Tag Archives: Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper, Part I (“Sacraments” cont.)

In the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper we also easily settle for some superficial meaning and significance, although truer ones are equally obvious.  In a sentence, the Lord’s Supper is usually thought to represent Christ’s death and, secondarily, our life or salvation on account of that.  Closer to fact is the statement that it represents OUR death (in and with Christ), and his life now, in us.

If the Lord’s Supper represents primarily or only the death of Christ on the cross, it is almost superfluous, like a photo of a person who is very much alive and right beside us.  For one thing, we have the written Word with its detailed description of Christ’s death and its significance for us.  In addition to that we are surrounded by countless duplicates of the cross on which Christ gave his life, which is certainly more apt a reminder than a bit of food and drink, which connection has to carefully explained or be meaningless to the uninitiate.  (A picture should be self-evident to any viewer, and not have to be entitled or described in order to be “intelligible”, as in the case of a bunch of purple triangles with the label “Nude descending staircase.”  The fact that it takes far longer to read an explanation of the Lord’s Supper than it does to celebrate it makes one wonder as to whether our explanation is the correct one.)  The cross on which the Lord was “lifted up” has literally been lifted up around the world and in every age since his crucifixion; who can escape its testimony in the civilized world?  It is exposed to the public far more than the Lord’s Supper ever is, which is more of a testimony to oneself and fellow-Christians than to the unsaved.

And if Christ’s death is the prominent truth depicted in the Lord’s Supper, its celebration is of doubtful timeliness at, say, Christmas time, one of the most favorite times for its observance.  Good Friday or Maunday Thursday is appropriate, but a birthday anniversary is a bit incongruous for a death-memorial observance.

A sacrament, after all, is not designed merely to portray objective fact, but to communicate understanding and to elicit the observer’s participant’s involvement.  (Here is where the cross, as a symbol, just because of its very familiarity, has lost much usefulness, can even be counterproductive.  Perhaps an Old Testament comparison would be the brass serpent, a very-real type of Calvary (see John 3:15) which at one time was a God-given means of healing, but later became an an idol through whose veneration people lost their souls.  At one time the cross around a person’s necks was a reminder to the wearer rather than an attractive form of jewelry.  Also with a thousand other forms and uses, including acres of markers over the graves of blatant atheists and profane military people.)

As in the case of baptism (for the two sacraments reinforce one another by having points of similarity as well as difference in typology), the Lord’s Supper is intended to denote and to  assure ourselves of our personal participation in Christ’s death.  That is to say, not just the indisputable fact that an historical Christ, the perfect God-man, once died, (who is so stupid as to challenge that?) nor even that he died in my place (which we believe better on some days than others), but that when he died I died, with him and in him (much like I was in Adam and creation from the very beginning; God added no new molecules or genes to creation after his “rest” on the “seventh day”).  The Lord’s Supper is a picture of Gal 2:20, Romans 6:3,4; Col. 2:20; 3:3.

“As often as you do this,” said Paul in I Cor. 11, “you do show (demonstrate, exhibit) Christ’s death until he returns.”  What he means is that we exhibit, by our participation in that memorial meal, Christ’s death in us.  This is even clearer when he says, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which I am crucified to the world and to me.”  To the same Galatians he also writes categorically that Christ had been displayed before them as crucified.  Paul did not mean that he drew any pictures or had celebrated the Lord’s Supper with them, but that he, though very much alive physically, was a walking demonstration of death to self, death in Christ.  It will come as a surprise to most Christians that the Bible talks more about the Christian’s crucifixion (in the number of times it uses the word) than of Christ’s, who himself repeatedly said that unless we take up our cross and follow him (to Calvary, symbolically) we cannot be his disciple.  That congregation of Christians was inspired which put the letters S E L F on the cross at the back of their pulpit.  This was no offense; we do that by adorning it with jewels and drapes, even finishing finely the crude, splintery log that the original tree must have been.  The cross is incomplete, has not performed its saving purpose, until each of us is nailed upon it.

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Covenant, Part I

There is one “type” in Scripture of great importance, long duration, and inclusive of many “sub-types”.  That is the word and concept, “covenant”.  Few doctrines in the Bible are more controversial, confused, misunderstood, even meaningless.

The chief reason for this is the fact that few Christians realize that “covenant”, like such things as the ark of the covenant and the rite of circumcision, was or is a type, and not a final “truth”, like the fact of our atonement  Once upon a time it had reality, “fact”, significance in its own, just as Jonah was an actual historical person with a message for us (about evangelism and enemy-love) if Christ had never come.  But, in addition, he (and his experience) was a picture of Christ.

