Lord's Supper

The memorial feast instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ “the same night He was betrayed.”

Institution of the Lord’s Supper

Berkhof says, “There are four different accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, one in each of the Synoptics, and one in 1 Cor. 11. John speaks of eating the passover, but does not mention the institution of a new sacrament. These accounts are independent of, and serve to compliment, one another. Evidently, the Lord did not finish the passover meal before He instituted the Lord’s Supper. The new sacrament was linked with the central element in the paschal meal. The bread that was eaten with the Lamb was consecrated to a new use. This is evident from the fact that the third cup, generally called ‘the cup of blessing’ was used for the second element in the new sacrament. Thus the sacrament of the Old Testament passed into that of the New in a most natural way” (Systematic Theology, p. 647).

NT Terms for the Lord’s Supper

1 Corinthians 11:20 uses the words kuriakon deipnon, “the Lord’s Supper,” and these supply the designation most favoured by Protestants. 1 Corinthians 10:21 speaks of poterion kuriou, “the cup of the Lord,” and trapeza kuriou, “the table of the Lord.” Acts 2:42 (cf. 20:7) speaks of klasis tou artou, “the breaking of bread.” The references to Christ giving thanks led to the use of the term eucharist (Greek eucharistia, “thanksgiving”), which in its scriptural setting is plainly unobjectionable; however, later developments tended to link this term with highly ritualistic views of the Lord’s Supper, which in turn led all the way to the Roman Catholic dogma of the Mass.

Reformed View of the Lord’s Supper

Reformed theology’s view of the Lord’s Supper is ably set forth in chap. 29 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. It refers to it as “the sacrament of His body and blood,” to be observed “for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of Himself in His death.” According to the Confession, God intends the Lord’s Supper to seal to believers the benefits of that sacrifice, aiding their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace, and expressing the “bond and pledge of their communion with Him and with each other, as members of His mystical body.”

The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice offered to God, “but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, on the cross, once for all.” The Confession voices its opposition to the whole Romish doctrine of the Mass in the strongest terms: “The Popish sacrifice of the Mass, as they call it, is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of the elect.” The Confession goes on to oppose private masses or celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, the denial of the cup to the laity, all adoration of the elements, and the entire notion of transubstantiation.

The Presence of Christ and the Lord’s Supper

At the Reformation, Protestants agreed that the Romish notion of transubstantiation was unscriptural, but they disagreed on the subject of Christ’s presence in relation to the Supper. Luther taught consubstantiation. Zwingli denied absolutely any bodily presence of Christ, holding that the Lord’s Supper is purely commemorative, though Christ is spiritually present to the faith of believers. Calvin, whose views have become the most widely accepted statement of the Reformed position, agreed with Zwingli that there is no bodily presence of Christ in the sacrament, but he maintained that His spiritual presence is a real presence. Furthermore, he considered it dangerous to reduce the Lord’s Supper merely to an act of man in commemorating Christ’s death. He looked on it, first and foremost, as a gracious gift of God, and only secondarily as a human act of commemoration. In this way, he sought to emphasize that the Lord’s Supper is primarily a divinely appointed means of strengthening the faith of believers. This is the view expounded in the Confession of Faith.

Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms. Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.

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