Summary: A discussion of the oversight of the Lord's Supper, focusing on the participants at the Meal and the attitude with which we are to partake of the Meal.

“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.” [1]

The Lord’s Supper is integral to Christian worship. However, among Evangelical churches, this rite is too often treated carelessly as though it is merely a bothersome necessity to be hurriedly dispensed with in order to free us to do what we deem to be really important. The rituals associated with the ordinance are performed without thinking about what we are doing. The Lord’s Table has become mere routine, so habitual and so pedestrian within our churches that we have forgotten a basic truth—this is the Lord’s Supper, not ours. We are not at liberty to invite whom we will to the Table, but rather, it is the Lord Himself who invites whom He wills to share in this Meal.

When you sit down at your dining table, I seriously doubt that you look outside to see if there is anyone wandering by whom you can invite to join you at the table. Most of us are somewhat careful about who we invite to our table. Certainly, we invite family and friends to share in our hospitality. Perhaps we will invite some who are less fortunate than us to join us in enjoying the bounty with which God has blessed us. However, strangers wandering past our home have no right to our table.

It is obvious to most of us that we do not “owe” anyone the right to share in our meal. It is our table; and we invite those whom we wish to bless with our friendship to join us at our table. It is not simply that we are providing food for friends and family, but that we are sharing ourselves. Around the table, we fellowship—we share our very lives at the table, giving something of ourselves to those who join us at the meal and receiving convivial intercourse in return. Because dining together is more than merely an act of ingesting food, we are careful about whom we invite to join us.

Strangely enough, what is obvious in the world beyond the walls of the church is ignored at the Table of the Lord. Here, we grow quite passionate about our right to the Lord’s Table. However, shouldn’t we inquire of the Lord whom He would invite to His Table? If this is truly His Table, then He must have the final word concerning who eats at His Table. Thus, we should ask whether the Bible has anything to say concerning those invited to the Lord’s Table. Indeed, when we ask, we discover that God has addressed this issue, though we have largely ignored what He has said.

We need to clarify the purpose of the Lord’s Table in order to discover who is invited to the Lord’s Table. Then, having established the purpose of the ordinance, we will likely discover God’s instruction concerning those who are to share at the Supper. Ultimately, asking how we arrived at the point now observed within evangelicalism will benefit us through deterring us from continued error. Join me, then, in exploring Paul’s instruction to the Corinthian Christians concerning who is invited to the Lord’s Table.

THE LORD’S SUPPER DEFINED — What is the Lord’s Supper? If we were introducing an individual to the Meal for the first time, how would we explain what we were doing? Those of us who have introduced our children to the Faith have had occasion to explain the rites and rituals of the church at some time as they wondered about what was happening as we partook of bread and drank the juice.

After he had instituted the Passover Meal, Moses was commanded to write, “When your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses’” [EXODUS 12:26, 27]. Israel was also commanded to redeem the firstborn male of all their herds and flocks, as well as redeeming the firstborn son. The ceremony reminded them of God’s grace to them as a nation. However, Moses appended these words, “When in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem’” [EXODUS 13:14, 15].

Children are naturally curious, and they will ask what we are doing and why we are doing what we do. Moses, guided by the Spirit of God, seized upon this facet of childhood to enable parents to provide instruction as children were guided into understanding what was taking place. It did not require a detailed explanation to satisfy childhood curiosity; rather, a brief explanation of what God had done would suffice to satisfy the question children would ask. The answer parents were instructed to provide for their children exalted the LORD and His might rather than glorifying the nation. Israel had done nothing of significance, but God had revealed His love and His mercy. And He was to be honoured for what He had done for the nation. When the children asked, parents were to point them to God and to His love displayed in delivering Israel.

Again, when Moses had given the great Shema Prayer to Israel, he commanded the people to teach the truths of God to their children, talking about them and giving opportunity for the children to witness them as they carried out the prescribed worship. Moses concluded these instructions by commanding the people, “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you’” [DEUTERONOMY 6:20]? When their children asked, the people were responsible to explain to their children the significance of the rituals and observances. Again, the questions children would naturally ask provided opportunity for parents to exalt the Name of the LORD to their children.

As was true for Israel, the rites and rituals of the Faith today provide opportunity to explain our Faith. Baptism is a visual portrayal of the Gospel—the death, burial and resurrection of Christ our Lord; it pictures how the old nature of those baptised was dead in trespasses and sin, and how the ones baptised have been raised to new life through faith in the Living Saviour. Children observing what we do will naturally ask the meaning of dipping an individual into the water and raising them up from that same water. The questions our children ask provide us with opportunity to speak of Christ and His great salvation. We are given a wonderful opportunity to glorify the Name of the Risen Son of God to our children when they observe the ordinance of baptism.

In a similar manner, observing the Meal gives opportunity to speak of what we hold true. We can tell those who inquire that this is a meal of remembrance. Eating the bread and drinking the wine remind us that Christ’s body was broken for us and that His blood was shed for us. We can tell those observing that this is a meal of anticipation, for we are commanded to observe this ordinance until He comes for us. Likewise, we can inform those who ask that this is a meal of fellowship in which we confess our fellowship with one another and with the Risen, Reigning Son of God. I remember with great joy my children watching with wondering eyes as their mother and I received the elements of the Lord’s Table. Their childish questions provided us opportunity to speak of Christ.

These explanations, offered to those who inquire, are in keeping with the teaching of the Scriptures. The Master instituted an ordinance and not a sacrament. He is not materially present in the Meal, as our Romanist friends contend. Neither is He mystically present, providing grace through ingesting His body as many of our Paedobaptist friends insist. At the Last Supper, the Master did not invite His disciples to bite His arm or to nibble on His toes. When He said, “This is My body, which is given for you,” He made it clear that He was not instituting a sacrament, for He continued by instructing them, “Do this in remembrance of Me” [see LUKE 22:14-20; MARK 14:22-25; MATTHEW 26:26-29]. Therefore, the Meal we observe is a Meal of Remembrance in which we commemorate His love, recalling how He willingly sacrificed His life for our benefit.

As Paul declares, “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Again, he emphasises this truth when he writes, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” [ROMANS 5:6, 8]. In brief, the Communion Meal is an act of commemoration, a time to remember the love of Christ.

The Meal is as well a Statement of Anticipation, for we are to share in this Meal “until He comes” [1 CORINTHIANS 11:26]. This is in keeping with the declaration of the Master at the Last Supper that He will not drink the juice with His disciples again “until that day when [He will] drink it new with” us in His Father’s Kingdom [MATTHEW 26:29]. Participating in this Meal should cause each of us to reflect on the promise of His coming again to take us to be with Him. We should draw encouragement from the knowledge that He is coming for us, and at His coming we will be transformed into His likeness—“We shall be like Him” [1 JOHN 3:2].

The Meal is also a Declaration of Fellowship, for it is always taken in assembly. Those holding to a sacramental view, whether openly expressed or covertly held, are prepared to give the elements of the Meal to people outside of the time when the church is assembled. Consequently, among some churches the Meal is commonly given to husband and wife as they exchange vows, to the sick in their hospital beds, and to others outside of the assembly on various occasions. However, Paul’s language clearly exposes the absurdity of this point. Listen to his declaration recorded in 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.”

The Meal is a “sharing,” a “communion” [cf. KJV] in the body and blood of the Saviour. Assuredly, we declare our fellowship with the Risen Master; however, we declare that fellowship through sharing our life with the assembly where we observe the Meal. There are rules for partaking of the Meal, all of which point us to fellowship with the Risen Son of God as we walk in godly concourse with His people sharing the Meal.

What are the prerequisites for participation at the Lord’s Table? The question demands that we acknowledge that congregations have executive authority, though they have no legislative authority—we are obligated to obey what God has commanded rather than creating rules. This being true, we recognise four criteria necessary for participation in the Communion Meal—regeneration, baptism, an orderly walk, and church membership.

