Doctrine and Practice of the Lord’s Supper

My Sunday morning Bible class at Immanuel began last Sunday. I decided to do a comprehensive look at the doctrine and practice of the Lord’s Supper. In my introduction last Sunday I started off by pointing out some differences between Communion practices at the time of the Reformation and following, and the 20th/21st century. For one thing, Communion was offered every Lord’s Day and on festivals. I pointed out that the only reason for not celebrating Communion was if there were no communicants.

I also noted out children as young as age 7 were admitted to the Lord’s Supper, whereas now we wait (typically) until they are 14. At the time of the Reformation, so I said, the Church knew of only one vessel for distributing the Blood of Christ: the Chalice. Individual cups don’t come in until about 1890 in Maine. I pointed these out just to show people how drastically different our practice is now compared with what it was in Luther’s day. And then we discussed the “why”. What happened between the 16th century and the 20th century? Pietism, Rationalism, war, mixing of Reformed and Lutheran theology have all played their part in the deterioration of Eucharistic theology and practice in the LC-MS.

It seemed to perk the interests of those in attendance, both young and old. Ultimately the goals of this study are twofold: (1) Deepen the understanding and appreciation of the Lord’s Supper among my church members, so that (2) We may begin to see the weaknesses in our own communion practice and strive to get our practice to match our doctrine. I hope it will be a fruitful study for all. We’ll be looking at the key Biblical texts, the early Church Fathers, the Confessions, Luther, other Lutherans like Chemnitz, Gerhard, etc. And then we will tackle issues such as closed communion v. open communion; individual cups; communion frequency; age of admittance, etc. In some way these practices are driven/shaped by our doctrine. I am looking forward to this Sunday already!

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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11 Responses to Doctrine and Practice of the Lord’s Supper

  1. PAS says:

    I wonder, have you actually thought about what you actually say in the second to last sentence?

    “In some way these practices are driven/shaped by our doctrine.”

    This statement reveals much more than you appear to realize.

  2. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    I know what you are saying. On paper, we have the right doctrine. The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper in the Lutheran Confessions is the true Scriptural doctrine. The fact that our practice does not reflect this doctrine, indicates that what many believe about the Lord’s Supper is not completely consistent with what we teach about it.

  3. God keep you safe as you seek to lead your people to greener pastures. Communion practice, including especially the topic of frequency, is an excellent place to begin. Holy Communion is, in many ways, the heart of our faith.

    The simple truth is that the sacrament of the altar is the Gospel, and there is just no valid reason, outside of a congregation’s complete lack of spiritual preparation (i.e. faith), to withhold the sacrament across the board on any given Sunday, let alone make such withholding the status quo. One would think this should be a lay up.

    But beware. Many a pastor has been chewed up and spit out by the devil in trying the tackle this subject with their congregation. I think that is because the evil one knows how important this work of restoring the place of the sacrament among us is. He will stop at nothing to see the further decline of godly communion among us.

    I trust he has not already begun to sow seeds of discord among your people over this matter. I pray that he would not win the day, or even gain a foothold. The fact that the sacrament is not offered every Sunday at each service is evidence that he has most likely been at work enough already.

    There is something to be said to people who have acted without the benefit of good instruction on this topic. They are not without fault because they should have instructed themselves, but they are not entirely to blame. We have been given pastors for a reason. We need them. Perhaps had their pastors taught them the importance and benefit of the sacrament, their practice would be better today. Given the fact that they have not had that instruction, now is the time to receive it, and you are the man to give it.

    But for those who refuse instruction, or for those who have had instruction but refuse to change their practice, there is something else to be said. Anyone who would stand in the way of another Christian in good standing from receiving the sacrament of the altar when he wants to receive it and is well prepared to do so ought to examine just which side he is on, God’s or the devil’s.

  4. Chad Myers says:

    @Daniel:

    Your words ring very true. As a former Lutheran (LCMS) now Catholic, the Eucharist is extremely important to me and my sacramental life as explained by Christ in John 6.

