Monday, January 25, 2010

What's going on in the Lord's Supper? Douglas Wilson

I'll let these three quotes from Douglas Wilson soften the ground!

"We learn here [1 Cor 10:15-16] that the Lord's Supper is a means of blessing, it is very clearly a means of grace. Paul identififies the cup as a a cup of blessing. This means that when a believer comes to the Lord's Supper, and partakes of it in a worhty manner, he is blessed by God in the coming.  This is a blessing the communicant would not have recieved if he had not partaken." (Wilson, Mother Kirk, 101)

"We must remember the context of Passover. Christ instituted the observance of the Lord's Supper on the 14th of Nisan, at the annual Passover festival of the Jews.  In the course of that meal, Christ set apart some of its elements for the establishment of a new meal, the meal of the New Covenant.  Christians were to take these elements and remember Him, proclaiming His death, until the Second Coming.  At the same time, it is a memorial in the Old Testament sense, in which we are asking God to remember us, for Jesus' sake." (Wilson, Mother Kirk, 103-104)

"...there is no disagreement that baptism is the ordinance or sacrament of initiation into the visible body, and the Supper is the ordinance of nourishment with that body." (Wilson, Mother Kirk, 107)

I like Wilson's emphasis on a covenantal meal.  Clearly the larger idea of eating is important in Scripture; from manna, passover, sacrifices to the final wedding feast etc.  Also covenants are important, Jesus is, in the words of Isaiah 43, doing a 'new thing', a "new covenant".  Elsewhere Wilson observes that arguing about "presence" introduces a category or theme that doesn't seem to have a significant place in the text.  I think I like where Wilson is going but I feel he still dodges an important exegetical question and an important systematic question.

1. 1 Cor 8 -11 is a section about idolatry.  Wilson doesn't show how this is connected with the Lord's Supper.  Is Paul using a reference to the Last supper to prove a point about idolatry or is Paul using a reference to the ongoing practice of the Lord's Supper (albeit abused) to make a point about idolatry?

2. Reformed Christians, like Wilson, believe that since the tearing of the Temple curtain, we no longer have to remove our sandals, like Moses before the burning bush.  This means, for example, the grave digger and the doctor, as Christians can both be equally involved in God's work.  So why is there a more special blessing from drinking at communion then drinking with close Christian friends?  Isn't Wilson introducing through a back door the idea of special levels of blessings and consecration?


wschuller said...

Luke I'd love your opinion on Mother Kirk as a book...

I found it alot of fun and very challenging...

Anonymous said...

Hi Luke
Re. Wilson's first quote and your systematic question -- I would think that the blessing is not in the meal itself but in the community of which the meal is a sign. (If you see what I'm getting at.)

But I can't really tell what Wilson is or is not saying on that count.

To my mind, simply eating and drinking with Christian friends would not be The Meal -- but eating and drinking with Christian friends while being mindful of Christ's work and the new covenant could be... And therein lies the blessing, perhaps?

ish said...

Is it a cup of blessing because it is about the love of Christ? Christ is the blessing.

ish said...

Is it biblical to think that when Jesus said "Do this in remembrance of me" that not only do we have a special ordinance that believers have observed from earliest times often in the context of an "agape feast" but that all partaking of nourishment should remind us of Him? Is that the origin of saying thanks at meals? Maybe communion bears a relationship to other partaking that is similar to the relationship that deliberate time-apart prayer has to "prayer without ceasing"?

Jordan said...

Hi Luke, happy new year and all. Hope Amy's well.

Torn temple curtains and degrees of blessing...

I think that question is like asking, 'Seeing as the temple curtain is torn, why do we have to make the effort to read the bible, pray, go to church etc. if we wish to progress in our knowledge and experience of God?'

You don't want to push the torn curtain idea so far that you over realize your eschatology. For the present life there remains the means of grace - Word and Sacrament. Our use of these doesn't affect our standing before God (torn curtain), but does evidence that standing, and is the channel through which God chooses to communicate himself to us.


Jill said...

Hi Luke,

Interesting post. I'll have to seek out Wilson's book and take a look at it.

A couple of general observations (based on 1 Corinthians, not Mother Kirk, obviously:

1. I'm not sure about Wilson's reference to blessing. I hope he takes into account the Passover context in which the Last Supper sharing was most probably of the Cup of Blessing (one of the 4 cups of wine shared in that meal). The most natural reading of the text, ISTM, is that this cup, symbolising as it does the blood of Christ, is for us a sacrament (outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace) of the great blessing of Christ's self-giving for us.

2. Re. your question 1 - I read 1 Cor 10 as being about the conduct of the Lord's Supper in the Corinthian community. The link to idolatry is that participation in the Lord's Supper invites (requires?) an understanding of the work of Christ, and of what it means to be made part of the body of Christ by faith in that saving work. The best defense against idolatry is a proper relationship with the one true God, as revealed in Jesus.

Jill said...
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Luke said...

Thanks all for your comments:

It would good Wayne to chew the fat some more about Pastor Wilson. I can't see anything I don't like or disagree with in what you've said Arthur! Yes, Mr Ish Christ is a sense the blessing but we'd need to qualify that so we don't up putting Christ on the table instead of at the right hand of the Father.Jordan, great to hear from you. I need to think more about what you've said. Jill, yes since writing the post that's roughly where I have arrived.