December 13, 2017

The Baptist Way: Discerning the Fullness of Christ in the Lord’s Supper (3)

0d600.jpgExodus 12:13 13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.

Ex. 12:14 “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.

Exodus 12:24 You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. 25 And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’ ” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.

Most of the discussion regarding the meaning of the Lord’s Supper goes on around the intention of Jesus in the words of institution in the Gospels, Paul’s pastoral teaching in Corinthians, and references to eating flesh and drinking blood in John 6. While the discussion is in no way restricted to these passages, there is no doubt that the majority of disagreement occurs around what Jesus intended in words like “This is my body.”

Baptist Old Testament scholar Peter Gentry suggests, however, that the meaning of Jesus’ words may not lie in the words themselves as much as in the context of the meal itself: A Jewish passover meal that Jesus and his disciples were very familiar with, and a meal with considerable scripture devoted to its meaning and description in Exodus.

The instructions for the first passover are very detailed, but these instructions also contain guidance for future celebrations of the passover and particularly for the meaning of the passover meal.

For instance, the original blood on the doorposts was a “sign” to the angel of judgment, but the passover meal itself was a “memorial,” or a remembrance of that event. The Jews are instructed to continually repeat the passover meal, but not to repeat the blood on the doorposts.

This is significant, for it demonstrates that passover was not a literal re-happening of the event, but an active, symbolic, re-participation of some of the elements in the deepest meaning of the event.

Jesus did not instruct his disciples with any new meaning for the passover lamb because the lamb itself was a “remembrance” of the true paschal lamb, Jesus himself. Instead, Jesus instructs his disciples to continue this meal, but not with an altered and completed understanding of God’s salvation.

In the passover liturgy, children ask what is the meaning of the meal. The answer is “It is the sacrifice….” “It IS the sacrifice.” I know of no one who takes this language to mean a passover meal is the literal recreation of the same sacrifice, but a reliving and revisiting of the meaning of that sacrifice using elements of the passover meal.

Jesus’ words of institution refer then, in this view, to the elements of passover applied to himself. The bread and the wine have a specific meaning in salvation history, and that meaning is now being transfered, transformed and fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus.

One of the real problems with the literal presence view is that, when interpreted strictly, it causes Jesus to create his “body and blood” in the upper room BEFORE he goes to the cross. In my opinion, this inverts the entire Gospel story and opens the door to significant reversals in emphasis so that the supper takes on a meaning separate from the meaning of the death of Jesus on the cross. The words of institution give to Jesus followers two elements of the passover meal to now remember in the context of the passover meal itself, but with the sacrificial death of Jesus as the fulfilled meaning of that remembrance.

Therefore, to comes to the Lord’s Table is to see, believe and confess Jesus as the true passover lamb, and to remember- in a living, life changing way- the death of Jesus as the fulfillment and revelation of God’s salvation of his people.

BHT fellow and blogger at Confessing Evangelical John Halton has raised the issue of “real identification” as being the heart of ecumenical eucharistic language. I would direct the reader back to the passages cited above to consider what is “real” in this identification.

Exodus 12:26 And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover,

What kind of identification is being advocated in this passage? Is it “real?” I cannot imagine how we explain that this is, by the standards of so many, not a real identification.

When we begin describing the mechanics of real identification rather than allowing the Biblical language to function as a sufficient description for the Biblical mind and for our own, we invite divisions that do not grow out of the text at all.

When I consider some of the theology that commonly separates Christians over the Lord’s Supper, I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Colossians: In him, Paul said, the fullness of God dwells bodily. All that God is comes to us in Jesus. To be in Christ is to have the fullness of God in Christ.

Among Christians, there can be no more important idea than the fact that we have, through faith, all that God is for us in Christ. There are not two levels of Christians, and whatever theological distinctions we make, there can never be any division that amounts to “some Christians have Christ” and “some Christians don’t have all of Christ.”

When we hear similar kinds of distinctions made by some charismatics- “Some have the fullness of the Spirit and some do not”- we are right to suspect that the church is being divided wrongly and that Christian unity is injured. We would be similarly right to be wary is someone should say that “Christ” is present in one aspect of Gospel worship, and not present in others. The entire excursion into using “real” as an adjective to describe the presence of the Word in the world in only one particular way seems to be fraught with danger.

In the same way, I am convinced that some theologies of the Lord’s Supper seem to teach that the “fullness” of Christ is available to some in the Eucharist, while other faithful, Christ receptive believers without that Eucharistic theology and practice have less of Christ or less access to Christ. In no other area of Christian theology and worship do I sense more flirtation with the idea “some have Christ” and “some do not.”

This is a primary reason I am drawn to the “passover fulfillment” view of the Lord’s Supper. Scripture commands all of us to come to the Lord’s Table prepared to discern the body and blood of Jesus. To “discern” is a particular word that takes me into the entire world of the passover story, and the unique place of Jesus Christ in it. It is a word about what is always present for us in the Word that is Jesus the true passover, yet may not be discerned if our vision is obscured.

It’s my prayer that Baptists will “discern” Christ in his supper and at his table, but more so, that they will discern him in the entire witness of scripture, the entire salvation-history of Israel and in the Gospel that, as Robert Capon says, is part of the very fabric of existence itself.

Comments

  1. Nicholas Anton says:

    I appreciate what you have written.

    Regarding The Lord’s Table, Scripture, including 1 Cor. 11, teaches us that we must come to Christ in a broken state (judge ourselves). Yet, frequently by what we state and practice, we imply that we must repair or at the least confess to Christ every sin before we can come. That we cannot do apart from Christ. We do not even know ourselves well enough to do so. As the Broken Body of Christ unites the church, likewise, we come broken before Christ as a believing, broken (not divided) unity.

    The original church was one, as represented by the unity of all believers universal, and in the various communities. However, the unity broke when various bodies of believers began to see themselves as separate from one another, and hence, not as part of the same communion. While separation on the basis of false doctrine, practice and apostasy is Biblical, separation on the basis of denominational badge, culture, or even individual church affiliation is not.

    We insist that Salvation is by Grace, through Faith alone, and yet we frequently place works restrictions on believers to becoming part of the official church and to function as a believer in it. As the human race is one, and Israel is one, likewise the Church is one. Entry into the Church is not through works or ritual, but by faith alone. Faith not only entitles but demands that each believer partake of all the promises and responsibilities of God in Christ, including baptism and communion, and not discrimination because of age, works, denomination, church etc..

    The problem in the Church at Corinth as addressed by Paul in 1 Cor. 11 was division between those present at the communion table itself; those who partook versus those who did not/could not. Those who indulged and those looked and coveted to partake. Therefore the sin of 1 Cor. 11, is not regular sin in our lives, of which we all are guilty, but the sin of disrespect of the Body and Blood of Christ, and division at the Lord’s Table itself. It is the direct result of judging ourselves as worthy and others as unworthy, and failing to address and see the problem that we ourselves are equally totally unworthy, except in Christ. We, as well as they can only come to God by falling on the broken Body and spilled Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, of which none of us are worthy.

  2. Notwithstanding that I disagree with you concerning charismatics, this article is awesome! Thank you. The analysis on the memorial features of Passover was particularly helpful.

  3. I think you might want to check this book out:

    http://johnmarkhicks.faithsite.com/content.asp?CID=37166

    I really respect the writer and appreciated this book.

    …and I’ve linked you to my blogroll.

  4. [begin quote]
    One of the real problems with the literal presence view is that, when interpreted strictly, it causes Jesus to create his “body and blood” in the upper room BEFORE he goes to the cross.
    [end quote]

    Yes, but that kind of problem is faced by any view of the Lord’s Supper. If you take a memorial view, it means that people in the Upper Room are supposed to remember something that hasn’t happened yet.

    [begin quote]
    In the same way, I am convinced that some theologies of the Lord’s Supper seem to teach that the “fullness” of Christ is available to some in the Eucharist, while other faithful, Christ receptive believers without that Eucharistic theology and practice have less of Christ or less access to Christ. In no other area of Christian theology and worship do I sense more flirtation with the idea “some have Christ” and “some do not.”
    [end quote]

    You’re switching the language here. Colossians says that in Christ all the fullness of the deity dwells BODILY. So the body matters. You don’t expect to receive all the fullness of Christ bodily in the Supper because you think you’ve already received Him. But when you say that, I think the word “bodily” changes meaning.

    I think the key thing that is missing here is an attempt to imagine what it would be like really to believe in the Real Presence. You actually get to handle the “ransom money.” Your argument is like saying that since the money is in your account anyway, there can be no benefit in handling it, since you have the same amount of money either way. Well, all I can say is, I cannot identify with that. No sense of “togetherness” that I ever got as an evangelical when the Lord’s Supper was practiced ever came close to bringing the comfort that it has brought me since believing in the Real Presence.