Why the Lord’s Supper? (Calvin)

 One of my favorite essays on the Lord’s Supper is John Calvin’s work called “Short Treatise on the Supper of Our Lord, in Which is Shown Its True Institution, Benefit, and Utility.”  This essay is clear, it’s based on Scripture’s truths and principles, it points us to Jesus, and it gives a great summary of the meaning and benefit of Communion.  If you haven’t read it, I very highly recommend it!  Here’s an excerpt I had highlighted some time ago and ran across this morning (I’ve edited it slightly for readability):

Our Lord, therefore, instituted the Supper:

First, in order to sign and seal in our consciences the promises contained in his gospel concerning our being made partakers of his body and blood, and to give us certainty and assurance that therein lies our true spiritual nourishment, and that having such an earnest [pledge], we may entertain a right reliance on salvation.

Secondly, in order to exercise us in recognizing his great goodness toward us, and thus lead us to laud and magnify him more fully.

Thirdly, in order to exhort us to all holiness and innocence, inasmuch as we are members of Jesus Christ; and especially to exhort us to union and brotherly charity, as we are expressly commanded.

When we shall have well-considered these three reasons, to which the Lord had respect in ordaining his Supper, we shall be able to understand, both what benefit accrues to us from it, and what is our duty in order to use it properly.

Calvin, John, and Henry Beveridge. Tracts Relating to the Reformation. Vol. 2. Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1849. p. 167.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Reformation Rejection of Transubstantiation

The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights (Refo500 Book)  In the context of the 16th century Protestant Reformation the Roman Catholic Church taught (and still teaches) that the Lord’s Supper is a divine sacrifice in which Jesus is offered in a bloodless manner.  Rome teaches that Christ is “truly, really, and substantially contained in the propitious sacrament of the holy Eucharist under the appearance of those things which are perceptible to the senses” (Council of Trent, 13.1).  The Reformers rejected this definition of the Lord’s Supper on biblical and exegetical grounds.  For one example, here are Edward Leigh’s (d. 1677) ten reasons (summarized) for rejecting transubstantiation:

1) Christ would have to hold himself in his own hands and eat and drink his own flesh because, according to the Gospel accounts, he ate the supper with his disciples.

2) Christ would need two bodies, one broken and having the blood separated from the cup, and the other whole and having the blood in the body that holds the cup.

3) Christ’s blood would have been shed before his crucifixion.

4) His one body would have to be in a thousand places at once in order to facilitate the celebration of the supper in different locations.

5) A true body is finite and cannot be in multiple places at once.

6) Accidents would be without a subject, but Aristotle maintains that accidents are the very substance of a thing (cf. Aquinas, ‘Summa Theologica’ IaIIae, q. 90, art. 2).

7) The same thing would be and not be at the same time.

8) It is inhumane because no one but cannibals eats human flesh.

9) Our senses would be deceived because the sacrament looks like bread and wine but is not.

10) There is no change of the water in baptism, yet it too is a sign like the supper.

These reasons are why the Westminster Confession says that the doctrine of transubstantiation is repugnant not just to Scripture, but even to common sense and reason; transubstantiation overthrows the nature of the Sacrament and it also has been and is the cause of many superstitions and idolatries (WCF 29.4, 6).

For the above ten points of Leigh, see John Fesko, The Theology of the Westminster Standards.   For the complete treatment by Leigh, see Body of Divinity, 8.9.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Athanasius and Calvin on the Holy Supper

  Here’s a helpful section from an interesting book: Worshiping With The Church Fathers by Christopher Hall.

“Athanasius’s understanding of the Eucharist is remarkably similar to that of John Calvin, the sixteenth-century reformer.  Calvin believed Christ was spiritually present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist after the invocation (epiklesis) of the Holy Spirit, though not physically present.  After Christ’s ascension his physical body remained at the right hand of the Father.  Through the Spirit, though, Christ was genuinely present in the eucharistic elements.”

