Warm greetings to you!
Our teaching series in 1 Corinthians brings us to the subject of the Lord’s Supper. Last week’s message focused on the Lord’s Supper, and how we are to partake in it. There are many questions that seem to swirl around this subject. Much of this is because different faith backgrounds have different teachings and traditions about the Lord’s Supper. This sometimes leads to confusion in our church body as to why we do what we do. I thought this post might prove helpful.
How frequently do we (or should we) participate in the Lord’s Supper?
There is no biblical directive for how often the church should take the Lord’s Supper. It seems that in the first days of the early church, ALL the functions of the church were experienced every day (Acts 2:42-47). So we are not in danger of having communion too much. What might be too little? Again, there is no directive here. Some churches do it as little as once a year; others around four times a year. It is a little like asking how often should we exercise? We are wise if we do so as often as is good and healthy for our body. The Lord’s Supper was given for our good and its spiritual benefits are such that a healthy church will enjoy them as often as possible without reducing it to a ritual. Here at Bethel, we do not have a specific rule, but we generally participate in the Lord’s Supper around once a month in our weekend services.
Who should participate in the Lord’s Supper?
The simple answer is anyone who has trusted in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. But there are also some complexities that must be kept in mind. Paul gives several parameters in 1 Corinthians 11:17ff. regarding who should participate and these go beyond the simple answer and relate to the heart of the participant.
- An examined heart (11:28)
- A reconciled heart (11:18)
- A reverent heart (11:29)
Each of these is important. An examined heart means that I have done an inward examination of my life and attitudes which result in repentance and confession. We generally announce communion a week in advance in the bulletin to give us ample time to come prepared the next week (of course, repentance and confession ought to be a high priority each week in preparation for worship). While everyone is being served in the service, I do a final heart inventory and confess anything that I see there. I also offer thanksgiving to God for Christ’s sacrifice for my sins (this is merely what I do; your practice may be different). Beware of being too introspective though, as it is the Lord’s Supper, not ours. Our thoughts are to be of Christ; His person and work on my behalf as both the Sacrifice, Savior and the object of my heart’s deepest affection. A reconciled heart speaks to one of the huge problems in the church at Corinth. People were participating in Communion with unresolved conflict between themselves (11:18). Division makes a mockery of Communion’s most important symbol – the church in spiritual fellowship with Christ. How can we fellowship with Him if we are in non-fellowship with one another? It would be far better not to participate and seek reconciliation with your fellow Christian than to quietly mock what the Table represents. Finally, the reverent heart means that I come to the Table with serious celebration. It is serious because what it celebrates is holy – the shredding of Jesus’ body (the bread) and His blood that was shed on the Cross (the cup). I remember as a teenager watching friends in church jokingly toast each other with the cup of communion. I couldn’t have given a verse, but something inside of me knew that kind of thing was wrong. Indeed it is. The bread and cup themselves aren’t holy, but what they symbolize is infinitely so. It takes a mature church (and Christian) to balance the tension of the Lord’s Table and serious celebration. It is holy, and so we must be serious. Yet, it is not a funeral, because He is alive! Communion calls us to wonder in the tension of these two seemingly opposite realities. Bethel, let’s seriously celebrate Jesus Christ!
Should children participate in the Lord’s Supper?
This is a difficult question and church history is filled with wranglings over its answer. I won’t pretend to give the final word here, but I do have some thoughts. First of all, we completely embrace the reality that children can believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior and experience genuine salvation. This is our aim through our Children’s Ministries, and the discipling of children is one of our great privileges and joys. So on one level, we could simply say that children are welcome to the Lord’s Table just like adults on the condition of their profession of faith in Christ.
However, when does a child’s development and maturity allow them to adequately understand what the Lord’s Supper means and participate with an examined, reconciled, and reverent heart? Symbolic meanings are often lost on children and the Lord’s Supper is essentially symbolic. What should a parent do? I would suggest doing with the Lord’s Supper what you probably do with many treasured things around your home. When do children carry the china dishes? Drive the car? Baby-sit younger siblings? Children grow in their maturity and a wise parent brings them along with increasing responsibility. Each parent will be different and every child will be as well. So ask yourselves two questions: First and foremost, does the child profess Christ as Savior and give evidences of saving grace in his/her life? As you discuss the Lord’s Supper with them, are they able to understand what it means and participate with the reverent heart described above? If the answer to these is yes, the way would seem clear for them to participate with the church family in spiritual fellowship with the risen Christ. Awesome to consider, isn’t it? Jesus says “let the little children come to me,” and through the gospel and the Lord’s Supper, they do. A parent may feel tension between “too soon” and “too late,” but I would say any parent who is conscientious about this is probably a parent honoring Christ in the home. Keep it up!
Seeking increasing fellowship with you and our Savior,
© 2010 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction.