Eating & Drinking [Eternal!] Judgment on Ourselves? (Henry)

  In 1 Corinthians 11:29, in the middle of Paul’s discussion of the Lord’s Supper debacle in the Corinthian church, he wrote this: “For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself” (NET). It’s not uncommon for Christians to read this text and think: “If I come to this table in an unworthy manner, I could face God’s eternal judgment and wrath!  If I don’t examine myself enough, or if I do it wrong, this could mean condemnation and hell for me.”  In fact, some Christians simply stay away from the table because they have these kinds of thoughts.

However, in 1 Corinthians 11:29 Paul is not talking about eternal condemnation or eternal judgment. He’s talking about temporal and physical judgment; that is, weakness, sickness, and even death (v 30).  In fact, Paul goes on to say that this “judgment” is God’s fatherly discipline (think Heb. 12:6) to prevent his people from falling into the condemnation that the unbelieving world will face (11:32).

Matthew Henry explains this well:

Note, A careless and irreverent receiving of the Lord’s supper may bring temporal punishments. Yet the connection seems to imply that even those who were thus punished were in a state of favor with God, at least many of them: They were chastened of the Lord, that they should not be condemned with the world, v. 32. Now divine chastening is a sign of divine love: Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth (Heb. 12:6), especially with so merciful a purpose, to prevent their final condemnation. In the midst of judgment, God remembers mercy: he frequently punishes those whom he tenderly loves. It is kindness to use the rod to prevent the child’s ruin. He will visit such iniquity as this under consideration with stripes, and yet make those stripes the evidence of his lovingkindness. Those were in the favor of God who yet so highly offended him in this instance, and brought down judgments on themselves; at least many of them were; for they were punished by him out of fatherly good-will, punished now that they might not perish forever. Note, It is better to bear trouble in this world than to be miserable to eternity. And God punishes his people now, to prevent their eternal woe.

That’s excellent and worth reading a few times in case we need correction in this area of our Christian thinking about Communion.

The above quote is found in Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994.

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

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

Young Children at the Table? (Letham)

Systematic Theology Here’s a good short summary of why confessionally Reformed churches have historically not allowed young children to participate in the Lord’s Supper:

Recently, a growing number have advocated paedocommunion – giving communion to infants and very young children who have not made a public profession of faith.  Two factors have encouraged this.  One is a new interest in Eastern Orthodoxy, for the East has always practiced paedocommunion.  A second factor flows from covenant theology.  Some argue that since the whole family participated in the Passover and does so in baptism, why should the Supper be different?

However, paedocommunion fits best with positions other than those of the Reformed confessions.  The first fit is with transubstantiation.  If the bread becomes the body of Christ, it follows that whoever eats the bread receives Christ’s body.  Therefore, to deny the bread to infants is to deny them grace.  The other fit is memorialism.  If the Supper is simply a figurative remembrance and not a means of grace, and so not a means of judgment to the unbelieving (1 Cor. 11:27-32), it hardly matters who receives it, since no adverse consequences are likely.

In contrast, the Reformed stress that the Lord’s Supper requires faith, repentance, and self-examination [WLC 177].  If the means of grace can become a means of judgment, discipline, and even of damnation, it is essential that participants be qualified as penitent sinners.  So two qualifications are required for receiving the Supper.  First is baptism, the sacrament of initiation.  Second is profession of faith, for this is essential to feed on Christ, the Bread of Life.  Because the Eucharist is a sacrament of the church, not a matter of private or individual choice, this faith must be tested by the officers of the church to detect, as far as possible, its credibility.

Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, p. 765.

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

Christians Celebrating the Passover? (Ursinus)

It is a trend in some Christian circles and churches to host and celebrate Jewish feasts or meals that are connected to the Passover.  You don’t have to look too hard online to see what I mean.  I suppose it’s one thing to watch a video or read a book to learn how Jews celebrate the Passover; it’s another thing to actually partake and make these Jewish meals part of church or Christian life.

In Reformed theology we say that the Old Testament’s “ceremonial laws are now abrogated” in the New Testament era (WCF 19.3).  “We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law ceased at the coming of Christ, and that all the shadows are accomplished, so that the use of them must be abolished among Christians (BCF 25).  There is firm biblical reason for this Reformed position.  Zacharias Ursinus comments:

That the ancient Passover, with all the other types which prefigured the Messiah which was to come, was abolished at the coming of Christ, is evident,

1. From the whole argument of the Apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews respecting the abolishing of the legal shadows in the New Testament. “The priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old.” (Heb. 7:12; 8:13.)

