I recently put together a study in which I did my best to present a parallel lineup of three major views about “the bread and the cup” – Communion. I figured that this would be a good study to translate into blog form; one post for each viewpoint. This is part #3. Later I’ll post a summary of these perspectives with more focused discussion on a couple points.
The major theological premise behind each of these is that what people believe about the Church largely dictates what they believe about communion (ecclesiology over-arches sacramentology).
Various key words marked with an asterisk (*) have definitions provided in a glossary at the end of the post.
First, a systematic theological approach:
What’s it called?
The Ordinance* of the Supper of our Lord*.
What is the Lord’s Supper?
It’s a symbolic re-enactment of the Last Supper: not a sacrifice.
What happens during the Lord’s Supper?
We remember (or meditate) on Christ’s atonement*.
What does the Lord’ Supper do?
The bread & wine do nothing; we’re directly exercising our faith.
How is the Lord’s Supper ‘done’?
It’s done after the Preaching of the Word*, preferably with bread & wine (or grape juice), led by the pastor or whoever he appoints.
… because that leader is:
the locally-appointed leader of the congregation.
… because the Church is:
the gathering of God’s people to worship Him in community*.
Therefore, who may receive the Lord’s Supper?
All confessing* Christians may partake.
Now for a look at some key passages of scripture:
Read it metaphorically: Jesus’ teachings are food for our souls
This proves that Jesus was not talking literally about his body being the bread of life.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
The Lord’s Supper* is a symbol of communion* with Christ and all other Christians
1 Corinthians 11:24
This bread (or this act of breaking bread together) represents Jesus’ body.
1 Corinthians 11:29
Non-believers shouldn’t partake because they don’t believe in Christ’s atonement*.
The Lord’s Supper commemorates Jesus’ sacrifice, which is symbolically described in this passage.
* Glossary of terms:
Atonement: the total work of Christ’s incarnation, suffering, death, resurrection, & ascension.
Communion: a participation in, or enactment of, a state of unity.
Community: a group of people with differing roles, including pastoral leaders whose roles are more or less defined.
Confessing: both confessing the Christian faith, and the ability to confess one’s own sins.
Ordinance: a tradition which Christ ordained (or commanded) for the Church to do, of which are typically identified two: baptism and holy communion.
Preaching of the Word: technically referring to a sermon, but generally referring to the reading & proclamation of the Gospel.
Supper of our Lord / Lord’s Supper: the most common name for communion by those who consider it an ordinance, linking its identity to the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples at the Passover before his crucifixion.