Sabbatical Day Four: LTS, M1 and home

Little more to say than my header.  Have left London Theological Seminary after three days of fellowship and study and I am missing the atmosphere but am glad to be home. Next week it will be another library in another town.

Here’s today’s notes, which continue to build my grasp of what God does when he gathers his people for a communion service.  Most of this is new to me, which means I either failed to grasp what was being taught in lectures or chose to do different essays at college, or both.

Sabbatical Day 4 – notes from “Given for You.”

Given for You

Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper

Keith A. Matthison

(P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, 2002)

Relationship of sign, seal of Christ in the sacrament and faith

It is certain, therefore, that the Lord offers us his mercy, and a pledge of his grace, both in his sacred word and in the sacraments; but it is not apprehended save by those who receive the word and sacraments with firm faith: in like manner as Christ, though offered and held forth for salvation to all, is not, however, acknowledged and received by all. (Inst 4:14:7)

Union with Christ

The concept of Union with Christ is crucial to Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Unless the connection is understood, very little of what he says about the Supper makes sense. We must begin by noting what Calvin says about the purpose of the Incarnation.

We must hold therefore that Christ, being the eternal Son of God, and the same essence and glory with the Father, assumed our flesh, to communicate to us by right of adoption that which he possessed by nature, namely, to make us ons of God. This is done when ingrafted by faith to the body of Christ…

Moreover, that Christ may thus exhibit himself to us and produce these effects [expiation, imputation, and intercession] in us, he must be made one with us, and we must be ingrafted into his body. He does not infuse his life into us unless he is our head, and from him the whole body, fitly joined together through every joint of supply, according to his working, maketh increase of the body in the proportion of each member. (Mutual Consent in Regard to the Sacraments in Selected Works of John Calvin.)

According to Calvin, we can receive Chrits’s benefits only by being united with him, and we can be united with him only because he took on human flesh in the Incarnation…Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper is intimately connected to this concept of mystical union with Christ.

The Presence of Christ in the Eucharist

Covered in Wallace

The mode of partaking of the Body and the Blood

Covered in Wallace

A Spiritual Banquet: John Calvin on the Lord’s Supper

by Matthew W. Mason

Calvin’s understanding turns on I Corinthians 10:16f, where Paul warns the Corinthians to flee idolatry, and avoid participating in pagan altars and the cups of demons (vv18-22). To support his exhortation he argues from what happens when Christians share together in the Lord’s Supper: they participate in[67] Christ’s body and blood (v16). Calvin takes this to mean that believers enjoy communion with the risen Christ. They do so not in a crude, physical sense, nevertheless, they do so truly:

I agree that the reference to the cup as a communion is a figure of speech, but only so long as the truth which the figure conveys is not destroyed; in other words, provided that the reality itself is also present and the soul receives the communion in the blood, just as the mouth tastes the wine.[68]

However, Gordon Fee and C. K. Barrett challenge this interpretation. Noting that in v17 body refers to the church, they suggest that it must mean the same thing in v16.[69] So Fee,

[Paul] does not mean that by eating the bread believers have some mystical participation in the ‘broken body’ of Christ, but, as he clearly interprets in v. 17, they are herewith affirming that through Christ’s death they are ‘partners’ in the redeemed community.[70]

Nevertheless, both commentators appear to ignore the parallelism in v16:

a participation in the blood of Christ (16a)

the body of Christ (16b)

In the New Testament, Christ’s people are never described as his blood, so v16a cannot refer to the church; it must refer to Christ’s blood shed on the cross. Therefore, v16b probably contains a parallel reference to Jesus’ body broken on the cross. Hence, it seems most likely that v16 refers to the crucified Christ himself, in whom the Corinthians participate when they share in the Supper. This gives body a referent different in v16 from v17, where it clearly refers to the church, which is one body, although made up of many members. However, it is not impossible for a word to change its referent so quickly (cf. e.g. all in Romans 5:18).

This being the case, Paul’s meaning appears to run along these lines: Christians who receive the bread and cup at the Supper participate spiritually in Christ’s body and blood (v16). Therefore, because there is one bread (Christ’s physical body, signified by the bread), we who are many are one body (one church), because we all partake of the one bread (Christ) (v17).

If this exegesis is correct, Calvin’s reading of v16f, and his overall understanding of the spiritual presence of Christ in the Supper, seems to be the most plausible of those on offer.

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