Guide Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lords Supper

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We should not presume from this that the church should always seek to meet daily for worship instead of weekly, or worship at the Jerusalem Temple for that matter. It is simply asking too much of Acts to provide us with answers concerning the exact frequency of these worship activities. Acts Here we read of a worship service described as a gathering together to break bread. Here the breaking of bread clearly refers to communion. But again, this conclusion assumes too much. Even John Calvin, himself a pro-weekly advocate, sees the possibility of a special occasion for the Supper when he writes on v.


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Acts Commentary. The church has recognized the exegetical force of this phrase as referring to a regular frequency for the Supper without stipulating the exact frequency of the custom. The church historically has seen that the preaching of the gospel is the primary means of grace, and there is no worship without it. But the Supper is a secondary means of grace; it is subject to the preached Word and is only effectual when it is fenced and explained by the Word.

There are plenty of examples in the New Testament of sermons without any mention of the Supper. Historical overview: When one scans the recent literature proposing weekly communion, one cannot help be surprised at how confident the supporters of the position are that the Bible clearly teaches their view. In their thinking the New Testament clearly sets the pattern for weekly communion.

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But one cannot help wonder; if the Bible is that clear on the matter, why did our spiritual forefathers miss this for hundreds, even thousands of years? Augustine reported that in his day that the frequency of communion was different in different places. Augustine saw there was no Scriptural rule for the frequency of communion and urged his people to conform to the practice which he finds prevailing in the church to which it may be his lot to come Epistles 54, 2. Martin Luther, in his Preface to the Small Catechism, wrote: We are to force no one to believe, or to receive the Sacrament, nor fix any law, nor time, nor place for it, but are to preach in such a manner that of their own accord, without our law, they will urge themselves and, as it were, compel us pastors to administer the Sacrament.

The Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God leaves the frequency of communion a matter of freedom left to each session to decide. Berkhof only writes that the Supper should be celebrated regularly; he seems fine with his own non-weekly tradition. The question begs to be asked; if the Bible is clear that the pattern left to us is weekly communion, why did Augustine, Luther, the Westminster Divines, and the vast majority of our best Reformed theologians fail to see in the Scriptures what the weekly communion proponents see so clearly?

A common response in the pro-weekly literature is that the Reformed churches and theologians over-reacted to Rome, and that over-reaction has continued to the present time. I do not believe this is a very satisfying explanation. Would not an over-reaction to the Roman practice be a more frequent partaking of the Supper than the monthly or quarterly practice of the Reformers?

If one is to argue that the majority of our forefathers overreacted to Rome by refusing to celebrate communion weekly, could one just as well argue that the pro-weekly advocates are over-reacting to Baptists?

Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord's Supper

These types of arguments simply fail to advance the cause. Also, have men like Berkhof and Hodge not proven that they are driven by proper exegesis, regardless of a possible misuse of the doctrine? A view of the Westminster Divines, Berkhof and Hodge which suggests that they failed to see a clear truth of Scripture because they were simply over-reacting to Rome fails to do justice to these men, their proven character, and their exegetical commitments.

It is fairer to say that these men simply did not see the Bible teaching weekly communion. This in itself should cause weekly proponents to pause before suggesting weekly communion is clearly implied by either the Acts or I Corinthians passages. Making a Meal of It has inspired me to revisit the way I celebrate communion and has deepened my understanding of the ceremony. I highly recommend it to any thoughtful Christian.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of this book is the way Witherington pushes beyond what usually becomes the focus of this debate - sacrament or ordinance - and reminds us that it's not about the elements, the priest, the prayer, but Christ Himself who invites us to the table as sinners saved by grace. Covering the pertinent NT texts, as well as the historical development from the early church up through the reformation and beyond, Witherington explains just how we've lost the most crucial meaning of this meal: unity with Christ and with others.

Those who hold to a highly Catholic understanding of the table will find their position undermined, but those who see it simply as a ritual empty of spiritual meaning will be challenged to see it as so much more. I enjoyed this book thoroughly.

I'm typically a fan of BW's commentaries, and even where I might disagree with conclusions, his perspective adds great insight. Here BW traces the meal from its origins in the passover and gospel accounts, through the NT practice, down through 2, years of abbreviated church history. Three main strengths to this book How helpful it is to know what the meal was then in order to know what it should be now.

Little is assumed and so much is learned. He points out instances where the church has erred, from transubstantiation to serving Kool-Aid and animal crackers. But the main strength in this book is that it suggests a topic of conversation and provides the necessary information for the conversation to proceed. This book is a great start to a conversation worth having with your church leadership. BW has set the table; sit down with your brothers and sisters and eat! Witherington's book is useful for anyone wishing to look at the history of communion practices.

However, his suggestions for how churches might practice communion seem to place more empasis on how the early church observed the Lord's Supper than on the practices of Christians through the thousands of years since. Simply because the early church followed certain practices does not mean that God has not continued to reveal himself through the sacraments of the church. The other fault that I have with the book is that it seems to address the issue as if churches seem to be having controversial discussions of the topic. Still, this is a useful and thought provoking book for people interested in the topic of communion observance.

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DA Carson - The Lord's supper

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