Theology of the Church

Fellowship at the Lord’s Table

Growing up my family had a tradition of making traditions. One April 15th, a certain twelve-year-old girl was desperately craving cheesecake, and I begged my dad to pick some up on the way home from work. Like the dutiful father he is, he brought the delicacy home, and we gorged ourselves. From that point forward, my brother and I decreed a new “tradition” of cheesecake on Tax Day. We kept the ritual up for several years, and it sparked fond memories and a family habit; it reminded us to pay our taxes, and it made us gather around the dinner table.    supper

Similarly, the Lord has used a meal to bring His people together for centuries to guide their fellowship and communing together. This meal is commonly referred to as the Lord’s Supper, communion, the Eucharist, breaking of the bread, or coming to the Lord’s Table. It is a symbolic ritual within the local church to remind believers of Jesus Christ’s death and bodily sacrifice for His people. Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper for the church to encourage remembrance, instill discipline, and embrace unity.

Encourage Remembrance

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: on the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He also took the cup, after supper, and said, “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 Corinthians 11:23-26

The Lord’s Supper creates an opportunity to reflect on what Christ accomplished on the cross. In Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians, he begins by retelling the account of the first Lord’s Supper, where Jesus broke bread with His disciples before willingly walking to His death alone on their behalf. Today, when a pastor or elder guides the congregation in communion, church members have the opportunity and responsibility to actively engage with the very words of Jesus when he said, “This is my body; which is for you.”

Instead of robotically placing a wafer of bread in their mouth and washing it down with a swig of juice, members of the congregation can remember the gospel together. What a joy it is to know that, while in a corporate service, you can look at the body and the blood in the hands of sinners on your left and on your right and then rejoice in their redemption from sin. Sinner, you too can look down at your own hands after a long, hard week of fighting temptation and know your sin is completely paid, and Christ gave everything for you.

Instill Discipline

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself; in this way let him eat the bread and drink from the cup. For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep.  If we were properly judging ourselves, we would not be judged, but when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined, so that we may not be condemned with the world. – 1 Corinthians 11:27-32

The Lord’s Supper should be joyous, and it helps form a healthy congregation through faithful biblical habits. Previously in 1 Corinthians, Paul reprimanded the Corinthian church for coming to the table in an improper way, which caused division and evidenced selfishness (1 Corinthians 11:17-22). In verses 27-32, Paul corrects these practices, but this correction comes after he has pleaded with the church to remember Christ’s death (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). In this way, Paul corrects a false perspective with gospel truth, making his discipline sweet (like cheesecake).

Church members can prepare for the Lord’s Supper by developing healthy, biblical habits in their own lives, such as sharing the good news of Jesus, praying, participating in corporate worship, Scripture reading, and memorization. Discipline may be difficult but is rarely, if ever, regretted when you can rejoice in your sanctification alongside an entire church body together.  There is opportunity here for church members to help one another prepare for the Lord’s Supper by encouraging each other in the formation of the above habits. The Lord’s Supper is intended to be intentional, often evidenced by a prescribed time in worship when the congregation prepares for the elements to be distributed. Next time you are in service, watch for the habits surrounding communion, such as a pastor or deacon praying before or after the sacrament, and thank God for these routines.

Embrace Unity

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, welcome one another. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you gather together you will not come under judgment. 1 Corinthians 11:33-34

The Lord’s Supper should be a time of lovely fellowship within the church body. One incredible, mind-blowing fact about communion is that we have an accurate record of a tradition initiated by God himself directly before He went to die on a cross, and we still practice it 2,000 years later! Jesus, the very person who created the Lord’s Supper, died just hours after its conception. Yes, He did rise from the dead, but then anyone who followed Him was persecuted. Certainly, that would have made the practice fizzle out, right? Yet, here we are still practicing the Lord’s Supper! Obviously, God has sovereignly sustained its practice because He knows it is good for His people.

This opportunity to come together and remember Christ’s death creates a corporate reliance on Him. When the church pursues the Lord’s Supper with discipline and forms good habits around the table, the congregation is equipped to embrace unity wholeheartedly. Praise God, the Christian life is not supposed to be a lonely one but a holy one, full of togetherness and reliance on God and other believers. The Lord’s Supper is one of the primary means by which God’s people actively pursue community within the church and outwardly show they belong to Him.

When my brother and I started into high school, our family tradition of cheesecake on Tax Day faded away. Don’t let the Lord’s Supper become an unengaging ritual you forget about throughout the week. Instead, use it as a time to be built up with your local church by remembering Christ’s death, disciplining yourself with simple habits of Christlikeness, and uniting in fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you have additional questions regarding the practice of the Lord’s Supper, I highly recommend Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord’s Supper, by Ben Witherington, III.

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