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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:Confess and Celebrate the Lord's Supper According to the Command of Christ
Text:LD 30 (View)
Occasion:Lord's Supper
Topic:Lord's Supper
 
Preached:2005
Added:2006-07-11
Updated:2008-01-01
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 5

Hymn 1A

Hymn 33

Psalm 85

Psalm 98

Readings: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Hebrews 10:1-18

Text: Lord's Day 30

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ our Lord,

It’s a good idea to know why we’re called Reformed churches. I would often get asked that question as a missionary in Fort Babine. I would always tell people that it just means “Back to the Bible.” And I still believe that’s a good answer. That’s because the Reformation of the 16th century was about getting back to what the Bible teaches. And one of the central points of the Great Reformation was to get back to what the Bible teaches about worship. One thing that nobody would argue about is that the Lord’s Supper is part of our worship. But how people think about that Lord’s Supper and how people do it has always been a serious bone of contention. The Reformers argued that we have to get back to what the Bible teaches about this sacrament. There were two fronts that they had to deal with. On one front, there were the Roman Catholics with the mass. On the other front, there were those who thought that just about anybody could and should be admitted to the Lord’s Supper. Lord’s Day 30 addresses both these fronts. So, I preach to you God’s Word, summarized in the Catechism, with this theme:

We confess and celebrate the Lord’s Supper according to the command of Christ and his apostles.
This results in a great difference:
  1. Between the Lord’s Supper and the Roman Catholic mass
  2. Between worthy and unworthy partakers.
1. Following Christ’s command results in a difference between the Lord’s Supper and the Roman Catholic mass.

When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s passover, and it is made present: the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present. As often as the sacrifice of the cross, by which ‘Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed’ is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out.” That’s a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It’s another way of saying that there is no forgiveness of sins unless Christ is still offered in the mass. Every time there is a mass, the priest is making another sacrifice of Jesus Christ, “the work of our redemption is carried out.

We confess that this is a denial of the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, accomplished on the cross once for all. Because, even though the Roman Catholics say that the mass is one and the same with Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, they cannot get away from the fact that it is repeated over and over again. They cannot get away from having to repeat it over and over again. It is a sacrifice and that’s why the one who offers it is a priest.

In the end, this is a denial of the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ. When we read Hebrews 10, it’s almost as if the author of Hebrews were writing in the context of Roman Catholicism. He compares priests who repeatedly offer sacrifices with our great High Priest Jesus Christ, who made the one sacrifice and then sat down at the right hand of God. His having sat down meant that his sacrificial work was completely done. Never to be repeated in any way. And then in verse 14, it says that “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Notice the language used there: “he has made perfect.” It’s finished.

We once had an ex-Roman Catholic priest come and speak to our mission congregation in Fort Babine. He’d been converted during mass while reading Hebrews 10. As he read Hebrews 10 to his Roman Catholic congregation, the light suddenly came on and then he said, “You can all go home now. We don’t need to go any further. It’s all been finished. I’m fired!” This same ex-priest gave a good explanation of why the Roman Catholic idea of the mass is all wrong. He compared it to going to a restaurant with a group of friends. You sit down with your friends and you enjoy a good meal together. At the end of the meal, the waiter brings the bill. You, being the good friend that you are, you pay for the meal for all your friends. But now as they’re all going out, the waiter stops them and tries to get each one to pay for his meal – all over again, even though you had paid it for them all. That’s what’s happening in the mass. Jesus Christ paid once for all on Golgotha 2000 years ago. The mass says, no, it’s got to be paid for again, and not just once, but over and over. In this way, it’s definitely a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of our Lord Jesus.

But it’s more than that: we also confess it to be an accursed idolatry. Lord’s Day 29 addresses the Roman Catholic idea of transubstantiation. That’s the idea that the bread and wine in some way turn into the real body and blood of the Lord Jesus. Well, listen to what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on that point: “In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord. The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in Procession.” Sometimes the Catechism of the Catholic Church will have a Bible text to support some teaching. In this instance, there is a reference to a papal encyclical or teaching letter of Pope Paul VI.

The point is that what the Heidelberg Catechism says about the Roman Catholic teaching here is true. They do teach that “Christ is bodily present in the form of bread and wine and there is to be worshipped.” The problem is that this goes directly against the second commandment. We confess in Lord’s Day 35 that we may not use images (or anything like them) in order to serve God through them. Somebody once said that the Roman Catholic Church is the religion of the eyes. Everything is focussed on what you can see. In contrast, Biblical religion is more a religion of the ears. It’s more focussed on the Word. Sure, we have the sacraments too, but there we try to follow carefully the commands of Christ and his apostles in the Word.

