Regarding the Mass: H.C. Lord's Day 30

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 30

Q 80. How does the Lord’s Supper differ from the Roman Catholic Mass? 
A 80. The Lord’s Supper declares to us that all our sins are completely forgiven through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which he himself accomplished on the cross once for all.  It also declares to us that the Holy Spirit grafts us into Christ, who with his true body is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father where he wants us to worship him.

But the Mass teaches that the living and the dead do not have their sins forgiven through the suffering of Christ unless Christ is still offered for them daily by the priests. It also teaches that Christ is bodily present under the form of bread and wine where Christ is therefore to be worshiped. Thus the Mass is basically nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ and a condemnable idolatry.

Q 81. Who should come to the Lord’s table? 
A 81. Those who are displeased with themselves because of their sins, but who nevertheless trust that their sins are pardoned and that their remaining weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ, and who also desire more and more to strengthen their faith and to lead a better life.

Hypocrites and those who are unrepentant, however, eat and drink judgment on themselves.

Q 82. Should those be admitted to the Lord’s Supper who show by what they profess and how they live that they are unbelieving and ungodly? 
A 82. No, that would dishonor God’s covenant and bring down God’s wrath upon the entire congregation. Therefore, according to the instruction of Christ and his apostles, the Christian church is duty-bound to exclude such people, by the official use of the keys of the kingdom, until they reform their lives.

On the whole, the Heidelberg Catechism does a good job of teaching and explaining the Christian faith, particularly a reformed understanding of it.  Unlike some documents and movements of that time (16th century A.D.), there is little in the way of condemnation of other modes of belief or what we would consider denominations.  In that day, there was considerable contempt and condemnation that was going around between the Reformed Protestants, the Lutheran Protestants, the Anabaptists, and the Catholic church.  None really had good things to say about the other.  Yet, in the midst of this, the Heidelberg Catechism offered nothing more than a teaching tool for why the Reformers believed what they did, largely staying away from pointed remarks against other Christians.

…That is… until now…

Lord’s Day 30 addresses specifically the Catholic practice of the Mass, something that has been the worship structure of the Roman Catholic church since its modern inception sometime in the early part of the last millennium.

Different than the worship structure of Protestant churches in general, the focal point of the Mass is the celebration of the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, whereas Protestant churches see the focal point in the opening of God’s Word.  While there may be a short homily in a Catholic Mass, the main emphasis of worship is placed on the ritual celebration of communion.

While this is not necessarily a wrong emphasis, and many would argue the importance of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the danger (and reasoning for the Heidelberger’s speaking out on this point) comes largely from the reasoning of this emphasis.  As we talked about last week, the Roman Catholic church believes in the transubstantiation of the elements, the bread and the wine.  This means that bread (wafers) and cup (wine) are physically transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ.  So when they are taking communion, those attending the Catholic Mass are literally feasting on the body and blood of Christ.

There are a number of dangers here:

First, the Catholic theology suggests that the Mass and the celebration of the Eucharist participate in the “ongoing sacrifice” of Jesus on the cross.  By participating in it, we are taking part in this sacrifice that is drawn forward from the original moment to now.  Catholics do not believe that the Mass is a “re-sacrifice,” but the wording comes close to that.  1 Peter 3:18 says that “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”  Apart from the general verb tense that is used here, which is very clearly the past tense, it also points to the same language as is used in Hebrews 10, that Christ died once for all.  His sacrifice is not repeated nor is it ongoing, it happened and, as Jesus said, “It is finished.”  We don’t want to continue this work through the Eucharist or any other acts.  By thinking that we do, we add an element of “works righteousness” into the mix which, essentially, nullifies or minimizes Christ’s work on the cross.

Second, if the emphasis of worship is on the celebration of communion, and on the literal feasting on Christ’s body and blood, there may be an inadvertent teaching that this act is in itself a saving act.  There is nothing salvific about the sacraments; receiving them does not save us.  They are visible signs of God’s grace and through our participation in them we are proclaiming the Gospel of God’s love in Jesus Christ.  Again, this can cause us to stray into a false belief in “works righteousness” or a belief that we are saved by the “work worked.”  That means that, through our participation in the sacrament and the receiving of Jesus literal body and blood, we too are saved despite where our hearts may be.  Clearly, this flies in the face of Scripture’s revelation of justification by faith.

