(Volume 25, Issue 3, May/June 2019)
The Supper in Practice
If you visited a variety of local churches of various denominational stripes, you will find that the Lord’s Table is practiced in many different ways. In some congregations, believers remain seated while the elements are brought to them. In other assemblies, believers come forward to receive the elements from the pastors or priests, or serve themselves, and then return to their seats. In a service I attended a few years ago, the congregants stood up during the Lord’s Supper while the elements were rapidly dispensed and consumed. The service presented the feel that the Breaking of Bread was a necessary ritual that should be celebrated as quickly as possible so that they could get to the “praise music.” These are just some of the ways in which the Table is practiced by Christians.
Also, different traditions observe communion at various frequencies. Some churches practice the Lord’s Supper every Sunday morning, while others do so during an evening service. Others offer Communion once per month or quarter. I even know of one denomination in which the Lord’s Supper is an annual event – but the main spiritual event of the year. Believers come together for a whole weekend to examine their lives, confess their sins and partake of the elements.
Additionally, some denominations practice what is called “closed communion” in which only members of that particular local church are welcomed, others follow close communion in which those of the same denominational stripe are invited to the Table. Most offer “open communion” in which any believer who meets the biblical requirements is allowed. So, while the Lord’s Supper is honored and practiced by virtually all who claim the name of Christ, there is much diversity in the manner in which it is observed. And since the New Testament offers little by way of example, and nothing in the way of command concerning these matters, we are given much liberty to participate according to our convictions. The manner and frequency of the Table is not a matter of essential doctrine as to cause division among followers of Christ.
One controversy that has on more than one occasion proved thorny is whether unbelievers should be allowed to participate. To most Christians this would be a non-issue since the Scriptures seem clear. First Corinthians 11:27-28 reads, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Paul is writing to believers and calling for spiritual examination of their lives prior to coming to the Table. If these instructions and cautions are necessary for the Lord’s people then how would it be possible for unbelievers, who are still in sinful rebellion against God, to come to the Table?
As a matter of fact, if an unbeliever truly understood the purpose of the Supper and the spiritual condition of their own lives, they would not want to partake, for Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 11:29-32 is frank and sobering, “For everyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (ESV). These are powerful and frightening words to any who would attempt to partake in the Lord’s Supper in a spiritually “unworthy manner.” As such, the unbeliever is automatically eliminated from the Table and, if they ignorantly or arrogantly partake, they face the hand of God in a unique way.
It is for this reason that church leaders who take the Communion service seriously talk about “guarding the Table.” By this it is meant that the unbeliever is not allowed to participate, nor are believers under church discipline or living in known unconfessed sin. The Supper is holy and should be treated as such. Still, guarding the Table by church leaders has its limitations and difficulties. In a larger assembly especially, it would not be possible to know the spiritual condition of all those present. And who would want to disrupt the service with a public refusal to allow an individual availability to the elements? These would be good arguments in support of closed communion, but in the final analysis church leaders are not given the responsibility to guard the Table as much as the individual is. Paul tells the Corinthians, “But a man must examine himself” (1 Cor 11:28). Each person is responsible before the Lord to examine his own spiritual condition before he enters into the Breaking of Bread. As clear as this seems biblically there have been many detractors both in the past and now. The renown Jonathan Edwards was fired from his pastorate over this very issue. Today we have those in the attractional church who believe non-Christians should not only be allowed but welcomed and encouraged to join in the Communion.
What Happens at the Table?
At this point we need to move from the meaning and symbolism of the Supper to what actually takes place at the Table. In the previous article, we learned from Luke 22:19, 20 that the bread is symbolic of the body of Christ. In the Upper Room Jesus had taken some bread, broken it and given it to His disciples saying, “This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Clearly, the bread symbolizes the body of Christ which was “crushed” (Isa 53:10) for us. Isaiah 53:5 reads, “But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed” (ESV). Therefore, the bread symbolizes Christ’s sacrificial death for our sins.
