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

Self Examination

The Lord’s Supper is a cause for self examination, to take time to confess our sins, and to reaffirm our faith prior to partaking. Paul wrote,

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:26-32)

When we, as Protestants, gather at the Lord’s Supper we have gathered unto the name of the Lord around the elements of bread and wine that show His body and blood in a figure, and therefore the elements are holy as was discussed in the chapter “It is Not Common”. There is also the fact that we have gathered in and unto His name which makes the gathering itself take on the aspect of holiness.

We “shew the Lord’s death till he come”, Paul says. Because of this he concludes, as indicated by using the word wherefore, that guilt comes from unworthily partaking. The ramifications of the judgment one falls under in this way are that we are chastised by the Lord to correct us so that we are not condemned with the world: proof God loves us (Hebrews 12:8). But my point here is that we are called to examine ourselves prior to eating and drinking. And, that we are to discern the Lord’s body and blood. We are called to judge ourselves, Paul makes it very clear that something very special is involved in the Lord’s Supper, it is not an ordinary or common thing. It demands the most profound respect from us.

We have come to offer worship because of our redemption. The Epistle of Ephesians establishes that idea. Which if one reads it with that idea in mind, the grounds of worship become plain in the light of the object and subject of our worship which is Jesus. In Revelation we see an explicit statement that says Jesus is worthy because:

And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever. (Revelation 5:8-14)

Jesus is the Lamb of God that was sacrificed to take away the sin of the world. The Passover in Egypt was a prophetic type of this. The Last Supper was a celebration of that Passover, there the Lord Himself was the master of the feast. And there He took bread and wine as figures of the fulfillment of the prophecy: Jesus is God in the flesh, dying on the cross, shedding His blood for the forgiveness of sins and the redemption of the world. Jesus said take eat and drink. Some Protestants say these elements are simple, they are not changed at all. Others say they take on some new aspect though not actually transformed. What ever the point of view, they are set apart for God’s own use to show us in a figure the death of His well beloved, the Only Begotten Son Jesus, and the precious blood that He poured out. Because we have set them apart by blessing and thanksgiving (we have sanctified them) for the purposes which God has intended for them, and because what they figure is so holy, these elements take on a sacred character. They must not be treated as common, as apparently they had been in Corinth once upon a time.

The activity surrounding these elements, the purpose for which they are being used: to celebrate His Son, is also set aside for God’s use, and is therefore sacred as well. What we are doing there is important, we must not say we are celebrating the Lord, and do so in a thoughtless fashion.

So then, we take bread and wine, and in congregation, assembled as a part of the Church, we bless those elements and then partake in remembrance of the Lord and His death. In effect we are doing what is done in Heaven, that which we read in Revelations 5, we are saying,

… Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. (Revelation 5:13)

We then partake, symbolically, of the Lord’s body and blood in remembrance of Him, and in communion with Him. When we think of it this way it must be clear to all that we must not do this unworthily, carelessly, thoughtlessly, not discerning the Lord’s own body and blood; Jesus is God in the flesh. And it must be clear that to do this unworthily is to do despite to the Lord. Paul says, “But let a man examine himself …” before eating and drinking.

Upon this self-examination, we are told, “… so let …”. Let us eat, let us drink. Our self-examination leads us to awareness that we come as saved sinners to our Savior, to celebrate His holy sacrifice for us. We have said that Jesus is the singularity of worship, the point where everything is now different. Only those who know and acknowledge their sinfulness can in truth discern the Lord's body and blood. Remember, by eating and drinking we are professing Him as our savior, our profession must be true. We are on holy ground. We must be worthy to stand there, and only the Lord Jesus can make us worthy.

In the Scriptures we have many teachings about the need to confess our sin to find right standing with the Lord. For example we have the teaching that we are to confess our sins to one another, James states the principle in a different context:

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16)

We should confess our sins rather than hide them. John tells us directly to confess,

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

Compare the statements: Paul says, “But let a man examine himself …” John says, “If we confess our sins …” James says, “Confess your faults to one another …” The Lord Himself taught that it is better to have a right heart than perform the outward act, He said,

Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

Coming to the Lord’s Supper calls for us to be prepared. Paul also says, “… so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup …” When we are well taught that the Lord’s Supper is a special time, and what we do is special, and what we handle is special, and who we have come to worship is the Lord Himself, and when we are well taught that we must not carelessly but rather carefully partake, the Lord is honored, the thing is done well, and we also benefit.

Up, In, Out. That is the paradigm. (Based on a sermon “Up In Out” by Steve Armfield at Thornapple Covenant, June 14 2009 - See the chapter titled, “UP IN OUT”) This is no new revelation or doctrine, only what we already know, the paradigm is not new. What is new is the newness of each new daily self examination, and confession of our sin. Old time preachers liked to preach about keeping short accounts with the Lord concerning our sin. Isaiah saw a vision of holiness when he looked Up.