Surely no one will argue against regeneration as the foremost prerequisite for admission to the Lord’s Table. How can one remember the sacrifice of the Master if they have never received Him as Master of life? How can one live in anticipation of His return if they have never accepted the sacrifice provided at His first coming? How can one be said to walk in fellowship with the Living Saviour if they refuse to own Him as Ruler over their life? The Apostles, and by extension the early churches, are never known to have offered the Meal to outsiders. Let that thought sink in!

Again, baptism is required to participate at the Lord’s Table. This is obvious from the following considerations. Baptism was instituted and administered long before the Communion Meal was introduced. The Apostles who participated in the Meal had all received baptism before participating. In the Great Commission, Jesus established baptism as preceding other observances. Jesus charged, “Make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” [MATTHEW 28:19, 20]. The example of the early church upholds this order [Cf. ACTS 2:41, 42, 46]. The symbolism of the ordinances demand baptism before participation—there must be birth before celebration. Sanctification, declared on the merits of Christ’s sacrifice, cannot precede the New Birth.

“The Didache,” a document dated to the early years of the apostolic church preserves the following statement, “Let none eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptised in the Lord's Name. For concerning this also did the Lord say, ‘Give not that which is holy to the dogs.’” [2] Those who are disobedient to the initial command of the Saviour exhibit questionable loyalty to Him in every other facet.

An orderly walk is required of those who wish to observe the ordinance. If the Meal is merely the individual’s communion with the Master, then the church has no right to exclude anyone. However, we are instructed to exclude those who are disorderly. Immoral conduct is to be dealt with by excluding those who act in such a manner from the Lord’s Table [see 1 CORINTHIANS 5:1-13]. Listen to the closing admonition of Paul’s instruction on this matter. “I am writing you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one” [1 CORINTHIANS 5:11].

Likewise, disobedience to the commands of Christ is to be dealt with by excluding the offender from the Lord’s Table. Listen to the stern words of the Apostle in his first letter to the Thessalonian Christians. “We command you, brothers, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us… We hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, bur busybodies… If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed” [1 THESSALONIANS 3:6, 11, 14].

Of course, heresy is to be addressed by excluding heretics from the Lord’s Table. Writing Titus, Paul warned, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” [TITUS 3:10, 11]. It is essential that we understand that heresy, in the view of the New Testament, is not restricted to those holding errant doctrine, but heresy includes as well those holding to orthodox positions in an unbrotherly or divisive spirit. [3] A schismatic spirit, an unyielding demand for having one’s own way at the expense of unity, is a heretical act.

Often neglected among contemporary Evangelical churches, church membership is required for participation at the Lord’s Table. Churches are responsible for holding their own members to account, and for administering discipline when necessary. It is impossible for discipline to be administered by any other than a local congregation; and how shall that congregation hold members of another congregation to account when they are unknown to the church? We have responsibility for the conduct only of those who are associated with us; we have no authority over those outside this particular body.

It is an interesting observation that catechumens—candidates for membership—were excluded from the Communion Meal in the early churches. Then, services were divided into two parts. The first part was “the service of the Word” where participants sang, shared their testimonies and listened to the preaching of the Word. The second part was the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Those who were not members of the church were invited to absent themselves before the second part was conducted. [4]

This division of the service into two distinct parts should be evident from reading Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthian Christians. Chapter 11 deals with the service of the Lord’s Table, which was unarguably for Christians, and I contend was exclusively limited to the membership of that particular congregation. Chapter 14 sets out rules for the public service of the Word when unbelievers and those seeking truth would be present [1 CORINTHIANS 14:11, 22, 26]. This former point will occupy the remainder of our time as we seek to discern the mind of the Lord concerning membership in the local congregation as a prerequisite for admission to the Lord’s Table.

WHEN YOU COME TOGETHER — That this was a service of a particular church is evident from the language employed throughout the letter. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the opening verse of the text, which is a continuation of the initial statement introducing this portion of the apostolic instruction. In 1 CORINTHIANS 11:18, Paul writes, “When you come together as a church…” providing the context that this was the church in assembly. In 1 CORINTHIANS 11:20, this is iterated, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat.” The Meal is a church ordinance observed by the church assembled!

Tension among evangelical churches arises from two disparate views. Either the Meal is a “Christian ordinance,” or it is a “church ordinance.” If the Meal is a Christian ordinance, participation is determined individually as it is a personal act of worship. Should this be a Christian ordinance, there is no particular oversight of the Meal assigned other than individual conscience. While a congregation may preside over the Meal, the individual becomes the sole determinant as to whether to partake of the Meal or to abstain. However, if the Meal is a church ordinance, it means that the congregation hosting the Meal is assigned responsibility to exercise oversight for the observance. The congregation is responsible to ensure that those participating recognise the Body and Blood of the Lord and that they are not acting presumptuously in their participation.

If the Meal is a Christian ordinance subject only to the desire of the participants, there are few restrictions on the Meal other than the conscience of those participating. Perhaps some egregious acts could warrant a congregation refusing to permit someone to be present at the worship, but it would be exceptional at best. It is certain that if the Communion Meal is a Christian ordinance no congregation can legitimately exercise discipline on those participating as they cannot be excluded since they are exercising their “right” to the Lord’s Table.

However, if the Meal is a church ordinance and subject to congregational oversight, then what we witness in the Word concerning the responsibility to discipline the unruly through prohibiting their participation at the Lord’s Table makes sense. Surely we understand that there is a requirement for a church to discipline its members in order to bring them back into the paths of righteousness when such is required.

Among evangelicals an increasingly common assumption is that the Lord’s Supper is an act of worship observed by individuals, though they may be in a church setting. However, the New Testament consistently presents the Meal as corporate worship. There is no clear example of any other than a church, “worshipping” by eating bread and drinking juice. This truth is more important than merely establishing a congregational setting for the Meal; it declares that the Meal is a church ordinance.

Think of some common practises that are excluded in the context of the Apostle’s words. Among the members of a former church was a couple that took umbrage on one occasion at a statement I made as we prepared to observe the Lord’s Table. They were irate in the extreme. What callous statement do you suppose caused them such anger? I had said that unbaptised children should not be given the elements by their parents. My plea was that parents instruct their children, leading them to faith and to obedience.

This couple were unwilling to instruct their children in biblical etiquette or in the necessity of obedience to the instruction of the Lord. Therefore, they were angered because I had spoken publicly. What is fascinating about their supposed pique is that I was not even addressing them, but expressing a general concern because of a number of families who were giving the elements even to toddlers and little children. Nevertheless, it remains that unbaptised individuals are not in fellowship with the assembly and they should not be invited to participate at the Lord’s Table—even if they are children of church members. The parents to whom I referred in this example were outspoken in their contention that their opinion outweighed the determination of the congregation and superseded the written Word of God on this point. At best, their attitude in this matter was arrogant, being influenced by their bruised pride rather than exhibiting a spirit of gentleness and humble submission as would be expected of the people of God.

Earlier, I mentioned the practise among some of our Paedobaptist brothers of giving the elements of the Meal to couples as a part of the wedding ceremony. Such an errant practise finds no support in the Word of God, apparently being fabricated upon the errant supposition that the Meal is a sacrament rather than an ordinance. I suppose that officiants imagine that by offering bread and wine to the couple, they are somehow blessing the union. Nothing could be further from the truth, for nowhere is grace said to be conferred through participating in the Meal, though it is clearly stated that divine censure will result from partaking without self-judgement.

Soon after arriving at a former charge, a small communion set was discovered in the church office. When I asked why the church possessed the set, I was informed by one of the former deacons that it was to permit serving the Lord’s Supper to those who were hospitalised. I was disappointed to discover that these professing Baptists tacitly held a sacerdotal view of the Meal, believing that in some way observing the Meal conveyed grace, especially to the sick. When questioned as to the biblical authority for the practise, the deacon who first informed me of the presence of the set admitted that there was no particular scriptural authority, but that it had always been done that way. So, much as Roman Catholics, these Baptist saints had elevated tradition to a position that was at least equal to Scripture. I could never countenance that step! Nor should anyone who holds the Word of God as authoritative for faith and practise.

Each of the preceding situations is indeed egregious; but the far more prevalent practise of open communion—inviting all who are present to participate at the Lord’s Table—is more detrimental still. This practise exposes a lack of biblical perspicuity. It is a tacit confession that most evangelicals hold to the sacramental and sacerdotal view of the Lord’s Table; it is an admission that we believe the Meal conveys grace to those receiving the elements. Many beloved friends will protest that they hold no such view; yet, they feel hurt if they are excluded. However, the essential question would be whether they accept the discipline of the congregation and whether they are participating through investing their energies and spiritual gifts into the life of the Body.

Moreover, the practise of open communion reveals that advocates of that position are at best confused about the concept of the church as a Body. In particular, they reveal that they know little about church discipline. Those promoting this view tend to see sin as a sickness to be cured, and discipline is exercised through counselling designed to heal the wayward, instead of leading them to repentance and restoration to the church through confession of sin. The Apostle is pointed in his statement that the goal of discipline is “destruction of the flesh,” resulting in the salvation of the spirit in “the day of the Lord” [1 CORINTHIANS 5:5]. Loving discipline, exercised with a view to turning the sinner from his sin, leads to repentance and restoration [cf. 2 CORINTHIANS 2:5-10].

The practise of admitting all who are present to the Lord’s Table is a triumph of culture over Christ. It is a tacit admission that we who profess evangelical doctrine are fearful of holding one another accountable as members of the same Body. It is effective testimony that we no longer practise biblical discipline. Embracing the practise of open communion denies biblical ecclesiology, implying that we are unaware of the Body of Christ to which we profess to belong. To fail to practise biblical discernment in this instance is to expose the church to ever more grievous error as we exalt private opinion over the concept of mutual accountability and submission to the written Word of God.

IT IS NOT THE LORD’S SUPPER THAT YOU EAT — The Corinthians to whom Paul wrote were guilty of a grievous sin. However, their sin was not so terribly different from the sin of multiplied evangelical congregations. They are treating the Lord’s Table as though it is their right to share in the Meal instead of seeing their participation as an opportunity to worship. They see their actions as isolated and unrelated to others with whom they share the Meal. They see themselves as more important than the Risen Lord of Glory.

To be certain, Paul appears to be describing the “agape,” the “love feast” that usually preceded the Lord’s Supper. This appears to have been a sort of potluck meal at which members of the congregation dined before they worshipped at the Lord’s Table. [5] In the case of the Corinthians, wealthy members dined sumptuously, while poorer members did without. Paul was scandalised by this behaviour.

In response to this disparity in practise, the Apostle established a principle that holds for Christians throughout all time. The distribution of your goods lies within your purview. Whether you give generously to various causes or whether you are less inclined to support assorted causes is a matter of no great concern. However, in the church, you do not have the right to be stingy while your fellow saints are in need. You are responsible to be generous toward your brother and sister Christians who share the services with you. This teaching expands the words of James. You do recall what James wrote, do you not? Listen again to what is written in this brief missive to the faithful.

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” [JAMES 2:1-13].

The principle of generosity toward fellow worshippers embraces the implication of generosity that is witnessed in the early church. Contrast the example of Barnabas with a husband and wife who were confronted by the Holy Spirit because of their greed and desire to be praised by others rather than seeking to bless others.

The account of the early Christians, and especially Barnabas, is detailed in the fourth chapter of Acts. “The full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” [ACTS 4:32-37].

Contrast what we witness in this early congregation with another, more negative example. “A man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.’ When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

“After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.’ And she said, ‘Yes, for so much.’ But Peter said to her, ‘How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’ Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things” [ACTS 5:1-11].

I would not encourage anyone to be stinting with what is possessed. All that you hold has been entrusted to you by God. Your possessions are to be employed to His glory and for the benefit of others. To do otherwise is to deny the grace and generosity of the Lord God. Nevertheless, no one can tell you what to do with your own goods, especially as you use them in your own home. However, when you join in any congregational activity that anticipates sharing what we have and what God has entrusted to us, you must not permit yourself to be penurious or grudging in sharing.

Paul excoriates the Corinthians, asking those who were acting in such a thoughtless manner, “Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing” [1 CORINTHIANS 11:22a]? Certainly, the conduct of the Corinthians who acted in such a thoughtless fashion did not merit apostolic commendation. In a similar manner, those who view the Lord’s Table as their right, approaching to partake without recognising the Body—the church—are not to be commended. Does not even our language recognise this? We speak of this Meal as Communion? Did you imagine that this is restricted to individual fellowship with Christ without recognising His Bride?

This principle is evident through reading John’s First Letter. Listen to John. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” [1 JOHN 2:9-11]. Perhaps there are some who would say they do not hate their brother, but if we fail to recognise them as God’s gift to us, treating them in a casual manner as we conduct our own private worship, though in the same building as them, we show no love for them.

John also wrote, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother… We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous… Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him… If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” [1 JOHN 3:10, 12, 15, 17]. Notice especially VERSE 17 where John presents the divine standard for love—those who love must share in all things. This is practical theology indeed!

May I remind you that there is no neutrality in this business of love. Either we love the brothers, or we hate the brothers. Thus, John’s testimony in 1 JOHN 4:20, 21 is vital to understanding the obligation of loving one another earnestly. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

Finally, there is the issue of responsibility for one another—even responsibility for each other’s actions. Again, John has written, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that” [1 JOHN 5:16].

Fellowship with one another is mandated if we will enjoy fellowship with the Master. Fellowship with one another is so much more than merely a nodding acquaintance on a Sunday morning. Fellowship anticipates sharing our lives, supporting one another and building one another in this most Holy Faith. Fellowship requires us to seek what is best for each other through knowing what is required to enable each one to serve God powerfully and honourably.

When we come to the Lord’s Table, it is expected that we will recognise the Body of Christ—the congregation hosting that Meal. This recognition will be evidence through a spirit of humility toward the people of God and acceptance of the oversight entrusted to the congregation. Worship of the reigning Son of God results when we see Him at work within His church and among His people.

At the Lord’s Table, we may either reduce the act to a time of private worship, continuing to hold others at arm’s length as we endeavour to commune with the Lord; or we can recognise the Lord’s Body, rejoicing in Him creating the particular Body with which we worship. As we approach His Table, we can give thanks for His great work, especially the knowledge that He has included us in that work and has given us a place in His Body.

To those outside the Faith, our invitation is to receive Jesus the Lord as Master of your life. To those outside of this Body, our invitation is to heed the urging of the Spirit as He appoints you to serve here, glorifying the Lord whom you confess. To those who would now approach the Lord’s Table, our invitation is to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Come, confessing His work providing for your salvation and in giving you a place among His holy people. Amen.

[1] Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ? 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] Pope Clement I et al., The Apostolic Fathers, Kirsopp Lake (ed.), vol. 1, The Loeb Classical Library, “The Didache, 9:51,” (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 1912-1913) 323

[3] Cf. Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Judson Press, Valley Forge, PA 1907) 974

[4] See Hughes Oliphant Olds, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI 1998) 344,,M1, accessed 17 September 2020; Joseph Bingham, Origines Ecclesiasticæ: Antiquities of the Christian Church (Henry G. Bohn, York Street, Covent Garden 1846) 468,, accessed 17 September 2020

[5] Donald Wilson Stake, The ABCs of Worship (Westminster, Louisville, KY 1992) 7,,M1, accessed 17 September 2020