Foundations: No.69 Autumn 2015

Response to John Stevens, “Not Reformed Enough: Critiquing Contemporary Practice of the Lord’s Supper”, Foundations 68

This article is a response to John Stevens’ contribution to “Foundations 68” (Spring 2015), in which he argues that the NT views the Lord’s Supper as a new covenant community celebration meal. It argues from systematics, church history and biblical exegesis that the Lord’s Supper does not require a full meal but that, as one of the two new covenant sacraments, it is a visible sign which points to gracious spiritual realities and by which believers participate in those realities by faith. It is argued that John over-emphasises the horizontal aspects of the Supper at the expense of the vertical element by which believers together in the Supper come to Christ himself and partake of him by faith. At the same time, it agrees with some of John’s reservations as to the manner in which the Supper is sometimes conducted in evangelical churches, particularly to an overly morose approach which also does not reflect the corporate nature of the Supper. Reform in these areas would be most welcome.

John Stevens has written a carefully argued and thought-provoking article on the contemporary evangelical understanding and practice of the Lord’s Supper.[1] John challenges us to re-think biblically our theology of what is involved in the Supper and how we go about celebrating it. This article is intended to be a friendly response, disagreeing with and critiquing some important aspects of what John says, but agreeing with other parts of his argument. In particular, I agree that the Lord’s Supper as currently practised in evangelical churches needs re-examination and reform. It is true that, in the way in which the Supper is often conducted, an overly individualistic view of the Supper prevails along with a rather morose atmosphere. We need, as John cogently argues, to regain a much greater sense of the corporate nature of the event, together with a focus on the joy of the work accomplished by Christ in his death and resurrection. John’s description, at the end of his article, of how City Church Birmingham at one time celebrated the Supper, in the context of a meal, is in many ways an attractive one. At the same time, I have concerns about John’s arguments on the nature of what is happening in the Supper and it is these concerns that I want principally to articulate in this response.

In the abstract at the start of his article, John states that his contention is “that we need to recover the New Testament practice of the Lord’s Supper as a community celebration meal of the New Covenant, eaten in the presence of the Lord Jesus as he dwells with his people by his Spirit in the new temple that is his church”.[2] While I can agree with this statement as far as it goes, I believe, in essence, that John’s understanding of the Supper as he expounds it in his article:

  • wrongly insists on the Lord’s Supper as involving a full meal, and
  • over-emphasises the horizontal element in the Supper at the expense of the vertical

I will deal with each of these points in turn, taking in historical, exegetical and theological points and addressing some other more minor issues of agreement and disagreement along the way. First, though, the debate needs to be set in the wider context of biblical teaching on the nature and purpose of sacraments.

Sacraments in Scripture

Not everyone likes to use the term “sacrament”, as it can be reminiscent of ritualist, high church or Roman Catholic theology. The term need not, however, be used or understood in this way. It is used in Protestant Reformed theology without ritualist connotations and that is the way in which I shall use it here. We need not avoid the term simply because we do not find it in Scripture: the church has, in the course of its task of defending and articulating biblical truth, had to develop many terms that are not themselves in the Bible. An obvious example is “Trinity”. Such terms are simply a shorthand, convenient way to refer to biblical truth.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we see God providing his people with signs and symbols which point to aspects of his gracious acts towards them. One of the clearest examples is circumcision. Male circumcision was required for all those in covenant relationship with the Lord, from Abraham onwards. It was an essential part of that relationship, yet it was a symbol, a sign which pointed to the reality of God’s gracious work in the heart. It was a seal of the believer’s faith: an outward and visible symbol confirming the reality of an inward work of grace. The institution of the Passover under Moses can be understood in the same way: the symbolic element of the blood on the doorposts was connected with the promise of deliverance from the angel of destruction, with the meal providing a reminder in future years of the gracious deliverance which the Lord accomplished for his people in bringing them out of Egypt. An earlier sign with sacramental significance, as some would argue, was the rainbow: a symbol of God’s grace to the world in never again bringing a universal flood upon it. Again, the sign – the bow in the heavens – points to a gracious reality. Here, it is clearly connected with a promise, in the same way that circumcision was connected with the promises of the covenant: in the case of the rainbow, the promise that the Lord would never again destroy the whole world in that way. Still earlier, some Reformed theologians have argued that sacramental significance can be seen in the tree of life in Eden, a sign (real enough in itself) pointing to and connected with the promise of life that God made to Adam. In each case, we find a sign or symbol, pointing to the gracious acts of God towards to his people, connected with a promise in the context of a covenant which he makes with them.

