10 Things You Should Know about the Lord's Supper and Communion
- Sam Storms Pastor, Author
- 2020 9 Apr
Why is it Called the Lord's Supper or Communion?
The Lord's Supper is also called "the Lord's table" (1 Corinthians 10:21), "holy communion," "cup of blessing" (1 Corinthians 10:16), and "breaking of bread" ( Acts 2:42 ). In the early Church it was called also "eucharist," or giving of thanks (Matthew 26:27), and generally by the Latin Church "mass," a name derived from the formula of dismission, Ite, missa est, i.e., "Go, it is discharged."
What is the Purpose of Communion?
- To commemorate the death of Christ: "This do in remembrance of me."
- To signify, seal, and apply to believers all the benefits of the new covenant. In this ordinance Christ ratifies his promises to his people, and they on their part solemnly consecrate themselves to him and to his entire service.
- To be a badge of the Christian profession.
- To indicate and to promote the communion of believers with Christ.
- To represent the mutual communion of believers with each other.
The elements used to represent Christ's body and blood are bread and wine. The kind of bread, whether leavened or unleavened, is not specified. Christ used unleavened bread simply because it was at that moment on the paschal table. Wine, and no other liquid, is to be used (Matthew 26:26-29). This is a permanent ordinance in the Church of Christ, and is to be observed "till he come" again. (Adapted from Easton's Bible Dictionary)
The primary biblical text on the nature and meaning of the Lord’s Supper/Table and Communion is 1 Corinthians 11:23-34. Here are ten brief observations on what we see in this text.
1) The Lord's Supper is primarily (but not exclusively) designed to elicit or to stimulate in our hearts remembrance of the person and work of Jesus: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25).
2) This remembrance is commanded. Participation at the Lord's Table is not an option. Prolonged absence from it is spiritually unhealthy and willful neglect of it may be grounds for church discipline.
3) This remembrance entails the use of tangible elements: bread and wine. It isn't enough simply to say, “Remember!” The elements of bread and wine are given to stir our minds and hearts. The physical action of eating and drinking is designed to remind us that we spiritually “ingest” and depend upon Jesus and the saving benefits of his life, death, and resurrection. Just as food and drink are essential to sustain physical existence, so also the blessings and benefits that come to us through the body and blood of Christ are paramount to our spiritual flourishing.
4) It is a personal remembrance. We are to remember Jesus. The focus isn't on Abraham or Moses or Isaiah. The focus is no longer on the Jewish Passover or the night of his betrayal or anything else. The focus is Jesus. “Do this in remembrance of ME” (1 Cor. 11:25).
5) In this remembering there is also confession. In partaking of the elements we declare: “Christ gave his body and blood for me. He died for me.” This is one among many reasons why I reject the practice of paedo-communion (the giving of the elements of the Table to infants). If one cannot and does not personally and consciously confess that the bread and wine symbolize the body and blood of Jesus sacrificed for sinners, he/she should not, indeed must not, partake of them.
6) In this remembering we also proclaim the Lord's death till he comes. This, then, is not merely an ordinance that looks to the past. It is an ordinance of hope that points to the future.
7) To partake of the Lord's Table in an unworthy manner (v. 27) is to take it without regard to its true worth, not yours. To partake unworthily is to come complacently, light-heartedly, giving no thought to that which the elements signify. I. H. Marshall explains:
"In some Christian circles today the fear of partaking unworthily in the Supper leads to believers of otherwise excellent character refraining from coming to the table of the Lord. When this happens, Paul's warning is being misunderstood. The Lord's Supper is the place where the forgiveness of sin is proclaimed and offered to all who would receive it. Paul's warning was not to those who were leading unworthy lives and longed for forgiveness but to those who were making a mockery of that which should have been most sacred and solemn by their behaviour at the meal” (116).
To partake in an "unworthy manner" thus entails at least three things: (a) calloused disregard for others in the body of Christ (see vv. 20-22); (b) an attempt to combine participation at pagan (demonic) feasts with participation at the Lord's table (see 1 Cor. 10:14-22); and (c) flippant disregard for what the elements represent (vv. 23-26).
8) To be “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (v. 27) is to treat as common or profane something which is sacred. The Lord's Supper is not just another meal.
9) Hence, we are to “examine ourselves” (v. 28). We are to test our motives and attitudes as we approach the table to be certain we are partaking for the right reasons and with the right understanding of what the elements represent. This is yet another argument against paedo-communion. If one cannot obey this Pauline command one is not prepared or qualified to partake of the elements.
10) Finally, failure to do so may lead to divine discipline (1 Cor. 11:29-34). Such chastisement from the Father is in order that believers may be spared the condemnation that comes to the unbelieving world. Some in Corinth had already suffered the discipline of God (“weak and sick”); some had even died physically (“sleep”). And this was an expression of God’s gracious commitment to preserve his people “so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Cor. 11:32b).
Why Do Protestant and Catholic Churches View Communion Differently?
(transcript of the video above from Bryan Chapell)
Protestant Evangelicals and Roman Catholics differ over the nature of communion. And I think, if you just come from a fairly, if you will, shallow, almost elementary sense of they just differ over whether the bread and wine actually change into the body and blood of Jesus, or don't, you say, "Well, so which is it?" And you have to say, actually, that isn't the core issue. The core issue is what's being accomplished in communion. And more than just the change of elements. I mean, everyone would say that the wine still appears and tastes like wine and the bread still appears and tastes like some wheat substance.
So how's it becoming body and blood? Well, this goes way back to Aristotle, who divided things between their accidents, the way they appeared to us, and their actual essence. And Roman Catholic theology was able to kind of say, "You know what? The accidents, the things that appear to our senses, are staying the same, but the essence before God is changing."
And Evangelicalism Protestant theology says, "No, actually, it still is wine and it still is bread. It hasn't changed its substance." So that transubstantiation view of Catholicism is different than most Protestant views, which is, it still is the same substance that it was. But what we're really debating is not the substance. We're really debating what's accomplished in communion.
Roman Catholic theology would say that the grace of God that is necessary for us to do God's will and therefore be justified before God, is communicated in these elements. That there is a grace that is actually being infused into us by the sacrament, which enables me to live right before God, which will be the reason that I can stand just before God.
Evangelical Protestants are saying, "Actually, something quite different is going on. It is not that grace is being infused into me by these elements. But rather in partaking of the Lord's supper, I am recognizing what Christ's death and resurrection have already accomplished. That is, I already stand justified before God. And by his Spirit, he makes me able to obey him. But it's not my obedience that makes me right before God. It's the grace of God that makes me right before God. And my humility before God in partaking of these elements is to say, 'Lord, you supply what makes me right before you. My performance is not what makes me right before you.' As opposed to, 'Lord, you supply what I need in order to be able to perform what's right for you.'"
Now, those are narrow distinctions that even the theologians will debate. But I think, for the average person, it's not is it really bread or not, is it really wine or blood. The real thing you have to decide is, is what I'm doing infusing enough grace into me so that I can do what's going to make me acceptable before God, or am I recognizing this shows what God has already done for me? So that now with my status of being holy before him, by his grace alone, I am made able and willing to serve God, because I'm already holy before him through his grace, not my performance. And we'd say, as Evangelicals, that gets to right at the heart of the gospel, that I believe that what Jesus did for me is what makes me right before him, not him helping me to do what makes me okay to him.
A Communion Prayer
Lord Jesus, I bow before you in humility and ask You to examine my heart today. Show me anything that is not pleasing to You. Reveal any secret pride, any unconfessed sin, any rebellion or unforgiveness that may be hindering my relationship with You. I know that I am Your beloved child, having received You into my heart and life and having accepted Your death as penalty for my sinfulness. The price You paid covered me for all time, and my desire is to live for You.
As I take the bread representing Your life that was broken for me, I remember and celebrate Your faithfulness to me and to all who will receive You. I can't begin to fathom the agonizing suffering of Your crucifixion. Yet You took that pain for me. You died for me! Thank You, Jesus. Thank You for Your extravagant love and unmerited favor. Thank You that Your death gave me life—abundant life now, and eternal life forever. As You instructed Your disciples, I, too, receive this bread in remembrance of You.
And in the same way, as I take this cup representing Your blood poured out from a splintered cross, I realize that You were the supreme sacrifice for all my sin: past, present, and future. Because of Your blood shed for me, and Your body broken for me, I can be free from the power and penalty of sin. Thank You for Your victory over death. You took the death that I deserved. You took my punishment. Your pain was indeed my gain. And today I remember and celebrate the precious gift of life You gave me through the blood that You spilled.
Each time I take communion, Lord, I want to recommit my life, my heart, my thoughts, my everything to You. Fill me today with Your powerful Spirit. As I leave this place, help me to hold this fresh remembrance and the story that never grows old close to my heart. Help me to share its message faithfully as You give opportunity.
In Your Precious name, amen.
Adapted from A Prayer Before Taking Communion by Rebecca Barlow Jordan
This article originally appeared on SamStorms.com. Used with permission.
Sam Storms is an Amillennial, Calvinistic, charismatic, credo-baptistic, complementarian, Christian Hedonist who loves his wife of 44 years, his two daughters, his four grandchildren, books, baseball, movies, and all things Oklahoma University. In 2008 Sam became Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sam is on the Board of Directors of both Desiring God and Bethlehem College & Seminary, and also serves as a member of the Council of The Gospel Coalition. Sam is President-Elect of the Evangelical Theological Society.
Image courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
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