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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Confess and celebrate the Lord's Supper following Christ and the apostles
Text:LD 30 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Lord's Supper
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-12-13
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 7

Hymn 42

Psalm 85

Hymn 1

Psalm 98

Scripture readings:  1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Hebrews 10:1-18

Catechism lesson: 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,

We just read from the Heidelberg Catechism.  The Catechism was written in 1563, during the Reformation.  One of the central points of the Reformation in the 1500s was to get back to what the Bible teaches about worship.  One thing that nobody argued 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 following Christ and the apostles.

We’ll learn how this results in a great difference:

  1. Between the Lord’s Supper and the Roman Catholic mass
  2. Between worthy and unworthy partakers.

We have our Heidelberg Catechism.  Presbyterian churches have their Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms.  But Reformed and Presbyterian churches are not the only ones who have catechisms.  The Roman Catholic Church also has its catechism and in the Catholic Catechism we read this:  “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 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 the mass is one and the same with Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, they can’t get away from the fact that it’s repeated over and over again.  They can’t get away from having to repeat it over and over again.  It’s a sacrifice and that’s why the one who offers it is a priest.  It’s a sacrifice and that’s why every Roman Catholic church building has an altar.  Altars are for sacrifices. 

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 was 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 “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”  Notice the language used there:  “he has perfected.”  It’s finished.

Someone once compared the Roman Catholic idea of the mass 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 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.  But the mass says, no, it has 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 Roman Catholic Catechism 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.  

What the Heidelberg Catechism says about the Roman Catholic teaching here is true.  It’s important we realize this because in the last few years QA 80 has been under scrutiny.  After some years of study and discussion, the Christian Reformed Church in North America decided in 2006 that the words of the Catechism in this place “do not accurately reflect the teaching and practice of today’s Roman Catholic Church and are no longer confessionally binding.” 

However, if you look at the Catholic Catechism, the Roman Catholic Church of today continues to 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.

That brings us to the positive point of how rich we are with the biblical 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 all our sins are washed away.  We can know for sure that when our time comes, we’ll be received straight into glory with the Lord.  There’ll be no purgatory, no hellish waiting room where we have to still get cleansed from our sins.  No, the Lord’s Supper tells us it’s all been done for us.  This is the gospel of grace.  This is real comfort. 

The Lord’s Supper also assures us that we’re grafted into Christ.  Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we’re assured that we are in Christ, that we’re united to him, that we have the closest communion with him.  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 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 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. 

I mentioned 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.  Already in the days of Calvin, there was a struggle about who could come to the Lord’s Supper.  Some wanted an 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 our 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.  Our 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’re 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 don’t want the status quo for their spiritual lives.  Instead, they want to make progress in holiness. 

In other words, worthy partakers of the Lord’s Supper are simply Christians.  Worthy partakers are simply true believers in Christ.  They’re not worthy in themselves.  But they’ve been made worthy because of Christ.  They are accepted at the Lord’s Supper because they are in Christ, grafted into him by grace. 

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.  Listen carefully:  if you’ve done any of these sins and you’ve repented, then you’re no longer guilty.  Your guilt has been washed away by the blood of Christ.  Also, after the catalogue gets read off, there’s a line in the form 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.  That 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’ll be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  In other words, unworthy partakers are bringing great danger to themselves.  They’re 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.  Our Catechism says that “the covenant of God would be profaned and his wrath kindled against the whole congregation.”  We see a vivid example of that in 1 Corinthians 11.  In verse 30 the Holy 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.  Just like in the Old Testment, when Achan stole the treasures from Jericho, and the whole congregation of Israelites experienced God’s judgment.  Or think of David’s census in 2 Samuel 24.  Because of David’s sin, 70,000 Israelites died from a pestilence.  The actions of individuals have an impact on the whole church.        

Do we think that this couldn’t happen today?  Why not?   God always works covenantally with his people – he did that in the Old Testament, he did that in the New Testament.   God will still chastise and discipline his people today if necessary.  This is never pleasant and we’d 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 office bearers who would be overseers or elders – these men would be the ones to ensure 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 elders don’t 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 need to be involved. 

There are different ways people are admitted to the Lord’s Supper in our church.  The most common way is that you’re born and raised in the church, you go to catechism, do a pre-confession class.  Then you’re 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’re a communicant 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 we’re weak.  He knows 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’ve 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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