Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sinners at the Table

If I am struggling in my faith, where my love for Christ is faint, my love for other believers is hardening, and I’m having a hard time seeing the gospel should I take the Lord’s Supper when it is offered? 

Allow me to make that question concrete.  Many pastors have us “examine ourselves” before we partake of the Lord’s Supper.  Typically we are urged to look at our hearts and see if there is a breach of fellowship between ourselves and another believer.  If so, we should make that right before we partake.  We are further urged to look at our life and our heart.  Is there known sin that we are refusing to give up?  If so, we need a serious time of confession before we partake. 

But what do I do if I look into my heart and see some of those really deep and tangled sins?  What if I am struggling in a relationship with another person, but it’s not just as simple as—“make things right”?  What if I find myself much like the man in Mark 9—“Lord I believe, help my unbelief”?  Should I take the Lord’s Supper when my faith is weak, I’m struggling with bitterness, and I’m having a hard time giving myself fully to the Lord? 

Some of those reading this are perhaps by default saying that I should not take the Lord’s Supper.  Fair enough.  But I want to expose you to what John Calvin said on this particular topic—as I found it helpful. 

He is speaking against a belief that said “that those who were in a state of grace at worthily”.  And they defined this “state of grace” as those who are “pure and purged of all sin”.  Calvin responds by saying, “Such a dogma would debar all the men who ever were or are on earth from the use of this Sacrament”.

This doctrine (very similar to the scenario I mentioned above) Calvin says “deprives and despoils sinners, miserable and afflicted with trembling and grief, of the consolation of this Sacrament”. 

He then goes on to define what it really means to be “worthy” to take the Lord’s Supper. 

Therefore, this is the worthiness—the best and only kind we can bring to God—to offer vileness and (so to speak) our unworthiness to him so that his mercy may make us worthy of him; to despair in ourselves so that we may be comforted in him; to abase ourselves so that we may be comforted in him; to abase ourselves so that we may be lifted up by him; to accuse ourselves so that we may be justified by him; moreover, to aspire to that unity which he commends to us in his Supper…

Calvin continues…

How could we, needy and bare of all good, befouled with sins, half-dead, eat the Lord’s body worthily?  Rather, we shall think that we, as being poor, come to a kindly giver; as sick, to a physician; as sinners to the Author of righteousness; finally, as dead, to him who gives us life. 

Now, I do not agree with everything Calvin says on the Lord’s Supper.  But I do appreciate the pastoral sensitivity here.  For those reading this that are pastors, be careful in how you speak to these weak and feeble souls that may cut themselves off from this ordinance. 

For those that are reading this that are those weak and feeble souls, I want to encourage you that when you look into your heart and see darkness, sin, despair, bitterness, and a whole host of other things—your best response is not to run away from the table and try to go fix it.  Your best response is to run to Christ as represented in the Lord’s Supper. 


1 comment:

  1. I've thought about this in the same way for a while. If repentance and reconciliation are a work/gift of the Lord, how can we, by "examining ourselves" or "making things right" hope to attain the peace that only the righteousness of Christ can afford us? We have no chance of doing that on our own, which Calvin clearly says.



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