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9. Church Ordinances Part II: The Lord’s Supper

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For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Christ gave the Lord’s Supper as an ordinance or sacrament for believers to continually practice. The fact that Christ said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” means that celebrating the supper is not optional (1 Cor 11:24). Unlike baptism which should only happen once in a believer’s life, the Lord’s Supper should be routinely practiced by believers as a perpetual memorial of Christ’s death (1 Cor 11:26). To not practice it or to neglect it is sin.1 The supper was commonly taken as part of a meal or love feast in the early church (Jude 12, 1 Cor 11:20-21). We’ll consider the significance of the Lord’s Supper, the views of it, and the requirements for taking it.

Significance

What is the significance of the Lord’s Supper?

1. It is an act of fellowship and intimacy with God.

In the same way that eating with someone is an act of fellowship and intimacy, so is taking the Lord’s Supper. In the Old Testament, there were various instances and opportunities to eat in the presence of God. For example, after God made a covenant with Israel in Exodus, Moses and seventy elders went up Mount Sinai, beheld God, and ate before him. Exodus 24:9-11 says:

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear like the sky itself. But he did not lay a hand on the leaders of the Israelites, so they saw God, and they ate and they drank.

In addition, there were ceremonies instituted in Israel, as part of God’s law, where the offeror would eat in the presence of God at the tabernacle and later the temple, such as with the giving of the tithe and the fellowship offering. Deuteronomy 14:23 and 26 says this about the tithe:

In the presence of the Lord your God you must eat from the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the place he chooses to locate his name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always… Then you may spend the money however you wish for cattle, sheep, wine, beer, or whatever you desire. You and your household may eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and enjoy it.

Leviticus 19:5-6 says this about the fellowship offerings:

When you sacrifice a peace offering sacrifice to the Lord, you must sacrifice it so that it is accepted for you. It must be eaten on the day of your sacrifice and on the following day, but what is left over until the third day must be burned up.

Similarly, in the New Covenant, though we don’t offer sacrifices or eat our tithes before the Lord, God has given us the Lord’s Supper as a fellowship meal that we eat in his presence. In Luke 22:19, the Supper was something Christ ate with his disciples, and as we eat it, the Lord is, no doubt, present with us as Scripture promises (cf. 1 Cor 3:16). In Matthew 18:20, Christ said this: “For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them.”

2. It is an act of unity and fellowship among believers.

In 1 Corinthians 10:17, Paul says, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all share the one bread.” The bread represents Christ’s body which was broken for believers, but the bread also represents the unity of believers, since believers are Christ’s body (Col 1:18). Therefore, the Lord’s Supper is a fellowship meal amongst believers.

3. It is a proclamation of the New Covenant and our participation in its benefits.

Luke 22:20 says, “And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” The word covenant means “to cut.” Typically, when people made covenants with one another in ancient times, they would kill an animal to declare the solemnness of their agreement and their need to fulfill the requirements of it. Similarly, Christ made a covenant with us through his blood. He covenanted to forgive our sins, fill us with his Spirit, write his laws on our hearts, and empower us to obey them (cf. Ez 31:31-34, 36:26-27). Our covenant was initiated and cut through the body of Christ on the cross, fulfilled by him, and now we are in a covenant relationship with him.

4. It is a remembering of Christ’s death.

First Corinthians 11:26 says, “For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Taking of the elements is like a memorial, where we frequently remember Christ’s death for our sins. This is important, because we’re so prone to forget the great cost of our salvation and its benefits.

5. It is an act of faith declaring that God has forgiven us and that we will not bear his wrath for our sins.

When Christ ate the Last Supper with his disciples before his death, it was also a celebration of the Jewish Passover meal; however, Christ imbued it with rich new meaning. At Israel’s original Passover, they were slaves in Egypt and were instructed to put the blood of a lamb over their doorposts, so their first born would not be killed by God when he passed over Egypt. The New Testament teaches that the original Passover lambs always foreshadowed Christ. In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul said, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Therefore, in the Lord’s Supper, we are declaring by faith that we will not bear God’s wrath, because our Lamb already died for us and his blood protects us.

