The Ancient Church Observance of the Lord’s Supper

Today we speak with Glen Clary about his DMin dissertation titled, “Celebrating Holy Communion According to the Customs of the Ancient Church: A Reformed Communion Liturgy Based on the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Didache.” The Didache is a very early document that teaches about several important topics, including the early church’s observance of the Lord’s Supper. Listen to learn more about the Didache itself, how it relates to the reformation, and what instruction it can offer to churches today.

Rev. Clary is the Associate Pastor of Providence OPC, Austin (Pflugerville), Texas. Glen holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Southwestern Christian University, Bethany, Oklahoma, and a Master of Divinity degree from Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is currently a doctoral candidate at Erskine Theological Seminary, studying Reformed worship under Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old at the Institute for Reformed Worship.

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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

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Ian Clary (@ianclary)

5 years ago

I suspect he and I are related somewhere down the line. I’m glad there’s another Clary out there with him I share similar interests!

Ian Clary (@ianclary)

5 years ago

Him = whom.

Jeremy B

5 years ago

I’m curious of the connection mentioned between Scottish communion seasons and American tent revivals…wouldn’t the connection with tent revivals have more to do with itinerant circuit riding preachers?

Glen Clary

5 years ago

Jeremy,
I meant to say camp meeting not tent revivals. Holy Fairs by Schmidt makes the connection.

Jeremy B

5 years ago

Thanks Glen

Oliver Pierce

5 years ago

Great episode. One thing this discussion brought up that I have been wondering about for a while is if the Lord’s supper really is intended to be a meal. If scripture and early church tradition testify to it being a meal, why do so many churches not do that? I feel we lose something by it not being a meal, yet understand the practical realities of doing that in our culture. Thoughts? Thanks again for your podcasts I have enjoyed them and they have helped further prepare me as I head to westminster this fall for the mdiv program.

Glen Clary

5 years ago

Oliver,
Good question. That’s one I’m raising in my dissertation. How did Communion go from being a full meal to a token of a meal? Also, what are the consequences of that? The Reformers were eager to make the Lord’s Supper actually look like a meal. Knox even insisted on serving it to the congregation seated around a table. Long table Communion continued in the Scottish Presbyterian church at least until the time of Chalmers. However, it never became a full meal to satisfy hunger as it was in the earliest celebrations of Communion. I do think there are theological implications to that. We might think here of the stories of Jesus serving the multitudes and the fact that all were filled … and especially John 6.

Oliver

4 years ago

Glen, are there any articles/books, etc you recommend to read on this topic? I”m thinking about writing a small paper on early church eucharistic practice for my Ancient Church class with Dr. Trueman this semester. Do you have any material out there? I assume most of it is still in your dissertation which is in the works? thanks for your help.

Walter L. Taylor

5 years ago

Very good discussion. Thanks to fellow “Old Boy” Glen Clary. I would make one correction. Alexander Campbell was not at Cane Ridge. Barton W. Stone (the other “founder” of the Disciples/Church of Christ tradition) was at Cane Ridge.

Thank you, Glen. I look forward to reading your dissertation.

Glen Clary

5 years ago

Thanks, Walter. That sounds correct. Been a while since I read Schmidt’s book.

Hudson Barton

5 years ago

Very interesting, but once again here are Presbyterians demonstrating their cluelessness about Anglicans by overlooking the distinction between authentic Reformed Anglican observance of the Lord’s Supper as found in the 1552/1662 BCP and Cranmer’s earlier pre-Reformation (late medieval) attempt in 1549 BCP (repeated in the 1928 BCP)

Apparently Presbyterians think the BCP posits the elements themselves as an oblationary sacrifice to God for sin, consecrated by priests with the “words of institution”, then mixed with our praise and thanksgiving, then distributed under the aegis of the “prayer of humble access”, all subject to repentance and faith as preconditions. This is why they say that Anglicans believe eucharistic union with Christ is in the partaken elements. From the 1549 and 1928 BCPs, this is exactly the impression one gets.

