Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone 6.28.12
Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2012 6:00 pm
By WALLY BUMPAS
The people you see at the doctor’s office are there because they have an ailment. Those who feel fine are not there. Jesus used this imagery when He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mark 2:17). Grace, mercy and forgiveness are of no interest to the person who is unaware of needing them. This applies as we continue to think about the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Our previous articles have touched on what the Lord’s Supper is and does. Now we ask – who is it for?
Question 81 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks: Who are to come to the Lord’s Table? Answer: Those who are displeased with themselves because of their sins, but who nevertheless trust that their sins are pardoned and that their continuing weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ, and who also desire more and more to strengthen their faith and to lead a better life. Hypocrites and those who are unrepentant, however, eat and drink judgment on themselves.
Question 82 asks: Are those to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper who show by what they say and do that they are unbelieving and ungodly? Answer: No, that would dishonor God’s covenant and bring down God’s anger upon the entire congregation. Therefore, according to the instruction of Christ and His apostles, the Christian church is duty bound to exclude such people, by the official keys of the kingdom, until they reform their lives.
At the risk of over-simplifying, we could summarize by saying the Lord’s Supper is for honest Christians. Honest Christians know they struggle with sin and weak faith, and that they will never reach a place in this life when they no longer need the grace and strength that Christ gives through the sacrament.
The Lord’s Supper is for the weak, but it is not for the hypocrite. The hypocrite’s life is an open contradiction to his profession of faith in Christ, but he either doesn’t know this or doesn’t care. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul gives a frightening warning to those who come to the table with no understanding of the gospel, or who come with no intention of fighting their sin.
To be “worthy” (1 Cor. 11:27) of the Lord’s Supper doesn’t mean to be good enough (none are). It means to be broken and repentant, trusting Christ alone and longing to “lead a better life.” The importance of teaching ministry of the church cannot be over-emphasized here, especially on occasions when the sacrament is observed.
The Catechism makes one more statement about the Lord’s Supper. It is difficult and controversial, and we have saved it for last:
Question 80 asks: How does the Lord’s Supper differ from the Roman Catholic Mass? Answer: The Lord’s Supper declares to us that our sins have been completely forgiven through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ which he Himself finished on the cross once for all. It also declares to us that the Holy Spirit grafts us into Christ, who with His very body is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father where He wants us to worship Him. But the Mass teaches that the living and the dead do not have their sins forgiven through the suffering of Christ unless Christ is still offered for them daily by the priests. It also teaches that Christ is bodily present in the form of bread and wine where Christ therefore is to be worshiped. Thus the Mass is basically nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ and a condemnable idolatry.
We cannot here re-live the 16th century Protestant Reformation, much of which swirled around this very issue. And we might wish our catechism had used more charitable language. But the simple fact remains that if two views contradict one another, they cannot both be true. Either the death of Christ 2000 years ago is sufficient for the pardon of all our sins, when embraced simply by believing; or that death must be supplemented by re-presenting that sacrifice regularly on an “altar” in the Roman Catholic Mass, where Christ is literally present and thus should be worshiped.
“Christ alone, faith alone, grace alone” were the cries of the Reformers and, we believe, an accurate description of the simple spirituality of the New Testament. The book of Hebrews is especially relevant to this question. We close with a portion of it: “…when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting for that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet. For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after these days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,’ then He adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’” (Hebrews 9:12-17)
Editor’s note: Wally Bumpas serves as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Dyersburg.
Published in The Messenger 6.28.12