Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Answering Paedocommunion, Part IV: The Lord's Supper is About Something

"Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." -Ps. 81:10, cited by Credenda/Agenda as concerning the Lord's Supper.

"What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?" -I Cor. 11:18, written by the Apostle Paul concerning the Lord's Supper.

To judge from the front and back outer cover of the current issue of Credenda/Agenda, one would think the Lord's Supper is a non-specific feast, a celebration of the fatness of the land God has given to his people. The front cover, titled "That Wonderful Cup," contains a picture of a roughly 4-year-old boy holding up a plastic communion cup. The back cover, under a quotation from Ps. 81:10 (cited above), shows a picture of a young child, face smeared with melted ice cream. The picture-lesson one would get from this is that the Lord's Supper is modeled on Easter dinner, where everyone stuffs themselves full of food and then rests on the couch for the evening.

How hard this is to reconcile with the image of the Jewish Passover shown in Exodus 12, where participants ate the sparse offerings of the wilderness dressed as if to flee from danger, was discussed in Part III. There is, however, a Biblical feast that Credenda's cover pictures more closely resemble, and it is described in I Corinthians 11:20-22:

"When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not."

The Corinthians had merged a pagan Agape (love-feast) into the Lord's Supper, and produced a result that was deplorable. But, notice that Paul does not simply condemn the contempt shown for the poor, he also makes it clear that the Lord's Supper is not the place where one fills his belly with food. People have houses for that sort of thing. To turn the Supper into such a spectacle not only "humiliated" the poor, it also "despised the church of God." Why this is so is because the Lord's Supper is not just eating; it is about something.

In Reformed churches, the Sacrament is never administered without a word of institution (WCF 29:3):

"For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, 'This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." -I Cor 11:23-26

The taking of the bread and the wine is a very potent spiritual act, not because of the bread and wine themselves, but because of the body and blood of the Lord. Those who have been Christians for a long time may lose sight of how astonishing this is: that we might really partake in the flesh and blood of the crucified God. Few adults even begin to comprehend this, and it is certain that infants do not. The understanding of this mystery is reserved to those of sufficient intellectual capacity to discern how the flesh and blood of another can be atonement for us all. In attempting to make the Supper accessible to children, paedocommunionists must (and do) dilute the significance of the sacrament until it becomes "Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it." The entire spiritual significance of this event disappears, and we are left with a modern Agape-feast that cannot do justice to such a ponderous invocation.

The Lord's Supper is, like Passover was, the merging of a spiritual mystery with a catechetical demonstration. Take either of these away, and a sacrament is no sacrament any longer ("it is not the Lord's supper that you eat."). Without the mystery, it is only homily. Without the doctrine, it is empty superstition. This is why the Confession excludes from the Supper those who do not both partake and understand rightly.


Post a Comment

<< Home