“In like manner, Athanasius focuses on the ascension of Christ, commenting that the ascension points us away from a ‘material notion’ of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.  Christ is indeed present, but in a spiritual fashion.  [Athanasius wrote:]  ‘The reason for his mention of the ascension into heaven of the Son of Man (cf. John 6:61ff) was in order to draw them away from the material notion; that thenceforth they might learn that the flesh he spoke of was heavenly food from above and spiritual nourishment from him.  For, he says, “What I have spoken to you is spirit and life,” which is as much to say, “What is displayed and given for the world’s salvation is the flesh which I wear: but this flesh and its blood will be given to you by me spiritually as nourishment, so that this may be bestowed spiritually on each, and may become for individuals a safeguard to ensure resurrection to eternal life”’” (p. 72-3).

Christopher Hall, Worshiping With The Church Fathers (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009).

shane lems

Holy Communion: Rome v Reformed

While studying the historical and theological background of the Lord’s Supper (part of which I posted a few days back), I came across this helpful summary of the differences between Rome’s understanding of the Mass and the Reformed understanding of the Lord’s Supper.  It is found in Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology (vol. 3, page 523).  I’ve edited it slightly to make it easier to read.

1) In the Lord’s Supper God gives and believers receive.  In the Mass the priest gives and God receives.

2) In the Lord’s Supper Christ instituted a monument and remembrance of his sacrifice and death.  In the Mass the priest offers Christ to God as a victim for sins.

3) In the Lord’s Supper Christ gave the bread to his disciples and said, ‘Take, eat’ but he did not offer anything to the Father nor did he sacrifice himself in it.  In the papal Mass they teach that Christ offers himself as a sacrifice to the Father.

4) In the Lord’s Supper Christ said ‘This do,’ which means, ‘eat and drink.’  In the Mass the Romanists teach ‘This do’ means ‘sacrifice this.’

5) In the Lord’s Supper Christ commanded his disciples to take and eat the bread which he gave them.  But in the solitary Mass the priest doesn’t give anything to the people and when no one is present he still says,”Take.’

6) The Lord’s Supper is a commemoration of Christ absent and sitting in heaven at the right hand of God.  The Mass is a sacrifice of Christ under the species of the bread and wine.

7) The Supper was instituted in memory of Christ alone and those who can show forth his death.  The Mass is celebrated in memory of the saints and for the dead, who cannot do what Christ requires.

More differences could be given, but this is a good starting list.  One main point to mention is that in the Lord’s Supper, the focus is primarily on the God-to-man aspect (he feeds and serves us); in the Mass it is primarily a man-to-God movement (the priest offers the sacrifice on the altar).  This is one reason the Reformers were so critical of the Mass as being a denial of Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross.

Furthermore,  is important to note also that Turretin wasn’t playing around with straw men here.  You can read the Council and Canons of Trent and the modern-day Roman Catholic Catechism to see what they still teach and see that Turretin understood what Rome taught.  In this section of his Institutes, he refuted the papal Mass quite well using biblical, theological, historical, and reasonable arguments.  Turretin is a great place to go to get an in-depth discussion and refutation of Rome’s unbiblical teaching of the Mass from a Reformation point of view.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Sunday with Justin

Martyr, that is.  I’ve begun a long and awesome trek through the 10 volume Ante-Nicene Fathers (Ed. A. Roberts & J. Donaldson [Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004]).  I wanted to invest in a good theology/history set and “covenant” with myself to read it straight through, so the patristics won over Barth for now.  The next few months, I’ll be coming back to these fathers from time to time here on the blog.

Right now, I’m reading Justin Martyr (2nd century AD), specifically, two of his apologies and his “Dialogue with Trypho, A Jew.”  I am enjoying it in every way (though “Dialogue” is quite lengthy).    One reason I chose to read the fathers is because it is quite edifying for me to see the historical side of Christ’s bride, that the saints in the early church gathered around Christ’s word and sacrament much like we do today.  Here’s one example from Justin’s First Apology (LXVI and LXVII), where he mentions the Eucharist and weekly Sunday worship.

