Preparation and Benefiting from the Supper

***Prepared for the Pilgrim Presbyterian Church Session for education of the congregation concerning the preparation of adults and children for the Lord’s Supper.***

The Preparation and Benefit of the Lord’s Supper

The supper plays a regular part of the worship here at Pilgrim Presbyterian Church (PPC). We practice holy communion with Christ in the supper every Lord’s Day, and in a fairly simple and direct way. Why so regularly? We benefit from the supper. Why so plainly? The Lord uses the simple things of worship to accomplish his supernatural goal of applying Christ and all of his benefits to us.

Our purpose in this writing is that one would prepare for the supper in order to benefit from it. Preparation for the supper is important. Being that the supper is such a regular thing at the PPC, and being that the Apostle Paul warned about judgment and discipline from the Lord upon those who take unworthily (1Cor. 11:27-34). Consider this admonition and warning from the Apostle.

27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be aguilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.

28 But a man must aexamine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.

30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number 1asleep.

31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.

32 But when we are judged, we are adisciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with bthe world.

33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.

34 If anyone is ahungry, let him eat bat home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will carrange dwhen I come. (1Co 11:27-34 NASB)

Christian parents also have a special duty to oversee the preparation of their covenant children for worship in general, and the supper in particular. The supper can be confusing. Its meaning can be hard to discern. Its usefulness may be unclear. Preparation for the supper may have never crossed one’s mind. Hopefully by the end of reading this, our dear readers will know how to prepare for and benefit from the supper. If our readers are parents of Christian covenant children, our hope is it will offer some guidance for preparing children for the supper.

We Have the Need to Feed

We feel our readers need this subject. One may be so confused about communion that he/she fears even taking the supper. A few examples of the confusion we encounter to us go like this. One may say, “I don’t know what the supper is, but I know it is important. So I take it and just hope it is special.” Others express, “My kids understand the catechism questions, and they were baptized, so why should they not participate in the supper?” Others from an anti-infant-baptist standpoint may have confusion over why we would hold our children from the supper if we baptize them. Why give one sacrament (baptism) and not both to covenant children? Why baptize by the principle of inheritance yet communicate people [Communicate is the verb for allowing someone to take the supper] on the principle of active appropriation of Christ by faith? These things can be confusing. Maybe our readers never considered these things. There is hope. Read on.

The topic we have before us is preparing for and benefitting from the supper. The confusion centers around the questions: who should take the supper and why? Our answer in short, dear readers, is that those who know how to benefit from the supper ought to regularly participate in it. Who should take the supper and who should not? Those who understand its meaning and how to benefit from it should take it. This excludes some Christian children, and possibly some Christian adults from theological backgrounds which have taken the supper in a mystical irrational and irrealist way (at least until his/her understanding changes). This formulation would exclude those who do not understand the Gospel of Christ in a saving way. Finally, it excludes those who hold to the supper as the actual body and blood of Christ, not a sacrament (symbolic rite/ceremony) but the substance of Christ’s body and blood actually transformed from bread and wine. Here it is important to note that transubstantiation does not makes sense of the supper as a sacrament. Sacraments by definition are symbolic, but transubstantiation is not symbolc but completely literally the actual body of Christ. That means that those who hold to the Roman or Eastern Orthodox positions of the supper are not taking the supper but a magical superstition. Here Romanists and Eastern Orthodox are excommunicating themselves from the ancient catholic faith, and the New Testament (that is another paper, though). One has to understand the meaning of the supper and how to benefit. That is the nature of the sacrament of the supper. It is an actively taken and participated in ceremony.

one may reason through the following questions. Why ought only those who understand what it means and know how to use the supper take it, especially, if it is a benefit? Would not it help those who are ignorant to come along to higher graces? The answer is that God does not circumvent the natural process of learning in order to apply the gospel of make one eligible for the supper. In the course of discipleship there must be some level of growth in knowledge, however rudimentary it is, which qualifies an individual for the supper. With regard to Christian kids, they are brought up believing in Christ, but they don’t participate in the supper until they show belief, benefit from and take on that the faith as their own, and see the supper as a help to fight sin, and desire to commune with Christ. They appropriate Christ for their own personal fight against sin. Like little adults, they make Christ theirs in the supper and declare their faith to the world. We use the supper in a similar way to how an anti-infant-baptist would use believer’s baptism of a covenant child. Another analogy would be the ceremony of confirmation in the Lutheran tradition. The supper is not merely a rite of passage. Still, it does function as such for the covenant child. We evangelize these kids and rejoice when we see them grow up to affirm the faith of their parent(s).

Basic Ingredients of Benefitting and Preparing

Our purpose in writing this is that our readers would be prepared to benefit from the supper each Lord’s Day. The following are some guidelines for us in order to benefit and prepare for the supper. These basic ingredients are preparation, faith in action, communion, regular attendance, and basic knowledge of “discerning the body.” The following paragraphs will explain these ingredients, show how to use them, and why they are necessary for the supper.

