Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Three Resources on Weekly Communion

Three Resources on Weekly Communion

Here are three papers on this topic written by evangelical scholars from the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition, Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebarger, and David Gordon:

Michael S Horton , “At least Weekly: The Reformed Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper and its Frequent Celebration “

Kim Riddlebarger, “The Reformation of the Supper”

T David Gordon, “Weekly Communion”

I found that Horton raised a number of interesting questions that stimulated my thinking.  Firstly, the question of preparation for receiving the Lord’s Supper.  In both the Scottish and Dutch traditions we have had preparatory services before our infrequently celebrated communion services.  Often these have encouraged a kind of inquisitorial frenzy of self-doubt where Christians have been berated for their lack of true spirituality and progress in sanctification.  Are they really holy enough to come to the Table?

Horton quotes Calvin in opposition to this:

“Certain ones, when they would prepare men to eat worthily, have tortured and harassed pitiable consciences in dire ways; yet they have not brought forth a particle of what would be to the purpose. They said that those who were in the state of grace ate worthily. They interpreted ‘in the state of grace’ to mean to be pure and purged from all sin. Such dogma would debar all the men who ever were or are on earth from the use of this Sacrament [of the Supper]. For if it is a question of our seeking our worthiness in ourselves, we are undone; only ruin and confusion remain to us”

The duty of self-examination, suggests Horton, is more to do with the reality of our faith than the maturity of that faith – do we truly know Christ as Saviour? He declares, “It is inspection, not introspection, for which the Apostle calls in 1 Corinthians 11:27-34.”

Furthermore, “Once more, Holy Communion (like baptism and the preaching) is chiefly an objective affair and it is something that God does for us, not something that we do for God. He does not need our resolution or our memorializing of his Son’s death, but we need to hear again and not only hear but see his resolve and his remembering of his own promise to us individually as his covenant children.”

What is the sin condemned by Paul in 1 Corinthians, and to what does the self-examination refer?  Is self-examination specific, regarding a particular fault found in the celebration of the Supper in Corinth (division and social separation), or is it general, an introspective inquiry regarding our own personal worthiness to come to the Table?  By taking it as the latter “the table of grace became more a table of self-condemnation which has been an obstacle for many to come and experience the fullness of the Lord’s Supper” (Lanuwabang Jamir, “Exclusion and Judgment in Fellowship Meals: The Socio-historical Background of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, 2016) 

Jamir, in his book length in depth study of the context of the call to self examination, forcefully states:

“In the passage  "anazios" (unworthy) beyond all doubt refers to the attitudes and actions of some of the members that has created a party spirit and division .” 

The self-examination, therefore, was primarily of “one’s attitude and motive at the Supper, and then one’s actions towards fellow members in the community.” (Jamir)

Spiritual self-examination is a Christian duty, and no doubt coming to the Lord’s Table does focus that examination, but the context of 1 Corinthians does not suggest that it is a major part of our preparation that we judge of our worthiness and sanctification.  We come to the Table because we need grace; we do not stay away because we are deficient in our Christian growth.

Weekly communion, therefore, does not need to be preceded by a service of preparation and introspective self-examination.  We always need the grace signed and sealed by Christ at the Table and therefore we need to come to enjoy the rich provision Christ makes for us at his table.

A second practical point that Horton makes is “Care should be taken here, as throughout the service, not to be overly didactic and wordy. This is a time for God to act according to his promise, not primarily an opportunity for us to teach.”

Although he makes this point with reference to the call to self-examination it has a wider application.  It is sometimes objected that we cannot have regular or weekly communion because it takes too long.  I generally use the excellent introduction found in the OPC directory of worship which gives a clear explanation of the meaning and purpose of the Lord’s Supper.  However, is it always necessary to give such a protracted explanation?

We do not precede our preaching with a lengthy explanatory statement concerning the meaning and purpose of preaching – we just preach and let the Word do its work.  There is an argument to be made for a shorter form of Communion, without the full explanatory preface.  Perhaps the longer form could be used occasionally to make sure that we know what we are doing and why, but a shorter form be used more often – just administer the sacrament and let grace do its work.

An alternative suggestion is to include a regular explanatory word in the bulletin – quotations from our confessional documents, (the Larger Catechism!), and the confessional statements of Reformed orthodoxy throughout the ages, and the writings of Reformed theologians.  A steady flow of such didactic material would do much to educate our congregations on the true biblical and Reformed understanding of the Lord’s Supper, while enabling the service to flow naturally from Word to Sacrament.

I do encourage a thoughtful and prayerful reading of these three papers and welcome any suggestions stimulated by them.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Fencing the Table and Prayer at the Lord’s Supper

Fencing the Table and Prayer at the Lord’s Supper

As we come to the Lord’s Table tomorrow I thought it beneficial to share some aspects of the service.

Firstly there is the “fencing” of the Table.  Too often this becomes a harsh diatribe detailing those who are forbidden to come.  In the Free Church of Scotland our problem is not so much excluding those who should not come but encouraging those who should come and do not do so. I have used traditional Presbyterian sources, but reworked the language a little.

 Secondly, I have appended the prayers before and after the distribution of the bread and wine which are found in Knox’s Book of Common Order.  I have not updated the language but simply include them as models and examples.

Fencing and Invitation:

“God’s Word tells us that before we come to the Lord’s Table we are to examine ourselves – that it is an ordinance for those who know Christ as Saviour and follow him as Lord.  It is not to be approached by those who do not profess Christ nor by those whose lives disown Christ. It is an open table for all who truly know Christ and belong to his Church and I invite all who are baptized, who have professed faith and who belong to any biblical church to join with us at this Table.

Examine your own consciences, therefore, to know whether you truly repent of your sins, and whether, trusting in God's mercy, and seeking your whole salvation in Jesus Christ, you are resolved to follow holiness, and to live in peace and charity with all men.

If you have this testimony in your hearts before God, I announce and declare that your sins are forgiven through the perfect merit of Jesus Christ our Lord; and I invite you, in His name, to His holy Table.

And although you feel that you have not perfect faith, and do not serve God with such zeal as you ought, but have to fight daily against the temptations of your fallen nature; yet if, by God's grace, you are heartily sorry for these weaknesses, and earnestly desire to withstand all unbelief, and to keep all His commandments, be assured that your remaining sins and infirmities do not prevent you from being received by God in mercy, and so made worthy partakers of this heavenly food.

We do not come to this Supper as righteous in ourselves, but we come to seek our life in Christ, acknowledging that we lie in the midst of death. Let us, then, look upon this Sacrament as a remedy for those who are spiritually weak, and consider that the worthiness our Lord requires of us is, that we be truly sorry for our sins, and find our joy and salvation in Him. United with Him who is holy, even our Lord Jesus Christ, we are accepted by the Father, and invited to partake of these holy things which are for his true children.”

Knox’s Prayer before Communion:

O FATHER of mercy, and God of all consolation, seeing all creatures do acknow-ledge and confess Thee as Governor and Lord, it becometh us, the workmanship of Thine own hands, at all times to reverence and magnify Thy godly Majesty, first, for that Thou hast created us to Thine own image and similitude, but chiefly because Thou hast delivered us from that everlasting death and damnation into the which Satan drew mankind, by the mean of sin," from the bondage whereof neither man nor angel was able to make us free,but Thou, O Lord, rich in mercy, and infinite in goodness, hast provided our redemption to stand in Thine only and well beloved Son, whom of very love Thou didst give to be made Man like unto us, in all things, sin except, that in His body He might receive the punishment of our transgression. by His death to make satisfaction to Thy justice,  and by His resurrection to destroy him that was author of death," and so to bring again life to the world, from which all the whole offspring of Adam most justly was exiled.

O Lord, we acknowledge that no creature is able to comprehend the length and breadth, the deepness and height of that Thy most excellent love, which moved Thee to show mercy where none was deserved to promise and give life where death had gotten the victory, to receive us into Thy grace when we could do nothing but rebel against Thy justice.

