The sacraments of the Christian church are a topic of ongoing discussion. Church history is full of debates on the sacraments, and yet Christians have continued to be nourished in the gospel down through the centuries through these Christ-instituted practices. For the protestant Church, Baptism and The Lord's Supper have been regarded as the two Christ-given ordinances for churches to practice throughout the ages. Richard Barcellos, a Reformed Baptist, does a great service to Christians seeking to gain further clarity on the Lord's Supper, particularly as a means of grace. Titled as it was for a reason, the work seeks to help believers embrace the idea that the Lord's Supper is a means whereby the grace of Christ is experienced, and the faith of the elect is nourished and that the ordinance is "more than a memory." For theological students in any part of the globe, this work aids in the reflection of this important discussion.
What is striking about the title, and the book itself, is Barcellos' focus on helping persons, particularly those influenced by the idea that communion, or the Lord's Supper, is simply a memorial for believers to be reminded of the work of Christ. This idea is prominent among many Baptists, the larger tradition to which Barcellos belongs. However, Barcellos details many points for Christians, Baptists and non-Baptists alike, in his attempt to connect readers to the Reformed tradition regarding the ordinances.
The book opens with an introduction to the topic as a whole. Barcellos gives a description of the general audience that he is addressing: namely that of pastors, seminary students, and Christians who have some academic work in their background. The book often uses exegetical methods, including discussions regarding Koine Greek as the argument unfolds. Early in his introduction, Barcellos gives clarity to two things. First, he explains how in his belief, the words 'sacrament' and 'ordinance' can be used interchangeably when speaking of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, and he evens points to how many, including Baptists throughout their history, have been comfortable using both terms. Secondly, he gives a definition of "means of grace" in order to center the reader on this part of the discussion. He writes, "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. Grace comes from our Father, through the Son, by the Spirit ordinarily in conjunction with the ordained means...The means of grace, then, are God's delivery systems through which that which was acquired for us gets distributed or delivered to or in us."
(Introduction) Paramount to this discussion is his continued definition that, "the Lord's Supper is a means of grace through which Christ is present by his divine nature and through which the Holy Spirit nourishes the souls of believers with the benefits wrought for us in Christ's human nature which is now glorified and in heaven at the right hand of the Father."(Introduction)
Next, Barcellos walks the reader through New Testament texts related to the Lord's Supper in order to give terminology associated with the meal. In this chapter, he also does some teaching on the Lord' Supper and the many phrases used (i.e. "Giving of Thanks", "Breaking of Bread") in the New Testament regarding this ordinance. His next chapter focuses on the biblical data, primarily in Paul's writings, which point to the Lord's Supper as a means of grace. Of particular focus is 1 Corinthians 10:16, and the exposition of this text as it relates to the Lord's Supper and all that surrounds this meal. Barcellos is careful in his exegesis, and is particularly helpful to readers who may have had some training in Greek. Although he does give the original Greek in the body of his pages, he also gives the English translations, sometimes his own, in order to help the reader following his line of thought. This is particularly helpful for readers who may no have studied Greek.
In his third and fourth chapters, Barcellos gives extended discussion on the role of the Holy Spirit in applying the benefits of the work of Christ through the means of grace. In this endeavor, Barcellos takes the reader to Ephesians for a detailed look at the Holy Spirit and spiritual blessings. He uses a discussion on prayer to unpack this idea for the reader particularly focusing on Ephesians 1:3-14. He finalizes his arguments for the reader in his fifth chapter where he shows from historic confessions and catechisms that his idea is not disconnected from church history, but is actually the historic Reformed creedal tradition. Using several confessions, most often the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF), he discusses how reformed Christians, in both the Presbyterian and Baptist streams viewed the Lord's Supper as a means of grace. This section is particularly helpful in connecting this issue along the divisions of Biblical, Systematic and Historical Theologies.
Barcellos finishes his work with a sixth and final chapter where he muses on several possible practical applications of this argument. Specifically, he reminds the reader of what has been unpacked in the previous chapters, and then gives some possible pastoral thoughts to consider regarding the Lord's table, such as frequency of observance, the corporate attitude during its observance, etc. This short chapter is an appropriate end to the other chapters and will at least give the reader thoughts to consider of a practical nature. This chapter, while not exhaustive, gives pastors and church leaders a few things to further their own discussions regarding practice.
This book is an accessible read and provides theological, exegetical and historical material for consideration. While the work would likely be encouraging to anyone, having some knowledge of the background regarding differing views on the Lord's Supper would be helpful. As a confessional Reformed Baptist, Barcellos does a great service to Baptists who may not be aware of their own historical roots. Baptists who have generally thought that the Lord's Supper is simply a memorial, and Baptists who shy away from the word 'sacrament' will be aided greatly from Barcellos work and humble tone. Barcellos does a particularly good job of placing Reformed Baptists alongside their other Reformed counterparts in the Reformed tradition (such as Presbyterians) in their shared view of the Lord's Supper as a means of grace.
While written very well, Barcellos' work could be further aided by a slightly more lengthy discussion on the general idea of 'means of grace' prior to launching into his primary arguments. Persons unfamiliar with this idea, or those having misconceptions of this idea might not grasp the central argument of the book because of a quick introduction into this area. However, Barcellos is true to his primary audience and accomplished the purpose of writing particularly to those who already have some background in the subject.
This short book, well-recommended among Reformed scholars and pastors, is a helpful primer worthy to be on the shelf of any person seeking to further understand the Lord's Supper, and is also beneficial to the reader who loves to be nourished through the Word and Sacrament. Barcellos has given the church a good aid in the discussion, and has particularly helped to connect Reformed Baptists to their roots.
J. Ryan Davidson
Grace Baptist Chapel