Our Confessional and Catechetical Formulation of the Lord’s Supper as Means of Grace
Introduction: The confessional formulation of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper as means of grace is not based on one biblical text, but upon a complex of texts and doctrines that are all interrelated. The confessional formulation is based on at least the following:
- 1) the accounts in the Gospels of the institution of the Lord’s Supper by Christ prior to his exaltation;
- 2) the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11, which are post-ascension, inspired, explanatory applications of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper as instituted by Christ during his humiliation;
- 3) the grace of faith and how it grows and develops more and more into Christ-likeness through the use of means;
- 4) union with Christ, or what Gaffin calls existential union, effected by faith and brought to souls by the Holy Spirit;
- 5) the ministry of the Holy Spirit in relation to the exalted Redeemer in bringing mediatorial, redemptive benefits to the souls of believers.
We will look briefly at our Confession (1677/89) and then the Baptist Catechism of 1693. I view the Catechism as a practical mechanism through which the doctrine of the Confession was taught. Theological formulation came first (the Confession) and then practical reflection (the Catechism).
2nd LCF (1677/89)
a. 30:1 The supper of the Lord Jesus was instituted by him the same night wherein he was betrayed, to be observed in his churches to the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance, and shewing forth the sacrifice in his death, confirmation of the faith of believers in all the benefits thereof, their spiritual nourishment and growth in him, their further engagement in, and to all duties which they owe to him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other.
1) The supper confirms the faith of believers in the benefits of Christ’s death. The Supper tells everyone who has faith in Christ, “All that He is for sinners, He is for you!”
2) The supper is a means through which spiritual nourishment and growth in Christ occurs. This is the language of means of grace. Something happens during the Supper that alters our souls for the better. “…spiritual nourishment and growth in him…”
3) The supper is a bond and pledge of communion with Christ. It is God’s bond and God’s pledge to us.
b. 30:7 Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.
1) Worthy receivers spiritually receive and feed upon Christ and the benefits of His death in the Supper. There is some sort of spiritual transaction that takes place during the Supper.
2) The body and blood of Christ are spiritually present to the faith of believers in the supper. Here I take “body and blood” as the benefits coming to us as a result of Christ’s death for us. Excursus: Q: How do the benefits of Christ’s death come to us? A: The benefits of Christ’s death come to us through the human instrumentality of faith in Christ (union with Christ) and through the divine instrumentality of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The Baptist Catechism (1693)
a. Q.94. What are the outward means, by which Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means, by which Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the Word of God, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer; all which means are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
1) The Lord’s Supper is identified as an outward and ordinary means of grace.
2) Christ communicates the benefits of redemption during the Lord’s Supper. The grace that is communicated during the Lord’s Supper is purchased grace, redemptive grace, grace from the exalted Mediator to the souls of men. This means that in the Supper we receive something from Christ. There’s communion going on, sharing going on between Christ and His people during the Supper.
b. Q. 97. How do baptism and the Lord’s Supper become effectual means of salvation?
A. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper become effectual means of salvation, not for any virtue in them, or in him that does administer them, but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of the Spirit in those that by faith receive them.
1) The sacraments do not work ex opera operato.
2) Christ blesses them and the Holy Spirit works grace into the souls of believers.
Dr. Richard Barcellos is associate professor of New Testament Studies. He received a B.S. from California State University, Fresno, an M.Div. from The Master’s Seminary, and a Th.M. and Ph.D. from Whitefield Theological Seminary. Dr. Barcellos is pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Palmdale, CA. He is author of Trinity & Creation, The Covenant of Works, and Getting the Garden Right. He has contributed articles to various journals and is a member of ETS.