Monday, January 31, 2011

The Lord's Supper


If we were to browse a Christian bookstore it would be rare to find even one book explaining the nature and significance of the Lord's Supper. Suprisingly, this is in striking contrast to previous generations in the history of the Christian Church. As Keith A. Mathison notes during the Reformation period more books were published on the Lord's Supper than the doctrine of justification. I have always thought the Lord's Supper was merely a "symbol" or a "mental recollection" of the person and work of Christ. But, as I studied Scripture and read the historical development of the doctrine from the Patristic age to the modern period I have concluded that the Lord's Supper is more than a mental-recollection of what Christ has done but a "means of grace." As J.V Fesko once stated, "any serious study of doctrine must be done with an awareness of its antecedent history" (8). So, in this post I will give a brief overview and by no means an exhaustive description of the four major views of the Lord's Supper: 1) Transubstantiation (Roman Catholic); 2) Consubstantiation (Lutheran); 3) Symbolic Memorialism (Zwinglian) and 4) Suprasubstantiation (Reformed). Then I will provide a summary and conclude by arguing for the Reformed view of the Lord's Supper from Scripture.

Transubstantiation (Roman Catholic)

First, the doctrine of transubstantiation argues that the elements (bread and wine) in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper the sacrament transform into the true body and blood of Jesus Christ. Hence, the English term "transubstantiation" is used which comes from the the Latin, transubstantiatio, which literally means "a change in the substance of."  The doctrine was affirmed as a binding dogma in the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and was later elaborated by Thomas Aquinas in Aristotelian terms and adopted by the Council of Trent (Horton 804). When the priest spoke words of consecration over the elements in the Mass the accidents (outward appearance) remained the same whereas the substance changed into Christ's literal body and blood. In Roman Catholicism the Lord's Supper was also viewed as an Eucharistic sacrifice. The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" asserted that "the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice" (par. 137). However, Reformed Protestants later argued that the notion of an "Eucharistic sacrifice" contradicts Scripture becauses it advocates the notion of a repeated divine sacrifice (Heb. 7:27). Then Martin Luther in his famous work, "Bablyonian Captivity of the Church" critiqued the the Roman Catholic position on the Lord's Supper and offered an alternative interpretation to which we now consider.

 Consubstantiation (Lutheran)

Second, the doctrine of consubstantiation argues that the elements do not transform into the body and blood of Christ but rather that Christ comes to the elements with His true body and blood. Luther said, "We do not make Christ's body out of the bread...Nor do we say that his body comes into existence out of that bread. We say that his body, which long ago was made and came into existence is present when we say, 'This is my body" (37:187, Luther Works). He observed that Scripture did not say, "Let this become my body" or "Make my body there" but "This is my body" (1 Cor. 11:24). He advocated the doctrine of "ubiquity" which affirms that omnipresence is attributed to the human nature of Christ through the communication of divine properties. In other words, Christ is present with the elements because His body has the ability to be present in more than one place simultaneously (Mathison 258). However, some have argued that the doctrine of ubiquity is unbiblical because it confuses the divine and human nature of Christ. Historically, this departs from the Chalcedonian definition of the nature and person of Christ. The problem with this view is that if the human nature of Christ is omnipresent it is no longer truly human and essentially becomes Eutychianism applied to the Lord's Supper. Now, that we have briefly discussed consubstantion let us consider symbolical memorialism articulated by Zwingli.

Symbolic Memorialism (Zwinglian)

Third, the doctrine of symbolic memorialism argues that the elements do not transform into the body and blood of Christ nor that Christ comes with the elements but rather the Lord's Supper is a symbol that recalls the person and work of Christ. In contradistinction to the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed view of the Lord's Supper it denies the real presence of Christ in the sacrament. According to symbolic memorialists Keith Mathison states, "Christ is present in the sacrament only to the degree that each individual subjectively brings him and his work to mind" (265). We see this view articulated in a number of confessions such as "The Statement of Baptist Faith and Message" (1925) which asserts that the Lord's Supper is an ordinance by which the church "commemorates the dying love of Christ." Millard Erickson, a distinguished Baptist theologian also argues for symbolic memorialism in his popular book "Christian Theology." However, Reformed theologians later provided critique to Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Zwinglian  understanding of Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper.

