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Can We Talk About The Lord’s Supper?
I ask us to reexamine our traditions concerning the Lord’s Supper.

A Short Glossary

Here is a short glossary of some commonly used words. It’s helpful to have a shared understanding of them.

A set of actions performed according to defined specifications, intended to accomplish certain results. Rituals can be secular or religious. Public or private. Performed individually or by a group. Rituals may be performed for many different reasons such as the coronation of a king, or to induct someone into something like a private club, or for various religious reasons. It comes from the Latin ritualis
A rite generally refers to a ritual performed for religious reasons. A Latin word. But the word rite can also be used to refer to a body of religious tradition. For example you have the different various liturgical traditions of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
A ceremony is a formalized set of actions. It is from Latin and is closely associated with the word, ritual. A ceremony may describe a set of activities, including perhaps more than one ritual. But a ceremony isn’t necessarily filled with ritual actions. Ceremonies usually are filled with pomp and show.
To celebrate is to observe, usually publicly, a season or a day, or a person, or event of importance. It is usually festive, joyful, or deeply respectful in nature. A celebration favorably proclaims something publicly, broadcasts it. One may celebrate the anniversary or memory of something good or happy, but usually for something sad, like the death of a famous person one observes the anniversary rather than celebrates it. However, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper because it is not just a sad memorial to the death of the Lord, but it also tells of His resurrection to life, and His eventual return from Heaven where He now is. This is the joy of our salvation. So celebrate is the right word to use. This Latin word implies a gathering of people for ceremonial reasons. Also, celebrations usually have an associated feast but not a fast.
Celebrity usually means fame and being well known in a good way for good reasons. The opposite of celebrity is infamy. An infamous person, place, or thing is well known for shameful or evil reasons. We wonder if the negligence of the age doesn’t blur the distinction. It also refers to the one who is famous. A person, place, or thing may have celebrity. A person who has celebrity, that is, famous, is called a celebrity.
A celebration is the act of proclaiming, making widely known, or the festivities themselves. Celebrations are often ceremonious and sometimes have rituals that are performed. The word was used in the Middle Ages to refer to the gathering together of the people for the various ceremonies of the church, especially the Mass.
We may speak of a celebration centered around a ceremony whose high point is a ritual. The celebration may follow a preceding fast that is broken by a feast that is part of the celebration. Easter celebrations include feasting, they come after a time of fasting in Lent.
A celebrant is the one who is celebrating. If for example it is a celebration of a religious rite, performed in a ceremony, such as the Mass, the priest is the celebrant.
Sacrament ( and Mystery )
These concepts will benefit from a bit of elaboration. Lutherans, Anglicans, Orthodox, and Catholics, among others, define a sacrament as something instituted by God and by which we receive grace. So for many, a sacrament is a sacred rite that is a means of receiving grace from God. As the Catholic Encyclopedia says, taken in its broadest sense it means a sacred mystery that is effectual for God’s purposes.
The word is a Latin word chosen to translate the New Testament Greek word, mystery. The Greek word, mystery, refers to secret knowledge known only by revelation given to initiates into a sect.
Sacrament is not exactly the Latin equivalent of the Greek word mystery. It comes from the idea of taking an oath and being marked as a member, especially as in the case of becoming a soldier, and being inducted into a Legion. It has to do with being set apart for a special purpose.
The word sacrament has come to indicate something possessing sacred or mysterious significance. It most often is used of religious ceremonies or rites. Protestants typically speak of ordinances rather than sacraments. They generally recognize two, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Phillip Schaff has this to say in his History, volume IV, page 436,

Medieval Christianity was intensely sacramental, sacerdotal and hierarchical. The ideas of priest, sacrifice, and altar are closely connected. The sacraments were regarded as the channels of all grace and the chief food of the soul. They accompanied human life from the cradle to the grave. The child was saluted into this world by the sacrament of baptism; the old man was provided with the viaticum on his journey to the other world.

The chief sacraments were baptism and the Eucharist. Baptism was regarded as the sacrament of the new birth which opens the door to the kingdom of heaven; the Eucharist as the "sacrament of sanctification which maintains and nourishes the new life."
Schaff goes on to say,

The Latin word sacramentum, like the Greek word mystery ( of which it is a translation in the Vulgate ), was long used in a loose and indefinite way for sacred and mysterious doctrines and rites.

