Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST: GUARDIAN OF THE ORDINANCE OF COMMUNION”

 

The Lord Jesus Christ brought the church of Jesus Christ into existence during the course of His earthly ministry.[1] He then provided instruction to His church concerning the restoration of those in the church who sin against a brother.[2] With respect to baptism, the Lord Jesus Christ’s disciples baptized converts, John 4.1-2, and then the Savior formally directed His church to baptize converts when He commissioned His church, Matthew 28.18-20. These things were all done prior to the Savior’s ascension to the Father’s right hand on high.[3] Of course, baptism is that ordinance of the church that is observed by the church again and again as new disciples of Christ are converted and then brought into fellowship with the church, though each believer experiences scriptural baptism by immersion only once.

The only other ordinance of the church is the communion of the Lord’s Supper, which is observed repeatedly. It is the Lord’s Supper that is our concern during this message:

 

As To THE ESTABLISHING OF THE ORDINANCE

 

“‘The Lord’s Supper’ is the title given by Paul (1 Cor. 11:20). It bears other names. Luke used the phrase ‘breaking of bread’ (Acts 2:42-46; 20:11). Paul employed the term communion, which referred to believers’ relationship with the Lord (vertically) and with fellow believers (horizontally). Eucharist, another designation of the Lord’s Supper, is derived from the Greek word eucharistia, ‘giving of thanks,’ as it implies, the thanksgiving over the bread and wine (1 Cor. 11:24). Paul referred to it as ‘the Lord’s table’ (1 Cor. 10:21).”[4]

The establishing of the communion of the Lord’s Supper can be briefly summarized under three headings:

First, where the communion of the Lord’s Supper was established. The communion of the Lord’s Supper was established in an upper room somewhere in Jerusalem that was secured for the purpose of celebrating the Passover, Mark 14.12-15:

 

12    And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?

13    And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him.

14    And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?

15    And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us.

 

Next, with whom the communion of the Lord’s Supper was established. Astonishing to many who have never before considered it, and who ignore the facts when formulating their opinions about how the communion of the Lord’s Supper ought to be observed, only the twelve apostles were invited to the Upper Room wherein the Passover was celebrated and also where the Lord’s Supper was instituted.[5] This despite the custom among Jews of celebrating Passover with family members (with the Lord’s mother Mary being in Jerusalem and His close friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus living very close by).[6]

Third, for what reason was the communion of the Lord’s Supper established. Let me read some opinions that I agree with:

 

“Jesus used the occasion to identify Himself - by His actions and words - as the sacrificial Lamb, further expanding the messianic and eschatological meaning of the event. Christ’s words and actions initiated the celebration of this powerful symbol, the early church practiced it (Acts 2:42, 20:7), and it continues to be observed as one of the most powerful symbols of the faith.”[7]

 

“The Lord’s Supper not only carries historical significance, but also theological significance in that it symbolizes the sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus. The bread and the wine symbolize the very body and blood of Christ. The blood, being essential to His earthly life and all other life, was shed redemptively for our lives.”[8]

 

“The meal also carries ecclesiological significance for His body, the church. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology has pointed out that the church reaps the benefits earned for us by His death and that we receive nourishment for our souls (John 6:53-57) through the Lord’s Supper. The Table affirms His love to me in that He invites me to come to His supper, and my partaking of the meal affirms my faith in Him. I am redeemed and accepted by Christ’s actions, and my actions proclaim it.”[9]

 

“The celebration of Communion also carries eschatological significance. As it commemorates a past event, it also anticipates a future consummation in His coming (1 Cor. 11:26). Thus, a feast of love, a memorial of faith, becomes a prophecy of hope.”[10]

 

As To THE ABUSE OF THE ORDINANCE

 

Within a few decades of the empowering of the church of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and the subsequent spread of the Christian faith the simplicity of the communion of the Lord’s Supper was compromised. History, as well, records the abuse of this precious ordinance by professing Christians:

First, take note of its abuse by the Corinthian congregation. Without going into specifics, First Corinthians 11.17-34 contains the Apostle Paul’s rebuke and then his correction of the Corinthian malpractice of the communion service. They acted like they could celebrate communion any way they wanted. Paul showed them otherwise.

Next, we take note of the abuse of communion by the Romans. The Roman Catholic Church’s wicked perversion and blasphemous distortion of the simple communion service instituted by the Savior is shown in great detail in Loraine Boettner’s classic book Roman Catholicism, in which he details its gradual transformation into what is today known as the Mass.[11] From a simple and spiritual memorial service while awaiting the Lord’s return, the Roman church manipulated the meaning of scripture over time to transform communion into a moneymaking scheme for the Roman church by using it to supposedly get dead people out of purgatory and into heaven by paying priests to conduct a Mass for the departed. The Mass is described by the Roman church as the unbloody sacrifice of Christ, while ignoring Hebrews 9.22, which declares “without shedding of blood is no remission [of sin].” Thus, they have taken a wonderful observance and distorted it into a soul-damning practice.

Third, its abuse by the Anglicans. In the United States they call themselves Episcopalians. Whether they are in the USA, in Africa, or in the United Kingdom, the Church of England has been so tainted by the Roman Catholic Church it was split off from by Henry VIII that their observance of communion is more Catholic than Christian.

Fourth, its abuse by the Lutherans. For all the positive that is true of Martin Luther, the negative about him includes his deeply conservative personality that made it extremely difficult for him to let go of a number his lifelong Roman beliefs and practices, clinging in the case of communion to the notion that the simple bread and wine were in some spiritual way Christ’s actual body and blood. It is an error the Lutherans embrace to this day.