Coming to the New Testament, Protestant theology has generally identified just two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Each is a sign or symbol: like circumcision, or the rainbow, it does not, in and of itself, accomplish that to which it points. But it is a visible, material sign pointing to a gracious work of God in his people and connected with a covenantal promise. Baptism points to the washing from sin and regeneration; the Lord’s Supper points to the death of Christ for his people. Baptism is connected with the promise of forgiveness of sins upon repentance and faith in Christ. It happens (or should happen) to a believer just once. The Lord’s Supper, as I argue below, is connected with the believer’s feeding by faith upon the crucified Christ as his or her spiritual nourishment. It is to be repeated throughout the believer’s life. There is thus in Scripture, Old and New Testament, a succession of sacraments, of visible signs and symbols established by the Lord for the benefit of his covenant people, pointing to spiritual realities connected with his gracious promises and work on their behalf. It is in this context that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper needs to be understood.

Should the Lord’s Supper be a full meal?

John argues that the Lord’s Supper is a meal, in the sense of a full meal. It is, he says, not simply a snack or the sharing of a few symbolic items, but the kind of meal that we would normally eat as “dinner”. The Lord’s Supper should therefore involve a proper meal, eaten together as a communal celebration by the whole church. The Supper must consequently consist of more than simply the bread and the wine, though it does not omit those elements: “it is the meal as a whole, incorporating the sharing of the bread and the cup, that constitutes the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper”.[3] John’s argument seems to lead to the rather startling conclusion that the vast majority of churches today are probably not holding the Lord’s Supper at all, in any truly biblical sense, for “the Lord’s Supper is never truly celebrated when there is no real presence of a supper!”[4]

John’s argument for this contention is that the Greek word used in the New Testament for the “supper” of the Lord’s Supper, deipnon, is the normal word used to designate the main meal of the day. The forerunners of the Lord’s Supper – the Passover and the Last Supper – were full meals and the historical evidence, both in the Bible and elsewhere, shows that the early church treated it as such. Furthermore, John argues that Paul’s teaching about the Supper in 1 Cor 11:17-34 supports his contention that the Supper consisted of a full meal, not simply of the elements shared in the context of a meal.[5] I will address each of those points in turn.

deipnon, “meal”

It is certainly true that the Greek word deipnon means “meal”, usually in the sense of a full meal or main meal of the day. Words, however, gain their precise meaning in a particular context. In the sole occurrence of this word in the New Testament to refer to the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:20), it is qualified by the adjective kuriakon, meaning “belonging to the Lord, the Lord’s”. This in itself could indicate that we are dealing with a technical term, as used today when we refer to “the Lord’s Supper”, and that we cannot necessarily conclude from the simple use of the word deipnon that a full meal is required. The context in which the Lord’s Supper was instituted, at the Last Supper, supports the view that it is the elements of the broken bread and the shared cup which constitute the Lord’s Supper and not the entire meal. This seems clear from the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper. In Matthew’s account, it seems that Jesus and the disciples had reclined for the meal and were already eating at the point at which Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it and shared it with the disciples, followed by the cup.[6] Matthew (and the other synoptic accounts) clearly distinguish the Lord’s blessing and sharing out of the bread and the cup from the other elements of the meal. It seems fairly clear that the intention is to mark out these elements – the bread and the cup – as the significant elements for the purposes of what later came to be known as the Lord’s Supper. It is not to the meal as a whole that Jesus refers in the words of institution, but to the bread and to the cup. It is, specifically, the bread which he refers to as his “body” and the cup as his “blood”. Matthew and Mark seem to underline this by separating the account of the blessing and sharing of bread and cup (in 26:26-29 in Matthew’s account, for example) from the earlier statement (in vv. 20-21 of Matt 26) that Jesus and his disciples had reclined to eat the meal together. Luke’s account and the similar account of Paul in 1 Cor 11, though somewhat different in certain respects, are perfectly consistent with this understanding. The meal is the background and context in which the Lord shares out the elements, but it is to the bread and the cup particularly that the synoptic accounts and Paul accord significance.

History

It is true, as John says, that the Passover and the Last Supper were meals and both form the biblical background and context for the institution of the Lord’s Supper. However, the fact that the forerunners of the Lord’s Supper were meals, though potentially indicative, cannot definitively settle the question of the precise nature of the Supper. Although related to the Passover, the Supper is clearly a new covenant institution. Its nature and how we are to practise it must be taken, primarily, from the data of the New Testament rather than from those of its Old Testament forerunners. The fact that the Passover was a meal cannot of itself determine that the Lord’s Supper too must be a full meal.

John also argues that, in and since New Testament times, the Lord’s Supper was celebrated in the context of a meal. This is undoubtedly true, though it is noteworthy also that the Christian church has practised the celebration of the Lord’s Supper separately from a full meal for a very long time. Within a hundred years after the close of the New Testament age, there is evidence that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper was being separated from the sharing of meals for fellowship. Justin Martyr in Rome, in the middle of the second century, described how, after a baptism,

there is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks… The deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water.

There is no mention of a full meal here, or in the following paragraphs which describe the regular celebration of the Eucharist and of the Lord’s Day services.[7] I suggest that we need to be very slow to overthrow what has been the practice of the church for such a very long time, unless we are sure that the Scripture requires us to do so. It is my argument that the Scriptures in this case give us no such warrant.

Though it is true, therefore, that in New Testament times and for a period thereafter, the church seems to have celebrated the Lord’s Supper in the context of a full fellowship meal, this does not mean that the Bible defines that full meal to be the Lord’s Supper nor does it mean that Scripture requires us to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as such.

1 Corinthians 11

John finally argues that the words of institution as recorded by the apostle Paul in 1 Cor 11:17-34 indicate that “the entire meal constituted the Lord’s Supper”. He points to the words “after supper”, which Paul inserts when he refers to the cup but which were not there in the previous two verses referring to the breaking of the bread. John infers from this that the “bread is shared at the beginning of the meal, and the cup is then shared ‘after supper’”.[8] Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts however seem to contradict John’s assertion. According to them, it was during, or maybe towards the end, of the meal that both elements were shared at the Last Supper, bread as well as cup (see, e.g. Matt 26:20, 21, 26). Howard Marshall says that the “argument that the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup were separated by the length of the meal is not convincing”.[9] Paul’s use of the phrase “after supper” in the context of the cup but not the bread is reflected in Luke’s account of the Last Supper (22:20). As Matthew and Mark seem to rule out the idea that the bread was shared at the start of the meal, it may be that all that is meant by this phrase in Luke and Paul is that the cup was shared at the end of the meal, with the bread having been shared a little earlier, but not, it would seem, at the beginning of the meal.

In conclusion, it would seem that the elements identified by the Lord Jesus, in the synoptic gospel accounts, and by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 as making up the Lord’s Supper are the broken bread and the cup, each shared among the believers present. Whether that is done in the context of a fuller meal is not, I suggest, the point: it is the sharing of those elements themselves which constitutes the Lord’s Supper. Whether or not done in the context of a fuller meal, it is to the bread and the cup specifically that the phrase kuriakon deipnon, Lord’s Supper, refers.

This understanding of the “meal” of the Lord’s Supper coincides fully with the theology of sacrament briefly outlined above. The meal, the deipnon, is a sign or symbol, pointing to a spiritual reality connected with the Lord’s covenant promises to his people. The point of it is not, as John argues, a social experience of fellowship with God’s people in Christ’s presence, so requiring a full meal. The symbolic significance of the Lord’s Supper is then lost – it becomes its own reality and ceases to point to anything else. Rather, we can see the visible, material signs of the bread and the cup in the Supper as pointing to the spiritual realities of the broken body and shed blood of Christ. It is these elements that are significant for the Lord’s Supper, not the social event of a full fellowship meal.

Horizontal or vertical?

The biblical requirement, as I see it, to distinguish (though not necessarily separate) the bread and the cup, for the purposes of the Lord’s Supper, from any accompanying meal thus plays against John’s characterisation of the Supper as a “community celebration meal”,[10] a characterisation requiring that the Supper itself constitute a full meal. This brings us to the second of the two points with which I took issue at the start of this response. John argues strongly that the Lord’s Supper is a community celebration meal in the presence of Christ dwelling among his people. There is a strong horizontal element, therefore, in the Supper. It is, crucially, in the Supper that the people of God are to express their unity and where all social, racial and similar distinctions are to be shown to be of no consequence for those who are joined to Jesus Christ. That, argues John, is why the abuses at Corinth were so serious: the disregard of the poor by the wealthy cut right across the very point of the Lord’s Supper and that is why Paul rebukes them so strongly and, he says, why there has been such dreadful consequences for them (1 Cor 11:30). That too, John argues, is what Paul has in mind when he urges the Corinthian believers to discern the “body” (v. 29): the body, here, refers to the body of believers in the church rather than to some form of presence of Jesus in the Supper.

With these arguments I largely agree. It is quite clear that there is to be a strong horizontal element in the Lord’s Supper. We celebrate it together, as the local church. It is not an individual rite. That is one reason why Protestants have generally been very wary of offering communion to individuals privately. It is a churchly act, not that of an individual Christian. I wholeheartedly endorse John’s strictures against the overly individualistic manner in which the Lord’s Supper is often shared in evangelical churches today, where all the emphasis appears to be on the individual believer’s dealings with his or her Lord and there is no, or almost no, focus on the fact that we do this together, as the body of Christ.

These matters need to be urgently addressed. Returning to the New Testament practice of celebrating the Supper in the context of a meal may be one way of addressing this issue, but I do not believe that it is the only way, or indeed that having a meal together would necessarily address the issue at all: after all, we are perfectly capable of expressing our individuality rather than our corporate sense of concern for others, when it comes to eating and drinking. We may, in fact, find ourselves once again in danger of perpetrating the very abuses which Paul seeks to correct in the Corinthian church. Rather, to address the overly individualistic way in which we take the Lord’s Supper requires, first and foremost, good, prolonged and consistent teaching on the subject. The matter needs to be addressed, from the pulpit, in small groups, in prayer meetings, at whatever is the most appropriate and effective occasion. The Lord’s people need to be shown from the Scriptures the corporate nature of what is happening at the Lord’s Supper.

Nevertheless, there are practical changes that can be made as well, to help to bring home the corporate nature of what we are doing. If those participating in the Lord’s Supper are relatively few, compared with the size of room in which they are meeting, they can be encouraged to sit closer together, rather than spread out thinly around the entire seating area. A corporate sense can be engendered by a thoughtful and deliberate approach to the singing and prayer elements of the meeting. The use of a loaf which is physically broken by the leader of the meeting during the meeting itself, before being shared out, reminds us that we participate as those who belong to one body (1 Cor 10:16). Again, to have one cup, at least at the front and preferably shared around those participating, reminds us that we are sharing in the one cup of blessing (1 Cor 10:16). The sooner we rid ourselves of the pre-shredded bread and the individual mini-goblets, the better, in my view. An individualistic approach to the Supper is so engrained that a great deal of effort on the part of church leaders and teachers is required to bring us to a more scriptural understanding of the corporate nature of the event.

I largely agree too with John’s remarks about the overly morose manner in which the Supper is sometimes celebrated today.[11] We can be far too introspective and subjective. We can dwell on our sin and sense of unworthiness to the exclusion of the joy and victory which the cross achieved for us. This too needs to be put right. Believers in former generations often seemed to have a far better sense of the joyfulness of the Lord’s Supper, as well as a true sense of repentance. Charles Spurgeon wrote in a communion hymn,

What food luxurious loads the board,
when at His table sits the Lord!
The wine how rich, the bread how sweet,
when Jesus deigns the guests to meet!

William Williams spoke of the “unmolested, happy rest, where inward fears are all suppressed”, experienced by the believer at the Supper. Horatius Bonar wrote of “the hour of banquet and of song”, the “heavenly table spread for me; here let me feast”. Allowing for the out-dated style, these writers grasped the essential joy and gladness which should be central to a true celebration of the Supper. Whether we necessarily should have “exuberance”, as John suggests,[12] at an occasion which necessarily does still rightly remind us of our sin and the seriousness of the penalty which Jesus had to pay to redeem us from that sin, it is certainly the case that the note of joy and victory needs to be clearly heard whenever we join together in the Lord’s Supper.

Having said all that, however, I believe that John unduly downplays the vertical element in the Supper. In the Supper, in my view, the Lord’s people together come to the Lord to enjoy communion corporately with him. John’s article seems to lack, or at least underplay, the element of coming to the Lord and enjoying communion with him. John speaks of Christ’s presence with his people at the Supper, but not so much of our communion with him. Indeed, John appears to be reacting against an overly subjective, introspective manner of partaking of the Supper, where perhaps some unusual, personal spiritual feeling or experience is expected. I am not arguing for that. I do, however, believe that in the Supper the Lord’s people should expect to meet with Christ and enjoy fellowship with him, not simply rejoice together in his presence. The Lord’s Supper, in my view, is a corporate coming to Christ, to enjoy him together as his people in joyful communion with him.

I believe that this is clear, in the first place, at the Last Supper itself, where the Lord was ministering to his disciples. They were not simply enjoying a meal together in his presence. They were certainly conscious of one another’s presence there and were no doubt sensitive to the fact that they were there as a body of Jesus’s disciples, not simply as a random collection of individuals. Nevertheless, their focus was not primarily on one another but on Jesus. They had come because he was there and they had come, in that sense, to him. They spoke with him and asked him questions and he spoke to them and instructed them. So it is, or should be, at the Lord’s Supper: the Lord’s people gather to come together to their Lord and commune with him. There is a real experience of the Saviour that takes place, by faith, at the Supper, though this does not necessarily manifest itself as some kind of inner religious feeling or heightened spiritual sense.

It is here, I believe, that the sixth chapter of John’s gospel is relevant. I agree with John that that chapter is not “about” the Supper.[13] The chapter is about faith in Christ: the startling language towards the end of the chapter, about eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man (vv. 53-56), is an expansion of earlier verses which speak of the Son of Man as the bread of life and which urge faith in him. However, that does not mean that John 6 is entirely irrelevant to our understanding of the Supper. Without entering into the debate that John recounts between Calvin and Zwingli, I would argue that it is surely difficult to avoid making some connection between the strong language of John 6, particularly vv. 53-56, and the Lord’s Supper. Both explicitly concern the body and blood of Christ and both speak, metaphorically but nevertheless truly, of our eating and drinking of them. Just as, in accordance with John 6, we are to come to Christ by faith, so in the Supper too we come together to Christ by faith in him and thereby appropriate him. Without necessarily going all the way with Calvin as to the nature of precisely what occurs in the Supper, it is surely not too much to assert that there is, for those who come in faith, a true partaking of Christ by faith, a real participation in him, in the consuming of the elements. There is of course no change in the constitution of the elements themselves. But there is, no less surely, a real communion with and partaking of Christ himself, by faith, as we partake in the Supper.

The nub of the argument here centres on the language of “participation” in 1 Cor 10:16, which John unpacks at some length in his article.[14] Here, I agree with what John affirms, that in the Supper Jesus is present with his people and that, as they meditate on his work at the cross their faith is strengthened and they are encouraged to press on. “The benefits of the Lord’s Supper are appropriated by faith as we hear the gospel word that is made visible to us by the sharing of the bread and the wine.”[15] That is all most certainly true and an essential part of what occurs in the Supper. However, John goes on to dispute that the language of “participation” involves “some kind of special mystical communion with Christ by reason of eating the consecrated bread and drinking the consecrated wine”.[16] John questions whether “eating the bread and drinking the wine are in themselves the cause of an experienced communion with Christ”.[17] Rather, what Paul is arguing in 1 Cor 10 concerns identity and association at the ecclesial level: believers already have a share (participation, koinonia) in Christ and, because of that identity, must be careful with whom they associate, particularly in meals of a sacred, or supposedly sacred (where idols are concerned) nature. He cites in support of his rejection of the idea that participation here means “a participation in Christ himself through the meal” two of the leading contemporary evangelical commentators on 1 Corinthians, Gordon Fee and Anthony Thiselton.[18]

Without denying the existence of an important horizontal element in Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 10:14-22, I find it impossible to eliminate a strong vertical element also in the thrust of what he says there. When Paul speaks in v. 16 of our “participation”, koinonia, in the body and blood of Christ, when we partake of the cup and bread, he is certainly affirming that we belong to one another because of our pre-existing unity in Christ. Yet to leave the matter there and exclude from the meaning of the verse any sense of present communion with Christ in the Supper seems unduly reductionistic. The whole context of the passage is that of worship: whether the worship of Christ or the worship of idols. The worship is corporate, but it is nonetheless worship, a vertical activity. We are coming to Christ. In the second half of the passage, where Paul is contrasting Christian practice with idol worship, he speaks expressly of what is offered to idols – again, a vertical expression. In v. 20, he speaks of how he does not want them to have koinonia, “participation”, with demons, an expression which seems to come very close to indicating some kind of communion or fellowship with demons. In all these ways, Paul here envisages a strong vertical as well as horizontal element when he speaks of “participation”, whether in the bread and the cup or in what is offered to demons. In the Lord’s Supper, God’s people experience communion or fellowship with the Lord himself, as well as with one another.[19]

