The observance of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper is clearly taught in the New Testament. Since there are many false concepts and doctrines about this ordinance, it is appropriate to clarify what the Bible really teaches about it.
No ordinary meal
Apparently there were misunderstandings in the church at Corinth about the Lord’s Supper and its meaning, and something else had been introduced during the absence of the apostle Paul; or something else had been added to the ordinance as communicated to the church by Paul that did not belong to it. Paul therefore wrote to the church to clarify and set the matter right. This is clear from the following passage of Scripture: “Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you” (1 Corinthians 11:20-22).
A memorial meal
After rebuking the church at Corinth for its conduct and showing it that taking such a communal meal is not the Lord’s Supper, the apostle went on to clarify what the Lord’s Supper really is. “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (verses 23-26).
Paul specifically points out that the Lord Jesus Himself instituted the Lord’s Supper. In Matthew 26:26-28 we read, “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.'”
The purpose of the Lord’s Supper
In instituting the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, Christ had a definite purpose. Much of its original and proper meaning has been lost or obscured by spiritual dimness and by theological views and false human opinions. Thus, some teach that the bread and wine are changed by consecration into the actual body and blood of Christ. Others teach that by taking of the Lord’s Supper one receives forgiveness of sins. But these theories, which make the Lord’s Supper a substitute for the Savior Himself or a substitute for the particular experience of salvation, are not based on God’s Word.
The true purpose of the Lord’s Supper is clear from the words of the Lord Jesus spoken at its institution, “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).
Now if this ordinance is instituted in memory of Christ, it is evident that it is not actually in the Communion goods (though Christ is symbolically represented in them in His atoning sacrifice), but rather we are reminded by it of His death. And by it we are made aware of Christ’s vicarious suffering for our sins in a way that would hardly be possible otherwise.
By participating in this ordinance, we are brought into a more intimate communion of His sufferings and death. In observing this ordinance we do not gain spiritual life, but in it we proclaim the death of Christ.
“Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).
People who do not discern the body of Christ (His sacrificed body in its true meaning as a sin offering), and who are not actually redeemed from sins, are unworthy to partake of the Lord’s Supper, which after all proclaims the Lord’s death. If they partake of the Lord’s Supper in an unredeemed state, they become guilty of the Lord’s body and blood, eating and drinking to their own damnation. “Let man examine himself!” Only those who are truly redeemed have the right to partake of this holy memorial ordinance.
The continuation of the ordinance
That the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper was given and is to be kept for the whole Christian age is clear from the Scriptures. In the apostolic age it was kept by the church. Jesus commanded the apostles to go forth and teach all nations. What were they to teach? “Teach them to keep all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Did he command the keeping of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper? “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Until when should this be continued? As long as the gospel is preached, all that the Lord has commanded should be kept: until the end of the world. In 1 Corinthians 11:26 we read, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” Thus, the true followers of Jesus of the entire Gospel Age are obligated to keep the Lord’s Supper until the Lord comes again.
F. G. Smith