Finally, there is a danger that comes in thinking that Christ’s literal body and blood are present in the celebration of the Eucharist.  If they were, it would be right that we would worship the elements as they appear, being that their presence would mean the incarnated presence of God’s Son, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, among us.  If this were the case, it would be right to worship them.  However, this literal reading of Scripture does not necessarily make sense as Jesus said he was many different physical things and we take none of them literal.  He is not a literal gate, a literal shepherd, or even a literal well of living water inside of us.  Instead, these are analogies of the impact of Jesus’ life, ministry, and presence in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  If then, we wrongly worship the bread and the wine as Jesus’ literal body and blood when they are not, we are committing a horrible idolatry at one of the most significant moments in worship.

I think it is important to note that, even here in the Heidelberg Catechism, and in our discussion today, we are asking important questions so that we can better understand the nature of our beliefs and worship.  This discussion is not meant to be a condemnation of our brothers and sisters in Christ, but rather a clarification of why those who are “reformed” believe the way that they do.  Scripture is very clear that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” and that the only one who is in the position to judge us is Christ, He who went to the cross to die for our sins.  Let us remember that as we consider our hearts and that of others when we participate in the sacraments.  God the Father invites us to His table to commune with Him, despite our sinful selves, because we have been washed in the bloood of Jesus.  Let us, therefore, endevor to understand in the best possible way, the event we are participating in, and revel in the glorious mystery and beautiful grace that is present there as we encounter God anew at His Table.

"This is My Body" H.C. Lord's Day 29

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 29

Q 78. Do the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ? 
A 78. No. Just as the water of baptism is not changed into Christ’s blood and does not itself wash away sins but is simply a divine sign and assurance of these things, so too the holy bread of the Lord’s Supper does not become the actual body of Christ, even though it is called the body of Christ in keeping with the nature and language of sacraments.

Q 79. Why then does Christ call the bread his body and the cup his blood, or the new covenant in his blood, and Paul use the words, a participation in Christ’s body and blood? 
A 79. Christ has good reason for these words. He wants to teach us that just as bread and wine nourish the temporal life, so too his crucified body and poured-out blood are the true food and drink of our souls for eternal life.

But more important, he wants to assure us, by this visible sign and pledge, that we, through the Holy Spirit’s work, share in his true body and blood as surely as our mouths receive these holy signs in his remembrance, and that all of his suffering and obedience are as definitely ours as if we personally had suffered and made satisfaction for our sins.

Justification by Jesus Christ through faith is the cornerstone of the Christian religion.  There is nothing more distinctly Christian than this doctrine.  During the Reformation, there was one thing that was debated almost as much as this doctrine and that was the theology of the Lord’s Supper.

One of the main points of argument came from the attempt at interpreting what was meant when Jesus broke the bread and poured the cup saying “this is my body” and “this is my blood.”

The Catholic view at this time is a doctrine known as transubstantiation and held that, in the moment of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the physical bread and wine were transformed literally into Jesus actually body and blood.  They believed that the actual loaf was Jesus’ actual body.

This, for the Reformers, was nothing more than “hocus pocus,” a belief that was intended to draw people to church for the purpose of communion.  More than this, however, comes the notion that this didn’t follow with the revelation of Scripture or Jesus’ self-revelation either.  Jesus also said that He was “the Good Shepherd” and that He was “the Gate.”  Neither statement was meant to be factually accurate in that Jesus tended sheep or swung on hinges, but was in fact, a metaphor for the who Jesus was and what His ministry was about.

To this doctrine, the Reformers had several thoughts:

Consubstantiation: Jesus physical Body and Blood were present alongside the physical bread and wine.

Memorial Meal: The Lord’s Supper was meant to be a time of remembrance of the sacrifice that Jesus made.

Spiritual Presence: That Jesus is really present during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, that He indeed communes with us through the Holy Spirit, as we also remember Him.  In this, we feast on Christ through faith and the experience of participating in the sacrament.

Why does this really matter, though?  Each way of understanding it was trying to get at one thing: what does it mean when Scripture says that we are “participating” in the Body and Blood of Christ?  How does that work and what purpose does that serve?

There are so many meanings and so much symbolism that is associated with the celebration of the sacraments.  The Lord’s Supper is a memorial meal as well as a proclamation of the Gospel.  It is a way in which we are spiritually nourished through a physical action.

Yet one thing that is uniquely important about celebrating Communion is that fact that it is a time in which we are invited to commune with God at His table.  We are participating in exactly what we are: the Body of Christ.  It is a reminder of who we are and of whose we are.  It is a reminder that we are not in this alone, neither as individuals nor as a church.  It is a confirmation of our identity as a child of God and as a part of His body through God’s grace, shown in Jesus one sacrifice, and accepted by faith in Him.

The Holy Sacraments: H.C. Lord's Day 25

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 25

Q 65. It is through faith alone that we share in Christ and all his benefits: where then does that faith come from?
A 65. The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.

Q 66. What are sacraments?
A 66. Sacraments are visible, holy signs and seals. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and seal that promise.

And this is God’s gospel promise: to grant us forgiveness of sins and eternal life by grace because of Christ’s one sacrifice accomplished on the cross.

Q 67. Are both the word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?
A 67. Yes! In the gospel, the Holy Spirit teaches us and by the holy sacraments confirms that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.

Q 68. How many sacraments did Christ institute in the New Testament?
A 68. Two: holy baptism and the holy supper.

It is probably safe to say that if there is something that most people in the church don’t think much about on a regular basis, it would be the sacraments.  In my opinion, this is often due to either a lack of appropriate understanding or a misunderstanding of the purpose, meaning, and nature of the sacraments.  Far too often, when we celebrate them, a liturgy is read from a book in a rather monotone voice and then we do something… something we do the same every time without thinking about it.  Then we continue on like it never happened.  It’s a sad sort of traditional thing that seems to be overlooked…

Apart from the doctrine of justification by God’s grace in Jesus Christ through faith alone, the Reformers (those writing, teaching, and standing against much of the abuse of the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century) wrote more about the sacraments than any other topic.  They are, as many would say, very important to the life of Christ followers.  But why?  What purpose do they play?

First, it is important to point out that the sacraments themselves do not save.  We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ only, and while partaking in the sacraments can be a sign of that faith, their physical actions have no saving element to them.  The Reformed Church, in which I am ordained, practices Infant Baptism, yet baptizing an infant does not ensure that child’s salvation.  This act is sign and symbol that salvation is available to that child and that, in a special way, that child is called and a part of the community of faith; but it is only through faith that we are saved and infants are completely incapable of having a saving faith (far as we know).

The second thing that is important for us to remember about sacramental celebrations or rememberances are that they are signs and seals of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  Unlike the Roman Catholic Church of the 16th Century, which taught that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) was a reenactment of Jesus’ death, we believe that this is a symbol of the promise that is confirmed in Jesus’ once for all death on the cross for the sins of the entire world.

Related to that is the reality of what takes place in the sacraments.  As signs and seals of the promises of God the sacraments do not create faith, they confirm it, making us understand the Gospel promises more clearly through the work and revelation of the Holy Spirit and confirming to us our salvation.  I often say, when speaking of the Lord’s Supper, that we are nourished spiritually through the sacrament in a similar way to the fact that the physical food nourishes our body.

The sacraments are called “visible signs of invisible grace.”  It is another way that God works to reveal Himself, His love, and His grace to us.  For those who are visual learners, these sacraments can speak volumes!  In fact, the sacraments take sensory worship to a whole new level, providing for us the ability to see, smell, taste, and touch the promises of God made physical in the elements of the sacraments in the same way that we hear these promises proclaimed through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.

Word and Sacrament: H.C. Question 67

Are both the word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?

Romans 6:3 – Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

1 Corinthians 11:26 – For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Galatians 3:27 – for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Sacraments: H.C. Question 66

What are sacraments?

Genesis 17:11 – You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.

Deuteronomy 30:6 – The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

Romans 4:11 – And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.

