Chapter 14 - The Lord's Supper

The New Testament clearly teaches the observance of an ordinance termed “the Lord’s supper.” This expression, however, is used only once: “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper” (1 Cor. 11:20). As there has been considerable misunderstanding in certain respects regarding this ordinance, I shall refer to what the Bible really teaches concerning it. First of all, it is

Not a Regular Meal


The Corinthian church, it appears, had a misunderstanding of this subject, and in Paul’s absence they either substituted something else for the Lord’s Supper or else added something to the proper rite; therefore Paul wrote to them for the purpose of correcting the matter. This is shown by the following scripture: “When ye are come together therefore in one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not” (1 Cor. 11:20-22).
They were coming together for a full meal, very much the same as the idolatrous feasts of the heathen in that city, and their excesses on these occasions were a reproach to the church of God. Paul severely condemned them for this practice; declared that their coming together for a full meal, or feast, was NOT “the Lord’s supper,” but was only their “own supper”; that the proper place for eating their own supper was in their own houses, not in the church of God. “If any man hunger,” he wrote, “let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation” (verse 34). Those sects of the present day who meet together for the purpose of eating a full meal, calling it the Lord’s Supper, are doing the very thing that the apostle condemned. They refuse to obey his word and “eat at home,” and thus they “despise the church of God” by eating their “own supper” in the church; and “this is not the Lord’s supper.”

A Commemorative Institution


After Paul had condemned the Corinthian church for doing what he had not authorized, in thus having a public church-meal, and had denied that such was the Lord’s Supper, he proceeded to show what the true Lord’s Supper really is. “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come” (verses 23-26).
According to the Apostle, the Lord’s Supper is the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup, after the example set by Christ. Therefore the Lord’s Supper and the communion are the same. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). Hence this ordinance is properly termed either the Lord’s Supper or the communion.
Now, as Paul states, this ordinance was instituted by Christ himself. “And as they were eating, Christ took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:26-28).
Following the example and commandment of Christ, the apostolic church observed the ordinance. As we have seen, Paul delivered it to the Corinthians in the proper manner and disclaimed all responsibility for their perversion of it. It was observed in the church at Troas, for we read, “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them” (Acts 20:7). This clearly refers to the ordinance, as nearly all commentators agree. The language, applied as it is to a religious gathering, implies the identity of that gathering with the communion service. “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). “The Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it” (1 Cor. 11:23-24). The testimony of the earliest church fathers is to the effect that this ordinance was observed regularly by all Christians; and the observance has continued among true Christians until the present day.

The Purpose of the Communion Service


The communion service has an object; it is intended to teach something; for Christ would not establish an ordinance in his church without a distinct purpose in view. Much of the original design, however, has evidently been lost or covered up by the accumulation of human rubbish in the form of theological opinions and false notions. Thus, I might refer to the Roman Catholic doctrine—that the bread and the wine are, at the time of consecration, converted into the actual body and blood of Christ; or to the doctrine of certain Protestant sects concerning the real presence of Christ in the eucharist; or to the doctrine of nearly all sects—that in some mysterious manner Christ attaches himself to the consecrated elements, so that the communicants receive directly some special “grace” thereby, some even going so far as to state their sins are forgiven at the moment when they partake of the holy elements. But my purpose is not to show what the Roman Catholics teach, nor what the Greek church teaches, nor what Protestant sects teach and believe; it is to show what the Bible teaches. All these so-called “exalted ideas,” these theories which practically make the communion a substitute for the Savior himself or a substitute for the definite experience of salvation accompanied by a life of holiness, are without foundation in the New Testament. “Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (Prov. 30:6).
The special design of this ordinance is shown in the words of Christ when commanding its observance: “This do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). If the ordinance is “in remembrance” of Christ, as stated, then it is not actually Christ himself (though it symbolically represents him in his atonement), but is a commemorative institution by which the sufferings of Christ for our sins are brought vividly before the mind, thus bringing us into closer fellowship with his sufferings and death. “For as oft as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26). In observing it, we do not obtain spiritual life, but we “show the Lord’s death.”
“Borne away in mind and spirit To the solemn, awful scene Of Mount Calvary’s sacred summit, Where we see the crimson stream Flowing from the side of Jesus, That has washed us snowy white; Here we seem in awe to compass Round the reeking cross tonight. “Round thy table here we gather And commune, dear Lord, with thee. In the consecrated emblems, Lo! thy precious blood we see— See thy dear atoning passion And our holy unity. Oh! we’ll keep thy blest memorial, Till anew we sup with thee.”
“Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation unto himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11:27-29). People who do not discern the Lord’s body—his sacrificial body—in its true character as a sin-offering, and who are not thereby actually redeemed from their sins, are unworthy to partake of this ordinance which “shows the Lord’s death”; therefore if they “eat this bread and drink this cup,” they are “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord”—eat and drink damnation to themselves. Oh, how many sinning professors are, every week, “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord”! “Let a man examine himself.” Those who are truly saved, and such only, have a right to this sacred commemorative ordinance of the house of God. Let all others beware of attempting to thrust themselves in upon its sacredness, and thus “despise the church of God” and bring it into disgrace by partaking unworthily.
While the Lord’s Supper is commemorative of the sufferings and death of our Lord, representing symbolically his crucified body, it also has another important signification: it represents the collective and unified body of believers in Christ. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we saved believers being many are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16-17).
The loaf of bread used in the communion service, in its unbroken state represents very beautifully the one body of saved believers. The flour out of which it was made was ground from many kernels of grain, which possibly were grown in many separate fields; yet these grains have all been brought together and by a certain process have been unified in one loaf: even their nature has been changed by the process of baking. So also we as individuals are many, and we have been widely separated; yet through Christ we have been “perfectly joined together” by his Holy Spirit, our natures have been changed from sin to holiness, and we are indeed “all one in Christ Jesus.” As a unified body in Christ, the one loaf perfectly represents us. So when in communion service among God’s true saints the consecrated loaf in its undivided state is presented, it stands as the representation of our unity in the body of Jesus Christ—his church. From this Scriptural fact it will be seen that the sects, even at their best, can never represent, through their communion services, more than one-half of the New Testament ordinance of the Lord’s Supper; for the unity of God’s church in one body is not exhibited in sects. But in the apostolic church the ordinance was perfect, for it represented both the sacrificial body of Christ and the unity of all believers in him.

The Perpetuity of the Lord’s Supper


That the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper was intended to be observed throughout the Christian dispensation is made clear by the Scriptures themselves. We have already seen that it was observed in the apostolic church. Now, the commission of Christ was that his ministers should go and “teach all nations.” Teach them what? “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Did he command this observance? “This do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). How long was this to continue? “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20).
This is clear. So long as the gospel is to be preached, just so long the people are to observe all things that Christ commanded—“even unto the end of the world.” So also we read in another place, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26). Then, it is to be observed by the true followers of Christ in all periods of the Christian dispensation, yea, “till he comes” again. Amen.

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