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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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