The Marks of the Church: Ordinances, Part 2
The Marks and Works of the Church
Ordinances, Part 2: The Lord’s Supper
This morning we will finish the marks of the church. We conclude this morning with our second sermon on the third mark, Ordinances. Last week we covered Baptism. I pray that was an encouragement to you. This week will cover the Lord’s Supper.
Before we begin this morning, I want to construct a bit of a defense for this idea that I would spend a sermon unpacking and discussing the Lord’s Supper. To do so, let me tell you a little story.
Sometime ago in my seminary years in Dallas, I got into a discussion with someone who I respect quite a lot regarding the topic of the Lord’s Supper. This person is theologically trained and is very involved in ministry. At one point in our conversation, the different views of the Lord’s Supper came up. I explained to him my view and asked him what his view was. He didn’t seem to have a coherent view and seemed to push back against me for even asking the question. His response was something like, “Well you’re just splitting hairs.” Essentially, what he was saying was that to focus upon specifics of the Lord’s Supper is a waste of time. These details are frivolous, unimportant, and uninteresting. I left that conversation discouraged and angry. That’s one perspective on a topic like this.
A different perspective is modeled by the Reformers of the 16th century. One of the central issues during the Protestant Reformation was the Lord’s Supper. This was one of the main doctrinal issues that led to the controversy. The Reformers, who included Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, believed that the Roman Catholic Church was in error on the Lord’s Supper. The Roman Catholic church taught, and still teaches, that Jesus’ atonement is represented during every Mass. That over and over again, atonement is made by a priest, through the Mass, for the sins of the people. The Reformers rejected this. They did not, however, with each other regarding the specifics of the Lord’s Supper. Their differences became so pronounced that they broke
fellowship with one another over the Lord’s Supper. One of the reasons why we have several different Protestant traditions—specifically Lutheran and Reformed traditions—is because the Reformers could not find a way to agree on the Lord’s Supper. This very doctrinal point, which my friend had said is hair splitting, has been one of the most historically consequential point of doctrine for the Protestant faith.
This stuff matters. We do need to be gracious in our differences. I agree with that. But to treat this stuff as insignificant would be to betray both history and Scripture. The Lord’s Supper matters and so does a faithful understanding of it. We want to uphold that sentiment as we seek to understand it.
This morning I will articulate and defend this idea: The Lord’s Supper is a symbol of the Lord’s body and blood that serves as a means of judgment and grace. There are three parts to this definition.
The first part is the idea that the Lord’s Supper is a symbol of the Lord’s body and blood. Basic to our understanding of the Lord’s Supper here at CBC is that the elements that are used are symbols. The wafer that we eat and the juice that we drink are symbols for Christ’s body and blood. This notion of a symbol is distinguished from the idea that bread and juice really are Christ’s body and blood. The symbol for Jesus’ body and blood is distinguished from the reality of his body and blood. We do not believe that the wafer and the juice are the reality of Jesus’ body and blood. We believe that they are symbols, representations, substitutes for the reality of Jesus’s body.
This belief in a symbolic understanding of the Lord’s Supper puts us at odds with how other traditions within Christendom understand the Lord’s Supper. Roman Catholics believe that the elements of the Lord’s Supper are, and do not just represent, Jesus Christ’s physical body. The Council of Trent, one of the most important declarations for Roman Catholic theology, states,
the Body and Blood, together with the Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore the whole Christ, is truly, really and substantially contained in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
Roman Catholics believe during the Mass there is a transformation that takes place in which the bread and wine are changed into the historical body and blood of Jesus Christ. The bread and wine can be worshipped. The same reverence that we have for God should be applied to the bread and the wine.
Lutherans believe similarly to how Roman Catholics believe. Like the Roman Catholics, Lutherans believe that when a believe partakes of communion, they partake of Christ true body. The specific conception of the relation between Christ’s body and blood and the bread and wine is differently conceived between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Nevertheless, Lutherans deny that the bread and wine is a symbol. Listen to an incident from Martin Luther’s life that reflects this belief:
That Luther believed the wine is really transformed into Christ’s blood is attested by an incident in the Wittenbegh church in 1541. A woman communicant accidentally upset the chalice, its contents spilling on her lined jacket, her coat and the communion chair. Luther rushed over [and] licked up the spilled contents as well as possible. Luther was so upset his eyes filled with tears. After the service he cut away the lining of the jacked which could not be licked clean and burned it; also he had the back of the chair, where the wine had spilt upon, removed and subsequently burned.
We would deny this. We would say that such behaviors are superstitious at best and maybe even blasphemous at worst. We think that such practices are a misunderstanding of what the Lord’s Supper is. What is our justification for believing that the bread and juice are symbols and not the reality of Jesus’s body and blood? Why do we believe the way we do?