Suprasubstantiation (Reformed)

Fourth, the doctrine of suprasubstantiation argued that there is a real presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper. But, it is important to not confuse their view with transubstantiation which argues that the elements transform into the body and blood of Christ nor with consubstantiation which argues that Christ comes with the elements. Rather, they asserted that Christ is present in heaven but by virtue of the Holy Spirit our souls are lifted to partake the flesh and blood of our Lord. Our mouth eats the sign (bread and wine) whereas the mouth of faith eats that which the sign signifies, namely, Christ and the benefits of the covenant of grace (Hyde 154). The sign (bread and wine) and the signified (Christ) are distinct in the Lord's Supper but not seperated just as the divine and human nature in the person of Christ are distinct but not seperated as in Nestorianism. Reformed theologians also emphasized that the Lord's Supper is the sign and seal of the covenant of grace. This is why John Calvin argued for frequent observance because the promises of God articulated in the Word preached are sealed by the sacrament. He asserted that one may preach the Word without the administration of the sacraments but one may not administer the sacraments without the Word preached.

Summary and Conclusion

Now, that I have given a overview of the four views of the Lord's Supper we are now in the position to provide a brief summary: 1) Roman Catholic - the bread and wine transform into the body of blood of Christ; 2) Lutheran - Christ comes to the bread and wine with His body and blood; 3) Symbolic Memorialism - Christ is not present in the Lord's Supper but it is a mental recollection of person and work of Christ and  4) Reformed - Christ is present in heaven and by virtue of the Holy Spirit our souls are lifted to partake the flesh and blood of Christ by the mouth of faith. I am convinced that the Reformed view best accords with the teaching of Scripture for the following reasons. Christ has a local presence in heaven through a bodily ascencision (John 16:5-7; Acts 1:9-11; Acts 2:33; 7:55-56; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). To say that the true body of Christ is omnipresent would undermine His humanity and confuse His divine and human nature. We do not partake Christ through the physical digestive system. Matthew 15:17 asserts, "Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated." If that were the case the literal body of Christ would go into our mouth and through our stomachs to be eliminated. In contrast to symbolic memorialism we observe in Scripture a real presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 10:16-17). The Lord's Supper is not merely a mental recollection of what Christ has done but a means of grace by which we spiritual eat Christ and the benefits of the covenant of grace. So let us not neglect attending the means of grace because by it our faith is confirmed, strengthened and increased as we are reminded of the promises of God in Scripture.

Works Cited

Fesko, J.V. Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010.

Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Hyde, Daniel. In Living Color: Images of Christ and the Means of Grace. Grandville: Reformed Fellowship, 2009.

Mathison, Keith. Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin's Doctrine on the Lord's Supper. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2002.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reclaiming the Divine Service

It is interesting to note that the early Protestant Reformers called what we call the "worship service" the "Divine service." They understood that the Lord's Day was chiefly God's action. We often think that a worship service is primarily about us and what we do for God. Rather than about God and what He does for the Church. We see this in contemporary praise choruses which puts the emphasis on our subjective response (imperative) opposed to the proclamation of the objective person and work of Christ (indicative). The focus tends to be primarily on what we are doing and how we are feeling: "We will lift you up"; "We will praise the Lord", or "I will rejoice." However, in Scripture we see that the indicative often precedes the imperative and that there is a balance between objective content and articulation of subjective responses. The pattern of the Psalter is that there is the proclamation of God's act in redemptive history, creation, preservation and judgment and the people of God's response in praise, thanksgiving, lament, confession and so forth. In other words, the Divine Service is a covenant renewal ceremony by which God serves us through the preached Word and the administration of the holy Sacraments and as a result our response is prayer and thanksgiving.

