To venable (verb): To randomly muse upon this and that.

Archive for the ‘Lord’s Supper’ Category

The Lord’s Supper Now?!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lord’s Supper Frames The Church

One of the key inputs that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper has in the life of a church is that it frames the church around our Lord Jesus Christ and the rich grace of God that is in and through Him.

When we come together to partake of the bread and cup we are making certain declarations about what we believe and are committed to. The two which are key to our understanding of God’s ways for us as churches are the centrality of Christ and the necessity of grace. Let us read this paragraph which gives Paul’s understanding of the meanings and implications of the Lord’s Supper

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 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.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor. 11:23-26)

From this we discern that the Lord Jesus is centre stage in the Lord’s Supper. He is the One who we remember, and most particularly we focus on remembering His death.  And we do all this whilst awaiting His return. When the table is set and the bread and cup partaken of, Jesus Christ our Lord is portrayed before our spiritual eyes as the all glorious One who is returning for His church. History is defined by Christ and the church is similarly to be defined by Him. Moreover, the church is to formed into the likeness of Christ who died and rose and is coming again.

Furthermore, we are declaring that we owe all to Him. Christianity is not a joint-undertaking where we do our part and Jesus comes and does His part. Rather it is deal whereby our God in Christ by the Holy Spirit does everything. We can as much save ourselves as jump to the moon; it is impossible. We need God to come to rescue us from ourselves and from our sin. This is grace; God’s grace.

But we must go a stage further. When we come to the Lord’s Supper we have the  instruction by Paul: 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 Cor. 11:27-28). In the examination we discern two main things; we owe all to Christ and we are sinful. We are not just neutral people that God reaches out to, we are, rather, sinful people who are rejectors of God. With such thoughts in our minds the sweet fragrance of grace is intensified in the church. 

To be a church celebrating the Lord’s Supper and be failing to be gracious is a complete contradiction. And similarly we will not be able to focus on ourselves and our desires, but on Christ our Lord and His desires when we fully grasp the communion feast.

Baptism, Lord’s Supper, Church Membership.

God has established a proper order for our lives in His Word. He, in His grace, provides a structure wherein we can function for His glory.

Salvation. The first and most important thing is that we are saved. We can be involved in church and participating in all kinds of things, but if we are not saved they are all irrelevant. To be saved involves repentance and faith. We need first to realise that we are wrong before God and are going the wrong way; we are on a way that leads to death and destruction as a result of our sin. When we fully appreciate that this is our state we turn back to God. This is repentance. And when we do turn back to God we see how our Lord Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins and is now risen from the dead. Through believing in Him and in Him alone we have eternal life.

Baptism. Upon being saved the Lord calls us to be baptised. He calls us to confess our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ by being immersed in water and raised out of the water. This is baptism. The principle is established in Acts 2:41a. Those who accepted his message were baptised. Similarly when the message was received by the Gentiles we see the pattern followed. So we read in Acts 9:46b-48a: Then Peter said, ‘Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptised with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. The receiving of the Holy Spirit proved that they were saved and so they needed to be baptised. Baptism is the outward act that indicates to all, that we have been saved. It does not make our salvation, but it confirms our salvation. The act of baptism is associated with our commencing the life of grace in Christ. Every Christian should be continually remembering their baptism and how they confessed that they were finished with living for self, sin and this world and were committed to living for the new creation.

The Lord’s Supper. God also gives us an ongoing ceremony to remind us of our salvation; this is the Lord’s Supper. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the only ceremonial acts that are given to the Christian church. The Lord’s Supper confirms our ongoing life of grace in Christ. It is our weekly declaration that we are in Christ and not living for ourselves. You will gather from this that there is something wrong if someone is taking the Lord’s Supper and is is not baptised. The order is that baptism is to be at the start of the Christian life and the Lord’s Supper is to be celebrated throughout the Christian life. To be involved in the ongoing rite without submitting to the initial rite is contradictory.

So what happens when we take the Lord’s Supper? At this feast we are called to examine ourselves, confess our sins and acknowledge Christ together. It is to be done in a church setting; it is not a private individual or family thing. In the church setting all those participating in taking the bread and drinking the cup together acknowledge Christ together.

Church Membership. By taking the Lord’s Supper together with other believers we acknowledge our togetherness with them. Paul expresses it to the Corinthians like this: Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf (1 Cor. 10:16-17). When participating in the Lord’s Supper you declare that you are committed to these people who you are sharing the loaf with; you are one with them. So many people seems to think that celebrating communion is just an individual act, but surely this is only part of what is taking place. There is a significant collective element to it.

