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Archive for the ‘Lord’s Supper’ Category

The Nicene Creed states that the Holy Spirit “spoke through the prophets in (or into) one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Contrary to usual translations, neither the Greek nor the Latin originals say “I believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” As written, the thought of the authors seems to be that as the Spirit spoke through the prophets in depositing the Bible for all time, so He continues to guide the Church into all truth.  Either that, or taking “in” as “into,” the Spirit spoke the Bible into that church.

What kind of church is it that the Spirit works in? A church that is united, holy, catholic, and apostolic. No church is fully these things, and so the thought has to be that to the extent that the church functions in this way, to that extent the Spirit guides her.

So, is the church today one? Hardly. Of course, sectarians will say that she is one, because they exclude everyone with whom they disagree. Landmark Baptists and “Baptist Bride” Baptists of all stripes will recognize the rest of us as “separated brethren,” but not as fully “in” the church. This same hypersectarian mentality is found in Romanism, Orthodoxy, and in nose-bleed-high Anglicanism. Authentic churches, however, recognize others as real though flawed. The great Scottish Presbyterian Samuel Rutherford was a pains to insist that Roman Catholic ordination was real and that no converted priest was to be “re-ordained” in the Scottish church. Sadly, Hyperbaptists, Papists, Orthodox, and too much of Anglicanism cannot say the same. Some goofy sectarian Presbyterians are the same. Churches function as part of the ONE when they recognize one another’s orders and sacraments and discipline. This is not always easy, but real churches do it. When someone comes to us from a Baptist or Catholic church and wants to join, we phone up the pastor/priest and talk to him. We find out what the story is. We honor other churches, however wayward we think they are.

Is the church today holy? Well, that definitely depends on the church. Those who define holiness as mysticism and shamanism can tolerate all kinds of immorality. In Rome and Orthodoxy and Pentecostalism, holiness inheres in various charmed objects and persons. These semi-churches will discipline someone who rejects these talismans, but turn a blind eye to Tsars, mafiosos, pederasts, adulterers, and royalty. Imagine what would happen if a priest in the Church of England refused communion to one of their adulterous royalty? Well, you can’t imagine it, can you? It cannot happen. Anyone who reads the Pauline epistles or chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation knows that kicking people out for immorality is at the top of Jesus’ demands for a faithful bride. Can anyone point to an instance of that’s happening in Anglicanism, Orthodoxy, or Rome? One thing these churches are not is “holy.” It seems that it is only in those churches that trace back to the Reformation, including the Baptists, where the holiness that Jesus wants can be found, however partially.

Is the church today catholic? This is similar to asking if she is one. The test of catholicity is an open communion table. From early times the church has failed to be charitable in this regard. In his book Jesus Wars, John Philip Jenkins describes the horrible treatment of “Monophysite” and “Nestorian” Christians at the hands of savage “Orthodox” monks; and vice versa. Rodney Stark’s wonderful book on the “crusades,” God’s Battalions, shows how the eastern Christians welcomed the Moslem invaders as deliverers from vicious oppression at the hands of Byzantine Christianity. We’ve grown up a bit since those days, but it is still the case that sectarian groups deny communion to baptized believers simply because they don’t sign on the dotted line. Hyper-Lutherans deny communion to anyone who does not confess what is often called “consubstantiation.” Now, think about this. The Eucharistic Meal is not what you or I think it is or may be; it is what Jesus does. If I’m wrong about the theory, does that mean Jesus is not present? Real Lutherans say, yes, there is “real presence” as they define it, but even if you don’t understand that, Jesus is still there for you if you trust him and are baptized.

Catholicity of practice is, sadly, missing from Orthodoxy, Hard-core Baptists, the Church of Christ, and most of Rome. Rome won’t “rebaptize” Protestants, but neither will she give us communion unless there happens to be no Protestant church in the area we can attend. This is at least an improvement over how things were when I was a child, before Vatican II. Orthodoxy says our baptisms stink, and have to be cleansed by “chrismation,” a ritual nowhere found in the apostlolic scriptures. As Peter Leithart wrote recently on his blog, anyone who is truly committed to catholicity will have a hard time joining one of these sects.

Finally, is the church Apostolic? Here again, we have sects that claim something called “apostolic succession,” a notion that cannot be found in the Bible. In fact, Paul is at pains repeatedly to deny any succession from the earlier apostles. I’m happy with the notion of ministers ordaining ministers and Christians baptizing Christians, but ultimately the succession in the Church is by the Spirit. It cannot be otherwise. “Apostolic” in the Nicene Creed means “faithful to the apostles.” Well, do the apostles anywhere teach that icons can be used as charmed objects with which to communicate with the dead? Do they tell us to chat with, or to offer prayers to, our “heavenly family members”? Surely, if the Apostolic Church had changed the earlier rules against consulting the dead and worshipping through images and man-made objects, it would have been controversial. But we see nothing of that. The controversial changes were about circumcision, calendar, food, and Jewish exceptionalism. In fact, the early Church teachers (“fathers”) were death on using images in worship, and it was only in the 700s that ignorant monks were able to overwhelm the authentic clergy and bring this garbage into the church. No Apostolic church has anything to do with prayers to the goddess BMEV (Blessed Mary Ever Virgin) or any other god-saints. No Apostolic church bows down to pieces of wood and brass, to images whether flat or in the round.

It is because I am a member of the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church that I cannot imagine joining one of these giant sects. The fact is that God the Holy Spirit fixed these problems half a millennium ago in the Protestant (pro-test = stand for) Reformation. Protestantism has now run its course, but what will come in its place will be more Biblical, more Catholic, more Unified. It will not be a return to Monophysitism, Nestorianism, Orthodoxy, or Romanism.

People who despair of Protestant churches as they have experienced them — and many are pretty awful today — and who go into Rome or Orthodoxy may do so for two reasons. One, they may become idolators, pure and simple. Such is the case with Scott Hahn, who decided to worship Mary and then converted. Or, two, they may hold their nose at many things but go into these churches because they think (erroneously in my view) that this is where God is going to act in the future. This is an understandable reason, and I think godly men like Louis Bouyer are in this category. For myself, however, I think remaining in the Protestant world is the best option, however chaotic it is right now. God does not go back. The future, which we cannot really imagine, will come out of what He has done most recently, which is the Reformation.

You Romanists, Nestorians, Monophysites, HyperBaptists, HyperLutherans, and Orthodox are welcome at the Lord’s Table in authentic Protestant churches such as the ones I attend. Come on in. The fire’s warm. The roast is in the oven. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape is decanted. We’d love to see you.

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      Some readers of my earlier essay, “Strange and Glorious New Rites,” have written to object that I have strained a gnat and swallowed a camel. I have strained out the gnat of a possible link to the memorial bread of the minchah (Lev. 2), while overlooking the camel that the Last Supper was a Passover meal.
      Actually, I did not deal with the Passover aspect because, to be frank, Jesus almost certainly was not eating a Passover meal at the Last Supper. More on that below.
      Let’s assume, however, that the Last Supper was indeed a Passover meal. At the Passover, lambs and kids (by Jesus’ time, only lambs) were taken to the Temple, slaughtered according to the rites of the Thanksgiving Peace offering, roasted by the priests and Levites, and distributed back to the people. (Deuteronomy 16:1-8; 2 Chronicles 30 and 35.) The Passover had to be eaten in one day, and this is the same as the rule of the Thanksgiving (Lev. 7:11-14). We notice here also that various items of bread were offered as part of the Thanksgiving.
      Beyond this, Numbers 15:1-15 specifies the precise Minchah that was to be offered with offerings at “appointed times” (v. 2). The revised Minchah consists of wine as well as semolina.
      Also, the passages in 2 Chronicles affirm that Ascensions consisting of bulls were brought near at the same time as the Thanksgiving Passover lambs and kids. The Ascensions also required the Minchah.
      So, if indeed the Last Supper took place as a Passover meal, and Jesus was crucified the following day, then there is plenty of foundation for the disciples to have regarded His actions with the bread and wine as a new form of the Minchah. They were quite well aware that at Passover bread was given to God and then eaten by the priests, while wine was poured out. They understood fully that for Jesus to break off the first piece of bread for Himself and then say, “Do this as a memorial TO ME,” Jesus was putting himself in the place of God. It was enough to send Judas over the edge, and he left almost immediately.

