Friday, November 2, 2012

As Providence Church Celebrates its First Communion, We Ask: What is the Lord's Supper?

the Lord's Supper

Sunday night, as usual, we will gather to sing praises to God, pray, and hear teaching from God’s word. However, this Sunday night (11/4), we will do something very special! For the first time, Providence Church will celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

Some call it Communion, the Lord’s Table, or maybe even the Eucharist, depending on your background… but what is the Lord’s Supper? Before we break bread together, let’s make sure that we are all on the same page when it comes to this very special event in the Christian faith.

1. Our Beliefs About the Lord’s Supper are Sumarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 29.

Our church heritage dates back nearly 500 years to the Protestant Reformation. The church in those days had become corrupt, and God moved in the hearts and lives of men to “reform” the church of Jesus Christ and to “protest” against the teachings of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. Providence Church is protestant and reformed in our doctrine. This doctrine (or teaching) dates back to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), written in 1647. We believe this document is an accurate summary of the Bible’s teaching. We live in a culture that changes constantly. We change our minds, and present “new ” ideas that all too often lead to old results. The WCF has been a rock for many churches over for many, many years. When the windsand waves of liberalism and sin beat upon her, she did not move because her foundation was built entirely upon the Word of God. While the WCF is certainly not authoritative or infallible in the way the Bible is believed, we are nevertheless grateful for it’s guidance and precision. Leaders in the EPC (our mother church) have taken vows to this document, myself included. In the same way, military personnel take vows to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States. We believe the Westminster Confession of Faith. I recommend it to every serious Bible student.

2. It’s Not JUST a Memorial

For the sake of simplicity, we can say that most churches hold one of three different views of the Lord’s Supper. First, and perhaps most popular in our time, is the idea that the Lord’s Supper is most like a memorial. It is done frequently, sometimes casually, and does not impart any extraordinary benefit for the believer outside the physical demonstration and remembrance of the gospel. It’s a popular view, and it avoids much of the superstition that has sometimes accompanied the Lord’s Supper throughout the history of the church.

The second view, and perhaps opposite end of the spectrum, concerning the Church’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper is a position that we will call the Catholic view. While the Lutheran Church holds a variation of this doctrine, it is commonly known to Catholics as Mass. During the Mass, a priest sets apart the elements by incantation, and through a bit of hocus-pocus, the bread and the wine (according to Catholic doctrine) ACTUALLY become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. If the words said by the priest are not exact, the transubstantiation does not occur, and the Mass cannot be taken! Concerning this kind of superstition, I think the WCF says it best, “The teaching that the substance of the bread and wine is changed into the substance of Christ’s body and blood … is objectionable not only to Scripture but even to common sense and reason”. It just doesn’t make sense, but sadly it is the result of hundreds of years of man’s teachings set on the same level as God’s Word.

The third and final position is what we will call the Reformed position. The Reformed position (our position) sees a “real presence” of Christ in the Lord’s Supper; not the physical presence of the Catholic and Lutheran views, but more than a mere memorial, noted above. Christ is present spiritually, and the believer feeds upon His body and blood in a spiritual, but real way. For the believer, this is what we call a “means of grace”. In other words, we believe that through the participation in the Lord’s Supper, God’s children are spiritually strengthened by the actual presence of Christ. It’s a marvelous teaching, and one that encourages believers to look forward to breaking bread with our Lord and Savior.

3. The Table is Open, but Fenced

At Providence Church, the Lord’s Supper is an “open table." By this, we mean that our table is not closed to other traditions, other denominations, or even visitors from other churches. This is not a Presbyterian table. This is a Jesus table. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, if you have repented and put your faith in Him, if He has become your treasure, then this Lord’s Supper is open to you and offered to any who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. It’s inclusive in the sense that ANY believer may participate. However, there are some important words of warning that must be made.

Have you ever stood in line waiting to ride a roller coaster? Maybe it’s because I’m a sign maker by trade, but do you ever pay attention to all of the warning signs along the way? WARNING: Do not ride this roller-coaster if you are pregnant, have any injuries, lower back pain, high blood pressure, etc, etc. Does it scare you a little? That’s a natural response. The point is, we need to listen carefully to the warnings. They are posted for a reason. In a sense, this is what we mean when we say that The Lord’s Table is “fenced”. The Lord’s Supper is exclusive in the sense that it does have some restrictions to it, but they are for our safety. Here are some of the restrictions based on what scripture teaches…

1. The Lord’s Supper is for believers ONLY.

Regardless of any pressure felt to conform to the group or person you are with, please do not take the elements unless you have truly repented and put your faith in Jesus Christ. Taking the Lord’s Supper as an unrepentant enemy of the cross is a grave offense and sin against Christ. It is for your own sake that we ask you to abstain from the Lord’s Supper. That said, just because you walked into the church as an unbeliever does not mean that you must come to the table as an unbeliever. It is possible that the moments leading up to the Lord’s Supper have driven you to a real and saving faith in Jesus Christ. If this happens, praise God! We rejoice with you, and welcome you for your first Christian sacrament. Please let us know by filling out the communication card or talking to Greg after the service.

2. The Lord’s Supper is for children who have confessed their faith to an elder of the church.

Children of believing adults will eventually share a desire to participate in the Lord’s Supper. This is a good thing! We believe that since they are children of the covenant of God’s grace in Christ, they should be brought to the table and share in the sacrament alongside the rest of their family. That said, it is important that children understand what it is that they are doing when they eat the bread and drink the wine (juice). In other words, it’s not just snack time. They should be able to (in a simple way) confess their need for a savior, their faith in Jesus, and be able to confess personal sin through prayer. If a child can do this, then we welcome them to the table. If you would like to have your child partake of the Lord’s Supper, please see Greg after service.

3. The Lord’s Supper is for REPENTENT believers.

1 Corinthians 11:27-29 states,
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" (1 Corinthians 11:27-29 ESV).

These verses make it clear that before we take the Lord’s Supper, we must first “examine ourselves” to be sure that we are taking the bread and drinking the cup in a way that is worthy of the gospel. Now, this can really freak some people out. I am one of them! Sometimes when I heard this early in my Christian walk, I would say to myself, “how could I possibly confess every sin or become worthy enough to come to the table with Christ Himself?” I think I missed the point of the warning. The meaning that the Apostle Paul is trying to convey is one of holiness. God knows that we are sinners and that we are not perfect. He knows that we sinned yesterday, today, and we’re probably going to sin some more tomorrow. Coming to the table in a worthy manner does NOT mean “clean yourself up” and somehow become good enough to eat this meal.

Discernment means that we are humble before the majesty and holiness of God, grateful for the heroic work of Christ on the cross, and dependent upon the grace of God to cleanse us from all sin. We confess our sin, our sin nature, and the sin we cannot remember or even see. Then having our conscience cleansed by the gospel, we are free to enjoy this meal with thankful hearts to and for the glory of Christ.

Are you excited about taking the Lord’s Supper? When you come Sunday, remember that the real presence of Christ is with us.
If Jesus invited us to dinner at His house, would that not be THE highlight of our weekend?

Matt Johnson is an ordained deacon at Faith Church (main campus) and is an integral part of the planting team at Providence Church in Spring Hill, Florida. 

1 comment:

  1. Matt, It was a joy to be a part of the first communion at Providence last night. This is a great post that hits the nail on the head, it is not just a symbol and it definitely is not some mystical transubstantiation. It is a powerful experience when taken seriously. Very powerful.