Friday, December 4, 2015

A Letter to My Congregation Regarding Lord's Supper

This past April 2015,  I wrote this to my congregation as we increased the frequency of our observance of the Lord's Supper:

...What a blessing we have to be able to worship God together each Lord's Day morning.  On behalf of the elders, I wanted to make you aware of a change that will occur in our weekly services beginning this month.  Currently, we observe the Lord's Table/Communion together once a month.  Beginning this Sunday, we will begin to observe the Lord's Supper two times per month (usually on the second and fourth Sundays of the month).  We are excited about this increase, and we look forward to how the Lord will use it in our body.  There are several reasons for this change, and I wanted to share a few of them with you along with my personal thoughts:
Why the Increase?
-1).  The Lord's Table is an opportunity for the faith family to be strengthened in the faith as the visual signs the Lord has given us in this meal are before us.  Communion is a participation in the work of Christ (1 Cor 10:16), and it is a means of grace--a means whereby the Lord nourishes us in the grace through which we have already been received by Him.  Baptists historically held that this meal is not just a memorial of Christ's work in the past, but a present means whereby his people are nourished in grace.  The historic 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (Article 30.1) says,
 "The supper of the Lord Jesus was instituted by him the same night wherein he was betrayed, to be observed in his churches, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance, and shewing forth the sacrifice of himself in his death, confirmation of the faith of believers in all the benefits thereof, their spiritual nourishment, and growth in him, their further engagement in, and to all duties which they owe to him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other."
In line with so many other brothers and sisters coming out of the Reformation, early Baptists believed that while the table was not what the Roman Catholic Church declared it to be (a real sacrifice, transubstantiation, etc.) it was a means that the Lord appointed for His people's "spiritual nourishment".  Because we believe this to be consistent with Scripture, we see the benefits of coming to the table more frequently.  A helpful resource here might be Reformed Baptist Richard Barcellos' book "The Lord's Supper As A Means of Grace: More Than A Memory"
2).  Practically, in our current once a month practice, there are so many in our body who might miss the observance due to travel, sickness, or nursery duty, and so offering it twice per month increases the likelihood that members can partake of the table more regularly.
3).  In the regular flow/liturgy of our service, the table is a special way to be strengthened in gospel grace and often flows well in connection with the weekly sermon(s).
By the Way--Words & Terms:
-As an aside, in many churches, the words "liturgy" and/or "sacrament" are feared because it is assumed that these words only apply in churches that are "high church",--for example, churches that are episcopal, or Catholic.  However, we need not fear these words, and they are words that we can use in our services.

  "Liturgy" is simply a word that means "order".  Every church has a order of worship.  Many mix this word with modern conceptions of "liturgical churches" and assume it includes incense, or ritualistic trappings.  However, the word simply means order, and no matter the church, there is an order, or flow of service.  We are increasingly seeking to see our worship services be a time of singing the Word, reading the Word, praying the Word, hearing the Word preached, being blessed in the Word through benediction, and seeing the Word proclaimed through Baptism and Lord's Supper.  So when we say "liturgy" together, we simply mean the flow or order of the gospel proclamation we observe as we meet together. A helpful resource on this is: Bryan Chapell's Book "Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape our Practice"
  "Sacrament" is also a word that we don't have to fear.  Again, many times in evangelical circles, it is assumed that that word is a Roman Catholic only word and that it means that we are resting on a ritual to bring salvation.  Whatever Rome's errors may be, this word is a word that belongs to all true churches of Jesus Christ.  John Calvin defined the word this way, " external sign, by which the Lord seals on our consciences his promises of good-will toward us, in order to sustain the weakness of our faith, and we in turn testify our piety towards him, both before himself and before angels as well as men”(Institutes 4.14.1).  Most all of the Reformed Confessions of Faith flowing out of the Reformation use the word sacrament.  Modern day theologian Wayne Grudem has discussed that the words Ordinances and Sacraments may be used interchangeably (Systematic Theology, 1994).  Early Reformed Baptists of the 1600's regularly used the word sacrament to describe both Baptism and The Lord's Supper. On and on this discussion could go--suffice it to say, when we use this word, or the word Ordinance, we don't mean a ritual on which we rely to gain standing with God, or an observance filled with magic, rather we mean a God-given observance whereby the Lord Christ nourishes the faith of His people as their senses are engaged in physical signs of His promises to them, and whereby they spiritually commune with their Lord. 
What a gracious God we have...He gives us signs until we are with Him that: remind us of His Work, feed us in the grace we have, and point us forward to a great and glorious day to come.  Let us come to the table of the Lord, with joy, reverence and thankfulness.  May the increase of the observance of the Table be a blessing among this body.
-Pastor Ryan