The cup, on the other hand, symbolizes the shed blood of Christ. Luke records, “In the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’” (Luke 22:20). Notice the dual role of the cup: it is symbolic of the blood of Christ but also of the new covenant established by the blood of Christ. The new covenant in His blood would replace the old covenant of Law. The blood of Christ is symbolic of this transition. Together, the bread and cup remind us of the sinless Son of God dying in our place, as our substitute, at Calvary. In the process He appeased the righteous justice and wrath of our holy God (1 John 2:2).
All of this is symbolized in the Communion celebration, but what actually happens at the Lord’s Table? Almost all branches of conservative Christianity would agree with the importance and basic symbolism as described above. However, there is wide disagreement over what actually takes place. There are four major views represented by those who claim to be followers of Christ.
Transubstantiation is the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church concerning the Lord’s Table. Often referred to as the miracle of the Mass, Rome teaches that three things happen. First, the elements themselves—the wine and the bread—are changed into the substance of the body and the blood of Jesus Christ. This is described as a miraculous transformation of the elements. It must be understood that Rome would teach that the bread and wine retain their nature as bread and wine, but the inner essence of these elements is changed to the actual flesh and blood of Christ. For example, if one would take the elements to a science lab after a Roman Catholic priest has consecrated them and have them tested, the lab would verify the elements are still normal bread and wine. Rome would have no problem with this fact, because it does not teach otherwise (of course the Roman Church would not allow this type of testing because once the elements have been consecrated they would be considered holy). Rome’s view is that the essence, not the substance, of the elements becomes the body and blood of Christ. It is for this reason, according to Rome’s understanding, when a person partakes of the elements they are actually receiving Jesus Christ. That is why if you ask a Roman Catholic if they have ever received Jesus Christ, they most likely will misunderstand what is being asked and say, “Yes, I receive Jesus Christ every time I go to Mass.”
In addition, Roman Catholic tradition teaches the miracle of the Mass is a true sacrifice of Christ. Jesus Christ is being sacrificed over and over again, in a sense. Technically, Rome does not teach that the Mass constitutes an additional sacrifice of Christ; rather, it is a continual sacrifice which is being re-enacted/continued throughout the miracle of the Mass. Whenever the Mass is celebrated throughout the world, there is therefore a perpetual sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, a continuous breaking of the body so to speak, and a continuous pouring out of the blood.
The third thing which is important to understand about Rome’s teaching of transubstantiation is that, without this sacrifice, without participating in the Mass, one cannot be saved. It is absolutely essential to partake of the elements as a means of salvation since the Mass is a vital way in which God’s grace is appropriated to humans.
When the Reformation took place in the 1500s, the Reformers went back to the Scriptures and examined all of the different doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, including transubstantiation. Of the three principle beliefs interlaced with transubstantiation, which we will now examine, the Reformers found two of them were unscriptural and one needed to be modified.
First of all, on the basis of the New Testament, the Reformers rightly rejected the doctrine of the continual sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Passages such as Hebrews 10:1-4 made it clear that the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross was sufficient for all sins of all time. The author of Hebrews argues that since the Law was only
a shadow of good things to come and not the very form of things, [it] can never, by the same sacrifices which they [the Jewish priests] offered continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would not they have ceased to be offered, because the worshippers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have consciousness of their sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Verse three maintains that even though the Old Testament priests brought the various animal sacrifices to the altar as commanded by God, the sacrifices did not take away the people’s sins. The sacrifices merely covered the sin until Christ came to the Cross to make perfect provision for it. This was necessary for, as verse four says, it is impossible for the blood of an animal to truly take away our sins. All the animal sacrifices were capable of doing was covering these sins until Christ would come and offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice. In addition, the author informs us that those sacrifices were a reminder of the fact that people were still sinners, for they required repeated sacrifices to atone for their rebellion and transgression. What was desperately needed was a true, holy sacrifice which could once-for-all expiate their sins. That sacrifice came in Christ. In verse 11 the argument progresses further as we are told that the Old Testament priest stood daily, offering time after time the same sacrifices which could never take away sins. “But [Christ], having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until his enemies were made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (vv. 12-14). The Scriptures become very clear at this point that there has been one offering—one sacrifice, that of Christ—which is sufficient for all time and for all sin.
