This article is part of the Questions and Answers series.
Q: What does the Lord’s Supper mean? How can I ensure that my participation in the Lord’s Supper is meaningful?
A: The Lord’s Supper is a beautiful act of worship ordained by the Lord Jesus for the spiritual good of his people. We miss out on its blessings, however, if we thoughtlessly “go through the motions” without understanding, or worse, while misunderstanding what’s taking place. The Lord’s Supper is the new covenant meal ordained by Jesus to be celebrated by the local church. At the Lord’s Supper, believers partake of bread and wine, symbolizing Jesus’s body and blood. Through their participation in this meal, believers together remember our Lord’s sacrificial death, enjoy communion with Christ and with one another, are strengthened and nourished by Christ’s sustaining grace, and proclaim Jesus’s death until he returns (Matt. 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–25; Luke 22:14–20; 1 Cor. 11:23–26). Believers are exhorted to careful self-examination before participation (1 Cor. 11:27–32).
For a new Christian, or even someone who has followed the Lord for years, the Lord’s Supper can feel somewhat mysterious. In this short booklet, pastor Aubrey Sequeira unpacks what the Bible says about the Lord’s Supper, exploring 5 ways the Lord’s Supper is important for the local church.
To participate meaningfully, think of “looking” in five directions as we come to the Lord’s Supper:
- We look backward: we remember Christ’s body and blood given for us at the cross; we remember that his death has brought us forgiveness of sins and eternal life
- We look outward: we celebrate the family bond we share with brothers and sisters in Christ in the local church
- We look upward: we realize that we’re lifted up to be seated with our heavenly host, Jesus, to whom we bring our hungry hearts for nourishment with the grace of the new covenant
- We look inward: we examine our hearts to ensure that we’re walking in faith and repentance, and living with love for our brothers and sisters in Christ
- We look forward: we wait in hope for the glorious day when we will celebrate the fulfillment of all God’s promises at his heavenly banquet1
Q: Who can take the Lord’s Supper?
A: Since the Lord’s Supper is a covenant meal of the church, it has clear boundaries for who can participate. The Lord’s Supper is a meal for baptized believers who are members in good standing of a local church. First, the Lord’s Supper is for Christian believers: those who have repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus for eternal life. Non-Christians cannot participate in this meal because they haven’t trusted in Jesus’s death for their forgiveness. They can’t commune with Jesus and his family because they haven’t trusted in Jesus as their Savior, and they’re not a part of his family. They can’t remember Jesus’s death because they haven’t trusted its significance for their lives.
Second, the Lord’s Supper is for those who have been baptized. Not only should someone have trusted in Christ, they should have publicly identified with him and his family. Baptism is how someone makes this public identification. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are both signs of the new covenant. Baptism is the initial sign of the covenant, and the Lord’s Supper is its ongoing sign. Baptism is where one receives the family name, which is necessary before one sits down at the family table in the Lord’s Supper.
Third, the Lord’s Supper is for members in “good standing” of a local church. Membership in a local church is not optional for the Christian life; it’s essential. The local church is the context in which we live out our commitment to Jesus and his people. Belonging to a local church is basic obedience for disciples of Jesus. So, before sitting at the family dinner table, you should make sure you’ve committed yourself to be a part of the family—a commitment that’s made through membership. To be in “good standing” means that one is not under the discipline of the church and therefore still recognized as a part of the body of Christ (Matt. 18:15–20; 1 Cor. 5:1–11).
Q: Why must we be at a church gathering to take the Lord’s Supper? Why can’t I take the Lord’s Supper at home or somewhere else?
A: Underlying this question are certain assumptions about the role of the church in the Christian life. Many evangelical Christians mistakenly think that the Christian life is something that’s just “between me and Jesus”—a private relationship with God with no one else involved. People view the church as having nothing or little to do with their faith. The church is viewed as something optional that may aid one’s faith, but is not essential to one’s faith. With this kind of mindset, the Lord’s Supper becomes like a private dinner date with Jesus.
Biblically, however, a person’s faith in Christ is inseparable from one’s participation in the family of Christ. The local church is the context where the Christian life is lived out. Jesus didn’t just die to save individuals, he died to save a people in order to make them his family (Eph. 2:19–20; Heb. 2:11–13).
A person’s faith in Christ is inseparable from one’s participation in the family of Christ.
When we understand that the church is a family, we more clearly perceive the biblical emphasis on the Lord’s Supper as a family meal, to be celebrated by the church as Jesus’s family. That’s why the Lord’s Supper must only be taken when a church is gathered together in Jesus’s name.
In his corrective instructions on the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul repeatedly underscores the gathering of the church as the context in which the Lord’s Supper must be taken:
- “when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse” (1 Cor. 11:17b).
- “when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you” (1 Cor. 11:18b).
- “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not” (1 Cor. 11:20–22).
- “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment” (1 Cor. 11:33–34).
You’ll notice that throughout this passage Paul makes it clear that the Lord’s Supper was to be shared together when “assembled as a church.” Paul differentiates between eating in your own home and the special meal “when you come together.” Just like a family shares a special family meal in the context of the family being together, the Lord’s Supper is reserved for when the church family is together. It’s the church’s meal.
Our day is marked by widespread confusion concerning whether a dispersed group of individuals connecting online actually constitutes a “church gathering.” The increased difficulty of embodied fellowship over the past two years of the global pandemic and the alluring convenience of Zoom has duped Christians into feeling more “connected,” while in fact we are growing apart. The fellowship we share becomes an illusion as we relate to one another as disembodied talking heads on a screen. The development of the “metaverse” only further exacerbates this mirage, as the safety of virtual (un)reality provides an easy excuse from the command to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1–2). The Bible, however, refreshingly reminds us that we are embodied persons who need one another’s physical presence for our spiritual good—and a pandemic doesn’t change that. The Lord’s Supper is a time for the church to come together and to strengthen our bonds of faith as we enjoy communion with Jesus and with one another.
Q: Why should I not participate in the Lord’s Supper in a Roman Catholic Mass?
A: Bible-believing Christians who hold in faith to the biblical gospel of Christ ought not to participate in the Mass, particularly in the Eucharist at a Roman Catholic church. This is because the Roman Catholic teaching on the Lord’s Supper denies that Jesus’s one-time sacrificial offering on the cross was sufficient to take away our sins. Instead, they believe Christ’s sacrifice must be continually perpetuated in the Lord’s Supper: “In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner.”2
The Roman Catholic Church erroneously teaches that the bread and wine, when consecrated in the Mass, miraculously transforms into the substance of the body and blood of Christ, now offered on the altar. They assert that this repeated presentation of Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist actually ensures our redemption. Furthermore, they believe this saving work of the Eucharist takes place ex opere operato, i.e., by mere participation in the ritual, apart from faith in the worshipers. This teaching denies the heart of the gospel and is the reason why gospel-affirming Christians should refrain from participation in the Eucharist at Roman Catholic Mass. By participating in the Eucharist at Catholic Mass, we would be giving our approval to a false understanding of the gospel. This is why many Protestant Reformers were willing to be martyred rather than take the Mass and affirm the Roman Catholic teaching on the Lord’s Supper.
- Aubrey M. Sequeira, Why Is the Lord’s Supper So Important? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2021), 48.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1367.
Aubrey M. Sequeria is the author of Why Is the Lord’s Supper So Important?.
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