For the Christian, oftentimes the question is: “What else is there to help me grow?” The Lord’s Supper is frequently not thought of in answer to that question. But what exactly is the Lord’s Supper, and why is it important in the life of the Christian? In a day when this feast of God’s covenant grace is often overlooked, this book calls for a greater appreciation and love for the table of the Lord. A Covenant Feast: Reflections on the Lord’s Table is one pastor’s brief attempt at encouraging readers to reflect more deeply on the use of the Lord’s Supper in their lives and to come away with a deeper understanding and appreciation for how God uses this meal in the lives of His children.
J. Ryan Davidson has been serving at Grace Baptist Chapel since August of 2008. Ryan is married to his beautiful wife Christie, and they have four wonderful children: Micah, Lydia, Shaphan and Magdalene. Ryan holds degrees from Samford University (B.A.), The College of William & Mary (M.Ed.) in Counseling, and Southern Seminary (Th.M.) in Louisville, KY and he is completing a (Ph.D.) from The Free University of Amsterdam, Netherlands. He is a full member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a member of the American Society of Church History.
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
This seems to be problematic, for if there is something the Son does not know, would this not indicate to us that he is not omniscient (all knowing)? God is all knowing and yet this tells us that there is something Christ did not know. Pastor John, how do we reconcile this verse with the Christian concept of the Deity of Christ?
“[W]hile the famous Baptist John Bunyan allowed open communion, most of the signers of the 1689 did not. Was this due to hard-headed stubbornness, a reaction against the critiques by Presbyterians? Possibly, but how then does that reconcile with the words of the introduction to the 1689, which calls Presbyterian brethren? And deigns to show love in explaining their differences?
William Kiffin, one of the signers of the 1689, wrote “A Sober Discourse on the Right to Church-Communion” [Amazon], addressing the very reasons why he practiced “closed communion” (restricting the Lord’s Supper to only those professors who had been baptized by immersion). Why did he restrict the table? Because of Scripture:
OBJECTION #10: This is a dividing principle, and ’tis very censorious to judge none fit for communion in a Church, but such as are baptized thereby, unchristianing all other persons that are of another mind.
ANSWER: This is no other principle but what Scripture doth everywhere justify, as hath been largely proved before. And this objection rather chargeable on the contrary opinion, as being that which divides the ordinance from its proper use and by putting it out of its place, where God in his Word hath set it. There being no division by principle, but what is made by the ignorance of the persons that oppose it about the rule and order by which Christians ought to walk; or by their wilful neglect of that which is required by the Lord, of those that desire communion with the Church. For if the Lord of the family prescribe an order by which it should be governed, can it be reasonable that this rule should be broken for the sake of the servant’s ignorance or wilfulness? We censure none so rigidly as to take upon us to unchristian or unchurch them; all that we do (in discharge of our duty to God, and Faithfulness in our places) to labour to keep the Lord’s Ordinances in that purity and Order the Sacred Records testify they were left in, and in a spirit of Love and Meekness to contend earnestly for the Faith once delivered to the Saints; which we conceive to be a duty enjoined upon all Christians, &c.
Scripture is to regulate the Church’s practice. The elements of worship (which would include the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) are to be administered the way Scripture proscribes. If one sees that proper baptism is immersion according to the Scriptures, and that Christians who are baptized should be the ones to receive the Lord’s Supper (again, according to the Scriptures), then to allow those who are not baptized to the table (for sprinkling nor pouring is considered baptism) would be inconsistent with one’s view of Scripture. If you are not going to allow everyone to the table, then lines are to be drawn somewhere. This should be a reminder to always return to “WDSS?” or, “What Does Scripture Say”? Emotional pleas and intelligent rhetoric may be appealing, but if they are not rooted firmly and clearly in the Word then they must not be compelling.
There is no statement in the 1689 regarding whether baptized believers alone should take the Lord’s Supper. Since not all were in agreement on the issue, the Confession stated that “worthy receivers” partook of the elements, leaving the definition of worthy to individual churches. Obviously there is still disagreement today. However, if you respect Baptists despite disagreeing with them, then you should be able to respect those who decide to fence the table.
I would probably be a happier, healthier Baptist if I just kept my nose out of the ongoing kerfuffle debate over at Reformation21 over the question of closed communion among Baptists. I just wanted to say that right up front so that you would all realize that I recognize the fact.
However, having been critical of some of the Presbyterian brethren there in the past when their treatment of Baptists – and particularly of Reformed Baptists – left just a bit to be desired, and having once written that both sides should “reign in the bullies,” I don’t know that I have a choice. So here are my thoughts in what is so far an unfinished discussion. I’ll try to keep them brief.