And that brings us to the positive point of how rich we are with the Lord’s Supper. When we confess and celebrate the Lord’s Supper according to the command of Christ and his apostles, we rejoice in the completed work of Christ. In the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, we hear that “we have complete forgiveness of all our sins through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which he himself accomplished on the cross once for all.” There don’t have to be any doubts or questions. We can have assurance, knowing that all our sins are washed away. We can know for sure that when our time comes, we will be received straight into glory with the Lord. There’ll be no purgatory, no hellish waiting room where we have to still get cleaned from our sins. No, the Lord’s Supper tells us that it’s all been done for us. This is the gospel of grace!

The Lord’s Supper also tells us that we are grafted into Christ. Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we’re reminded that we are in Christ, that we are his body. We’re also reminded this he is in heaven and that he’s there for our benefit until he comes back. So, when we worship him, we worship the ascended Christ who is sitting at the right hand of the Father.

The Lord’s Supper is rich because it tells us of a Saviour who’s done his work for us. Such a Saviour deserves our worship and adoration in the way that Scripture commands such worship. That means we don’t add or take away from what the Bible says. That means we, like the Form says, “lift our hearts on high in heaven, where Christ, our advocate is, at the right hand of his heavenly Father.” The bread and wine are not the body and blood of Christ, so we don’t cling to these outward symbols. Instead, our worship is directed upwards to the real Christ.

Now let’s consider how following the command of Christ and his apostles makes for a difference in who partakes of the sacrament.

2. Following Christ’s command results in a difference between worthy and unworthy partakers.

We heard in the introduction that during the time of the Reformation there was pressure to admit just about anybody to the Lord’s Supper. After all, before the Reformation just about any good white (non-Jewish) European could take part in communion in the Roman Catholic Church. But after the Reformation things changed. But there were some who joined the Reformed churches who weren’t very happy about a stricter celebration of the sacrament.

One of these people was Philibert Berthelier. Berthelier lived in 16th century Geneva, during the time that John Calvin was doing his pastoral work there. He was known as a free-thinker, one who would go outside the bounds of accepted Christian faith and practice. He was an outspoken lawyer and a well-known alcoholic. Berthelier had been excommunicated because of his beliefs and lifestyle, for instance drunkenly chasing pastors around the city. At that time in Geneva, the City Council was responsible for oversight and discipline in the church. Calvin and the other Genevan pastors were not happy with that – they strongly believed that oversight and discipline belong to the consistory. Through some politicking and lobbying, Berthelier was able to get the City Council to admit him again to the Lord’s Supper, even though he had not shown any signs of repentance. What happened next was unbelievable.

The next Sunday, Calvin was administering the Lord’s Supper in St. Peter’s Church in Geneva. At the end of the sermon before the celebration of the sacrament, Calvin stated, “I will die sooner than have this hand stretch forth the sacred things of the Lord to those who have been judged despisers.” Right after Calvin said this, a crowd of Berthelier’s supporters surged forward to the table. Calvin, descending from the pulpit, stood before the table. One of Berthelier’s supporters took out his sword, waved it at Calvin and cried, ‘Administer communion to us or you will die.’ Calvin told them that they might cut off his arms, shed his blood, and take his life, but they would never force him to give holy things to the profane and dishonour the table of his God. The congregation was stunned, and a long silence followed the dramatic moment. One of Berthelier’s friends quietly advised him not to approach the table – and he didn’t. The Lord’s Supper was celebrated in peace and in the afternoon service, Calvin preached a farewell sermon because he thought for sure that he’d be kicked out of Geneva again. However, it didn’t happen and Calvin went on to serve in Geneva for another 10 years or so.

That’s a great story out of church history and it illustrates the background to what our Catechism is saying in the last two questions and answers of Lord’s Day 30. You see, there was a struggle in the time of the Reformation about who could come to the Lord’s Supper. Some wanted a very open table, others wanted it closely supervised by the consistory.

The issue can only be resolved by going back to the Bible. That’s where the Catechism brings us. The first question puts it in the positive: who can come to the table of the Lord? In other words, what do worthy partakers of the body and blood of the Lord look like? The answer is based on the teaching of 1 Corinthians 11 and focuses on what goes on in the hearts of believers. The Catechism recognizes the reality that we all sin. Sometimes, as we confess in the fifth chapter of the Canons of Dort, sometimes we even commit serious sins. But believers repent from their sins. They have a change of mind and turn back to God. They are not happy with themselves because of what they’ve done. But yet, they don’t get stuck on that. Worthy partakers of the Lord’s Supper hold on to Jesus Christ, they hold on to his suffering and death. They trust that the suffering and death of Christ are enough to forgive their sins and cover whatever weaknesses are still in them. These worthy partakers also want to see their faith get stronger. They want to make progress in holiness.

In other words, worthy partakers of the Lord’s Supper are simply true believers in Christ. They are not worthy in themselves. They have been made worthy because of Christ. They are accepted at the Lord’s Supper because they are in Christ.

Whenever we read the Form for Lord’s Supper, we always come to that so-called catalogue of sins. There’s potential for misunderstanding there if we’re not listening carefully. First of all, the Form speaks about those who know themselves to be guilty of the following offensive sins, and then it goes on to list them. If you have done these sins and you have repented, then you are no longer guilty. Your guilt has been washed away by the blood of Christ. Also, after the catalogue gets read off, there is a line which reads, “While they persist in their sins, they shall not take of this food…” The words “persist in sin” are the key to understanding what makes the difference between a worthy and unworthy partaker. If we go on living in sin, never repenting, never turning, the Lord’s Supper will only lead to judgment for us. Worthy partakers are simply repentant believers.

So these unworthy partakers, they’re simply the opposite of those we’ve just been talking about. Those who show by what they say and the way they live that they’re unbelieving and ungodly have no place at the Lord’s Supper. This much is clear in what we read from 1 Corinthians 11. Paul says that there are those who eat the bread and drink the cup in an unworthy manner. They will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. In other words, unworthy partakers are bringing great danger to themselves. They are slapping the Son of God in the face – the words of Hebrews 10:29-31 apply: “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “the Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” So, it’s dangerous for the individual person to be an unworthy partaker. Our Catechism captures that when it says that “hypocrites and those who do not repent eat and drink judgment upon themselves.”

But it’s also dangerous for the rest of the congregation. The Catechism says that “the covenant of God would be profaned and His wrath kindled against the whole congregation.” We see a vivid example of this in 1 Corinthians 11. In verse 30 the Spirit says that the Corinthians were profaning the Lord’s Supper and this is the reason why many among them were weak and sick, and why a number of people had even died. It wasn’t necessarily that the ones who were weak and sick had sinned in this way. It wasn’t necessarily that the ones who had died had been unworthy partakers in the Lord’s Supper. The sacrament had been profaned by certain individuals and then the rest of the congregation suffered for it.

Do we think that this could not happen today? Why not? The Lord always works covenantally with his people – he will still chastise and discipline his people today if necessary. This is never pleasant and we would rather avoid it. And this is a good reason why this church follows the command of Christ in keeping the Lord’s Supper under the supervision of the elders. When Christ instituted the sacrament, he instituted it for believers. Christ also led his Church to appoint officebearers who would be overseers or elders – these men would be the ones to ensure that Christ’s commands are followed in the church. So, for the sake of the congregation, but more importantly because we value what Christ has done for us, the officebearers do not allow just anybody to take part in the Lord’s Supper. Whether or not somebody will come to the Lord’s Supper is not just something for the individual to decide – it’s a decision that has an impact on the whole congregation and that’s why the elders are involved.

In this congregation, there are different ways that people are admitted to the Lord’s Supper. The normal way is that you are examined by the elders, make public profession of faith and are then admitted. But you can also come to our congregation with an attestation from a sister congregation, normally a piece of paper from the consistory which states that you are a member in good standing and not under discipline. By these means, the holiness of the sacrament is protected and so is the congregation.

The Lord’s Supper has been given to the church by our Lord Jesus. He gave it because he knows that we are weak. He knows that we need something beyond the Word to confirm and strengthen us in our faith. So, out of his compassion for us, he gives us these physical signs and seals to point us to himself. And that’s what it’s all about: more and more lifting our hearts up to Christ. That’s what’s at stake with our striving for a Biblical celebration of the sacrament: we don’t want to find that we have missed out on Christ. Without him, we are lost. But with him, we are rich, eternally blessed as heirs of the kingdom of God. With him, we look forward to the marriage feast of the Lamb when we will begin the celebration of God’s love that will last forever. AMEN.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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