communion, confessing baptist, john owen, Lord's Supper, lord's table, ordinance, ordinances, presence of God, real presence of Christ, reformed eucharistic theology, sacrament, sacraments, union with Christ
Many churches have always had a preference for the word “communion” when it comes to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The word serves us well because it speaks of the intimate fellowship between Christians and God as well as the union between Christians one with another. This is seen particularly in 1 Corinthians 10:16
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
This “communion” (which can also be seen as fellowship or participation) is a uniquely Christian word because it speaks of an intimate union at the same time as a sacred relationship. The Apostle Paul very simply teaches us that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a service of holy communion, communion with God and communion with our fellow Christians. However, there is a special and peculiar communion with Christ at the Table. Perhaps one reason why we so little value this ordinance (and profit so little from it) may be because we understand so little of the nature of the special communion with Christ. The presence of God is experienced in communion; it is a very real experience of God. It demands that we take our shoes off our feet and bow our foreheads to the dust. Christ is present at the Supper to be received by faith. He is present that we might unite in Him and exercise the new life of the New Covenant. Therefore, when we speak of the sacrament as communion with God, we need to think about the presence of God.
However, it should be noted that we do not always sense His presence. Recall the account of Jacob spending the night at Bethel and having a dream in which God spoke to him. When Jacob awoke from his dream he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it” (cf. Genesis 28:16). The same is true for us today when we worship within the context of the Lord’s Supper. God is truly present even if we do not sense it. That which has divine institution is blessed by the divine presence.
This is a great mystery involving great wisdom and faith, but in the Supper, there is a “genuine exhibition” of Christ, as Owen describes it. Christ is held forth to be believed. It is He, Jesus himself, who makes the offer: “Take eat; this is my body broken for you.” Here we are confronted by Jesus Himself. He invites us to be united to Him through participation in the feat. He offers us incorporation into His body – a union with the broken body with blood poured out in sacrifice. It is an invitation to become one with the Savior, that He might be our Savior. Incorporation is, therefore, the ultimate presence.
This holy communion is nothing less than union with Christ. It is when our faith discovers Jesus as our Savior by virtue of His perfect sacrifice and glorious resurrection that the celebration of His perfect sacrifice and glorious resurrection that the celebration becomes worship. We come placing our faith in Christ, submitting to His authority, and believing His promises, that He is indeed with us and within us. In this, the covenant is refreshed as we rehearse the refrain from scripture: “God is our God and we are His people.” Hence, the Lord’s Supper offers us a unique, peculiar, and special participation in Christ. There is a genuine mysteriousness to the observance of the Lord’s Supper which many have regularly experienced. In the Supper, we have “a mysterious reception and incorporation of Him – receiving Him to dwell in them, warming, cherishing, comforting, and strengthening our hearts.” Because of this special communion, let’s consider the exhortation by John Owen
Brethren, can we receive Christ thus? Are we willing to receive Him thus? If so, we may go away and be no more sorrowful. If we come short herein, we come short of that faith which is requred of us in this ordinance. Pray let us endeavour to consider how Jesus Christ doth hereby make a tender of Himself unto us – as one that hath actually taken away all our sins, and all our iniquities, that none of them shall ever be laid unto our charge; and to receive Him as such, is to give glory unto Him. Sacramental Discourses, p 565.