devotional

05JUN
2012

A question about communion

          On 4 Jun, Clint H. asked:

          “I have a question regarding the Sacraments/Communion…My two roommates and I hold a Bible study and fellowship night every Friday at our house. [Someone] stated that we should hold communion at our home. Both myself and my roommates hold severe reservations about "just doing Communion" at our Friday night events. I could not clearly articulate, at first, why I was so against the idea. Then on Sunday, while at church, we were reading from the Westminster Confession, Chapter XXVII: Of the Sacraments, and in paragraph 4 the Confession states: "[Baptism and the Lord's Supper] may not be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained." The Scripture proofs for this paragraph: Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11:20, 23; 1 Cor. 4:1; Heb. 4:5. I'm struggling to understand the proofs, but resting in the knowledge that great, godly men spent a long time carefully and prayerfully assembling the Westminster Confession. It bolsters my conviction that simply throwing together Communion at our house is not the right answer. Long preamble, short question: what is your stance in this situation? Am I being too legalistic or extra-Scriptural? Any and all advice is appreciated! Finally laboring with you, Clint.”

 

           Response:

          First, let me just say how thrilled I am that you would take a hesitant position regarding the administration of the Lord’s Supper. There are so few things we do that are held as holy today; so few things guarded as sacred. The Lord’s Supper should be. Men should tremble to offer it, and then remember that a mighty God holds their trembling hands. We should be reverent. Scripture literally tells us that someone who “…eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body,” 1 Corinthians 11:29. We don’t want to aid anyone in that sin. We guard the ordinance 1) for the glory of God, and 2) for the people. Calvin nearly lost his life while physically defending the honor of the Lord’s Supper in his church against some in his day who he forbade to come to the table because of gross immorality.

          Struggle to understand the proofs, brother. Struggling is good. Above, however, where you cite Westminster’s Scripture references, you cited Heb. 4:5. The confession sites Hebrews 5:4. Did you get that support verse? All of these references go to show, in their mind, why there is a qualification that is to be on those who administer the sacraments in their church.

          Regarding the meal, Jesus said to his men to, “Do this in remembrance of Me,” Luke 22:19b. They were the called and the ones being properly schooled as to the meal’s significance and symbolism. They were the qualified, the ordained. They were not Presbyterian or Baptist (both groups which qualify their people in the same Spirit and truth) but they were told to remember His death. St. Paul, by the Spirit that ordained him (1 Timothy 1:12) goes on to tell us that, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes,” 1 Corinthians 11:26. This is always and only to be done by those who are redeemed. It is one of the two ordinances He gave us. Of course no non-believer should ever do this as a minister in the church, or anywhere else! All those we elect to perform this work publicly should be proven believers. It’s about honoring the ceremony. Teaching/administering is always to be done by the learned. Pastors cannot be novices, 1 Timothy 3:6. There are elders prescribed, study ordered and faithfulness commanded so that we would be taught the truth rightly, James 3:1. There is strict admonition to handle the truth deposit wisely, Jude 3; 2 Timothy 2:15.

          But by what qualification, really, are we able to do anything in Christ’s church? Consider this: All believers, not just Peter (as in Matthew 16:19) are given the authority to bind and loose, Matthew 18:18. But by what right can they dare to do this? No one believer was told he alone had this right; all of Jesus’ disciples at the time were given this. Similarly, all believers are told to go and to baptize, Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 10:15b. But by what right or what qualification is it valid? Scripture most often teaches lessons specifically to one person, but actually speaks to all Christians. Example: Paul tells Timothy to, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching,” 2 Timothy 4:2. Well, to what pastor in any generation would this instruction not also directly apply? By what right or calling do we understand this? It’s because it’s all as the Lord calls among His church, 1 Corinthians 12:18. He is the ministry giver based on only one right. You must be a part of the body to be useful, and while not all members have the same role, there is now, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all,” Ephesians 4:5-6; Matthew 10:8; 1 Corinthians 4:7.