Furthermore, historically the Reformed churches hold to the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) that affirms our worship should be regulated and governed by the Word. We cannot worship God according to our imagination but only how God has explicitly prescribed to us in Scripture. God has determined that on the Lord's Day there should be the preaching of the Word, the administration of sacraments and prayer (Acts 2:42). Unfortunately, it is not uncommon in churches in modern evangelicalism to have a worship service in which there is no sermon and the sacraments are rarely administered. Rather, to some what is central on the Lord's Day is not the Word and Sacrament which communicates Christ and the benefits of the covenant of grace but entertainment through liturgical dances, drama, skits and concerts. As Michael Horton, professor of historical theology and apologetics at Westminister Theological Seminary in California once asserted, "I am persuaded that one of the reasons why so many churches have gone to drama and other theatrical arts in worship is because the sermon and the larger liturgical setting have failed to provide the sense that something important and dramatic is happening here, now, as we gather before God."

Beloved, let us sense the wonder of the divine drama that occurs every Lord's Day. God through the ordained means of grace: Word and the sacrament (Lord's Supper and Baptism) communicates Christ and the benefits of the covenant which strenghtens, confirms and increases our faith. God Himself comes down to us through ordinary elements: water, bread and wine and through the fragile instrument of preaching to assure us of our salvation. Although God is infinitely holy and we rightly deserve condemnation He has offered His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ to be our susbstitutionary sacrifice that we may glorify and enjoy God forever.  Understand that the Church is fundamental to our santification. God has ordained our santification through the means of grace and every Lord's Day we meet with God who serves us in our weakness to remind us of His covenant promises.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Recovering Psalmody

In college I was first introduced to the debate of exclusive and inclusive Psalmody through R. Scott Clark's book, "Recovering the Reformed Confessions." As an exclusivist he argued that the Church should only sing the Psalms in the context of corporate worship. Interestingly, at that time I was ignorant of the rich classical Reformed tradition and found the concept of singing the Psalms shocking. Importantly, I must make the distinction that I am not referring to songs based on the Psalms or even a paraphrase of the Psalms but singing God's word to God. It was simply a foreign concept to me since all I heard growing up in church were praise choruses such as "yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes Lord." or "Hallelujah's" repeated eleven times. I always thought that the book of Psalms was primarily meant to be read but certaintly not to be sung. However, in light of Scripture and church history I should have been shocked that I was shocked.

Historically, the Church sang the Psalms from the 10th century B.C (the time of King David) until the 16th and 17th century A.D (Protestant Reformation). Even if hymns were composed they were only supplumental to the Psalms but never intended to be replacements. It was only until the 18th century with the rise of the modern hymnwriting movement that the practice of Psalm-singing was gradually being replaced. Sadly, by the mid-20th century Psalm-singing was practically unheard of. In the OT during the First Temple period we observe that God's people sang the Psalms in the context of corporate worship. 2 Chron. 29:28-30 says, "The whole assembly worshipped, and the singers sang...and Hezekiah the king and the officials commanded the Levites to sing praises to the Lord with the words of David and of Asaph the seer." After the Bablylonian captivity and the Second Temple was built we observe the Israelites participating in congregational singing of the Psalms (Ezra 3:11; Ps. 136). In the Intertestamental period during the Maccabean wars (167-160 B.C) it is recorded in 1 Mac. 4:24 that God's people assembled and praised the Lord with Psalms after a victorious defeat. In the NT we see Jesus leading his disciples in the Passover Psalms (113-118) in Mark 14:26 as accustomed in first century Judaism. In the early church we discover preachers such as John Chrysostom (349-407), archbishop of Constantinople and Augustine of Hippo (354-430) emphasize the importance of singing Psalms in the Christian church. During the Reformation period we observe Reformers such as John Calvin (1509-1564) advocate congregational Psalmody in the publication of the Genevan Psalter in 1562. Clearly, there is evidence from Scripture and testimony from the Church for the predominance of congregational Psalm-singing in the context of corporate worship.

