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Last time we discussed the one-time ordinance of God, and today we’re going to look at the second ordinance that the Lord instructs us to to on an ongoing basis.
But before we do that, if you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, or you work with children in any capacity at all, I want to invite you to listen to Evermind Ministry’s award-winning podcast called Truth.Love.Parent.
Truth.Love.Parent. is a resource of Truth.Love.Family. and it’s all about learning how to better worship God through our parenting. It’s been a massive blessing to produce and host these past six years, and I believe — with hundreds and hundreds of episodes — you will find something that will help you better celebrate God and benefit your family.
Because that’s what Evermind Ministries is all about. Whether it’s Truth.Love.Family., Faithtree Biblical Counseling & Discipleship, or The Year Long Celebration of God, we want to help you better know, understand, and love God.
So, after the discussion today, be sure to visit CelebrationOfGod.com to gain access to our free episode notes, transcripts, and discipleship resources.
And — with that — let’s talk about the Lord’s Supper.
This is a really big topic with which we could easily fill at least a week of episodes, but I’m going to do my best to skim the important elements and encourage you to continue your study of this topic.
1. The Ordinance of the Lord’s Supper
Just like baptism, communion is commanded by God and has an accompanying sign associated with it. Baptism demands water, and the Lord’s Supper demands bread and the fruit of the vine.
But — unlike believer’s baptism which is has a one-time fulfillment — Jesus commanded that we observe the Lord’s Supper with increased frequency.
The ordinance of baptism is a public testimony whereby we proclaim to the world and the church that we are leaving behind our old lives and following Christ.
The ordinance of communion is a more private, family experience whereby we collectively rededicate ourselves to following Christ and long for His return.
By the way, you probably already observed that I’m using the terms Lord’s Supper and Communion interchangeably. Both of those terms have value when understood correctly. However, I’m not going to refer to it as the eucharist. Why not? Good question.
2. The Purpose of the Lord’s Supper
First, let’s review what we learned last time. The ordinances are not sacraments because they do not provide us access to special grace or merit to which we would otherwise not have access or is required for a fully Christian life.
Should we obey God by worshipping Him with the baptism and communion? Obviously. Are we blessed when we obey God? Definitely. Do we miss out on those blessings when we don’t obey or do the right things in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons? Yes. But that doesn’t make them sacraments of special grace.
Jesus Himself made it very clear that He wanted us to repeat the Lord’s Supper until He returns. What’s interesting is that this piece of information is only included in Luke’s Gospel. In the other Gospels we read about the bread and the cup, but only in Luke 22:19 do we read, “And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’”
Now, we know that Luke was one of the most thorough and detailed of all the Gospel accounts, but we also know that Paul quoted from Luke in his communion discourse in I Corinthians 11. In that extended teaching time, Paul includes the injunction to “do this in remembrance of me.”
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul further clarifies what Christ meant by explaining, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
The Lord’s Supper is simply an exercise in remembrance. We remember what Christ did for us, and we remember what He promised to do for us. His body was broken and His blood was spilled for us in order to purchase our redemption, and He also promised to come again and receive us to Himself.
That is the primary purpose of the Lord’s Supper.
But there is a secondary purpose on which Paul elaborates in I Corinthians 11.
We’ll talk more about the elements and the participants later, but Paul explains that as God’s people assemble to remember the Lord’s sacrifice and second coming we are also to search our hearts.
Salvation made us followers of Christ, baptism testified to our commitment to follow Him, and Communion provides us some regular accountability that we actually are following Christ.
In verses 27-32 Paul says, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.”
Earlier in the chapter Paul had explained how the Corinthians were involved in various sins including worshipping God incorrectly, sexual sin, divisions, selfishness, gluttony, and the like.
To partake in an unworthy manner is to participate in communion with unrepentant sin. This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”
The Lord’s Supper allows us to judge ourselves rightly, confess our sins, apologize, and repent — thereby returning to undefiled worship of God.
Now, let’s consider . . .
3. The Elements of the Lord’s Supper
After participating in the Passover with His disciples, Jesus broke bread and shared the fruit of the vine.
He first broke the bread — which would have been unleavened — and passed it out to the disciples proclaiming that this was His body. And then the Scriptures say He took the cup, proclaimed it the new covenant in His blood which was poured out for them.
No doubt this terminology was unexpected, and yet very normal for Jesus. During His ministry He had already referred to Himself as a shepherd, a door, bread, water, the cornerstone, He compared Himself to the brazen serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness, and His teaching was always filled with parables, word pictures, and significant imagery.
This is another reason Protestants do not refer to the Lord’s Supper as the Eucharist. Catholics believe that the bread is transubstantiated into the actual body of Christ and the that the cup is transubstantiated into the actual blood of Christ.
This belief grew out of inappropriate literalism coupled with a dash of delusions of grandeur.
If we could argue that historically, grammatically, and biblically Jesus was actually saying that the elements He gave the disciples mystically trans-elemented into the actual body and blood of Christ without losing the physical characteristics of bread and wine — and that is an illogical and unbiblical stretch — still, what makes us think that our bread and wine does the same thing? Nothin in the passage gives us any reason to believe in either of these beliefs.
The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic tradition whereby we remember the sacrifice of Christ. It does not impart grace, and God’s people are not cannibalizing the Messiah. It’s not necessary, because faith in Jesus imparts saving grace to our lives.
Now, I mentioned that the bread was unleavened, but what about the beverage? I’ve been careful to refer to it as the fruit of the vine — for the most part — because that’s how it’s described in the Gospel accounts. It’s most often called “the cup” and in Luke 22:17 Jesus — referring to the Passover meal — said, “I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.”
