In response to the post on what to do with the offering, Ruben asks,
“I’m still curious — are you saying that if the Lord’s Supper is absent (more generally, if no sacraments are administered), it’s not (proper) worship? Certainly a worship service with no Word or no Prayer seems absurd. And certainly we can’t have baptism every worship service …Is it just through faulty tradition that I feel comfortable with a worship service lacking the Table?”
Not exactly, though I can see how that might seem to follow from what I said. I have struggled over how to express the the essential nature of the sacraments to Christian worship without making them mandatory in every service. Obviously baptism can only be administered when there are candidates for baptism. It’s my conviction that the Supper should be administered every Lord’s Day. I agree with Calvin who thought that it ought to be administered every time the gospel is preached. I can’t say, however, that any service lacking the Supper is not a service but I don’t want to say that the Supper is not essential. The sacraments are not things that we can change at will or omit the way we would a change or omit a circumstance. Ordinarily, there is no obvious moral question regarding the time of service. That’s a matter of wisdom. We cannot simply begin omitting the Supper, however, without doing great damage to worship. It is properly a constituent of the service.
Each sacrament has to be administered according to its purpose and nature. The purpose and nature of baptism is to signify and seal the admission of one into the visible covenant community. The nature and purpose of the supper is to renew our profession of faith, to be fed by the body and blood of Christ. It is a sign/seal of covenant renewal. The promise of God is renewed and our reciprocal response is renewed. Van Mastricht called the supper a “sacrament of nutrition.” Thus it is appropriate to observe it every week. Its omission is a a defect in our services. That’s why I wrote as I did.
Should a Reformed person feel uncomfortable with anything less than weekly communion? The short answer is “yes.” If we view the Supper as the divinely instituted pledge whereby his promises to us are renewed, and if we view it as a sacred, divinely instituted meal whereby, by the mystical operation of the Spirit, by faith, we feed on the “proper and natural body and blood” of Christ (Belgic Confession), then one would think this is something to be desired! How can a Reformed person say, “Oh well, I just don’t want God to confirm his promises to me every week, because then the act of having the promises confirmed to me just won’t mean anything.” Of course no Reformed person would say this.
I am convinced by my experience as a pastor and teacher that the reason members of Reformed congregations are comfortable with less than weekly communion is because they don’t not actually view the Supper as a communion with the risen Christ. They view it as a funeral and subconsciously they know that they cannot tolerate the emotional cost of attending a funeral every week. When they say “It won’t mean as much” what they are actually saying is that “it will not have the same emotional affect as it does when we have the Supper less frequently.”
Of course the Supper has an affect upon us but that is not the primary intent or function or result of the Supper. The primary intent and function of the Supper is the same as the preached Gospel. It is to testify to us of the good news that Christ is raised from the dead and that all who trust him are right with God. The Supper is the application of the promise of the gospel to particular believers. This is why the catechism says, “as certainly as….” As surely as I receive the elements from the hand of the minister, just as surely am I assured that the gospel is really true for me.
I don’t know about you, but I am a weak a beggarly sinner. As Luther said, “Wir sein Pettler. Hoc est verum.” We are beggars, this is true! As such I need to have the promises sealed to me as often as the Word of God and the church will allow. It’s not a funeral, it’s a communion meal in and with the body of our risen Savior, and with his body the church. What’s not to like?