ARTICLES OF FAITH #13: "THE LORD'S SUPPER" by Dr. Henry Spaulding
Article XIII - The Lord's Supper
17. We believe that the Memorial and Communion Supper instituted by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is essentially a New Testament sacrament, declarative of His sacrificial death, through the merits of which believers have life and salvation and promise of all spiritual blessings in Christ. It is distinctively for those who are prepared for reverent appreciation of its significance, and by it they show forth the Lord's death till He come again. It being the Communion feast, only those who have faith in Christ and love for the saints should be called to participate therein.
Exodus 12:1-14; Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; John 6:28-58; 1 Corinthians 10:14-21; 11:23-32
Article XIII affirms regarding the Lord's Supper:
· It is an essential New Testament sacrament
· The sacrament declares the sacrificial death of Christ (through which believers have new life)
· It is for those who are prepared for reverent appreciation
· It is the way the believer shows forth the Lord's death until he comes again
· It is only for those who have faith in Christ
Article XIII has received considerably less attention in the Church of the Nazarene when compared to the debate on Article X and perhaps even Article IV. Partly, this is the case because we have not really practiced the sacrament regularly. Too often when we do take the sacrament it is little more than an add on or insert into worship. Perhaps, the main reason for this has been the fear of being too formal or liturgical. There are probably other reasons for the lack of emphasis upon the Eucharist in the history of the Church of the Nazarene. For example, an emphasis upon the Lord's Supper might require that we conceive of heart holiness in a fundamentally different way. We would need to think of holiness as less a single event than a lifestyle defined by practices larger than our willing. The focus would be less on the moment and more on the quality of life emerging from the practices of the Christian faith. This does not to suggest that we need to de-emphasize the moment, but it does infer that holiness is more than "a" moment.
The seeming lack of interest in Article XIII coupled with the fear of being too liturgical has resulted in little reflection on communion.
H. Ray Dunning in Grace, Faith and Holiness begins his treatment of the "means of grace" with the qualification that he intends "to understand the mediating position of Wesley on the sacraments, a position that follows the Church of England" . He goes on later in the same chapter to talk about three ways in which the sacrament of the Lord's Supper has been conceptualized: atonement remembered, atonement applied, and pledge of Glory to come [557-562]. Dunning admits that Wesley also talks about it as sacrifice .
Beyond this small reflection Dunning has little to say about the practice that Wesley terms a constant duty. J. Kenneth Grider in his A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology spends only thirty-six pages of his 549 on the sacraments of which only seven specifically deal with the Lord's Supper. This is strange in light of Grider's own comment, "To receive the Lord's Supper is a most important way by which a Christian believer grows in grace" . From the work of the two prominent theologians in the Church of the Nazarene one can easily conclude that much work is left to be done before we can truly say that we believe in the duty of constant communion. According to Wesley, "Let everyone, therefore, who has either any desire to please God, or any love of his own soul, obey God, and consult the good of his own soul, by communicating every time he can; like the first Christians, with whom the Christian Sacrifice was a constant part of the Lord's day service"
"The Duty of Constant Communion", Wesley's Works, 7:148
Referring to the call in Luke 22:19 to "do this in remembrance of me" Wesley says, "It is no wonder that men who have no fear of God should never think of doing this. But it is strange that it should be neglected by any that do fear God, and desire to save their souls; and yet nothing is more common" ["The Duty of Constant Communion" Wesley's Works, 7:147]. He goes on to suggest that one reason people might neglect the Lord's Supper is that they are afraid to take it unworthily. Wesley wants people who think this to come to see things differently. He argues that one should receive the Lord's Supper because it is plainly commanded by Christ.
Another reason for this is that there are many benefits. Wesley says, "The grace of God given herein confirms to us the pardon of our sins, and enables us to leave them" [7:148].
One of the consistent issues related to communion is the fear of taking it unworthily. Wesley addresses this issue specifically:
If then you fear bringing damnation on yourself by this, you fear where no fear is. Fear it not, for eating and drinking unworthily; for that, in St. Paul's sense, ye cannot do. But I will tell you for what you shall fear damnation; - for not eating and drinking at all; for not obeying your Maker and Redeemer; for disobeying his plain command; for thus setting at nought both his mercy and authority. Fear ye this; for hear what his Apostle saith:
"Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all (James 2:10) [7:152]
It is the conviction of the church from the beginning that the Lord's Supper was commanded of the Lord. The early church felt that the Bible taught this clearly as is indicated in Matt 26: 27-28: "And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body.' And he took a cup and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is to be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins'" (NASB). This is reinforced by Paul, "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which He took bread . . ." (1 Cor. 11: 23).
Lampe says, "The Eucharist stands at the heart of the early church's faith and life; it embodies and proclaims in a simple rite the entire richness of the gospel." ["The Eucharist in the Thought of the Early Church" in Eucharistic Theology Then and Now, 34].
Three general views have been held on the Lord's Supper:
· Sacrifice is one major emphasis of the Eucharist.This emphasis is most closely related to transubstantiation. Ambrose is the father of this view and several outstanding people have held the view as well.Here the emphasis is upon the elements being transformed and of the offering of the transfigured body. This implies the real presence of Jesus in the elements.Beyond this there is emphasis on the change in mode. Paschasius Radbertus holds this view, "this must be believed to be fully, after consecration, nothing but Christ's flesh and blood." [The Lord's Body and Blood, Library of Christian Classics, 94]. The sacrifice view is identified primarily with the Roman Catholic Church and grew to wide acceptance during the Middle Ages. Theodore Tapperts says, "in the course of the Middle Ages, in spite of protests by some theologians, decrees of councils strengthened an interpretation which had its roots in popular piety" [The Lord's Supper, 9].
