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

Mission Statement

Here is the mission statement for this study titled Can We Talk About the Lord’s Supper?:

A call to worship centered around the Lord’s Supper is a call to foster a devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ of great power and purity. (Thanks and a tip of the hat to the prefatory note for the book of Malachi in the New English Bible from which this has been adapted.)

Fostering something means to promote it, to build it up, to nourish it, help it grow and care for it. Devotion means to set something apart for an exclusive purpose, or to give something to someone for their own possession and use. What is meant to be fostered is our devotion of ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ in response to His love for us. This means to foster (build up) our faith and relationship with Him, in how we live and worship.

Jesus devoted Himself to our salvation, and we are called to grow in the grace and knowledge of Him (2 Peter 3:18). This is the mark of our devotion to Jesus, that we become living sacrifices to Him (Romans 12:1). This is just the opposite of a casual and worldly attitude criticized by Jesus in the message to the Laodiceans (Revelation 3:14-18). Devotion is not cold or lukewarm.

Our devotion is to the Lord Himself, not to a religion, not to a denomination, not to a fellowship of believers, not to a better life, not to satisfy ourselves, but a devotion to the Lord Jesus alone. It is God’s intent that Jesus shall have the preeminence in all things. And that means that He is to be the center, the heart and soul of the Church, which is called His body as well as His bride. Jesus is He without whom all else becomes pointless. We may sacrifice our lives doing good, and pursue a form of righteousness, but without the Lord that is nothing. Paul said that he counted all things but dung for the sake of Christ (Philippians 3:8). Though that may sound harsh, what else can we do but seek the Lord, which is in truth to seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. This devotion to Jesus mirrors what Jesus said when questioned about the Law,

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. (Matthew 22:37-38)

Jesus was quoting from what had been commanded to Israel in the Old Testament,

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

The love we are to have for God, is our response to the love He has shown us in His Son, Jesus. 1 Corinthians Chapter Thirteen is called the Love Chapter for a good reason. In it Paul describes what the love God has for us is like, and urges us to learn to love likewise. It is not for nothing that the Apostle John said, God is love. John concluded that we ought to love one another,

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. (1 John 4:7-11)

Given that God has so loved us, and that we ought so love one another, how ought we to love God? Our devotion is meant to be of great power and purity. Of power so that it motivates us to love God. Great power comes from being filled with the Spirit of God, the knowledge of His word, and obedience to His will, and is expressed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16). Only a strong and effectual faith makes a difference in this perishing world. And God wants us to be built up into that sort of faith.

Purity means that something has nothing else mixed in with it. That anything else might be sin, false doctrine, ignorance, split loyalties, or double mindedness. Purity of doctrine is important, it is not just dogmatism. God wants us to know who the Lord Jesus Christ is, and what the Bible teaches. The constant refrain in the New Testament is how important the truth is. And that means there is Truth, as opposed to any philosophy that teaches there is no such thing.

The opposite of pure is impure. Thinking about the idea of pure also refers us to the teaching of James about pure religion in the first chapter of his Epistle, especially to the last verse,

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)

James gives us working definitions of both purity and religion that are based on our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It speaks to some of the good works we have been called to do (Ephesians 2:10). We cannot therefore think about religion only as pietistic. It must also have practical expression in the world. But neither must we look down on or avoid pietistic practice because we are zealous to do good things in the world.

So then, here is the core of the mission statement:

… to foster a devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ of great power and purity.

Now for the first words:

A call to worship centered around the Lord’s Supper is a call …

This work is a call to a worship that is centered in Jesus Christ. In practice this means corporate worship focused by the Lord’s Supper. The point of that worship is to foster devotion to the Lord Himself, that He may have the preeminence in all things in the Church. This is the kind of worship that works to build up our faith.The Lord᾿s Supper acts like a lens to focus our worship exclusively on the Lord, giving Him the preeminence. A lens can be used to magnify something so we can see it in clear detail, it can also be used to focus sunlight to an intense point of heat. The Lord’s Supper is a God given lens that magnifies to us a clear vision of the Lord Himself and focuses that light into our hearts with great heat. We are taught in Scriptures that we will be transformed when we see Him as He is:

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

Now we see Him in part, and now we are transformed in part (I Corinthians 13:12). The Lord’s Supper holds the vision of Jesus, the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world, (see: Revelations 13:8; & Hebrews 2:9) before us. This vision is held before us in that it is Scriptural to celebrate it, and in that during its celebration we are exposed to Scriptures, and in that we meditate upon the Word: both Jesus and His words, and in the working of the Holy Spirit within us witnessing to Christ. It acts in our transformation, fostering our devotion to Him. This is a singleness of vision. Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew, said,

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. (Matthew 6:22)

At the Lord’s Supper we are warned to discern the body and the blood of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:29). We set the elements before us and say, Behold the body and the blood of the Lord. Amen. There is a single vision presented to us in that figure. Let our eye be single that we might be filled with the light of His person.

