Summary: The Apostle to the Gentiles stated principles to guide worship at the Lord’s Table. The question for believers is whether we are following what the Apostle taught.
AN INVITATION TO THE LORD’S TABLE
“In the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.”
It is with considerable astonishment that I witness what can only be seen as an insidious and sustained error within modern Christendom concerning the Lord’s Table. Even among churches I have pastored, these particular errors were held so tenaciously by a surprising number of professed believers that it was virtually impossible to eradicate the deviant practises. When I left, the churches immediately gravitated back to the error. It is especially dismaying to see that generally, liturgical churches are more cautious about guarding the Lord’s Table than are evangelical churches. The Word of God is quite clear on several issues that should not be controversial, but which have nevertheless become contentious issues within the congregations of our Lord.
Several principles that should guide Christian observance at the Lord’s Table have been neglected among the Lord’s churches. These principles will keep our attention focused on vital truths that are otherwise jettisoned in acts of faux humility or ignorance of what is entailed in Christian unity. I would invite you to make a copy of the principles I shall shortly enunciate and consider the import of their observance.
The first of the several principles that we must endeavour to keep in view is that The Lord’s Table is a Church Ordinance, not a Christian Ordinance. Many, perhaps even most, evangelical churches no longer recognise this truth, and so they fail to guard the Communion Meal. The truth is more than merely a fine point to be debated among theologians; it speaks of our understanding of the congregation of the Lord and whether the people of God are competent to serve God under the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord. The teaching testifies to the work of the Holy Spirit among His people.
The second truth that is frequently neglected among evangelical churches is that The Lord’s Table is an Ordinance, not a sacrament. The act of communion is not a sacrament nor is it sacerdotal, though a disturbing number of evangelical Christians tacitly treat the ordinance as though it did confer grace. Too often, the people of God hold the view that partaking of the Meal will make them, if not acceptable, than more acceptable to the Risen Son of God. Consequently, I have observed even parents defending the practise of giving the elements of the meal to their children, all the while professing their deep offence when challenged about their practise.
The third truth, critical to a biblical understanding, speaks of the autonomy of the local congregation and the obligation for the congregation to guard the Lord’s Table. The issue relates to the discipline of the local congregation. Though seldom exercised among contemporary churches, exclusion from the Lord’s Table is the most serious means of judgement that a church can impose. Undoubtedly, ignorance of the teaching about the Lord’s Supper underlies the failure of modern churches to exercise discipline.
These truths demand examination and call for application within a Christendom that professes obedience to the authority of the Word of God while practising a form of spiritual anarchy. Join me in exploration of Paul’s instruction of a church that had failed to honour the Lord, though it would have professed to understand these truths.
THE COMMUNION MEAL IS AN ACT OF CORPORATE WORSHIP — “When you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you.” Establish in your mind the truth that the Communion Meal is designed to be an act of corporate worship. This means that it cannot be sacerdotal; neither can the Meal be a sacrament.
I have introduced two terms that are not commonly used outside of a theological setting. These two words are related, sharing the same root. Nevertheless, the terms demand clarification, if for no other reason than they are tossed about casually by people who should know better when referring to the Communion Meal. The first word to be defined is “sacerdotal,” an adjective that implies something quite different from the reality of biblical practise. To speak of an act as being sacerdotal is to indicate that the particular act is restricted to being performed by a priest or a priesthood. However, Scripture implies that the Communion Meal was given to the churches as an act of worship by the members of the churches. In practical terms, this means that the congregation of the Lord may designate whom it wills to preside over distribution of the elements. The congregation functions as guardian of the rite in question.