    In reflecting on why the Reformation happened, I noticed that one of the first things Luther did is to downgrade the understanding and importance of the Eucharist and its understanding as the Real Presence as it had always been understood since John chapter 6 through the early Church fathers, etc.

    It seems that what you describe is but a few steps further down a longer road that was started ~490 years ago (that is, the downgrading of the importance of the Eucharist).

  5. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    Chad,

    You’re a little misinformed about Luther’s attitude towards the Eucharist. Everywhere that Luther wrote of the Eucharist, he did so in only the most lofty of language. Have you ever read the “Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper”? It’s true that Luther put more emphasis than the Roman Church did on the importance of right preaching, but Luther did not drive a wedge between preaching and Sacrament like the Roman Catholics and the Reformed did (and still do). Right preaching is Sacramental preaching, preaching that both flows from and leads back to the holy Supper.

    Thanks for commenting on my blog. It’s been quiet over here for a while!

    Pastor Beisel

  6. Chad Myers says:

    @Rev. Paul:

    Luther condemned the doctrine of the (representation) of the Sacrifice at the Mass in ‘On the Abrogation of the Private Mass’.

    Luther lowered the true meaning of the Eucharist from it’s clear understanding in Scripture as a representation of the Sacrifice on Cavalry forever by the High Priest as predicted at the end of Malachi and discussed by St. Paul thoroughly in 1 Cor. 10. Not to mention Christ’s clear intention that it be understood as the New Sacrifice to be offered to the Father as mentioned at the Last Supper (Institution of the Eucharist) and demonstrated in the format of the Mass on the Road to Emmaus. On the road to Emmaus, Christ asked for a confession, a profession of faith, quoted scripture, explained the scripture, and then ended with the Eucharist whereby the disciples suddenly became aware that this man was Jesus Christ — through the sacramental breaking of the bread and consecration. Christ attests repeatedly to the sacrifice and the Real Presence as does Paul.

    Luther dumbed down this teaching and lessened the understand of the representation of the Sacrifice as merely a mystical meal with a few special properties which is clearly not scriptural.

    This trend has continued into modern day Lutheranism where the Lord’s Supper is rarely taken and does not hold a place of key importance in our regular Worship services as predicted by Malachi, instituted by Christ, and explained repeatedly by Paul and explained more thoroughly by the 2nd generation Apostles/Bishops such as St. Ignatius of Antioch (made Bishop of Antioch by Peter himself).

    Malachi (1:11) predicts the Gentiles offering a clean oblation, a sacrifice from the rising of the Sun to the setting of the Sun. In some translations incense is mentioned. Where in Protestanism and particularly Lutheranism is a clean oblation being made, a sacrifice? Is there incense? The Catholic Church spans the globe and has daily Masses. At any given hour, there is likely to be a Mass being said and therefore a representation of the Sacrifice on Cavalry to the Father.

    This concept of interpreting Malachi this way comes to us from St. Ignatius (taught by Peter), Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus (taught by Polycarp who was taught by St. John the Apostle) — all 2nd generation or 3rd generation Catholics (Christians) taught by the Apostles themselves all dying in the early-to-mid 2nd century (or early 3rd for Irenaeus).

    This wasn’t something invented by the Church later, this was how it was always understood until Luther downplayed it.

  7. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    Explain to me how it was “Christ’s clear intention” that it be understood as a “New Sacrifice” from the words of Institution.

    Christ has already been sacrificed “once and for all.” What we receive in the Eucharist is the fruits of that once and for all sacrifice. In the Old Testament, the Passover Lamb was roasted and then eaten. So Christ, our Passover, was offered on the cross as sacrifice to his Father for our sins, and given to us as Sacrament to eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, we eat the sacrifice, but we don’t offer it. It was already given and offered once and for all on Calvary. Is the Eucharist a sacrifice? Yes: not that we are offering it again, or representing it, or whatever, but that it is the body and blood that has been sacrificed, which we eat and drink for our salvation.

  8. Chad Myers says:

    @Rev Paul:

    First, please pardon my mistake, I meant 1 Corinthians 11, not 10.

    Second, you’re correct in that Christ has been *SACRIFICED* once and for all, but the offering, as Malachi predicts, happens over and over from the rising to the setting of the Sun forever.

    Every time we sin, we break the covenant and the Father has reason to condemn us. We continually need to re-offer Christ in atonement for our sins. We DO NOT need to Sacrifice him though, as you explained.

  9. I appreciate Chad’s comments even as I disagree with the Roman perspective from which they come. However, aside from the matter of whether the mass ought to be understood as a sacrifice (verb) in addition to the real presence of the sacrifice (noun), I think there is perhaps a better discussion here that would be more on target.

    One of the things that Chad longed for during his time in Lutheranism is a fuller understanding and appreciation of the importance and centrality of the Lord’s Supper. Lutheranism, or the LCMS, or at least his pastor(s) and congregation(s) failed to give him that. In part, this pushed Chad in the direction of Rome where he sensed that the sacrament of the altar is central, as it is in the Bible. In a way, his move to Rome was a move of faithfulness to the witness of scripture and the pull of his conscience regarding the significance of Holy Communion.

    I think he (and Rome) go beyond and against Scripture when they speak of the mass as “the sacrifice of the church” wherein the church “participates in the offering of her Head” ” in reparation for the sins of the living and the dead” (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church [DoubleDay, 1995], 381:1368, 395:1414). This is the true tragedy: Roman semi-pelagianism.

    We Lutherans agree that the mass is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and it is certainly a commemoration of the sacrifice performed on the cross. It is even a re-presentation of the sacrifice (noun) itself (real presence of Christs sacrificed body and blood). Moreover, because of the mystical union with Christ, our whole lives become a living sacrifice to the Father.

    However, Trent anathamatizes all those who say that the mass is not also “a propitiatory sacrifice” “to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities” (I wish I could cite the cannon, but I know Chemnitz cites it in his Examination vol.2:440). Here we Trent parts ways with the Scripture and thus with the church of Christ.

    And so we urge Rome to examine the matter further, to repent, and to return to mother church where we will be waiting with arms wide open…in fact, we will run to the end of the driveway to meet them while they are still a long way off.

    But, for those Lutherans “listening” in here, please understand the tragedy of this, and avoid it. Because Lutheranism so denegrated the sacrament, because Lutheranism refused to offer the body and blood of Christ but once a month or even only a few times a year in some places, because Lutheranism ignored the Bible (what ever became of sola scriptura?) and followed the way of rationalism, pietism, and american protestantism and regularly removed the sacrament of the altar from the altar, men like Chad, men of conscience, have considered Rome to be a better alternative. What excuse will we give for allowing this to happen any longer?

    Luther said that Rome was holding the Gospel captive by making the Lord’s Supper out to be a sacrifice that we offer to God. He was right! Nowhere is the stark contrast between the Roman doctrine of salvation by grace plus works and the Biblical truth of salvation by grace alone more clearly illustrated than in the Reformation battle over what happens in the Lord’s Supper.

    On the other hand, Luther also derided the fact that Rome gave the laity the bread/body from the altar, but didn’t give them the wine/blood. Rome withheld the cup. This, too, Luther said, was a captivity of the Gospel.

    But while Rome used to withhold the cup from the people, today our churches often withhold the cup and the bread, too! Twice a month or more many of us gather together on Sunday to say grace, but then we skip the meal. We walk with Jesus on the Emmaus road and listen to Him expound Scripture. But when He goes to break the bread, we tell Him, “No thanks, at least this week. I’ve got to get home and watch football.”

    Consider the following equation: Rome used to (in some cases, still does) withhold the cup = A “Babylonian” Captivity of the Gospel.

    Now, based on that, finish this equation: Lutheranism often withholds the cup…and the bread, too = ???

    What excuse can we give for that?

