The Lord’s Supper is the Gospel

The Lord’s Supper is the Gospel. Jesus cut the meal loose from the Jewish Passover festival, which was honored according to certain calendar and legal requirements. Instead, His Church gathers to feast on His body and blood as gift. If someone comes to the Lord’s table full of self-confidence or self-doubt we exhort them, this Supper is not a sacrament, a holy thing, because you are worthy or unworthy. God’s Word of promise in, with, and under the bread and wine make it His true body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

The promise, “which requires all hearts believe,” as Martin Luther wrote, is the true power and benefit of the Lord’s Supper. Everything depends on the “for you,” of God’s promise. This is where the Gospel action is! “This is my body, given FOR YOU.” “This is my blood, shed FOR YOU for the forgiveness of sins.” When a sinner bites down on these words he swallows the medicine of immortality.

At the same time, against this promise crashes a thousand attacks. Our old man in Adam, the world, and the devil will not let God’s good news rest. As Luther wrote, dangers and devils never rest, “the world and the flesh do not take a break either. Sins of a hundred thousand different kinds and death, position themselves all around you. All manner of stones, water, and fire are full of death every moment. Each and every bite, drink, path, and footstep are a danger to your life. Wife, child, and you yourself stand in the danger of death, with all manner of misdirections and sins, every moment. Where shall we turn? To Christ.” [AE 38:97-137]

Just as God’s promise in the Sacrament is real so are the assaults against it. This is the eschatological force of the Sacrament. The Lord’s Supper is “food for the soul, which nourishes and strengthens the new man.” Yet, it is, Luther wrote, “Food that nourishes not the body, but the new man.” [WA 30.1:24.36] Thus, at the table of the Lord the old man in Adam grapples with the new man in Christ. Flesh writhes against spirit. Satan’s struggles to escape out from under God’s heal.

In the Sacrament of the Altar the Holy Spirit, as He has done by Baptism, and through the mouth of His preacher, annihilates the old sinner. He does this to kill the old man in Adam so He can conform the new man to the image of Christ, his Lord. The same God-man who on the night in which He was betrayed took bread … The same God-man who overcame death, sin, and hell … He is the only One who can rescue the old Adam from them to bring him all the way into the eschaton.

The Lord’s Supper strengthens faith in those who struggle against sin, death, and the devil. It also enflames their love for each other, and for those who are not yet a part of their communion. In the Supper, God’s promise of salvation, and righteousness, and life are served to hopeful sinners. The Lord’s Supper then is Gospel we can wrap our lips around and savor. Not only that, through it our Lord stirs us up to receive the gift as blessing, then give ourselves in service to each other as Christ gave Himself up to sin, death, and hell.

Therefore, to omit the Lord’s Supper from any worship of God is misguided. To cut out the Lord’s Supper because, “It makes visitors feel excluded,” or, “We don’t want to make it seem like communion is more important than faith,” or, “It obstructs the growth of our church,” or, “We don’t want people to feel judged because they can’t come up with us,” is to say, in sum, “We don’t know the Gospel.”

Day and night we all fight against our sinful flesh, the unbelieving world, deathly works, hellish ideas, and the devil. However, in the Supper victory over all these things is given into our mouths to eat and drink. Christ, our “LORD Sabaoth,” and “God of the army on the march or army host,” is always engaged in battle and takes up a position on the battlefield in us. This food is good news, Gospel, for this reason. It is “actually the wages and provision, so that He can pay and feed His army and battlefield people, [that] it finally prevails and holds the field with Him. Oh, it is excellent wages, precious red gold and pure white silver, elegant, beautiful bread and good, sweet wine, and filled and richly plentiful of everything, so that it is most pleasant to be in the army on the march.” [AE 38:97-137] It is Jesus’ body and blood, given for the forgiveness of sins. It is the Gospel!


Comments

The Lord’s Supper is the Gospel — 27 Comments

  1. Good article.

    Luther said: “The Sacrament is the Gospel. For in it the sum of the whole Gospel is contained, as Paul says, “for as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death [1 Cor. 11.26]…For if you ask, What is the Gospel? you can give no better answer than these words of the New Testament, namely, that Christ gave his body and poured out his blood for the forgiveness of sin.” AE 36 p. 183.

  2. I agree with that… to a point. So long as you don’t mean that a person in an unrepentant and unbelieving state can come into church, partake of the elements, and leave while remaining in an unrepentant and unbelieving state.

  3. J. Dean,
    I’m not sure they ought to do this. But I am pretty sure it has happened.
    And nevertheless they receive the gospel, they receive Christ, but it is not for their blessing when this happens, which is why Lutherans ask Calvinists to stay away.

  4. Oh wow….Bror are you saying Calvinists are unrepentant unbelievers?? How about Baptists? Catholics? Methodists? Anglicans?