So the question is whether it was grape juice or wine. Well, the answer is, it was fermented to one degree or another. No one drank unprotected water back them. Believe it or not, wines and beers have been used all throughout human history to make drinking a safe exercise.
Now, we can’t tangent off into a discussion of whether modern observances of the Lord’s Supper should include grape juice or wine. Suffice it to say, I believe there can be good reasons to do either.
Again, the blessing doesn’t come from the elements, it comes from doing the right thing in the right way for the right reasons. The fact that their fruit of the vine had to have alcohol in it in order for it to be drinkable doesn’t necessitate that we must do the same thing.
In fact, if one were to say that anything other than wine would be “unbiblical,” I would argue that their own arguments could be used against them to demand that if they don’t use the right fruit of the vine or follow the same recipe used by whomever prepared the Passover bread, they’re being just as unbiblical.
By the way, I was recently part of a discussion concerning the Lord’s Supper on a podcast called Theology Throw Down. I’ll include a link in the description. This podcast is a lot of fun. A bunch of believers get together to discuss theology with grace and love, and often many different viewpoints are kicked around. You should check it out.
Either way, whether or not your bread is gluten free, whether or not your church uses Welch’s grape juice, whether or not everyone drinks from the same cup or has their own disposable shot glass, whether it’s accompanied by a full meal or the minimalistic elements in many baptist churches, none of that was clearly commanded or illustrated for us.
Therefore, do your best to celebrate God the best you can while you submit to what you know and seek to please Him with what you don’t.
What we know is that the bread was offered first, the cup was offered second, and we know who participated and why.
So now let’s move to . . .
4. The Participants of the Lord’s Supper
It is impossible for us to know the spiritual condition of every man who participated in the first Lord’s Supper. Some tend to think that Judas may have been present for it, and others believe the Gospels make it clear he wasn’t there.
But even if Judas wasn’t present, we know Peter was, and I believe it’s safe to say that Peter was not truly converted when he participated in the first Communion.
Does that mean that just anyone can participate?
Well, let’s look at what we know.
A. The Lord’s Supper has a purpose. It’s for God’s people to remember what Christ suffered in order to purchase their salvation. And it’s for God’s people to excitedly anticipate His return . . . because we’re going to keep observing it until He returns. The purpose of the ordinance makes it clear that only believers should participate.
B. There are consequences when people participated in the Lord Supper in an unworthy fashion. And what was an unworthy fashion? If people sinned as they participated or had not yet confessed known sin before participating, they were not judging themselves rightly. This too teaches that observing the Lord’s Supper would not be wise for someone who Romans 8 describes as an enemy of God for whom it is impossible for them to glorify God.
So, yes, I believe the Lord’s Supper should be taken by professing believers. But I also know that Jesus included Peter and may have included the pre-possessed Judas.
Therefore, we can conclude that — not knowing the true eternal destiny of anyone other than ourselves (and — let’s be honest — we can be wrong about that too) — it would be wise for us to explain the best case scenario to those with us and allow them to rightly judge themselves between them and God and suffer any consequences for their choice.
I don’t believe we should make an open invitation to unbelievers since it’s not going to help them, but only potentially hurt them. But I also don’t think it’s appropriate to tell non-members that they can’t participate. Communion is for the Universal church and all of God’s people, not merely the members of a local body.
In fact, it’s quite possible that any number of the members aren’t saved and some visitors or regular attenders may be truly born again.
My point is this, Jesus didn’t try to control who participated, you shouldn’t either. Stick to the Scriptures, teach everyone the purpose, warn them of consequences, and allow them to judge themselves. God will take care of the rest.
However, since the Lord’s Supper is not simply a remembrance of a past event, but it is also an opportunity to reevaluate our conformity to Christ, this is a good time for a body to engage in corporate discipleship.
If I see someone participating in the Lord’s Supper who is living in unrepentant sin, that is a perfect opportunity for me to lovingly connect with him later and engage in Christ-honoring conversation.
This is another wonderful way we can celebrate God with the Lord’s Supper.
And, lastly . . .
5. The Frequency of the Lord’s Supper
Again, the Scriptures neither command nor give any hard and fast examples of how often God’s people are supposed to observe the Lord’s Supper.
Some believe that the early church observed it on a weekly basis, but it’s hard to say.
Again, we’re left to fulfill the Spirit of the Law. Jesus intended for this ordinance to draw our minds back to the one thing we are so prone to forget. In II Peter 1, Peter talks about the salvation of Jesus Christ and the effect it is to have in our lives as we grow in Christlikeness. And in verse 12, Peter says, “Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you.”
I believe that the Lord’s Supper should be done with a frequency that makes it hard to forget what God has done, what He wants to do in us, and what He will do in the future.
As disciples of Christ, we must commune with the body of Christ as we observe the Lord’s Supper. It’s a non-negotiable.
And though there many be flexibility and liberty in how and when we observe it, we absolutely must engage with it for the reasons the Lord communicated in His Word.
Please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets and join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll be discussing a concept related to the Lord’s Supper. We’re going to have talk about how to glorify God with our food in general.
The Year Long Celebration of God is a dynamic, holistic resource that utilizes the Bible, our holiday calendars, and even the most average moments of the most normal days to equip Christians to worship God all year long
and disciple others to do the same.
AMBrewster is the creator and host of the Celebration of God. He originally designed the COG to be a discipleship tool for Christian parents to train their children to know and love God, but he quickly realized how valuable it is for all Christians. Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
Aaron is the President of Truth.Love.Parent. and host of its podcast.