      All the same, this Last Supper was not a Passover meal. Paul wrote, “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7), indicating that Jesus died at the time the Passover lambs were being killed.
      In Luke 22:15-16 we read “And he said to them: ‘I have longingly desired to eat this Passover with you before my suffering; however, I tell you that I shall not eat of it, until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.'” This indicates that Jesus wanted to rejoice in the feast with them, but that He would not be able to until the Kingdom had fully come. (Moreover, if this were a Passover meal, where were the wives and children?)
      John’s gospel stresses that the Last Supper was eaten before the Feast of Passover. See 13:1, 21; 18:18; 19:14, 31, 42. John refers to this as the Preparation Day of the Passover. What does this mean? It means the 14th of Nisan, starting in the evening and continuing until around 3:00 pm the following afternoon, when the Passover lambs began to be slaughtered. The following day was a special sabbath (Ex. 12:16; Lev. 23:6-7). So, let us consider: If Jesus had eaten a Passover meal, the next day would have been a High Sabbath. The Jews could not have brought Him before Pilate on that day. And in fact, the gospels stress that it was the day after the crucifixion, beginning around 6:00 pm Friday evening, that was the High Sabbath (John 19:31).
      Now let us consider the chronology:
      Thursday afternoon: Around sunset right at the beginning of Nisan 14, Jesus allows some disciples to find a room to prepare for the Passover (Mt. 26:17-21; Mk. 14:12-18; Lk. 22:7-16). Preparing for the Passover means getting rid of the leaven (Ex. 12:15). According to the gospels, this was the Preparation Day, and the first day of Unleavened Bread.
      Note: Let us be clear: The Day of Preparation is the same Day as Passover, but Passover happens at the end of this day, in the afternoon, while the day begins the previous evening.
      Thursday evening: Having prepared the room, the disciples have the Last Supper with Jesus. After a long conversation (John 13ff.), they walk out into the full-moonlit night to the garden of Gethsemane. Three hours later Jesus is arrested. (I calculate this as around midnight, so that Jesus’ arrest corresponds to God’s killing the sons of Egypt in the days of Moses.) Throughout the rest of the night and into the morning, Jesus is conveyed from one trial to another, all on Nisan 14.
      Friday afternoon: By noon, Jesus is being crucified. He suffers for our sins for three hours, and then dies around 3:00 pm, which is exactly when the Passover lambs begin to be slaughtered.
      Friday night: Starting at 6:00 pm or so is the High Sabbath, Nisan 15, and by this time people have their Passover lambs roasted by the priests and a feast can begin. But the disciples don’t enjoy any Passover feast. They weep and mourn apart.

      So, what shall we say? Is the tradition that the Last Supper is some kind of Passover meal totally wrong? I do not think so. Remember that the Passover kid/lamb was to be set apart on the 10th of the month for observation. This begins a larger “Passover time.” The Last Supper was a meal at Passover Time. And indeed it happened on the same day as Passover, only at the beginning of that day rather than at the end when the lambs were sacrificed.
      There was no Temple-roasted Passover lamb at the Last Supper. Jesus was the Lamb at that Supper, and the food He gave was his own flesh, in bread, and blood, in drink.

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Rite Reasons: Studies in Worship
No. 90 Copyright (c) 2005 Biblical Horizons July, 2004 

At the last supper, Jesus took bread and, having given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples while saying, “Take, eat, this is My body given for you. Do this for My memorial.”

 What Jesus did was recognized by the disciples, because it took place every morning and evening. It was the rite of the Tribute, which is described in Leviticus 2. English Bibles generally mistranslate this as “grain offering,” or “meal offering” or “cereal offering,” or simply and very unhelpfully “offering.” But while this rite consists of grain or bread, the name for it is minchah, which means “gift” or “tribute.”

The daily Tribute is set forth in Numbers 28:3-8, and consisted of raw wheat flour mixed with oil. The other varieties of Tribute, however, were baked in various ways, and some were broken up. All were divided, with the priest receiving a portion after the Lord had been given His. The part given to the Lord was called a “memorial” (Lev. 2:2, 9, 16).

A memorial is an action done before God, or an object placed before God, that reminds Him of what He has done in the past, reminds Him of the covenant, and calls upon Him to come and pass judgment and renew that covenant. In a broad sense, all the rites done before God at the Tabernacle were memorials, but only bread rites are ever actually called memorials (Lev. 5:12; 24:7; Num. 5:15).
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In my blog entry yesterday, I raised a couple questions for Calvin about his theology of the sacraments.  It seemed to me, at least from Sinclair Ferguson’s summary, that Calvin talks as if we shouldn’t need sacraments.  The Word ought to be sufficient for us; the sacraments were added because of our weakness.  I wanted to follow up on that today.

Ferguson’s summary of Calvin’s view appears to me to be accurate.  Calvin approves of Augustine’s description of the sacraments as visible words: “Augustine calls a sacrament ‘a visible word’ for the reason that it represents God’s promises as painted in a picture and sets them before our sight, portrayed graphically and in the manner of images” (Institutes 4.14.6).

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In a book entitled Serving the Word of God, Sinclair Ferguson has an essay entitled “Calvin on the Lord’s Supper and Communion with Christ.”  The essay’s okay, though I don’t know if it breaks any new ground.  But it raises two questions I wish I could pose to Calvin:

1.  Ferguson points out that Calvin, together with the Augustinian tradition (so the question may really be for Augustine!), views the sacraments as “visible words” (pp. 204-205).  He says, summarizing Calvin’s view,

The signs display or exhibit Christ to the eyes and to the sense of vision, just as the word displays Christ to the ears and to the sense of hearing as the Spirit takes what belongs to Christ and shows or exhibits it to us (p. 208, emphasis mine)

and later he refers to the function of pictures.

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