Matthew 26:27-28 – Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Acts 2:38 – Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 10:10 – And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Day 62: Joshua 1-4; Crossing the Jordan

I can’t believe that it’s already been two months since we began this journey!  We’ve made it through the first 5 books of the Bible, commonly known as the “Torah” or the “Pentateuch.”  These books are classified as the books of the Law.  We are passing now into the realm of the books of history, from Joshua through Ester.  You will probably note fairly quickly that these books are marked by a rather different writing structure: Narrative… mostly.  A rather large portion of the coming books are the retelling of Israel’s history from the time after Moses through to times of the Exile.  They are not all in Chronological order, and later when we get into the prophets, we’ll jump around as far as the timeline is concerned.  We’ll do our best to make sense of all that while also allowing the Scripture to work on us and speak to us through the Holy Spirit.  Every one of these narratives is not simply a story, but tells us about God, as He is the main character in the Bible.  Be sure to pay attention to how God acts, even if it is not expressly stated.  As you read narrative, look for God… continually ask yourself, “where is God in this reading?”  The picture below is Christoph Unterberger’s depiction of the Crossing of the Jordan.  I found it on The State hermitage Museum website.  Notice where God is in this painting.  I think it is a powerful image of the power of God at work in this story.

Notice where God is in this painting.

Notice where God is in this painting.

So now we have entered into the book of Joshua.  Moses has just died and the there’s a new sheriff in town.  God waists no time in telling Joshua what to do next.  Once again He promises to be with Joshua and the people of Israel, to go before them and deliver the land and the people of Canaan into their hands.  This is quite evident in how God immediately provides for the people of Israel in two very specific ways.

First, the ordeal with the two spies and Rahab.  This is likely a familiar story to most people, especially if you ever heard the story of the Battle of Jericho before.  Yet I think that there are a few lesser known parts of this story that perhaps need to be brought to light.  Do you find it interesting that the only action taken by the spies that is recorded for us is that they go right to the house of a prostitute?  Men from the people of God, the holy ones set apart to be a “kingdom of priests” go right to a prostitute.  Well, giving them the benefit of the doubt, in many pagan cultures of that time, these prostitutes worked as a sort of ‘welcoming party’ to visitors.  They also often ran ‘inns,’ or more appropriately, had places for travelers to sleep.  It is very interesting to me though to look at how God chose to use this prostitute, working through her to protect the spies.  I doubt that anyone from Israel would be overly thrilled to enter into the promised land if their two spies were killed right off the bat.  God uses this woman, and later on, because of her obedience to Him, incorporates her into the people of God and, get this… into the lineage of King David and thus Jesus Christ as well!  What a wonder that God would use such a lowly, sinful person we might say… but then again God always upholds the least, last, and lost in the world.  So, for anyone who is keeping track, the lineage of David, and Jesus now includes Tamar, the tricky daughter-in-law of Judah turned prostitute of Genesis 38, and now Rahab the Prostitute as well.  God clearly can use anyone which shows us that we shouldn’t be looking down on anyone for any reason.  For more information on this, you can see Matthew 1 for Jesus’ genealogy.

The other thing about this particular reading that might seem vaguely familiar is the narrative of Israel crossing into the land of Canaan.  Like their escape from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, God once again has stopped up the waters of a route that couldn’t be crossed so that His people can cross on dry ground.  If you remember reading the crossing of the Red Sea post, the crossing of a body of water is very symbolic and carries a great deal of meaning and foreshadowing in it.  We liken this event to Baptism, the going down into the water and rising up as a new individual, washed of the old self and rejuvenated, with a new identity.  From Slaves to Free, from Wanderers to a Nation.  And this time they do something a bit different.  Remember that, when Israel passed through the Red Sea, they were told to remember this event and they were reminded of it time and again in the last 40 years.  Here they set up 12 standing stones, a memorial reminder for all who see it.  As chapter 4 says,

“When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’  then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.”

Do you remember your Baptism?  If you were baptized as an infant it is likely that you don’t.  But I’d be willing to bet that you’ve seen others baptized since then.  At Overisel, we practice infant baptism.  It is a sign and seal of the covenant relationship between God and His people.  It is a sign that we are included into this covenant through no merit of our own, even before we know anything about it.  People say that it is a shame that we don’t remember our own Baptism.  While I would agree that it would be nice to remember the event of my baptism, I also would say that we have the opportunity to remember our own baptism every time we worship.  We keep the Baptismal font in a visible place every Sunday to remind us of our Baptism.  We publicly Baptize new babies and new believers, not just because its a nice ceremony, but so that we can remember our own Baptism.  These are our standing stones, our physical way of remembering that we have gone through the waters and are included in the Covenant, made new in Jesus Christ.  And it is to this that we can attest when our children ask ‘what does baptism mean?’

For more on the meaning of Baptism and the RCA’s stance on this sacrament, please visit the RCA webpage: what is baptism?  I’d love to interact around this topic too if anyone has any questions!