To support their positions, those who believe in the physical presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper appeal to the language that Jesus uses when discussing communion. Turn to 1 Cor 11:23. We will read through verse 26. The passage reads,
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Does this passage make sense if we apply a literal hermeneutic to it. No. It doesn’t.
There is one main reason for this. There are other reasons but I will focus on just one this morning. Look at verse 25. If we take verse 24 literal, we must be consistent and take 25 literal. Jesus says this in v. 25: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Notice here that Jesus does not say, “This wine is my blood.” He says, “This cup is the new covenant.” The cup is probably a normal, 1st century cup. It holds the wine. The new covenant is the idea that God’s purposes would go to the Gentiles because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. And if we take v. 25 literal, the cup that Jesus holds is the new covenant. What a strange idea. If your scratching your head like, “Huh?” that’s my whole point. The new covenant is a cup. Hm. Very strange
Let’s see if this verse makes sense if we don’t apply a literal hermeneutic and seek to understand the bread and wine as symbols.
Going back to verse 24. Jesus says, “This is my body, which is for you.” What about, “This represents my body, which is for you.” We swap at the “is” and place in “represents.” Are there any bizarre problems that arise with that reading? No. It makes sense.
It’s in verse 25 where the idea of a symbol makes a lot of sense. Verse 25 states, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Literally, that is very odd. Symbolically, it makes perfect sense. “This cup represents the new covenant in my blood.” I think it’s obvious that the cup cannot literally be the new covenant. Instead, it represents the new covenant. Thus, the bread and wine are symbols. They are substitutes for Jesus’ body and blood.
A Means of Judgment
The bread and wine are symbols, but they are not just symbols. On the contrary, they are powerful symbols. When a person partakes of the Lord’s Supper something happens to that person. They are either torn down in judgment or built up in grace. Taking the Lord’s Supper impacts those who take it—whether for good or ill. We will focus upon the negative effect first, then the positive.
God uses the Lord’s Supper in the church to exercise his judgment in the church. The Lord’s Supper is a means of God’s judgment. Turn to 1 Cor 11:27. We will read through verse 32. The passage reads,
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
In this passage, specifically in verse 29, Paul discusses this idea of the Lord’s Supper as a means of judgment.
The cause of this judgment is mentioned in verses 27 and 29. Verse 27 mentions taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Verse 29 mentions taking the Lord’s Supper without “discerning the body.” What does it mean to take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner? What does it mean “to not discern the body?” What it doesn’t mean is that we must be perfect before we take the Lord’s Supper. The KJV unfortunately translates the phrase “unworthy manner” as “unworthily.” This translation as “unworthily” emphasizes the character of the person more so than the way it is taken. We are all unworthy to take the Lord’s Supper. That’s the whole point. You take it because you are unworthy and need God’s grace. The emphasis that Paul is stressing is that we cannot take it in an unworthy manner.
To take it in an unworthy manner is to “not discern the body.” “Body” here refers to what Paul mentions in 1 Cor 10:17. This passage reads, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Body, here, refers to the body of Christ as evidence in the church at Corinth. In this verse, Paul states that the one bread that they break together relates to the one body that they are all a part of. To take the bread is to engage in engage in a corporate event. Communion is the time when we express our corporate unity. “To not discern the body” is to neglect the corporate identity of the body. It is to place self-interest above body-interest. The corporate identity of the body is to come first. And in the Lord’s Supper, we must reflect upon the corporate identity. If we take communion without reflecting on corporate identity and corporate good, if we take communion and our actions have led to the rupture of corporate identity and corporate good, we take communion without discerning the body, and in an unworthy manner.
The result of this judgment is bodily harm. Paul specifies in verse 30. He explains that some in the Corinthian church had fallen ill and also died as a result of taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. I don’t see that the text limits God’s discipline to just sickness or sickness.
That is, I imagine that God’s discipline would come in many different forms, not just bodily harm. In the Corinthian church, God’s discipline took the form of bodily harm.
Look at verse 32, though. This judgment by God is a form of discipline to the believer. Based upon this verse, I believe that those who become sick and die in verse 30 are Christians. This form of judgment is death but it is a gracious act of God.
A Means of Grace
Along with the Lord’s Supper as a means of judgment, it is also a means of grace. We briefly touched upon that in the previous point when I mentioned that God’s judgment in the Lord’s Supper is discipline.
To say that the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace is to say that in taking the Lord’s Supper, our faith is strengthen, edified, and fortified. When we take the Lord’s Supper, Christ, by means of the Spirit, strengthens us, edifies us, and fortifies us. It is spiritually advantageous for a Christian to take the Lord’s Supper. This spiritual benefit comes to us in three different ways.
The first way is through self-evaluation. As I said earlier, before we take engage in the Lord’ Supper, we are to evaluate ourselves to make sure that we have acted in a manner that is consistent with building up the corporate good of the church. Again, look at verse 28. It says, “Let a person examine himself.”
There are several instances in Scripture where we are called towards self-evaluation. This call to self-examination in taking communion is part of a larger context of self-evaluation found throughout Scripture. Throughout Scripture, we are commanded to examine ourselves to see where we stand with both God and man.
This enterprise that we engage in at the church, Christianity, is not a pursuit of self-value, selfworth, or self-esteem. We do not gather to self-congratulate or self-applaud. We do not exist to build up self esteem and naval gaze. We often want to think that our problems exist outside of us, the we are not the problem, that we are the innocent one and that others are at fault. Those things might be true. There are problems that exist outside of us. Scripture acknowledges this. Scripture acknowledges evil, the devil, and the world. Over and over again, though, Scripture reorients our gaze away from the problems that exist outside of us to the problems that exist in us—first and foremost sin. We are sinners. The Bible treats our own disobedience to God as the preeminent problem to be solved. When you point the finger to others, Scripture points the finger to you.
Self-reflection is a grace from God. It is spiritually advantageous to consider our own lives and to consider whether we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, to consider whether our actions have led to disunity and animosity in the body, to consider our sins. This is a means of grace to us.
We do not just pause to self-criticize and self-judge. We pause to remember the finished work of Christ on our behalf. Yes, we are the problem. Yes, we sin. Yes, we deserve the eternal wrath of Almighty God. These things are true. We don’t end there, though. Christianity entails selfcriticism and self-judgment but it doesn’t end there. It ends with the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Look at verses 24 through 25.
When he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Jesus Christ has paid for our sins. Jesus Christ has taken upon himself the penalty that we deserve. Jesus Christ has given his life for our life. We remember that though we don’t deserve it Jesus Christ has saved us. Communion serves as a point in our lives to remember what Jesus has done. This remembrance, like self-reflection, is a means of grace to us.
The last way that communion serves as a means of grace to us is through participation. Turn to 1 Cor 10:16. The passage reads,
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
Paul states here that the Lord’s Supper is a “participation” in the body and blood of Christ. To understand this passage, we must understand this word “participation.” The Greek word is κοινωνία. It is defined as, close association involving mutual interests and sharing, association, communion, fellowship, close relationship.
Paul’s argument in this section is that the Corinthian Christians should not engage in eating meat sacrificed to idols because eating meat sacrificed to demons is a participation with the demons. For Paul, there is a spiritual reality that undergirds the idea of eating meat that is sacrificed to idols. It’s more than just eating meat. For Paul, it is a participation with the demons to whom it was presented. The meat serves as a vehicle for communion with the demons.
Likewise, Paul reasons, communion serves as a vehicle for participation with Christ. It is not just eating a little wafer and drinking a little juice. On the contrary, when we partake of communion, we participate, we communion with, we fellowship with the risen Christ. One commentator puts it like this,
Participation in Christ, which is known basically and perfectly in faith, is achieved and experienced in enhanced form. For Paul the bread and wine are vehicles of communion with Christ, just as the Jewish altar is a pledge of the presence of God. Partaking of bread and wine is union (sharing) with the heavenly Christ. κοινώία is here expressive of an inner union.
There is more that goes on than just eating and drinking in communion. It is a participation with Christ and with the benefits he has procured for us—forgiveness, grace, mercy, peace, joy, hope, thanksgiving.
This morning I have explained and defended the idea that the Lord’s Supper is a symbol of the Lord’s body and blood through which God mediates both judgment and grace. The bread and the wine are not actually Jesus body and blood. That idea cannot be supported from Scripture. The bread and wine are symbols for Jesus’s body and blood, not the actual body and blood. They are not just mere symbols, though. On the contrary, through the Lord’s Supper both judgment and grace are given. Through the Lord’s Supper, the Lord judges the church. We saw this occur in 1 Corinthians. Some people, because they did not partake of it in a correct manner, became ill or died. Through the Lord’s Supper, the Lord blesses the church as well. This grace comes through self-examination, remembrance, and participation with risen Christ. Amen. Pray with me.
I have two points of application—a negative and a positive.
First, you should not take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. We discussed this previously. In taking the Lord’s Supper, your conscience must testify that you are not the source of division in this church, that you have not insisted upon your own way above the corporate good of the church. We take the Lord’s Supper as one body. If your actions have led to the fracturing of this body, don’t take the Lord’s Supper. Seek to reconcile before taking the Lord’s Supper.
Second, you should take the Lord’s Supper because you are unworthy. We are sinners. We do not deserve grace. You don’t have to be perfect before you can take the Lord’s Supper. You take it as a needy sinner. Your unworthiness is the whole purpose of you taking it. You take it knowing that you do not deserve Christ and his benefits but because of his great love for your he offers you grace through communion. Take it considering that reality.
Pray with me.