John resists the idea of some kind of “mystical” experience in the eating and drinking of the Lord’s Supper. If by “mystical” he means some necessarily felt subjective experience, I agree with him. But John seems to want to restrict our experience of Christ at the Supper to an appropriation of the truths to which the Supper points: we meditate on those truths, we are reminded of them, we are pointed to the privileges of our sharing in the blessings of the covenant which Christ won at the cross, and so our faith is strengthened and we are encouraged to persevere. I agree with all of that. I question, though, whether it provides a complete account of what Paul is teaching about the Supper in 1 Cor 10-11. After all, a good sermon can provide all the elements which John argues for, without the need for the Supper. Is the Supper then, effectively, simply a visual aid, which drives home more forcefully the truths that we hear preached from the pulpit each Sunday? Why place such emphasis on this additional rite, if we can gain all its benefits from an effective preacher? The language of participation in 1 Cor 10 coupled with the forceful manner in which the Lord presents the elements to us as his body and blood, underpinned by the shockingly explicit language of John 6:53-56, seem to point to something more: that in the consuming of the bread and the sharing in the cup at the Lord’s Supper, when done in faith, we are encountering Christ in a way in which we do not encounter him when the Word is preached. Again, understanding the Supper in accordance with Reformed sacramental theology, in our consuming by faith the symbols of bread and wine we experience the realities of the covenantal promises to which they point – in this case a very partaking of the crucified, risen Christ himself.

Consequently, without necessarily agreeing with all that Calvin teaches on the Supper, there seem to be good grounds in Scripture for understanding it as a strongly vertical event, in which a church together and corporately comes to Christ by faith and receives him by faith, in the bread and the cup of the Supper. They feed on him by faith and are strengthened inwardly. This is not irrational or anti-rational – it needs to be accompanied by the preaching of the Word and the exposition of the work of Christ and its application to the sinner. An understanding of that and its apprehension by faith must accompany participation in the Supper, for it to be of value. But its value, I argue, is not confined purely and exclusively to the rational. Rather, I suggest that the biblical data indicate that there is something additional, supra-rational, going on when believers partake of the Supper by faith: they partake of Christ by the Spirit as food for their souls to strengthen their faith and enjoy fellowship with him.

Conclusion

As I have made clear, I agree firmly with John’s call for a greater sense of the corporate in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. We tend to be far too individualistic at present. Use of a single cup and a single loaf, rather than individual cups and diced bread, would help. Sitting together rather than scattered around the church would also help. But the prime means for inculcating a more corporate sense is by the teaching of the Word.

I agree also with John’s call for a greater sense of joy at the Supper (as the best hymns and sermons of reformed preachers of the past recognise), though I would question whether it need always to be “exuberant”. Repentance from sin and a recognition of the reality of and reasons for Christ’s death are surely a necessary part of the occasion, as well as a sense of victory and a remembrance of his resurrection. It is possible to have a solemn, rather than an exuberant, joy and this maybe better reflects what is being done at the Supper. Again, teaching on this, as well as use of appropriate hymns and Scripture readings, is required.

By all means enjoy a church meal together, before or after the Supper, but the Bible does not, in my view, require this and we are not to confuse a church social occasion (which is of great value) with the Supper: they need to be kept distinct.

But above all we cannot neglect the vertical – there is in the Supper an encounter with Christ, by faith. This encounter is corporate and not merely individual. It is something we do together, as a local body of believers. It is rational, but not merely rational: there is a supra-rational element involved. We are inwardly strengthened in the Supper by the Spirit as in it we partake of Christ by faith. It is a sacramental act, in the sense developed by Reformed theologians, as by means of a visible sign God’s people partake of and have sealed to them the spiritual realities to which the sign points.

The Lord’s Supper is a time when the local church together and by faith comes to Christ, in obedience to him, to fellowship with and feed spiritually on him in a corporate act of remembrance and proclamation of Christ’s death and all that it means, looking forward to his coming again in glory.