Fifth, its abuse by the Congregationalists. His name was Solomon Stoddard. He was a wonderful New England Congregationalist pastor and grandfather to the stellar Jonathan Edwards. He wrote a book that I highly prize.[12] Yet his legacy is the terrible error he introduced known as the halfway covenant, whereby he allowed non-church members, specifically, the children of members who were not themselves church members, to take communion with their church member parents. Never before in Christendom had such a thing been done, yet it is the common practice of most Protestant churches to this day.

Finally, its abuse by contemporary Christians. Most churches these days practice what is called open communion, which is to say there is no attempt to guard against nonmembers or even unsaved people eating the bread and drinking the wine when communion is observed by a congregation. This is because most churches do not see the ordinance of communion as a practice given to congregations but as a practice given to all Christians without distinction. The question, of course, is why is nothing ever said in God’s Word about communion being observed by all Christians, with all comments about this ordinance directed to churches or church members? Another question that remains is why the Savior invited only the twelve to the Upper Room and not His mother, not His siblings, and not Mary, Martha, and Lazarus? A third question is what churches do when a member is excommunicated in view of the clear instruction in scripture that one and all are welcome to a church’s worship.

Yes, the communion of the Lord’s Supper has been terribly misused and distorted from its original practice and intent, yet so few express any real interest in celebrating the Lord’s Supper the Lord’s way.

 

As To THE PROPER USE OF THE ORDINANCE

 

First, as an ordinance and not a sacrament. To many Christians the term ordinance and the term sacrament are interchangeable references to the communion of the Lord’s Supper and baptism. However, since many professing Christians believe both communion and baptism are a means by which God communicates saving grace to people, I generally avoid the term sacrament in favor of ordinance. The word ordinance is less likely to be misunderstood to be a saving memorial. Is the communion of the Lord’s Supper a meaningful and important gift provided by the Savior as a means to remember Him until He comes again? Yes, it is, and for that reason it is to be cherished.

However, it should be seen as primarily a memorial and not as salvific. We know that baptism is not a saving ordinance. After all, the thief on the cross was saved when he died, yet he was not baptized. As well, John the Baptist demanded repentance before he would baptize, and not after. Therefore, a correct understanding of Ephesians 2.8-9 leaves us with a confident understanding that salvation is by means of faith apart from works of any kind, including the work of baptism:

 

8      For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

9      Not of works, lest any man should boast.

 

What about the communion of the Lord’s Supper? Is that observation a saving ordinance? Consider two things in addition to the passage we have just read: First, it could hardly be that the communion of the Lord’s Supper was necessary for salvation if the Savior Himself did not invite His mother, His siblings, and His best friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to attend. As well, it could hardly be that the communion of the Lord’s supper was necessary for salvation if the Apostle Paul’s criticism of certain church members in Corinth celebrating communion before others arrived to partake was its effect on church unity rather than its impact on the salvation of the church members, First Corinthians 11.18-19.

Finally, and this is where many Baptist congregations differ from other congregations, we see the communion of the Lord’s Supper as a privilege of membership and not a right of Christian profession. What is meant by this is that a variety of reasons and interpretations of different scriptural passages leads our congregation to several convictions related to the communion service: First, the communion service, as with baptism, is not an ordinance given to Christianity at large, but is a church ordinance that along with baptism was given to be conducted by and for a church congregation. Second, the communion service plays a vital role in church discipline. When a member is excommunicated for refusal to repent of serious sin, what is the outcome? Such a person is to be treated as an heathen and as a publican. Yet such are most welcome in our church services, are they not? Therefore, we understand that what is the consequence of excommunication is not shunning, and is not denying access to public worship, but denying access to the communion table, something that is only possible when a church practices closed communion. Finally, we observe in the New Testament that all comments about and instructions for observing the communion of the Lord’s Supper are comments made to church congregations. Thus, there is no observable practice of communion by Christians at large and outside a congregation context in the New Testament.

 

Our church observes the communion of the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis. Ours is a closed communion. However, our practice is to observe communion in such a way as to greatly minimize any likelihood of offending anyone with different views than ours.

By the same token, it is our practice when visiting other congregations when traveling to quietly abstain from participating in their communion service even when invited to do so. It is a practice born of an attempt to be both faithful to God’s Word and to be consistent in our practice wherever we happen to be.

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[1] Matthew 10.1-4; 1 Corinthians 12.28

[2] Matthew 18.15-20

[3] Psalm 16.11; 110.1; Matthew 26.64; Mark 12.36; 14.62; 16.19; Luke 20.42; 22.69; John 3.13; 13.1; 14.2-4; Acts 2.33, 34-35; 7.56; Romans 8.34; Ephesians 1.20; 6.9; Colossians 3.1; Second Thessalonians 1.7; Hebrews 1.3, 13; 8.1; 9.24; 10.12-13; 12.2; 1 Peter 3.22; Revelation 19.11

[4] Jim Henry, In Remembrance Of Me: A Manual on Observing the Lord’s Supper, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), pages 3-4.

[5] Luke 22.14-16

[6] John 19.25-27; 11.1; 12.1

[7] Henry, page 4.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., pages 4-5.

[10] Ibid., page 5.

[11] Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: The Presbyterian And Reformed Publishing Company, 1962), pages 168-195.

[12] Solomon Stoddard, A Guide To Christ, (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993)

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org