Worship (V): The Lord's Supper (2)
In a previous article pertaining to the Lord's Supper, I wrote concerning the items to be used in the observance of the Lord's Supper and the frequency with which it was to be observed. We are now prepared to consider the purpose for observing the Lord's Supper and the manner in which Christians are expected to observe it. The religious world is sadly divided over the purpose for which the Lord's Supper is to be observed. Perhaps the most blatant perversion of the purpose of the Lord's Supper is committed by the Roman Catholics. Let us examine their concept of the Lord's Supper.
The Lord's Supper In Roman Catholicism
The Lord's Supper is understood to be a continuance of the sacrifice which Jesus made on Calvary. Because of the misconception, they make a number of errors pertaining to the Supper including each of the following:
1. Transubstantiation. This doctrine teaches that the bread and the fruit of the vine are changed in substance to actually become the body and the blood of Jesus Christ. Hence, Catholics believe that after the priest has said the words "This is my body" and "This is my blood" that the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is necessary in order that the body of Jesus might be sacrificed anew daily. Here are Catholic statements of their belief:
12. Is there, then, after the consecration any longer bread and wine on the altar? No; there is then on the altar the true Body and the true Blood of Jesus Christ under the appearances of bread and wine (Joseph Deharbe, S.J., A Complete Catechism of the Catholic Religion, John Fander, trans., p. 264).
Catholics believe simply and firmly that when the priest takes bread and wine at Mass, devoutly recalls that scene of the Last Supper, speaks in the name of Christ and quietly pronounces his sacred words: `This is my body' and `This is my blood,' that at this very moment Jesus Christ becomes present. The bread and wine are changed into his body and blood, without any change in their appearances (Monsignor J.D. Conway, Facts of the Faith, p. 154).
The Catholics interpret literally the words of Jesus, "This is my body" and "This is my blood" (Ml. 26:26, 28). That these words cannot have been intended to have been understood literally is evident from a casual observance of the context. In the context, Jesus took the bread and the fruit of the vine in His hands and said, "This is my body" and "This is my blood." Did the disciples understand this literally? How could they? They say that His body and blood were holding the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine; the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine were separate from the corporeal body of Jesus. No one would have ever thought that they were literally the body and blood of Jesus. Rather, they were a memorial to the body and blood of Jesus (Lk. 22:19). In order for Catholics to be consistent, they should interpret Jesus' statements, "I am the vine" (Jn. 15:1) and "I am the door" (Jn. 10:9) literally even as they do the statements in Mt. 26:26, 28.
2. The mass is regarded as a sacrifice. Related to the idea that the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine are literally the body and blood of Jesus is the idea that the body of Jesus is offered in sacrifice to God as an atonement for sins every time the mass is observed. Here are Catholic statements of their doctrine:
He came on earth to offer the sacrifice of adoration and reparation which man needed to offer to God and was unable to offer; in the Eucharist he continues that sacrifice and lets us take part in it . . . . The Mass is the Holy Eucharist as sacrifice . . . . The Mass permits us to have part in the redemptive work of Christ. We cannot make up for sins ourselves, but we can work in cooperation with him who can; and when our works are joined with his, they take on satisfactory value from the association (Conway, ibid., p. 165).
What, then, is the Mass? The Mass is the perpetual Sacrifice of the New Law, in which Christ our Lord offers Himself by the hands of the Priest, in an unbloody manner, under the appearances of bread and wine, to His Heavenly Father, as He once offered Himself on the Cross in a bloody manner (Deharbe, op. cit., p. 267.)
The Eucharist, therefore, is offered by Christ himself, and possesses the efficacy of the sacrifice of the Cross, of which it is representative and commemorative. As such it blots out the moral sins of those from whom it is offered, according to their moral disposition, `as if the sacrament of penance had been administered to them' (Vasquez). There were protests against expiatory teaching from time to time during the middle age, but they made no mark. At the close of the period it was generally held that the mass was a sacrifice for actual sin, as the Cross was a sacrifice for original sin (Eucharist," Encyclopedia Britannica, 1944 edition, Vol. VIII, p. 797).
This Catholic dogma is also in conflict with the Scriptures. First of all, there is absolutely no New Testament evidence to indicate that the Lord's Supper is a sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus. Secondly, the Scriptures indicate that the sacrifice of Jesus was a once-for-all event. The writer of the book of Hebrews contrasted the sacrifices of the Old Testament worship system with that of the New Testament era. In doing this, he emphasized the difference in the Old Testament sacrifices which had to repeatedly be offered with the offering of Jesus' blood which was a once-for-all-times sacrifice. He wrote:
For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priests enters the holy place year by year with blood not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment, so Christ also having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time, not to bear sins, to those who eagerly await Him, for salvation (Heb. 9:24-28).
By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God (Heb. 10:10-12).
The priests of the Catholic Church offer a sacrifice daily, just as did the Levitical priests. Yet, the sacrifice of Jesus was a one-time sacrifice, never to be repeated. Hence, the Catholics err when they look upon the Lord's Supper as a sacrifice.
3. The mass must be presided over by an official priest. Inasmuch as the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine must be changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, an official priest must be present to administer the mass. No ordinary man can change the elements of the mass; an official priest must be present, as the following quotation demonstrates:
The church has the sacraments, instruments of sanctity, the means of bringing the grace of Christ to all men. So she needs priests to administer these sacraments, to serve as agents of the Savior ... . . He exercises his new power of changing bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ (Conway, op. cit., pp. 236, 239).
Again, there is no Bible evidence of a clergy-laity system and of a clergy being necessary for the offering of the "mass." Rather, the Bible teaches that all Christians are priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6; 20:6; Isa. 61:6). The clergy-laity system is opposed to the teaching of Jesus Christ which states that we are all brethren (Mt. 23:8-10). Hence, the Catholic doctrine that a priest must officiate at the mass also incorporates this error.
4. The Lord's Supper is conceived as a means of conveying spiritual graces. I do not mean by this that a person is benefitted spiritually as a result of observing the Lord's Supper, something which all of us would admit, but that the Lord's Supper is viewed as a channel through which God conveys spiritual blessings to man. Here are the Catholic statements of their position:
4. Holy Communion forgives the lesser faults of our daily lives - venial sins - just as food restores the minor ailments of our body. The Holy Eucharist is then the daily remedy for our daily weaknesses and infirmities. We might say that it forgives venial sins by burning them up in the flame of the love it kindles.
5. The Holy Eucharist gives us the grace to resist temptation, just as good food keeps the body from sickness, weakness, and early death. Temptations, if they were not resisted, would produce sickness and weakness within the soul, and if they were serious things they would bring death to the supernatural life of the soul.
6. Holy Communion takes away much of the temporal punishment that is due for past sins. It does this by increasing the virtue of charity in our souls (Conway, op. cit., p. 183).
7. What graces does Holy Communion impart to our souls? By uniting us in the most intimate manner with Jesus Christ, the Source of all Divine graces, it imparts to us innumerable graces, especially these:
1. It preserves and increases sanctifying grace;
2. It weakens our evil inclinations, and gives us a desire and strength to be virtuous;
3. It cleanses us from venial and preserves us from mortal sins; and
4. It is to us a pledge of our future resurrection and everlasting life (John vi. 55) (Deharbe, pp. 273-274).
The Holy Eucharist is not only a food, but "an antidote, whereby we may be freed from daily faults and preserved from mortal sins" (Sess., xiii., cap. 2) (Bertrand L. Conway, C.S.P, The Question Box, p. 257).
