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Thoughts on Communion

23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Our church is called Bread and Wine Fellowship, and we observe communion as the final central culminating point of every service and the landing point for the message every single week. Communion is quite honestly our weekly altar call, the real point of every service. This means that I think about it a lot, because every sermon has to end up leading to the communion table. I wanted to share a few thoughts about why this is.

One clear thing that Jesus has indicated that His disciples are to do repeatedly and often is to take communion. As the Lord said, we do it in remembrance of Him, and we do it as a proclamation of the Lord’s death until He comes. In context, Paul assumes that even though they are doing it poorly, the Corinthian church is observing communion every time they meet. The idea that it is a remembrance indicates that it is a picture of something extremely important that we are likely to forget, and through repetition we are more likely to remember.

Communion: Simple and Universal

Communion is a simple teaching using common objects which involves sight, touch, smell, and taste. If you happen to be blind, it still works. If you happen to have a stopped up nose and can’t smell or taste, it still works. If you are well enough to eat a small amount and drink a small amount, you can observe communion. You don’t even have to be able to read to take communion. You can sleep through the whole sermon and still get the point of it all through communion. However they understood it through the ages, the raw message and practice of communion survived centuries of church services led in Latin that no lay person could even understand at all! It is the one simple universal message that transcends all of these conditions and endures as the central and eternal message of the church for all people in all places at all times.

Remember, We Always Need the Gospel

Some people have the mistaken notion that we experience the forgiveness of our past sins once at conversion, and then we are expected as new creatures in Christ to move forward in a largely sinless walk. For them, the focus shifts from salvation to sanctification, meaning that functionally and in our teaching and conversation, sanctification is more important than salvation. Maybe for some individuals this idea seems to work, and for other individuals not so much.

But communion tells a different message altogether. It says, time after time after time, through all of your senses and together with all the saints, at the behest of Jesus Himself, that you need to remember that the Lord died for our sins, and His work is for you. His work is also for those around you with which you are in close fellowship. Together as a community of believers, once again all is forgiven, and this forgiveness works for our specific group of individuals. It means that all of us, pastors and musicians and the righteous and the struggling and the young and the old and the rich and the poor and the intelligent and the not-so-intelligent, come together equally as sinners and partake equally of His lavish grace and rich mercy. It means we proclaim God’s beautiful righteous just wrath against our collective sin, and we declare God’s redemption and justification over all of our lives together. We declare the pain of God, in that we ask Him to embrace us, the ones whom He ought not to embrace.

Communion Defines the Church

It is this message which defines us, and reminds us that while we are not yet finished with our walk or our spiritual maturity, we are accepted and forgiven and beloved as individuals and together. We proclaim together that this new covenant in His blood is our true food, our common manna in the wilderness of the world. This is our center as believers, our altar call for new believers, and ultimately it is our evangelistic message. We remember and proclaim the Lord’s death. The Lord established this practice so that we would proclaim the pure gospel every time we are together, and that the gospel is a new covenant through His blood. This is the one true Christian message that ties us all together, and at Bread and Wine Fellowship we aim to make this our singular proclamation.

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5 Comments

  1. Lays out some plain requirements, Jim, but when we recently covered this at our study group, I found myself unsettled by what Paul was unpacking in 1 Corinthians 10:1-3 and 16 & 17 (which clearly ties in to passages such as Numbers 27:14, and Psalm 78: 15&16).

    Take a look at this:
    https://trinitypastor.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/martin-luthers-personal-presence-of-christ-in-the-lords-supper/

    What’s cardinal here is Christology, which certainly was played-down by Zwingli at Marburg. Luther, I suspect, is certainly far more on the correct track here on this, and how it needs to be unpacked amongst us.

    Any thoughts?

    Many thanks,

    Howard.

    • Howard,

      Thanks for the thoughtful response. Here is a quote from that article:

      To put it more simply, the extra holds to the ubiquity of the divine Word and the local presence of the physical body of Jesus contained in heaven, while emphasizing the unity of the two in the person of Christ.[2] The doctrine lends itself to a real, albeit spiritual, presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper in opposition to memorialism.

      I really have to disagree with this. Number one, whatever theological baggage is hanging off of all this, the scripture says this:

      25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 1 Corinthians 11:25

      Secondly, what is so tepid about remembrance? Perhaps this remembrance is the important “real, albeit spiritual” presence that the Lord Jesus Himself was wanting. I think sometimes that when protestants play with the papist doctrines concerning communion, they detract from the real power of it, which lies in remembrance and proclamation — according to the scripture.

  2. Many thanks for the reply, Jim.
    I understand your concerns, but as I sought to suggest from the scriptural passages I referred to, there’s more to unpack than a ‘papal approach’ to this issue (look, also, at some of the writings of the early church fathers), hence my concerns.

    • Thanks Howard, I appreciate the thoughtful and patient reply!

      I think we have it from the Lord Jesus, right here, that remembrance is the main point. “Do this, as often as you drink it, in REMEMBRANCE of Me.”

      So the Lord would seem to disagree that there is some presence which is in opposition to ‘memorialism”. That’s all.

  3. Thanks, Jim.
    Certainly, it’s about a ‘remembrance’ – a declaring of the finished work of God in Christ which saves us, but in that same meal, Jesus said “This is my body”, “This is my blood”, so is it just memorialism?

    As Mike Horton notes in a piece on the subject: “The Reformers also fiercely opposed the opposite tendency to subjectivise the sacraments by making them mere signs or tokens to evoke piety. From the mid-sixteenth century confessions to the Westminster confession of 1647, the entire testimony of the Reformed churches defends the objective character of the sacraments as means of grace. The Scots confession (1560) is typical when it states “we utterly condemn the vanity of those who affirm the sacraments to be nothing else than naked and bare signs…By baptism we are engrafted into Christ, and also that Supper, when rightly used, becomes the very nourishment and food of our souls”.

    Moving to our own times, the hidden assumption so often found, even amidst ‘Reformed’ groups, assumes that God works immediately and directly, without means, in bringing us to faith and keeping us there. Spirit is set against matter; in this case, the material elements of preaching, water, bread and wine. Revialistic pietism has triumphed over the Reformation’s stance to the extent that Reformed churches today follow these assumptions, masking genuine Reformation identity. In many conservative Reformed and Presbyterian groups, it is as if the prescribed forms for Baptism and the Supper were too ‘high’ in their sacramental theology, so the minister feels compelled to counter the strong ‘means of grace’ emphasis. In this way, the Sacraments die the death of a thousand qualifications”. (Mysteries of God and Means of Grace).

    The need of all, he concludes, is to concede mystery, and this was certainly the position of the early church. As Justin Martyr notes in his 1st Apology: “As Jesus Christ our Saviour became flesh by the Word of God to save us, so the food which is blessed by the word of prayer, handed down to us by Christ, by which our flesh is nourished, is the flesh and blood of the same Jesus who became flesh”.

    I suspect we loose such depth, which Paul is clearly referring to in the 1 Corinthians 10 passages, to our great loss.

    Regards,
    Howard.

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