All About the Lord’s Supper (Communion)

One ordinance of the church is the Lord’s Supper. It is called the final step of faith because it represents the ultimate communion of the believer and Christ. Also, it continues until we are taken home to be with Christ at the rapture.

After Jesus had eaten the Passover supper with his disciples, he instituted this ordinance of the church (1 Cor. 11:23). It is also a symbol representing the atonement for sin, specifically containing bread to represent the body of Christ and the fruit of the vine to represent his blood. It goes by the name of the Lord’s supper (1 Cor. 11:20), communion (1 Cor. 10:16), the Lord’s Table (1 Cor. 10:21), and ordinance (1 Cor. 11:2).

Our Beliefs About Lord’s Supper (Communion)

(1) We believe God’s Word teaches only those who are saved should partake of the Lord’s Supper.

(2) We believe God’s Word teaches partaking of the Lord’s Supper does not save anyone, but is only in obedience to the instructions of the Lord Jesus Christ to do this in memory of His death until He comes again.

(3) We believe God’s Word teaches the Lord’s Supper is to point backward to His suffering aid death and shed blood on Calvary’s cross, and forward to his promised return to earth.

(4) We believe God’s Word teaches the elements to be used in the Lord’s Supper are unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine (we use grape juice, not alcoholic beverage). We believe the bread symbolizes His body and the grape juice symbolizes His shed blood. The juice does not turn into the blood of Christ, nor the bread to the body of Christ. They only represent the body and blood of Christ in a symbolic and figurative sense.

(5) We believe those who are saved should partake of the Lord’s Supper with a desire and determination to reconsecrate themselves to Christ on each of these occasionally if they do not strive to bring themselves into the center of God’s will on these occasions, God may lay His hand upon them in chastisement.

(6) We believe God’s Word teaches this is in honor of the Lord’s death and shed blood; it reminds us that our relationship to Christ and communion with Christ are through what He has done on Calvary’s cross and in our hearts, and is a fellowship of believers in Christ.

(7) We believe the Lord’s Supper should be used as an occasion to call sinners to Christ, even though they do not participate in its observance.

(8) The Bible does not tell us how often to partake of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord Jesus simply asked us, as often as we do partake, to remember His death on the cross for us and His promise to return to earth for us.

(9) The Lord’s Supper took the place of the Old Testament Passover. The Passover was instituted as an ordinance to commemorate the deliverance of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. They had to kill the Passover Lamb and sprinkle the blood on either side of their door and above the entrance. They then had to eat the lamb, which had been roasted whole. When they did this, the death angel would pass over their home. If they did not do this, the death angel would stop in their home and slay the oldest child.

This Passover Feast, or supper, was a type of the coming Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, Whose shed blood would pay for the sins of the whole world and make it possible for “whosoever will” to be saved through repentance of sins and faith in Him for the forgiveness of those sins.

We can tell from the Gospels the Lord’s Supper replaced the Passover Feast which was observed annually in the first month of the Jewish year, equivalent to the latter part of March and the first half of April. Although the Passover was observed only once a year, and the New Testament Lord’s Supper took its place, the New Testament does not tell us explicitly how often to observe the Lord’s Supper.

(10) Many churches observe it weekly; any others observe it once every three months. Once a week is so often we are likely not to take seriously the call to a definite reconsecration to a crucified way of life and renewed appreciation for Christ’s death on the cross. Nevertheless, the Bible does not explicitly state how often we should observe the Lord’s Supper.

(11) The Lord’s Supper is a time when we should rededicate our lives to Christ. We should never partake without being completely surrendered to Him. If we do so with unconfessed sins, Paul tells us we may become sick. If our offense is serious enough, we may even die. Therefore, it is important we come to the Lord’s Supper with a complete reconsecration of our heart to Him.

The Lord’s Supper is the distinctive symbol of Christian worship instituted by the Lord on the eve of his death, being a spiritual partaking of the fruit of the vine and bread. These elements are presented in thankful memorial of Christ’s sacrifice and are taken by those in good fellowship with him and one another. It is conducted as a memorial in remembrance of the atoning death of Christ and in anticipation of his return to earth.