    In an age when most people who even bother to go to church go only on Sunday, why shouldn’t Holy Communion be celebrated every Sunday? Why should God’s children go hungry? Didn’t Jesus feed the 5,000 with plenty left over to spare? We don’t need to ration the Lord’s Supper.

    This sacrament is the Gospel, the Gospel that Luther contended for so very much. The words are plain: “Take, eat and drink; This bread is my body; This cup is my blood; given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” The sacrifice was His. He taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation [or, the Great Tribulation].” He went into the tribulation for us. He made the sacrifice for us. So there is no command for us to sacrifice here. There is no law. There is only gift. Only grace. Only forgiveness. Only life. Only salvation. Only the Gospel. Only Jesus.

    I want Jesus and the Gospel every Sunday. I can’t imagine why a Christian would want otherwise.

  10. Chad Myers says:

    The fundamental thing that I think both of you keep missing is:

    If it is indeed a Sacrifice (which we’re all in agreement here — that is, it’s ONE Sacrifice and the Eucharist is it), then what do you do with Sacrifices? You offer them! Otherwise, what’s the point?

    If it has been offered already and it’s done, as you all seem to be saying, then why is the Eucharist a Sacrifice rather than just a symbol?

    You make good points, but the points do not all connect. The reason I went to Rome is not because I misunderstood Lutheranism, it’s because I found Lutheranism deficient. The Eucharist is a representation of the Sacrifice. Christ is truly present as He said and commended that I should eat it and drink it for eternal life. If He is not truly present, then it doesn’t matter and we might as well be Baptists and drink grape juice and shake hands.

    So I find the Lutheran position to be rather dubious: It’s a Sacrifice, but we don’t offer it and there’s no priest required. These things do not all align and are not consistent nor scriptural.

    Paul refers to priests and Christ as the High Priest. What do High Priests do? Offer sacrifices! Christ ordained his Apostles to perform this most holy of Sacraments often. You cannot offer a Sacrifice without a priest. God has made clear throughout all Scripture that He chooses to be Worshiped with Sacrifice. Sacrifice entails a Priest, a Victim, an Altar, and the act of the Sacrifice itself. In a Catholic Church, we have all these things. In a Lutheran or other Protestant Church, all of those things are missing except the Altar. So a proper Worship of God is not being performed. That is not to say that it’s not efficacious — it is — but to a far lesser extent.

    In the end, this is how every Christian thought of this matter for 1,500 years without any question until Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and others thought they knew more. If any repentance is to be given, it should be for those men to ended the Sacrifice for many and thus deprived their congregation of a true Worship of God, making their offerings of thanksgiving and praise mere shadows of the True Worship.

    This is why Paul says (1 Cor 11:29-30):
    “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.”

    The Lutheran church drinks judgement upon itself and it is dying as it fractures and splinters and finds increasing division within itself instead of the Unity that Christ commanded us to seek. Unity only happens through ONE Church, each individual partaking of the TRUE Sacrifice of the Eucharist and offering a CLEAN OBLATION to the Father in one manner united in our worship.

  11. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    Chad, what happens in the Eucharist is not that the sacrifice is offered again, but that we eat and drink the sacrificial flesh and blood that paid the price for our sins. What Christ offered on Calvary to His Father for propitiation/payment for sins, he offers to us in the Eucharist as a sacrificial meal. It’s like in the OT: Moses took the blood of the sacrifice and threw half of it on the altar as propitiation, and the rest he threw on the people. the first part was fulfilled on Good Friday; the second in the Eucharist.

    What did the priests do after offering the sacrifice? They ate the flesh of the sacrifice. The eating and drinking of the Eucharist is the priestly eating and drinking of the Sacrificial victim–Christ, who is our Passover. Remember that Peter calls the Church a “royal Priesthood,” a “holy nation.” We are a kingdom of priests to our God, offering spiritual sacrifices of thanks and praise to God, and eating the food of the once and for all sacrifice of Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

    Your position is that of the Jews.

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