A recurring question that arises as many churches deal with the inconvenience and horror and heartbreak that these lockdowns and quarantines entail, is whether it may be appropriate to observe the Lord’s Supper—either virtually with their church, or privately with their own household.
I understand and sympathize with those who are looking for a way to continue to celebrate the Table even while being unable to gather for corporate worship. Some churches have resorted to serving communion “to go.” Others have sought to observe the ordinance virtually via Zoom. Still others have encouraged their members to observe the Supper with their own families.
As I said, I understand the sentiment; but I would strongly urge against such practices. I understand the Lord’s Supper to be an ordinance of the local church, to be observed by the local church, when the local church is gathered as the church. The physical, embodied gathering of the body, and the onetogetherness of partaking of the elements together, is essential to (meaning, not just “really important,” but “of the essence of”) the observance of the Lord’s Supper.
We can no more properly observe the Lord’s Supper virtually or privately, than we can truly assemble for corporate worship without actually assembling. It’s just not possible. We can communicate online; we can maintain unity and some semblance of fellowship online; we can lessen the tragedy of being apart by overcoming relational isolation online. But we can’t assemble as the body online. We can’t teach and be taught face to face online (not really). We can’t greet one another with a holy kiss (or your more sanitary and contextual application of the principle) online. We can’t join our voices together in physical (vs. digital) union as we sing of our God together online. And we can’t observe the meal that marks out who the church is and embodies our union with Christ and one another without actually partaking of the elements together, being together physically as the body of Christ.
Now, I know I’ll receive a lot of pushback for that view, and I’ll share a few articles for further reading that better explain this position. My contention is, first, that we have an emaciated doctrine of the body (individual and corporate). Meaning here, simply, that the fact that so many modern churches do not uphold and cherish the primacy and import of the embodied physical gathering, is a symptom of a larger doctrinal and philosophical famine; and, second, that the desire (nay, the apparent need) to do everything we can to replicate the normal while everything about us tells us there is nothing normal about this, is, I think, indicative of the larger cultural attitude (which—and I say this to our shame—has so seeped into the church that we hardly recognize the problem) that demands the comfort of met expectations. And so, unable to acknowledge the need to accept a time of lamentation and longing as we are hindered in the providence of God from gathering with the body, we seek to replicate our worship services to such a degree that we can continue to deliver our services (and note the strategic equivocation there) to the
consumers congregation (uncongregated though it may be).
So, I encourage you to maintain family worship with your households—to pray and read the Bible together, and perhaps even sing together—but do not confuse that for the corporate worship of the church. I’ve encouraged our church to be intentional about keeping in touch with one another, interacting and encouraging one another as best we can, as our modern technology certainly does help mitigate the relational isolation caused by the quarantining. Just don’t be deceived into thinking this distance communication can truly do what physical, face-to-face interaction and edification can do. I have been providing teaching each Sunday and Wednesday via Zoom and Facebook live. But we do not call this “church,” and I’m careful to note that it is a poor substitute for face-to-face teaching, and I dearly miss the embodied interaction and gathering of the regular assembly.
Additionally, bread and wine have, since at least the days of Abraham and Melchizedek, been the standard and common elements of celebratory meals among the people of God, even apart from/in addition to the special significance tied to them as part of the Passover and, later, the Lord’s Supper; and so I would heartily encourage you to recover that ancient habit of celebrating with bread and wine—not just generic merry-making, but truly Godward celebration of the Lord’s blessing through the enjoyment of two foods that represent and epitomize our Creator’s good provision for and blessing on mankind in general, and on His own people in particular (Gen. 14; Judges 9:13; Amos 9:14; Isa. 25:6, 55:1; Dan. 10:3; Deut. 14:26; Ps. 104:14–15; Prov. 3:10; Eccl. 9:7; 1 Tim. 5:23; John 2:1–11).
Just don’t pretend that eating bread and drinking wine (or juice) with your family, or by yourself, or while watching other believers doing the same thing on the computer screen, is actually doing what the New Covenant ordinance of the Lord’s Supper does.
To learn more about this, I would commend to you the following articles. I may not agree with every way they worded something, but I think these three did an excellent job of upholding the biblical understanding of the Lord’s Supper, and articulating well my convictions about the impropriety, ordinarily, of trying to observe the Lord’s Supper in any way other than in the physical assembly of the local church.
“Eat your break with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart.” — Eccl. 9:7