What is the Lord’s Supper? What is happening when we partake of the Lord’s Supper? Is it simply a solemn memorial service, where we examine our lives in the present and partake of something to remind us of event in the past? Or is there more to Communion, to the corporate partaking of the Lord’s Supper?
These are the questions that Richard Barcellos is seeking to answer in his new book: The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace: More than a Memory. Barcellos sets out in this book to convince the reader the the Lord’s supper is more than a solemn memorial service — it is more than a memory. Indeed, the Lord’s Supper actually serves as a means of grace in the present for the people of God.
The question, then, is what are ‘means of grace’? Barcellos says, “I define means of grace as the delivery systems God has instituted to bring grace — that is, spiritual power, spiritual change, spiritual help, spiritual fortitude, spiritual blessings — to needy souls on the earth” (23). So, Barcellos argues that the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace, as are the Word of God, prayer, and the ordinance of baptism. These are, he says, “the primary or ordinary means through which grace from heaven comes to souls on the earth” (24).
This book is not meant, in any way, to be a full treatment of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Rather, the author has a very narrow purpose in mind in writing this book — it is to answer the questions: “How is the Lord’s Supper a means of grace?” His answer: “The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace because of what the Holy Spirit does in the souls of believers when local churches partake of it” (28).
To argue for this understanding of the sacrament, Barcellos first introduces the reader to the various terminology connected with the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament. These include “the giving of thanks,” “breaking bread,” “the cup and table of the Lord,” and “the Lord’s Supper.” In the second chapter, Barcellos looks at the most important text in the New Testament regarding the nature of the Lords Supper: 1 Corinthians 10:16. After offering a very detailed and careful exegesis of this passage, Barcellos summarized by saying,
“The point being made from this text is that bread and wine are signs which signify present participation or present communion in the present benefits procured by Christ’s body and blood” (52).
“Though it is not a converting ordinance, the Supper is a sanctifying ordinance. Like the Word of God and prayer, it is a means through which grace comes to us from Christ’ (53).
Next, in chapter 3, he answers the question: “But how do the benefits of his death become present for those that partake of the Supper?” The answer: The Holy Spirit. In this chapter, Barcellos offers a close look at Ephesians 1:3 and 1:14 and shows that the Holy Spirit is the means by which grace is brought from heaven to believers in the present. He says,
“Ephesians 1:3 supplies us with the theological mechanics which are assumed by 1 Corinthians 10:16. When we take the Supper, it is the Spirit of Christ who brings the benefits of Christ to the people of Christ” (71).
Then, in chapter 4, he uses the example of prayer to illustrate the work of the Holy Spirit in this way, and illuminate His activity in the Supper. And in chapter 5, Barcellos looks at 3 historical confessions (The Belgic Confession of 1561, The Westminster Confession of 1647, and The Second London Confession of 1677/89) and four catechisms (Heidelberg, Westminster Shorter, Orthodox, and Baptist) in order to show that all of these understood the Supper to be a means of grace, and more than just a memory.
In the final chapter, Barcellos offers some final thoughts, including some theological musings and practical considerations. I found the practical and pastoral implications to be quite helpful in thinking through the nuts and bolts of some of this theology. He deals with issues such as the corporate attitude and climate during the Supper, the frequency of our partaking, the fencing of the table, and more.
Overall, I found this book to be helpful and illuminating. It helped me put into words some things that I’ve been thinking for a while, that there is more to the Lord’s Supper than just a simple remembrance of a past event. Barcellos did a great job of drawing out the Lord’s Supper’s links with the past, present, and future — the past in that it remembers the historical facts of the work of Christ; the present in that present, spiritual grace is brought to believers through partaking; and the future, in that the Supper looks forward to the return of Christ.
This book will not be for everyone. It is not an easy read; it is very technical and quite academic. But if you are interested in learning more about the nature of the Lord’s Supper, and are ready to think deeply and seriously about it, then I’d encourage you to grab a copy of this book. At just over 100 pages, it is certainly not unattainable for you to read through, and I am confident that if you do, you will walk away with a greater understanding of and appreciation for the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Mentor Books for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.