Christ is the Central Content of the Sacraments

the-lords-supper

I really enjoyed Pierre Marcel’s book The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism.  Even if you are already convinced of the paedo position it is worth your time. He does an excellent job of explaining what sacraments are, the covenant is, and how that impacts us, the church, and our children. One thing that stuck out to me was the emphasis he put on the Word.  He does not minimize the sacraments. It is clear they are powerful signs and seals of God’s covenant. But he is clear that the Word is the priority over the sacraments. I plan on putting up quite a few quotes from the book. Here is the first. The title of this section in the book is the same as the title of the blog post. All punctuation, spelling and italics are his.

To sum up, the internal matter of the sacrament, the inward grace which is signified and sealed, is Jesus Christ and His spiritual riches-the covenant of grace, justification by faith, remission of sins, faith and conversion, communion with Christ, etc. It is Christ, whole and entire, in all His fulness and with all his riches, according to His divine nature and His human nature, with His person and His work, in His state of humiliation and in His glorification. Christ and Christ alone is the “heavenly thing” signified in the sacrament -Christ who, with all his benefits and blessings, is the Mediator of the covenant of grace, the Head of the Church, the Yea and Amen of all God’s promises, the content of His Word and of His Testimony-Christ: Wisdom, Justification, Sanctification, and Redemption of believers, Prophet, Priest, and King, through whom alone God conveys all His grace, who remains the same yesterday and to-day and for ever. Jesus Christ, He who was, and who is, and who is coming, is the truth of the sacraments without whom they are nothing, just as He is the truth of the Word.

There is thus not a single benefit of grace which might be missing from the Word and communicated in a special and particular manner to believers through the sacraments. There is no special baptismal grace, nor a special eucharistic grace. The content of the Word and of the sacraments is exactly the same. Word and sacraments contain, present, and offer the same Mediator, Jesus Christ, the same covenant of grace, the same benefits, the same communion with God, the same redemption.

Marcel did not believe in paedo-communion, but I wanted to take this quote and apply it to that issue. I believe paedo-communion is Biblically defensible for various reasons.  Here is what I mean by paedo-communion: covenant children are welcome at the covenant meal.

I wanted to pull out two thoughts from this quote as it relates to paedo-communion.  First, there is nothing magical about the Lord’s Supper. In other words, the covenant child who is receiving the Word of God in worship and at home is receiving Christ. Taking the Lord’s Supper will strengthen that faith, strengthen his bond to the church, and confirm the Word. But taking the Lord’s Supper will not give him something he is not already getting. Christ comes to us first and foremost through the Word. If the Word is there then Jesus is there in His entirety. 

On the flip side, if we give our children the Word of God why shouldn’t we give them the Lord’s Supper? If I allow my child to participate in worship as one of God’s covenant children,  treat them as belonging to the covenant, quote to them the promises of the covenant, encourage them to believe those covenant promises, trust their heavenly Father and obey Him then why shouldn’t they have the covenant meal which presents to them the same promise the Word does: Jesus in his entirety?

Did Judas Really Partake?

Calvin comments on whether or not Judas received the body of Christ at the Last Supper.

When he says that he dwelleth in us, [John 6:56] the meaning is the same as if he had said, that the only bond of union, and the way by which he becomes one with us, is, when our faith relies on his death. We may likewise infer from it, that he is not now speaking of the outward symbol, which many unbelievers receive equally with believers, and yet continue separated from Christ. It enables us also to refute the dream of those who say, that Judas received the body of Christ as well as the other apostles, when Christ gave the bread to all; for as it is a display of ignorance to limit this doctrine to the outward sign, so we ought to remember what I have formerly said, that the doctrine which is here taught is sealed in the Lord’s Supper. Now, it is certain, in the first place, that Judas never was a member of Christ; secondly, it is highly unreasonable to imagine the flesh of Christ to be dead and destitute of the Holy Spirit; and, lastly, it is a mockery to dream of any way of eating the flesh of Christ without faith, since faith alone is the mouth — so to speak — and the stomach of the soul.

