Ask Steve: Lord’s Supper

Supper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: What is the Lord’s Supper and how should the church view it? 

Answer: The Lord’s Supper is one of two ordinances that is one of the church practices and is an integral part of Christian worship. This ordinance is even observed in Roman Catholicism, although it has a different meaning and function in the believer’s life than in Protestant theology. The term is used interchangeably with communion and sacrament, and involves the consumption of bread and wine (which represent the broken body and shed blood of Christ on Calvary for the remission of sins) as an act of remembrance, celebration onto Christ, and anticipation of His second coming. It is an act that was instituted by Christ on the night of Passover before His death (Matt 26:26-29), which replaced the Passover meal, marking a transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant as prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-34. This significant fellowship meal is supposed to teach us to remember the Lord’s death and resurrection, the salvation that we have in Him, and to look for His glorious return in the future to set up the kingdom of God.

The Lord’s Supper is suppose to unite all Christians in remembrance, celebration, and anticipation of the Lord. Tragically, it has been a source of division in the evangelical world, since churches and individual Christians view communion in different ways based on their theological traditions, denominations, or Christian upbringing. One of the contested issues is whether or not the actual presence of Christ is in the bread and wine. The question is: Is the bread literally the body of Christ being consumed and the wine literally the blood being consumed? This seems to be a view consistent with Roman Catholic teaching.

This is not a harmless difference of opinion, but has major soteriological implications. Because Catholics believe in the literal presence of Christ in the Eucharist, they believe that Christians participate in the ongoing sacrifice of Christ every time they partake in communion, and are thus receiving constant grace to cover their sins. In other words, Catholics believe that the Lord’s Supper is efficacious is some way towards maintenance of salvation, in which believers work for their grace. This form of communion represents a false view of the gospel, because the biblical gospel states that Christ’s sacrifice is complete and efficacious (Jn 19:30; Heb 10:10), whereas the Catholic theology implies that a person does not necessarily have to be a believer in order to participate in communion, which goes against the teaching of Scripture (1 Cor 11:27-29).

The church should view communion in several defined ways. They must see it as an ordinance that can only be partaken of by born again believers and affirmed by the local assembly. Believers should be saved and, if possible, affirmed by the local church by water testimony (as the first step of obedience to Christ and testimony of his salvation, according to Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 2:38). Allowing unbelievers to partake in the Lord’s Supper (in order to merit salvation or for any other reason) or believers who come to the table in unrepentant sin constitute a defiance of what the Apostle Paul taught in 1 Cor 11:27-29 regarding the meaning of communion and how one should approach it. One must not only be saved, but approach with a repentant heart, not harboring any sin. The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice, a celebration of one’s inclusion in the family of God, and an anticipation of Jesus’ second coming to establish His kingdom on earth. Therefore, the Lord’s Supper does not apply to the unbeliever any more than water baptism does.

Another way the church should view the Lord’s Supper is that it does not contain the literal presence of Christ in the bread and wine. The Lord’s Supper is not transubstantiation or consubstantiation. Rather, it a commemorative act, a memorial in remembrance of Christ’s death on the cross, in which Christ is also spiritually present amongst the worshipping group. The issue here is not just about whether or not the literal presence of Christ in the bread and wine confers grace or merit onto the believer, but whether it actually captures what the Scripture teaches about the elements of communion and what it signifies. If Christ is literally present in the bread and in the wine, then this hints at the ideology of cannibalism (Lev 26:29; Deut 28:53-57). Moreover, it also implies that the ordinance can actually be a “means of grace” onto the individual, which is not fully supported in Scripture. Grace is given as a gift by the Lord through faith in the Son (Eph 2:8-9), and not by the sacraments or any works.

The final manner in which the church should view the Lord’s Supper is that it is not the means to further one’s hope of salvation, but an affirmation and celebration of it. The Roman Catholic Church sees the sacrifice of Christ as ongoing in the Eucharist, therefore a believer needs to constantly seek the forgiveness of sin and have grace merited to them to attain or retain their salvation, which is one of the works that a Catholic is expected to go through in his journey to find ultimate salvation. However, the biblical teaching is that Christ’s sacrifice was finished and can never be completed again. Justification is by faith alone (Rom 5:1; Eph 2:8-9), and until one reaches that point, there can be no participation in the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is not part of the salvific process, but entirely within the sanctification process. It is a reminder of one’s salvation in Christ, which has been accomplished by Christ and applied by the believer through repentant faith.

In terms of how the church should view the actual process and practice of it varies from church to church. There is no biblical indication of how often the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated or during which occasions. The Bible generally shows that it is to be an ordinance for the universal body of believers at any available time. As I have stated, it must only be partaken by those who have been included in the body of Christ by saving faith. The Apostle Paul also gives instructions about its process, stating that one needs to come with a heart of repentance, making sure that there is no blatant sin that would be blocking such worship and fellowship with the holy God (1 Cor 11:28-29). A ritualistic, indifferent, or unrepentant heart, is an ungodly attitude that is spoken against by the Apostle Paul. 

The Lord’s Supper is to be observed where believers are present for fellowship or church gathering. A Christian does not have to observe the Lord’s Supper through only his own church, but is available to partake in it amongst any group of believers who honor the Lord, since the Lord’s Supper is a celebration of the unity of the body of Christ everywhere in the world.

Recommended Resource: The Lord’s Supper by Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford