The Lord’s Supper

In chapter 29, we find laid out for us the WCF’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper. Most of this in not controversial in Reformed circles, except for paedo-communion, which we will discuss briefly.

There are four general views of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper. There is the Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation. In this view, though the outward elements remain the same, when the priest blesses the bread and wine, they become inwardly (according to essence) the actual physical body and blood of Jesus. This view is based on a misapprehension of Aristotle. Aristotle did distinguish between the accidents (outward elements) and the essence of something. However, he also said that they always correspond to each other. It would certainly have been foreign to Aristotle’s mind to have the outward elements of one thing, and the inward essence of something entirely different.

The second major view is the Lutheran view. This view is in many ways similar to the Roman Catholic view. They both believe in a physical presence at the time-point of blessing. But the Lutherans say that instead of the essence/element distinction, Christ’s body is in, around, and through the elements of the bread and wine. The distinction is parallel to the distinction between pantheism (wherein God equals the world) and panentheism (wherein God is in the world). I am not saying that Lutheranism or Catholicism equates to either of these pagan thought-patterns. It is merely an illustration.

The third major view of the presence of the Lord in the Lord’s Supper is the complete absence of the Lord from the table. This is the Zwinglian view. That view is that the table is a mere remembrance of what Jesus did, but nothing more than that.

The Reformed position is that Christ is present spiritually at the table. That is, the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ is present. Just as the bread and wine nourish our physical bodies, so also does the Holy Spirit nourish our souls. Ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements, but not the thing signified. One could draw parallels between this aspect of the Lord’s Supper and the misapprehension of baptism in the Federal Vision. Wicked men and apostates do not receive the thing signified by baptism at any time.

Paedo-communion is rejected in the Westminster Standards clearly in LC 171, wherein the duties listed for preparation cannot possibly be engaged in by infants, and in LC 177, which is about as clear as it gets, and in 29.8, where ignorant persons are not to come to the table. The exclusion of infants from the table is based on a differentiation in the body of Christ between those who are baptized, and those who have professed their faith to the congregation. To this differentiation is applied the teaching of 1 Corinthians 11, which requires a “man to examine himself,” and then to “discern the body.” Since these are the key phrases, we will examine them in some depth. The first phrase is found in verse 28. The verb is “dokimazo,” which, according to BDAG lexicon, means “to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine,” and lists 1 Cor 11:28 as one of the examples of this usage. I take the verb to be expounded by the phrase “discern the body.” Namely, the one taking the Lord’s Supper should examine himself to see if he is discerning the body of Christ. Thiselton, in his commentary (page 894) argues that the phrase “discern the body” means “know what characterizes the body as different (from the world).” The verb in the second phrase is “diakrino,” which BDAG lists as meaning here “judge.” The point is that the examination of oneself and discerning or judging the body is not an ability which infants possess.


Matthew 5:33-37
One little boy was once asked, “What is a lie?” The boy answered, “A lie is an abomination to the Lord, but a very present help in time of need.” And then someone else said that the difference between someone who lies and someone who tells the truth is that the liar has to have the better memory. Our passage today talks a lot about oaths. But the root issue is that we need to tell the truth.

Jesus has told us about how to interpret the sixth and seventh commandments so far in his exposition of the Beatitudes. Now, Jesus is going to tell us about both the third commandment and the ninth commandment. You will remember that the third commandment tells us not to misuse the name of the Lord. The ninth commandment tells us not to bear false witness: in other words, not to lie. We have seen that Jesus has told us about the inner, spiritual aspect of the various commands. Mere outward obedience is not sufficient for us who are now part of the kingdom of God. We have also seen that Jesus has not lowered the bar of obedience, but rather raised it.

And now we come to this most interesting passage talking about oaths. What is an oath? An oath happens when someone swears that what he says is true. An oath is different from a vow. A vow happens when someone says that they will do something, or else something bad will happen to them. The difference can be illustrated from Scripture itself. Paul frequently has said something like this, “God bears me witness that I am telling you the truth.” That is an oath. A Nazarene took vows that they would never touch something dead, would never drink alcohol, and would never cut their hair. Do you see the difference? Well, Jesus here is actually talking about both oaths and vows. The primary thing that Jesus is dealing with is vows, actually. Oaths are included by implication.

The Jews had long discussions of what was binding in a vow. They would say things like this, “If you swear by the name of the Lord, then your oath or vow is binding, but if you swear by heaven, then it is not binding.” However, some disagreed with that statement, and they said instead, “If you swear by heaven it is binding, but if you swear by earth, then it is not binding.” The Jews had a commentary on the OT called the Mishnah. One whole book of this Mishnah is devoted to the subject of oaths and vows. Jesus obviously disagreed with them all. For Jesus, the standard is much higher. But why?

First we must see that oaths and vows are only necessary because of the Fall. Think of it: if mankind had never sinned, then there would be no need for an oath to make one believable, since all would tell the truth, and there would never be even a perceived need to lie. But since mankind fell into sin, there is lying going on all the time. Indeed, as we saw in our Genesis studies, Satan lied from the very beginning. Lying is from the devil. And of course, if someone were to come up to you and say, “You must believe me: I swear that I’m telling you the truth,” would you believe that person? Why do they need to swear? Isn’t it because they don’t have the necessary integrity to be believed? Our Fall into sin makes oaths necessary on occasion, such as in courts, where the truth must win out in the end if justice is to be served.