6. It is a looking forward to Christ’s second coming.

Again 1 Corinthians 11:26 says, “For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” In the Lord’s Supper, believers not only look back at Christ’s death but look forward to his return. This is important because we are so prone to become consumed with life as it is and not be zealous for the coming of Christ. When we take the supper, we declare with other believers, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).

7. It looks forward to the time we will eat with God and other believers in heaven.

Wayne Grudem said it this way:

Yet even the Lord’s Supper looks forward to a more wonderful fellowship meal in God’s presence in the future, when the fellowship of Eden will be restored and there will be even greater joy, because those who eat in God’s presence will be forgiven sinners now confirmed in righteousness, never able to sin again. That future time of great rejoicing and eating in the presence of God is hinted at by Jesus when he says, “I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29). We are told more explicitly in Revelation about the marriage supper of the Lamb: “And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’” (Rev. 19:9). This will be a time of great rejoicing in the presence of the Lord, as well as a time of reverence and awe before him.2

8. It is an act of intimacy with Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 10:16, Paul said, “Is not the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread that we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” The way in which we participate in Christ’s blood and body has created much controversy amongst believers. The points of contention are, “In what ways do believers participate in Christ’s body while taking the Lord’s Supper?” and “What does Christ mean by ‘this is my body’ in Luke 22:19?” We’ll consider these:

Views

There are four main views about what it means to participate in the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper:

1. The Catholics believe in transubstantiation, or the actual presence view.3

The word “transubstantiation” derives from Latin—“trans” means “change” and “substantiation” means “substance”; therefore, in the supper, there is a “change of substance.” The term is used to show how the bread and wine are physically changed into the body and blood of Christ when the priest declares, “This is my body” during the celebration of mass.4 Also, Roman Catholics believe that every time the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, in some way, Christ’s sacrifice literally happens again—Christ dies for the sins of the world.

The problem with this view is it fails to recognize the symbolic nature of Christ’s words, “This is my body” (Lk 22:19). When the disciples were eating the supper, they would not have viewed the bread as actually becoming Christ’s body, since Christ was standing in front of them. And the breaking of the bread was symbolic, as well. Christ did not die in front of them; the breaking of the bread foreshadowed his death. Likewise, when Christ said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” in Luke 22:20, it meant that the cup and the juice being poured out symbolized the initiation of the New Covenant through Christ’s shed blood. It wasn’t literally the New Covenant. The Catholic view fails to recognize the symbolic nature of the elements.

In addition, the Catholic view fails to recognize the finality of Christ’s sacrifice. There is no need for it to happen over and over again, every time the supper is taken. In Hebrews 10:1-3, the author states that the Old Testament sacrifices were offered yearly because they could not make the worshipers perfect; therefore, every year the sacrifices were a reminder of sin. However, he contrasts those sacrifices with Christ’s sacrifice which only needed to happen once. Hebrews 10:12 says, “But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God.” Christ sat down because his work, as far as paying for the sins of the world, was finished for all time.

2. The Lutherans believe in consubstantiation, or the real presence view.5

Even though Luther rejected the Catholic view of the elements becoming the body of Christ, he believed Christ was still physically present in the Lord’s Supper. He believed that the presence of Christ existed in the elements (the bread and juice), without becoming them. Luther illustrated this by the analogy of an iron in fire; the iron becomes red-hot, but both the iron and the fire individually remain the same.6 Also, he used the illustration of water in a sponge. Water saturates the sponge, but individually, they remain the same.

Like the Catholic view, the Lutheran view fails to recognize the symbolic language of “This is my body” (Lk 22:19). If we pressed the symbolism, we could use the same hermeneutic with “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

3. Reformers commonly believe in the spiritual presence view of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.

Calvin rejected the physical presence views of the Catholics and the Lutherans. He believed the supper was indeed symbolic but more than symbolic. When people eat of the elements, “they do contain his spiritual body and blood.”7 Calvin said it this way:

Yes, Christ’s human body is locally present in heaven, but—Calvin said—it doesn’t have to descend in order for believers to truly partake of it. Why? Because the Holy Spirit makes true fellowship possible here and now. The Holy Spirit is Christ’s Spirit. He lifts us to the heavenlies to feed on Christ. Those who eat the bread and drink the wine in faith are also, by the power of the Holy Spirit, actually being nourished by the body and blood of Christ.8

4. The other prominent view is the memorial or symbolic view.

Since Christ said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19b), Zwingli, another protestant reformer, believed that the supper was primarily symbolic—meant to be a memorial of Christ’s death. Those who hold this view do not deny that Christ is spiritually present when participating in the supper, but Christ is spiritually present only in the sense that he is always present with believers and that he is especially present when believers gather in his name. In Matthew 28:20, Christ said, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” And, in Matthew 18:20, he said, “For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them.” Christ does not become the elements or enter the elements (physically or spiritually), but he is present spiritually as we worship and serve him. This is the most common understanding of the Lord’s Supper in the protestant church today.