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. (Isaiah 6:1)

What Isaiah saw caused him to look In, to examine himself and see his sin,

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. (Isaiah 6:5)

When Isaiah had confessed his sin he was cleansed,

Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. (Isaiah 6:6-7)

Whereupon Isaiah was fitted and ready to minister, to go Out,

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. (Isaiah 6:8)

Are we not presented with a similar vision of holiness in the Lord’s Supper,

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. (Hebrews 2:9)

And knowing that this is our vision at the Lord’s Supper, we prepare by looking within and confessing our sin. And then we go out and partake. We have the Scriptures by which we look Up. When we look up we see God in the glory of holiness, He is righteous and hates sin, and there is no sinful thing with Him. That makes us to look In, in to ourselves and see that we are sinful, His holiness shows our sinfulness starkly. Looking in and seeing ourselves thus, we acknowledge, confess, our sin. God is holy, which means not only a righteous hatred of sin, but a righteous love for His creatures who are sinful. God is love, and he is both just and has justified (Romans 3:26) His sinful creatures whom He loves. At the Lord’s Supper we declare this truth by implication, " … this is my body … this is my blood … ":

To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Romans 3:26)

We look in, confess ourselves to Him and He justifies us and calls us righteous for the sake of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the shedding of His blood made the atonement for our sin. We are cleansed, then we go Out. We go out in the newness of life to do His good will, working out our salvation with fear and trembling, offering ourselves as a living sacrifice to Him, putting on the mind of Christ, being renewed daily, growing in the grace and knowledge of His Son, Jesus, being built up in Him, until we come to a complete knowledge and then seeing Him as He is we are transformed into His likeness. Up, In, Out. That is the paradigm.

This aspect of self examination prior to partaking of the Lord’s Supper is inherently a part of the building up of the Church with precious materials. We are taught, and teach holiness. We are being built up in the Lord. We are in measure conformed to His likeness. That is if we are well taught, and take seriously this aspect of the thing. We are, by virtue of our participation confessing that as guilty sinners we need and accept His sacrifice for our sins. We are saying by our eating and drinking, “Amen. Yes I am saved by the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I confess with my mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in my heart that God has raised Him from the dead. I believe that He will come again. I make this confession unto my salvation.”

A long time ago, St. Ambrose said,

For as often as we eat this bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord. If we proclaim the Lord’s death we proclaim the forgiveness of sins.

He continued,

We should always proclaim it, eating this bread and drinking this cup. I should always remember it so that I remember my sins are forgiven. Because I always sin, and am a sinner, I have always a remedy. And I should also always proclaim this forgiveness of sin to the world as well.

If we proclaim the Lord’s death we proclaim the forgiveness of sins. For when His blood was poured out, it was poured out for the forgiveness of sins. And it is our own sins, not just others sins, that I speak of. Is that not the Christian Kergyma? Is that not what we proclaim at the Lord’s Supper? And when we do, God’s purpose is being fulfilled in this. What I have said is that the requirement for self examination before partaking of the Lord’s Supper is part of God’s purpose for us in our celebration of it. We must be holy to enter His presence. We are justified by Him, and He makes holy. But He also says “Be ye holy …”, we must do our part also. Are we not called to believe and have faith? Are we not called to confess our sin? Are we not told to be filled with the Spirit? Yes, and we are told to, “… work our out salvation … (Phillipians 2:12) He is working within us both to will and to do His good pleasure, which is that we be conformed to the likeness of His dear Son.

There is another aspect to discerning the Lord’s body. We are to discern His own body, in which He as God in flesh was born, died on the cross, was buried, risen, ascended to Heaven, and will return. That is His own body. But there is a body in another sense, we are His body, we, the Church, are His body in another sense. Shall we sit at the communion table and not discern His body, the Church, as well? Fellowship, communion, unity of the faith, that we all may be one in Him as He is one with the Father, we in Him and He in us. Can we rightly sit at the Lord’s Supper without also doing what we can to preserve the unity of the faith? And that not only within our own circles, but also with those with whom we may fundamentally disagree with? Aside from heresy I think we must make the attempt to be charitable towards others, even if in a small or one-sided way wherein we barely acknowledge that they too belong to the Lord though we don’t know how. This means putting denominational bigotry aside, but not abandoning sound principles.

If we would have our “Amen” be true at the Lord’s Supper we cannot forget this aspect of discerning the Lord’s body. If we look intently at the one who is preeminent we may share fellowship in the worship of His person. A fellowship of praise to Jesus. A fellowship that has a single point of expression because of deep doctrinal differences but a fellowship nevertheless.

Discerning the Lord’s body and blood carries us deeply into the mystery of godliness: Jesus, God in the flesh, and it carries us deep into our own lives as well as into the communion of all believers. The cause for self examination, and discernment provided by weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper must be seen as not only that proper preparation to enter onto holy ground (Moses must take off his shoes!), but also as part of the work of God, working within us to both will and to do His good pleasure, which is for us to be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus.

For this reason we can call the Lord’s Supper God’s work, and we should prefer nothing to it.

©FH 2012

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