What is the Biblical view of the Lord’s Supper?
The Lord’s Supper was established by Jesus himself on the night that he was betrayed. The Gospels tell us how Jesus gathered in an upper room with his disciples to celebrate the Passover meal (see Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22). In the midst of this "last supper" with his disciples, however, Jesus transformed the meal into a symbolic anticipation of his sacrifice on the cross. He declared that the bread represented his body and the cup represented his blood (see Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20). He also commanded that the disciples continue to celebrate this meal "in remembrance of me."
We know that the early Christians were, in fact, obedient to Jesus’ command. Paul describes the observance of the Lord’s Supper in the church at Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 10:14-17; 11:17-34). Some Christians refer to the Lord’s Supper as "communion," while others prefer the Biblical phrase "Lord’s Supper" (1 Corinthians 11:20).
Who can participate?
As with baptism, the New Testament seems to reveal that the proper participants in the Lord’s Supper are those who are already believers and members of a local church body (thus baptized believers). Paul rhetorically asks, "The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:16). Therefore, children of believers who have not yet professed faith in Christ and been obedient to baptism and non-believers should not participate in the Lord’s Supper. Paul warns that anyone who takes the Supper in an unworthy manner "will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:27) and may face dire consequences (vv. 29-30).
Who hosts the Lord’s Supper?
The New Testament also teaches that the proper host of the Lord’s Supper is the local church. Paul tells the believers in Corinth about proper observance of the Supper "when you come together" (1 Corinthians 11:20, 33). This does not mean that only the members of a local church can take the Supper. That view is sometimes called "close (or ‘closed’) communion." Baptized believers who are visiting in a local church that is not their own are certainly welcomed to the table. This does mean, however, that the Lord’s Supper is not a private or individual event. It is hosted only under the authority of a local church. The Lord’s Supper symbolizes our commitment to Christ and to a local body of believers. This is why it is especially important that every member of the church try to be present at those times when the Lord’s Supper is being served.
What does the Lord’s Supper mean?
Some have taken the words of Jesus literally when he said, "This is my body," and "this is my blood." This view, however, misses Jesus’ point. He often used symbolic language. Jesus also said, "I am the door" (John 10:7, 9) and "I am the vine" (John 15:5), but we hardly take these words literally. In like manner, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper he meant these words to be taken symbolically. The bread is like his body; the cup is like his blood. When we take the bread and cup, we remember the death of Jesus on the cross. We recall that he died for us. We are also challenged to take up our cross and follow him (see Luke 9:23).
Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 11 of two important things about the Lord’s Supper. First, it is a festival of self-examination. Before we take the Supper we should examine ourselves closely. "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (11:28). The Lord’s Supper is a time for taking spiritual inventory of our lives. We ask deep within, "How closely am I walking with the Lord?" Second, it is a time to remember and proclaim Jesus. Paul said, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes" (11:26).
See you this Sunday as we observe the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper in morning worship.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle