Holy Communion – 9

3.4 The Lord’s Supper as faithfulness and freedom; as upholding and uplifting[1]

1. Faithfulness: ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be with them.’ (Matt 18:20)

There is an ‘upholding’ of those who bear the name of Christ, a faithful act on the part of Christ, binding himself to our time and place. We are affirmed and ‘named’ even in our inability to believe. Christ comes to us through the act of receiving the elements, we do not ‘ascend’ to Christ through the elements. Thus, to ‘discern the body’ (1 Cor 11), is to perceive the presence of Christ in each other. The issue of the presence of an ‘unbeliever’ at the Lord’s table is not dealt with by Paul in 1 Cor 11. His emphasis is on the ‘unworthy’ partaking, not an ‘unworthy person.’

John Wesley considered the Supper to be a ‘converting ordinance,’ where non-Christians would come to know Christ.

One of the salient features of the Methodist Revival was the fact that the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper came to be regarded not simply as a confirming, but as a converting ordinance … the Lord’s Supper can mark the beginning of the Christian life. It would be possible to give a lengthy list of early Methodists who were, like Susannah Wesley, the mother of John and Charles, converted at the Lord’s Supper. It was the actual experience of the Lord’s Supper as a converting ordinance that led the Wesley’s so insistently to contend for its use by men and women before conversion. They took this stand against the Moravians who would have denied the Sacrament to all except those who had received full assurance of faith.[2]

Others argue that the Supper should not be viewed in this ‘evangelistic’ way. So Otto Weber writes:

The Meal is not a means of mission; it has never been that. The totality within which and in which Christ through the Holy Spirit gives himself to us is a mystery. But in this it is important that the proprium of the Supper in comparison with baptism, which is also physical, is that it deals with us in our supra‑individual (and not just trans‑subjective) existence as the Community.[3]

It reminds/speaks the Gospel to the Christian community. At the same time, Weber says further:
The New Testament has no trace of the idea of ‘partaking on the part of unworthy people.’ There is also no reason to interrogate the participants at the Supper about their ‘worthiness’ or ‘unworthiness’ or to investigate it. This is all the more remarkable since otherwise there is definitely the practice of ‘ecclesiastical discipline.’ What we do find in Scripture is the term ‘unworthy’ (anexios) in 1 Corinthians 11:27. There is the ‘partaking’ which is itself ‘unworthy’ (manducatio indigna), but there is no trace of the idea of ‘partaking by those who are unworthy’ (manducatio indigna) … The question of the ‘partaking by the unbeliever,’ or as it is put in the Wittenberg Concord, the ‘partaking by the unworthy’ (manducatio indignorum), is not raised by the New Testament. It is a question which arises in the practice and teaching of the Church.[4]
________________________________________
[1] See Barth, CD IV/2, 702ff.
[2] John C. Bowmer, The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in Early Methodism (Westminster: Dacre Press, 1951), 106‑7; Also John R. Parris, John Wesley’s Doctrine of the Sacraments (London: Epworth Press, 1963), 68ff.
[3] Weber, Foundations, 636.
[4] Weber, Foundations, 645.

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