Theology

More than Crackers & Grape Juice

Francis Chan has recently been the focus of much Evangelical ire due to a recent sermon where he appears to be not only decrying the memorialist position of the Lord’s Supper (also known as The Holy Communion) but also makes a rather spurious claim that over a millennium the church’s normative view of the Sacrament was that the bread and wine were the actual body and blood of Christ (Transubstantiation).

(Here is the link to the clip also)

Evangelicals were critical of Chan, concerned that he is about to cross the Tiber, Roman Catholics were excited that is about to cross the Tiber. However, Chan has touched on a subject that I think Evangelicals do well to consider; that the Sacrament of Holy Communion is more than merely “have crackers and grape juice and remember Jesus”.

I remember last year visiting an Anglican church in another diocese and attending a Holy Communion Service. When it came to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, the clergy did the right things, they said the right things, but they came across almost apologetic about it, as if this was something they had to do and worked hard to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. Their hearts were not in it.

Were they embarrassed? Why did they seem to treat the command of the Lord Jesus as perfunctory? I could not work it out at the time. But a question that comes to mind when reflecting on the Lord’s Supper is this:

Why do many of us Protestants dumb-down the supper of the Lord? Why do we take it for granted as we seem to, that it appears to be of secondary and/or of minor importance? Why do we appear to treat the Lord’s Supper as mere preliminaries to the main event (which of course is preaching)?

Don’t get me wrong, without the faithful proclaiming and expounding of the Holy Scriptures, the Sacrament loses its meaning, for it is on the platform of the Word of God that the Sacraments stand. Or to put it another way, the Lord’s Supper (like the sacrament of Baptism) is an enacted form of the Word of God itself. However, the Lord’s Supper, should it be treated as an appendix that we apologise for? Should our expectations be higher than what they appear to be in some Evangelical Anglican circles?

Bishop Julian Dobbs (who is a Conservative Reformed Evangelical Bishop of the Diocese of the Living Word) states:

The trouble is that we have been shaped more than we know by a superficial and reactionary tradition that there is wisdom in not making too much of the Lord’s Supper. The idea that in Christian worship that this sacrament is of secondary importance is more wrong than right.

I believe that Bishop Dobb’s is onto something here.

The Anglican view is that the Lord’s Supper is a little more than a memorial, (for the RCC it is a lot more than a memorial). The Reformers deny transubstantiation as seeing it as being not scriptural however they saw that Lord’s Supper is not just about drinking juice, eating crackers and thinking about Jesus. In the Lord’s Supper, something is going on spiritually – sanctification, growth.

A Sanctifying Sacrament: The Lord’s Supper sanctifies God’s people. Contrary to the Roman Catholic position (which views the Lord’s Supper as a Justifying sacrament), Justification has been granted by grace through faith in Christ (which we have already have received). But we are works in progress, we need to grow in Christ, and become more like him, we need to be sanctified. The Lord’s Supper sanctifies us. Article XXV states:

Article XXV 

Of the Sacraments

The Sacraments were not ordained by Christ to be gazed upon or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same they have a wholesome effect and operation…”

The Lord’s Supper is a memorial but more than a mere memorial, perhaps the term Effectual Memorial is an apt descriptor.

Article 28 of the 39 Articles:

Article XXVIII

Of the Lord’s Supper

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.

Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.

The Lord’s Supper is a sign and a memorial but it is also more. There is a two-fold action that takes place when a person receives the Lord’s Supper; with both aspects being defined by faith and knowledge in Christ:

1 – Our action – deliberate remembering, calling him to mind, joyfully contemplating him, praising him, praying to him.

2 –  God’s action – renewing our gratitude for grace, our confidence in forgiveness by grace, our hope for glory, and our strength for service, all by the Holy Spirit. Christ is alive and with us now in resurrection power by the Holy Spirit, he is the true minister each time the supper is celebrated. The Supper is about Him.

We should think of the bread and wine as coming to us by the hand of Christ himself and his guarantee to us in love, he will nourish us spiritually forever.

This distinguishes the Anglican position from the Memorialist position (the position of Zwingli) and from the Roman Catholic transubstantiation position.

