Well…I’m Waaaaiting!

princess bride

It is not difficult to understand why Calvin desired weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Even if the Scriptures and the writings of the early church did not indicate that this was the established practice of the apostolic church, his understanding of the nature of the sacraments naturally entailed frequent communion. As Michael Horton explains, “One’s view of the nature of the Supper plays no small part in determining frequency” (Horton, “At Least Weekly,”156). It should come as no surprise that those who view the Lord’s Supper primarily as a matter of subjective mental recollection would see no need to celebrate it frequently. On the other hand, those like Calvin, who see the Lord’s Supper as a real and effectual means of grace, understandably desire to celebrate it as often as possible.

When we understand what the Lord’s Supper actually is and why God instituted it for us, then we do not view is as some kind of tedious add-on to the regular worship service of the church. Instead, we begin to see it with joy as an integral and necessary part of the worship of the new covenant communion. When we begin to understand the true nature and purpose of the Lord’s Supper, we wonder why any Christian wouldn’t want to receive all that God offers in it every time the church gathers for worship.

The Lord’s Supper is aid by the apostle Paul to be the communion of the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16). Here we encounter the central mystery of the Lord’s Supper and probably the main reason why Calvin desired communion to be celebrated at least weekly. In the Lord’s Supper, we truly commune with Jesus Christ. Our union and communion with him is strengthened and nourished as we partake of his body and blood in the sacrament. In a singularly unique way, the life of the true Vine is communicated to the branches in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Why would any Christian not want this communion with Christ to be a part of every worship service?

According to Scripture, the Lord’s Supper is also a proclamation of the death of Christ (1 Cor. 11:26). This is the same message that Paul says is the heart of his gospel message (1 Cor. 2:1-3). Is the church not called to proclaim the death of Christ? Do believers not need to be continually reminded of this message, to hear this gospel? The heart of the preached word is Jesus Christ and him crucified. The heart of the visible word is the same—the death of Christ (perhaps Paul has in mind the Lord’s Supper in Gal. 3:1 when he says, “Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified)? If the Lord’s Supper truly is the proclamation of Christ’s death, as Paul says it is, why would any Christian not want this proclamation to be a part of every gathering for worship?

The apostle Paul also tells us that the Lord’s Supper signifies the oneness of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:17). According to Paul, “We, being many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” When Christians gather to partake of the same bread and wine, there is no Jew or Gentile, there is no rich or poor, there is no male or female. All are one because all partake of the one body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. If the faithful teaching of this truth accompanies the frequent observance of the Lord’s Supper, it inhibits division because it repeatedly and forcefully emphasizes the sinfulness of worshipping with an unforgiving heart (cf. Matt. 5:23-24). In fact, it is not beyond possibility that the infrequent observance and corresponding devaluing of this sacrament has contributed to the ongoing division and strife in the modern church. Again, we have to ask why any Christian would not want such a sign of Christian unity to be a part of the regular worship of the church.

Jesus Christ commands that the Lord’s Supper be observed in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19; cf 1 Cor. 11:24). This does not mean that the Lord’s Supper is merely a time for subjective mental recollection. It is a memorial of the saving acts of Jesus Christ by which he inaugurated the new covenant. In the Lord’s Supper, we do not merely recollect these great acts of redemption. We unite ourselves with the new covenant community for which they were accomplished. If the Lord’s Supper is truly to be observed in remembrance of Christ’s mighty saving acts, why would any Christian not want this remembrance to be a part of every Christian worship service?

Keith Mathison, Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, 293-295.

In the light of such a compelling and positive argument to keep the audible and visible Word always together, again, I’m waiting to hear a compelling and positive argument to keep them separate most of the time.

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24 Responses to Well…I’m Waaaaiting!

  1. Rick says:

    I’m waiting too. But we’ll never hear one, a valid argument against weekly Supper existeth not.

    I’m not being dramatic when I admit that my eyes well up a little when I read this (and similar stuff) – because, “Oft have I, with sighs fast thronging, Thought upon this food with longing.”

    It’s beginning to hurt – but I’m only a week and a half a way from the food as I write – we just had a bulletin notice that next Sunday would be a “preparatory” service. I’m glad they gave us an extra week to prepare this time so I could get my affairs in order early.

    So, this thing still works. Good to see.

  2. Zrim says:

    “Who is this?”

    “Jerry!”

    Good luck with the brutal dive inward, Rick.

  3. Rick says:

    “Uncle Leo?”

    Nah, no diving here. Just looking outward once I hear the law and the Gospel.

    “you have a collect call from:”
    “-Hey buddy don’t say no!”

  4. Todd says:

    “In fact, it is not beyond possibility that the infrequent observance and corresponding devaluing of this sacrament has contributed to the ongoing division and strife in the modern church.”

    It’s statements like this above that makes me even more sure that weekly is a bad idea.