There is another time for teachings that address our many needs and the issues we all face in this world; there are other times for many necessary things. But the time of worship is for Him only, and in that time we focus on Him only, not other things.

To be quite frank, at many churches the focus of the worship service is not exclusively on Jesus. In fact, there is a drift away from a clear vision of congregational worship entirely focused on Jesus. The music is varied. The sermons have a wide range of subjects. Many activities and needs are pressed into one hour. In this the good competes with the best for our attention.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven … (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

There is a season for worship, giving our full attention to the Lord, to forget ourselves and give Him the preeminence. But too often we combine everything into one service which doesn’t really give Jesus the preeminence in the same way a worship service organized around the Lord’s Supper does. Many things receive the preeminence that belongs only to Jesus, it happens with the best of intentions unintentionally.

Some might say this places undue emphasis on the Lord’s Supper. Others might say that this is merely pietistic worship. Still some might say that teaching is worship. And many will say this is old fashioned, out of touch, even boring or dull. We’ve been told that if we celebrate the Lord’s Supper too often it becomes trite through overuse. We’ve been told that we have to reach out and attract seekers with things they can understand and will touch them. These things, have merit. But I think if we examine worship, what it is we’re doing, who it’s for, if we rethink established tradition, and are willing to learn from what others have to say we might find our thinking challenged about these things.

That is the substance of what I’m trying to do here: to open up for discussion the nature of our worship. And by that to encourage us to give the Lord’s Supper the central place God has intended us to, and thereby give the Lord Jesus Christ the preeminence that the Father has given Him.

The mission statement is based on a phrase I lifted from the introduction to Malachi in the NEB translation: To foster a religious zeal of great purity and power, without at the same time fostering a confining legalism. Zeal not only finds a congregational expression in a worship service that gives Jesus the preeminence, but such congregational worship services inculcate zeal, and that zeal spills over into our lives as devotion to the Lord Himself.

The worship of the Lord Jesus Christ is our highest calling, our eternal vocation, as John Henry, Cardinal Newman called it. Please think with me about what he said. First I’ll quote him, and then I want borrow from it. Cardinal Newman said,

Nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass, said as it is among us. I could attend Mass forever, and not be tired. It is not a mere form of words; it is a great action. The greatest action that can be on earth. It is … the vocation of the eternal.

The Mass said as it is among us means Christ, and Him crucified, present in the center of their worship. Cardinal Newman, a Roman Catholic, is talking about the worship of Jesus, and partaking of Him in the Eucharist. That is what Cardinal Newman called the greatest action. Protestants disagree on the specific theological aspects of that, but insofar as it speaks to the declaration of Christ’s death on the cross for our sins, professes a life in communion with Christ and that we await His return in glory (CCC p.1400), and is a basis of worship of the Lord, we can share the sentiment. As Protestants we would say it differently, we would be speaking directly of our worship of the Lord Himself, not a sacrament,

Nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, done as it is among us. I could attend worship forever, and not be tired. It is not a mere form of words; it is a great action. The greatest action that can be on earth. It is … the vocation of the eternal.

Worship, in spirit and in truth, is part of a successful Christian life. Worship in spirit and in truth requires faith and obedience, which things are our right response to God’s love for us. Worship begins within the individual. Paul used the language of worship to describe how we ought live our lives, he wrote,

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 worship that arises in our lives is expressed when we assemble in our churches for congregational worship. I speak of a call, it is a call to recover the value of the Lord’s Supper, and to give it its proper place in our worship. Then when we join together at our churches we join our worship together. And it is there that God has given us the Lord’s Supper to effectually direct our attentions fully upon the Lord Jesus Christ. If you read through this you may or may not agree with me. But at least we are thinking about these things. Which is a benefit because, even if we disagree our thinking gains clarity by knowing what we believe or don’t believe, and why. By this exercise we have been built up in the Lord, fostering a devotion to Him of great power and purity.

©FH 2012

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