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The Lord’s Supper as Communion

Posted by on Jan 29, 2008 in books, community, fellowship, ordinances/sacraments | 8 comments

As I mentioned a few days ago in my post “A Spiritual Remembrance“, I am reading through Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper, edited by John H. Armstrong. The first “view” is the “Baptist View” presented by Russell Moore. Since I was raised in Baptist churches, I’m very familiar with the popular version of this view. There are problems with this popular view, which I’ve mentioned before. However, Moore speaks against many of these same problems. He says:

The need for a community focus around the table cannot, however, be eradicated. Baptist churches that celebrate a curt “Communion” every three months still find themselves with this need for a truly communitarian Lord’s Supper. Often these churches seek to fill this need for table fellowship with a “Dinner on the Grounds” Sunday meal or coffee and doughnuts before the Sunday School hour or lunch after services at the local steakhouse. These moments of fellowship are crucial, but they cannot take the place of the Supper Jesus has given us. Part of the problem is the individualized way we present the elements themselves. Most contemporary Baptist churches – and many other evangelical Protestant churches – distribute chewing gum-sized pellets of bread and thimble-sized shot glasses of juice. Increasingly this practice is even more individualized by companies that sell to churches “disposable” Communion “sets,” a plastic container filled with juice with a wafer wrapped in cellophane on top (ideal, we are told, for the college group’s summer retreat in the mountains).

This practice nullifies the thrust of the New Testament emphasis on a common cup and a common loaf, both of which signify the unity of the congregation in Christ. It also mitigates the meaning of the Supper as a supper, as a meal. The meaning of the Supper would go a long way toward recovery in our churches if we asked the congregation to tear apart the bread and to drink together from a common cup of wine – practices that would have been commonplace in the early New Testament communities. Some would shrink from such a practice, no doubt, out of fear of illness or discomfort with such close contact with others. But that is precisely the kind of American individualism that is obliterated by the gospel emphasis on the church as the household of God, a family united through the Spirit. As we encourage the congregation to eat together around the table of Christ, we call them to faith, asking them to recognize and welcome the presence of Christ – not in the elements or in the heavens about them, but in the body he has called together, the assembly he rules and protects even now as King. Only then will we understand what the New Testament Scriptures mean when they call us to “fellowship”. (pg. 41-42)

Similarly, in the last sentence of Moore’s chapter, he says, “It is true that, in one sense, ‘the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking’ (Rom. 14:17). But we must remember that, in another sense, the sounds of the kingdom of God are not those of eerie cosmic silence but of the murmur of voices, the clinking of cups, and the tearing of bread.” (pg. 44)

From my experience, the popular Baptist view – that is, the view that I heard and saw growing up as it was expressed in many different Baptist churches of many different sizes and in different states – focused on many good things. They encouraged quiet retrospection. They required everyone to eat and drink at the same time. They reminded us that the bread was unleavened.

However, I think that while these focuses are good, they completely miss the best about the Supper that is stressed in the New Testament: the one loaf, the one cup, the sharing of a meal, the equality around the table, the concern for one another. Primarily, they missed the idea of the Lord’s Supper as it reflected the church as a community – a group of believers in fellowship with one another through the Spirit.


8 Comments

  1. 1-29-2008

    Alan, it is very funny to me that you are posting on Communion this week because I was just thinking of asking you a few things about it after we had Communion on Sunday. Ed and I are now going to a Presbyterian church where we receive the elements each week in our Sunday morning meeting. I was thinking about the fact that I had been taught (in a Baptist church) to quietly pray to myself while the elements were distributed and I was to examine myself and confess my sin before taking the bread and juice. But as I sat thinking on Sunday, I was wondering if it was “okay” to look up and look around me at the body of Christ that I was supposed to be taking the elements with. I felt semi-sacreligious looking around at everyone b/c it went against what I had been taught, but I realized it gave me the opportunity to reflect on my relationships with each of them as well as feel a bond with them as we partook of the elements together. When Communion is celebrated in the midst of an entire meal while the body is fellowshiping, like I was used to in North Carolina, I felt like I had the opportunity to both silently reflect and look around at the body I was a part of. But when the sharing of Communion is taken outside of the context of a meal, it is harder to do that. Just an observation I made and wondered what you thought about the whole introspection vs. reflection on the body around us idea.

  2. 1-29-2008

    Leah,

    Introspection is always important for the Christian. I was also taught that the Lord’s Supper was a time of special introspection. However, I think that the Lord’s Supper is a time for considering the community. I often find myself looking around as we eat the Supper together and thinking about how God has used these different people to impact my life.

    -Alan

  3. 1-30-2008

    I am really enjoying reading your thoughts and what you are bringing up. I know that many times as we fly through communion that I catch myself thinking; there has to and there needs to be more to this.

  4. 1-30-2008

    Jeff,

    Thanks for the comment. I think that one of the reasons that we miss the significance of the Lord’s Supper is that we do not understand fellowship and community. We live separately lives, and then expect to find community in a little bread and juice. Doesn’t work.

    -Alan

  5. 1-30-2008

    Alan,

    Great thoughts, both by Moore in what he writes here, and in your response to what he writes. I only wish these ideas could be translated more often into transformed practices among groups of believers, both “Baptist” as well as not, around the world.

  6. 1-30-2008

    David,

    I’ve read many exciting ideas from baptist and other academics that never seem to find their way into practice. This is one of the reasons that I’m trying my best to actually put into practice what I’m learning.

    -Alan

  7. 6-14-2012

    Alan,
    Just a thought: As most churches do different groups meet at different times throughout the week. Typically an adult Bible study and a youth related Bible study at bare minimum. Obviously, more for bigger congregations. So, does this have a place in those separate groups or no? If it does is it a teaching time on what this includes or a time of doing this with the students themselves?

    I like doing with students instead of just teaching…kinda defeats the purpose if we just sit and talk about it.

  8. 6-14-2012

    JRo,

    I think it would be great to teach your church of teenagers about fellowship/communion by sharing meals together regularly, talking about that meal as “the Lord’s Supper,” and encouraging one another in Christ while you are eating. Example is often the best kind of teaching.

    -Alan

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