We now approach another controversy within the Christian community – that of the Lord’s Supper. Or is it The Eucharist or Divine Liturgy or Blessed Sacrament or Communion or Holy Communion or… well you get the idea. Denominations can’t even agree on what to call the practice, so it is no surprise that they can’t agree on whether it is a sacrament or even a valid observance for today. As with Baptism, we have a relatively simple command:
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table… he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:14-20)
1 Corinthians summarizes it as:
Lord Jesus, on the night 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor 11: 23-26)
However, as we have seen before, nothing is straightforward in Christianity and if a division can be found, it will be made. Everything all hinges on what you think a remembrance is and how you view the words this is my body.
Depending on how you count and what differences you want to emphasize, there are 4 or 5 major views on the Lord’s Supper (the name I will be using) and a number of other differing opinions. For the purpose of this post, I’ll briefly look at 5 major views. As a reminder, this overview is simply to show the diversity of Christian opinion and practice on this core doctrine. It is obvious (I hope) that I am not trying to determine which view is correct, since they are all made up! Such diversity is, in my opinion, one reason which shows that the Christian god is of human origin. A real god couldn’t be so incompetent in his ability to communicate with his creatures, especially on core issues of faith and practice.
The 5 major views can be summaried as:
- Roman Catholic/Transubstantiation
It is a symbolic commemorative of the Last Supper. The elements (bread and wine) only represent his body and blood. They do not become his body and blood. The service is a time of reflection on what Christ supposedly accomplished. (Memorialism)
The traditional Calvinistic view holds that the Lords Supper is a sacrament and while the elements merely represent the body and blood of Christ and, in a spiritual sense through faith, they become an aid to faith and practice. (Real presence of Christ in the Eucharist)
The bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ but not in the Roman Catholic sense. In other words the bread and wine doesn’t actually, physically become flesh and blood. Christ’s body and blood exists alongside (under, surrounding) the actual elements and serves as a means of grace and sanctification. If it sounds confusing, it is. Just remember, you can’t be rational when describing a deep mystery experienced only by faith! (Consubstantiation)
In the Roman Catholic trandition the bread and wine literally are the body and blood of Christ. This happens in some mysterious way so that the ritual actually becomes a “new” sacrifice. Yet somehow this happens without the any changes to the appearance, taste or chemical makeup of the elements. Now that is faith! Such a doctrine had Richard Dawkins ask the question to practicing Catholics, “…do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?” (Read his Reason Rally speech here) I am afraid many do, because it is accepted as a deep mystery of faith. I remember, long ago, during my First Communion (yes, I was raised Catholic as all good Italians are) that a considerable emphasis was placed on not chewing or letting your teeth touch the communion wafer for fear of biting into god. Somehow swallowing him without teeth marks was ok! (Transubstantiation)
There are also denominations, such as the Quaker’s and the Salvation Army, that do not observe the Lord’s Supper:
One of the distinguishing features of the Society of Friends from most other Christian bodies is the absence of the observance of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper from its religious practices…The Quaker movement was founded on the conviction that the whole of life is sacramental. The founders refused to designate any particular observance or practice as being more sacred than another…The Quaker ideal is to make every meal at every table a Lord’s Supper. Again, the reality lies, not in the nature of the material substance, but in the way it stirs the heart of every partaker. (The Sacraments)
These are radically different and incompatible views. A memorial is NOT the same thing as the literal body and blood of a dead savior! There is a good amount of magical thinking and a lot of passion surrounding the Lord’s Supper. As Martin Luther said:
In the same way I also say and confess that in the Sacrament of the Altar the true body and blood of Christ are orally eaten and drunk in the bread and wine, even if the priests who distribute them or those who receive them do not believe or otherwise misuse the sacrament. It does not rest on human belief or unbelief but on the Word and ordinance of God – unless they first change God’s Word and ordinance and misinterpret them, as the enemies of the sacrament do at the present time. They, indeed, have only bread and wine, for they do not also have the words and instituted ordinance of God but have perverted and changed it according to their own imagination. (Which Churches Have the Lords Supper? Which Churches Do Not? Quotations from Martin Luther)
However, the differences don’t stop here. There is also controversy over how often the Lord’s Supper should be observed, who can partake, and even what to serve! Of course everyone has biblical support for their views and are passionate about them.
Unfortunately, omniscience in a god doesn’t seem to prevent carelessness. When the command was given to “do this in remembrance” of me, he forgot a little detail – When!
Should it be done once a week?
Bible authority teaches us to have the Lord’s supper on each first day of the week. To have it any other day is to act without God’s authority. Therefore, Christians must refuse to eat it on any other day. (When Should We Have the Lord’s Supper?)
How about often but not too often?
There is no biblical guideline for how often a group of believers should observe the Lord’s Supper…A general guideline to follow would be to not take communion so often that it becomes ritualistic and routine, but often enough that believers benefit from the reminder. (The Lord’s Supper)
Or maybe once a year on a very specific date?
Let us return to the faith once delivered. Let us humbly and obediently observe this solemn, sacred ordinance as we are commanded, and at the time set apart in the Bible, after sundown on the 14th of Abib, or Nisan, sacred Hebrew calendar. (How Often Should We Partake of the Lord’s Supper?)
What to Serve?
