Posts Tagged ‘ Lord’s Supper ’

Dividing Word and Sacrament

“A wife who only wants to share a meal with her husband once a month for fear of taking him for granted is kind of missing the point. This mystery is straightforward, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

Following up on my previous post, here are two brief thoughts about why I find the infrequent (i.e., less than weekly) celebration of the Lord’s Supper to be unfitting—I hesitate to say sinful, but unhelpful might be a good place to start—for the people of God and out of place within our broader system of doctrine.

First, consider Q/A 88 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q. 88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

Word, sacraments, and prayer are all especially mentioned as ordinary means by which Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption. However, when we preach the Word every week and pray every week but do not celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week, we run the risk of forgetting that sacraments are ordinary means of grace in the same way that the Word and prayer are. We deny with our actions what we affirm with our words. We treat the sacraments extraordinarily and, in this way, divide Word and sacrament.

Second,—and this point is a little more abstract, so bear with me—prioritizing the Word over sacrament by preaching the Word weekly without celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly implies a faulty theological anthropology. When we pour all of our effort into targeting our intellects, making an extended time of expository teaching the centerpiece of our worship without following up with the embodied practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, we implicitly affirm a view of man as a primarily rational, intellectual being and implicitly deny the importance of the body. Even while we wholeheartedly deny a Gnostic or Cartesian anthropology with our words, we begin to allow these faulty views to sneak back in with our actions. Word and sacrament should not be divided precisely because they together address the whole person: intellect and affections, mind and body.

These thoughts have been prompted by—or, perhaps I should say, nearly stolen from—two excellent books: Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith and Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. Although I’m definitely late to the party, I can’t recommend these books highly enough. Even where I don’t fully buy their arguments (which is a rare occurrence), I find their perspectives immensely helpful to consider. Other resources which I have greatly appreciated with respect to a Christian view of the body are “The Mind/Body Problem in Biblical Perspective” by Greg Bahnsen, “Mind, Spirit, Soul and Body: All for One and One for All Reflections on Paul’s Anthropology in his Complex Contexts” by N. T. Wright, and Earthen Vessels by Matthew Lee Anderson.


Frequency of the Lord’s Supper

If we believe that the Lord’s Supper is “for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of [Christ] himself in his death; the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other, as members of his mystical body” (WCF 29.1), wouldn’t it be a great blessing to a congregation to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week? Are there any good arguments for observing the Lord’s Supper less frequently?

The two most common arguments I have heard are that celebrating the Supper weekly would (1) make it less meaningful and (2) make the service take too long. I find these arguments unpersuasive. In response to argument (1), I would reply that this argument could as easily be applied to the weekly reading of Scripture, singing of Psalms and hymns, prayer, or any of the other elements of worship. If we really believe that the Lord uses the Sacraments to communicate his grace to us for our spiritual nourishment, then it is the Lord, not us, who makes the Sacrament meaningful. In addition, I know from my own personal experience, and that of many others to whom I have spoken, that a more frequent observance of the Lord’s Supper only serves to bring the meaning of the Supper to mind more often, making it more meaningful, not less. In response to argument (2), I would reply that this is an argument from pragmatism, and if the pragmatics of how long the service takes are that important (which I’m not convinced should be the case), there are other ways of shortening the service without leaving out one of the means of grace which God has ordained for our good (e.g., leaving out a few verses of a hymn, asking the pastor to shave a few minutes off the sermon, etc.). In summary, I don’t think it’s a sin to observe the Lord’s Supper less frequently, especially if there are extenuating circumstances a church must work through (such as a lack of resources). However, if a church has both the resources and the opportunity to celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly, I think it would only serve to bring the congregation closer to the Lord and to one another.

For a slightly more historical perspective, see this article.