When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” He meant two things: First, He was done with His life on earth. He was giving up His spirit. He was going to die. Secondly, it also meant that Christ had completed everything necessary for our redemption. It is finished— all had been accomplished. Since that time, the followers of Christ have talked about the finished work of Christ. It is done. It is finished. Nothing more needs to be added to Christ’s work on the cross. And so, the Reformers rightly rejected the idea of a continuous sacrifice of Christ in the Mass.
The Reformers also rightly rejected the idea that participation in the Lord’s Table was a means of bringing one to saving grace. Salvation, the Reformers insisted, was by grace alone through faith alone. Our good deeds, whether baptism, membership in the church, keeping the commandments, or taking the elements at the Table, are woefully inadequate to make sinners right before a Holy God. The New Testament Scriptures are abundantly clear on this topic. For example, Titus 3:4-5 drives this home with force, “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared [Paul is speaking here of the Cross], He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Therefore, we receive the gift of salvation purely on the basis of faith alone. Ephesians 2:8-9 says it well, “For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Salvation does not rest on the acts and merits of human beings but purely on the act of Jesus Christ received by us from a human perspective by faith. So the Reformers were right to reject this second belief emerging from the doctrine of transubstantiation.
The Reformers also rejected a third belief stemming from transubstantiation, that the elements actually become the body and blood of Jesus. Nevertheless, they affirmed that in some modified way there was some sense in which the presence of Christ is in the elements. Two main concepts materialized in Reformed circles, one championed by Luther (known as consubstantiation) the other by Calvin (the spiritual presence).
Although an inadequate term, and one sometimes rejected by modern Lutherans, consubstantiation is the name often given to the view held by Martin Luther and his followers. It is the idea that no actual change takes place in the elements themselves but rather the body and the blood of Christ is in and under and with the elements. This expresses the view that the actual body of Christ is present any time the communion service is celebrated. If true, consubstantiation would necessitate that the body of Jesus be ubiquitous, that is, everywhere at the same time. Anywhere, anytime, that the Lord’s Supper is being administered, the Lord’s body would need to be present in the elements. Not that the elements themselves change but that His body and blood are in and under and with the elements themselves. In fairness, many Lutheran theologians say they do not teach consubstantiation; they simply teach that in some mysterious, inexplicable form the elements are Christ’s body and blood. They would say that we can’t interpret it; we can’t understand it; it is a miracle. Rather than explain what happens to the elements at the Table, many Lutheran theologians are content to accept at face value the idea that Christ’s body and blood are present in the elements and let it go at that.
Other prominent Reformers, such as Calvin and Zwingli, rejected consubstantiation because they said it would require the physical body of Jesus to be omnipresent rather than localized. Calvin developed an understanding of what happened at the Table which is often called the “spiritual presence” view. Calvin reasoned this way: Since the human nature of the Son of God was and is localized in a physical body, when Jesus Christ went back to heaven, He went back by necessity in bodily form. When Jesus was on earth He was the God/man, so in heaven today He is the God/man. His body is the humanity – the human part of His God/man essence and, therefore, His body could never become ubiquitous or omnipresent; His body is localized – it is one body. His spirit, on the other hand, is the part of His God/man essence that is omnipresent. Because He is God, as well as man, His spirit is in all places at all times, as was the case before the incarnation. Now that Christ has returned to the Father’s right hand, He is spiritually everywhere at once, but physically He has one body which is only in one place at a time.
If that is true, according to Calvin, it would be impossible for Jesus’ body to be in the elements. Nevertheless, Calvin argued, His spiritual presence is in the elements. Therefore, when a person partakes of the elements they actually partake of the spiritual presence of Jesus Christ. Calvin did not teach that at the Supper we are feeding on the physical body of Jesus, but we are feeding on His spirit in a special way. Both Luther and Calvin understood that at the Table the believer is feasting on Christ, actually being nourished by Him. Something supernatural happens at the communion that allows the participants to be nourished spiritually (both Luther and Calvin) by Christ who is physically or spiritually (or both) in the elements themselves. In some mysterious way, the Holy Spirit is actually pouring Christ’s life into the believer as they come to the Table. Christ is being partaken of when the elements are consumed.
