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.

Ten Most Read Posts in 2019

My blog really serves as a writing journal of sorts and so I am always amazed that anyone would read anything I have written as there are so many others who write about the things I write about and do it better. So I find it interesting to see what people have read and where they have come from.

Below are the top ten most-read articles:

10 – From the Archives – Marcion’s Preaching Roster

This is a seven-year-old article that I reposted (from my old blog). It is about the weaknesses of the Lectionary (namely the Lectionary for the APBA -which is the A Prayer Book for Australia – 95).

9 – Smoke…and…Mirrors 

A response to the now-retired Bishop of Wangaratta attempts to appear Biblically faithful while not being Biblically faithful.

8 – The Fallacy of the Three Streams

A critique of the attempted fusion of Evangelical, Catholic, Pentecostal theologies under the auspices of Anglican Church in North America.

7 – What is the go with the term ‘Priest’

A piece I wrote to clear up the confusion about words, one word, the word priest and whether or not Anglicans should use it.

6- “There Can Be Only One”

A response to an article written for Anglican Pastor about why a priest celebrates communion facing the ‘altar’ and not the people. Anglican churches don’t have altars, there is only one – the Cross at Calvary.

5 -” The Same Old Anglican Problem

The Anglican Church consists of two religions, this piece is putting forth that this problem is nothing new.

4 – ‘A Commination Service’ – A Forgotten Jewel in the Anglican Crown

A small piece about the merits of using a service in the Book of Common Prayer that is largely forgotten.

3 – The Anglican Volcano in the Land of Oz

Australia is far away from many nations, but the Anglican Church in Australia is far from being immune to the anti-gospel forces that have erupted in those nations. It is coming here.

2-  Anglican Priests – Ontological? Functional? Or Something else?

Amazing that I wrote this published this piece over three years ago and it still receives hits. This is about the role of Anglican clergy.

1 – The Swanson Diocese

This article by far had the biggest hits, not just this year, but in all the years that I have had a blog. It is a response to the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle’s recent passing of two bills that enable clergy to bless what God in His Word deems to be sinful, to bless what the Bible says is an expression of an anti-God state of mind (see Romans 1:18ff), to declare holy what God states keeps people out of the Kingdom of God, and redefined the doctrine of marriage. The Anglican Diocese of Newcastle was where I was Deaconed, Priested and completed my curacy, thus it was the hardest piece I have ever written and one that I agonised over whether to publish or not.

Top Ten Countries

People visited from 76 countries.

  1. Australia
  2. USA
  3. UK
  4. Canada
  5. Philippines
  6. Nigeria
  7. Malaysia
  8. New Zealand
  9. South Africa
  10. Ireland

The only surprise for me is that Australia made the top spot. This is the first time this has happened as last year (and every previous year) the top country was the USA. For some reason, American Anglicans seem to like Convictional Anglican. It would have been the same this year but the Swanson Diocese article saw a massive surge from Australia.

Back in 2020.

 

The Stable & The Cross

My brother is a chef in England. He used to work at a lovely pub called The Axe & Compass. For the life of me, I cannot work out what an axe has to do with a compass nor how one points to the other.

Christmas reminds me of The Axe & Compass. Not because it is a pub where much drinking occurs but because the essence of Christmas consists of two words that at first glance, also don’t seem to work when you put them together, and those two things are the stable & cross.  Perhaps your response to these two things is the same as my initial reaction when I heard about the Axe & Compass, what does the stable have to do with a cross? How does one point to the other?

After all we all know the Christmas story, we have all seen the nativity scene in our local shopping centers. Ok, so the traditional nativity scene has taken some liberties regarding the number of wise men, wherever there was actually an inn, or what it an upper room, or a stable or a cave. But we all know the basics. There was a young very pregnant mum, a birth, a healthy newborn baby boy, a star, Bethlehem and Angels.

But what does the cross have to do with a stable? Afterall the cross is about Easter, isn’t it? The stable is about a birth, Easter is about a death, how can the stable and cross go together?

The answer is not as way out as it seems. The stable and the cross go together when we answer the question ‘why’? Why was Jesus born? Why did he come to this earth? Why did Jesus leave his throne in heaven to become vulnerable flesh and blood? Why did God become one of us?

The wonderful thing about these questions is that they are questions that have an answer, and even more wonderful, Jesus himself answers the question.

In his gospel Mark records an event where two of Jesus disciples, James and John had plans, big plans. They were ambitious and wanted great things – for themselves. And they thought the key to greatness was Jesus, so they asked him to make them great. Jesus turns their worldview upside down (or is it the right way up?) by telling them that the key to greatness is serving others. Then Jesus gives them the example of himself and at the same time answers the question of why he was born:

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve,

 and to give his life as a ransom for many”.

The ultimate act of serving others is Jesus giving his life as a ransom for many, and Jesus did this by going to the cross where the ransom of Jesus’ life was paid to God the Father, who accepted it as just payment for the sins of many.

And there was so much excitement when Jesus was born. This is why God made Jesus birth known to shepherds. It is no wonder that they rushed to see him, and then told everybody about him.

It seems to me at least that many people are not amazed about the birth of Jesus, and I wonder if this is because people are too busy to stop and reflect on why Jesus was born? Perhaps people are not amazed about Jesus’ birth because they think of Jesus as only ever being a baby? You see a baby, Jesus is not threatening, he does not speak.

But what makes Jesus birth amazing is not just his birth but the reason why. The stable points to the cross.

The stable and the cross makes Christmas wonderful. The stable and the cross is God’s way of connecting with us and the stable and cross is the only way that we can connect with him.

Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with family and friends, it is a wonderful opportunity to eat the food we don’t normally eat, (and to eat more than we would normally eat), and it is often a time of connecting with others. But Jesus is God saying, I want to reconnect with you!

Stable & Cross are words that appear to not fit together but to have Christmas without them makes for a plastic Christmas. No-one likes plastic gifts at Christmas, so when we see the Stable & Cross, why settle for a plastic Christmas?

 

Merry Christmas.