“And this food is called among us Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.”

“On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or  the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president (I’d love to see the Greek word here!) verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.  Then we all rise together and pray, and as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings…and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given…”

Justin goes on to note how the alms are then collected for the poor, orphans, ill, widows, etc.  Then he explains why they meet on Sunday – because it is the first day, reminding them of the first day of creation and the first day of the new creation, Christ’s resurrection.

This is fascinating because this is one of Justin’s apologies (defenses) written to the government of his day, basically saying that Christians are not a crazy, immoral, flesh-eating cult but reasonable, moral, and worshiping followers of Jesus.  One other thing I found Justin repeating is that those who persecute Christians and don’t repent will certainly face the coming judgment of God (Justin speaks of hell for the wicked quite boldly!).  Anyway, I could go on, but needless to say, the church has a history.  People like you and me were reading the Scriptures and worshiping the Triune God 1800 years ago.  The gates of hell shall never prevail against the church!

shane lems

sunnyside wa

The Mass: Has Rome Changed?

While studying Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 80 on how the Lord’s Supper differs from the Roman Catholic mass, I noticed that some say the last part of HC 80 is wrong. They argue that since Rome has changed her official position on the Mass, the last 1/2 of HC 80 should be lopped off. In order to keep this post short, I won’t quote the last part of HC 80 – you can find it on your own, I trust. The main issues are these: is Christ bodily present in the elements, is he re-presented in the elements, and should we worship the elements? [Note: re-presented here means “presented over again;” this is important, because Calvin, for example, said Christ is represented but not re-presented.]

Lets see what Rome says today. The following quotes are taken from Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 1995). As an additional note, then Cardinal (now Pope) Joseph Ratzinger was the chairman of this pope-commissioned group to work on the catechism (in 1986).

Part II, Article 3, para. II.1330 The Mass “makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior…”

Part II. Article 3, para III.1333 “At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ’s body and blood.”

Part II, Article 3, para IV.1350 “…the bread and the wine are brought to the altar; they will be offered by the priest in the name of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice in which they will become his body and blood.”

Part II, Article 3, para IV.1353-4 “…by his [the Holy Spirit’s] power they [bread and wine]…become the body and blood of Jesus Christ…” The institution narrative words “make sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine Christ’s body and blood, his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all.”

Part II, Article 3, para V.1357 “Christ is thus really and mysteriously made present” when the bread and the wine “become” his body and blood.

Part II, Article 3, para V. 1364-7 In the Mass, “the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present. As often as the sacrifice of the cross by which ‘Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed’ is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out.” “The Eucharist is also a sacrifice.” “The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross.” The same sacrifice which Christ offered on the cross is “now offered through the ministry of priests.”

Part II, Article 3, para V.1374 “In the most blessed Eucharist…the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained” (emphasis in original).

Part II, Article 3, para V.1378 The people, during the liturgy of the Mass, “genuflect or bow deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord.” “The Catholic church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession.”

The “In Summary” section notes this (among others): “Because Christ himself is present in the sacrament of the altar, he is to be honored with the worship of adoration.”

There are quite a few more phrases that are exactly like the above. Also, the Council of Trent (c. mid 16th century) is quoted no less than 8 times in this one section. Though I didn’t list it, the Catholic Catechism also discusses the Mass for the dead. Finally, I noticed in a recent Yakima Times article, that now the “in” thing in Roman churches (at least in Southern Washington) is to have the Mass in Latin again, because “it feels more historical and holy.”

Clearly, Rome has not changed her position on the Mass. HC Q/A 80 needs to stay. Its not exactly “Interfaith,” ECT, or PC material, but “denial of the one sacrifice of Christ” and “condemnable idolatry” still fit.

shane lems

sunnyside wa