    That’s just silly. You may find them in error, and then you might pray for them, but you ought not play God and question their very faith.

    From the Large C:
    “For if you would wait until you are rid of such burdens, that you might come to the Sacrament pure and worthy, you must forever stay away. For in that case He pronounces sentence and says: 74] If you are pure and godly, you have no need of Me, and I, in turn, none of thee. Therefore those alone are called unworthy who neither feel their infirmities nor wish to be considered sinners. ”

    Remember, we are sinners all. Lutheran closed, Lutheran opened, Baptists, Presbys, Catholics. We all need the Gospel, Need the Word, need the sacraments.

    Honestly. Maybe closed Lutherans shouldn’t be so quick to exclude their brothers from their feast. But nevertheless, as that is their way, they at least ought not to use the Lord’s Supper as a cudgel of spiritual superiority.

  5. @Lizabth #5
    Remember, we are sinners all. Lutheran closed, Lutheran opened, Baptists, Presbys, Catholics. We all need the Gospel, Need the Word, need the sacraments.

    Lisabth,
    We are all sinners, that much is true. But you can’t benefit from the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Supper if you deny that it’s there. Calvinists: Baptists, Methodists, and so on, don’t believe in the Real Presence.

    Roman Catholics and Anglicans do; they have the problem that they believe their good works contribute to their salvation. What Christ did wasn’t enough. But I think they also understand closed communion. It has certainly been said, the times I’ve visited.

    You are only being “cudgeled” if you demand as a “right”, communion at an altar that is not your own. You don’t have that kind of “right”. Most Roman Catholics wouldn’t think they did, nor would we break into their closed communion. Calvinists have traditionally had closed communion. It’s only lately, of lack of training or lack of belief, that people think they “have a right” to go where they don’t belong.

    Communion is a fellowship of common belief.

  6. Lizabeth @ 5,
    No, Bror is right. There is a difference in understanding between Lutherans and Calvinists on the Sacraments, and my time spent in a recent Intro to Lutheranism class has been a good primer on the differences between the two. Calvinists should not come to a Lutheran communion, as there is a very different understanding of the two.

  7. Helen, Confessional (39 Articles) Anglicans believe in salvation by grace through faith alone, and justification by faith alone. Don’t confuse them with Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics.

  8. Lizabth : You may find them in error, and then you might pray for them, but you ought not play God and question their very faith.

    Lizabeth, you are absolutely correct that we cannot see the faith (or lack thereof) in the hearts of others — which is why we observe public confession when determining whether or not we are in fellowship and should be communing at the same altar.

    If their hearts are truly in fellowship with us, then they should publicly join us. If they reject our invitation to be one in the Word, then they are excluding themselves from our Communion.

  9. @Nicholas Leone #8
    Helen, Confessional (39 Articles) Anglicans believe in salvation by grace through faith alone, and justification by faith alone.

    I take it you are referring to those who have broken away from the Episcopal church in this country? Do the (39 article) Anglicans have closed communion? I admit to not being very knowledgeable in that area.

  10. @Lizabth #5
    It is possible that a Baptist or a Catholic is a Christian, but Baptist and Catholic theology is enthusiasm and not Christian. Hopefully, due to a felicitous inconsistency many Baptists and Catholics have faith, that is, they trust in Jesus alone, not their decisions and works, for their salvation.

    But if a RC believes RC doctrine on works-righteousness, then he is not a Christian. Read what Luther says in his Large Catechism under the Holy Spirit. The Roman Catholic Church is not the Christian church. And just because Christian may exist there does not mean we can commune Joe Catholic who comes to the altar.

    And if a Baptist believes Baptist theology, trusting in his own decision to follow Jesus, he is not a Christian. So from the perspective of a Christian, I hope that Joe Baptist and Joe Catholic, are Christians. But from a pastor’s point of view, I could not commune them.

    I just wanted to make that clear. Lutheran doctrine is not just one tradition among others. Lutheran doctrine is pure divine doctrine. So if one of my children became a Baptist or a Roman Catholic, I would fear for his soul. It is that serious. If one does not believe the Scriptural doctrine confessed in the Lutheran Confessions or if one is not yet instructed in that doctrine, it is reckless pastoral practice to commune him.

  11. From #12: “And if a Baptist believes Baptist theology, trusting in his own decision to follow Jesus, he is not a Christian.”

    As a lifelong Lutheran (LCMS), I appreciate the problem with decision theology, but to characterize all Baptist theology as decision theology is inaccurate. Baptist exceptions to decision theology are found not only among individuals, but also among entire Baptist institutions. For example:

    “We believe in SALVATION BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH: that salvation is the free gift of God, neither merited nor secured in part or in whole by any virtue, or work of man, but received only by personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ….”