          Surely, some things in Scripture are not to be absorbed by all, but I’m seeking to labor this point to show one thing: that all Christians are qualified / ordained to administer the ordinances of the faith by virtue of their regeneration, because they’re born again. Maturity and the fruits of holiness will assure us in this. There are no special priests any longer; all believers are priests, 1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 5:10. All are equally justified, Galatians 3:28. Please hear me out. I am not suggesting flippancy. I’m not saying that all Christians are equally mature (or sanctified). I also want to add quickly that I think Christians can disagree on exactly how this plays out in our doctrines and still have fellowship. If someone esteems the Lord’s word and wants to safeguard the legitimacy of water baptism in their denomination by wholly recognizing it only when performed by someone who performed it in accordance with their flavor of Christianity then I’m fine with it. I love it in fact! Where they would sin, however, would be if they would outright deny the validity of ordinances not performed by their clergy by people of the same truth. I’m not talking Christian and Mormon here. Every Mormon ordinance is disqualified. I’m talking about like Baptist and Methodist.    

          I say that the question, sir, is not who can perform an ordinance? Rather it’s where should Christians perform them? We should know our roles. In the church, it’s not the same as in my home. As a father for example, I don’t need another special appointment to teach, preach, discipline, pray or perform the Lord’s Supper. I’m qualified because I’m a daddy. In a Bible study there’s another level of leadership. In a church, I should definitely be qualified to lead in more ways than those that I’m leading. In a church, before strangers and family alike, I am to be recognized and qualified, not just to the faith, but to that public ministry. Men are to be appointed to lead in the church. We must prove ourselves. Westminster, as a church confession, seeks to systematize and safeguard its views on the sanctity of that public calling.

          You cited the confession. We must remember that Calvin, like all scholars of his day, fought against Rome. Part of this was against something called sacerdotalism. This is the idea that the spiritual validity of any church ordinance is inextricably linked to the church office and motives of the priest presiding over it. They make the priestly office, and the priest’s motivation (or standing before god) everything. If the priest has committed a mortal sin and thus has again become the enemy of god then your faith and water baptism is nullified. The Westminster Confession denied this in XXVII.III where we read, “…The efficacy of a sacrament [does not] depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it…” Words in brackets mine. This becomes a balance for us to find today. The Westminster divines wanted to counter the Roman idea, yet they also certainly did not want to toss just any Tom, Dick or Harry behind the table as its representative. The table is holy because of its symbology. They knew it had to be a man of God…as best as they could assure it. The confession as a whole is their answer to such dilemmas. They found a way to remove the man, while still honoring his salvation/calling, while focusing on the cross. Rome’s position on the mass in their Catechism (CCC 1411) states that only priests can consecrate the host. This is what Westminster denied (along with   transubstantiation as a whole) since the whole ceremony of the mass is an un-biblical blasphemy. Please see my audio sermon called Christianity and Catholicism for more on this subject. Sacerdotalism, in Catholicism is everything. Without Peter’s supposed Popedom, there’s no church to speak of for them. They do allow for people who are not priests, at times, to perform rights if no priests are present, if they’re in concert with Rome, but their church is built on a special priesthood. Calvin and our fathers sought to preserve the sanctity of the sacrament/ordinance/ceremony office while avoiding the sacerdotalist tendencies of Papal impiety.   

          All this is to say that I believe you are permitted and qualified, in where you’re ministering, to honor and love the remembrance simply because you’re a believer. Offer the cup and offer the drink. What a privilege! If you understand the Lord’s Supper and in some way doctrinally qualify those you invite to it then it’s not wrong of you to do it in your Bible study. Calvin would not argue. He wisely would not at first allow you to do it in his church since that’s another qualification, but even if you were to receive that qualification in his church it wouldn’t be based on some higher priesthood, but simply on your proven character to stand and proclaim the Lord’s death publicly. It’s about honoring the sacrament while qualifying its ministers for the sake of the truth and the people. If you feel that it’s not something you should do, then don’t. If your events are largely evangelistic, i.e., you don’t know the people present then it’s not appropriate to offer the Lord’s Supper. The ordinances are exclusively for the sheep, Matthew 7:6. In any case, you should definitely not throw it together. Pray, fast and read up on it. Here’s a place to start with Pastor R.C. Sproul that I’d recommend. It’s a message series called, Kingdom Feast.

          If you should study it and want to do it, do it with all the joy you find to proclaim your Great High Priest’s death till He comes again for you. Perhaps it’ll be practice for you to one day perform it in your church!

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