Notice that, according to Catholic dogma, the Lord's Supper forgives the venial sins, gives us grace to resist temptation, takes away the temporal punishment for past sins, and preserves us from mortal sins. Just where in the Bible could I turn to read that the Lord's Supper is a channel through which these spiritual blessings flow? There is no Bible evidence to prove this. (Some Christians act as if the Lord's Supper granted them forgiveness of sins. They habitually attend services to partake of the Lord's Supper and then sometimes leave without participating in the other items of worship. They act as if the Lord's Supper is somehow going to take care of their spiritual needs from one week to another.)
Bible Purposes of the Lord's Supper
Having noticed the Catholic perversion of the Lord's Supper, let us now consider the teaching of the Bible regarding the purpose of the Lord's Supper. Here are its biblical purposes:
1. It is a memorial to Jesus' sacrificial death. Jesus said, "This do in remembrance of me" (Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24, 25). Rather than the Lord's Supper being a weekly or daily sacrifice to God, the Lord's Supper is a memorial to the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus. Men need a memorial to help them remember the death of Jesus. Men tend to forget even the important events in life; consequently, memorials are continually being set up to be sure that important men, events, and places are not forgotten. Just as God established the Passover feast as a memorial to the events which transpired when Israel left the land of Egypt, He also established the Lord's Supper as a memorial to the vicarious death of Jesus Christ.
2. It is a proclamation of the Lord's death. Paul wrote, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Cor. 11:26). Every week, the Lord's people proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ died for our sins as they observe the Lord's Supper.
3. It is a communion (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Again, Paul wrote, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread" (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Notice that the communion is two-fold: (1) It is a sharing in the body and blood of Jesus Christ; hence, we commune with Jesus. (2) It is a sharing with one another. Those of "like precious faith" are all partakers of the same spiritual blessings through Christ. Hence, we commune with Christ and with all other Christians.
4. It is an evidence of the New Covenant through the blood of Christ. When Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper, He said, "Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament" (Mt. 26:28). Again, Paul recorded, "This cup is the new testament in my blood" (1 Cor. 11:25). The Old Testament knew absolutely nothing of a memorial called the Lord's Supper. This new memorial is a reminder that we are also under a new covenant with God which differs radically from that of Judaism.
5. It anticipates the Lord's return (1 Cor. 11:26). We observe the Lord's Supper "till He comes." Hence, the Lord's Supper reminds us that Jesus is going to return to this world someday, not to establish His kingdom, but to present His kingdom to God (1 Cor. 15:24).
From these scriptural references, one can see that there is nothing which indicates that the Lord's Supper is a sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus Christ or that it is a channel for conveying special spiritual blessings. Rather, God's purposes for the Lord's Supper are different from those of Catholicism as seen in this material.
Manner of Partaking
The manner in which one partakes of the Lord's Supper affects whether or not that act pleases God. In Corinth the church was observing the Lord's Supper in such a manner that they were eating and drinking damnation (1 Cor. 11:29). What happened was that the Lord's Supper was observed in conjunction with a common meal. The divisions mentioned in the first chapter of the book apparently caused the church to eat this common meal in small groups in which the rich were segregated from the poor. Hence, in their observance of the Lord's Supper, they ate and drank unworthily to such an extent that God was displeased with them.
In order to properly partake of the Lord's Supper, we must have our minds on its purpose (1 Cor. 11:20-22, 27-28). We must examine ourselves to be sure that we are discerning the Lord's body and blood as we partake of the Supper. Many today do not properly observe the Lord's Supper because they let their minds wander, pass notes, punch each other, talk to a friend, etc. They have not discerned the Lord's body; they have not remembered his sacrifice for our sins. Consequently, they eat and drink damnation unto themselves.
Let each of us carefully examine ourselves in offering this worship to God that we do so in accordance with what He has commanded of us. Let us observe the Lord's Supper using the items which God has authorized, honoring the frequence which He has commanded, recognizing the purposes which God had in mind when he established this memorial, and partaking in the proper manner. Let us not desecrate this Supper which God has instituted as a memorial to the vicarious death of Jesus Christ.
Questions - Lesson V
Truth Magazine XXIII: 43, pp. 700-702