted. He and Ulrich Zwingli could not agree, and at the famous colloquy of 1529, he demanded that “is” means “is.” It maddened him that Zwingli said “is” means “signifies” in many places in Scripture.
  3. SPIRITUAL PRESENCE -- (Calvin, Presbyterian view). “This is my body” means that Christ promises his spiritual presence at the Supper, but not his bodily presence in the elements. The elements are important because they are God’s ordained signs, but their importance is in what they signify. The English Baptists who were Calvinist held to this view as well in their 2nd London Confession.
  4. MEMORIAL – (Zwingli, Anabaptist, most Baptists). The words “this is my body” are understood as “this signifies my body.” While Zwingli believed Christ was spiritually present with believers when they gather in his name, the Lord’s Supper was a memorial meal (“This do in remembrance of Me.”)
Thanks to John Hammett at Southeastern Seminary for much of this material.