This morning we are going to have a sermon based on the Catechism. Preaching the Catechism, once upon the time, is something you would find every Lord’s Day in at least one of the Sermons – morning or evening.
So, as we come to the Table of our Lord we turn to Lord’s Day #30. You can find that in the back of your Psalters if you wish to follow along. We will be looking at Questions 81 & 82.
The Catechism has already spent some time looking at the Eucharist. Here in Q. 81 it asks us;
Question 81: For whom is the Lord’s Supper instituted?
In asking this question the implication is clearly that the Table is not intended for just everyone. The table has a definite audience for which it is appropriate.
Interestingly, when it answers this question the first clause is;
Answer: For those who are truly sorrowful for their sins,6
Here, we are reminded of the Hospital nature of the Church. The Church is a place for healing and comfort. It isn’t always to be a gymnasium where the strong work out. Nor is it to always be an armory where people are armed for the battle. The Church, as the Eucharist proclaims is also a hospital where sin sick sinners, who are sorrowful for their sins come and find the medicine of the Eucharist to eat the bread of forgiveness and to drink the drink of Eternal life.
The catechizers – Olevanius and Zacharias – give us the Scripture to support this part of the answer;
6 Matt. 5:3, 6, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
This “Poor in Spirit” is to whom the Eucharist is pointed. We come to the table as those who understand our sin and further are genuinely sorrowful for our sin.
Brethren, it is so easy for us – especially in this Gomorrahian culture – to fall into the habit of seeing the sins of everybody else and become blind to the reality that we are ourselves sinners. I know I fall into this. We being looking around and see what a mess everything is and we begin to think that we are pretty good.
But the catechism here cuts off at our knees and reminds us that those who are to come to the table are those who are sorrowful for their sins.
So, the question that requires being asked is… “Are you sorrowful for your sin?” “Do you recognize that you are a poor sinner, like all other poor sinners, except that you have been favored with grace?”
It is true that we are more than conquerors. It is true we are defined as those who, along with St. Paul, are forgetting those things which are behind and are pressing ever onward to the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. But the same Paul who could rejoice in those realities could also say that he remained the chief of sinners.
And so we come to the table truly sorrowful for our sins.
We see ourselves besotted with pride. We see our self-centeredness and our desire for self-aggrandizement. We see that we love ourselves above our love to God and our love to our kin, friends, and fellow saints. And we are truly sorrowful that we do not meet the standard of God’s Holy righteousness that we are always called to.
We cannot be a people overwhelmed by God’s pardon over and over again unless we are also the people who are at the same time overwhelmed with our sin.
This disposition has the felicitous consequence of working in us what we all so desperately need and that is the need to be familiar with the virtue of being humble. If we are truly sorrowful for our sin, then it is less likely that pride will be a sand that gets in the gears of all of our relationships.
But the catechism does not stop there… it goes on to say that we come not only as genuinely sorrowful for our sins but also we come trusting that these sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ and further that their remaining impact (infirmities) are covered by His passion and death.
7 Ps. 103:3, Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases.
So there is a dialectic in the table … a push me pull you if you please. On one hand we come truly sorrowful for our sins but on the other hand we also come trusting that the sins we are truly sorrowful for are forgiven for the sake of Christ.
So we see here that the table preaches Christ. It reminds that God is Holy. That man is sinful. That the only medicine for our sin is Christ in our place. Christ for us. Christ our righteousness. Christ as the one who reconciles us to God. Christ as our mediator and sacrifice. Christ as our redemption and ransom.
So, as you often hear me say, we come to the table convinced that we are great sinners but yet not without knowing that Christ is a greater savior.
And so is married a right estimation of ourselves and a right estimation of Christ for us, the hope of glory.
And yet we are not done yet with the Catechism’s question about for whom the Lord’s Table is instituted.
And who also earnestly desire to have their faith more and more strengthened, and their lives more holy;8
Here we are taught that the table has a medicinal effect. It has the effect of strengthening our faith when taken in faith for those who come with that desire. The table is to those who earnestly desire to have their faith more and more strengthened and their lives more holy what eating a power pellet does for certain video game characters. You know… they eat the pellet and they find themselves filled with a greater strength than they had had heretofore.
Those are the people for whom the Lord’s Table is instituted.
1.) For those who are are truly sorrowful for their sin
2.) For those who at the same time are trusting that these sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ and further that their remaining impact (infirmities) are covered by His passion and death.
3.) And who also earnestly desire to have their faith more and more strengthened, and their lives more holy;8
1 Pet. 2:11–12, Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
Notice then that the table speaks to Christ outside of us when it talks about how are sins are covered for the sake of Christ while at the same time the table speaks of Christ in us when it talks about the desire to have our faith more and more strengthened and our lives more Holy.
The Catechism thus is not lopsided. It speaks both to the finality of Christ for us outside of us and to the ongoing sanctification wrought by the Spirit of Christ in us as our faith is more and more strenthened.
Before pushing on let us note that if all this is already true then why would any Christian be casual about attending consistently a Church where Word and Sacrament – the means of Grace – are faithfully set forth?
Anyway …. Q. 81 ends with a warning;
but hypocrites, and such as turn not to God with sincere hearts, eat and drink judgment to themselves.9
Ps. 50:15–16, And call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me. But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare My statutes, or that thou shouldest take My covenant in thy mouth?
If the table is medicine for the believer who is truly sorrowful for their sin it is also like eating plutonium enriched uranium and drinking some of Putin’s famous poisoned tea for those who hypocrites who take the table not turning to God with sincere hearts.
The table is a high risk, high reward reality. It is a high risk for those who are professional Christians who are merely playing at Christianity and it is a high reward for those who are sincere in their faith.
Brother and Sisters I can’t see into your heart. I don’t know … and can’t know for sure who and who might not be being sincere – who is and who is not playing the hypocrite. But God knows… and I promise you that the table is the last place you want to be gambling.
If you are here and insincere in your faith … if your attitude about sin is casual … if you are just playing at Christianity please have mercy on yourself and don’t come to the table.
Titus 1:16, They profess that they know God; but in works they deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.
Now, having faithfully given this warning, allow me to say again that the table is for sinners. It’s just not for sinners who are content to remain in their sin. The table is not for those who have no interest in pursuing Christ. But the table is for those who are weary and heavy laden. It is the place where, along with the Word, find Christ and His promises that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
So, it is not my intent to scare you away from the table little flock. However, neither is it the case that I can allow you to come to the table without being a faithful shepherd giving the warnings of Scripture against an approach that amounts trying to have both fellowship with devils while having fellowship w/ God.
91 Cor. 10:20, &c, But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.
1 Cor. 11:28, &c, But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
Question 82 continues to clarify the matter flipping the approach from Q. 81. Q. 81 asked who is the table for. Q. 82 asks the Q. “Who is the table not for.”
Question 82: Are they also to be admitted to this supper, who, by confession and life, declare themselves unbelieving and ungodly?
The catechism is nothing if not thorough. Who is to come. Who is not to come.
You might think this is Captain Obvious territory. Yet, the Church is full of people who come to the table who by confession and life declare themselves unbelieving and ungodly.
Note how the question breaks this down.
Those whose confession (their thinking) and those who are ungodly (their behavior) are not to be admitted to the table.
Answer: No; for by this, the covenant of God would be profaned and His wrath kindled against the whole congregation;10 therefore it is the duty of the Christian church, according to the appointment of Christ and His apostles, to exclude such persons11 by the keys of the kingdom of heaven till they show amendment of life.
Note here several matters,
This question presupposes that the Church has a role in determining who and who does not come to the table. We get this by the wording “Are they also to be permitted.” This implies that there is some kind of authority that is permitting and not permitting.
The answer then gets explicit when it talks about it being the duty of the Christian Church, according to the appointment of Christ and His apostles, to exclude such persons11 by the keys of the kingdom of heaven till they show amendment of life.
11Matt. 18:17–18, And if he (the person who doesn’t belong at the table) shall neglect to hear them (Church officers), tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
I’ve had to be a part of banning people from the table twice. It is never easy to go through this process but love for God, love for the sinner and love for the whole congregation requires such action when necessary. And to be honest, I’ve probably failed terribly for not pushing that envelope more often. There is nothing more than the prospect of Church discipline that will turn someone vehemently hostile.
So, who is it that should be banned from the table per the Catechism answer?
1.) Those whose confession is wrong
2.) Those whose life (behavior) is wrong
The confession error would include anyone who is promulgating doctrine that is contrary to our confessions. So, for example, Arminians, Unitarians, WOKE Christians, R2K etc. should not be allowed to come to the table per this Q & A.
If Luther had succeeded at excising James from the cannon Luther should not have been allowed to come to the table. Similarly, if anyone advocates adding to the cannon beyond the list we find in the Belgic Confession would likely have to join Marcion for deleting from the cannon by not being permitted to come to the table.
But it is not just confession but it is life as well.
And here the questions are more difficult.
It is easy to say that, for example, those who support abortion w/ no repentance, or those who are homosexual or transgender w/o repentance are not to be permitted in coming to the table. However, what about Christians who send their children to Government schools who have both been warned and who can make other arrangements? Does this raise itself to the level of not permitting someone to come to the table? Now … we see how difficult this matter can be.
The catechism tells us what will happen if the Church and her officers don’t do our work here. What happens is that the
God’s wrath is kindled against the whole congregation;
People in Corinth were coming to the table who should not have been coming to the table and St. Paul tells them.
1 Cor. 11:30–31, For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
There are corporate covenantal consequences for allowing those who flaunt God’s grace either by errant confession or life. God’s wrath is kindles against the whole congregation.
Congregation, you should want your church officers to take this seriously lest you be part of a congregation where God’s wrath is kindled because people are coming to the table who are turning God’s grace into license.
Clearly, we should add here, that if you are part of a congregation where the officers aren’t meeting their responsibilities in this area you should think deeply about being part of that congregation.
101 Cor. 10:21, Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.
Which is just to say you can’t have feet in both worlds without consequences.
But let us end by reminding ourselves that all of this is so God’s name – His covenant – might not be profaned. It is all in pursuance that God and the things of God might be kept sacred.
We do not want to scare anyone away from the table. We want to communicate that the grace of God is generous and plenteous for those who are truly sorrowful for their sin. It is only those who have hardened themselves against God’s standard – only those who desire to turn God’s grace into a license to sin who are warned off from the table – for their own sake and the sake of the congregation and most importantly for the sake of God’s reputation.
And so as we head to the table we say Come and find satisfaction in Christ. Come and be reminded that a smoking flax He will not snuff out and a bruised reed he will not break. Come … taste and see that the Lord is good. Be fed by His grace and find here the medicine of grace to continue the fight.