VIII. Understanding the Means of Grace: The Maturation Rite
Why do I label this the "maturation rite"? It is thus dubbed in order to highlight the Presbyterian understanding in opposition to the paedocommunion position. Paedocommunion so emphasizes the objective element of the sacraments that the subjective and reflective demands are watered down. Infants, toddlers, and young seven-year-olds are encouraged to partake of a meal that requires spiritual discernment as a cornerstone of participation. To "discern" the Lord's body is a spiritual activity that moves beyond simply balancing the church budget. In fact, death is specifically attached to this Meal for those who flippantly or in ignorance partake thereof.
But I get ahead of myself. Let me define the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist (the thanksgiving):
SCQ96: What is the Lord's supper?
A96: The Lord's supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ's appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.
1. Luke 22:19-20 2. I Cor. 10:16
The long and short of this summary is that 1) Christ's death (not his resurrection) is especially set forth in visible and tangible elements. This is the sign-signification aspect of the Supper. Thus, in common with Memorialists (who believe the Meal is only a mere recollection of what Christ accomplished), Presbyterians affirm there is a memorial aspect to the Supper.
But there is more. 2) "worthy receivers" receive the body and blood of Christ. The work of the cross as accomplished through his body and death is received by faith alone (WCF 29.7), There may be real spiritual growth that may accompany or follow the taking of the Supper. This is the seal, the confirmation of our faith and increase of our faith in Christ. This is denied by the Memorialists (most Charismatics and Baptists).
On the other hand, the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation is denied because Presbyterians deny the bread and wine become the body and blood o f Christ. Nor do we so affix grace to the Supper that it attends every administration of it almost regardless of the spiritual state of the recipient (some Federal Visionists). There is a proper proportion of the Supper in its objective and subjective dimensions in classical Presbyterian dogma (see Words of Life, here).
This view of the Supper has been taught and is known by many of us--but how many know of the requirements for the Supper? It is not to be taken by just anyone. In fact, the preparatory aspect (both before, during and after the Meal) was taken so seriously during Calvin's time that the session or pastor interviewed the members before administering the sacrament. This seriousness is reflected almost one hundred years later in the Shorter Catechism:
Q97: What is required for the worthy receiving of the Lord's supper?
A97: It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord's supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord's body, of their faith to feed upon him, of
their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves. (cp. Larger Catechism Q171 for more detail).
Before coming to the Lord's Supper examination is required: discernment of Christ's body (what He did for us), exercising faith and repentance (as daily activities), loving our neighbors (especially the church) and striving in obedience. This is quite a list.
However, the catechism is not stating that perfection is required (cp. LCQ 172), but it is differentiating between the ignorant (children) and the worthy recipients (LCQ 173).
2 Chronicles 30:18-20 brings the issue of proper preparation for the Supper into the foreground. Israel was sick because they had not cleansed themselves (or prepared themselves) for the Old Testament sacraments. After a prayer of forgiveness, the sickness was removed. In like manner, 1 Corinthians 11:30 notes that "For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep." This is a sober warning. And our Confession takes it seriously.
What this means in practice is a proper mediation, a self-reflection about the state of our souls. Perhaps on a Friday or Saturday night, one could find a quiet time and pray, examine the Bible passage and ask the Lord for more grace. Reflect upon life: are there relationships that need reconciliation? Are you clinging to Christ as your righteousness? Are you seeking repentance? Are you fighting sin, however incomplete your success? This is not an exhaustive nor minimal list. One cannot give a 1-2-3 step as a law to bind all consciences.
The Lord's Supper is a special time not unlike attending a suit-and- tie meal with one's family. Yes, every day you should eat with your family (not unlike weekly preaching), but on occasion a special time requiring special instruction and preparation is required to celebrate the family. Here, we are celebrating Christ and His death. It is a solemn occasion requiring holy awe; yet a humble boldness is also required lest we think too much about ourselves and withdraw from the Supper.
I will quote from J. W. Alexander (from Remember Him) as a proper balance to pre-Communion examination:
"But special counsel is necessary for those who tend to form adverse judgments of their own state. Realize that you are looking for the reality and not the perfection, or even eminence of piety. Life exists in the infant as well as the robust man. Remember that all graces are not always developed in the same degree. Do not be misled by the experience of others. There is infinite diversity in the operations of the Spirit. Do not yield to alarm because you do not have the feelings which others have, or any certain order of exercises; but let the sure Word of God alone be your scales, standard, and touchstone." (p.15)
Understanding the Means of Grace Series:
I. What Are They?
II. Passion for the Word
III. Benefits of the Word
IV. Power of God
V. Foolishness of God
VI. What is a Sacrament?
VII.The Initiatory Rite