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Can We Talk About The Lord’s Supper?
I ask us to reexamine our traditions concerning the Lord’s Supper.

“All things whatsoever I have commanded you”

TheGreat Commission given by the Lord is this,

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20)

The phrase being examined here is, “… Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you …” All of Scripture is His Word, and His commands are found in both Old and New Testaments. But it is important to correctly understand divisions such as the major one between the New and the Old Covenants. For instance that would mean that what was commanded to Israel under the Covenant of the Law is not given as a command to the Church under the New Covenant. An easy example would be that the restrictions to Israel on what kinds of meat they could eat are not applicable to the Church under the New Covenant. In practice it means that when we teach principles and practices drawn from the Bible they must be kept in context. That includes history, prophecy, practical wisdom, instructions to the Church, and the teachings, sayings, and commands of Jesus, for example the Sermon on the mount. We are not free to pick and choose what parts we will believe or put into practice. The Bible is given to us as a whole, and it is to be observed in whole. The intent of the Lord therefore is that we be taught to “… observe all things whatsoever …” He has commanded us, not just those things which we may favor or understand or believe. But we must keep the parts in proper relationship to each other. History is taught as history, prophecy as prophecy, commands to Israel as commands to Israel, and instructions to the Church as instructions to the Church.

In the Old Testament, commands, for the most part, were very direct, often preceded by, “Thou shalt!” or “Thou shall not!”. In the New Testament commands are often given in a softer voice. One example is the Apostle John writing, “little children love one another” in his First Epistle. Paul writes about love as well, in 1 Corinthians 13 he describes it rather than give us a series of imperatives. Nevertheless we know that love is one of the things which the Lord commanded us to observe.

Nobody should think that the things Jesus, or His Apostles said or wrote were mere suggestions. We have the one instance where Paul gave his own personal opinion as advice, but he was careful to say that it was his own opinion and not God’s command, and that he gave it with God’s permission,

But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. (1 Corinthians 7:6)

This shows clearly the distinction between commands and suggestions in the Scriptures.

Nothing that I’ve written here should seem new to a Bible student. The point of this is to think about that phrase in the Great Commission. How often do we meditate upon it. Are we conscious of it in ministry? Do we actively think about it when we’re teaching? How often do we contemplate that a teachers job is to be “… teaching them to observe all things …”?

I suggest that in regards to the Lord’s Supper too many are not fulfilling our commission. In all honesty, most Protestants see it as optional to take part in Communion, as it is most commonly known. In all honesty, for most Protestants it just isn’t that important because we don’t view it as critical for salvation. Most of us Protestants believe that we are saved by faith believing, not by sacraments administered by the clergy. And for that reason, the Lord’s Supper is only looked at as a lovely celebration expressing our communion with the Lord and with each other. But that the preaching of the word of God is more important.

Nevertheless, putting aside all argument about it’s relative importance, one thing remains. Our Lord commissioned us to teach , “them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” And we must agree that the Lord has commanded us to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. We cannot imagine His words, This do to be a mere suggestion. We cannot imagine that the Lord was saying we could do it if we wanted to. No we must take His words as a command. That is the example we have in Acts and 1 Corinthians. That is the understanding expressed by the Church Fathers and in other early writings. And it has been the constant understanding of the Church since those early days, down unto our own times.

Let us also put aside, for now, all argument about how often we should celebrate it. The point at hand is that it is one of “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”, and that we are to teach our people to observe it.

Do we teach our people to observe it? How extensive is our vocabulary used to teach about the Lord’s Supper? Is it for the most part limited to words like communion and memorial? Do we devalue it in the eyes of the people by teaching that we shouldn’t celebrate it too often because it would become trite through over use? Is our teaching limited to tenets such as only believers should partake, that we have to be right with the Lord and each other to partake, or that it isn’t necessary for salvation? It is usually only mentioned just prior those monthly or quarterly celebrations in which we give the necessary warnings. Then do we almost hurry through it, allowing maybe just enough time to be decent about things, but not a minute more because we have other important things to be doing also.

And if the foregoing be true for us, and let us be honest with ourselves about this — at least in private, then we are barely teaching about the thing. We cannot say that we are fulfilling our commission from the Lord to teach all things that He has commanded us.

One might object that it is more important to meet peoples’ needs. To preach the Gospel and see people saved, to keep them interested enough in what happens at church to keep them coming back. To educate them in the Bible. Those things are very important. But the commission still stands that we must teach “all things whatsoever” that Jesus has commanded us. Of necessity that includes the Lord’s Supper. And to barely teach about it, if at all, is to violate both the letter and the spirit of our commission.

To properly teach it we must expand our vocabulary. And we must make it a point to also teach that vocabulary to our people. And we must teach them that it is not optional, but that it is a command; Jesus wants us to do it because He has a purpose for us in it. Does one object that this is legalism? It is not. It is not legalism to teach that we must obey the Lord. It is not legalism to teach holy living. It is not legalism to teach what sin is, and to teach us to avoid sin, and to repent of it. It is not legalism to teach that we must conform ourselves to the Lord. It is not legalism to teach that the Lord, having said, “This do”, intended that we should do just that.

But, the Lord’s Supper is not to become the thing itself. Our attention is to be focused upon the Lord as the object and subject of our worship. We don’t want to make too much of the Lord’s Supper and make it the center of our attention because its purpose is to center our attention, to focus us, upon the Lord Himself. It is His invention for us to worship Him in and by its celebration. But just as we don’t want to make too much of it, neither should we make too little of it. For most Protestants however, too little is made of it, and it is not properly taught to the people. It has been said that the Reformers did not retain the proper value and place of the Lord’s Supper. And that is true for most Protestants today. The Lord’s Supper is God’s work and we must study to understand as much about it as we may. And we must also teach our people to understand it and then observe it. It is time for us to be fulfilling our commission and teach “This do”. Because if indeed it is God’s work, we should prefer nothing to it, nor should we neglect it.

©FH 2012

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