  5. Lacie says:

    Is it primarily “subjective & mental recollection”
    or
    “real and effectual means of grace?”
    Please explain. Jesus physically died on the tree. We physically eat bread and drink wine. Is the physical the part we are supposed to crave? or is it the “mental” (spiritual) appropriation of what happened 2,000 years ago.

    Apparently it’s the “uniting” physically with other members of the new covenant community. How so? I thought we were to remember Christ..not each other?

  6. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    I’ll grant that the statement is a bit overdone (though he did qualify it with “it is not beyond possibility”). But you also have to keep in mind that the whole book is actually about recovering the doctrine of the LS. His thesis is that the Eucharist is not nearly as central now as it was during the Reformation. With that in mind, whatever one’s view on frequency, it becomes easy to see how he might place weight on it that seems overdone to an era that frankly really doesn’t care much about the doctrine in the first place.

  7. Rick says:

    I’m not sure the statement is overdone. You can’t read it without the statement that precedes it: “…it inhibits division because it repeatedly and forcefully emphasizes the sinfulness of worshiping with an unforgiving heart.”

    I think frequent Communion would get us oriented more aright and compel us on toward a more fervent love of God and neighbor. If I have something against a brother and therefore cannot come to the Table in good conscience, how many times will I let the bread and wine go by before we make it right? The less we partake of Christ and all His benefits, the less we benefit from Christ. This can easily make us prone to more strife in the Church.

    Think about it in terms of marital “favors.” But I’ll use the word benefits: If the benefits are not being withheld it’s much harder to have a fight, right?

    But I’m not sure we’ve all “devalued” the Sacrament in every Church setting. Some may actually have a good understanding of the Supper and are just afraid of it. It’s so mysterious and otherworldly that they have to keep it a good distance away.

    We may have devalued everything else in worship except the Lord’s Supper. Think about it: So many have turned preaching into a lecture about God, taken the profundity out of God’s Calling us to Worship Him at His own throne, and the wonder and awe out of God declaring Grace, Mercy and Peace directly to us. The thunder has been taken out of the Law and we won’t let ministers declare absolution anymore. The great mystery of Christ’s Spiritual presence in the Sacrament is the only thing extremely otherworldly that happens in worship now and by golly, we need to keep this very special thing very special by not doing it much. I just think it makes people uncomfortable for a variety of reasons – valuing it correctly but devaluing everything else that happens in worship might be one of them.

  8. Zrim says:

    Lacie,

    I’m not sure I understand your question. But you ask, “Is the physical the part we are supposed to crave? or is it the ‘mental’ (spiritual) appropriation of what happened 2,000 years ago.”

    Mathison, earlier in the book, is trying to point out the importance of both the physical and spiritual aspects of the Eucharist. Following Vermigli, he makes a christological argument: If we don’t partake of his humanity the way he took on our flesh, then salvation is not obtained. The divine must never be seen as eclipsing the human.

    Is that what you’re getting at?

  9. Zrim says:

    Some may actually have a good understanding of the Supper and are just afraid of it. It’s so mysterious and otherworldly that they have to keep it a good distance away.

    I hate to say it, but my constant suspicion of those who oppose weekly is that there is some sort of underlying fear of it, you’re right. I also think you’re onto something re its otherworldiness and mystery perhaps being part of the cause.

    Then again, often frequency is accused of making the Eucharist too routine, which seems to suggest it makes it too this-worldly. But to my mind, the visible word is as otherworldly as the audible word, which is to say the gospel. They both are at once profound and simple, extraordinary and ordinary.

  10. Lacie says:

    “If we don’t partake of his humanity the way he took on our flesh, then salvation is not obtained. The divine must never be seen as eclipsing the human.”
    That is very unclear. You would need to translate something like that into clear English.

  11. Todd says:

    “I hate to say it, but my constant suspicion of those who oppose weekly is that there is some sort of underlying fear of it, you’re right. I also think you’re onto something re its otherworldiness and mystery perhaps being part of the cause.”

    Zrim,

    Well, that type of suspicion won’t help you fend off the charge of elitism, the weeklyers being the tiny minority who are not afraid of the Supper and its true meaning. You’d do well not to look for some subconscious cause and take our word at face value. While God gives us visible signs to bear with our weakness, we walk by faith, not by sight; the need to always have the sight attached to the hearing is not healthy IMO.

  12. Rick says:

    Todd,
    I’m the kind of guy who wouldn’t insist on weekly – even though I think it’s the right thing to do for the health and vitality of the Church. Calvin wouldn’t allow the issue of frequency divide the Church, neither should we.

    But to say that it’s not always healthy to have the sight attached doesn’t register with me when we’re talking means of Grace. Faith comes by hearing, there is no doubt about that. I also would maintain that preaching is primary. You can have the Word without Sacrament but you can never have the Sacrament apart from the Word. But faith is also strengthened and confirmed by the God-ordained visible Word. Since we crave the visuals and continuously attempt to create our own, we can rest knowing that God gave us two of His own. They’re the only healthy visuals the Church can use.

