Reflecting on Truth #47

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New City Catechism Question 47

Q: Does the Lord’s supper add anything to Christ’s atoning work?

A: No, Christ died once for all. The Lord’s Supper is a covenant meal celebrating Christ’s atoning work; as it is also a means of strengthening our faith as we look to him, and a foretaste of the future feast. But those who take part with unrepentant hearts eat and drink judgment on themselves.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. . . . (1 Peter 3:18)

Why does this matter?

Here, it is timely to be reminded that Christians are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. This is why the Savior has to be truly God Himself as well as truly human too, for anyone less than fully God and fully man is insufficient to reconcile sinners to God. Because, Christ is sufficient, and faith is the sufficient instrument, the Lord’s supper does not add anything to Christ’s atoning work.

In the Old Testament, God’s people were given the Passover meal, first to anticipate a great rescue that is about to happen, and then to celebrate that great rescue being the beneficiaries of it. This great rescue is part of the Old Covenant. It is but a foretaste of the greatest rescue that has been promised since the fall and will definitely happen as promised. That promised greatest rescue is fulfilled in the New Testament and is part of the New and better Covenant. There, God’s people were given the Lord’s supper, first to anticipate the greatest rescue that is about to happen, and then to celebrate that greatest rescue being the beneficiaries of it. We, Christians, are the beneficiaries of that greatest rescue. As the beneficiaries, we are commanded to remember and celebrate the meal of the better covenant as we look forward to the perfect future feast when our Rescuer comes again.

Having said that the Lord’s supper doesn’t add anything to Christ’s atoning work and that we are called to remember it, it doesn’t mean that it’s unimportant. In 1 Corinthians 11:27-34, Paul warns Christians to be careful about taking part in the supper in an unworthy manner. Most likely, this unworthy manner refers not to our attitude towards the body of Christ in terms of the elements of the supper, but instead it refers to our attitude towards the body of Christ in terms of the church. Again, the Lord’s supper is not unimportant, for some have become weak and ill, even died, for taking part in the Lord’s supper with an unworthy manner towards their brothers and sisters in Christ. Though the Lord’s supper is memorial and not salvific, it can either be a means of edification or a means of judgment, depending on how we treat the Lord’s body.

What does this mean for us?

The implication for this truth is twofold. The first is that we don’t elevate the Lord’s supper into the salvific territory. There is nothing magical about taking the elements in the Lord’s supper. They don’t cause someone to be saved, nor do they keep someone saved. This also means that there is nothing magical that happens when we consume them. There is no substance that transforms into another substance, or specifically, the bread turning into the literal flesh of Christ. His sacrifice is once and sufficient. There is no need for us to deflesh Christ again and again to gain Christ’s atoning benefits. Although there are physical consequences for taking them in an unworthy manner, it doesn’t mean that taking them causes physical benefits, like healing and getting more fit. In fact, we should question our true motivation if we are expecting physical benefits when taking part in the Lord’s supper.

The second implication is that we don’t relegate the Lord’s supper into the flippant territory. As reminded in last week’s reflection, we are encouraged to Look Up, Look Back, Look Within, Look Around, and Look Forward when taking part in the Lord’s supper. It’s not a shameful thing, in fact possibly the careful thing in certain specific situations, to skip taking part in the Lord’s supper for the sake of getting reconciled with a brother or sister in Christ. The point is not about to take or not to take, but rather, to reconcile with and honor the members of Christ’s own body. Christ died for His body. How much more we should be careful and gentle with handling His body.

May we honor the Lord’s supper in its rightful place, that is, as we honor the Lord’s body and as the recipients of His great rescue.

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Question 46: What is the Lord's Supper?