Here is another quote from Calvin’s commentary on John 6.

And I will raise him up at the last day [John 6:54] It ought to be observed, that Christ so frequently connects the resurrection with eternal life, because our salvation will be hidden till that day. No man, therefore, can perceive what Christ bestows on us, unless, rising above the world, he places before his eyes the last resurrection From these words, it plainly appears that the whole of this passage [John 6:52-59] is improperly explained, as applied to the Lord’s Supper. For if it were true that all who present themselves at the holy table of the Lord are made partakers of his flesh and blood, all will, in like manner, obtain life; but we know that there are many who partake of it to their condemnation. And indeed it would have been foolish and unreasonable to discourse about the Lord’s Supper, before he had instituted it. It is certain, then, that he now speaks of the perpetual and ordinary manner of eating the flesh of Christ, which is done by faith only. And yet, at the same time, I acknowledge that there is nothing said here that is not figuratively represented, and actually bestowed on believers, in the Lord’s Supper; and Christ even intended that the holy Supper should be, as it were, a seal and confirmation of this sermon. This is also the reason why the Evangelist John makes no mention of the Lord’s Supper; and therefore Augustine follows the natural order, when, in explaining this chapter, he does not touch on the Lord’s Supper till he comes to the conclusion; and then he shows that this mystery is symbolically represented, whenever the Churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper, in some places daily, and in other places only on the Lord’s day.

Eating is Believing

John 6:22-59  a great passage with layers upon layers of meaning. It is common for people who are excited about the Lord’s Supper or are studying it for the first time to make John 6 refer directly to communion. However, after studying it, I am sure that it does not. It does have application to the Lord’s Supper, but Jesus is not talking about eating bread and drinking wine in this passage. He is talking about believing in Him. Throughout the passage Christ is exhorting men to believe in Him (John 6:29). He uses several metaphors throughout the text to describe this act of believing. Here are some of them.

John 6:27-Labor for the food that does not perish.

John 6:35-He who comes to me/He who believes in me.  (See also John 6:37).

John 6:40 Everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him has everlasting life.

John 6:45 Hearing and learning from the Father means you come to Christ.

John 6:47 He who believes in me has everlasting life.

John 6:50-51 One may eats this bread and not die/If anyone eats this bread he will live forever.

John 6:54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.

John 6:56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.

John 6:58 He who eats the bread will live forever.

In the passage, Jesus is using coming, eating, and drinking as metaphors for believing in Him. Eating is not faith itself, but is the fruit of faith, believing in Jesus Christ. Our faith comes from God the Father giving us to Christ (John 6:37). We then come to Jesus, eat Jesus, believe in Jesus, are taught by God, etc. Jesus promises that those who are given him by the Father and who therefore come to him will never be lost (John 6:39).  Being taught by God leads to us coming to Christ, but is not equivalent to us coming to Christ. It is the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit which is the fruit of our election.

The reason this passage cannot refer, at least directly, to the Lord’s Supper is that whoever does these things is raised up on the last day (John 6:39-40, 54). It works like this:

Anyone who eats Christ’s flesh has eternal life and will be resurrected to glory.
There are some who eat the Lord’s Supper and are damned.
Therefore eating His flesh is not the same thing as eating the bread and drinking the wine.

The passage has application to the Lord’s Supper, but we must be careful to not make the act of eating equivalent to the act of believing. If you believe you should celebrate the Lord’s Supper and want to eat the bread and wine. But eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper does not guarantee that belief is present. The act of eating the Lord’s Supper is not automatically an act of faith.

What I Pray Before the Bread and Wine

We do weekly communion, which means that there are two prayers that I come up with each week: one before the bread and one before the wine. When I began preaching and leading worship I decided to structure these communion prayers a particular way. Here is how I do it. Before the bread I use a portion of the Old Testament to structure my prayer. Before the wine, I use a corresponding portion of the New Testament. From Advent through 1st Sunday of Trinity these prayers follow the church year. For example during Advent, I use Daniel, John the Baptist, Isaiah, and Revelation (2nd Advent). When the Trinity/Pentecost season begins I start with creation and work through Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah, as well as some others. These prayers are the same every year, though I would like to eventually have a two year set. Here are my prayers for the 2nd Sunday of Trinity.

Bread: Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, it truly, right and good and our duty that we should at all times and in all places give You thanks and magnify Your Holy Name, therefore with the Angels, the Archangels and all the company of heaven we praise You saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of Your glory. 

We praise you Father for the world you have made. For the sun, moon and stars which declare your glory. For the winged creatures that soar in the sky.  For the beasts that run upon the ground. For all the creeping things that crawl on the ground and for the fish that swarm the sea. For all these we give you thanks and praise. We know that you have placed these things under our feet that we might use them to your glory.  As we eat this bread strengthen us in Christ that we might go forth and take dominion.  In the name of Christ we pray. Amen!

Wine: O Lord you are worthy of all blessing and honor for you sent your only begotten Son into the world to deliver your people from sin and the Devil. We praise you Almighty God that you did not leave this world to be ravaged by Satan, but instead reconciled us to Yourself through Jesus Christ. Indeed we are new creations in Christ, old things have passed away and all things have become new. O Lord as we drink nourish us upon Christ. Help us to be separate from the unbelieving world that we might truly be your sons and daughters. For the sake of Christ and His Kingdom. Amen!

Here are my prayers for Ascension Sunday:

Bread: Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, it truly, right and good and our duty that we should at all times and in all places give You thanks and magnify Your Holy Name, therefore with the Angels, the Archangels and all the company of heaven we praise You saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of Your glory. 

Everlasting Father, we praise you for King David for when the uncircumcised Philistine stood up and defied the armies of the Living God, he gather his courage and the stone sank in the giant’s head and David cut off his head with his own sword. We praise you that as you delivered David from the bear and the lion so you delivered him from the giant. For the battle belongs to You O Lord.. We praise you that the one who born of David is the true King. We praise you that his body was broken that Satan’s head might be crushed. We ask now that you would grant us strength as we eat  to fight as David fought. Go before us O Lord as you went before David and scatter your enemies before our faces and that all the kingdoms of the earth might belong to Christ. In His Name we ask all this Amen!

Wine: O Lord you are worthy of all blessing and honor for you sent your Son that he might be our great high priest. He ascended on high where he makes intercession for us.  He promised that we would receive the Holy Spirit and that we would be his messengers to the ends of the earth. We also praise you that one day he will return just as left. As we drink the wine this morning grant us grace through Christ’s shed blood that we may be faithful witnesses to Him and that we might look with joy to the day when our Lord will return on the clouds of heaven. We pray this for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom Amen! 

Here are the prayers for this coming Sunday, the 1st Sunday of Christmas

Bread: Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, it truly, right and good and our duty that we should at all times and in all places give You thanks and magnify Your Holy Name, therefore with the Angels, the Archangels and all the company of heaven we praise You saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of Your glory. 

We praise You for the prophet Isaiah, he saw the glories of the coming Messiah. He knew the virgin would bear a Child and the government would be upon His shoulders and He would be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and of His Kingdom there would be no end. We are grateful he preached of the great comfort the Messiah would bring by bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows. We pray now as we eat that You would feed us upon this glorious Christ that Isaiah saw and fill our mouths with praise for the work He has done. Amen!

Wine: Blessed are You Lord God for no one can restrain Your hand. Herod the King sought to slay Your Son. Yet you thwarted Him by sending dreams to the wise men and to Joseph. Your Son was then protected in the land where Israel was once in bondage, Egypt. Lord we, like Christ, are plagued on every side by rulers that hate and seek in every way to destroy Your Kingdom. We pray that you would nourish us as we drink and protect us from all our enemies that might live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and reverence. Amen!

The prayers are not perfect. I revise them on a regular basis. Some of them sound too “high” and not like a normal prayer. Some are too long or the sentence structure is awkward. One of the most common revisions is shortening the prayer or shortening sentences within the prayer. There is still work to be done. Having prayed them for several years now, I rarely read them. I often use them as a guide to lead our people to the Lord’s Supper. Sometimes I ignore these prayers all together and pray something else the Lord has laid on my heart. Using these prayers for many years has made me more confident in praying off script. 

I am not sure where I came up with idea, but it has worked well for me. We pray through the all the major portions of Scripture as we work through the year. It also forces me to connect the Old Testament with both the Lord’s Supper and the New Testament. It also helps me pray through the church year. My private prayer life includes more Scripture due to writing out these prayers.

I Give an Altar Call Every Week

When I was growing up my family attended Southern Baptist Churches. Many services ended with that hushed atmosphere. The piano would play one of great hymns such as “Just as I am” or “There is Power in the Blood.”  We would all bow our heads and listen attentively as the preacher urged, exhorted, pleaded with those who were lost or backslidden to come forward. As a kid, I always hoped someone would go forward quickly so the preacher would stop. If no one went forward he would keep on and on.  In my Christian psyche these altar calls hold great power and call me back to different time in my life.
              
The years went by and eventually I became a pastor at a Baptist church. There I read up on the idea of the altar call, where it came from, and why it was done. After some research, I decided not to do altar calls at my church. There were some who opposed my decision, but I think most were secretly grateful.
Now I am a pastor at a liturgical, reformed, presbyterian church. I don’t do altar calls, at least not how the ministers of my youth did them. But I do call upon men to follow Christ and trust in him as any good preacher should.  And I call them to this every week. When? At the Lord’s Supper.
One of the great reasons to have the Lord’s Supper every week is it provides a natural and Biblical (unlike the altar call) way for a minister to exhort his flock to renew their trust in Christ and to remind them of Christ’s gracious redemption for them upon the cross. This past Sunday I saw this very clearly in the way the sermon and the Lord’s Supper tied together.
My sermon ended with an imperative, a command.  I was urging my congregation to consider their loyalty to Christ. I called upon them to examine their lives and see if their professed love for Jesus matched their actual love for Jesus. I was telling them that the road for Christians is a hard one that will require daily sacrifice. Were they ready and willing to take that road? Had they counted the costs?  I knew there were sheep who had become sluggish in their walk with Christ. They needed the cattle prod and my text provided the opportunity to give it to them. I did not pass it up. Concluding a sermon in this way can be dangerous. It left out Jesus and the cross. It was all imperative. No indicative. Tender consciences can be hurt or weakened when they are not taken to Jesus.  But I felt like that was where the text was taking us. The text was a warning about sluggishness and not being prepared.  Too often we remove the effectiveness of a text by bringing in what is not there. There was no cross in the text. (I know some will say, “Find one anyway.”  But that is a post for another time.)  As the sermon ended the flock was left hanging and pondering their walk with Christ. 
Five minutes later we came to the Lord’s Table. And though there was no cross in my text there is always a cross at the table. Before we eat and drink together I give the congregation a brief exhortation that ties together the word, the sermon, with the sacrament, the Lord’s Supper. This week I encouraged the flock to look to Christ as their provision for the long journey ahead. I reminded them of the call to discipleship. But then I reminded them that Jesus has provided what we need to fulfill that call. Each week we go out and fight in the Spirit. We lose some battles. We win some battles.  But each week we come in here and Jesus feeds us. He nourishes us on his body and blood. We are refreshed. Our sins are forgiven. We are renewed by his gracious provision at Calvary.  It was the perfect altar call. Reminding the congregation to look to Christ in faith.  I could tell in the eyes of people that this hit home. Their love for Christ and trust in him was renewed.

                Not every week requires this type of an exhortation before communion. But when my people need the cross of Christ I don’t have to tack it on to the end of a sermon or bring it into the sermon text when it is not there.  I don’t have to hope they remember the cross as they walk out the door after I preach a sermon that is filled with commands. When my people need the cross of Christ I know it is sitting right there every week on the table promising forgiveness, promising grace, promising strength to finish the race.