Bible Truths

 
 
 
Lesson 5 - Communion

Communion, or the Lord's supper as it is also called, wasinstituted by Christ while celebrating the Passover with the disciples on thenight He was betrayed ( Mt 26:17-29 [Mk 14:12-25 and Lu 22:7-20 also refers]).The Passover itself was a type of which Christ was the anti-type. (Anti-type isthe person or thing represented or foreshadowed by an earlier type or symbol.)The Passover was instituted by God and celebrated by the Jews to commemoratetheir deliverance from the death angel in Egypt before the Exodus. It recallshow God caused the death angel to pass over the Hebrew houses when the sign ofthe blood of the lamb sprinkled on the door posts was evident. By this sign thedeath angel knew which houses to spare or pass over when slaying all the firstborn of Egypt (Ex 12:1-14; 21-28).

We need to know about the Passover for a better understandingof what the Lord's supper means. There is rich prophetic symbolism here thatpoints forward to our redemption through the blood of Christ. The Passover wasa "shadow of things to come"; the unblemished lamb sacrificed for itsblood prefigured Christ's death on the cross. As the lamb was a substitutesacrifice for the first born of the Jews so Christ was the substitute sacrificefor sinners ( Jn 1:29; 1Cor 5:7; 1Pe 1:2, 18-20; Rev 5:6-10). The eating of thelamb represented the Jews identifying with the lamb's death, a death that savedthem from physical death. Similarly, partaking of the Lord's supper representsour participation in the death of Christ, a death that saves us from spiritualdeath ( 1Cor 10:16-17; 11:23-26). The sprinkling of the blood on the door postswas done in obedient faith. This response of faith brought about redemptionthrough the blood. Salvation through Christ's blood is likewise obtainedthrough the obedience of faith and as the blood sprinkled on the door postssaved all the first born Jews so Christ's blood shed on the cross saves allrepentant sinners (Eph 1:7; He 9:11-15, 22; 10:19-20; 13:20; 1Jn 2:2; Rev 1:5).There was to be no bones broken in the sacrificial lamb. This also wastypologically fulfilled in Christ when He was crucified ( Ex 12:46; Psa 34:20;Jn 19:34-36).

It is also significant that only unleavened bread could beeaten with the Passover lamb. In scripture, leaven is used metaphorically torefer to sin and evil. It is a fermenting agent used in bread making to makethe dough rise, symbolising the pervasive character of evil, spreading throughand corrupting the mass. The New Testament establishes a link betweenunleavened bread and Christians purging themselves of sin and evil and allother corrupting influences that interfere with their Christian walk ( 1Cor5:1-8). Here Paul compares leaven with the process by which sin and evilspreads and corrupts Christians. All that disgraces a Christian and detractsfrom his holy newness of life is an example of the leaven of sin. The symbol ofunleavened bread for New Testament Christians is to be undefiled - without sin- before God. As the Old Testament feast of unleavened bread represented theJew's separation from the corruption symbolised by Egypt, New Testament Christiansmust likewise be separated from the corruption and evil of the world ( 2Cor6:14-18; Jas 4:4; 1Jn 2:15-17). We must repudiate all sin and be totallyconsecrated to the service of God or we will be cut off from the covenantpromises like the Jews who ate leavened bread were to be cut off from thecongregation ( Ex 12:15-19). This does not teach that only unleavened bread canbe partaken of in Communion, which some Christians believe. They think thatbecause only unleavened bread could be eaten with the Passover lamb, and thatas Christ is our "Passover Lamb" and it was unleavened bread He brokewhich He said represented His body when He instituted the Lord's supper, thenthe implication is that the Lord's supper should also only be partaken of withunleavened bread. That may or may not be implied depending upon your point ofview, but it is certainly not explicit in scripture, and we cannot thereforemake a doctrine out of it. Christ's basic purpose in Communion is simply thatChristians in fellowship with each other participate in a simple meal tocommemorate His death ( 1Cor 10:16-17). There are only two requirements forparticipating in the Lord's supper specified in scripture and we will look atthem a bit later in this lesson.

There have been three major interpretations placed upon themeaning of Christ's reference to His body and blood when He instituted theLord's supper and we need to know what they are in order to distinguish betweenthem. The first is the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Transubstantiation. Thesecond is the Lutheran Doctrine of Consubstantiation and the third is thenon-Lutheran Protestant Doctrine of Symbolic Commemoration. Non-LutheranProtestants include Pentecostals. The Doctrine of Transubstantiation promotesthe theory that in the Roman Catholic Communion service the bread and the wineare literally converted by the officiating priest - though their appearanceremains the same - into the actual body and the blood of Christ. RomanCatholics are taught that the power to change the elements (or emblems) - thebread and the wine - into the actual body and blood of Christ was given to theapostles at the last supper by Christ and has been carried on by Catholicpriests as the successors to the apostles ever since. They are taught that throughHis earthly priest Christ's sacrifice is renewed at every Communion service,and that by giving the apostles and their successors the divine power to changethe bread and the wine into His own body and blood Christ ensured that Hisredeeming sacrifice would forever be present in the Church. Roman Catholicsbelieve that partaking of Communion is crucial to their salvation. There is nowarrant for this doctrine in scripture. Even Catholicism's own St Augustinetaught that Christ's references to His body and blood are merely figuresbidding us communicate in His sufferings (ref Augustine - On ChristianDoctrine).

The Lutheran Doctrine of Consubstantiation is just asfallacious as the doctrine of transubstantiation. This denies that the elementsare changed into the actual body and the blood of Christ but it asserts thatthe literal presence of Christ is present in, under, and with the elements soChrist can be received sacramentally by those taking Communion. Sacramentallymeans necessary to salvation. This is much the same as what Roman Catholicismteaches and like the Catholic teaching is also not scriptural.

The non-Lutheran Protestant Doctrine of SymbolicCommemoration teaches that what Jesus says about eating His body and drinkingHis blood is not to be taken literally but only symbolically, and that theobservance of Communion is a commemoration of the death of Christ in whichChrist is spiritually present. The Lord's supper is therefore a memorial feast.As they receive the bread and the wine, symbolic in their nature, it is anacknowledgement by those partaking of Communion that their salvation is solelythrough the broken body and the shed blood of Christ. To eat the bread anddrink the wine is to commemorate Christ's death and accept the benefits He hasprovided for us in His death until He comes again. This is the correct teaching( Jn 6:47-63). These passages are the continuation of a long discourse by Jesuscontrasting the manna, the bread which the Jews' forefathers ate and whichcould not save them, with Himself, the Bread of Life, and they must be kept inthe context of that teaching to better understand them. They provide us withthe most in-depth explanation of Communion in scripture and while Jesus is notmaking a direct reference to Communion, this discourse conveys the same truthin words that Communion conveys in action ( V27-35).

When scriptures are kept in context it is quite clear thatthe expressions Jesus uses about eating His body and drinking His blood are tobe understood spiritually. They are used figuratively not literally. In V51Jesus is in effect saying, "I will give this bread which symbolises mybody given in death to save the world." ( V51). By comparing V47-48 withV53-54 we see that believing in Jesus is the same as eating His body anddrinking His blood. We receive spiritual life by believing in Christ and sharingin the redemptive benefits of His death on the cross ( V47-48 with V53-54 and63). Jesus teaches in V63 that even if we could literally eat His body anddrink His blood it would not save our souls. This clearly refutes both theRoman Catholic Doctrine of Transubstantiation and the Lutheran Doctrine ofConsubstantiation. The life Jesus speaks of is spiritual and eternal life, notfleshly life. Eating of Christ simply means that man must accept by faith whatChrist has done for him and live by obedience to Him without sin so the penaltywill not have to be paid again ( 1Cor 11:23-32).

Paul received the revelation of the Lord's supper directfrom Jesus Himself. It is clearly symbolic in nature, and as the wordremembrance in V24-25 signifies, it is a memorial of Christ. Those who partakeof Communion must do so reverently, remembering always the atoning sacrifice ofChrist's death for them. But it is not meant to be a morbid re-enactment ofChrist's death. Rather it is to bring to remembrance the purpose of the cross andChrist's victory over it ( Ac 2:22-24; 3:13-18; 5:30-31; Col 2:13-15). Christbore more than our sins in His suffering and death. He also bore our griefs andour sorrows - our sicknesses and our pains. Griefs translates to sicknesses andsorrows translates to pains from their Greek root words so there is not onlyspiritual healing in Christ's atoning death but there is physical healing aswell ( Isa 53:3-6; Mt 8:16-17; Ga 3:13-14,29; 1Pe 2:24). These scriptures provebodily healing in the atonement. See Lesson 10 - Healing - for a more detailedteaching on this subject. As we take unto ourselves the elements of the Lord'ssupper representing Christ's body and blood, we take unto ourselves all thepromises of God that are yea and amen in Christ - all the salvation benefits Hepurchased for us with His blood ( Jn 14:12-14; 2Cor 1:19-20).

As was noted earlier, there are only two requirementsspecified in scripture for participating in the Lord's supper: participantsmust be saved, and their lives must be consistent with the mission of Christ.Since Communion symbolises the inward experience of grace, only those who haveparticipated in Christ's death can commemorate His death. Participants have toexamine themselves before taking part in Communion ( 1Cor 11:27-32). Paul drawsout for us here the implications of the nature of Communion. If any believer isconscious of any sin in their life not yet repented of and confessed, or arecherishing anything in their heart not consistent with the Christian walk, theyshould not partake of Communion. This does not mean that Christians have to beperfect to partake of Communion. Believers honestly and earnestly strivingafter holiness, doing all that lies within them to live according to God's wordand being sincerely repentant over any sins committed and confessed, are atperfect liberty to take Communion. The memory of the greatness of Christ'ssacrifice should cause participants to abstain from sin (V26 with Ro 6:1-13).To eat and drink unworthily, not discerning the Lord's body, is to partake ofthe Lord's supper in an indifferent, self-centred, careless and irreverentmanner, treating the Lord's supper as a common meal, the bread and the cup ascommon things, not attributing to them their solemn symbolic importance asrepresenting the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus. Those who do this areheld responsible for Christ's death. They eat and drink future judgement uponthemselves.

We must never treat Communion as though it were meaningless.The Corinthian Church did and they paid for it, and whilst we are not meant tomorbidly re-enact Christ's death every time we have Communion, we are meant tobe sensitive to His suffering and ignominious death on the cross that broughthealing for our bodies and salvation for our souls. Communion depicts the totalwork of Christ on man's behalf and reflects in one act man's total response tothis work, and though there is no saving grace in Communion, when believersreceive the elements they receive spiritual blessings in proportion to thefaith they exercise in Christ. The commemorative or memorial aspect ofCommunion lies not in its nature but within the heart of the believer. It ishere that faith in Christ's atoning death is exercised by the participant. Justas the Passover is a perpetual memorial feast commemorating the Jew's beingspared by the death angel in time past, so the Lord's supper serves the samepurpose for Christians. As we partake of the bread and drink from the cup weare taken back in time and realise that each of us individually stands at thefoot of the cross acknowledging the salvation that Jesus purchased for us withHis blood.

How often we partake of Communion depends entirely upon therespective fellowships and individual believers. It is not specified inscripture, however it was a regular observance by the first century Church andit was the focal point of their worship. The word often in 1Cor 11:25-26suggests regularity but it is not binding upon believers ( Ac 2:46; 20:7).

 

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