But our collective participation in the Lord’s Supper is contradictory if we are not a member of the church. When you become a member of a church you are committing yourself into the life of that church; you are formally associating yourself with that community of believers. So if you are not a member and are taking the Lord’s Supper your are giving a contradictory message. You are saying you are joined with that body of believers by taking the Lord’s Supper, but you will not commit formally in membership. Something is wrong here.

I conclude by putting before you what happened when the church in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost was originally formed. After the preaching of the Word by Peter we read this summary of what happened in Acts 2:41-42: Those who accepted his message (salvation) were baptised (baptism), and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves (church membership) to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread (the Lord’s Supper) and to prayer. Salvation, then baptism, then church membership, then the Lord’s Supper; that’s the Lord’s order.

(Taken from the Feltham Evangelical Church newsletter of October 2016)

Living And Serving.

We have now looked at the necessity for all Christians to consider becoming church members. Following on from this we need to look at how we should live as church members. Interestingly the basis on which we become church members can significantly affect the manner in which we conduct ourselves once we have come to enjoy the privileges of being a member of a church. Someone who drifts into becoming church member seemingly oblivious to what it means is likely to have little commitment to that church. On the other hand someone who makes a determined commitment to be a member of a church fellowship is likely to live as a committed church member, but what does it really mean to be committed to a church?

One helpful image for us in this context which is presented in the Scripture of a local church is that of a body (see 1 Cor 12:12-31). The argument in this passage is that every part of the body is valuable and useful. No-one can argue that they are so insignificant that they have nothing to offer in the church; all have something to give. Moreover, if someone decides that they are not going to support the church and its activities then the church suffers as a result.

The principle that underlies this is that “privilege leads to responsibility”. It is a great privilege to be a part of a local testimony which is established to the glory of God.

This privilege leads to the responsibility to live a life which is appropriate for those who are in church fellowship and to serve to the end that the church will be built up.

We need to be aware therefore that the way we live is vitally important for the life of the church. Not only should we live godly lives in Christ Jesus in the church, but we should also do so in our homes, workplaces and communities. Any failure to do so ultimately reflects detrimentally on the name of the church and more importantly on the name of our God.

One of the sad consequences of David’s sinful acts towards Bathsheba and Uriah was that he had “shown utter contempt for the LORD” (2 Sam. 12:14). How sad it would be if we were to hear the church in Feltham spoken badly of because of the lax ways of one of the members. Let us therefore take heed to how we live. How great it would be if, like Peter and John, people would realise that we “had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13b) because of the righteous quality of our lives.

One of the ways in which we display our commitment to the local fellowship is by supporting the services and activities of the church. Obviously some, through certain circumstances, are hindered from physically being present in church life. However, in many cases, those who are limited in this way, show their commitment by their prayerful interest in the church. Notwithstanding this we should endeavor, like that first church in Jerusalem did, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42), and we should take heed to the exhortation to the Hebrews to be not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing (Heb10:25a).

Furthermore we should commit ourselves to the work of the church. We are not here to build mini-empires in the church like Diotrephes in 3 John:9, but rather to labour together for the faith of the gospel. In all our labours in the church let us remember that we are seeking to set forth the great gospel of our God. So whether we are cleaning the toilets, doing some painting, visiting people at home or preaching the Word we all need to focus on the fact that we are assisting in maintaining a testimony for the LORD.

One crucial way in which we support the church is in having a proper attitude towards those whom the LORD has set to have authority in the church.

Paul says “to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work” (1 Thess. 5:12b-13a). In this anti-authoritarian age we must be careful to assist the elders and deacons in their work. In doing this we are supporting the proper ordering in the church which is all to the LORD’S glory.

So to recap on some of the issues we have considered, this week, we note that a Christian should be baptised and a baptised Christian should be a church member. Finally we have come to the issue we have dealt with in this article that all church members have a responsibility to diligently follow the LORD in the church to which they are affiliated.

A command and an obedience.

On one Sunday recently I was struck by one thing in the morning and one in the evening. In the moaning it was about how the participation in the Lord’s Supper remembrance celebration is a command and in the evening about how God is very interested in our obedience.

So why is it then that there seems to be so little commitment to obey the command to keep the Lord’s Supper feast? Our Lord’s Supper service, when we remember our Lord in communion together, seems so very often to be the “poor cousin” of our corporate church life. We will seek to pray, hear his word and sing His praise and truly that is good. But the special remembrance feast is something we never determine to celebrate, but only happen upon when it is in the service we happen to be attending.

What does it say of our attitude to our Saviour when we so casually fail to obey his command to “do this in remembrance of me”? And yes the Lord is interested in our obedience. I admit to being dismayed as I observe this behaviour. When people confess Him as Lord, but fail to put themselves out to celebrate this feast something seems to be wrong.

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