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Communion as Redemption Accomplished and Applied

The connection between historia salutis and ordo salutis, that is, between salvation as it has been accomplished in redemptive history and salvation as it is applied in the life experience of the believer, has been a fruitful field cultivated with tremendous richness over the past century of Reformed scholarship as Systematic Theology has been fertilized with the work of Biblical Theology.

Herman Bavinck, with his characteristic eloquence, has brought this connection between the objective work of redemptive history and its application to bear on the necessity of the limitation, or better put, the definiteness of Christ’s atonement.

All the benefits of the covenant of grace are linked (Rom. 8:28-34) and find their ground in the death of Christ (Rom. 5:8-11). Atonement in Christ carries with it salvation and blessedness. For Christ is the head and believers are his body, a body that receives its growth from him (Eph. 4:16; Col. 2:19). He is the cornerstone, and we are the building (Eph. 2:20-21). He is the firstborn, and we are his brothers (Rom. 8:29). Believers, accordingly, have objectively died, been crucified, buried, raised, and seated in the heavens with and in him. That is, the church is not an accidental and arbitrary aggregate of individuals that can just as easily be smaller or larger, but forms with him an organic whole that is included in him as the second Adam, just as the whole of humankind arises from the first Adam. The application of salvation must therefore extend just as far as its acquisition. The application is comprehended in it and is its necessary development. … If Jesus is truly the Savior he must also really save his people, not potentially but really and in fact, completely and eternally. And this, actually, constitutes the core difference between the proponents and opponents of particular atonement.[1]

This line of thinking can be extended to help explicate how the definite work of Christ in historia salutis bears upon an aspect of its application to his elect in the means of grace of the Lord’s Table. We can do this specifically to help us unfold the distinctive Reformed insistence on how the believer experiences communion with the body and blood of Christ there.

As we come to the Lord’s Table by faith we really and truly commune in his body and blood, but not because we physically ingest the substance of Christ’s flesh there, nor because his physical presence somehow comes down from whence it has ascended. Rather, we do so because we are united to him by the Spirit and in that union we own Him as our head who acts on our behalf in redemptive history.

We truly commune in his body and blood because as he yielded up his body and blood he did this for us particularly by name as those written in the book of life before the foundation of the world, as those whom the Lamb had determined to purchase specifically through his body and blood by which we have been represented in the historia salutis and unto which we have been united in the ordo salutis. We commune with Christ’s body and blood at the Lord’s Table because the lifeblood he spilled and the skin and muscle he rent were given with a deliberate exactitude that foreknew the face of each and every person for which it made atonement.

We truly commune in his body and blood because the Spirit whom the Lamb has sent, he has sent precisely to each he has purchased with his body and blood in order to call them irresistibly and give to them irrevocably the boundless efficacy of his sacrifice for them. The Spirit sent to the Church is the Spirit of Christ as the representative Head of his elect Body. And thus the Spirit ensures that as we approach the table which Christ has set, there we find that our Host has laid out places for us which are adorned with our own namecards. We come there as those written on a guest list which he has drafted by his body and blood. We come there and hear Jesus say, “This is my body which is given for you” and “This is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you” (Lk. 22:19-20) and know that he does not speak those pronouns to an undifferentiated mass of potential believers, but to the definite number of his elect.

And so there we really and truly commune with his body and blood as their gracious potency nourishes us by faith again and again until all the ransomed church of God is gathered up to where the physical body of Christ is in fact presently located. While the Table is an act of covenantal remembrance in which we appropriate by faith the abiding significance of Christ’s sacrifice into the contemporary, it is also much more than a sheer act of memory. It is an act of union and communion in the body and blood that was offered up once and for all.

For this communion in Christ’s body and blood we do not need a transformation of substance or a transportation of Christ’s body down from heaven. For this communion we only need the Spirit and the faith which he gifts to us. For this communion we only need the relationship Scripture has shown us to exist between the coextensive nature of the acquisition of salvation and its application.

The link between the Lord’s Supper and the physical body and blood of Christ is not one forged by substance at a physical location at the table, but by the Spirit wrought union of the believer with Christ in what has been done for him in redemptive history. In that faith-union when the believer receives the bread and wine which Christ hands to him particularly, he really and truly receives the body and blood which Christ offered up for him particularly in the historia salutis and continues to plead for him particularly at the right hand of God as the Spirit applies it to him particularly in his vital union with Christ in his experience of the ordo salutis.

[1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, (ed. John Bolt; trans. John Vriend; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003-08.),3:466-467.


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