Why Is the Lord's Supper So Rare?
Russell Moore is President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He formerly served as Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. Dr. Moore is the author of The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective (Crossway, 2004) and Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway, May 2009).
- 2009 Apr 09
There are a lot of churches for whom a congregational business meeting comes around more frequently than the Lord’s Supper. That’s sad. But, what I’m curious about is why does it happen that way? Why is the Lord’s Supper, for so many churches, a rare event by design?
It was not so from the beginning. The ordinary pattern of the Supper in the early church, the Book of Acts tells us, was a weekly observance (Acts 2:42), a pattern of frequency that seems to be presumed in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
But many of our congregations come to the Table quarterly or even less often. If you ask (and I have), some of these pastors and church members will say it’s for fear of an overly ritualistic understanding of the Supper, or in order to keep the congregation from growing callous to the Supper out of repetition.
But the repetition is kind of the point. Who knows better that his parents love him, the child who is hugged and told “I love you” every Christmas and Arbor Day or the child who is hugged and told “I love you” every morning and every night?
The Lord’s Supper is proclamation, the Bible tells us: it speaks to us of the past crucifixion and the present kingdom of our Lord Christ (1 Cor. 11:26). And that’s just the point. We ignore the Supper because we don’t understand the role of gospel preaching for the believer.
We understand that the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16) at the moment of conversion. What we don’t often comprehend is that this same gospel is what continues us in the faith, moving us to conformity with the image of Christ. Our Lord’s Supper practices are ambiguous and awkward precisely because we’re too unsure of how to preach the gospel to ourselves.
Sure, we understand John 3:16, as it applies to the lost, but we believe it’s too elementary for us who know Christ. We then move on to abstract doctrines or to “practical life tips” from the Bible. But the Scripture never envisions a church of believers not constantly nourished by the gospel of Christ crucified, both through verbal preaching and through the ordinances.
More on this later, but, for now, please consider the Supper and the calendar. One of the first ways a church can reclaim a gospel focus is to restore the Lord’s Supper to the biblical rhythm of congregational life. The Lord’s Supper is meant to be bloody, but it’s not meant to be rare.