Believers Only— Jonathan Edwards And Communion -- By: Mark E. Dever

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 172:687 (Jul 2015)
Article: Believers Only— Jonathan Edwards And Communion
Author: Mark E. Dever

Believers Only— Jonathan Edwards And Communion*

Mark E. Dever

* This is the third article in the four-part series “A Puritan Vision of the Church,” delivered as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 4-7, 2014.

Mark E. Dever is Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC, and President of 9Marks.

The Reformers held that two essential marks of the church were the right preaching of the Word and the right administration of the sacraments. On this there was unity between them and the generations that were to follow. And yet, inside this unity there was great diversity concerning how this was to be carried out. This is apparent in the ecclesiology of the Anglican Puritan Richard Sibbes and of the sort-of Baptist John Bunyan. Sibbes, Bunyan, and now Edwards each set out different guardrails, first against one problem and then against another, in the interest of keeping the church on track.

Jonathan Edwards came from a long-living family. His father died at 89, and his mother lived to be 98. Grandfather Stoddard died at age 85; grandmother Warham-Stoddard had been 92. Five of Jonathan’s sisters lived past their seventies. Edwards himself lived to be only 54. But in his brief life, he had a ministry of tremendous importance for a number of reasons. Not least among those reasons was his strong re-assertion of the visible nature of the church, particularly reflected in his understanding of the Lord’s Supper as an ordinance for believers. That will be the issue in focus here.

Jonathan Edwards is one of the most well-known figures from the Puritan movement. Less well-known is that he was fired from his church, and still less widely understood is why.

In brief, Jonathan Edwards came to have controversial views

on communion.1 The setting for the controversy was a church already frayed by tensions between the pastor and some of the church’s leading families. In what has been called “the Bad Book Case” in 1744, Edwards had alienated (probably unnecessarily) a number of families by reading publicly the names of children that he wanted to see concerning a certain scandal, thereby leaving the public impression that all of these children had behaved scandalously, when all Edwards was really doing was asking that certain of the young people come to see him so that he could get information from them.

Edwards continued to pastor the church and write prolifically, producing most notably A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections in 1746, and in 1747 A Humb...

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