A final view was expressed by Swiss Reformer Huldrych Zwingli. Zwingli argued that both Luther and Calvin were wrong, having infused into the text of Scripture ideas that simply are not there. Instead Zwingli insisted that the Lord’s Supper is to be done “in remembrance of Him” as a memorial. He based his case on passages such as Luke 22, where, at the first Supper Jesus breaks the bread and dispenses it to His disciples and says, “This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (v. 19). Later, Jesus said the same thing about the cup as Paul records, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor 11:25). When Jesus spoke these words He was obviously, Zwingli said, speaking of his body in symbolic fashion. Jesus makes no mention of anything supernatural happening at the Table. The elements could not, at that point in the upper room, have become the body and blood of Christ for His body was sitting right in front of them. Nor is there any mention of the elements miraculously being infused by the spiritual nature of Jesus Christ. It is true that in His glorified state the Son is omnipresent but the elements do not possess the spirit of Christ in any unique manner. The Table, in fact, is a memorial service. It was given to remind us and keep us ever conscious of Christ’s great sacrifice on our behalf. But we neither physically nor spiritually partake of Christ in any mysterious way when we consume the elements.
Support for the Memorial View
The memorial view, as championed by Zwingli and many others, would seem to be the one best fitting the scriptural evidence. There are four reasons why I believe this to be the case.
Jesus was physically present at the first Supper.
When Jesus said to His disciples “this is My body,” He was physically in their presence, eating, drinking, and talking. At this particular point in Jesus’ life, He was in the form of the incarnated Son of God. He lived thirty some years on earth as the God/man, and in order to do so it was necessary that He voluntarily limit the use of some of His divine attributes to live as men live. Philippians 2:6-7 describes this, “Although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men…” In the incarnation the Son did not cease to be God, but He added humanity to His being. Yet while living on earth as a man, it was necessary for the Son to “empty” himself. Known as the kenosis (based upon the Greek Word for “empty” found in verse 6), the passage is clear that Jesus emptied Himself in some manner. What this means has been the subject of endless debate, but most agree that in the incarnation the Son’s full glory was temporarily hidden from humanity and, additionally, Jesus voluntarily laid aside the independent use of certain of His attributes, in particular His omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence. This means that Jesus chose not to know all things nor to demonstrate His omnipotence, except as the Holy Spirit gave Him the ability to know and do. It was not that He lost these attributes; He simply chose not to use them independent of the will of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit. He chose to live this way in order that He might live as humanity really lives, not as God merely disguised in a human body.
That Jesus did not avail Himself of His omnipresence while on earth is evident from the Gospel narratives. Both physically and spiritually our Lord chose to be localized in a single body just as humans are. Therefore, at the initial Lord’s Supper it was absolutely impossible for the disciples to partake of the flesh and blood of Jesus either physically or spiritually. Christ was present in bodily form in the upper room, but He could not have been either spiritually or physically in the elements themselves. When the disciples partook of the elements at that moment, they knew they were not eating the literal body or the spiritual essence of Christ; such would have been impossible and absurd. Nor did Jesus indicate that He was physically or spiritually in the elements, rather He clearly indicated that they were to “do this in remembrance of Me.” The Supper would serve as a reminder to them of Himself and His work on the cross. It would be a memorial until He returned.
