Our Plan for the Lord’s Supper
Is it ever appropriate to take communion as a family, Sunday School class, or small group of believers? During this time of separation due to COVID-19, should my time of family devotion at home include the Lord’s Supper? Due to the Bible’s emphasis on the Lord’s Supper as an ordinance of the local church, we must answer “no” to both of these questions. Here’s what we mean.
What Are the Signs?
Jesus Christ gave two visible signs of His special presence to His people. These signs are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Sometimes they are called “ordinances,” emphasizing the fact that they were ordained by Christ.
When a church follows Jesus’ directives to do these signs, they portray Christ’s death and resurrection, the testimony of every believer’s own spiritual birth, as well as the church’s collective hope for the final resurrection and reunion with the Lord. These two practices proclaim the gospel.
Practicing baptism and the Lord’s Supper demonstrates obedience to Christ, and they are intended to be a visible sign and symbol that complement the audible preaching of the gospel.
The Lord’s Supper
Who should participate in the Lord’s Supper? The answer is Christians. We participate in Christ’s body and blood. It is the believer’s subjective identification with Christ’s saving work, represented objectively by the elements on the table.
Consider 1 Corinthians 10:16-17: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
Should extreme circumstances change how we practice these two signs? If we can’t meet together, is there warrant to take the Lord’s Supper remotely? It would be helpful to first consider to whom do these ordinances belong.
When Do We Do the Ordinances?
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper belong to God’s gathered people—not to individual Christians. Only Christians in a local church should participate in the Lord’s Supper—not individuals or families at home. Notice that last line from the above passage. “We who are many…partake of the one bread.” They gathered together as a church to take of one bread.
Consider also the next chapter: 1 Cor. 11:20, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.” The Lord’s Supper is something we are supposed to do together. And again, in 1 Cor. 11:33, “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.” We are supposed to wait for one another before we take the Lord’s Supper.
Paul also points out that houses are sufficient for our regular meals, implying that the church gathering is the unique place for the Lord’s ordained meal: “Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment” (1 Cor. 11:22, 34).
We do not encourage private communion, or communion at home, or communion at church camp, or anything that sets the individual experience against the corporate significance of the act. It is not a magical act that gives grace to the recipient.
The significance is in taking it together. Imagine saying your wedding vows without both spouses, or saying a team cheer all by yourself, or signing a business contract and not showing it to anyone. And the “vows” we say are not just to the small groups we most naturally affiliate with, but we participate in the public act of the Supper to show that we commit to these things with the whole, gathered church that is present.
What Does the Lord’s Supper Say?
The one who takes the bread and cup testifies to sharing in the fruits of Christ’s death, including a communion with both God and fellow Christians through the Spirit. Therefore, we do it together, in person. And for Jesus, how often we take it is not as significant as how we take it. We are to do it in remembrance of Him, and that includes remembering that He established it for His church to do together.
“God has appointed public, self-involving acts of witness to the gospel—baptism and the Lord’s Supper—to craft this body’s corporate existence. God constitutes the church not just by creating gospel persons, but by ordaining and enabling their social, institutional response to the gospel…They draw a line around the church by drawing the church together. They gather many into one: baptism by adding one to many, the Lord’s Supper by making many one.”
Bobby Jamieson (2015). Going Public: Why Baptism is Required for Church Membership (Nashville, TN: B&H), 142.
Because the Supper is a declaration of our participation with Jesus by faith, the church must require, then, of all those who desire to celebrate the Lord’s Supper a credible profession of faith. Therefore, we must fence, or guard, the table. Consider 1 Cor 11:29, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” We say every time we take it something like “If you are a member of our church or a baptized member in good standing of another local church that preaches the same gospel that you have heard here today, then you are welcome to enjoy this meal with us.”
If we encourage people to take communion at home, then we cannot competently fence the table. We would be opening it up for anyone to take with no means of observation from the pastors or the wider church body.
So What Do We Do Now?
We mourn. We pray for a speedy end to this separation. We reconsider our personal commitments to the local church. So, has your local church been a significant influence on your life? Or has this time of separation revealed how little your participation in the local church matters for your life? Recommit to the church. Be in the Word and allow this separation to grow within you a longing to be together with other Christians in a covenant community. And remember that baptism is the front door of our participation to the local church, and the Lord’s Supper is the family meal shared within the house. And we do them together.
Bobby Jamieson. Can Baptism and the Lord’s Supper Go Online?
Josh Buice. There Is No Such Thing as Virtual Lord’s Supper
Jonathan Leeman. Don’t Fire Your Church Members. Chapter 3: The Keys to Office.