The Administration of the Lord’s Supper
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread…
1 Corinthians 11:23NKJV
This morning we look at Westminster Larger Catechism Question 169, which asks, “How hath Christ appointed bread and wine to be given and received in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper?” It gives the answer, “Christ hath appointed the ministers of his word, in the administration of this sacrament of the Lord’s supper, to set apart the bread and wine from common use, by the word of institution, thanksgiving, and prayer; to take and break the bread, and to give both the bread and the wine to the communicants: who are, by the same appointment, to take and eat the bread, and to drink the wine, in thankful remembrance that the body of Christ was broken and given, and his blood shed, for them.” Last time we looked at the “what” of the Lord’s Supper; that is, what is it? This morning we consider “how” the Supper is to be properly administered.
First, notice the Question specifically asks how Christ has appointed the Supper to be given and received. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper it is crucial to our faith that we be assured that Christ Himself is giving it specifically and intentionally to us. Because if Communion is to benefit us as a means of grace then we must be certain that it is God’s sign and seal of the salvation proclaimed in the gospel. We must be certain that God has authorized that the Supper be given to us. The Scripture at the head of this article makes this same point, for the apostle Paul calls attention to the fact that he received the administration of the Lord’s Supper from Jesus Christ Himself. In other words, it was not Paul or the other apostles’ idea to give Christians the Lord’s Supper, but it was the express command of Jesus Christ that it be given. Paul wanted to remind the Corinthians of this fact as he began to address certain abuses of the Supper that were going on in their church. So that, first and foremost they would call to mind that Paul was authorized and instructed by Jesus Himself to give to their church the proper administration of the Lord’s Supper.
This brings us to a very important point that is almost entirely lost in today’s Protestant Church, and that is: the authority of calling. In the Reformed Church we understand the exclusivity of calling: that God must call a man before He can hold the office of preacher or minister. We uphold the standard of calling: that in order to be properly called a man must meet the personal and doctrinal requirements set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. We require the trial of calling: that the man must be trained and tested so that the faith and practice of the church will be safeguarded from heresy and from scandal. We affirm internal and external calling: that a man must have the desire and the gifts as confirmed by the congregation which issues the call and the presbytery which approves it. But we rarely if ever consider the authority of calling: that a man must be properly called by Christ Himself in order to lawfully bring the gospel in Word and in sacrament. The absence of this crucial aspect of calling is to the detriment of our own faith.
Because the point at issue in the Supper, as I hold it in my hand and as I take it in my mouth, is my own personal assurance that the Lord Jesus Christ is, right now, signifying and sealing His promised salvation to me. How do I know that God’s promised salvation is really going to be mine if I believe? How can I be sure that God Himself has authorized that this promise be given personally to me? Jesus Christ does not speak audibly to me. Do I have the right to believe it is for me? How does the minister know I am included in the offer? How can he know? The Catechism answers with the universal understanding and affirmation of the Christian faith, going all the way back through the apostles to Jesus Christ Himself: because the one bringing the Supper with the Word, and so with all of the promises and assurances in it, has been appointed and authorized by Jesus Christ Himself to do it: “Christ has appointed the ministers of His Word … to set apart the bread and wine … to take and break the bread and to give both the bread and the wine to the communicants.” Christ has appointed them. They have His authority. Once I understand this fact, then and only then can I as a communicant know for certain that I have the authority by Christ’s “same appointment, to take and eat the bread and to drink the wine,” in thankful remembrance and in full assurance of faith, that His body was given and His blood was shed for me. This is the significance of the authority of calling for me as a believer: I don’t hear God speak to me from heaven. I don’t see Jesus at the table breaking bread and giving it to me. But when a duly appointed minister of God’s Word gives me the Supper, then I can know, just as certainly as if it was from Jesus Himself, that it truly is for me, and that all that it holds forth and represents is true for me, if I simply receive it by real faith in the Lord of the Supper!