Strengthened by the Supper (4): Jesus Will Nourish & Sustain You

Before I begin to unpack Article 35 of the Belgic Confession, let me make an important clarification for this podcast. The sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments are the inspired Word of God, inerrant, infallible, and the only rule or authority for faith and life (WCF 1:2). The ecumenical creeds and Reformed confessions and catechisms do not replace Scripture nor are they equal to Scripture. Please listen carefully. Scripture alone is the Word of God, however, the ecumenical creeds and Reformed confessions and catechisms helpfully explain what Scripture means. That’s key. The creeds, confessions, and catechisms strive to do what the men of Nehemiah 8:7-8 did: “They read from the book, from the Law of God, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” Their words of explanation and clarification were creedal. The worth of any creed, confession, or catechism depends entirely on its ability to rightly and helpfully give the sense of God’s Word. The same could be said of sermons and Sunday school classes.

So, when it comes to the Lord’s Supper, we could ignore the theological treasures of the church of ages past and reinterpret the sacraments anew for today, but that would be naïve, prideful, and foolish because inevitably when we forget the church’s theological past, we inevitably fall back into the church’s errors of the past. In my opinion, the evangelical church in America and beyond greatly misunderstands and misuses God’s gift of the sacraments and is missing out on wonderful blessings in part because it ignores historical creeds, confessions, and catechisms. Personally, I find great comfort in the clarity, conciseness, and conviction of the creeds, confessions, and catechisms. Like a pair of glasses for one who has trouble reading, the creeds, confessions, and catechisms help me see the words of holy writ more clearly.  

The first line of Article 35 of the Belgic Confession goes like this:  

We believe and confess that our Savior Jesus Christ has ordained and instituted the sacrament of the Holy Supper to nourish and sustain those who are already born again and ingrafted into his family: his church. [1]

Notice it begins, “We believe.” Over and over again that phrase shows up in the Belgic. We believe. It states what Reformed Christians believe the Bible teaches about the Supper, and this is important considering Christians disagree on what the Supper means. So, we need creedal language to clarify exactly what we believe the Bible says about our Lord’s meal.

We belong to Christ. He has bought us with his precious blood. Oh, what a Savior! Our beloved Savior to whom we belong is Jesus the Christ. And because he loves you and me, his church, he has ordained and instituted a meal for our benefit. By ordain and instituted, we mean our beloved Savior divinely created, divinely appointed, and divinely established a meal to nourish and strengthen us, a meal he divinely gifts us. Christ hosts and serves us his meal for our spiritual vitality.

Why do runners drink water and slurp down gel packets during marathons? Because running long distances demands hydration and energy. Christ gives his people his grace through means. The means of hydration and energy for the runners are water and gel packets. The means of spiritual vitality for the long-distance run of life is God’s Word and sacraments, even prayer, given to his beloved people. Christ sustains you and me in the run of life with his grace given us, in part, in the meal of the Lord’s Supper. Please realize, Christ gives you the gift of the Lord’s Supper to sustain you, or we could say support you, maintain you, uphold you, protect you, nourish you, aid you, help you, strengthen you, fortify you, bolster you; you get the idea.

Who is Christ sustaining through the Lord’s Supper? Good question. Article 35 says, “those who are already born again and ingrafted into his family: his church.” Two things to note there. One must be born again or regenerated to take the Lord’s Supper. Unbelievers and hypocrites should not take the Lord’s Supper for they are not united to Christ and would simply eat and drink God’s fierce judgment and wrath upon themselves. The Supper is not for unbelievers and hypocrites. But, ministers of the gospel who administer the Lord’s Supper cannot infallibly tell whether someone is born again or not.

So, ministers serve the Lord’s Supper to those who rightly understand the gospel and who confess Christ. That said, many people think they understand the gospel and assume they rightly confess Christ. Mormons confess Christ. Muslims confess Christ. Hindus confess Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses confess Christ. Oneness Pentecostals confess Christ. But all of them and more confess a false Christ. So, a minister and a church should not serve the Lord’s Supper to everyone who thinks they understand the gospel and confesses Christ or even everyone who considers themselves Christians, like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Ministers should serve the Supper to those who understand the gospel and rightly confess Christ, and that means ministers, elders, and churches must inquire into what someone believes and confesses about Christ before they serve them the Supper. Boundaries must be put in place if the Lord’s Supper is to be honored and rightly observed. Though faith and confessing Christ are personal, they are not merely or exclusively personal. Our faith and confession are corporate as well. We unite with others in the Christian faith and confess the faith with the body of Christ. So, when we confess our faith, others must be involved to hear our confession and with us confirm our confession. “It’s just me and Jesus” is a lousy way to understand the gospel, Christ, and his body.  

Article 35 adds that Christ sustains those who are “ingrafted into his family: his church.” All throughout the Scriptures, believers have been part of the visible church. Think about the true church of the Old Testament. Abraham and his family were the church. Everyone who was part of Abraham’s family was part of Christ’s visible church. If people wanted to have true solidarity with Christ, they needed to have true solidarity with Abraham the man of faith, and they needed to be circumcised to join the visible church. Same with Israel the visible manifestation of Christ’s church under the Old Covenant. Not part of Israel? No circumcision? No Passover for you. Read Exodus 12. Under the New Covenant, the Lord’s Supper is only for those who have been baptized and are members of the visible church, or to put it more clearly, members of a local church (which is the universal church expressed in a practical and functional way wherever believers assemble). Those who should participate in the Supper are those who have been ingrafted into the visible church of Christ. They must belong to the church, not only internally by their faith and union with Christ, but externally by their identification with Christ’s covenant community of faith made visible in local churches around the world. To be outside the visible church of Christ, to not submit to the shepherding care of Christ given through the shepherding oversight and care of Christ’s under-shepherds, is to live apart from the body of Christ. That’s unwise and detrimental to the soul.       

What comfort should you draw from this, dear believer? Your Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, the one to whom you belong, has given you a precious gift in his Supper. He ordained and instituted it for your spiritual benefit and well-being. He gives it to you to nourish, strengthen, sustain, and preserve you in your walk with him. The journey of the Christian life including a daily fight against the flesh, the devil, and the world, is demanding and exhausting. You and I need spiritual nutrition, and this is what God gives us in the Word and sacraments: spiritual nutrition for the vitality of the soul. Eat, drink, and receive the nourishment of Christ’s body and blood broken and shed for you; eat, drink, and receive eternal life from Christ through faith.


[2] Ibid.

Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021).

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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