What is the Lord’s Supper? Richard D. Phillips answers this important question in a straightforward and biblical way. “The Reformers” writes Phillips, “emphasized that a sacrament – that is, a sacred mystery prescribed for our worship – must have been instituted immediately by our Lord.” Also referred to as the Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:24) or Holy Communion (1 Cor. 10:16), Phillips is quick to point out that the Roman Catholic term “Mass” has no biblical support whatsoever.
Phillips describes the continuity between the Passover in the Old Testament and the New Testament practice of the Lord’s Supper.
The author describes the Lord’s Supper as a sign. He cites Louis Berkhof: “The central fact of redemption, prefigured in the sacrifices of the Old Testament, is clearly set forth by means of the significant symbols of the New Testament sacrament. The words of the institution, ‘broken for you’ and ‘shed for many’ point to the fact that the death of Christ is a sacrificial one, for the benefit, and even in the place, of His people.”
The author refers to the Lord’s Supper as a covenant seal. He writes, “One way to understand the idea of a covenant seal is to realize that the Passover was not merely a religious feast but was also a covenant meal at which God identified with his people, accepted them as his own, and spread before them his provision.”
Phillips includes a very helpful section that describes the theological controversies that involve the Lord’s Supper. The three prominent views may be summarized: Christ is not present, Christ is physically present, and Christ is spiritually present.
View 1 – Christ Not Present in the Sacrament
The first view was promoted by Ulrich Zwingli which maintains that the Lord’s Supper is a mere sign, “a simple commemoration of Christ’s atoning death, and an emblem of the believer’s trust in him.” The so-called “memorialist” position is a strong reaction to a mystical approach to the table.
View 2 – Christ Physically Present in the Sacrament
The second view is held by Roman Catholics and is commonly referred to as transubstantiation. This view maintains that the bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ. Luther strongly opposed transubstantiation but promoted a view known as consubstantiation. Phillips writes, “According to [Luther], the elements are not transformed into body and blood, buy rather in a mysterious and miraculous way Christ’s whole person – body and blood – is present in, under, and along with, the elements of the sacrament. Thus, the physical body of Christ is locally present in the Lord’s Supper, although the elements undergo no change.”
View 3 – Christ Spiritually Present in the Sacrament
The author cites the Westminster Larger Catechism: “The body and blood of Christ … are spiritually present to the faith of the receiver, no less truly and really than the elements themselves are to their outward senses.”
Phillips continues his treatment of the Lord’s Supper by discussing the efficacy of the sacrament. He holds that grace is truly conferred and that the believer receives spiritual nourishment by partaking: “In keeping with the sacrament as a sign, we gain from it a strengthened faith; as a seal of Christ’s covenant, we gain assurance of salvation and communion with God.” This grace is “conferred by the ministry of the Holy Spirit as Christ is received by faith.”
Finally, the author includes a section of pastoral reflections on the Lord’s Supper. Phillips encourages pastors to “realize the Lord’s Supper’s great pastoral value in personally confronting each person present with the reality of his or her own relationship to Jesus Christ.” Additionally, the author discusses restricted communion and emphasizes the importance of followers of Christ coming to the Table. He also stresses the importance of partaking in a worthy manner (1 Cor. 11:27-28).
Calvin gets the last word here: “It is a sacrament ordained not for the perfect, but for the weak and feeble, to awaken, arouse, stimulate, and exercise the feeling of faith and love, indeed, to correct the defect of both.”
Richard Phillips booklet is an invaluable source of encouragement and instruction. His clear presentation is helpful for new and seasoned believers alike. This resource should be utilized in family worship and will prove helpful in discipling the next generation.