So, why is there such a decline in Psalm singing in the Western Church? As Deitrich Bonhoeffer (1906-19450) once asked when did the book of Psalms become primarily a book to read and not to be sung? Perhaps, it is that we have not seen Christ as our Song-Leader and the Psalms as His inspired hymnal for the Church. In the ancient Near-East kings were not merely political figures but also played a fundamental role in worship, namely, as priestly-kings (2 Sam. 23:1; Ex. 15:1-21; Josh. 10:12-13; Judg. 5:1-31; 1 Sam. 10:5, 9-13). Scripture teaches that Jesus is our King and he leads us in praises into the presence of the Father. Hebrews 1:11-12 says, "For he wo sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he [Christ] is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying "I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise" (emphasis added). Unfortunately, we live in a culture with anti-historical tendencies that is rooted in Enlightenment thinking of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As Carl Trueman stated, "While the last thing a theologian in the sixteenth century and before wished to be accused of was novelty or innvovation, in the Enlightenment era an iconoclastic view of history was seen as a part and parcel of the freeing of humankind from bondage and darkness" (18, Wages of Spin). Therefore, let us recover Psalmody and sing praises to our God with God's word as taught in Scripture and practiced throughout the history of the Church.

1. Psalms and Contemporary Worship - Robert Godfrey
2. Singing the Songs of Jesus - Revisiting the Psalms - Michael Lefebvre
3. Sacral Kingship in Ancient Israel - Aubrey R. Johnson

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Baptism as a Means of Grace

I recently finished reading "In Living Color: Images of Christ and the Means of Grace" - Daniel R. Hyde and "Word, Water and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism"- J.V Fesko. It was time well-spent because my faith was confirmed, strengthened and increased as I pondered on the nature and function of Baptism as argued by these particular authors. I once viewed baptism as merely an initiation into the covenant community and a testimony to the world. However, as I studied Scripture and referred back to the sixteenth and seventeenth century Reformed Confessions I noticed the frequent articulation of Baptism as a means of grace. Historically, the Church recognized two means of grace, namely, the Word and Sacrament. Although, I do acknowledge that some within the reformed circle argue that prayer is also included in the means of grace. In contradistinction Fesko and Hyde argue from Scripture that only the Word and Sacrament (Lord's Supper and Baptism) may be considered as a means of grace due to its objective nature in revealing Christ and the benefits of the covenant.

The first church I became a member of did not emphasize the importance of baptism and it was not uncommon in that congregation for a Christian to not be baptized after two years of profession. For five years of being a Christian I have never heard a sermon on baptism. So, what is the contributing factor to our decline in our understanding of the significance of baptism? Perhaps, it is the lack of expositional preaching and a decline in the role of catechisms and confessions in the Church. Sadly, we live in post-Enlightenment,  anti-confessional, anti-ecclesiastical age that has a disdain towards tradition, confessions and creeds. This essentially departs from the traditional Protestant understanding of "sola-scriptura." It was only until the eighteenth century that sola scriptura went from "No authority above the Bible" to "No authority except the Bible." Perhaps, we are not being taught what baptism means biblically and what it is confessed to mean within the history of the Christian Church.

My prayer is that Churches would recover the proper administration of the sacraments. As it is said, "the three marks of a true Church are the pure preaching of the Gospel, the proper administrations of sacraments and the exercise of Church discipline." I am learning that baptism is more than a testimony to the world and our pledge to God. But, it is primarily a sign and seal of the covenant of grace and God's pledge to our union with Christ and the benefits of the covenant. Therefore, baptism is not something we do at the beginning of our Christian life and forget as time passes on. Rather, baptism is something we ought to recall to ourselves continually. It is reported that Martin Luther said to himself every morning, "I am baptized."  Baptism is a sign of God's promise. Just as water washes the body of its impurities so God has washed us of our sin by virtue of the person and work of Christ. It is the Gospel made visible and as Augustine would say, "it is the Visible-Word." So, the next time you are tempted to doubt God's love, that your sins are too great for God to forgive, recall your baptism. Say with Martin Luther, "I am baptized." Beloved, God not only strengthens our faith through the audible Word when preached but the visible Word when administered on the Lord's Day. Remember, God knows that we are weak and feeble sinners who not only need to be reminded of His promises with our ears but also with our senses.