The Lord’s Supper Gone Sour

Imagine a first-century church (one of the churches Paul and Barnabas planted, for instance), and they’re arguing over the wine they use for the Lord’s Supper. Some people have complained, “why are we using this cheap wine, when we could just as easily get a nice cabernet?” Perhaps they were self-conscious when relatives would visit from Rome and the communion wine tasted like vinegar. But when they then switched to a better wine, some complained about the money they were spending on it; still others said that they couldn’t properly focus on the gravity of Christ’s death while they were enjoying a fine wine.

What do you think Paul would have said in a letter to this church? Would he have said something like, “haven’t I taught you anything about grace? Seek to outdo one another in showing honor and deference to the needs and preferences of others. Think of others more highly, and more often, than you think of yourself…” I bring this thought experiment up because I see many modern churches having similar arguments over the bread we use for communion.

But when Paul says “do all things without grumbling,” he means all things, and he means no complaining. When we have the capacity to complain and grumble about the culinary quality of the elements we use for Communion, we not only show that we have completely failed to internalize and apply the lessons about grace the Scripture teaches us, but we evidence a selfish, self-centered attitude that is in line with the attitude for which Paul rebuked the Corinthian church, saying that because of the way they were treating one another over the issue of Communion, they “make it not the Lord’s Supper.”

In other words, you’re missing the whole point. You’ve sat down at the table of fellowship only to flip over the table and spoil the Supper. This is a meal that proclaims and celebrates the fellowship we have with Christ, and because of our union with Christ then also the fellowship we have with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. And we profane the very purpose of the communion meal when we can’t see past our own preferences and felt needs, and instead allow selfish and discontent thoughts into our hearts over the very practice that Christ instituted to be not only a remembrance of his death and resurrection, but a celebration of the new life in union with him and in fellowship with our new family that we now have.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. — 1 Corinthians 11:27-28


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Jesus’ Preparations for the Last Supper

Idea for the week: Jesus may have made arrangements ahead of time for His Last Supper with the disciples in the upper room.

When Jesus instructs Peter and John to go prepare the upper room for the Last Supper, the way it’s written in Mark 14 really seems like Jesus had planned this out and arranged it ahead of time with the owner of the house they’re using. Jesus told Peter and John,

“Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you [by the way, the reason that’s the sign is because men didn’t fetch water from the well—women did that]; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘the teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; prepare it there for us.”

We often tend to attribute this knowledge of what would happen to the fact that Jesus was God—he’s just exercising His omniscience. He’s all-knowing; of course he could tell them what they would find. But, that’s not how Jesus lived; he didn’t walk around constantly exercising his omniscience. That also doesn’t account for the oddities in this particular scenario. A man would be carrying a water pail; the man would meet them—it doesn’t say they’ll happen to see him, but that he would meet them; they would follow him into the house he goes into, then when they deliver the message to the master of the house, he would take them to the guest room which was already furnished and ready for them to set the table and bring the food for the Passover.

It seems that Jesus had gone and made these arrangements beforehand. Remember that He, on the one hand, had a difficult time avoiding the crowds, and would’ve liked to keep the location of His supper with the twelve disciples a secret. But, additionally, He still had a price on His head, and the Sanhedrin and scribes were even more furious and determined to arrest and kill Jesus after he spent Monday and Tuesday publicly embarrassing them in the Temple complex. So, Jesus carefully arranged for Himself and His disciples to be able to use someone’s upper room (which was a large guest room on the top level of most houses) without revealing the location.

This prearranged preparation of Jesus also makes more sense of what we typically call the silent day. Wednesday of the Passion week doesn’t have any recorded events in any of the gospels. People have tried to fill this day in in various ways, but there just simply is no record for anything on Wednesday. Based on everything else we know was going on though, we can assume that on Wednesday, the Sanhedrin was probably making preparations for Jesus’ arrest, and Jesus was most likely making arrangements for the Last Supper with the disciples, carefully making secret preparations, not only to avoid the crowds, but also to not let Judas know where the Supper would be, so that He could celebrate the meal with His disciples in peace, and Judas would not betray Jesus to the Sanhedrin until Jesus was ready for that to happen. These minor details in the narrative record should cause us to marvel at the care and wisdom with which Jesus entered into his last days before His sacrifice to bring salvation to a sinful world.

Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 7 part 2 — on the Ordinances]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement, a section at a time, in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.


Ordinances: We believe that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the only two ordinances (or sacraments [1]) of the church commanded by Christ, and that they are a scriptural means of testimony for the church. We believe that baptism has no saving power [2], but is a one-time act of obedience[3] for a believer[4] to publicly identify[5] with Christ and with His people [6]. The Lord’s Supper is a regular, symbolic [7], commemoration and proclamation of Christ’s work on the cross [8], anticipation of His return [9], and a New Covenant celebration of our union and fellowship with Christ and with our fellow believers [10]. As such, the Lord’s Supper marks out who the church is, and thus is only for believers.

(Matthew 28:19–20; Luke 22:14–20; Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12–13; 36-39; 10:47–48; 16:30–34; 18:7–8; Romans 6:3–6; 1 Corinthians 11:17–34; Colossians 2:12)


Notes

1) I don’t mind the word sacrament if you’re emphasizing the “sacred” aspect of the word’s meaning. But I certainly understand Baptist and independent reactions toward the “mystery/mystical” aspect, and the misuse of the sacraments by those who use that name. So, I am fine with “ordinances” (practices or rituals that the church has been commanded to maintain) as well; although, definitionally speaking, there are several more things we could lump into the category of “ordinances.”

2) It’s helpful to have this clarification included.

3) Baptism is commanded by Christ and the Apostles. Therefore, the logical and simple conclusion is that every believer should obey that command and be baptized.

4) A believer’s act of obedience cannot be carried out by an infant, so I hope this serves to clarify explicitly that we hold to believer’s baptism.

5) Salvation itself is a “private” occurrence, in that belief happens in the heart, and God saves us and regenerates our heart. But the next step of a believer is to publicly proclaim that faith by formally identifying oneself with Christ and with the believing community.

6) Baptism is not only a profession of our faith, but an initiation into the community of faith. In the New Testament (and still in many countries around the world), when someone is saved, they are then baptized into the local church community.

7) Symbolic: this covers transubstantiation, and perhaps consubstantiation.

8) Looking back, with faith.

9) Looking forward, with hope.

10) Looking around, with love. This is an oft-forgotten aspect of the Lord’s Supper — that it is not simply a somber remembrance of Christ’s death, but a community celebration of what His death has accomplished for us, and how this new life He’s given us allows us to have fellowship not only with Him, but also with one another. In 1 Corinthians 11:27, when Paul says that anyone who partakes in the meal “unworthily” will be judged, he is using “unworthily” adverbially in reference to the manner in which they observe the meal (in an unloving, selfish manner), rather than adjectivally referring to the unworthy state of the person’s heart. The context of the whole passage is Paul’s rebuke of the unloving manner in which “each one goes ahead with his own meal” (11:21), and the higher–class people would arrive and consume the meal and get drunk on the wine before the poorer people, perhaps slaves as well, could even arrive (later in the evening), thus ignoring the fellowship that the body is meant to enjoy (10:17). He is rebuking them for ignoring the body (11:29) and thus making it “not the Lord’s supper that you eat” (11:20).

Some Resources

40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

CHBC Seminar on the Ordinances

Understanding Baptism

Understanding the Lord’s Supper

Going Public