A great part of the Christian church keeps the idea and term “covenant” alive today (as though we were to embalm Jonah and display him).  Premillenarians – who dislike the present use of the word “covenant”, predict a “thousand years” when it will be very much restored.  Catholics continue some of its elements with priests, sacrifices, alters, etc.  Calvinism makes so much use of the word that it has become a catch-all cliche to avoid clear thinking and good communication.  Some of its denominations are known as “Covenanters”, who even have the Old Testament ideal of a union of church and state (like Israel’s theocracy); they sing only psalms in church, etc.  Other individual congregations have the word “covenant” in their name, but we all make that confusion of Old Covenant and New when we persist in speaking of a church building as “the house of God”; we ought to quit the use of that typological word once and for all.  Some Calvinists reverse this anachronism by talking about the “church” in the Old Testament; this is like calling Moses the first Calvinist.

Here are some of the facts (realized by very few who use the word “covenant” the most); the first occurrence of the word is ages after Adam lived and died; (after the Flood!).  The familiar phrase “covenant of grace” occurs nowhere in Scripture and “covenant” by itself is hardly found in the New Testament.  “Covenant of grace” is basically a contradiction in terms, because “covenant” is a very legal term, and is part of the dispensation of “law”.  IF we can speak of a “covenant of grace”, it did not begin with the New Testament (as it is often thought), but immediately after the Fall.

What we call the “old covenant of testament” (not the 66 books) began as late in history as 1400 BC, maybe millions of years after creation.  The “new covenant”, on the other hand, did not begin at Jesus’ birth; he lived and died in the “old testament”, so that the Four Gospels are included in the New Testament much as the preface and introduction to any book, and Moses’ story of creation to his own times in preparation for the Old Testament, technically not a part of it.

Look at all the different ideas on the covenant TODAY, on the part of those who think the arrangement is still in force!  Some think children of Christian parents belong to it, others do not.  Some say that “our” part in covenant is to “believe”; others say that faith is a gift of God and hence part of “his” side; our obligation is to obey, serve him.  Some think that children who are in the covenant are saved, born again, and will go to heaven if they die in infancy.  Others say that covenant says nothing on that score, but simply makes children members of the Christian “community” and the beneficiaries of Christian nurture which “covenant parents” promise as their part of the contract.

The result of all this contradiction and uncertainty is that instead of the clarity and assurance that any and every type were designed to bring (like the sacraments today)., this only makes for confusion and doubt, on the part of all human part-icipants, but especially parents and children.  (Some even have the idea that if you are a childless adult you are not an active member of any covenant.  Some think children are more so than grown-ups!)  When it comes to the sacraments, which are “covenantal” (using that Old Testament term for the New Testament) signs, some churches permit children to participate in both, some in neither, and some insist that they must in baptism but not in the Lord’s Supper, when – as we shall see – if it is one or the other, the Lord’s Supper should have the preference.

Following the Fall, when man and God became enemies, and before they were made friends again (and more) by the reconciliation of the God/man Jesus Christ, God provided a system of agreements, legal contracts (which is another word for “covenant”), that would bring man as close as possible to him before their at-one-ment in Christ.  These covenants were something like a truce between hostile nations, and, on the part of the human participants, just about as meaningless, since the latter kept on breaking the terms.  These covenants employed mediators (like Moses), and even angels, whose service in the Old Testament was primarily between God and man, while in the New, since they (God and his people) have become inseparable friends, their service is between man and Satan, in defense of the former against the latter.

The covenant between God and Israel was not only an interim thing to be replaced by something completely different (as grace took the place of “law”), but was to be a picture (type) of God’s relation to the church (the fulfillment, or reality).  Israel, as a “chosen” nation, was itself a picture of the Body of Christ; this is why Christ chose exactly 12 apostles, paralleling the 12 tribes.  (Does the frequent use of the number “seven” regarding the church indicate the church’s growth by addition – three, God’s “number”, plus four, that of creation – as well as by multiplication/reproduction – three times four – which was primarily the Old Testament source of growth?)

From all this it will be evident that the purpose and function of “covenant” were served and completed when Christ came and said on the eve of his crucifixion, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  If it be said, “Ah, there!  We are in a covenant still today,” the answer is that the reality that was symbolized in the obsolete sign still continues, but not the form.  A perfect analogy is the fact that we are still under “law” today in the sense that Adam was, before the fall, or we will be in heaven, while Scripture categorically says that the law per se, in its Old Covenant form, has served its purpose and is passed away.  So too with “covenant”, an integral part of a arrangement by law, itself being a legal instrument.  Jeremiah predicted the days of a “new covenant”, in which external law would be no more – a covenant without a contract, and an era of “law” without laws.

Infant vs Adult Baptism

Editor’s note:  This was undoubtedly written as a mental exercise when faced with members of his congregation that favored adult baptism over infant baptism and the problem of what to do about it.  He sent this note (which I did edit) to a number of individuals to get feedback.  The return correspondence didn’t completely support his conclusions and I am uncertain if that influenced his later thoughts on it. In any event, this reflects to some extent the time that it was written (probably late 1970s) as I believe that the Christian Reformed Church has since allowed at least local congregations to decide whether to allow children to partake in the Lord’s Supper. This is a good example of how he was ahead of his time and thought “outside the box”. 