    Grace Baptist Church, Bowie, Maryland
    http://www.gbcbowie.org/pwsite/aboutUs.php

    “The perfect and holy law of God shows that we are guilty before Him and are unable to bring about the inner change necessary to obey Him from the heart. The Gospel is that Christ has fulfilled the demands of the Law and is the only way for the believer to have a relationship with God. He comes to powerless people and grants repentance from sin and faith in Christ. He takes away guilt and credits His righteosness to those who believe in Him.”

    Grace Alone Baptist Church, Paris, Kentucky
    http://gracealonebaptist.weebly.com/about-us.html

    “Saving faith is the belief, on God’s authority, of whatsoever is revealed in His Word concerning Christ; accepting and resting upon Him alone for justification and eternal life. It is wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit….”

    Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
    http://www.sbts.edu/about/truth/abstract/

  12. Indeed, there are a minority of monergistic Baptists, called Reformed Baptists, who hold to the London Baptist Confession of 1689, a modification of the Westminster Confession.

    The vast majority of Baptists today, however, hold to semi-Pelagian decision theology and can be considered the true heirs of the Anabaptists.

  13. @Nicholas Leone #14

    Thank you, Mr. Leone.

    It just occurred to me that Baptists probably talk in similar ways about us:
    “Indeed, there are a minority of Bible-believing Lutherans, called Confessional Lutherans, who hold to the Book of Concord. The vast majority of Lutherans today, however, hold to a liberal theology and cannot be considered the true heirs of the Reformation.”

  14. Ted Crandall :
    @Nicholas Leone #14
    Thank you, Mr. Leone.
    It just occurred to me that Baptists probably talk in similar ways about us:
    “Indeed, there are a minority of Bible-believing Lutherans, called Confessional Lutherans, who hold to the Book of Concord. The vast majority of Lutherans today, however, hold to a liberal theology and cannot be considered the true heirs of the Reformation.”

    I must admit that such an idea was one I once held to. I know better now.

  15. If Baptists are Calvinists and Methodists are Arminians, what in the world is an ELCA person?

  16. From the main post: “Therefore, to omit the Lord’s Supper from any worship of God is misguided.”

    Is that saying that the use of matins or vespers is “misguided”? And doesn’t the Christian worship God in a variety of ways apart from worship services as such?

  17. @wineonthevines #17

    Most Baptists today are 4-point Arminian or semi-Pelagian. As I said above, only a minority of them hold to the historic Calvinistic Baptist confessions.

    The ELCA is Socinian, aka Liberal.

  18. ‘Socinian”? Wow! I checked Wikipedia and it looks like Socinians are in league with Unitarians.

  19. @wineonthevines #20

    Of course they wouldn’t admit to being Socinian, but the ELCA, like the other liberal mainline denominations, has had for a long time seminary professors and ordained ministers who are doctrinally Unitarian, denying the Deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, Subsitutionary Atonement, the Bodily Resurrection, the Trinity, and the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture.

    Laelius and Faustus Socinus denied all of these things in sixteenth century, and thus can be considered, along with the Unitarians, to be the first theological liberals.

  20. @Nicholas Leone #21,
    Thank you. So, why do some folks (and congregations) remain in this church body? Have they not read Revelation 18:4, “And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.”

  21. @wineonthevines #22

    With many liberal denominations, if a congregation leaves, the denomination sues to keep the church property and usually wins. That has certainly been the case with the Episcopal and United Methodist churches. I’m not sure about the ELCA in that regard. There are some “conservatives” in the mainline denominations, however, who don’t seem to take Rev. 18:4 and other verses seriously enough. That’s true for many of it’s churches.

    But I can understand that if a person has been a part of an ELCA congregation for a long time and the church is still theologically conservative, they wouldn’t want to just leave.

  22. Nicholas Leone :I can understand that if a person has been a part of an ELCA congregation for a long time and the church is still theologically conservative, they wouldn’t want to just leave.

    I can also understand the sentimental attachment a person has for their home congregation when it has become theologically liberal. I had a couple in their ’80s finally tire of holding their noses and join my little mission. It broke their hearts to leave, but they could no longer stand being a part of the outright denial of the Word of God.

    (They already were uncomfortable with women pastors, but lesbian pastors and ELCA’s promotion of “bound conscience” above Sola Scriptura was the last straw for them.)

  23. So, as far as the leaders go in such denominations as ELCA, are they not enemies of the gospel?

  24. @Pastor Ted Crandall #24

    I see what you mean. When I was a kid I attended services and Sunday school at an Episcopal church. I stopped attending while in middle school due to family matters. I still fondly remember those Sunday school classes, which were orthodox as far as I can remember. It was where I learned to recite the Lord’s Prayer. Years later now as an adult I checked the recent sermons of the same priest on the church’s website, and it doesn’t appear that he’s a conservative. I wonder if I would still be a member of that church today if things had happened differently, but fortunately that was not God’s intention.

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