Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Significance of the Lord's Supper

  1. Remembrance. We remember the sacrifice of Jesus to the point that it affects our present experience of the Lord’s Supper. The Supper proclaims the Lord’s death in a vivid, visual way. We look back with thanksgiving (what eucharist means), humility, and awe.
  2. Fellowship. The Lord’s Table is for the Lord’s body, the church. In the Supper we symbolize and reaffirm our communion and unity (1 Cor. 10:16-17), and we recognize the Body of Christ (the church) as we partake (1 Cor. 11:29). As our Passover, it is the time we renew covenant vows which bind us to the Lord and to one another (Baptist churches in the past recited their church covenant prior to taking the Supper.) Thus the Lord’s Supper was not observed by individuals or families, but by the Body of Christ as an expression of unity and commitment to one another (“when you come together” 1 Cor 11)
  3. Anticipation. The Lord’s Supper is a rehearsal and foretaste of the Messianic Banquet at the marriage feast of the Lamb (Luke 14:15-24; Rev. 19:9). The Supper lasts only “until he comes.” Then faith will become sight and remembrance will become reality. Until then we live expectant of His soon return. Next Year in Jerusalem!
  4. Self-examination. (1 Cor. 11:28). This is one of the most often ignored commands of the Bible, despite the stern warnings associated with disobedience to it. We are too careless about the Supper today. It is so important to a proper understanding and practice of the Supper. In the early 1800s, there would be seasons of communion – time that would last a week to three weeks to get right with God and others.
The proper participants are believers who are baptized (Acts 2:41-42). This has been a question in Baptist history. The normal pattern among Baptists is that baptism precedes church membership and participation in the Lord’s Supper. But the Baptist understanding of valid baptism excludes those who were baptized as infants. If they are believers and are attending a Baptist observance of the Lord’s Supper, should they be allowed to participate? For example, Baptist pastor John Bunyan had many Anglicans in his congregation. Should he let them take communion? Bunyan did. Another well-known British Baptist leader, William Kiffin, said it was a matter of obedience to Scripture not to let them take communion. As a result of this disagreement, there have emerged three general patterns among Baptists regarding the Lord's Supper.

  1. Open Communion (Offered to all). This is the view that all believers should be allowed to partake, and has been advocated as far back as John Bunyan and supported by Baptists such as Charles Haddon Spurgeon. However, most Baptist confessions of faith, except for Free Will Baptist confessions, have not supported this view. Supporters of open communion say the Lord’s Supper is the Lord’s, not the church’s, and therefore should be offered to all believers.
  2. Close or Closed Communion. In churches where close or closed communion is practiced, participation in the Lord's Supper is open only to believers who have been immersed. This is the majority Baptist position and is in view in the Baptist Faith and Message 1925, 1963, and 2000. The reason given is that the Lord’s Supper is given to the church, not to individuals, that the church has the responsibility before God to protect the purity of the church’s regenerate membership, and the church has the authority and competence to require that those who partake in this ordinance be believers who have a real baptism, that is, baptism by immersion.
  3. Closed or Double Closed Communion. In churches where closed or double closed communion is practiced, the Lord's Supper is offered only to members of that particular local church. In this line of reasoning, the protection of the regenerate church membership of the church is of paramount importance. These churches, few in number today, prefer not to offer the Lord's Supper to non-members since the congregation of that church has adjudged the testimony of only of those who are part of the membership and not those outside the church's membership.
Thanks to John Hammett of Southeastern Seminary for much of the original basis of this material.