The Christian Reformed Church, like many other churches, is committed to infant baptism.  However, there is NOT agreement as to its meaning.  One group says it is covenantal, like circumcision; the child belongs to the Christian community.  (I Cor 7:14)  Nothing is said as to the individual recipients’s salvation.  Romans says plainly that not all Old Testament covenant members were saved.  Others say that baptism is a symbol of salvation for adults and infants alike.  The problem with that is, what about the majority of baptized children who do not remain even church members upon reaching maturity?  Facts do not fit our wishes.  Our baptism forms are an attempt to say both views, and thus are self-contradicting.  Church order commentary is even more so.  Biggest compromise is rule regarding adopted children; baptism is optional!

Many calvinists do not believe in infant baptism.  And many Baptists believe that Christian’s children are covenantal, building Christian schools, etc.  And we have always recognized an accepted Triune baptism performed in any church, whether Catholic or Mormon, etc.  We insist that the mode of baptism is not important; while immersion may be preferable it may not always be practical.  As an aside, the large Eastern Orthodox church practices immersion of infants.

There are some members in our church that are being re-baptized (either mode) upon confirmation of faith or other occasion.  Synod, the CRC’s governing body, did not regard this as meriting discipline, but pastoral admonition, and the recipient should not be allowed to hold office in the church.  While Belgic Confession XXXIV says we “ought to baptized but once”, it may have in mind those who might want it repeated frequently, or those who say that their infant baptism was not valid.  Most Christian Reformed members re-baptized as adults regard it as a confirmation, re-affirmation, or personal validation of what their parents did in their behalf.  (Some denominations anoint with oil at “confirmation”.)  We recognize the difference between full and minor by means of admitting the former to the second sacrament, the Lord’s Supper.  (To speak of non-full members as “baptized” members is poor terminology;  ALL members are baptized!)  However, the propriety of limiting Communion to full members has been questioned; in the Old Testament EVERYBODY partook of the passover (which all agree has been replaced by the Lord’s Supper); some New Testament denominations allow children to participate.

To this point, I have stated the facts.  Now for a few observations:  First, any baptism should imply more for the recipient than merely belonging to the visible church.  A dedication ceremony would take care of that and recognize our children as special, deserving Christian nurture, etc.  But the very formula – “Into the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” means simply engrafting into Christ.  (One liturgical committee caught in a dilemma, sought to cut the Gordian knot by changing the formula to “in the name of”, which means simply baptizing by God’s authority, but leaving the meaning of the ceremony open.)  At one time in our short denomination history, parents who themselves were not full members could have their children baptized.  Meaning what it does (Mark 16:16) it would seem that those who cannot make a confession of their faith (children) cannot qualify for baptism.  Does the Bible give two grounds for baptism, or have two kinds, or have two meanings, one which applies to children, the other to adults?

Second, on the Indian Reservation (as well as in the Nigerian church) some covenantal children are not brought for baptism.  There may be a practical reason, e.g. the lack of ready availability of an ordained official.  Or is it confusion in their minds as to baptism’s meaning, which seems to mean something so much different in the adults’ experience from that of the unconscious child’s situation?  Regarding the converts’ children who ARE baptized as children, the fall-away rate is great; is it that THEY have a casual, presumptuous attitude toward their “easy” baptism?  Might not dedication in every case make the assumption of parental covenantal responsibilities more obvious, plus the recipients personal ones, later?

To clarify, by “dedication,” I mean an official, formal ceremony in divine worship at which parents affirm, as presently, their own personal salvation, conviction of the fact of our natural birth in sin thru Adam, of the necessity of rebirth in Christ who died to take away the sin of the world, and a solemn promise to regard their child as a member of the covenant, with all the rights and responsibilities that this favored condition involves for the parents as well as the children.

The question may be asked as to whether this difference of infant vs adult baptism is one that is tolerable within a body of believers who are completely agreed as to such “fundamentals” as the Inspiration of Scripture, Deity of the Lord Jesus, Justification by Faith, etc.  In fact, a person may have reservations about infant baptism and be completely committed to such specific creedal standards as the Five Points of Calvinism, which do not concern themselves with the former question.

If advocates of infant baptism should argue – properly enough – that there ought to be some symbol, ceremony sacrament to mark the minor members of the ‘family of God’, as circumcision did (for only male children in the Old Testament), the obvious answer would be to let them share in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  If this seems unthinkable, remember:  1. Baptism is a once-and-for-all sacrament, while the Lord’s Supper is repeated and can be withheld at any time; 2. While baptism is an individual matter and could well wait for personal decision, the Lord’s Supper is by very nature and name a communal, familial affair;  3. There isn’t a shred of Scripture argument against it;  4. To the contrary, Scripture would favor it on the score that the Lord’s Supper has certainly come in the place of the Passover, in which ALL children took part, almost from birth.  (By contrast, the claim that baptism has come in the place of circumcision is highly inferential and is, of course, the very question at issue, and the subject of differing opinions within the Reformed tradition as well as with those outside it.)