Is it Symbolic or Actually Jesus’ Body??

The two symbols in this ordinance are the bread and the cup. Jesus said concerning the bread, “This is my body, which is broken for you” (1 Cor. 11:24). Later in the meal he said, “This cup is the new testament in my blood” (1 Cor. 11:25). This does not mean, as some Christians teach, that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus. Jesus was clearly speaking symbolically in this context.

When a grandfather unfolds his wallet to show off pictures of his grandchildren, he might say, “This is my grandson.” Calling the photos his grandchildren is a figure of speech, meaning that the photo is an image of his grandchildren. This is what Jesus meant when lie said, “This is my body.” He could have said, “This is a representation of my body,” but that was unnecessary in the context. These two symbols represent several things.

When Communion is Complete

The Bible gives no specific instructions regarding how often the Lord’s Supper should be observed, only that it should be observed regularly (1 Cor. 11:26). It seems that in the beginning it was observed daily. Some churches observe it every week, others at the beginning or end of the month, and some quarterly. When it is observed, there are three kinds of communion practiced: open, closed, and close. Each of these groups will conduct a similar service closely following Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:23-34.

For All Christians?

Open communion allows all believers access to the Lord’s Supper. The chief argument supporting this position is that communion is the Lord’s Supper, not that of some religious denomination (1 Cor. 11:20, 23). Jesus is the one that invites Christians to his supper. Those who hold this position teach that communion should not be controlled by a church.

Open communion tends to reflect a believer-centered Christianity rather than an ‘institutional-centered Christianity. It also gives everyone the opportunity to worship God and go deeper with the Lord. The believer himself judges whether or not he is to participate.

Restrictions by Denomination?

Closed communion is practiced by many denominations, whereby communion is made available only to a member of the church who is in good standing. The Lord’s Supper is a time of examination and those who have sin in their lives should confess it. Those who have sin in their lives are not given access to the Lord’s Supper because God will judge them.

As only the church knows who is walking with God, it should not allow a person to eat or drink judgment on his head. Therefore, only members are invited to participate. To avoid the problems of Corinth, a church can be kept pure through closed communion and those who practice closed communion testify to spiritual power as a result.

Close communion is an attempt to have the best of both systems. He the role of the church is recognized, yet the place of fellowship among Christians is also recognized. In close communion, the pastor acknowledges the responsibility of the individual in self-examination (1 Con 11:28).

The church, possessing executive but not legislative authority, is charged with the duty, not of reinforcing rules for the administering and guarding of the ordinance but of discovering and applying the practice given in the New Testament. Most churches which practice close communion usually warn the participants that they should be baptized and in fellowship with a New Testament church before they partake of communion. But the church leaves the determination up to the individual.

Abusive practices associated with communion

What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame then, that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not (I Corinthians 11:22).

The Corinthian church members were commended by Paul for their keeping of the ordinances (I Corinthians 11:2) — but they were sharply criticized for the manner in which they observed the Lord’s Supper. They had been guilty of carnality (see verses 17-22). They needed to be corrected (verses 23-26) as to the proper procedure and attitude of observing the Lord’s Supper before they received chastisement from the Lord (verses 27-34).

When ye come together… this is not to eat the Lord’s supper (verse 20). It was a supper, but not the Lord’s. It was a disorderly gathering of people going through the motions. For in eating … one is hungry, and another is drunken (verse 21). In the early church, the Lord’s Supper was commonly preceded by a fellowship meal, later known as the “Agape Feast”.

Eventually, so any problems accompanied these feasts that at the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397), they were strictly forbidden –and such was the case at Corinth. In their coming together, they were not eating together, hence, it could not be called communion, and their behavior was so dishonoring to the Lord, it could hardly be called the Lord’s Supper. Some were actually getting drunk.

Paul’s indictment is twofold. They disgraced the Lord’s house, and they embarrassed the poor in their midst who were not invited to participate in the fellowship dinner. This being the case, they could just as well do this at home.

The apostle was writing to correct these abuses in the church. His statement should not be taken as a prohibition against eating any food at all in the church, i.e., fellowship dinners in the church (LIBERTY BIBLE COMMENTARY, Vol. II, p. 448).

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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