· Sacramental View holds that the Lord's Supper must be understood in the light of what happened on the cross for us and for our salvation. Here the emphasis is upon thanksgiving rather than sacrifice.This view can also be called Consubstantiation and is held by Martin Luther. Seeberg expresses this view "The elements retain not only their external characteristics but also their own material substance, while at the same time serving as the bearer of the presence of Christ as a new heavenly substance" [Textbook of the History of Doctrines, vol. 1,165]. This view can also be called the co-existent theory because it talks about real presence without the conversion of the substance.Gabriel Biel held this view, "The body of Christ is not seen by us, neither is it bitten by the teeth, nor perceived by the taste, but the species of the bread is both bitten and tested, and under it is contained the true, whole, and perfect body of Christ" [Quoted in Smith, A Short History of Christian Theophagy, 96].The most important person who held this view is Luther. He speaks against transubstantiation in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, "it gives a new and foolish twist to the words to hold that 'bread' means the form, or the accidents, of the bread. - "[Readings in Christian Thought, 148].
· Memorial View is defined by Elmer Freemer in his book The Lord's Supper in Protestantism in the following way, "it is a memorial of Jesus, an act of thanksgiving, recognition of fellowship, a self-sacrifice, and a sacred mystery" . The emphasis of this view is thanksgiving while the other elements are here with varying degree. Here the elements are symbols of Christ's body. Preserved Smith says of this view, "But in every age there were great Fathers of the Church who endeavored to give a more spiritual and therefore more symbolic meaning to the mode of the real presence" . This can be illustrated through the writing of Jerome who talks about the Lord's Supper as "showing forth the body of the Savior and as a memorial of redemption" [quoted in Hagglund, History of Theology, 117].Ratramnus is an important representative of this view. He attempted to deal with two questions: a) does the Lord's Supper contain a mystery which only faith can recognize? and b) is it the historical body of Christ? He deals with this in Christ's Body and Blood, "Those who are here willing to take nothing in a figurative sense, but insist that everything exists in simple truth, must be shed in reference to what a change has been produced, so that the elements now are not what they previously were, that is, bread and wine, but are Christ's body and blood. . ." [Library of Christian Classics, vol. 9, 122]. He says further, "Wherefore, as in the mystery that bread is eaten as Christ's body, so also in the mystery of the members of the people who believe in Christ are suggested and as that bread is called the body of the believers, not in a corporeal sense but in a spiritual, so of necessity Christ's body must also be understood not corporeally but spiritually" .Zwingli of the Reformation period held this view. He referred to the Eucharist as a memorial ceremony, a dramatic reminder of the Lord's sacrifice and a communal attestation of the loyalty to the Church's founder.Calvin represents a middle ground between Luther and Zwingli. His view is something more than symbolism and something less then consubstantiation. Essentially, this is the view affirmed in Article XIII.
Wesley notes five possible objections to taking communion: a) fear of taking it unworthily, b)
too busy, c) abates our appreciation for the sacrament, d) no visible benefits, and e) Church only requires that it be taken three times a year
Wesley summarizes his answer to each of the objections:
It has been particularly shown, first, that unworthiness is no excuse; because though in one sense we are all unworthy, yet none of us need be afraid of being unworthy in St. Paul's sense of "eating and drinking unworthily." Second, that the not having time enough for preparation can be no excuse; since the only preparation which is absolutely necessary, is that which no business can hinder; nor indeed anything on earth, unless so far as it hinders our being in a state of salvation. Thirdly, that its abating our reverence is no excuse; since he who gave the command, "Do this," nowhere adds, "unless it abates your reverence." Fourthly, that our not profiting by it is no excuse; since it is our fault, in neglecting that necessary preparation which is in our own power. Lastly, that the judgment of our own Church is quite in favor of constant communion. If those who have hitherto neglected it on any of these pretenses, will lay these things to heart, they will, but the grace of God, come to a better mind, and never more forsake their own mercies ["The Duty of Constant Communion," Wesley's Works, 7:157].
According to Maddox, "He [Wesley] referred to it as the 'grand channel" whereby the grace of the Spirit is conveyed to human souls, and identified partaking communion as the first step in working out our salvation" [Responsible Grace, 202]. Wesley saw the Lord's Supper as a commemoration of Christ's sacrifice. This should be understood as "re-presenting" the sacrifice of Christ for our salvation.
The grace of God is conveyed in the Lord's Supper by the "real presence" of Christ in the partaking of the sacrament. While Wesley denies any change in the substance of the elements and even the ubiquity of the body of the risen Lord he finally seeks to more than merely think of the presence of Christ as heavenly and spiritual.
Wesley lands here because he is not so much interested in the elements of the Supper as he is interested in the persons taking communion. Wesley emphasizes the agency of the Holy Spirit in communicating the grace of God to the person taking communion. The Spirit is present in the elements, but it is in the response of the believer that the grace is conveyed.
Article XIII suggests that it is essential that the Christian observe the Lord's Supper because it conveys grace to those who partake in faith. It might be possible to understand that Christ is present in the holy meal, but not in the elements. Rather Christ is present by faith through the Holy Spirit in the one who partakes. It is also important to understand that the practice of the Lord's Supper lifts Christian life beyond pure will and puts it into the historically mediated practices of the Church.
Finally, properly understood taking the Lord's Supper can have a preventing, justifying, and sanctifying effect.