Dear Church Family,
In our ongoing chapter-by-chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith in the adult Sunday school class, we have examined the sacraments in general (chapter 27, “Of the Sacraments”), the sacrament of baptism (chapter 28, “Of Baptism”) and this past Sunday we examined the sacrament of the Lord’s supper (chapter 29, “Of the Lord’s Supper”).
WCF 29.1 – The Definition and Purpose of the Lord’s Supper
Looking to the teaching of the Apostle Paul on the Lord’s supper (1 Corinthians 10:16-21; 11:23-26; 12:13), this rite of the church is defined as “the sacrament of His [Jesus’] body and blood” which is to be observed in His Church unto the end of the world. The purposes of the Lord’s supper are several: (1) the perpetual remembrance of Jesus’ sacrificial death; (2) sealing all the benefits of Jesus’ sacrificial death to true believers; (3) the true believer’s spiritual nourishment and growth; (4) the true believer’s further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; (5) the true believer’s bond and pledge of their communion with Jesus, and each other, as members of His mystical body.
The confession’s emphasis on how these benefits of the Lord’s supper are only for true believer’s is a reminder that the sacraments are ‘sanctificational.’ That is to say, both baptism and the Lord’s supper are means by which God grows His people in grace and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
WCF 29.2 – What the Lord’s Supper is not
This paragraph of the confession is a refutation of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) concerning the sacrificial nature of the Lord’s supper. According to the teaching of the RCC, the Lord’s supper, or eucharist is “a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1366).
However, the Bible teaches that Christ offered up Himself once for all for the sins of the people (Hebrews 7:26-27); no other sacrifice is needed. Thus, the Lord’s supper is not a sacrifice, but a commemoration of Jesus’ one true sacrifice on the cross of Calvary.
WCF 29.3 – By Whom and For Whom
In our previous discussion of the sacrament of baptism, we noted how baptism is to be administered only by lawfully called ministers of the gospel. The same is true of the Lord’s supper. Thus, the Lord’s ministers are to: (1) declare the words of institution (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26); (2) pray and bless the elements, setting them apart from a common to a holy use (Matthew 26:26-28); (3) and distribute the elements only to those who are present (Acts 20:7).
In times past, the church has sometimes administered private communion to the wealthy or royalty, thus fostering a sort of elitism; something which the Bible explicitly condemns (1 Corinthians 11:17-22; James 2:1-5). So, the sacrament of the Lord’s supper should be taken together in the church, as one body communing together. Yet, what about those who are homebound by illness? Chad Van Dixhoorn wisely advises that these members of the church ought not to be forgotten: “There may be some cases where a pastor will find it wise to minister to the infirm by bringing bread, wine, and a part of the leadership and membership of the church, to celebrate the supper within the context of a special, small (and usually brief) worship service.” (Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith, 391).
WCF 29.4 – Abuses against the nature of the Lord’s Supper
In this paragraph, the confession condemns three abuses of the Lord’s supper that are all contrary to the nature of the sacrament. These are three things that are commonplace in the practice of the Roman Catholic Church: (1) the private administration of the Lords supper by a priest, or any other, alone; (2) denying the cup to the people; (3) worshipping the elements of the bread and wine.
Thus, the spirituality of the Lord’s supper should be emphasized:
It is important that the communion service be conducted with simplicity and dignity. Care should be taken that no rituals or movements be added to the service that distract attention from the administration of the bread and the cup. The minister should face the congregation from behind the table, the host should not be elevated or adored, the bread and not wafer should be used, and the elders should serve the people at tables or in pews. Anything that implies change in the substance of the elements should be avoided. Only actions that reinforce the spirituality of the Supper should occur. (Terry Johnson, Leading in Worship, 18).
WCF 29.5 – Sacramental Union in Scripture
“The fifth paragraph of this chapter offers a condensed reader’s guide to the sacramental sections of the Bible…It is designed to explain the vivid language used in Scripture to describe the Lord’s supper…” (Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith, 393). Because of the sacramental connection between the sign and the thing signified, sometimes in Scripture the elements are called ‘the body and blood of Christ’ though the elements do not actually change (Matthew 26:26-29; 1 Corinthians 11:26-28).
WCF 29.6 – Transubstantiation Refuted
Paragraph six of this chapter is a refutation of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church known as ‘transubstantiation.’ This doctrine is defined as follows: “by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1376).
To maintain such a doctrine, however, is repugnant to Scripture, common sense, and reason. Ultimately, transubstantiation entails the practice of idolatry, worshipping and honoring those things which are not God (Exodus 20:4-6; 1 Corinthians 11:24-26; Luke 24:6).
WCF 29.7 – “Real Presence” Refuted & the “Spiritual Presence” of Christ Upheld
Paragraph seven of this chapter is a refutation of the teaching known as ‘consubstantiation’ (the idea that Christ is physically present in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine), as well other views known as the “real presence” of Christ. That is to say, Christ is not physically present in any way in the Lord’s supper. Rather, when worthy receivers (true believers) partake of the physical elements, they spiritually feed upon Christ crucified, who is spiritually present to the faith of believers (1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:28).
WCF 29.8 – Fencing the Table
The Apostle Paul warns that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27). Thus, those who are “ignorant and wicked” (who have not professed faith in Christ and seek to follow Him) should be warned that they will receive no spiritual benefit from the Lord’s supper, but in fact will eat and drink to their own damnation.
This practice of warning and denying admittance to the Lord’s supper to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 5:6-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15) is often referred to as “fencing the table.” Traditionally, there have been three different practices of fencing the table in the history of the church and across denominations:
(1) “Open” communion – anyone who professes faith in Christ may partake of the Lord’s supper, regardless of their church membership.
(2) “Close” or “Guarded” communion – only those who are members of a particular kind of church may partake of the Lord’s supper.
(3) “Closed” communion – only those who are members of that local church or denomination may partake of the Lord’s supper.
In the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), according to our standards (BCO 58-4), churches may practice either “close” or “closed” communion. At Providence Presbyterian Church, we practice “close” communion in our fencing of the table: we invite all those who are members in good standing of a Bible-believing, evangelical church to partake with us.
At the end of our lesson on Sunday, someone asked a question about the frequency of the Lord’s supper; specifically, why does our church partake of this sacrament every Sunday. Briefly summarized, there are four basic reasons for our weekly partaking of the Lord’s supper: (1) Biblically, it seems that this was the practice of the early church (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7); (2) Historically, this was the practice of the Church for many centuries; (3) Worshipfully, the Lord’s supper functions as an important element in the covenant renewal aspect of our worship service; (4) Practically, the Lord’s supper is a constant reminder of our separateness from the world and an implicit (and often explicit) exhortation for unbelievers to trust in Christ for their salvation.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch