Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. (1Corinthians 11:27-30)
It has been hard to submit to our civil authorities in the matter of corporate worship. Virtual worship has been tried and found wanting. Sure, we have lived through it, but there’s something about flesh and blood. Each other’s and our Lord’s. Speaking of which…
Back in the heyday of Federal Vision, one of their number explained to my brother and me that the women of his church working with children outside the sanctuary were coming back into the sanctuary at the end of the sermon in order not to miss partaking of the Lord’s supper. It was a damning admission, but to his credit, this brother told us the story in order to make the point he had corrected the sisters and they no longer did so.
What was wrong with this?
Roman Catholics are sacramentalists and thus they believe the Lord’s supper is effective conferring grace without fail simply by virtue of the administration itself. This is why the center of Roman Catholic doctrine is transubstantiation. How can eating the actual physical body and drinking the actual physical blood of Jesus fail to improve one’s spiritual standing with God?
Yet the Word of God makes a distinction between circumcised foreskins and circumcised hearts. It hammers home that the first without the second brings condemnation and judgment, not salvation. And thus it was that the Reformers facing the idolatrous Roman Mass placed the preaching of God’s Word back at the center of Christian worship and relegated the Lord’s supper to its Biblical subordinate position.
Consider that Calvin allowed the civil magistrates to ban the Lord’s supper from most of Geneva’s worship each Lord’s Day, but the preaching of God’s Word was never absent. It has always been a fundamental principle of Reformed Protestantism that worship may have the preaching of God’s Word without the Lord’s supper but never the Lord’s supper without the preaching of God’s Word.
It is the proclamation of God’s Word that prepares the soul for communion around the Lord’s table, stirring up faith in the Son of God Whose death saves us from the wrath of His Father.
This truth has been left behind by many reforming baptists. Having once become convinced that neither circumcision nor baptism were to be administered on the basis of the faith of the individual receiving the sacrament, they wrongly conclude faith isn’t necessary for the Lord’s supper to be efficacious, either. This is the reason former baptists who have become reformed have led a wholesale rejection of reformed sacramentology that has resulted in many congregations of former baptists communing their infants and allowing women who were outside the sanctuary during the preaching of God’s Word to return for the Lord’s supper.
It is understandable that former baptists have been susceptible to these mistakes, but they must be corrected today as John Calvin and the Reformers rebuked and corrected this error in the time of the Reformation. Explicitly.1
Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to examine ourselves before receiving the sacrament of baptism. Nowhere in Scripture do we have accounts of souls who refused to examine themselves prior to receiving the sacrament of baptism who then became sick and died because of their abuse of this sacrament. Scripture commands baptism, but it is noticeably absent among the four devotions of the Jerusalem church as they gathered day by day and week by week for fellowship and worship.
Scripture makes clear that baptism and the Lord’s supper are two different sacraments with two different sets of requirements and two different methods of participation. This is what the Reformers taught and practiced in submission to the teaching of the Apostles. Clomping these two sacraments together and administering them both on a covenantal basis is, of course, a natural error for those new to the covenants and federal headship, but those of us who preceded them in confessing covenantal theology and federal headship have done them no favors in our refusal to correct their error.
Those who partake of the Lord’s supper must “examine themselves,” and they must do so in light of the preaching of God’s Word and the faith that preaching and His Word are used by the Holy Spirit to communicate to them.
The Protestant Reformers uniformly witnessed against Rome’s “idolatry” in the Mass because of the denial of faith as the qualification for partaking and the absence of preaching as the necessary means for the Holy Spirit’s giving of that faith. The communing of infants and pre-cognizant children incapable of examining themselves as Scripture commands for this sacrament is no small error. It leads directly back to the sacramentalism of Rome which treats the Lord’s supper as effective with or without the proclamation of God’s Word and the faith that Word brings to the mind and conscience and heart of sinful man.
We have been too eager to make common cause with former baptists in their newfound affirmation of covenantal headship. Having not corrected paedocommunion born of their newfound enthusiasm, we now find this error entering the historic Reformed church, and with it this error’s natural companions of father’s administering household communion and pastors’ abandonment of those historic warnings at the Lord’s table universally repeated for five centuries of Reformed worship, now.
Unlike the sacrament of baptism, the table of our Lord requires self-examination and personal faith on the part of each recipient. Therefore the proclamation of God’s Word must be the context for each administration of this sacrament because this Word of God has always been the means ordained by God to communicate saving faith.
For those confused about the Biblical distinctions outlined above, here’s a simple test to apply to your own congregation’s administration of the Lord’s supper. Prior to its administration, does your pastor warn you and the other members of the congregation to examine yourself prior to communing? And if so, is his warning there at the table given to all those who will be eating and drinking there?
If your church is sacramentalist, there will be no warning, but only positive encouragement to “Come! Come! Come!” And like the sheep they are, the congregation will respond, not by obeying Scripture and examining themselves for hidden sin which is violating the Body of Christ, but instead by “Eating! Eating! Eating!”
This is not the Apostolic practice, nor the practice restored to the Church by our beloved Reformers. No errors are more dangerous across salvation history than the mishandling of the sacraments. Remember Corinth. Remember those who were sick and the others who had fallen asleep.
We rejoice in the growth of Reformed soteriology among Evangelicals high and low the past few decades, but we plead with them to have the humility to learn from those who have gone before us in the great and difficult work of reform of the Bride of Christ.
|↑1||Furthermore, they object that there is no more reason to administer baptism to infants than the Lord’s Supper, which is not permitted to them. As if Scripture did not mark a wide difference in every respect! This permission was indeed commonly given in the ancient church, as is clear from Cyprian and Augustine, but the custom has deservedly fallen into disuse. For if we consider the peculiar character of baptism, surely it is an entrance and a sort of initiation into the church, through which we are numbered among God’s people: a sign of our spiritual regeneration, through which we are reborn as children of God. On the other hand, the Supper is given to older persons who, having passed tender infancy, can now take solid food.|
This distinction is very clearly shown in Scripture. For with respect to baptism, the Lord there sets no definite age. But he does not similarly hold forth the Supper for all to partake of, but only for those who are capable of discerning the body and blood of the Lord, of examining their own conscience, of proclaiming the Lord’s death, and of considering its power.
Do we wish anything plainer than the apostle’s teaching when he exhorts each man to prove and search himself, then to eat of this bread and drink of this cup? A self-examination ought, therefore, to come first, and it is vain to expect this of infants. Again: “He who eats unworthily eats and drinks condemnation for himself, not discerning the body of the Lord”. If only those who know how to distinguish rightly the holiness of Christ’s body are able to participate worthily, why should we offer poison instead of life-giving food to our tender children? What is that command of the Lord: “Do this in remembrance of me”? What is that other command which the apostle derives from it: “As often as you eat this bread, you will proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”?
What remembrance of this thing, I ask, shall we require of infants when they have never grasped it? What preaching of the cross of Christ, the force and benefit of which their minds have not yet comprehended? None of these things is prescribed in baptism. Accordingly, there is a very great difference between these two signs, as we have noted in like signs also under the Old Testament. Circumcision, which is known to correspond to our baptism, had been appointed for infants. But the Passover, the place of which has been taken by the Supper, did not admit all guests indiscriminately, but was duly eaten only by those who were old enough to be able to inquire into its meaning. If these men had a particle of sound brain left, would they be blind to a thing so clear and obvious?
It troubles me to burden my readers with a heap of trifles. Nevertheless, it behooves us to make short work of the specious reasons which Servetus, not the least among the Anabaptists—indeed, the great glory of that tribe—girding himself for conflict, decided to bring forward…
2. [Servetus] objects, that Christ’s symbols were instituted for remembrance, in order that everyone should remember that he was buried with Christ. I reply that what he has contrived out of his own head needs no refutation; indeed, what he applies to baptism rightly refers to the Sacred Supper, as Paul’s words show: “that each one examine himself”; there is nowhere any such thing said of baptism. From this we conclude that those who, because of their youth, are not yet capable of examination may rightly be baptized…
8. He objects that they must be fed spiritual food if they are new men. The answer is easy: by baptism they are admitted into Christ’s flock, and the symbol of their adoption suffices them until as adults they are able to bear solid food. Therefore, we should wait for the time of examination, which God expressly requires in the Sacred Supper.
9. Afterward, he objects that Christ calls all his people to the Sacred Supper. Yet it is clear enough that he admits none but those who are already prepared to celebrate the remembrance of his death. From this it follows that infants, whom he vouchsafed to embrace, remain in their distinct and proper rank until they grow up, and yet are not strangers. He objects that it is monstrous for a man, after being born, not to eat. I answer: souls are fed in another way than by the outward eating of the Supper; therefore, to infants Christ is nonetheless food, though they abstain from the symbol. But the case is different in baptism, by which only the door into the church is opened to them…
12. He claims further that all Christians are brothers, but that, to us, children are not of that number so long as we keep them away from the Supper. But I return to that principle that only those who are members of Christ are heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven; then Christ’s embrace was the true token of adoption, by which infants are joined in common with adults, and that abstaining from the Supper for a time does not prevent them from belonging to the body of the church. Indeed, the thief converted on the cross did not fail to become a brother of the pious, although he never came to the Supper.
But it is no wonder that those reprobate spirits, as if agitated by a frenzy, drag in the crassest absurdities in defense of their errors. For God justly avenges their pride and obstinacy by such irrationality. I trust I have made plain how weakly Servetus has supported his little Anabaptist brothers. (Institutes; IV.16.30-31)