2. From the fulfillment or these legal shadows. “These things were done that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. A bone of him shall not be broken.” “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” (John 19:36. 1 Cor. 5:7.)

3. From the substitution of the New Testament; for Christ, when he was about to suffer, and die and sacrifice himself as the true Passover, closed the ordinance relating to the paschal lamb with a solemn feast, and instituted and commanded his Supper to be observed by the church in the place of the old passover. “With desire, I have desired to eat with you this passover, before I suffer.” “This do in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:15, 19.) Christ here commands the supper, not the ancient passover, to be celebrated in remembrance of him. As baptism has, therefore, succeeded circumcision, so the Lord’s supper has succeeded the passover in the New Testament.

It may seem interesting and even spiritual to reenact ancient Jewish feasts and meals, but we need to remember that Hebrews tells us not to go back to the copies and shadows of the old covenant (Heb 8: 5, 13).  As Hebrews makes very clear, you can’t have the old and the new together – the old is fulfilled, the new is here, so don’t go back!  Or, like Paul says in Galatians 4:9-11, a Gentile Christian putting himself under the Jewish ceremonies and laws is the same as going back to their pagan religions!  Commenting on Galatians 4:9, C. K. Barrett said, “To go forward into Judaism is to go backward into heathenism” (see also Douglas Moo and F. F. Bruce on Gal. 4:9).

Since we have Christ, the Passover Lamb, and his final sacrifice, we don’t need to sacrifice animals, have altars, celebrate Jewish ceremonies, feasts, Passovers, and so forth.  Instead, we celebrate the Lord’s death by blessing and sharing bread and wine like he told us to do until he comes again (1 Cor. 11:23ff).

The above quotes are found in Zacharias Ursinus trans. by G. W. Williard, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 440.

(This is a re-post from July 2016)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Quarterly (!?!?) Celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Calvin)

The Letters of John Calvin (4 vols.) I’m one of those Presbyterian pastors who believes that celebration of the Lord’s Supper should be done frequently.  In the church I served before, we celebrated Holy Communion once per month.  In the church I serve now, we celebrate it weekly.  To be honest, I’ve never heard anyone who is accustomed to celebrating the Lord’s Supper frequently say, “We should celebrate it less frequently; it’s becoming too ordinary.”  In fact, the opposite is true.  I have heard someone who was ill for around a month say when he made it back to church that he really missed taking the Lord’s Supper!

Each Lord’s Day here we hear a brief explanation of the Lord’s Supper from a different angle.  One Sunday we’ll hear about how Christ was our substitute as he died on the cross for us.  Another Sunday we’ll focus on how his blood cleanses us from all sin.  The next we’ll hear that although Christ is in heaven, we feed on him by the power of the Holy Spirit through the faith he’s given to us.  At a different time we’ll hear the fact that God loves us so much that he gave his only Son to die and save us.  And so on.  It’s a gospel celebration each Lord’s Day; the sacrament echoes the preaching of the Word!

I recently ran across a paragraph of Calvin’s where he talked about this very subject (I mentioned this letter yesterday).  The authorities made the decision to celebrate the Supper quarterly (four times per year).  Calvin, since he was no maverick, submitted to the authority even though he was much more in favor of  frequent use of the Lord’s Supper.  Don’t miss the last sentence of the quote!

In one thing we differ, but the difference is not an innovation. We celebrate the Lord’s supper four times a year, and you thrice. Now would to God, messeigneurs [lords], that both you and we had a more frequent use of it. For we see in the Acts of the Apostles by Saint Luke that in the primitive church they communicated much oftener. And that custom continued in the ancient church during a long space of time, till the abomination of the mass was devised by Satan, and was the cause why people communicated but once or twice a year. Wherefore we must confess that it is a defect in us not to follow the example of the Apostles. 

Jules Bonnet, Letters of John Calvin, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 162–163.

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

Children at the Lord’s Table? (Knight)

 Historic Reformed theology and practice have always emphasized the fact that the Lord’s Supper is for repentant sinners who’ve professed faith in Christ.  This is why, for example, the Westminster Shorter Catechism says that in order to receive the Lord’s Supper, a person must examine himself of his knowledge to discern the Lord’s body, of his faith to feed upon Him, of his repentance, love, and new obedience (Q/A 97).  This wasn’t just written on a whim or without deep thought.  Reformed theology and practice in this area is based on, among other texts and doctrines, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.

In the book Children and the Lord’s Supper, George Knight has a helpful article on this text that explains the historic Reformed position based on exegesis of the passage.  I can’t give all the details here, but I can give some of Knight’s conclusions at the end of the article:

Those partaking [in the Lord’s Supper] are doing so in response to God’s invitation (cf. the repeated ‘do this’ in 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25, followed by the offering of the bread and wine which the participates take and eat and drink… ) Babies cannot so partake by doing this themselves.

Those partaking are to do so ‘in remembrance of me [Christ]’ (1 Cor. 11:24-25).  Babies cannot so partake ‘in remembrance of me [Christ]’.  Furthermore, this remembrance can only truly be done by those who have saving faith.

Those partaking (‘whoever’) are to do so in a ‘worthy manner’ (and not in an ‘unworthy manner,’ 1 Cor. 11:27).  They partake worthily when each one ‘examine[s] himself’ (1 Cor. 11:28), and discerns the Lord’s body represented in the Supper (1 Cor. 11:29).  Babies cannot fulfill these apostolic requirements for all those who are to partake.  Only those who have saving faith can truly fulfill these requirements.

Those partaking are participating in the nurturing of their faith (cf. 1 Cor. 10:16…).  The institution of the Lord’s Supper is given to his disciples and it is reiterated by Paul to the church to be practiced in the church by those who have believed and who can be so instructed and warned.  Thus faith, by implication, is necessary for those partaking to participate in the nurturing of their faith (cf. WCF 29.7).  Therefore, only those who have made a public profession of their faith are to be admitted to the table.

…The result of this analysis of the Lord’s Supper, as it is presented in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 together with the positive and negative consequences, provide a rather clear reason why the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, in obedience to His Word, has not admitted children to the Lord’s Supper solely on the basis of their baptism and without a profession of faith (p.94-95).

This is a slightly edited summary of Knight’s concluding points.  There is more to his discussion, which is worth reading for sure.  There’s also more to the discussion when it comes to children and the Lord’s Table.  For now, please note that the historic teaching and practice of Reformed churches is based on Scripture, not tradition or expediency.

This book, Children at the Lord’s Supper, is a good resource that includes contributions from Ligon Duncan, Joel Beeke, Derek Thomas (and others).  This is a resource that gives further biblical, theological, and historical reasons why Reformed churches require a credible profession of faith before allowing God’s people to the table of the Lord.

Children at the Lord’s Table; ed. Guy Waters and Ligon Duncan (Ross-Shire: Mentor, 2011).

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

Dear Weak Sinner: Come to the Table! (Calvin)

Tracts and Treatises of John Calvin (8 vols.)  I’m so thankful that we don’t have to be superhero Christians to share in the Lord’s Supper.  We don’t have to have a strong, bullet-proof faith, nor do we need to reach a certain level of sanctification to partake in the table of the Lord.  As long as we’re repentant of our sin and at the same time believe that our hope is only in Christ, we can take Holy Communion even when we’ve had a miserable week.  I love how Calvin talked about this in his excellent pamphlet called “A Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper.”  Calvin does mention that we have to come to the table denying ourselves and renouncing ourselves to rely only on Christ for salvation.  He also says we should come to the table with love for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  He then clarifies:

But as not a man will be found upon the earth who has made such progress in faith and holiness, as not to be still very defective in both, there might be a danger that several good consciences might be troubled by what has been said if we did not prevent it by tempering the instructions which we have given in regard both to faith and repentance.

It is a perilous mode of teaching which some adopt when they require perfect reliance of heart and perfect penitence and exclude all from the table who do not have them. For in so doing they exclude all without excepting one. Where is the man who can boast that he is not stained by some spot of distrust? That he is not subject to some vice or infirmity? Assuredly the faith which the children of God have is such that they have ever occasion to pray — Lord, help our unbelief. For it is a malady so rooted in our nature, that we are never completely cured until we are delivered from the prison of the body.

Moreover, the purity of life in which they walk is only such that they have occasion daily to pray for forgiveness of sins and for grace to make greater progress. Although some are more and others less imperfect, still there is none who does not fail in many respects. Hence the Supper would be not only useless, but pernicious to all, if it were necessary to bring a faith or integrity as to which there would be nothing to dispute about them. This would be contrary to the intention of our Lord, as there is nothing which he has given to his Church that is more salutary.

A few paragraphs later Calvin wrote this:

Nay, if we were not weak and subject to distrust and an imperfect life, the sacrament would be of no use to us, and it would have been superfluous to institute it. 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 of the Supper becomes more necessary the more we feel pressed by the disease; so far ought that to be from making us abstain from it. 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 above (slightly edited) quote is found in Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. (1849). Tracts Relating to the Reformation (Vol. 2, p. 179). Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, p. 178-9

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