Requirements

There are two requirements for taking the Lord’s Supper—though some would argue for more.

1. Salvation:

Since the Lord’s Supper includes participation in the New Covenant, we must have experienced it. We must be born again. Again, Luke 22:20 says, “And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’” Some advocate for an open table where nonbelievers can participate. However, in 1 Corinthians 11:28-31, which we will consider in the next point, Paul warns about the need for self-examination, lest we eat and drink judgment upon ourselves. An unbeliever who participates in the elements without repenting of sin would only endanger himself, even as an unrepentant Christian would.

2. Self-examination:

Since Christ died to deliver us from the power and penalty of sin, we must confess known sins as we partake in it, instead of holding onto them. In 1 Corinthians 11, believers were disciplined for taking the supper unworthily—meaning they were practicing unrepentant sin.

First Corinthians 11:28-31 says,

A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged.

Those who were living in unrepentant sin while taking the supper brought judgment on themselves. In the context, the unrepentant sins were living selfishly, practicing drunkenness, and causing division. While participating in the Lord’s Supper, the poor Corinthian believers were being neglected and left out, while the rich were eating and getting drunk (1 Cor 11:20-22). Because of this, God disciplined the believers. Some had become depressed, others sick, and some had even died because they had disrespected the Lord’s Supper. To live in unrepentant sin and to take the supper, which symbolizes Christ’s death for our sins, is to dishonor Christ and bring judgment on ourselves.

3. Some believe one must be baptized before participating in the Lord’s Supper.

There is no clear Scripture which teaches this; however, to be unbaptized for some might represent rebellion toward God’s clearly revealed will. In 1 Corinthians 11:28-29, Paul taught that believers should examine themselves before taking part in the supper—meaning repenting of sin. As mentioned, if we participate in the supper while continuing in sin, it might lead to God disciplining us. Therefore, in that sense, it might be wise for a believer who is unwilling to be baptized to not participate in the supper. However, if they are unbaptized because there has not yet been an opportunity at their church, then that doesn’t seem to be a good reason to not obey Christ’s command to remember his sacrifice by participating in the supper (1 Cor 11:24-25).

4. Some believe one must not be under church discipline to take the Lord’s Supper.

Those who hold this view take it from Paul’s writing on church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5:11-13. He says:

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you.”

In verse 11, when it says “do not even eat” with a believer walking in rebellion, many believe this refers to the Lord’s Supper. The church was to expel this unrepentant sinner, and therefore, they would be barred from the Lord’s Supper. However, “do not even eat” is ambiguous. It probably refers to not fellowshipping with an unrepentant believer altogether, as to help him see the seriousness of his sin. In Matthew 18:15-17, Christ gives the process of church discipline, and the last step, after repeated attempts to help the person repent of some sin, the unrepentant believer should be treated like a tax collector or sinner—meaning to separate from him, in order to help him repent (Matt 18:17). Therefore, when Paul says to not eat with an unrepentant believer, he is not referring to the Lord’s Supper specifically but to not fellowshipping with the person in general, which would include not eating the Lord’s Supper with them.

Reflection

  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. What does the Lord’s Supper signify for the believer?
  3. What are the four views of the Lord’s Supper? Which do you believe is most biblical?
  4. What are the requirements for taking the Lord’s Supper?
  5. How have you experienced special grace while taking the Lord’s Supper?
  6. Should believers practice the Lord’s Supper only at church or can it be practiced in small groups and with families (cf. Acts 2:42-47)?
  7. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

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1 MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R. (Eds.). (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (p. 788). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

2 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 989). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

3 Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God? Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

4 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 991). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

5 Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God? Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

6 https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/477-what-are-transubstantiation-and-consubstantiation

7 Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God? Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)

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