Remembering and the Lord’s Supper

Keith Mathison’s Given for You is an excellent, careful treatment of the true Calvinistic/Reformed doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, which has fallen into a Zwinglian memorialist view among the Reformed for the last couple centuries. Mathison shows how Calvin’s complex, beautiful, scriptural view of the Lord’s Supper fell on hard times among the Reformed starting with the Puritans and continuing through the Princeton giants. He is painstakingly thorough and historical, though unfortunately this makes it read more like a long seminary paper than a mainstream book. His treatment of Calvin, Scripture, and Passover in the context of refuting the memorialist view is particularly helpful, with a page quoted at length here:

“Just as some have taken the words ‘This is my body’ to an ill-conceived extreme, others have taken the words ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ to the opposite extreme. Both extremes are erroneous. The words ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ do not refer to a purely subjective mental recollection. Understood within the Passover context, this phrase points to the idea that the congregation becomes contemporary with Christ’s act of redemption. As Thiselton explains, ‘If we press the analogy with the ‘remembrance’ of the Passover in the Haggadah, making contemporary is achieved primarily by projecting the reality of the ‘world’ of the Passover and drawing participants of later generations into it.’ The fact that ‘remembrance’ is not merely mental recollection is clearly demonstrated by comparing the use of the word in other contexts.

“‘To remember God’s mighty acts’  or ‘to remember the poor’ is not simply to call them to mind but to assign to them an active role within one’s ‘world.’ ‘To remember’ God is to engage in worship, trust, and obedience, just as ‘to forget’ God is to turn one’s back on him. Failure to remember is not absent-mindedness but unfaithfulness to the covenant and disobedience. ‘Remembering’ the gospel tradition or ‘remembering’ Christian leaders transforms attitude and action. To ‘remember’ the poor is to relieve their needs.”

Those who reduce the Lord’s Supper to an act of mental recollection are imposing modern modes of thought on the text of Scripture. Those who reduce the Supper to an act of subjective mental recollection do so with no exegetical warrant. By doing this, they divest the sacrament of most of its true value, importance, and meaning, thereby leaving little more than an empty shell.”

-Keith Mathison in Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (P&R, 2002), p. 232 [Mathison quoting Thiselton in the middle]

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