On page 438 Schaff says,

The efficacy of the sacrament was defined by the scholastic term ex opere operato, that is, the sacrament has its intended effect by virtue of its institution and inherent power, independently of the moral character of the priest and of the recipient, provided only that it be performed in the prescribed manner and with the proper intention and provided that the recipient throw no obstacle in the way.

The benefit of a sacrament requires faith in active exercise as a condition of receiving the benefit of the sacrament. Without such faith the sacrament would be wasted and profaned.
The early Latin translation, known as the Vulgate, used the Latin word sacrament to translate the Greek word mystery. There is semantic overlap, but a difference. A sacrament was a ritual of initiation, mystery was the secret knowledge held by a sect; Jerome’s usage joined the two ideas. Jerome was translating according to Roman doctrine. He joined saving faith which is by believing, with ritual actions that are believed to effect salvation through faith in action. A sacrament essentially puts a mystery into action (source?). Ultimately it is the critical difference between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics say we must believe the mystery and partake of the sacraments to be saved. Protestants say we must believe the mystery to be saved. Both point to salvation by faith in Christ, but each believe faith is manifested in different ways: faith in partaking of the sacrament, or by faith believing.
It is important to note that Protestants don’t need to use the Latin word sacrament. The New Testament doesn’t use it. It reflects the understanding of things by the Roman translator of the Vulgate. It was an attempt to find a word Latin speakers understood rather than transliterating a Greek word and having to explain it. It is useful to know about the word, and at times it may even be useful to use it. It is a theological term that has a technical meaning. Protestants who attempt a Biblical theology don’t really need to use it. We speak of mystery, as in celebrating the mystery of the faith: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. We can celebrate the mystery of Godliness. We do this in the Breaking of Bread, the Lord’s Supper. We are celebrating the mystery of the Gospel and therefore the Lord Jesus Christ.
We call this knowledge of Christ a mystery because the Bible does. It is a mystery, secret knowledge, unknowable by human effort, knowable only by revelation from God. Matthew Henry says,

… it is called “the mystery”, because it is of divine revelation, and could have never been discovered by human reason; and now it is revealed …

The mystery of the faith proclaimed by the Church is:

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

That is what is proclaimed in the Gospel. It is portrayed in Baptism. And it is celebrated weekly in the Breaking of Bread at the Lord’s Supper. The preaching of the Gospel, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are three companions and they have cognate messages, it is what we teach: Christ and Him crucified, according to the Scriptures.

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)

The kerugma is the message preached and intended to have the effect of persuading one of its truth. This Greek word is found in Strong’s concordance, number 2782 in the Greek dictionary section. Paul uses the word in these passages: Romans 16:25; I Corinthians 1:21 & 2:4; 2 Timothy 4:17; Titus 1:3. It is also used in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Transliterated as kergyma, it can be a useful word at times to use as a shorthand indication of the Christian Message intended to persuade others to accept it. Related words are Strong’s number 2783, kerux, meaning the preacher/messenger; and 2784, kerusso, to preach, or herald. Peter calls Noah a kerux in 2 Peter 2:5. Paul says that he is ordained as a kerux in 1 Timothy 2:7, and 2 Timothy 1:11.
Something set apart for God’s own use. It is something holy.
A priest.
An adjective referring to priestly things. Sacerdotalism is the belief that only priests can mediate salvation to us by the administration of various sacraments.
A Greek word referring to a public religious ceremony. This duty was undertaken by a citizen acting as the celebrant leading a celebration. A combination of two words, laity, the people, ie the public; and erg, work, thus activity. So we have a public work. It refers to the rituals that define public worship. The Roman Catholic Church has well defined liturgies, especially for the Mass. Not all worship is liturgical, some Protestant worship can only loosely be called liturgic. But we must always remember that this is the word Paul used in Romans 12:1. He admonished us to live our lives as a liturgy of worship to God,

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1)

The word service is the King James translation of the Greek word from which we get liturgy.
This is a word that has the root meaning of gift. In the Old Testament, the Levites were called a gift. It is taken from this passage:

And I, behold, I have taken your brethren the Levites from among the children of Israel: to you they are given as a gift for the LORD, to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation. (Numbers 18:6)

Thus the word was extended to refer to the priesthood. In Greek they used the word klaros, which became the English word clergy. Klaros means heritage, which is essentially a gift. Over time, the priesthood of Catholicism took on the nature of the Old Testament priesthood, gaining a special status of a higher order than common believers, who were the laity. Other denominations, especially Protestant, have retained some elements of this, but perhaps not so strictly defined so as to distinguish sharply between all believers and the clergy. Theologians like J.N. Darby have argued strongly that this distinction is a false, non-Biblical one that harms the Church in many ways. All Christians are part of the body of Christ, the Church. Peter wrote,

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9)

This is called the priesthood of all believers, and we have all been given gifts for the building up of the body, the Church.
It is well to have a basic understanding of what the Mass is, and is not. The word refers to the celebration of the Eucharist in Catholic and Anglican, churches. It comes from the Latin word missa which means to dismiss. At the conclusion of the liturgy of the Mass, the congregants are dismissed with a formula in Latin Ite, missa est, which in English literally means Go, it is the dismissal. The word missa came to be applied to the entire liturgy.
The Roman Catholic Mass, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, makes present the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ for communicants to partake of just as Jesus said we must in John Chapter Six. Partaking of the sacrifice was required by the Law; the precedent was set at the Passover in Egypt when Israel was required to consume the entire lamb. Thus the typology of the Passover, and the Law concerning sacrifice is that those bringing the sacrifice must also partake of it. This has conditioned the Roman Catholic literal reading of John Six.
Contrary to widely held, but mistaken belief, the Mass does not re-crucify Christ in violation of what is said in Hebrews,

For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Hebrews 9:24-28)

Catholics say that the Mass does not contain a re-sacrifice of Christ, but that His one sacrifice is made present; that Christ’s sacrificed body and blood are clothed in the bread and wine, making it available to communicants (CCC 1366 The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit …). Catholics say that it is an unbloody sacrifice in the Mass, but Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was a bloody sacrifice (CCC 1367 ’The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: "The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different." "In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner." ’). This is an absolute distinction in their doctrine. But it is subtle. Many opponents of Catholicism seem either unable to grasp this distinction, or reject it because it offends their standard of logic, which may be flawed. I do not defend Catholic doctrine, but I do accept their assertion of the distinction, after all it is their doctrine. If Catholics say that they do not recrucify Christ in the Mass, then it is wrong to argue that they do, rather it behhoves us to try to understand their point of view and not to imagine what it might be but see it as they define it. Catholics believe that what occurs in the Mass allows the Church to fulfill the need to partake of the sacrifice of Christ. They believe that it was enabled by Him at the Last Supper when, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, He endued His disciples with the power to transform the bread and wine. Whether or not one accepts Roman Catholic doctrine on this matter depends upon one’s initial assumptions. For example, are Jesus’ words in John Chapter Six literal or figurative? If you assume that the typology of sacrifice requires a literal fulfillment you probably will also assume that the words of John Chapter Six are literal. The doctrine of the Mass follows logically from the assumption that the words are literal. So most arguments about these things are fruitless. But it is important to know, rather than imagine, what Catholic doctrine is in this matter. Accuracy counts, otherwise we end up talking at cross purposes.
Legalism used in a technical Biblical sense refers to earning salvation by satisfying all the demands of the Law. This means observing, or keeping in its entirety the Jewish Law mediated through Moses. In the early days of the Church legalism was a real problem, Acts Chapter Fifteen gives us a view, the first verse informs us,

And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. (Acts 15:1)

