A liturgical reform to make Reformed liturgical renewalists gnash their teeth…

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Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces. (Matthew 7:6)

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! (2Corinthians 13:5)

We Reformed types have our shibboleths. “You’re not really Reformed,” we say, “unless…(insert qualifier of choice)."

"Unless you’re a cessationist."

"Unless you’re Sabbatarian."

"Unless you're Psalter-only (sing only Psalms in worship)."

"Unless you’re liturgical (as if any worship isn't)."

"Unless your worship is robustly liturgical (Lutheran)."

"Unless your robustly liturgical worship is ordered according to Jeff's principles of Covenant Renewal."

"Unless you celebrate 'the Eucharist' every Lord's Day (just like Calvin didn't)."

 

May I add another to the list? Trust me, this one will weed out all those Reformed posers. It will separate the men from the boys. It will make all the other shibboleths look really silly...

You’re not Reformed unless you fence the Lord's Table.

By “fencing the Table” I'm referring to the Reformed tradition of excommunicating the unworthy, and calling all professors to the duty of self-examination during the administration of the Lord’s Supper, not assuming this work was accomplished back at the beginning of the service when we confessed our sins.

Fencing the Lord's Table is basic to Reformed sacramentology. Read Calvin's liturgy and words below, as well as those of the Westminster Divines, and ask yourself why Reformed pastors are not fencing the table today? Why is no one jockeying to bring this true liturgical reform into our "Reformed" Lord's Day corporate worship services?


From Knox and Wittingham’s Forme of Prayers (1556) closely modeled after the form of John Calvin and approved by him (with modernized spelling for convenience):

     [Following the reading of the words of institution, the minister is directed to say:]

Dearly beloved in the Lord, forasmuch as we be now assembled, to celebrate the holy communion of the body and blood of our savior Christ, let us consider these words of St. Paul, how he exhorteth all persons diligently to try and examine themselves, before they presume to eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.

 

For as the benefit is great, if with a truly penitent heart, and lively faith, we receive that holy sacrament (for then we spiritually eat the flesh of Christ, and drink his blood, then we dwell in Christ, and Christ in us, we be one with Christ, and Christ with us) so is the danger great, if we receive the same unworthily, for then we be guilty of the body, and blood of Christ our savior, we eat and drink our own damnation, not considering the Lord’s body: we kindly God’s wrath against us, and provoke Him to plague us with diseases and sundry kinds of death.

 

Therefore if any of you be a blasphemer of God, an hinderer or slanderer of His word, an adulterer, or be in malice or envy, or in any other grievous crime, bewail your sins, and come not to this holy table: lest after taking of this holy sacrament, the evil one enter into you as he entered in Judas, and fill you full of all iniquities, and bring you to destruction, both of body and soul. Judge therefore your selves brethren, that ye be not judged of the Lord: repent you truly for your sins past, and have a lively and steadfast faith, in Christ our savior, seeking only your salvation in the merits of His death and passion, from henceforth refusing, and forgetting all malice and debate, with full purpose to live in brotherly amity, and godly conversation, all the days of your life.

 

And albeit we feel in ourselves much frailty and wretchedness, as that we have not our faith so perfect [etc.]

From the Westminster Directory for Publick Worship under the heading “Of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper”:

When the day is come for administration, the minister, having ended his sermon and prayer, shall make a short exhortation:

 

"Expressing the inestimable benefit we have by this sacrament, together with the ends and use thereof: setting forth the great necessity of having our comforts and strength renewed thereby in this our pilgrimage and warfare: how necessary it is that we come unto it with knowledge, faith, repentance, love, and with hungering and thirsting souls after Christ and his benefits: how great the danger to eat and drink unworthily.

 

Next, he is, in the name of Christ, on the one part, to warn all such as are ignorant, scandalous, profane, or that live in any sin or offence against their knowledge or conscience, that they presume not to come to that holy table; shewing them, that he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment unto himself: and, on the other part, he is in an especial manner to invite and encourage all that labour under the sense of the burden of their sins, and fear of wrath, and desire to reach out unto a greater progress in grace than yet they can attain unto, to come to the Lord's table; assuring them, in the same name, of ease, refreshing, and strength to their weak and wearied souls."

 

After this exhortation, warning, and invitation, the table being before decently covered, and so conveniently placed, that the communicants may orderly sit about it, or at it, the minister is to begin the action with sanctifying and blessing the elements of bread and wine set before him, (the bread in comely and convenient vessels, so prepared, that, being broken by him, and given, it may be distributed amongst the communicants; the wine also in large cups,) having first, in a few words, shewed that those elements, otherwise common, are now set apart and sanctified to this holy use, by the word of institution and prayer.

 

Let the words of institution be read out of the Evangelists, or out of the first Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, Chap. 11:23. I have received of the Lord, &c. to the 27th Verse, which the minister may, when he seeth requisite, explain and apply.

