Australia Bible Christian Living Creation Theology

Letter From Australia 49 – Missing Communion

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I have been thinking a lot about communion. What some Christians call The Eucharist, others The Lord’s Table. In this time of lockdown – I miss it. A lot. There are of course those who say that you can just have communion online. To me, that depends on what you think communion is – if it is just a symbol then I guess taking communion online is fine. But I’m an old school Scottish Highland Presbyterian – like the Puritans, Calvin, the early Church Fathers and the New Testament church, I believe that communion is more than just a symbolic remembrance. The Shorter Catechism expresses it well.

Q: What is the Lord’s Supper?
A: The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, his death is shewed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.

I don’t accept the Roman Catholic teaching concerning the Mass – that the bread is literally turned into the flesh of Jesus Christ. I don’t accept that this is a resacrificing of Christ. He was sacrificed once for all. I was once asked by the Catholic Archbishop of Edinburgh, the impressive Leo Cushley, if I would take mass with him. I said of course not because I did not believe what he believed about mass and it would be insulting to him. He totally agreed and was relieved. He could not understand why Protestant clergy would be willing to take mass – if they were they should be Catholics! Once again I find myself in agreement with my Catholic brothers!

But neither can I go the standard evangelical route that Communion is just a symbol – a sign to remind us of Christ’s death. It IS a reminder. It IS a sign. But it is much more than that. It is a seal. It is a ‘strengthening ordinance’. It is a means of Christ communicating himself to us. It is a joyous feast – a eucharist. It is a unifying meal – uniting us with the local body of Christ, and the whole body throughout the world and all history. It is the Lord’s Table, a foretaste of the great communion in heaven.

“Therefore let us use all means for the establishing of growth in us, the word and sacraments especially. For as baptism admits us into the house of God, so by the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, the blessed food of the soul, we are strengthened.” Sibbes

I did not always think like this. When I was a member in Morningside Baptist I recall one Sunday heading to Church with a Christian friend from Africa. It was a communion Sunday – something we tagged on to the end of the service. I was surprised that he did not take communion and on the way home I asked him why – “because I was not prepared”. My Pentecostal friends words were a rebuke to me – which caused me to examine myself. I was far too casual in my attitude towards the Holy Meal. Later, after joining the Free Church, I got used to, and loved, the whole idea of communion ‘seasons’. Of course that could be overdone and is not necessary, but I found it helpful to focus.

I also found the solemnity of the Free Church communions to be profound and joyful. I loved the symbolism of coming forward to ‘the table’ (the sheep and the goats often came to mind), just as I loved the symbolism of the one loaf and the one cup. I appreciated the fact that we did not turn wine into water/grape juice.  I am of McCheyne’s view that to replace the wine with grape juice is an implicit criticism of Christ (although I accept that special provision can be made for those who are alcoholics, just as gluten free bread can be offered to those who have allergies).    Every time I sat at the Lord’s table I found myself rising from it with a renewed sense of forgiveness and a deeper thankfulness for Christ. Unlike the Jewish Passover – where one chair is left empty for the absent Messiah – our table was full – because Christ IS present.

I’m not convinced that the wee thimbles of grape juice, or the diced bread, gingerly passed around; conveys the one cup, one sacrifice, one body of the New Testament.  The nearest thing I have come to ‘proper’ communion here is when I go to the traditional 8am service at St Thomas’s and kneel to receive the bread and can partake of a common cup. Of course all that is stopped just now, but I hope we will return to it soon. I miss the communion. I need ‘all the benefits’ of the body and blood of Christ.

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There is of course another kind of communion. I greatly enjoy walking and praying in the Artarmon Reserve….and also when I’m in the office going to the Botanic gardens. Being able to ‘commune’ wth the Lord in the beautiful creation he has made is wonderful.

 

 

 

And I’m also greatly encouraged by the ‘communion of the saints’ as we work together seeking to tell people about Christ. Last Monday’s Café Online with Colin Buchanan was superb. Pray for us as we continue this Monday with Ray Galea and look at the Message of Christ.

(This is a video of us soundchecking before last week!)

I pray that the Lord would communicate to us all the benefits of his body and blood, as we seek to serve, know and love him this week,

See you next week,

Yours in him,

David

Letter from Australia 48 – Hugs, Pests, A Beautiful Lady; An Old Brora Photo; Fish and Fishing; Haggis and Neeps.

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The Botanics…

 

Communion with God – John Owen

 

17 comments

  1. ‘Strengthening ordinance’ – I like that. Of course Jesus didn’t let a cup pass by him either and the same power that led him to the cross was the power that raised him from the dead. It is powerful. It is a sober discipline so not one of “joy” in the sense of being happy but something deeper as in the joy of the Lord being your strength! This includes sharing in his sufferings as well as his resurrection power – not a pick and mix!

  2. ‘In agreement with my catholic brothers’ ……. you have stated you do not agree with their teaching on transubstantiation, what about their co-redemptrix? church merits? Indulgence? On what basis do you claim familial relationship?

    1. I assume that you are aware of the answer to your question and if you don’t mind I will treat it simply as I do all questions which are in reality accusations. I would claim familial basis with anyone who had faith in Christ and served him as their Lord and master.

      1. Yes David, I am aware of my answer to the question of course, but not yours – that’s why I asked.
        There are no accusations made, explicitly or otherwise in my question so I am confused at your defensiveness on the issues raised.
        I agree totally with your ‘faith in Christ‘ criterion, but as you may well know my concerns relate to the Christ+ nature of Roman Catholicism and whether this is sufficient to preclude fellowship.
        I regret that you were not more open to dialogue but thank you for your initial response anyway.
        Keep safe.