    “We walk by faith, not by sight” 2 Cor 5:7 The context is the “Outward man who is perishing.” Though we only see outward decay, we know we are being renewed day by day. The context is not the corporate worship service. Every time I read about the Church worshiping in the N.T.- I read about the Supper.

  13. Todd says:

    Rick,

    Each side is starting with different presuppositions: one side says the sacraments were always to be occasional additions to hearing the Word, and making the occasional as frequent as the Preached word is potentially dangerous, the other side says, (at least in the new covenant), Word and sacrament in worship belong together, and separating them is potentially dangerous. I’m not sure our minds are going to meet with these different presuppositions. Oh well.

  14. Lacie says:

    “do not make an idol of the Lord’s Supper.

    The man who tells you that it is the first, foremost, chief, and principal precept in Christianity, is telling you that which he will find it hard to prove. In the great majority of the books of the New Testament the Lord’s Supper is not even named. In the letter to Timothy and Titus, about a minister’s duties, the subject is not even mentioned. To repent and be converted, to believe and be holy, to be born again and have grace in our hearts–all these things are of far more importance than to be a communicant. Without them we cannot be saved. Without the Lord’s Supper we can. Are you tempted to make the Lord’s Supper override and overshadow everything in Christianity, and place it above prayer and preaching? Be careful. Pay attention what you are doing.” J. C. Ryle

  15. Zrim says:

    Todd, re fear, it’s more a personal hunch than any sort of argument, that’s all.

    The faith/sight point is odd and can simply be reversed on you: when you observe on the first of the month are you then living by sight and not faith? Come on.

  16. Zrim says:

    Lacie, thanks, but I don’t think you’ve been listening. I don’t see how anything that has been said implies weekly is specially vulnerable to what these warnings assume. When someone tells me he prays weekly should my response really be: “Are you tempted to make prayer override and overshadow everything in Christianity, and place it above Word and sacrament? Be careful. Pay attention what you are doing.”

    Come on.

  17. Todd says:

    “The faith/sight point is odd and can simply be reversed on you: when you observe on the first of the month are you then living by sight and not faith? Come on.”

    I think you are missing the point. The reason sacraments are occasional is because we do not need them in the same we we need to hear the gospel. The sacraments are given as a condescension to our weaknesses. To say we need them weekly to help our relationship with Christ is to ask too much of the sacrament – to put too much into them – more than ever intended.

  18. Zrim says:

    But, Todd, if “the sacraments are given as a condescension to our weaknesses” then when we’re not taking them it seems to me we are then saying we’re not weak. Is that what you want to say, that on the second, third and fourth Sunday’s you aren’t as weak as you were on the first?

  19. Todd says:

    Zrim,

    No, not saying that. I’m trying to find an analogy, but as they break down, I’ll try anyway. Pastors are means God uses to administer his kingdom. But you can need a pastor too much, you can rely on him too much, more than intended, and that is not healthy. The same with the Supper. The occasional nature of a sacrament, which I think Scripture teaches from start to finish, demonstrates how God uses them in our lives, but how they can be over-relied upon.

  20. Zrim says:

    Todd, the potentiality of something being abused has never seemed like very good reasoning to me. Isn’t that sort of a legalist tactic?

    Look, I’m not trying to cheeky or dense or anything, but by this reasoning maybe we should have pastors preaching once a month? I mean, you can see how the reasoning at least can be employed this way, right?

  21. Todd says:

    “Isn’t that sort of a legalist tactic?”

    Unless the Lord meant the sacraments to be occasional so that they were not abused or over-relied on. In other words, the occasional nature is his idea, which is what I am suggesting the Scripture demonstrates, Old and New.

    “I’m not trying to cheeky or dense or anything, but by this reasoning maybe we should have pastors preaching once a month?”

    No, according to the analogy, we should not depend on our pastors to pray for us for God to hear us when we should be praying for ourselves, something like that.

  22. Zrim says:

    Todd, we may have come to the close of it once again. But I do wonder about something: why do you suppose we say men like yourself are “ordained to the ministry of Word and sacrament”? It may be a silly question, but the phrasing makes it sound like these two things go together more regularly than occasionally. To the extent that your view seems to think all other elements of Reformed worship besides sacraments should happen every week (e.g. prayer, singing, preaching), I wonder if it might be more appropriate to say you guys are “ordained to the ministry of Word and one-of-those,” or maybe just “ordained to the ministry of the Word.”

  23. Todd says:

    Zrim,

    Yes, it may be time to agree to disagree, but I don’t think you want to say the high majority of Reformed ministers in history were not really ordained to Word and Sacrament because they were not weekly. Not necessary.

  24. Zrim says:

    Todd, no, no, that’s not at all what I meant.

    What I meant was that, if we think Word and sacrament should be more separated than joined, perhaps we should speak differently about what sort of ministry a man is ordained to. I mean, if we say you are “ordained to the ministry of Word and sacrament” someone might get the idea that Word and sacrament go together regularly instead of occasionally.

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