The Lord's Supper

Introduction. Acts 2:42-47 states that the believers of the early Church met together daily to preach and teach, pray, worship, and break bread (also see Acts 5:42 and Hebrews 10:25). They were following the example and instruction of Jesus who instituted the rite and symbolic meal (Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-20). In a letter to the Corinthians, Paul confirms that the Church continued to share the Lord’s Supper (also called communion or the sacrament) together in remembrance (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). And in fact, Paul quotes Jesus saying, “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25, ESV). Therefore, if we are to follow Christ’s example and join in this tradition, we should understand the meaning and symbolism of the Lord’s Supper, communion, sacrament, or even the Eucharist as it is sometimes called.

What is it; what does it mean? In the simplest of definitions, the Lord’s Supper is bread and wine, shared communally in an intentional ceremony, done as instructed by the Bible. In practice, it comes in many forms, such as wafers, unleavened, or loaves, wine or non-fermented juice, handed to all or torn form the loaf, passed in baskets or dipped in the cup, and so on. Jesus said the bread symbolizes his body that is broken and the cup represents his blood that was spilled. And as stated above, the rite has many names. In their book, Doctrine, Driscoll and Breshears write,
“The real issue is not the name but the fourfold meaning of the sacrament itself. It is a dramatic presentation that (1) reminds us in a powerful manner of the death of Jesus Christ in our place for our sins; (2) calls Christians to put our sin to death in light of the fact that Jesus died for our sins and compels us to examine ourselves and repent of sin before partaking; (3) shows the unity of God’s people around the person and work of Jesus; and (4) anticipates our participation in the marriage supper of the Lamb when his kingdom comes in its fullness. Practically speaking, Communion is to be considered as participation in the family meal around a table rather than as a sacrifice upon an alter” (Driscoll 2010, 326-327).
Both Grudem and Erickson also discuss the multi-faceted meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Grudem says, “The meaning of the Lord’s Supper is complex, rich, and full” Grudem 1994, 990). He identifies seven things symbolized by the Lord’s Supper: Christ’s death, our participation in the benefits of Christ’s death, spiritual nourishment, the unity of believers, Christ’s affirmation for his love for us, Christ’s affirmation that the blessing of salvation is reserved for those who believe, and our affirmation of a faith in Christ (991). Erickson on the other hand identifies aspects agreed upon by all believers and points of disagreement. Significantly, most agree that it is established by Christ, should be repeated, is a form of proclamation, provides a spiritual benefit to the partaker, should be restricted to only followers of Christ, and that there is and aspect of Church unity (Erickson 1998, 1117-1121). The disagreements are many. While some hold that there is a physical presence of Christ in the bread and cup, many protestant and evangelical positions see the Lord’s Supper as a commemorative act that serves to fulfill the many aspects covered by Driscoll and Breshears, Grudem, and Erickson.

How should we do it and how often? There are many different ways to present and partake of the Lord’s Supper, but the most important thing is that however it is done, it is within the instruction that Paul outlined in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. And regarding how often the Lord’s Supper should be shared, the early Church shared and partook daily. Calvin answers this question well, stating, “What we have hitherto said of the sacrament, abundantly shows that is was not instituted to be received once a year and that perfunctorily (as is not commonly the custom); but that all Christians might have it in frequent use, and frequently call to mind the sufferings of Christ, thereby sustaining and confirming their faith; stirring themselves up to sing the praises of God, and proclaim his goodness; cherishing and testifying toward each other that mutual charity, the bond of which they see in the unity of the body of Christ” (Calvin 2008, 929).

-  Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Translated by Henry Beveridge. Peabody,
Mass: Hendrickson, 2008.
-  Criswell, W.A. Criswell's Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman Press, 1980.
-  Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. Wheaton, Ill:
Crossway, 2010.
-  Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1998.
-  Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester,
England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

* This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.  

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