 

Let the prayer, thanksgiving, or blessing of the bread and wine, be to this effect:

 

"With humble and hearty acknowledgment of the greatness of our misery, from which neither man nor angel was able to deliver us, and of our great unworthiness of the least of all God's mercies; to give thanks to God for all his benefits, and especially for that great benefit of our redemption, the love of God the Father, the sufferings and merits of the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, by which we are delivered; and for all means of grace, the word and sacraments; and for this sacrament in particular, by which Christ, and all his benefits, are applied and sealed up unto us, which, notwithstanding the denial of them unto others, are in great mercy continued unto us, after so much and long abuse of them all.

 

To profess that there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ, by whom alone we receive liberty and life, have access to the throne of grace, are admitted to eat and drink at his own table, and are sealed up by his Spirit to an assurance of happiness and everlasting life.

 

Earnestly to pray to God, the Father of all mercies, and God of all consolation, to vouchsafe his gracious presence, and the effectual working of his Spirit in us; and so to sanctify these elements both of bread and wine, and to bless his own ordinance, that we may receive by faith the body and blood of Jesus Christ, crucified for us, and so to feed upon him, that he may be one with us, and we one with him; that he may live in us, and we in him, and to him who hath loved us, and given himself for us."

 

All which he is to endeavour to perform with suitable affections, answerable to such an holy action, and to stir up the like in the people.

 

The elements being now sanctified by the word and prayer, the minister, being at the table, is to take the bread in his hand, and say, in these expressions, (or other the like, used by Christ or his apostle upon this occasion:)

 

"According to the holy institution, command, and example of our blessed Saviour Jesus Christ, I take this bread, and, having given thanks, break it, and give it unto you; (there the minister, who is also himself to communicate, is to break the bread, and give it to the communicants;) "Take ye, eat ye; this is the body of Christ which is broken for you: do this in remembrance of him."

 

In like manner the minister is to take the cup, and say, in these expressions, (or other the like, used by Christ or the apostle upon the same occasion:)

 

"According to the institution, command, and example of our Lord Jesus Christ, I take this cup, and give it unto you; (here he giveth it to the communicants;) This cup is the new testament in the blood of Christ, which is shed for the remission of the sins of many: drink ye all of it."

From book IV, chapter XVII of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.

40. Moreover, as we see that this sacred bread of the Lord’s Supper is spiritual food, is sweet and savoury, not less than salutary, to the pious worshippers of God, on tasting which they feel that Christ is their life, are disposed to give thanks, and exhorted to mutual love; so, on the other hand, it is converted into the most noxious poison to all whom it does not nourish and confirm in the faith, nor urge to thanksgiving and charity. For, just as corporeal food, when received into a stomach subject to morbid humours, becomes itself vitiated and corrupted, and rather hurts than nourishes, so this spiritual food also, if given to a soul polluted with malice and wickedness, plunges it into greater ruin, not indeed by any defect in the food, but because to the “defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure” (Titus 1:15), however much it may be sanctified by the blessing of the Lord. For, as Paul says, “Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord;” “eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1Corinthians 11:27, 29).

For men of this description, who without any spark of faith, without any zeal for charity, rush forward like swine to seize the Lord’s Supper, do not at all discern the Lord’s body. For, inasmuch as they do not believe that body to be their life, they put every possible affront upon it, stripping it of all its dignity, and profane and contaminate it by so receiving; inasmuch as while alienated and estranged from their brethren, they dare to mingle the sacred symbol of Christ’s body with their dissensions. No thanks to them if the body of Christ is not rent and torn to pieces. Wherefore they are justly held guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, which, with sacrilegious impiety, they so vilely pollute. By this unworthy eating, they bring judgment on themselves. For while they have no faith in Christ, yet, by receiving the sacrament, they profess to place their salvation only in him, and abjure all other confidence. Wherefore they themselves are their own accusers; they bear witness against themselves; they seal their own condemnation. Next being divided and separated by hatred and ill-will from their brethren, that is, from the members of Christ, they have no part in Christ, and yet they declare that the only safety is to communicate with Christ, and be united to him.

Do you notice, as I have, that modern Reformed liturgists who are scrupulous over weekly "Eucharists" and "Covenant Renewal" flow charts have no heart for fencing the Table?

Calvin put his life on the line facing down the city fathers over his pastoral duty to fence the Table, protecting presumptuous souls from profaning the Lord's Supper, but those today who are considered paragons of meticulous Calvinistic liturgy have no heart for protecting their sheep from the sickness and death the Apostle Paul tells us had descended upon the Corinthian believers.

Our modern liturgical renewalists of Reformed persuasion seem to be monotones. "Come!" "Joy!" "Come!" "Celebrate!" "Grace!" "Joy!" "Grace!" "Come!" "Joy!" "Grace!" "Grace!" "Grace!" "Grace!"

Jody Killingsworth

Jody serves as worship pastor at Clearnote Church in Bloomington, Indiana. He is a lecturer at Clearnote Pastors College and frontman for My Soul Among Lions. You can find many of his musical contributions to the church over on the Clearnote Songbook.

Want to get in touch? Send Jody an email!