  3. I remember one church where it not only had to be wine, but unleavened bread as well – Jacobs cream crackers.

  4. What do church leaders think about small church groups celebrating Communion in their homes via Zoom meetings? Is it something you encourage?

  5. David, what’s your thoughts on on-line communion? I have had it put to me that if we now recognize an on-line community can we not practice on-line communion?

  6. I suspect that the Roman insistence on the physicality of Christ’s presence, along with the emphasis it shares with Orthodoxy on the role of Mary, developed in response to those heresies denying or diluting the Incarnation and trying to “spiritualise” everything into an intellectual exercise divorced from any living-out in reality. And it certainly has the advantage of instilling a deep respect for the Sacrament that I dreadfully miss since we acquired a vicar from an “evangelical” parish in a large city.

    (Not intended as scare-quotes: I just want to distinguish what I mean from the American understanding of Evangelical, which is something rather different.)

    I wouldn’t quiz him on his Eucharistic beliefs, but I suspect both he and that one of his two Assistant Priests whose faith developed in the sort of Church that has a movie screen over the altar, are of the “memorial only” view and would just as soon have a freestyle Morning Worship, with maybe the “extra bit” tacked on at the end, as what we do now. Not going to go any further but there is a definite difference of approach and attitude from their “higher up the candle” predecessors, and their third colleague whose spiritual and priestly journey in his home country included both Orthodoxy and Catholicism before arriving at England’s national Church.

    I won’t bore you with my personal understanding of the Sacrament but I do think that whatever one thinks one is doing, it is something explicitly commanded by the Lord and should be treated with the utmost reverence accordingly. It’s one thing celebrating the Resurrection, but the cost of that is serious matter requiring us to “eat and drink in remembrance that Christ died for us” after terrible betrayal and judicial murder.

    We are currently doing what the Service for the Sick instructs for those unable to receive the physical elements, and making our spiritual communion with or without the aid of an online service to join with – in faithfulness and hope that we will be patient enough to care for our weaker brethren (no small minority in Churches!) and not force the pace of reopening the Table for our own personal desire. There have been unedifying examples – thankfully I’ve only seen them on social media – of people complaining about their Churches’ slow reinstatement of “normal service” in the same spirit and almost the same words they would a late Amazon delivery (!)

    “I pray that the Lord would communicate to us all the benefits of his body and blood, as we seek to serve, know and love him this week.”
    Amen and Amen to that, David. May we all meet merrily one day at the last and greatest Table in Heaven.

  7. But where does the bible specify wine rather than grape juice? The Greek word for wine is used 32 times in the NT but neither of the three gospel accounts of the last supper use it. Instead, each gospel uses an expression found nowhere else in the NT: “fruit of the vine.” Surely this includes grape juice and makes provision, not only for alcoholics, but for those Christians who apply Lev.10v8-9 and Prov 31v4 to themselves.

  8. Growing up in Presbyterian churches, I recall singing at each communion service the rich hymn of Rev. Horatius Bonar (1808-89) ‘Here O my Lord, I see Thee face to face’; ‘..here would I touch and handle things unseen, .. here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace, And all my weariness upon Thee lean.’ The seven verses are like a journey, with reminders and a sense of expectation: ‘ to drink with Thee the royal wine of heaven; ..taste afresh the calm of sins forgiven; ..the hour of banquet and of song…the heavenly table.’; ‘nearer than ever, still my Shield and Sun.’ And, confession and belief: ‘..mine is the sin, but Thine the cleansing blood…Thy blood, Thy righteousness , O Lord my God’ ! Closing in verse 7 with that poignant reminder that each ‘feast’ points to the ‘glad feast above’ with ‘..festal joy: The Lamb’s great bridal feast of bliss and love.’

    It is rarely sung, these days, but reading it again was refreshing to me. And I realise that there are some possible issues with the language and potential misunderstandings in today’s ‘climate’. Nowadays, we seem to almost express a ‘bare bones’ theology in our desire to communicate truth clearly, and in doing so perhaps sometimes diminish the sense of divine mystery and majesty ?

    I came across the following insightful and helpful words from Rev. Dr Sinclair Ferguson, referring to the concept or phrase ‘means of grace’:
    “It is legitimate to speak of “receiving grace,” and sometimes (although I am somewhat cautious about the possibility of misusing language) we speak of the preaching of the Word, prayer, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper as “means of grace.” That is fine, so long as we remember that there isn’t a thing, a substance, or a “quasi-substance” called “grace.” All there is is the person of the Lord Jesus — “Christ clothed in the gospel,” as Calvin loved to put it. Grace is the grace of Jesus. If I can highlight the thought here: there is no “thing” that Jesus takes from Himself and then, as it were, hands over to me. There is only Jesus Himself….Grasping that thought can make a significant difference to a Christian’s life. So while some people might think this is just splitting hairs about different ways of saying the same thing, it can make a vital difference. It is not a thing that was crucified to give us a thing called grace. It was the person of the Lord Jesus that was crucified in order that He might give Himself to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.” A note re ‘Slavery or Sonship’ MP3, seen at : https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/bio/ferguson.html

  9. ‘Receptionism’ and ‘prayer of consecration’ are mentioned when Anglicans speak of Holy Communion. What are your thoughts on on-line communion services? Can the ‘prayer of consecration’ stretch over cyberspace, and does Cranmer’s ‘receptionism’ support remote Holy Communion. Anglicans have sometimes used Communion by Extension. In some regards ‘receptionism’ might justify on-line services, especially if more than one person is present at the satellite communion service in the home?

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