The Lord’s Supper    Print This Page

The Meaning

The Lord’s Supper is a memorial of the sufferings and death of the Lord Jesus Christ in the symbols of bread and wine, and an expression of the unity of the church as one body in Christ. The participants feed by faith on Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death. By this means, faith is confirmed, hope is quickened and love awakened.

Mat. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:15-20; Acts 2:42-46; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 11:23-26.

The Participants

Those are the right persons to gather for the Lord’s Supper who are in fellowship with the local church, and are come together to participate fully in its fellowship. A true humility, sometimes being expressed as unworthy to come is not to be confused with a lack of discernment and unspirituality which make a person altogether unworthy. Persons should not come to the Lord’s Table who are under the excluding discipline of the church – heretics, those of unworthy motives holding anything unforgiven against another, or with known sin not repented of or other spiritual hindrances to a proper discernment of the essential oneness in Christ. Similarly, believers who deliberately refuse the instruction of the Word as given within the church by its elders, or who disobey the commandments of the Lord (such as baptism or to love one another) should not present themselves. Persons known to be unqualified, whose presence at the Lord’s Table would occasion a breach of fellowship, should be requested to withdraw by the elders. If a person, having shared in the Lord’s Supper is found subsequently to be an unworthy partaker to the hurt of the church, he should be dealt with as a disorderly person as Scripture directs. Humble repentance, followed by a gracious obedience, would make such a person acceptable again and in this, pastoral care is most desirable and fruitful. Failure to respond graciously and offer submission to the Word of God taught, would in itself require the church to take stern action and this, i-n the case of hardened persistence, would lead to exclusion from the church. An unbaptised person, though a believer, who has been properly instructed in the scriptural truth of the ordinance of believer’s baptism and who refuses to submit to the Word, would come within this discipline of the church.

1 Cor. 11 :27-34; 5:5, 11; Rom. 16:17; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14, 15.

The Frequency

This ordinance should be frequently administered within the fellowship of each gathered local church, because it is a sign of the common salvation and a remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection, according to His own command. When the church gathers freely and very frequently as in liberal contemporary societies, an over-frequent administration may take something of the true meaning from the ordinance. But in antagonistic societies such as that in which the early church was born, or in modern anti-christian states, a breaking of bread as often as the church is able to meet may be appropriate. It seems right to regulate the frequency of the ordinance, and ‘a weekly or monthly interval may best suit our conditions. Adequate notice should be given to all the believers in each church fellowship so that all may properly prepare themselves to participate in the ordinance. The Lord’s Supper must never be approached lightly or carelessly, nor should its administration be indifferently arranged in the church’s programme or worship.

Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11 :28.

The Occasion

Scripture does not lay down a rigid context for the ordinance in the church’s gathering for worship, except that Paul says when you come together to eat. Since the coming together of the church is for prayer, worship and the ministry of the Word, it would appear that these elements of worship in fellowship should be associated with the administration. It is suitably placed in the context of church worship rather than in a gathering where a large admixture of unbelievers might be present. It may be observed when and wherever the local church is gathered as a disciplined assembly. This precludes its observation during occasions when christians are gathered in conventions, conferences, holiday parties, etc. The taking of the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper to an invalid appears foreign to scripture, whereas the gathering of the church at the bedside for the supper is consistent.

1 Cor. 11:33.

Visiting Believers

A visitor remaining in the district and enjoying the fellowship of the church shall be deemed by this latter action to have voluntarily placed himself under its spiritual care and discipline. He shall be required to accept equally the privileges and responsibilities of such fellowship. Visiting believers in good standing in their own home fellowships, temporarily gathered with another local church, may participate in its fellowship including the Lord’s Supper and other of its spiritual activities, provided that there is credible evidence of their being regenerate persons, and a willing submission to the discipline of the church for the period of their presence with it. An unwillingness to submit to the ministry of the Word and the allied discipline of the church shall cause such a person to be dealt with in the same manner as any other member of the fellowship.

Acts 20:7.

The Manner of the Ordinance

The deacons shall furnish the table suitably, with such convenient articles as shall enable the ordinance to be kept with reverence, including the provision of bread and wine (or, some would say, other common beverage). It is suitable, though not essential, for the table to be laid as for a meal, the bread presented suitably for ease of breaking by the minister, and the wine already poured from its bottle into a suitable vessel. The elders shall have appointed in advance a minister to lead the service, and should gather with him at the table. There may be suitable singing, the offering of prayer, and the exposition of scripture. A warning should be given against improper approach to the table, together with encouragement to needy and sensitive believers regarding the welcome inherent in the Lord’s command so to gather. The minister may use suitable words of scripture such as 1 Cor 11 :23-27 at the distribution. He, or some other, should offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the bread, which symbolises the breaking of the Lord’s body for his people.Then the bread shall be broken and distributed to the assembled church. The bread may conveniently be broken into small portions by the minister and distributed upon suitable plates by appointed persons. Similarly, the minister shall pour the wine into suitable cups for distribution to the gathered church. Thanksgiving being offered, the words of institution may then be repeated and the distribution made by appointed persons. Some churches use the common cup though sometimes a larger church may for convenience employ two or more. But where individual cups are used, the service should be the more carefully ordered to avoid any loss of true memorial in the service. The use of other than a common cup, though it be permissible in itself, may introduce an element foreign to the simplicity of the remembrance, and take away part of its highest intention. The oneness in the communion lies not in the overt act of all drinking but in the fact that all are identified with the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever practice is adopted, it is essential that the church preserve inviolate the spiritual essence of this service. After all the communicants have participated, the minister may remind them of the Grace of God in Jesus Christ held forth in this ordinance, and exhort all present to walk worthy of it. This may be followed by prayer and the singing of a hymn or doxology before the members disperse or proceed to other ministries.

The Offering

In many churches an offering is taken for the needy. This should be so ordered as not to hinder the communion of the gathered church.

Remembering the Absent

A welcome may be extended to visitors or new members coming to the table for the first time. Similarly, special remembrance and prayer may be made on behalf of those prevented from attending by age or illness, and for any advised by the elder not to attend as a matter of discipline or pastor care. This will best be done at an early point in the order of service.

Conclusion

Responsibility rests upon the elders of any local church to warn against improper participation, and to maintain the highest spiritual and scriptural standards of fellowship in every way. Restriction of admission to the ordinance is an integral part of overall pastoral care for the health of the fellowship, in the whole of its life. Where a living church is under the discipline of the Word, and high standard of pastoral care prevail, the arbitrary use of regulations will become less necessary. A healthy, well-disciplined fellowship, sitting under the Word will need no other guide or scheme for dealing with the presence of visitors in the midst.