O Lord, the blind dulness of our corrupt nature will not suffer us sufficiently to weigh those Thy most ample benefits yet, nevertheless, at the commandment of Jesus Christ our Lord, we present ourselves to this His Table, which He hath left to be used in re- membrance of His death, until His coming again, to declare and witness before the world, that by Him alone we have received liberty and life, that by Him alone Thou dost acknowledge us Thy children and heirs, that by Him alone we have entrance to the throne of Thy grace,  that by Him alone we are possessed in our spiritual Kingdom, to eat and drink at His Table, with whom we have our conversation presently in heaven, and by whom our bodies shall be raised up again from the dust, l and shall be placed with Him in that endless joy, which Thou, O Father of mercy, hast prepared for Thine Elect before the foundation of the world was laid. And these most inestimable benefits we acknowledge and confess to have received of Thy free mercy and grace, by thine only beloved Son Jesus Christ, for the which therefore, we Thy congregation, moved by Thy Holy Spirit render Thee all thanks, praise, and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Knox’s Prayer after Communion:

MOST merciful Father, we render to Thee all praise, thanks, and glory, for that it hath pleased Thee of Thy great mercies to grant unto us, miserable sinners, so excellent a gift and treasure, as to receive us into the fellowship and company of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ our Lord, whom Thou deliveredst to death for us, and hast given Him unto us as a necessary food and nourishment unto everlasting life. And now we beseech Thee also, O heavenly Father, to grant us this request, that Thou never suffer us to become so unkind as to forget so worthy benefits, but rather imprint and fasten them sure in our hearts, that we may grow and increase daily more and more in true faith, t which continually is exercised in all manner of good works, and so much the rather, O Lord, confirm us in these perilous days and rages of Satan, that we may constantly stand and continue in the confession of the same, to the advancement of Thy glory, who art God over all things, blessed for ever. So be it.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Clear Talking

Clear Talking

I had not read this before, but here is the papal decree, (or at least part of it), excommunicating Martin Luther and any who follow his teaching.  Well, at least the Pope makes clear he does not approve of evangelical, biblical theology.  As far as I am aware this papal bull has never been rescinded:

Decet Romanum Pontificem

Papal Bull on the Condemnation and Excommunication of Martin Luther, the Heretic, and his Followers, January 3, 1521.


Through the power given him from God, the Roman Pontiff has been appointed to administer spiritual and temporal punishments as each case severally deserves. The purpose of this is the repression of the wicked designs of misguided men, who have been so captivated by the debased impulse of their evil purposes as to forget the fear of the Lord, to set aside with contempt canonical decrees and apostolic commandments, and to dare to formulate new and false dogmas and to introduce the evil of schism into the Church of God—or to support, help and adhere to such schismatics, who make it their business to cleave asunder the seamless robe of our Redeemer and the unity of the orthodox faith. Hence it befits the Pontiff, lest the vessel of Peter appear to sail without pilot or oarsman, to take severe measures against such men and their followers, and by multiplying punitive measures and by other suitable remedies to see to it that these same overbearing men, devoted as they are to purposes of evil, along with their adherents, should not deceive the multitude of the simple by their lies and their deceitful devices, nor drag them along to share their own error and ruination, contaminating them with what amounts to a contagious disease. 

It also befits the Pontiff, having condemned the schismatics, to ensure their still greater confounding by publicly showing and openly declaring to all faithful Christians how formidable are the censures and punishments to which such guilt can lead; to the end that by such public declaration they themselves may return, in confusion and remorse, to their true selves, making an unqualified withdrawal from the prohibited conversation, fellowship and (above all) obedience to such accursed excommunicates; by this means they may escape divine vengeance and any degree of participation in their damnation.

I  [Here the Pope recounts his previous Bull Exsurge Domine and continues]

II We have been informed that after this previous missive had been exhibited in public and the interval or intervals it prescribed had elapsed [60 days]—and we hereby give solemn notice to all faithful Christians that these intervals have and are elapsed—many of those who had followed the errors of Martin took cognisance of our missive and its warnings and injunctions; the spirit of a saner counsel brought them back to themselves, they confessed their errors and abjured the heresy at our instance, and by returning to the true Catholic faith obtained the blessing of absolution with which the self-same messengers had been empowered; and in several states and localities of the said Germany the books and writings of the said Martin were publicly burned, as we had enjoined.

Nevertheless Martin himself—and it gives us grievous sorrow and perplexity to say this—the slave of a depraved mind, has scorned to revoke his errors within the prescribed interval and to send us word of such revocation, or to come to us himself; nay, like a stone of stumbling, he has feared not to write and preach worse things than before against us and this Holy See and the Catholic faith, and to lead others on to do the same.

He has now been declared a heretic; and so also others, whatever their authority and rank, who have cared nought of their own salvation but publicly and in all men's eyes become followers of Martin's pernicious and heretical sect, and given him openly and publicly their help, counsel and favour, encouraging him in their midst in his disobedience and obstinacy, or hindering the publication of our said missive: such men have incurred the punishments set out in that missive, and are to be treated rightfully as heretics and avoided by all faithful Christians, as the Apostle says (Titus iii. 10-11).

III. Our purpose is that such men should rightfully be ranked with Martin and other accursed heretics and excommunicates, and that even as they have ranged themselves with the obstinacy in sinning of the said Martin, they shall likewise share his punishments and his name, by bearing with them everywhere the title "Lutheran" and the punishments it incurs.

Our previous instructions were so clear and so effectively publicised and we shall adhere so strictly to our present decrees and declarations, that they will lack no proof, warning or citation.
Our decrees which follow are passed against Martin and others who follow him in the obstinacy of his depraved and damnable purpose, as also against those who defend and protect him with a military bodyguard, and do not fear to support him with their own resources or in any other way, and have and do presume to offer and afford help, counsel and favour toward him. All their names, surnames and rank—however lofty and dazzling their dignity may be—we wish to be taken as included in these decrees with the same effect as if they were individually listed and could be so listed in their publication, which must be furthered with an energy to match their contents.

On all these we decree the sentences of excommunication, of anathema, of our perpetual condemnation and interdict; of privation of dignities, honours and property on them and their descendants, and of declared unfitness for such possessions; of the confiscation of their goods and of the crime of treason; and these and the other sentences, censures and punishments which are inflicted by canon law on heretics and are set out in our aforesaid missive, we decree to have fallen on all these men to their damnation.

IV We add to our present declaration, by our Apostolic authority, that states, territories, camps, towns and places in which these men have temporarily lived or chanced to visit, along with their possessions—cities which house cathedrals and metropolitans, monasteries and other religious and sacred places, privileged or unprivileged—one and all are placed under our ecclesiastical interdict, while this interdict lasts, no pretext of Apostolic Indulgence (except in cases the law allows, and even there, as it were, with the doors shut and those under excommunication and interdict excluded) shall avail to allow the celebration of mass and the other divine offices. We prescribe and enjoin that the men in question are everywhere to be denounced publicly as excommunicated, accursed, condemned, interdicted, deprived of possessions and incapable of owning them. They are to be strictly shunned by all faithful Christians.

V  We would make known to all the small store that Martin, his followers and the other rebels have set on God and his Church by their obstinate and shameless temerity. We would protect the herd from one infectious animal, lest its infection spread to the healthy ones. Hence we lay the following injunction on each and every patriarch, archbishop, bishop, on the prelates of patriarchal, metropolitan, cathedral and collegiate churches, and on the religious of every Order—even the mendicants—privileged or unprivileged, wherever they may be stationed: that in the strength of their vow of obedience and on pain of the sentence of excommunication, they shall, if so required in the execution of these presents, publicly announce and cause to be announced by others in their churches, that this same Martin and the rest are excommunicate, accursed, condemned, heretics, hardened, interdicted, deprived of possessions and incapable of owning them, and so listed in the enforcement of these presents. Three days will be given: we pronounce canonical warning and allow one day's notice on the first, another on the second, but on the third peremptory and final execution of our order. This shall take place on a Sunday or some other festival, when a large congregation assembles for worship. The banner of the cross shall be raised, the bells rung, the candles lit and after a time extinguished, cast on the ground and trampled under foot, and the stones shall be cast forth three times, and the other ceremonies observed which are usual in such cases. The faithful Christians, one and all, shall be enjoined strictly to shun these men.

We would occasion still greater confounding on the said Martin and the other heretics we have mentioned, and on their adherents, followers and partisans: hence, on the strength of their vow of obedience we enjoin each and every patriarch, archbishop and all other prelates, that even as they were appointed on the authority of Jerome to allay schisms, so now in the present crisis, as their office obliges them, they shall make themselves a wall of defence for their Christian people. They shall not keep silence like dumb dogs that cannot bark, but incessantly cry and lift up their voice, preaching and causing to be preached the word of God and the truth of the Catholic faith against the damnable articles and heretics aforesaid.