I only have two remarks in response to Jones’ recent post.
Don’t PCA Presbyterians do the same thing closed/close communion Baptists do?…
Aren’t Baptists also seeking an embodied catholicity?
With great respect, I submit that by denying Presbyterians bodily communion who have not been bodily baptized (when baptism is defined as Baptists define the term: immersed as believers), close and closed communion Baptists are actually seeking embodied communion. Rather than accepting communion with those who merely have the same Spirit with us, we’re also seeking communion with those who participate in the same bodily baptism (Eph 4:5). Instead of dividing Spirit and body, Baptists believe, like our Presbyterian brothers, in keeping body and Spirit together.
If we’re going to chase the body/Spirit question, I would also gently ask our beloved Presbyterian brothers whether their ecclesiology divides body from Spirit more than ours does. They accept into church union with themselves the bodies of their children, whether their children have the Spirit of Christ or not. We Baptists believe that the church ought to be composed of people who have body and Spirit together. Baptists, like Mark Jones, desire “a catholicity that is spirit and body.”
Finally, I wish to state that I want to have communion at every level with my Presbyterian brothers. I love them and deeply want to commune with them at the Lord’s Supper in my church. I also want them to receive God’s good gift of baptism. I would humbly submit that the real question in this discussion isn’t who is more “ecclesiologically catholic” or who has a more “embodied ecclesiology,” but the real question, as I think Mark Jones would ultimately agree, is who is correctly interpreting the Scriptures. We Baptists may be the ones who are wrong, or it may be that our Presbyterian friends are wrong. I believe in a catholicity that surrenders neither the Spirit of brotherly unity nor the fidelity of ecclesiological conviction. I’m fairly certain Mark Jones would agree with that too.
The Reformed Baptist Fellowship blog shares a quote from Hughes Oliphant Old’s book, Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church, regarding Spurgeon’s enjoyment of the weekly sacrament:
I thank God that, coming to this table every Sabbath-day, as some of us do, and have done for many years, we have yet for the most part enjoyed the nearest communion with Christ here that we have ever known, and have a thousand times blessed his name for this ordinance. – C.H. Spurgeon
Surely one of the paradoxes in Spurgeon’s ministry was that although he was famous as a practitioner of the art of preaching as well as the most well-known homiletical theoretician among British evangelicals, he was a vigorous promoter of celebrating Holy Communion each Lord’s Day. He often expressed his conviction on this subject. For instance, in a sermon on the dimension of table fellowship he tells us that it is his custom to observe the sacrament every Sabbath day as a number of others in his congregation regularly do and have done for many years. In this, he tells us, they enjoyed the nearest communion with Christ they had ever known and again and again blessed his name for this ordinance. (Hughes Oliphant Old. “Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church”. Ed. Jon D. Payne. Tolle Lege Press, 2013. p.788.)
The latest addition to Grace Publications ‘Great Classic’ Series is actually two books in one: ‘Understanding the Lord’s Supper’ by Baptist theologian Ernest Kevan and ‘Meditating at the Lord’s Supper’ by the great nineteenth century evangelist Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon spent time at Mentone on the French Riviera as part of his recuperation from illness and these communion addresses originate from that period.
The last chapter of “The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace: More than a Memory” begins:
In the first chapter of this study, it was noted that the specific focus of this book is to showhow the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace and, therefore, more than a memory. I have argued that the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace because of what the Holy Spirit does in the souls of believers when local churches partake of it. The Spirit effects (or enhances) present communion between the exalted Redeemer and his pilgrim people on the earth. The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace through which Christ is present by his divine nature and through which the Holy Spirit nourishes the souls of believers with the benefits wrought for us in Christ’s human nature which is now glorified and in heaven at the right hand of the Father.
Review of method and conclusions
The method which brought me to the conclusions drawn started with a specific text of Scripture–1 Corinthians 10:16. As stated above, this is quite possibly the most explicit text in the New Testament (certainly in Paul’s letters) on the nature of the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace. The text was set in its context and examined in that light. The conclusion was that communion of the blood and of the body of Christ refers to present communion with or participation in the present benefits of Christ wrought for us by his death. This conclusion was supported by various secondary sources and shown to be contained in the doctrinal formulations of various Reformed confessions and catechisms. A question surfaced as a result of our findings: How are the benefits of Christ brought to elect and believing souls on the earth through the Supper? The answer was found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians…
Have you ever wondered about the practical benefit of observing the Lord’s Supper? Benjamin Keach, in his Tropologia, lists eight benefits of the Lord’s Supper, including a couple you may not have thought of before (click to aggrandize):