Why taking the Lord’s Supper is always good for God’s people

The symbolic routine of repeatedly sharing bread and wine made significant by Jesus’ words witnesses to the two most far-reaching events in world history; both past and future:

The Past –  Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross, which opened the gate of eternal life for all who believe.

The Future –  Jesus return (for universal judgment) and the remaking of the entire cosmos at which time sacramental rites will be no more “With this bread and wine, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”.

Just as everyday eating and drinking brings physical nourishment to our bodies, the ritual eating and drinking that Christ prescribed brings spiritual nourishment to us.

Bishop Dobbs again states:

From this union, through the Holy Spirit, spiritual vitality flows into each one of us; health and strength for devotion and service; inner resources of love, ability and power that we continue to discover in our lives by the power of God the Holy Spirit.

The author of the Book of Common Prayer, Archbishop Cranmer knew this and he was also cognisant of the Apostolic warning given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11: 27-29:

[27] Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. [28] Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. [29] For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. [30] That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

The issue is what Paul says in v.29 – Without discerning the body.

My take is that it is usually understood in one of two ways.

  1. Without discerning the body: “not understanding that the bread represents the body of Christ that was sacrificed for us,” with the result that such people do not act in a Christlike, self-sacrificial way.
  2. Without discerning the body: “not recognising the spiritual reality of what is happening at the Lord’s Supper, and therefore they are acting in a way that dishonours Christ.

Whatever one’s view is, the warning from Paul are words not to forget in a hurry nor dismiss easily. We take our lives into our hands when we come to the table. That is why we examine our hearts, why we repent of our wickedness, why we don’t participate in this sacrament if we are not repentant and if we have not come before the Lord to turn our lives from sin towards Christ.

The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament of the Gospel given to us by Christ himself, an outward visible sign, (the bread and wine), of an inward and spiritual grace given to us by Christ himself. While we must remember the Lord Jesus Christ, (what He has done, and what He is going to do), it is much much more than remembering. For coming to the table you have a meal not only with one another but with the Lord Jesus. Yes the Lord Jesus is not physically present (for He has ascended to the Father) but He is present by His Holy Spirit.

So much more than Crackers and grape juice.

Two Different Bishops

 

 

 

 

 

 

The man on the left is Bishop John Parkes of the Diocese of Wangaratta. The man on the right is Bishop Rick Lewers of the Diocese of Armidale (my Bishop).

Both of these men share some things in common. Both these men:

Are Bishops:

Are Bishops of a smaller Rural Diocese:

Made the same vows when they were ordained as Bishops.

Bot these men were exhorted to:

Be faithful in prayer, diligent in the study of the Holy Scriptures so that [they] may be equipped to teach and encourage, and to proclaim to the gospel to all. To correct and set aside teaching that is contrary to the mind of Christ, both privately and publicly, urging all to live according to God’s Word. To put aside all ungodly and worldly behaviour, and live modestly, in justice and godliness, so that by [their lives] and example [they] may commend Christ’s truth.

Bot these men publicly affirmed that they were convinced:

that the Holy Scriptures contain all doctrine necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and that with God’s help you will instruct from them the people committed to your care, teaching nothing as essential to salvation which cannot be demonstrated from the Scriptures.

Both of these men stated:

I firmly and sincerely believe the Catholic Faith and I give my assent to the doctrine of the Anglican Church (insert province) as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons: I believe that doctrine to be agreeable to the Word of God;

However…

The Bishop of Wangaratta:

Believes in a different God – a God who is a God of love, and because of this, those living lifestyles that Scripture says are sinful is irrelevant because God is love. So two gay men who are married in the eyes of the law, it is therefore incumbent upon those in the church to bless them because God is love and God’s love overrules God’s other attributes, (i.e Holiness, Righteousness,) and God’s love even overrules what He has said in His own Word.

“This is a long overdue recognition that if God is love, and faithful persons are living together in love, then the church ought to bless those persons in the name of God,” 

Believes in a different Gospel –  A gospel that says “come as you are and stay as you are”;  that consists of a half-truth that is presented as the whole truth. A gospel that has no repentance.

“It’s about inclusivity. It’s about God being God of all people.”

“There are many gay people who are faithful Christians, who are living in the church”.

“I hope that at least in this part of north-east Victoria it will mean that gay and lesbian Christians can be who they are; marry under state law and be blessed and accepted in their church.”

“‘God loves you and we love you and you are who you are, and that’s okay!'”

Submits the Scripture through the lens of culture and subjective human reason

My own view is that there’s nothing in the Bible that understands the sorts of relationships that we are talking about, in this day and age.”

By way of contrast, Bishop Rick Lewers wrote in a recent publication an excellent review of a book entitled Marriage, Same-Sex Marriage and the Anglican Church of Australia: Essays from the Doctrine Commission. 

Understanding the Scriptures requires you to listen to what God has said and to sit under his authority. Where a part of the Bible is unclear we don’t ignore it but we look to the rest of the Bible to offer us further understanding.

By contrast, interpreting the Scriptures makes you the authority over what God has said allowing influences such as tradition, reason, and experience to determine your thoughts.

This is not just semantics. When we seek to understand, understanding submits our reason, tradition and contemporary circumstances to God’s Word. When we seek to interpret, interpreting submits God’s word to our reason, traditions and contemporary circumstances. The outcomes can be significantly different when it comes to faith and practice.

Start with God and you start with the Almighty, the Sovereign, the Holy and Perfect. Start with humanity and every effort is flawed from the start by our creatureliness, weakness and fallen nature. It is hardly surprising that when we get God wrong we get ourselves wrong. It is hardly surprising when we put ourselves in God’s place that we will compromise God’s absolutes.

Given that contrast, it can only be the sin of hubris that would have us pursuing interpretations that offer permissions to things God has spoken against rather than encouraging repentance and faith that comes with understanding God’s Word. Such hubris will heal no ills, trivialise sin, reduce Christ, profit no salvation and consign people to hell.

The book that Bishop Lewers reviews is one that provides a window into the chasm that exists within the Anglican Church and of the two irreconcilable theological tectonic plates that are colliding, both of whom claim the name Anglican.

These two Bishops are but a snapshot of that same chasm.

Both these men have things in common; both these men:

Are Bishops:

Are Bishops of a smaller Rural Diocese:

Made the same vows when they were ordained as Bishops.

but that is where the similarities begin and end.

“There Can Be Only One”

Recently I came across another concerning post on Anglican Pastor entitled “4 Reasons Why I Now Celebrate Communion Facing the Altar, Not the People”

In this piece the author, Rev’d Ben Jefferies give four reasons why he has adopted the practice. However after reading his piece I remain unconvinced by his article for numerous reasons and found his article concerning on several fronts. No doubt there are others who can articulate those concerns better than I can, but here are two reasons that stood out to me.

1. Anglicans do not have altars.

Jefferies insists of using the term altar when even those most cursory glance at the liturgy of the Anglican Church (the Book of Common Prayer) and the history of Classical Cranmerian Anglicanism shows that we have no altars. Whilst some may deem his use of the term to be mere semantics, I believe that Jefferies use is deliberate. It buttresses his notion that although we don’t offer anything pertaining to our salvation, we still offer something; and also supports his notion that the priest’s role is sacerdotal, not in the full Roman sense, but in a way that goes beyond the Scriptures. For example he writes:

The spotlight is no longer on you, as a person, and the experience you are or are not having. Rather, you become subordinate to the role you are there to fulfill: the role of priest…In the pulpit I am to preach God’s Word to the people. But in the Eucharistic prayers, I am to take the people’s spiritual needs to God, as an appointed intercessor. 

Anglican priests/presbyters preside over a memorial meal at the Lord’s table. They do not act as the appointed interccessor at the Altar. God’s people only have one appointed intercessor and that it is the Holy Spirit:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, becausethe Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.(Romans 8:26-27)

God’s people also have only one mediator – the Lord Jesus Christ

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”  (1 Tim 2:5-6)

Know where in the Book of Common Prayer is the Lord’s Table ever referred to as an Altar. The Rubric in the BCP also says:

The Table at the Communion time having a fair white linen cloth upon it, shall stand in the body of the Church, or in the Chancel, where Morning and Evening Prayer are appointed to be said. And the Priest standing on the north side of the Table shall say the Lord’s Prayer with the Collect following, the people kneeling. 

This was ratified in the changes made in the second Prayer Book of Edward VI (1552). Two important changes that are worth noting:

  • The term altar was removed and no loner used to refer to the Holy Table.
  • The officiating clergyman was to stand “at the north side” of the table instead of “afore the midst of the altar”

2. We are not sacrificing or offering anything at the Lord’s Table

Jefferies seems to be struggling to have it both ways. He writes: As the priest, I am presenting things to God, to please him.

But then states: What can we present to [God] that he will find acceptable? Certainly not our merits or works or anything from us, or even, anything in the created world whatsoever. The only offering that is pleasing to God is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross at Golgotha. That was the one pleasing, propitiatory sacrifice. The only acceptable oblation to God the Father.

Yes, as the BCP says:

Almighty God, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death on the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction, for the sins fo the whole world;

But then again puzzlingly, Jefferies states:

Therefore, how dare we bring before Almighty God anything of less value! Therefore, the best (and only!) thing we can offer is a memorial of that one sacrifice on the cross. A remembrance to God, that we spiritually lift up before him, asking for him to accept in our place. We ask God the Father to accept the oblation of Jesus on our behalf, and in a mysterious way, we make this plea through the celebration of Holy Communion.

The only thing that we can offer to God of ourselves is our gratitude: Our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving (to use the words of the Eucharistic prayer). And besides that, our whole selves, which we also offer in the prayer.

But even as we offer ourselves, it is not as ourselves that we render ourselves to the Father. Rather, as the Body of Christ, as part of Christ, we the Church present our lives, body and soul, to God, as part of Christ’s own offering of himself to God.

Some may think we offer something on an Altar, we don’t offer anything on a table. 1 At the Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion, we are not presenting anything to God. We are not asking God to accept anything in our place, as Scripture and the BCP already attests, Christ has made the once for all sacrifice in our place. We don’t need to ask God the Father to accept what He has already accepted.

W.H. Griffith Thomas puts it well in his seminal work The Catholic Faith: a Manual of Instruction for Members of the Church of England:

The truth is that, strictly and accurately, the Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice but a sacrament. It has sacrificial aspects and relations because it is so closely associated in thought and purpose with the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and becasue it is the standing testimony to the world and to ourselves of our constant need of and perpetual dependance on that sacrifice in all our approach to God. In a sacrifice we give, we yield up; in a sacrament we receive, we appropriate. The only acts in the Lord’s Supper according to the institution are “take”, “eat”, “drink”, “this do”, and these are not sacrificial. The ideas of a sacrifice and a sacrament are so distinct and different that the Lord’s Supper, unless Scripture warrants it, cannot be both at the same time”.

So for an Anglican priest to adopt a posture that sends the message that we have altars, that Anglican priests are acting as intercessors and mediators, that we are offering anysort of sacrifice, turns the Lord’s Supper into something it is not.

I remember as a teenager watching a movie entitled The Highlander. I don’t remember much of this movie except two things:

  1. The main actor’s Scottish accent has to be the worst version in movie history (even Mel Gibson’s Braveheart version was better).
  2. The line in the movie “there can be only one” (that is, only one immortal).

Thus when it comes to the Altar “there can be only one” – and it was the Cross at Golgotha. When it comes to the sacrifice, there can be only one – and that was the Lord Jesus Christ.  When it comes to our mediator, there can be only one – and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. When it comes to the intercessor for God’s people in prayer, – there can be only one – and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Footnote:

1. A careful reading of the liturgy of the BCP one can see that the prayer where we offer “our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” takes place after the Lord’s Prayer, which is prayed after the Lord’s Supper has completed. Note the rubric:

When all have communicated; the Minster shall return to the Lord’s Table, and reverently place upon it what remaineth of the consecrated Elements, covering the same with a fair linen cloth. Then shall the Priest says the Lord’s Prayer, the people repeateding after him ever petition. 

I believe that Cranmer was intentionally placing this prayer where he does in order to dispell any notion that we are offering anything upon an altar and that our prayers be consistent with the Apostle Paul’s teaching that the sacrifice we offer is our daily lives (Romans 12:1).