As one of two ordinances given the church by Jesus Christ, Communion is the source of much interest, discussion, and often controversy in the local church. What does the Bible say about Communion and the Lord’s Supper? To help get our minds around this sensitive and very important topic, I’ve decided to break it down in a Question and Answer format…
1. What is the Lord’s Supper?
The Lord’s Supper (alternatively known as “Communion” and “The Lord’s Table”) is a first century church ordinance, given by Jesus to his disciples (Luke 22) and inspired by the Passover feast (Exodus 12). The Lord’s Supper is now a church ordinance intended as a way to “proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (I Corinthians 11:23-26).
2. Does the Lord’s Supper absolve you of your sins or impart grace?
The Lord’s Supper itself does NOT impart grace to you or absolve you of your sins. The Bible is clear that we are saved by the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, and not by any actions, rituals, or works that we do (Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus is the One who saves. Not the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.
I understand that some denominations teach otherwise, but this is due either to a misunderstanding of Scripture (such as the erroneous belief that the elements actually become the body and blood of Christ) or the mistaken assumption that the institutional church has the authority to bring new revelation or new doctrines from Heaven. Bible-believing, evangelical Christians understand that the Bible constitutes the written record of prophetic and apostolic instruction (Ephesians 2:19-20), that should be authoritative on the church today (II Timothy 3:16).
Communion does not save you and it does not impart grace to you. Therefore, you are not in danger of losing your salvation or your standing with God if you miss Communion. Whether you take Communion once a year or once a week has no bearing whatsoever on your salvation or your part in the family of God.
3. When and how often should Communion be administered?
There is absolutely nothing in the Bible which states how often Communion should be administered in the church. On the contrary, when the Apostle Paul gave instruction on Communion, he seems to grant liberty to the church in this area. In his letter to Corinth, Paul writes: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26). Note the phrase “as often as you…” It would seem that the local church has full liberty and discretion in deciding the frequency of this ordinance.
It should be noted that the Lord’s Supper ordinance is based on Jesus’ Last Supper, and that Jesus tied the Last Supper with the Passover feast, which is an annual celebration. Thus, a strong argument could be made that once a year is sufficient for Communion. In my personal opinion, I think once a year is much too infrequent, but I can’t argue with the facts of Scripture. Those churches who celebrate Communion once a year have scriptural precedent upon which to stand. Though, I think, any less than once a year is definitely grounds for concern and objection.
One thing that SHOULD be clear from Scripture, though, is that no one has grounds to say that a church MUST observe Communion once a week, once a month, twice a month, once every other month, or once every six months. The frequency (or infrequency) of Communion is a matter left to the prayerful discretion of each local church.
As to when it should be observed, I’ve always preferred the evening. After all, it’s called “the Lord’s Supper” and not the “Lord’s Breakfast” or “the Lord’s Brunch.” Those churches who always celebrate Communion in the morning are, I think, missing out on an important aspect of origins. The Passover was an evening meal. Jesus’ Last Supper was an evening meal. Observing Communion in the evening would be consistent with this. The bottom line is that most churches that do Communion in the morning do so solely because of convenience. I’m not sure this is a good thing. Was it convenient for Jesus to go to the cross?
This is where some Christians will say: “But we’ve always done Communion in the morning.” It’s as if personal experience trumps all. This really is rather presumptuous. Just because you’ve always done something a certain way or you were taught to do something a certain way growing up doesn’t make it the right way or the best way. We should look to the Scriptures to see how we should do things, and I think the Scriptures are instructive on this point. Communion was an evening meal, when it was first instituted.
While I am not opposed to doing Communion in the morning, at least on some occasions, I am opposed to doing Communion ALWAYS in the morning. Based on biblical precedent, it’s clearly preferable to observe Communion in the evening, just as Jesus observed His Last Supper with his disciples.
4. Who should partake of the Lord’s Supper?
The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance for the church, which is universal in scope but local in organization and focus. Based on I Corinthians 11, we can see that the early church understood it to be an ordinance practiced by the local church.
Some churches practice CLOSED Communion, meaning that only their members can partake. Other churches practice OPEN Communion, meaning that anyone can partake. Our church practices what has been called CLOSE Communion. By “Close,” we mean that anyone who professes Jesus Christ as his or her personal Savior and who “examines” himself/herself as Paul instructs is welcome to partake. We leave it between that person and the Holy Spirit. In doing this, we discourage those who have not accepted Christ as their Savior from partaking.
Observing Close Communion, by the way, is another argument for an evening observance. Why? Because visitors will typically check out a church during a Sunday MORNING service. And if your church is doing a great job attracting visitors, then you’re likely to have a lot of non-Christians and/or unchurched Christians (or Christians from different denominations) in your service in the morning. This is a good thing, but it can cause some awkwardness and confusion, when it comes to Communion.
Communion is a very sensitive issue. I realize that some of you reading this may have different viewpoints. All I ask is that you take those objections first to the Lord in prayer and then to the Scriptures. We should “test all things” (I Thessalonians 5), including our own opinions. If, after careful, prayerful and biblical consideration, you disagree with something I wrote, please feel free to let us know that in the comments section. In the meantime, may God bless you!