The Passover celebration was symbolic
When the disciples gathered with Jesus in the Upper Room, they had come to celebrate the Passover; they had no idea that Jesus would be establishing something new. The Passover celebration was highly symbolic. Every action taken at this celebration served as a reminder of something that took place at the time of the Exodus. As the Jews ate the bread and bitter herbs and drank the wine, they never endowed these elements with the spiritual or mystical presence of God. The elements of the Passover neither magically changed form when blessed, nor did the partakers consume the spiritual essence of God. The Passover served as a reminder, a memorial of Israel’s deliverance by God from the bondage of Egypt. When the Lord’s Supper emerged from the Passover celebration, it would be expected, and natural, for Jesus’ words about the elements being His body and blood to be interpreted symbolically. This is especially true when Jesus’ body and blood were physically present with them in the room. There would have been no reason for the disciples to think that Jesus was speaking in any other way than symbolically.
Jesus often used symbolic language about Himself.
Thirdly, it was not uncommon for Jesus to use symbolic language about Himself. He said in John 10:9, “I am the door.” When Jesus said this we can be pretty certain no one looked around for hinges. Nobody thought Jesus was speaking literally. Nor did anybody believe that His spirit somehow entered into the fiber of the door. It was a symbolic statement referencing the fact that He was the entry way to God. When He said, “I am the vine” (John 15:1), nobody looked for leaves or grapes attached to His body. Such would have been ridiculous, and a good rule of thumb concerning biblical interpretation is that a statement in Scripture should be taken literally, unless it is ridiculous, immoral, or absurd. That Jesus was an actual grapevine was never considered, rather it was obvious to His listeners that He was speaking symbolically of being the one who gave sustenance and life to His people. Jesus also called Himself the bread of life (John 6:35) and the light of the world (John 8:12). It was not uncommon for Jesus to speak of Himself in symbolic fashion, therefore to speak of bread being His body and wine His blood would not be out of line with the type of language Jesus often used.
The New Testament accounts
Finally, in none of the four accounts of the communion service found in Scripture—three in the Gospels and one in the epistles—does anyone ever say that the Lord’s body became flesh and blood, or that the elements took on the characteristics of flesh and blood, or that spiritually His body was infused into the elements. If there was any place in the New Testament where we would expect to find such information it would be in the epistles, for it is in the inspired epistles where the Holy Spirit explains and develops theological meaning for church-age saints. First Corinthians chapter 11 is the only place in the epistles where the Lord’s Supper is dealt with as far as its meaning is concerned. In verses 23-26 Paul writes,
For I have received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when 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 took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
In the one text in the epistles in which the meaning and significance of the Lord’s Supper is explained, there is no mention of any type of physical or spiritual transformation of the elements, or of the spirit of Christ being present in or under or around the elements. Instead, all the emphasis is on the Table serving as a place at which we remember Christ and His redemptive work in a very powerful way.
The Importance of the Supper
Just because the Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act rather than some form of mystical transformation of the elements does not mean it is not of extreme value. It is a reminder of all that Christ has done, is doing, and will do, for us. It is an animation, so to speak, a dramatization of the gospel itself. Therefore, Paul warns his readers of the dangers of participating in it lightly or in an unworthy manner (1 Cor 11:27).
We should pause for a moment and let that sink in. If what Paul says is true, and it is, and we partake of the elements in an unworthy manner, we are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ! The very thought ought to put fear in our hearts and souls. The Communion service is a high and holy moment, no matter how you understand the elements themselves.
What does Paul mean when he speaks of receiving the elements in an unworthy manner? Paul begins to explain himself in verse 28 where he calls us to put ourselves on trial. He writes, “But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat the bread and drink of the cup.” In other words, before we eat of the elements, and possibly partake of them in an unworthy manner, we need to pause long enough to take spiritual inventory.
Now, what are we to examine? First, if the communion service is a remembrance of what Christ did for us, just what did He do? He died on the cross for our sins: “This is my body which is for you” (v. 24); and “You proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (v. 26). As we come to the Table we are doing so in the context of the cross and Christ’s death for our sins. Therefore, when Paul calls on us to examine ourselves, I take it to mean that we are to examine ourselves in the area of our fellowship with God and in the area of our sins. Have we confessed and properly dealt with sin in our lives? If a believer, one redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, is living in unconfessed sin, to partake of the elements would be to do so in an unworthy manner. Paul is not calling for perfection, but he is calling for us to examine our lives and deal with any area that needs attention before we would ever think of participating in the Lord’s Supper. This is not a mere ritual or tradition that we endure. The Supper is a reminder of the price Jesus Christ paid to redeem us. To come to the Table to remember the One who died for our sins and yet cling to those very sins is utter nonsense. More than nonsense, it is to put ourselves in the place of grave danger, “He who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly” (v. 29).
The words, “the body rightly,” are interesting. What is he talking about here? I think the Spirit is signifying one of two things. Possibly he is speaking about Christ and what He did for us in His body. If so Paul is going back to the importance of the communion service itself and saying we need to analyze carefully what we are doing when we come to the Table. We need to understand that at the Table the whole gospel is being played out before us. It should be entered into soberly, with reverence, in worship, not casually or lightly. It is a remembrance of Jesus Christ and His redemptive work. We should therefore recognize the incredible importance of the Lord’s Supper.
The phrase could also be referring to our own bodies with reference to our relationship with the Lord and our purity before Him. Either explanation highlights the seriousness of the Lord’s Supper. Those who ignore this truth will bring judgment upon themselves.
We must distinguish judgment from condemnation in this context. The believer will never be condemned for their sins which are forgiven in Christ (Rom. 8:1), but we can suffer temporary judgment or discipline for not properly dealing with the sins we commit as Christians (Heb 12:5-11). For this reason, Paul writes, “Many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (have died) (v. 30). We would search the Scriptures in vain to find a graver warning to believers than this. To partake of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner risks the possibility of God’s hand of correction on us in such severity as to bring about sickness or even death.
I assume that when Paul gave this revelation, it was news to the Corinthian church. They were aware of various sicknesses and deaths from within the congregation but had never traced the cause back to the sinful manner in which some were celebrating the Lord’s Table. Paul is warning this congregation that if their hearts are wrong before God, if perhaps they are harboring some sin, some bitterness, or some impurity and are refusing to deal with these things before Almighty God, then to partake of the Lord’s Supper is blasphemy and risks the hand of God’s judgment upon them.
Paul concludes his teaching concerning the Lord’s Supper to the Corinthians by stating, “But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world” (11:31-32). We are to examine ourselves, to put ourselves on trial before approaching the Table so that we will be able to avoid the judgment of God and not be condemned along with the world. This means that the Lord is going to discipline us (physically perhaps) in this lifetime, so that we may not be condemned with the world. The world is going to face the eternal judgment of God. If the Christian defames the Table of the Lord, then the Lord is going to judge or discipline them now. This is a sobering thought. It should make us tremble even to consider participating in the Supper in a lighthearted way or with sinful hearts – hearts unwilling to confess and repent of sin.
The Reformers called the Table their altar call. Some have come from a tradition in which at the end of the service there is an “altar call” in which people are invited in front of the church to seek salvation or deal with spiritual issues. The Reformers saw the “altar call” as the time when God’s people came to the Table. It was at the Lord’s Table that they examined their hearts and their lives and made sure that all was right between them and Jesus Christ. Only with a clear conscience did they dare to partake of the elements.
The meal is also a shared dinner. At the Table we “commune” with other believers. It is for this reason that only God’s people are to partake of the elements. This is a meal for believers only. It is where the children of God come together to share the life of Christ in a unique and special act of worship.
I read about a small country church in Wisconsin that has an unusual tradition adopted from the ancient Jewish Passover celebration. Jews from the time of the exile going forward, yearned to celebrate the Passover at least once in Jerusalem. Because many of them could never do so, when they partook of the Passover celebration, would take the cup, and raise it up almost as a toast and say, “Next year, in Jerusalem.” Based on this tradition, this little Wisconsin church has started its own tradition. After the cup is distributed at the Communion service, everyone raises their cup and says, “Next time, with Christ.” Surely this is the prayer of every believer.
As God’s people throughout the globe partake of the Supper in remembrance of our Lord, we do so in light of Paul words, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26). Until He comes again the Lord’s people will continue to gather around His Table in remembrance of Him.
“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).
by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher, Southern View Chapel