A number of years ago, Erwin Lutzer, former pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, wrote a chapter for a book titled Deserving of Tears where he tells this story:
“‘Is there anything more sorrowful, more deserving of tears, than that the Lord’s Supper should be as a subject of strife and division?’ Philip Melanchthon asked this question in August 1544. He had good reason to be sorrowful. A few years earlier, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli debated the Lord’s Supper at the Marburg Castle in Germany. Flanked by a few friends, Luther and Zwingli sat at opposite ends of a long table surrounded by observers. Luther reluctantly attended under growing pressure to unify the reform movement in Germany and Switzerland. If Luther and Zwingli could agree on the Lord’s Supper, political unity between the two countries could be achieved. It was not to be. Luther held tenaciously to his convictions and even inferred that the Swiss were not brothers in Christ. Zwingli even approached Luther with tears and held out the hand of brotherhood, but Luther declined.”
Now then listen to Lutzer’s keen observation when he says,
“If Melancthon were alive today, he might not weep because of controversies that surround the Lord’s Supper, but he might well sorrow because of our indifference to its meaning and importance.”(Doctrines Divide: Erwin Lutzer pg. 101)
He’s right. Today, there is widespread disinterest, avoidance, misunderstanding, and even neglect of the Lord’s Supper in the life of the Lord’s people. What once was prized and esteemed, is now forgotten, minimized, or ignored. People no longer fight over the meaning of the Lord’s Supper because they don’t care enough.
Taking the Command Seriously
Churches opt to keep this meal once a quarter, or once a month, or for a few folks on a Sunday night. Somehow, many Christians and many local churches have reached a point where the Lord’s Supper is seen as optional or ancillary. It’s no longer a contentious meal, it’s a neglected meal.
The first thing I want you to see is that this meal isn’t an option for the Bible-believing Christian. The Lord’s Supper is a command from our Lord. The Lord of all the universe says to the Lord’s people, “Do this.” This meal is important to our Lord. He made that clear. The Supper is a command from the lips of the Lord Christ. He was infinitely wise when He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The Lord’s Supper is not a fad; it’s a command.
When the people of God collectively hear Jesus say, “Do this...” we do it. The Lord Himself ordained this for His people. This isn’t our own tradition that we made up or concocted. This is a direct command from the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s an ordinance, not a tradition. He ordained it. It’s a command, and His commandments are not burdensome. Bishop J.C. Ryle said this of the Supper,
“Nothing can possibly be of small importance which the Lord Jesus Christ ordained and appointed. Our Lord most distinctly commanded His disciples to ‘eat bread’ and ‘drink wine’ in remembrance of Him. What right has any Christian to disobey this commandment?…No doubt a man may be saved, like the penitent thief, without having received the Lord’s Supper. It is not a matter of absolute and indispensable necessity, like repentance, faith, and conversion. But it is impossible to say that any professing Christian is in a safe, healthy, or satisfactory condition of soul, who habitually refuses to obey Christ and attend the Lord’s Table.”
Oh, how things have changed. How is it possible that professing Christians should so causally and habitually neglect the Lord’s Table? How is it possible that many churches have opted to minimize or remove this meal? If breaking fellowship over the finer details of the Supper is deserving of tears, then how much more the outright flippancy and neglect of the Supper? This is deserving of tears.
The Need for Renewal
In the past decade, there has been a lot of talk in evangelicalism about the gospel and gospel-centeredness. I praise God for this. This truly is a wonderful thing. The gospel is central to the life of the Lord’s people. But one thing that has been oddly missing in many of these discussions and conferences and books is how the Lord’s Supper does exactly that.
The Lord Jesus Christ commanded that He be regularly remembered in a certain way. He established a meal that encapsulates the most important historical event in the history of the world. It was a visible picture of the most essential event in the history of the world. Like Baptism, the Lord’s Supper is the gospel in miniature.
And because the gospel is central to the Church, the Lord’s Supper becomes one of the primary vehicles that God has ordained for us to relive and reinforce the glorious realities of our salvation.
In the life of the Church, the Lord’s Supper helps keep the main thing the main thing. Coupled with the proper exposition of the Word of God, this meal is designed by God to keep this incredible gospel at the center of His Church. His command was given so that His people would have a meaningful, heartfelt, focused time of thanksgiving and worship of Christ through this meal and the proclamation of the Word of God. In the Supper, we are following Christ’s command to recall and remember the gospel. The glorious essence of the gospel is that by faith and trust in Christ alone, sinners are declared righteous, and the Lord of the Universe absorbs their sin on their behalf. By faith, the ungodly are justified and baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. This is good news; it’s Gospel.
The apostle Paul summarized this gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4,
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”
This is not only the singular message of the Church, it’s the singular message for the Church. Jesus is the author and perfecter of Gospel-centeredness, and the Supper calls our attention to the Person of Christ and the work He accomplished.
After celebrating 500 years of the Reformation, the Lord’s Supper needs to find its rightful place again in the local assembly of God’s people. During the mighty Reformation, the Lord’s people rediscovered the gospel. What once was lost, was found. But the Reformation isn’t over. As the Reformers themselves said, Semper reformanda – “always be reforming.” The Supper needs to be restored to its rightful place in the life of the local church and it starts with obedience to Christ’s command to “do this in remembrance of me.” May God be pleased to bring about a renewed interest and emphasis and a revitalization of the Lord’s Supper in the life of His Precious Bride, the Church.
The Church needs to reclaim the priority of the Supper. If we want to keep the gospel at the heart of the Church, then we need to get back to a deeper appreciation of the Supper. The nourishment and health of our souls depend upon it.
For other articles in David Anderson’s series on the Lord’s Supper, click here.