Many, even most, churches around the world at this present time are not allowed to congregate in assembly as normal. As a result there have been necessary adaptations to church life. Generally these have involved the use of online technology. One specific issue that has been raised is that of celebrating the Lord’s Supper in communion together. Is it possible to be celebrating the Lord’s Supper when our only gathering can be online?
Two basic principles need to be established initially:
- We cannot begin to think that this is normal church. It is not. Normal church involves interacting with one another in the flesh, in community, together. To think that meeting online is normal is foolish and sets us up for all kinds of problems should this time pass.
- We should be seeking, as much as lies within us, to function as churches. We should not give up in despair and say that nothing can happen now so let’s down tools and wait for the calamity to pass. No! Rather we should be seeking as much as possible to fulfil the call of Acts 2:42: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
But can we legitimately seek to continue to celebrate the breaking of bread in the Lord’s Supper at this time. Here are my thoughts:
The Supper Frames The Church: For a church to exist it must be framed around certain doctrinal understandings. Such understandings all focus and cohere in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This message declares how Christ alone came to rescues sinners from their sins by His death, burial and resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 11:26 we read For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. The sacrament when celebrated frames the church in the fundamental doctrine of Christ. To give it up too easily prejudices the welfare of the church.
Yes the Church is also critically framed by the preaching of the Word, but the Lord’s Supper feast is vital.
The New Covenant : We are a people of the new covenant. We are a people of the reality that Christ has done everything and we are blessed in Him. We are a people of the new covenant day; the first day of the week which is resurrection day. This is our special day of worship. It surely must appropriately, even essentially, be a part of our Lord’s Day to celebrate the new covenant feast. If we fail to do so we fail to give the people in our care the opportunity once again to define themselves in the new covenant.
Remembrance: The essence of the establishing of the feast is to make sure at that we call to mind the reality of our Lord Jesus dying for us. To fail to celebrate deprives the church of this memory prompt. We are so easily prone to drift away from the essentials of our faith. The Lord’s Supper when properly celebrated energises the remembrance juices of the church in the right direction. And as we note the importance of remembrance we hear the words of our Lord in the institution And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood (Lk. 22:19-20).
Oneness: Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a declaration of our oneness in Christ. During this time of being fragmented physically by necessity we even more so need the spiritual declaration of oneness in the communion feast.
With these points in mind we have to ask whether there is any legitimacy in celebrating the Lord’s Supper in an online way. Some would say that to even think of that is to think of the impossible. But is that the case? We do need to assert that anything less than the actual having the emblems physically shared is less than ideal. Nevertheless we must be aware that if we fail to celebrate the Lord’s Supper we lose so much and deprive our people of so much.
It must be a judgement call whether the means to our hand are sufficient so as to make a reasonable approximation to the actual celebration. To use some online connection and allow people to provide their own appropriate bread and cup at home seems to me to be reasonable way of maintaining the value of the Lord’s Supper into the life of the church.
But some would say that this trivialises the feast. My rejoinder would be that the feast can be trivialised in whatever way you take it. The important things is how it is led. Appropriate decorum can be achieved online. However, having people sat at home does mean that there is an extra caution here as regard to not being too causal.
For those who conclude that we must wait until we are able to meet again in the flesh, I would counsel that the Lord’s Supper should not be ignored in the interim. A proper declaring of an uncelebrated Lord’s Supper at least draws the people to be aware of what are the privileges in the Lord’s Supper celebration that they are missing. And this can give anticipation of when it can be celebrated again.
But I ask how long will you wait? We do not know how long this extremity will last. Are we wise to restrict our churches from the Lord’s Supper blessing when there are ways to make it work?
For those who would rather not celebrate the Supper I wold not want to scorn such scruples. However, I would want to urge a thinking through of the New Testament delineation of corporate spiritual life which is so very different to the Old Testament. In the Old Testament the regime is very strict and tangible; the ceremony is strictly prescribed. In the New Testament the order is far more flexible. There are principles which must be adhered to so as to honour the Lord. The beauty of these principles, though, is that they can be outworked in all kinds of cultural circumstances. Can they not be outworked now? I fear that overly restricting the celebration to certain physical circumstances is harking back to an Old Testament Day that has passed.
This leads me to ponder on the providential operations of God. Has He not sufficiently provided us with the wherewithal to operate as churches during this time? Can we not accept even the computer technology as a providential gift?
In all this I want to clearly assert that I believe that the Lord’s Supper is a feast for the church. It is “a when you come together feast” (see 1 Cor. 11:18). I do not want to encourage an individual celebrating of the Lord’s Supper. It is a church ordinance.
So these are my musings. Good believing people and churches will reach different conclusions. I plead respect and courtesy for those who see things differently to us. Above all may there be a desire to seek to honour the Lord and edify His people among us at this time.