Over time the meaning of legalism has expanded, it has come to mean salvation earned by our own works of righteousness, or adhering to certain religious requirements. Legalism refers to being bound by various commandments as to how we should live, and what we can and cannot do. Sets of rules adopted by various denominations may be called legalism by lexical extension of the term, but not all sets of rules are legalistic or constitute legalism.
We are not bound to live under the Law, however, the fact that God has requirements for His people is not legalism. The fact that sin is still sin is not legalism.
Refers to intentional and direct teaching. A didactic message is one that intends to teach. It is given expressly for the purpose of instruction.
Heuristic refers to that which has teaching value, something that aids learning. But it is not necessarily direct teaching. A hymn sung in praise of the Lord may also provide teaching. It therefore has heuristic, or teaching, value.
Worship, done in spirit and in truth is heuristic. Some bring a teaching, or a psalm, or a prayer, or a praise. All these have heuristic value That is why we can say that our best theology is taught in worship. David Glock said this in a booklet called Our Reason To Be, Emmaus College Press.
Worship is heuristic, but not, intentionally, didactic. This thought bears strong emphasis. The purpose of worship is to give the Lord the preeminence in all things. It is our eternal vocation. The theme of our worship is the Lord Himself. However, teaching is part of worship, but neither prayer nor worship should be used as opportunities to impose sermonettes about pet ideas or grind axes (or gore someones' ox either). This is one area of worship in which elders, pastors, and worship leaders must exercise vigilance.
Theology is the work of men, based on finite human reason and knowledge. Even when it is informed by the Bible, it is fallible. A Theology is a formal set of teachings based upon assumptions, presuppositions, and interpretations. Bible knowledge is not the same thing as theology. Neither the prophets of the Old Testament, nor the Apostles of the New Testament were theologians, with a few possible exceptions such as Paul. The knowledge of God is not the same thing as theology either. This is important because the study of theology doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the study of the Scriptures. And Scriptures don’t necessarily have to be studied theologically. One can study Christian Theology yet not be a Christian. And one may be entirely innocent of theology and yet be a Christian knowledgeable in God’s word. Nevertheless, theology can be a useful tool.
The Church is people, not a building or a denomination. It is all those people who are believers in Christ. The Church is people from many different times and places, some now living, some perhaps not yet born, and some now gone to be with the Lord. We will be gathered up as one upon His return. There are various metaphors in Scripture for the Church: the body of the Lord; the Bride; a temple for God. The metaphors are used at various times to illustrate different things we need to learn about who we are and who God is, and how we relate to Him. It is important to note that Israel and the Church are different entities. The Church has both Jewish and Gentile members. At the end of the age, a remnant — believing Israel — will be joined with the Church. It is also important to note that salvation is always the same, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Israel and the Law in the Old Testament give earthly pictures of Heavenly truths (Hebrews). They were used by God to prepare the way for the coming of the Christ. Paul’s discussion of Israel and the Church in the book of Romans makes it clear that Israel is not cast off but will be gathered in Christ.
Something to note is that the word church can be used to refer to different things. When the Church, all of God’s people, is meant, the word is capitalized. But when a building or a local assembly of believers or a denomination is meant, then the word is not capitalized. For example the Church doesn’t always meet in a church building. But, typically when we gather in our local assembly on Sunday, we say that we are at church.
Views of who properly constitutes the Church depend upon theology. Roman Catholics maintain that because salvation is only possible through the ministry of God’s grace by the Apostles and their direct successors (the Bishops of the Catholic Church), only those believers who have been confirmed into the Catholic Church, under the authority of those Bishops, are able to be saved. This means that the Church, by the Catholic’s definition, is composed only of Catholics. Neither Protestants, nor any others outside of being a member of the Catholic Church, are within the Church. Naturally, Protestants disagree with that point of view. The typical Protestant view of who is a member of the Church is that anyone who has believed and called upon the name of Jesus Christ for salvation by faith is a member of the Church no matter what denomination they may belong to. For now this is a moot dispute as witnessed by centuries of disagreement. The many and serious disagreements about this cannot be solved with an unthinking ecumenicism, or religious syncretism. It is worthwhile to understand the arguments on all sides, it is entirely another thing to enter into the dispute. We have to understand that many deep and very intelligent thinkers have gone over these arguments many times providing tremendous insights on all hands, we need to know this in order to avoid the silly and tendentious bickering arising from lack of familiarity with the various arguments. But we must be convinced in our own minds as to the truth of the matter. If one has decent Scriptural reasons for their point of view, that has to suffice and we should respect that. By all means share your reasons, but avoid contentious argument that accomplishes nothing but ill will and brings the shame of being somebody who gets carried away with mere contention.

©FH 2012

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