What Mr. Cary fails to see is that the Didache is similar to the Reformed view which we see in the 1662 BCP, where the Lord’s Supper is presented as a covenantal meal, the Church’s eucharistic union with Christ being an established fact. The meal is consecrated to believers by (through) their repentance from sin and their unity of mind and heart, then given to them according to mercy and the gift of faith. The minister’s breaking of the bread and presentation of the cup are the result of that consecration, not the consecration itself. The eucharistic meal is then received by the Church with thanksgiving and praise to Christ, the “prayer of humble access” having already been said. Finally, having been fortified by the meal, the Church says “here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice…”

To summarize, what Cranmer did between 1549 and 1552 was rearrange the order of the communion service. Results:

1. Consecration of the meal consists in the repentance and unity of the Church rather than in the priest’s words of institution.
2. The meal is a covenantal meal celebrating eucharistic union. The elements are not the eucharistic union itself and they are not a re-sacrifice.
3. Our praise and thanksgiving is the result of having been fed with spiritual food rather than an oblation offered to God.

Glen Clary

5 years ago

Hudson,
I have no criticisms of Cranmer’s Communion liturgy (1552). I think it is a great example of a Reformed Communion service.

Ben Muresan

5 years ago

Great episode and discussion. Glen, is there a “commentary” on the Didache that you recommend? (Perhaps a guide that provides the text with historical analysis and explanation?) I have found several online for purchase, but it would be helpful to know which, if any, you recommend. Thanks!

Glen Clary

5 years ago

Ben,
Aaron Milavec has the latest and biggest commentary. I don’t agree with him on everything, but he has some great points.
Kurt Niederwimmer has an excellent commentary in the hermenia series. It’s a bit pricey but worth it if you’re intending to study the whole document in depth.
There are some excellent articles on the Didache by Jonathan Draper. He is my favorite of the three, but unfortunately, he has not written a commentary on the whole document.

RubeRad

5 years ago

Very interesting episode, thanks!

I’m curious what does the Didache have to say about baptism, in particular paedo/credo or mode? Maybe fodder for another episode?

Ray Nearhood

5 years ago

RubeRad, this is what the Didache says about baptism in its entirety.

Chapter 7 “And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.”

RubeRad

5 years ago

Wow, that’s short! Thanks. I guess credos will use the mention of fasting as evidence for their views.

RubeRad

5 years ago

I meant just ‘use’, perhaps I was going for ‘would tend to use’…

Neo

5 years ago

According to the Didache, babies need to fast from their nursing for two days before their little unrepentant heads get sprinkled. 😉

Glen Clary

5 years ago

The statements on baptism in the Didache are very significant despite their brevity.

The baptismal fast is one of the most interesting features. I think that what we have here is the very beginning of what will eventually evolve into the Lenten season, which is a penitential season of fasting prior to the administration of baptism on Easter Sunday. That evolution took a couple of centuries or so, but thanks to the liturgical reforms of Cyril of Jerusalem (4th cent), it soon became the standard practice in the East and West.

Trine baptism is another significant feature. It is the earliest example of that particular mode. Immersion is never mentioned, though some think that it is implied by the requirement for living water. That is, some see pouring as an acceptable alternative to immersion in the event that there is no body of water at hand sufficient for immersion. I don’t think that’s the case, however. It’s not the mode (pouring) that is exceptional but the location of the event.

In my opinion, the most significant feature of the baptismal instructions in the Didache is that the catechesis in chapters 1-6 is said to be catechetical instruction for the candidate for baptism. In other words, once the candidate has learned the two ways material, he is to be baptized per the instructions in chapter 7. This is an excellent example of the Great Commission, which instructs us to baptize and teach (“baptizing them … teaching them to observe….”) Baptism and teaching are inseparably linked in the Great Commission, and the Didache shows us an example of how that was carried out in the early church.

The Didache makes no explicit statement regarding infant baptism. Some think the prerequisites of catechesis and fasting preclude the possibility of infant baptism. That’s sort of like arguing that the prerequisite for faith in the NT precludes the possibility of infant baptism. One of the similarities between the NT and the Didache is that both have an adult convert in view when discussing prerequisites for baptism. That does not settle the question of infant baptism. But I don’t need to repeat here what the Reformers already stated so well.

Greg pizarro

4 years ago

Do you know if he published his paper already?

Robert Karl

4 years ago

Glen Carey:

In reviewing your discussion on the Didache, you and the Didache sound very much like the Orthodox and Catholic faiths.

Glen Clary

4 years ago

I think the Didache sounds very much like classical Reformed eucharistic theology.

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