It seems that the believer better get the day right or risk departing from the faith that was handed down so long ago. However, that is only the first hurdle to overcome in remaining faithful to god. Once the day question is settled, the next question is what to serve. Surely this should be easy – bread and wine? Right? Seems clear. Doesn’t it? Well, no.
While many OSP churches have come round to using wine in the Lord’s Supper, there is a common misunderstanding among many churches that the kind of bread we use in communion should be unleavened. The biblical data does not support this position however, and the Old School Presbyterian consensus was always that the common leavened bread of our every-day use was the element we should be using at the Lord’s Supper. (Must We Use Unleavened Bread in the Lord’s Supper?)
Only unleavened bread, picturing the sinless body of our Lord Jesus Christ can properly be used as an element in the Lord’s Supper. Although this may sound distastefully strong to some, to use leavened bread in the Lord’s Supper is to not discern the sinlessness of the Lord’s body(The Elements of the Lord’s Supper What Kind of Bread and Fruit of the Vine Are We to Use part 2)
Leavened or unleavened, what a quandary. I wonder if it should be white bread, whole wheat or 7 grain? I’m surprised there doesn’t seem to be any debates on the flour that needs to be used. Wouldn’t processed and bleached white flour change the symbolism of the bread? We will let the theologians argue that point, but what of the wine? Surely wine means “an alcoholic drink made from fermented grape juice.” Or maybe not?
Can you really justify drinking ‘old fermented wine’ in remembrance of the ‘Holy Blood shed atonement made for us on Calvary’s cross? No way hosey! (The Lord)
Is it a sin to use fermented juice in keeping the Lord’s Supper? Let me ask this: Is it a sin to use raised bread in keeping the Lord’s Supper? I think the answer to both is “yes” because it violates the symbolism Jesus established for his memorial meal. (Can fermented grape juice (wine) be used in the Lord’s Supper?)
If someone is so lacking in faith that he cannot take a tiny amount of wine that symbolizes the blood of His Savior who died to give him the precious gifts of forgiveness and eternal life, that person ought not take the Lord’s Supper at all. (The Elements of the Lord’s Supper What Kind of Bread and Fruit of the Vine Are We to Use part 6)
Let us use FERMENTED grape juice for the annual New Testament Passover, as the Bible clearly commands. (God’s Holy Days: Should GRAPE JUICE or WINE be used for Christian Passover Service?)
Clearly commands? I think not. I wonder if the type of grape matters? Syrah, Cabernet or Zinfandel anyone?
Who Can Partake?
Assuming a believer figured out what day to observe the Lord’s Supper and what to serve, the next task would be to determine who to serve. In some respects, this depends on how a denomination views the Lord’s Supper. If the denomination sees it as a church ordinance, they most likely want it to be controlled by the church. Even more so for a church sacrament. If they see it as something that is universal to all believers, the denomination may be more open in who should partake. What I find strange, is that the denominations that hold it to be a “memorial” often have the strictest rules. You would think that those churches that believe partakers are actually eating the literal body and blood of a god would be very strict indeed. (Or maybe you really can’t because it is so absurd!)
Should children take part? Absolutely not:
In the first place: children may not partake of the Lord’s Supper… (May Children Partake of the Lord’s Supper)
There is no basis for excluding a child that can make a profession of faith and also is able to discern the significance of the elements. (Children and the Lord’s Supper)
Surely it should be up to the individual to examine him or herself and make it a personal decision:
The Lord’s Supper is for people who have faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, even if they have not been baptized yet. We tell people that the bread and wine are for those who have faith in Christ. They must make their own decision as to whether to partake. We do not believe it is appropriate to refuse to let people partake if they want to do so, even if they are not baptized. (Question & Answers About the Lord’s Supper)
Well, maybe that is too generous. There should be some rules:
I believe the Scripture clearly teaches “The Lord’s Supper” is a church ordinance and therefore the church is responsible to see that it is Scripturally observed. There may be those who believe it is not a church ordinance, but was promiscuously given to every individual Christian to be observed individually or in groups without any church supervision or oversight. As I see it, to believe in open communion, it would be necessary to insist it is not a church ordinance, for if we agree that it is a church ordinance then the only logical conclusion is, that the first requirement for partaking of the Supper is membership in a Scriptural church.(Vital Church Truths Chapter Four-The Lord’s Supper)
More rules might be better:
The requirements for partaking in the Lord’s Supper are:
- Belief in the articles of the Apostle’s Creed
- Baptism in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
- Church membership (exceptions allowed for those seeking membership)
- Affirmation of the real presence of Christ in the sacrament, as explained above
- Children must make a public profession of faith (What is the Lord’s Supper?)
I was once member of a church that took the oversight of the Lord’s Supper so seriously, that those charged with handing out the elements (unleavened bread and grape juice in this case) were instructed to withhold them from any child and those not church members.
Once more we see that a core Christian belief is racked with division and controversy and, of course, the absolute assurance a particular view is correct. Once again, we see that the bible is a horrible guide to faith and practice. It can be interpreted in radically different ways by people who are sincerely trying to discern the “truth” that is supposedly contains. The fact that an omniscience god is so incompetent in communicating vital truths to his creation, strongly suggests that such a god is nonexistent or doesn’t really care what we do or believe. In the latter case, why worship him?