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


One of the most common names used by Protestants when referring to the Lord’s Supper is Communion. What is communion?

The Greek word it is translated from is koinonia. Thayer defines it with words like: fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intimacy. Usage examples would be sharing fellowship or intimacy together in something, being one together in unity.

Paul wrote the following as an explanation for some instructions he was giving for Christian living in another context, but it directly tells us something about the Lord’s Supper, pointing out the aspects of communion. The words in bold face translate forms of the Greek word koinonia:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?”
(1 Corinthians 10:16-18)

When Paul speaks of sacrifices eaten by Israel we first think of the Passover in Egypt when they were instructed to kill a lamb, sprinkle its blood on their door posts, and then eat the lamb, leaving nothing, or burning what was left. Though the Passover predates the giving of the Law, it follows the same pattern for sacrifices in the Law. They must partake of that sacrifice.

After deliverance from Egypt, Israel was fed by God on their journey. Manna was sent to them every day to feed them.

These things give us the background to what Jesus said in the Sixth Chapter of John’s Gospel,

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven? Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me. Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. (John 6:32-58)

Without entering into any of the controversies that exist over this passage we can note that Jesus is referring to the well known requirement of the Law to partake of the sacrifice for sin. As Paul said,

… are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? (1 Corinthians 10:18; see also: 9:13;)

As we know, great controversy arose when Jesus said this, many were offended. And it is controversial to this day, still offending many. But as I said, the idea to grasp here for our purposes is what Jesus was referring to: partaking of the sacrifice. And that reference sets the stage for what Jesus did in that upper room at the Last Supper. There He, the Lamb of God, was master of the feast celebrating the Passover, where the events of the Passover were recounted, including the instructions about the Passover lamb. And there at the end He introduced (commanded) what we now call the Lord’s Supper, and He explained the true meaning of the Passover. In was in that context that Jesus gave the Communion meal to the Church,

… as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28)

Unless one thinks that the Lord was extemporizing things, all this hangs together as a coherent whole, a part of what Peter, in Acts 2:23, called the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God”, we can call it God’s plan from eternity. Through the prophetic type of sacrifice in Scriptures, and in the words of Jesus, and in the Lord’s Supper, we are given a profound vision of how we are one with the Lord Jesus Christ.

That oneness, or fellowship, or communion, or intimacy, that koinonia, is profound. The Church, referring to us, is called His body. We are called His bride. We are joined to Him as one. Here I have a difficulty deciding how much to quote from John 17 because it should be read in entirety, but here is an excerpt:

… Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:20-24)

As we eat the bread, and drink from the cup, we shew the Lord’s death until He comes again. That is, we proclaim, declare, preach the Gospel. It is the Christian Kergyma, meant to influence us. By eating and drinking we are saying “Amen. I believe that Jesus is the Christ, my savior, the Only Begotten Son of God, Who as the Lamb of God, takes away the sins of the world. And He takes away my sins. I also believe that He is returning to take me to be with Him where He is. I believe that I am one with Him.” We are partakers of the true altar.

It is important to restate at this point, that the question of the presence or absence of Christ in the bread and cup is not being addressed at all. Whether we are actually, physically, eating His flesh and drinking His blood, or if this is a metaphorical eating and drinking is not being touched upon here. What is being addressed is the picture of communion presented in the Lord's Supper, and how that effectually and explicitly is a profession of our faith when we partake. This is so no matter your view of other doctrines.

We are made to be aware of our oneness with our God and Savior at the Lord’s Supper. This is not the least reason why Paul warned us to not eat unworthily, but discerning His body and blood. And this memorial awareness of communion is part of God’s purpose in the Lord’s Supper, that we should keep it in mind and meditate upon it. This also builds us up in the Lord, by building up our faith.

But, our communion is also with each other, as members of the Church, altogether as one in the Lord. It is an expression of our fellowship. When we eat and drink and say “Amen, I believe this is true”, we are declaring our unity in the Lord. This unity is what Paul pointed to in his criticism of the Corinthians, that they wrecked their claims of fellowship by not sharing their food, nor waiting for others at the love feast all the while thinking they were also celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

The unity of the fellowship in the faith is important, even commanded. We read,

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4:1-13)

Remember in John 17 that Jesus fervently prayed that we might be one in Him as He and the Father are one. This is important. And it is also what is meant when we call the Lord’s Supper communion. We are enacting that we are His body, one in Him. The bread we eat, the cup we drink, Paul calls it the communion of His body and blood. He says,

For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. ( 1 Corinthians 10:17)

This also is God’s purpose in building us up in Christ, to build the Church. Jesus said that is what He would do, and He is doing it today. We read,

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

My only point here is that Jesus said He would build His Church, which He has done and is doing. We are His Church, His body. At the Lord’s Supper we celebrate that communion. A long time ago St. Augustine wrote,

If you are the body and members of Christ, then it is your sacrament that is placed on the table of the Lord; it is your sacrament that you receive. To that which you are you respond "Amen ("yes it is true") and by responding to it you assent to it. For you hear the words, "the Body of Christ" and respond "Amen". Be then a member of the body of Christ that your Amen may be true.

Let’s not quibble about whether Augustine seems to confuse Christ’s own body signified by the bread with that body which is the Church. Given that we declare our communion his points stands, "Be then a member of the body of Christ that your Amen may be true."

This is not just a nicety. It is very important and of great concern to the Lord. I’ve quoted from Ephesians 4 about unity. Paul also wrote:

Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; (Philippians 1:27)

Paul tells us we are carnal otherwise,

And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:1-11)

Divisions, strife, false teachings vs One foundation, God’s building, we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.

That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)

John declares to us what he has seen and heard in order that we may have fellowship, with one another and with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

If one immerses oneself in the Scripture passages I’ve given, and there are many more, it becomes apparent that it is an absolute necessity to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit. It is not an option, we ignore this to our own sorrow when we stand before the Lord.

These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; (Jude 1:12)

True Jude is speaking of false teachers teaching error and leading others astray. But think about it, teaching strife, causing division for selfish reasons, being contentious, is akin to false teaching!

And spots in our feasts, what of the feast of the Lord’s Supper! What does Paul say:

For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. (1 Corinthians 11:18-20)

Paul is speaking about violating fellowship within the assembly. Divisions of denomination arise no doubt from principled stands taken on what one believes. But, there is an application, the divisions among us are carnal whatever they are. We call the Lord’s Supper communion. And so it is. Communion, one with another, together, having communion with the Lord. How are divisions of denomination communion? They are not. They cannot be communion. This is obvious. If we stand in strife and envy and division from other Christians that we may disagree with we cannot have communion in the Lord’s Supper. We must ask, are we discerning the Lord’s body and blood?

But how can we maintain unity with those who hold error? We cannot. A principled stand upon what one considers the truth is different from a denominational bigotry that rejects any who don’t conform to our own denomination. Somehow we must endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit yet hold on to the truth. We must try to understand others without sacrificing our own principles. None of this suggests that we ignore error or countenance heresy. But it does call for effort to try to understand others. We may keep a perhaps one sided unity in the Spirit. An asymmetrical fellowship as it were, if, and because, Christ is preached.

We can take the time to try to understand. There may be reasonable differences between reasonable people. We may not agree, but if the differences are logical, plausible, and reasonable, but require different assumptions, either about whether a Scripture passage is literal or figurative, or because of a different method of interpretation, then though we may still disagree we can avoid the strife and envy of contention as best as we may. We may be charitable in the best sense. But if the differences are in fact because of heresy, the work of a false teacher, by all means we must reject it.

Here is a tough proposal for Protestants: the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls for: “urgent prayers to the Lord that the time of complete unity of all who believe in Him may return.” They call the Lord’s Supper a sacrament of devotion, a sign of unity, a bond of charity. Shouldn’t this also be the urgent prayer of Protestants?