Preparation

The supper is a means of communion with the Triune God. God is Holy, and we are holy in Christ and have holy communion with God through our Mediator. What a glorious truth. Nevertheless, Christians act unholy often. What does one make of this with regard to the supper? Also, there may be much of one’s life when one does not regard God, does not consider the implication of the supper for the week after taking the supper. As h/she grumbles along at work, home, around the family or friends, thinking and acting by instinct, by the desires of the flesh and not at all with a God-ward mind. These realities, though the normal experience of the Christian (and not a good “normal” by the way) show that one in some way needs preparation for the Lord’s Supper. Many come to the supper with “positive sins,” and this ought not be so- complained a reformed Minister, Robert Murray McCheynne, in an age past.

The first way one prepares for the supper is repenting from known positive sins and turning the mind Godward. The reason for repentance is the personal communion with the Triune God to be had in the supper. God is Holy, and we must commune with him in holiness and faith. This preparation is also the first benefit of the supper. Think about it this way. The supper is preventative medicine against apostasy. It reminds the Christian, communion is coming. When you sit to eat with Christ this Lord’s Day you will experience the love and holiness all at once. Regular preparation is good for the soul. It is straining in training for game day. As one practices preparation more often, it trains the Christian for the life we are to live in holiness beyond the supper as well.

The Westminster Larger Catechism says this about preparation,

  1. 171. How are they that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper to prepare themselves before they come unto it?
    A. They that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper are, before they come, to prepare themselves thereunto, by examining themselves of their being in Christ, of their sins and wants; of the truth and measure of their knowledge, faith, repentance; love to God and the brethren, charity to all men, forgiving those that have done them wrong; of their desires after Christ, and of their new obedience; and by renewing the exercise of these graces, by serious meditation, and fervent prayer.

The catechism shows how one ought to prepare for the supper and benefit from that preparation. For parents of covenant kids, this means the young need to identify sins, desire to overcome them, and realize the supper has the end goal of Gospel freedom and holiness. Notice we write Gospel holiness. This is because one’s participation in the holiness of God is by the union one has with Him who is the Gospel himself, our Lord Jesus. So, a child needs to know that he/she gets the benefits from Christ in the supper, and that he is his/her help to find freedom and strength to mortify sin.

Acting on Faith

There are really two ingredients here, faith and an appropriating action. Faith in Christ is a necessary part of participating in the supper. Christ is proclaimed in the supper (1Cor 11:26), and must be received by faith alone. Faith is the instrument of the soul, the non-physical part of the person, by which he/she lays hold of Christ and receives His benefits.  However, the eating and the drinking of the elements in the communion service is an action. This is an action of faith, ofr an appropriating action. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are full of appropriating actions. For example, the women who had the flow of blood for some years who touched the hymn of Jesus’ garment thinking if she merely touched his garment she’d be healed. Our Lord declared that her faith made her well. This action is not the mental faculty of faith in her heart itself, but was an action which appropriated the benefit of Christ. She was healed because of her faith, but not until she laid hold of the clothes of Christ.

The supper is an appropriating act. This means that the communicant (Christian who is authorized to take the supper) must understand at a basic level that when he/she takes the supper, it is for the purpose of laying hold of Christ to overcome sin, gain assurance, or grown in our communion and love for him. There are benefits to be had in Christ, and they are numerous and deep as the gospel love of Christ itself. This is another way how to benefit from the supper. It is the duty of every Christian taking the supper to identify and lay hold of Christ for specific Gospel benefits in the supper. These specifics come from the context of life, one’s personal bible reading, sermons, and the sermon just heard prior to the supper.

Parents of covenant children have the task of leading their kids along to use the supper in this way. The supper is realistic. Meaning that the benefits of Christ are really had in the supper. Chris’s benefits are really exhibited and conferred, and are laid hold of by the action of faith. Those kids are not ready who do not yet have a basic sense that in the supper one benefits by laying hold of Christ, spiritually eating and drinking for strength. The child may very well be regenerate and believing in Christ, but this active participation required prevents some from taking the supper.

Personal Communion with the Holy One

God is Holy, and those who worship Him must be holy as he is holy. Thank the Lord that he provides our holiness in Christ. Were it that we stood before him in the filthy rags we would call our own holiness outside of Christ’s then we’d suffer nothing less than the judgment of God. There is often some confusion about the relationship the Christian has to God. Prior to salvation one is regarded as a criminal, unholy, and unqualified for communion with God. There is not personal relationship to God, there is only legal judgment. The personal relationship begins after the grace of God comes home in the effective call of the gospel. The Lord gives us Christ’s holiness. Then we relate to him differently, as personally communing with God, not just as criminals before a just judge.

It makes sense then in this personal context that God says, be holy as I am holy. Communion is personal communion with Christ, and through Him it is communion with the Father and the Spirit. This is why exercising the gifts of repentance and faith are necessary preparations for the supper (as we wrote earlier). We believe that the Lord communes with us in the Supper through the Holy Spirit made bond. That is why Paul the Apostle wrote,

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?

17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. (1Co 10:16-17 NASB)

Here we see the bond made in communion or “sharing” (koinonia) with Christ in the supper. The Westminster Larger Catechism explains.

  1. 170. How do they that worthily communicate in the Lord’s supper feed upon the body and blood of Christ therein?
    A. As the body and blood of Christ are not corporally or carnally present in, with, or under the bread and wine in the Lord’s supper, and yet are spiritually present to the faith of the receiver, no less truly and really than the elements themselves are to their outward senses; so they that worthily communicate in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after a corporal and carnal, but in a spiritual manner; yet truly and really, while by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death.

Here we see an explanation of the same theme which answers some mistakes at the same time. We really share in Christ, and really commune with him. Adults and kids, whoever communicates, ought to prepare and act in the supper with a God-ward holiness, with the goal of communing with the Holy one of Israel.

The supper is a basic meal. The elements are simple and ordinary means. The amazing thing is that the Lord, the Holy one of Israel sits at a basic simple human meal with us to commune with us. The spiritual/theological meaning of the meal is that He also applies His benefits through the meal. Because our communion with him in the bond of the Holy Spirit is also how we get the benefits of Christ, he uses the meal that represents his bond of union to actually convey the blessings. That is all getting to the deeper things of the blessing, and is not necessarily all focused on in the moment of the supper, not does a child have to know it all to be communicant. Still, the thing to realize is that there is a simple meal, at which we sit with Christ, from which we get the benefits of being in a Spirit made bond of union with Christ.

Discerning the Body of Christ

This also brings up a second ingredient, discerning the Lord’s body. The Lord’s body means that we have a basic understanding of the supper as representing the spiritual reality of Christ himself. In the context of 1 Corinthians 11:20-34 Paul addressed factions in the church (v.20). He therefore concluded that they were not taking the supper when they took the supper because it was a lack of discerning the body (v. 27-29).

This means that in the supper there is represented the spiritual reality that Christ has union with one individual who takes it, but also with the whole of the church present in the room and worldwide, and in heaven. Jesus’ communion is not only the meaning of the supper, but is the basis of Gospel salvation. [That sounds pretty important does it not?] God the Father gave a people to the Son to be represented by him in union with all of his benefits. The very thing that should have united the Corinthians was dividing them. It is a good thing the supper does not divide any denominations today. [This would be a good place for an emoji]

There are many benefits to be had in the supper like help against sin, assurance of salvation, the spirit of son-ship, but also and most specifically here, the goal is to be with Christ. This prepares one for the world to come, and prepares one for the week of life in his/her secular vocation with a mind of Christ centered God-minded holy living. It reminds the believer that there is nothing we have that we did not receive. Christ is all, and we gain whatever we have only by virtue of our communion with Him.

Adults preparing for communion, and young persons, should realize at least at a basic level, that we get the benefits of Christ by means of the supper. Jesus uses this appropriating act to remind us of him, convey his benefits to us, and to commune with us.

Summary and Conclusion: Benefit and Preparation from the Supper

The elders of the church have to authorize those who take communion. This is the meaning of the giving of the keys to the kingdom to the church. The elders at the PPC eagerly desire all mankind to participate in the supper, but not ignorantly, or without any benefit, or (worse yet) under judgment being outside of Christ (1Cor. 11:27-34).

For adults, this means all who are not under discipline, and who understand how to participate, should participate, and should do so regularly. These should do so in order to find strength to fight sin, grow assurance of salvation, prepare for everlasting communion with Christ in heaven, and grown in a God-ward religious mind.

For children being prepared to take the supper, this means learning how to make the faith one’s own. Being ready for taking the supper and becoming communicant does not mean the child was not previously regenerate, but it does mean that now they are actively using the means of grace to defeat their sin, gain assurance, and commune with their Lord and grow in personal holiness and love related to him. Those who participate must have some basic ability to prepare, appropriate, discern the Lord’s Body, that is a basic knowledge of the communion with Christ and his church. This is not a cookie-cutter-catechism way of admitting kids to the Lord’s supper, because those who participate must really want to and show their ability to benefit. Those who participate must know how to benefit from the supper, because that is the nature of the sacrament. One way to make the child think about this is to point back to his/her baptism. If the child realizes that baptism is sacramentally a means of grace God uses to apply Christ to us which must be proven to be true of the child (i.e., that the baptism of the Holy Spirit has come about, not just the water).

With all of that background, the takeaway is that at a basic level, those who participate in the supper must do so by faith in Christ, prepared by repentance, with a special goal of growth in assurance and/or holiness, with preparation of repentance in order to commune with Christ personally, at an ordinary meal, by virtue of being in Christ, and having the goal in taking the supper to mortify sins and gain strength for the fight against the world the flesh and the devil

Children may be ready at an early age to take the supper. The elders take this up case by case with individuals. We do so by looking for tell tale signs. 1. Can they explain the spiritual meaning of the bread and wine? 2. Are they personally trusting in Christ? 3. Do they realize they are sinners? 4. Do they realize they need Jesus’ continual help to live a righteous life? 5. Are they preparing for the supper with an interest in using it as an appropriating act of the blessings of Christ? 6. Do they have a basic knowledge of union with Christ?

The supper is for sinners as a means to defeat sin, grow in faith, fight the enemies, know and commune with Christ, and prepare for the world to come. It also comes to us in the New Testament with a warning and admonition that it must be taken with care.

 

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