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Nevin on the Lord's Supper

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

The doctrine of the Eucharist is intimately connected with all that is deep and central to the Christian faith. Consequently Nevin argues that the church cannot depart from a biblical doctrine of Communion without also endangering the faith in other areas. A change in understanding of the Lord’s Supper will bring about a corresponding modification of the faith at other points. He was convinced that the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper is of the utmost importance.

Nevin particularly sets out to recover an objective understanding of the efficacy of Communion. He strongly affirms that the Supper is effectual conditioned upon faith of the participant, and also upon the working of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the conditions in no way undermine the essentially objective nature of the efficacy. The signs are bound to what they represent, not subjectively in the minds of the worshiper, but objectively by the force of divine appointment.

Nevin quotes various early Reformed theologians to show that they recognized the objective nature of the efficacy of communion. He quotes Calvin extensively, and my own reading of Calvin affirms that Nevin understands him correctly. Here’s one quote from Calvin that bears out his emphasis upon the objective nature of the efficacy of the Supper:

…I allow no room for the cavil, that, in representing Christ to be received by faith, I make him an object simply of the understanding or imagination. For the promises present him to us, not that we may rest in contemplation merely and naked notion, but that we may enjoy him in the way of real participation. And truly, I see not how any one can have confidence, that he has redemption and righteousness by the cross of Christ, and life by his death, if he have not in the first place a true communion with Christ himself.

The word of promise anchors the impact of the Supper objectively in God himself. We might be tempted to dismiss this question of the objectivity of Communion as an interesting exploration of professional theologians that has little consequence for normal church members. But to dismiss it in this manner would do a disservice to Calvin, his fellow Reformed theologians, and Nevin. These were men whose interest in the doctrine grew, not out of theological speculation, but out of their concern for the health of church members.

On the contrary, then, we should recognize that the Lord causes us to grow in grace as we participate in the Supper. That growth, while requiring faith, doesn’t have it’s source in our faith. Rather, we participate in Christ  through the Lord’s Supper because that is what God has promised. And that matters for us! It means that we should come to the Table in confident expectation. We should come believing that this is one of the means that God uses to supply what we need to endure the wilderness of this present life. Through Communion in a peculiar and mysterious way, He provides the sustenance we need to persevere.

Have you thought about the place of communion in worship, or the Christian life? What do you believe?

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