Rome makes some small allowance for Protestants, the Catechism reads:

Ecclesian communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, "have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic Mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders." It is for this reason that, for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with those communities is not possible. However (emphasis added) these Ecclesial communities, "when they commemorate the Lord’s death and resurrection in the Holy supper … profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and await His coming in glory. (CCC Paragraph 1400, p. 353)

I mentioned before that we might find an asymmetrical fellowship by understanding others. Here we see the Catholic Church hold out a slender thread of fellowship in Christ to those with whom they fundamentally disagree. It is based on the mere acknowledgement that these others, meaning Protestants, are making a profession of Christ. Here we see an important truth: whilst endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit, we may not be able to have intercommunion (sit at the Lords’ Supper together) with Roman Catholics, or other Protestants even, yet because they profess Christ, and Him crucified, we hold some measure of unity in that profession. Wouldn’t that be a step in fulfilling the prayer Jesus made for us to be one in Him and the Father? There is this possibility of charity because,“… they profess … life in communion with Christ and await His coming in glory”.

On the other hand, a bigoted spirit of denominationalism, or a spirit that fractures Christian unity by harsh rejection of others who may differ, cannot truly partake of communion at the Lord’s Supper.

An old old timer, John Chrysostom, in the fourth century A.D., wrote about receiving the poor,

We must recognize Christ in the poorest of His brethren: You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize His brother, you dishonor this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal. God freed you from all your sins and invited you here, but you have not become more merciful. St John Crysostom

Fellowship is an indispensable aspect of worship. We are to strive to maintain the unity of the body, the unity of faith, even with them that are poor in doctrine. If we say we are baptized into the death of Christ, thus into the Church, we must also acknowledge our fellows in faith in Christ. Fellowship is companionship, shared identity, enjoyment of one another, all practical earthly things. It is a unity both mystical and visible. And we must find a way to bridge differences even if only in a small, tenuous, even lopsided way, such as suggested in the quote from the Catechism. Will we not become more merciful?

Public worship centers in the celebration of the Lord facilitated by the Lord’s Supper, memorializing the bloody sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world. Here is declared the reconciliation of heaven and earth, of eternity and time, and it is fraught with spiritual benefit for the congregants, and is one unbroken communion of the whole Church. (borrowed from the CCC )

This worship partakes of the mysterious and miraculous (but it must never devolve into the superstitions of the magical). Some call it a sacrament. Sacrament is the Latin word Jerome used in his Latin Vulgate to translate the Greek word mystery, but it implies more than mere mystery however, and for that reason many don’t use the word. Nevertheless, at the very least, the Lord’s Supper nourishes life in Christ as we dwell upon Him in our thoughts and praises. The vision of Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and returning is held before us, this is the vision of Hebrews 2:9. The words of God are held before us, they are a source of faith as Paul taught in Romans 10:17.

Fellowship is part of this worship. It is a manifestation of Christian Love. Catholics, speaking of what they call the proper reality of the Eucharistic Mystery, say it is a bond of perfectness and mercy that binds together all ages and sections of the Church. We take wine and say it is the Lords’ blood, we say we are saved by His blood, though not by the wine. We take bread and say it is the Lords’ body, though not by the bread. We say we are in fellowship with the Lord and with each other. In this way we endeavor to keep the unity of the faith. In this way we truly bind together all ages and sections of the Church, standing on the confession of Christ, and Him crucified. We don’t strive for intercommunion. We don’t ignore real differences in doctrine. We don’t conflate theologies. We don’t change who we are and what we believe. We don’t accept error or heresy. We do avoid strife and contention and envy in the face of our, for now, unresolvable divisions.

Koinonia, communion, of this Paul wrote,

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. (1 Corinthians 11:26-28)

We find that the Lord’s purposes are that we be keenly aware of our communion with Himself. And that we express that communion with Himself, in our communal celebration at the Breaking of Bread, in our own personal lives by becoming living sacrifices to Him (Romans 12.1), and by endeavoring to keep the unity of the faith with others. For this reason we say that the Lord’s Supper is God’s work, and that we should prefer nothing to it.

©FH 2012

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