Do we place much of an emphasis or priority on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or do we barely give it a second thought? Richard Phillips, senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina, writes of how odd it is that so many believers today have such a low regard for the Lord’s Supper:
“They seldom observe it and assign to it little significance. They are largely ignorant of the theology poured into and out from it. They derive no assurance or comfort, and seek no grace, as they receive from the Lord’s Table. How remarkable this is among those supposedly devoted to the Bible!” (What Is the Lord’s Supper?, p.5-6)
You might be surprised to learn that the church down through her long history has not always viewed the Lord’s Supper with as much disinterest or apathy as many do in the church today – quite the opposite, actually! In his very helpful book about the Lord’s Supper entitled, Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, Keith Mathison makes the following observation:
“One of the most interesting phenomena that one encounters when comparing the writings of the sixteenth-century Reformers with the writings of their twentieth-century heirs is the different amount of attention devoted to the Lord’s Supper. The Reformers devoted volumes of books, letters, tracts, and sermons to the subject. The sixteenth century was a time of heated controversy over such crucial doctrines as the authority of Scripture and justification by faith alone, yet the doctrine that was discussed more often than any other was that of the Lord’s Supper.” (xv)
Another writer puts it this way:
“More ink was spilled over the Lord’s Supper, and more horses were ridden to exhaustion attending conferences about it, than over any other doctrine.” (David J. Engelsma, “Martin Bucer’s “Calvinistic” Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper” (Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, Grandville, MI, 1988)
One need only ask when the last time was that you heard a sermon or any extensive teaching on the subject to see how far we have fallen from such a mindset.
To further illustrate the point, The Westminster Larger Catechism devotes no less than 10 separate questions to the subject, while the Heidelberg Catechism spends three (3) whole Lord’s days on the subject with a total of 8 questions (and some rather lengthy answers). Clearly the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper is a very important one. It is a subject that the 16th century Protestant Reformers and their heirs in the 17th century spent quite a bit of time and energy studying, teaching, and even debating about together. It was near and dear to their hearts, and should be so to ours as well.
Last but not least, we as believers are commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24). He certainly appointed and established this Sacrament for our benefit, to be a blessing and a means of grace, but that makes it no less of a command just the same. It is much like when a mother slaves all day over a hot stove to put a good, healthy meal on the table, but still often needs to tell her children to eat! Surely if it is important enough for Jesus to not only appoint it for our benefit, but also to command us to partake of it on a regular basis, we would be well-served to sit up and take notice, as well as seek to understand what the Word of God has to say about it.
May we learn to think more highly of the Lord’s Supper, to think about it more often, and (even more importantly) to think about it more biblically. And if that means that we end up disagreeing over it and debating the subject, so much the better! Better to care enough about it to vigorously debate it than to view it with apathy.