Jesus disagrees with the Jews here. Jesus is saying here that our character should be so obviously honest, that there should be no need for oaths at all. People should know Christians to be of such thorough-going integrity that there is no cause for disbelieving them. Non-believers ought to be able to say of us, “That guy is a Christian: therefore you can believe everything he says.” Why is this?

The reason why this should be the case is that God tells us the truth. It is said that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. The truth resides only in God Himself. Jesus gives us a true account of who the Father is. The Son has absolute integrity. Therefore, since the Son is the exact image of the Father, then we should be the exact image of the Son. We should look like our Savior.

Satan wants us bound under lie after lie. Satan wants us to be dishonest constantly. If you hear yourself saying, “it is only a little money; why shouldn’t I keep it?” or, “My husband doesn’t really need to know that about me,” or “Why can’t I make things easier for us all by smoothing over that part of what happened?” or “Why don’t I just keep that information from that person: I know that it will not help them, but the good to be gained is so much more important.” These are all problems. And it doesn’t matter how small the issue is, it is still a problem. Jesus tells us there should be no need for oaths, because we should be honest people, people of integrity.

Notice how Jesus gets to this point: first he tells us not to swear by heaven. Contrary to what the Jews thought, swearing by heaven doesn’t get you off the hook. Heaven is more connected to God than they thought. Any oath is binding. The same thing is true of the earth. That is God’s footstool. The earth is connected with God, and so any oath made using the earth is also binding. The same thing is even true of Jerusalem. That is connected with God. Any oath made on Jerusalem is also binding. Well, what’s left, you might ask. You might think that there is one thing that is not connected with God, by which you could swear and thus not be bound by swearing the oath, and that thing is your own person. Jesus even takes that away.

Notice how the things sworn by get smaller and smaller. The idea was that if we swear by something that we can control, then the oath is not binding. But Jesus is saying that everything is controlled by God, and thus, if we swear by anything, then we are bound by that oath, whether we swear by God Himself, or by the least thing that God has created. We might think that we have control over our own body. Indeed, that is what culture would definitely tell us. However, we cannot even change the color on our head. Now, the first thing you will say is, “what about dying our hair?” What about it? Even dying your hair is only temporary. You cannot ultimately change the color of your hair. Only God can do that. God does that by aging us, by making us grow older. God even controls the rate at which our hair color changes. so it is useless for us to say that we have control over that. We don’t.

And now we come to a rather difficult question indeed. The question is this, “Does Jesus here forbid all oaths and vows, or merely most oaths and vows?” The question is important. We can make it even more sharp by asking this question, “Can a Christian take an oath on the witness box in a courtroom?” Now, some Christians have thought that no oath is allowed. Many of the early Church fathers believe this. The Anabaptists during the time of the Reformation believe this. Nowadays, the Mennonites and the Amish, who are the spiritual descendants of the Anabaptists, believe this also. They will not take the oath in a court to tell the whole truth.

However, most of the other writers in Christian history have said that Jesus is not forbidding all vows and oaths. This is the view that I hold, and it is the view that the Heidelberg Catechism holds to in question 101: But may we swear an oath in God’s name if we do it reverently? A. Yes, when the government demands it, or when necessity requires it, in order to maintain and promote truth and trustworthiness for God’s glory and our neighbor’s good. Such oaths are approved in God’s Word and were rightly used by OT and NT believers. The next question then states that we can swear by no creature, but only by calling on God as a witness. The WCF has a whole chapter on oaths and vows, in which it says the same thing as the Heidelberg catechism. The WCF also warns against rash vows and oaths.

How are we to reconcile this view with this passage? Well, we must remember the context of this passage, specifically the historical context. Jesus was arguing against Jewish misinterpretations of the ninth commandment. In other words, the Jews were doing everything they could to manufacture oaths that were not binding. They wanted to say one thing and mean another. They wanted to be free from the real requirement of the law, which was to tell the truth always. Jesus is then saying that every word we speak must be the truth. Every oath we take must be honored, and every vow must be fulfilled. So Jesus is not forbidding all oaths here. He is only forbidding the kind of loophole finding that the Jews were doing. The reason that kind of loophole finding is forbidden to Christians is that that kind of loophole finding comes straight from the devil. Jesus says that anything more than this comes from the Evil One, from Satan himself. Satan was ever a master of lying and truth-twisting. He was a liar from the beginning. Jesus is saying here that our barest word ought to be binding to us. If we say that we are going to do something, then we ought to do it. There shouldn’t be any hemming and hawing about it. If we said we were going to do something, then we had better do it.

Who is sufficient for this? No one is. Jesus is here telling us about the standard. He is the only one who has ever measured up to that standard. He is the truth itself. He is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. There is no question about Jesus telling the truth. He always told the truth.
So, do we tell the truth? Do we fulfill our vows? What vows have we made? Most of use have made vows to the church, vows when we had our children baptized, vows when we got married. Those are the main times when we take vows. How well have honored them? Have we told the truth? Have we fulfilled our vows to the most high God? They are all binding. But then, what about our promises? We have made scads more of those, and do we keep them? Someone said that promises are like children’s drawings: often made, but rarely kept. Do we keep our promises? What about our bare word? Do we keep our word? And do we tell the truth? I think if we are honest, we would have to admit that there is a lot of room for us to grow in these areas. It is the fruit of the Spirit. We must strive for truthfulness in all our dealings with one another and with the world. Be very careful when and where you take a vow, or swear an oath. And Jesus also means to tell us that are not to swear frivolously. That means that we must not swear in everyday conversation. That is to make light of the truth. We must not do that, but be standard-bearers for the truth, as Jesus Himself was. Tell the truth. Be honest.