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

Old and New

Worship history gives a background for thinking about worship.

In the Bible we have the major distinctions between the Old and New Testaments, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, between Israel and the Church, between the Law and Grace. In the Old Testament Israel was under the Old Covenant of the Law, but in the New Testament the Church is under the New Covenant of Grace. But we also have glimpses of worship in the ancient world before the giving of the Law. The question at hand is how this affects our worship. Understanding these distinctions will help us answer that question.

In Genesis we see Cain and Abel bringing sacrifices to God. This was at the cusp of the era when worship began to devolve into self worship, idolatry, and worse, Romans 1:18-23 shows the character of this debasement. One thing about worship stands out starkly from the Genesis account, there was worship acceptable to God, and that which was not. God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but rejected Cain’s (Genesis 4:1-16).

God’s Scriptures tell us the world plunged into wickedness, and He judged the world, destroying it with a flood, saving only Noah and his family. After the flood the Bible gives us a picture of Noah’s worship,

And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled a sweet savour … (Genesis 8:20-21a)

Here also (as with Abel) we see a sacrifice acceptable to God. But the ancient world was soon filled again with false worship. False worship in the post-flood “civilized” ancient world was typically centered around an idol, a priest, sacrifices, the celebration of mysteries, and public festivals. Religion and worship were public activities. There was no wall of separation between religion and public life. Rulers had religious duties as well as political. A late example from classical Rome is that the Emperor was also Pontifex Maximus, or the high priest of the Empire. (Today the Pontifex Maximus of the Catholic Church is commonly called the Pope). The people must come to the priest to bring a sacrifice. The priest was the middle man between the gods and the common person. Worship consisted of physical activity: bringing sacrifice, reciting certain words, music, festivals, and body postures like bowing. And Paul gives a very clear picture of its failings in Romans Chapter One.

Of course there was the religious magico-superstition of the people, consisting of the little idols and fetishes and small placatory and bribing sacrifices, private incantations, and gestures and a whole host of things by which the common person, for themselves and for their immediate family, expressed, and tried to control, their relationship to a supernatural world that wasn’t sharply defined from the waking world around them.

We may readily suppose that all types of false worship were widespread. Throughout the Old Testament we find God working in the midst of this false worship, whether we read of the Partriarchs or of Israel, Old Testament history shows God’s people surrounded by false worship, and too often influenced by it. But the Scripture makes plain that God was unfolding His eternal plans devised in His determinate counsel and foreknowledge (Acts 2:23). We may say that God always maintained a witness to Himself in the world. This unfolding included the progressive revelation of Himself to the Patriarchs, showing them who He was and how they should worship Him. And in this we find Him identified eventually as the God who is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and not some other god.

Abraham came from Ur. His father, Terah, was a worshiper of idols and false gods (Joshua 24:2). No doubt Abraham was raised in the midst of that. But God called him out of Ur, and revealed Himself to Abraham. We see Abraham learning about God and worshiping as he journeyed through the world. In one instance Abraham encounters the priest Melchisedek (see: Genesis 14:18-20; particular details are found in Hebrews chapter 7, especially verses 1-4). The statements about Melchizedek are very suggestive of the early date of a formal worship. This mysterious priest is given as a type for Christ Himself (see: Psalms 110:4; & Hebrews 6:20). He provided a center for worship in his person. We assume that the worship offered by Melchizedek was acceptable to God by the fact that he is given as a type of Christ. But other worship in that ancient world was not acceptable, even though it no doubt shared similarities with the pattern offered by Melchizedek.

Later, God’s self revelation intensified in the creation of Israel as a nation. He became known as the God of Israel. Through Moses He revealed the Covenant of the Law and entered into it with Israel. Worship in the Covenant of the Law, or Old Covenant, was minutely prescribed in detail. Every aspect, the formal ritual requirements of the Law, including the Tabernacle: the place where worship was to be given, furniture, clothing, priest, washing of the hands, the bringing of various types of sacrifice, words, music, ritual, festival, and the peoples attendance upon it all, was disposed of by God according to the Heavenly pattern (Hebrews 8:5). All was to be done exactly. The consequences were dire if even a slight error was made, death was the punishment. Worship under the Law was very formal, and it consisted of very physical actions. This is what is meant when it is said that it was done in the flesh. The spiritual is not unimportant or non-present, but the outward, bodily, physical actions are primarily evident. To be sure, hypocritical worship has never been acceptable by the Lord, the mere acts themselves cannot, nor ever could, suffice for a lack of spiritual worship. Again, all this was a matter of self revelation and preparation for the future coming of the Messiah. God is known as the God of Israel, and a mighty God He is, as is to be seen by His miraculous deeds.

When we come to the New Testament we find the revelation of the Christ, Who in turn is the revelation of God (John 14:6-10; Hebrews 1:1-3). We find the explicit doctrine that Christ was hidden in the things of the Covenant of the Law. And we especially find that the worship as disposed of by God to Israel, was a copy of a Heavenly Pattern, and that the Christ was hidden in this copy. And, in the New Testament we are presented with the insistence from the outset in the Gospels that spiritual worship is preeminent. The most striking statement of this is by the Lord Himself in John chapter 4. And as one reads Paul’s letters, and the book of Hebrews, it becomes apparent that the spiritual is preeminent.

The teaching that Christ was hidden in the Old Testament means that God was preparing the way for Christ to enter the world, “in the fulness of time” (Galatians 4:4). But the details were hidden from the world so that it could not discover the plain facts of the matter. This doctrine of hidden things is stated plainly in the Gospels, of Jesus Christ it is said,

All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world. (Matthew 13:34-35)

You can find for yourself how often this idea was stated, either by Jesus, or the Apostles, in different ways at different times, by reading through the Gospels. This teaching that the things of Christ were kept hidden was also stated by Peter in Acts 2, who, when speaking to the Jews in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, told them plainly what had been hidden: that the Christ had been amongst them,

Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:36)

Paul says the same thing, but also gives a reason why it was hidden,

Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:6-8)

And in Ephesians we have the great teaching of the revelation of another part of this mystery, that Gentiles would be included in the Church, and how it was kept secret until after Pentecost, when it was given to the Apostle Paul to make it known,

For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, (Ephesians 3:1-10)

A brief explanation of this passage is in order. First, Paul says that God gave him the grace to know this mystery. Then we see that “in other ages it was not made known”. But now, in the Church age, it is revealed to the apostles and prophets. The mystery is that gentiles are joined with Jews as one in Christ. Paul is given the task of preaching, or teaching us, the “unsearchable riches of Christ”; unsearchable means we cannot find it out ourselves. In other words, Paul is the one tasked to tell us what the mystery was, or to, “make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery” which “from the beginning of the word hath been hid in God.” And the grand purpose is that all of creation will come to know the “manifold wisdom”, or many sided and very complex wisdom of God. And that God’s wisdom will be made known by what God is doing with the Church.

In short, God kept all His plans about Christ, the Church, salvation, and everything, secret until in the “fulness of time” after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ up into Heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, as told in Acts 2. All the events, commands, the Covenant of the Law, the prophets, the Psalms, everything in the Old Testament presented pictures of God’s mysteries, but at the same time kept them secret. When God keeps something secret, it is kept secret, nobody can find it out, it is “unsearchable”.

God, through the Law, mandated a form of worship for Israel that was a copy of the Heavenly Pattern. And that copy provided a secret revelation of Christ. It was impossible to understand the true meaning of that copy because God kept it secret. We can only understand what that Old Testament worship meant because it is revealed to us in the New Testament. This has tremendous importance concerning how we are to worship. We are not to imitate the Old Testament copy of the Heavenly Pattern, but instead engage in the spiritual and true worship now revealed. This means we don’t go to a temple, or have an altar, or have the mediatory presence of a priest, or bring any animal sacrifice, or any other thing commanded under the Law. We have a new worship, one that is “in spirit and in truth” as Jesus described it in John Chapter Four.

The contrasts between the Testaments are striking, but they are not contradictory to one another. That is important to grasp. One very important idea is that salvation has always been by faith through God’s grace. Hebrews chapter Eleven, the faith chapter, makes that plain. The context for chapter Eleven is set in chapter Ten,

For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. (Hebrews 10:1)

Hebrews 10:1 plainly states that the law was a shadow that could not make anyone perfect, or truly justified before God. The only way to perfection is through Christ, Who came to do God’s will,

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:4-10)

Christ took away the first fleshly worship, that is the shadows of Heavenly things under the Law, and established the second, which is the New Testament in His blood, salvation by faith in Him, Jesus Christ, truly God in a human body hung to die upon the cross, the true Heavenly thing itself. What we read in Hebrews chapter Ten gives the explanation behind the fact, stated in further on in chapter 11, that only by faith may we please God,

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Paul also makes this plain in the following verses from Romans chapter 3,

20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:
30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.
31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. (Romans 3:20-31)

Verse 30 refers to Israel being justified by faith also. Jews and Gentiles, both saved by grace. In verse 31 when Paul says that he “establishes” the Law, what is meant is that he is teaching us how to give true value to the Law and properly understand it. The Old Covenant, the Law, made with Israel through Moses at Sinai, was a shadow, a copy, of the true Heavenly pattern. Referring back to the book of Hebrews, in chapter 8, we find the same thought summed up in verse 5, quoted below,

Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. (Hebrews 8:5)

The Old Covenant, the Law, and all in it were earthly pictures of the Heavenly truth, they are shadows, prophetic types of the true which was to come.

Paul clearly says that the shadow of the Heavenly—the Law could not save us, he called it weak,

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

The ultimate statement of the contrast between the old and the new is that the Law, given through Moses, the Old Covenant, is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Paul’s extended discussion in Galatians chapter Three tells us that Israel was given the Law to prepare the way for faith in Christ, that is what he meant by schoolmaster,

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)

Paul also says that we are not under the Law any longer,

But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. (Galatians 3:25)

We can see by this that Law and Grace are not in conflict with one another, rather Law prepares the way for Grace. The determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God is the eternal plan of God that Christ should be the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world. There can be no conflict between Law and Grace. Both are in the “volume of the book” (Hebrews 10:7). And Jesus as the Son of God, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the author and finisher of our faith,

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

Bearing these things in mind, we can readily see that there is a difference between worship under the Law of the Old Covenant, and worship under Grace in the New Covenant, but that there is no conflict. The old prepared the way for the new. In the old, worship was fleshly in form, now in the new, our worship is in spirit and in truth. We find the keynote for worship in the New Testament given by Jesus Himself in the Gospel of John chapter Four.

©FH 2012

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