First of all, if we want to understand a Biblical doctrine, we need to look at the terminology of the Scriptures, and make sure that we understand its definition and application. Sometimes if we use wrong terminology, it could confuse the understanding of the doctrine. There are different ways that the Bible refers to a subject and uses different words.
In this study, I want to look at what is considered to be one of the two ordinances to the church. It’s the memorial ordinance that the Lord instituted with a strict purpose.
Let’s look at certain words as Noah Webster defines them:
A. ORDINANCE, n.
1. A rule established by authority; a permanent rule of action. An ordinance may be a law or statute of sovereign power. In this sense it is often used in the Scriptures. (Ex. 15:25; Num. 10:8; Ezra 3:10).
It may also signify a decree, edict or rescript, and the word has sometimes been applied to the statutes of Parliament, but these are usually called acts or laws. In the United States, it is never applied to the acts of Congress, or of a state legislature.
2. Observance commanded.
4. Established rite or ceremony. In this sense, baptism and the Lord’s Table are denominated ordinances.
B. MEMO’RIAL, n.
That which preserves the memory of something; anything that serves to keep in memory. A monument is a memorial of a deceased person, or of an event. The Lord’s Table is a memorial of the death and sufferings of Christ.
C. SUP’PER, n. The evening meal. People who dine late, eat no supper. The dinner of fashionable people would be the supper of rustics.
I would like to look at the Scriptures to see how we can make application of some important words.
1 Corinthians 11: 17 ¶ Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it 19 For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.
Paul tells the church that the church was not to eat the Lord’s Supper. The question is what was the Lord’s Supper? As we have seen in the Noah Webster’s dictionary, a supper is a meal. These people were bringing their food to the church to celebrate the feast of the Passover in the same manner that Jesus did with his apostles the night of His betrayal. I believe it is called the Lord’s Supper here because it was unique in some aspects.
It was a one-time situation. Normally the Passover was to be taken within each family or household1 as ordained to the Jews in Exodus 12. Jesus told his apostles in Luke 22:15 “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer:” Jesus would have normally eaten the Passover with his own family, but knowing what events would follow the meal, desired this one time to eat the Passover with His apostles. The Lord’s Supper was really the Passover meal that Jesus had with the twelve. The Corinthian Church was participating both in the Passover meal as the Lord had done it, followed by communion with the bread and the cup. This is the reason Paul rebukes them because it was causing a problem for the poor in the church.
1 Corinthians 11:21 for in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. 22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.
1 HOUSEHOLD, n. hous’hold. Those who dwell under the same roof and compose a family; those who belong to a family – Noah Webster
1 Corinthians 11:33 Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. 34 And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.
Paul was saying, “If you want to eat a supper, why don’t you eat it in your own houses, instead of bringing it to church to eat in the presence of others (the poor brothers in the church)? Why do you bring food to the church when you are supposed to meet to take the bread and the cup?” Paul then explains how the ordinance is to be practiced.
First, you don’t eat a meal before having communion, even if the Lord did it, because the ordinance for the new alliance is to partake of the bread and the cup only.
Second, you must remember the purpose of that celebration or memorial, or ordinance. The purpose is not to satisfy your hunger.
Third, you are to come together for the solitary purpose of examining yourselves without any distraction.
The right application or terminology for it is COMMUNION as Paul calls it in the previous chapter, not the Lord’s Supper, which refers to a supper (meaning a complete evening meal).
1 Corinthians 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
Communion is a noun here, and there is no ambiguity concerning its reference. It could be that many people prefer to use the term “Lord’s Supper” because the Catholics use the term “communion”. Perhaps it is a misunderstanding of the text. In some cases, there may be those who just repeat what others say, without really considering the context. When we use the same words that God uses, this will help us to comprehend the application of the truth.
Different churches have different practices and different ways of practicing Closed Communion. It is interesting to note that we never use the term Closed Lord’s Supper.
Paul dealt with the practice of this holy ordinance in every detail in his letter to the Corinthian church. In 1 Corinthian 5, Paul gives us a very important key which can lead us to a more complete comprehension of the new memorial.
1 Corinthians 5:7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Paul deals with the new ordinance using Old Testament terminology. He makes the connection between the two memorials which point to the same sacrifice. The one sacrifice looks back at the Paschal Lamb which was sacrificed for their atonement, under the law. The other sacrifice points to Christ, the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed for our salvation. This helps us to realize how much the two sacrifices have in common.
A. When Is It To Be Taken?
If Christ is our Passover, we should look at the principles or rules of the ordinance. A memorial is something that we practice on a yearly basis, not when we feel like it. The Passover, in the Old Testament was not to be done whenever there was a desire by the people of God, but it was to be done at a set month, day, time of day, along with many other rules. An ordinance is something that we practice in a certain set order. If God ordained for Passover to be done orderly, then Communion should be observed in an orderly fashion as well. It should be observed once a year on a specific day. In this case Communion is to be observed the Tuesday evening before the resurrection.
Leviticus 23:5 In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’S passover.
Numbers 9:2 Let the children of Israel also keep the passover at his appointed season.
When Jesus instituted Communion, it is evident that He did it on the night of the last Passover. Paul gives Scriptural foundation in the New Testament for the time to observe this ordinance. He further explains to the Corinthian church how to practice it.
1 Corinthians 11:23 “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:”
I don’t think that Paul said that lightly, but he told them what he received from the Lord, since he wasn’t there when it was done. The Lord could have omitted to tell him when it actually happened if that was not important for the ordinance, but we see that the Lord made His point for when to practice COMMUNION, just like God made His strong point for the PASSOVER in the Old Testament. It’s also evident that it is to be done in the EVENING. But what about the expression mentioned in the following verse?
1 Corinthians 11:25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
1 Corinthians 11:26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.
These verses explain that when ye eat it, or every time ye eat it, this is the way you’re to do it. Paul is not telling the church that they can observe it as often as they want.
The practice of our church since its organization is to observe this memorial ordinance once a year on the Tuesday preceding the day of the Resurrection. Through the study of God’s Word, I came under the conviction that the Tuesday preceding the day of the Resurrection is the proper day because that is the SAME NIGHT IN WHICH the Lord instituted it.
Since I am not Jewish, and it would be complicated for me to follow the Jewish calendar to determine the 14th day of a given month, I choose to follow the Greek calendar and celebrate the night in which the Lord was betrayed. This happened only once, and it was on the Tuesday before His resurrection. The Passover was on the 14th each year, and it was on a different day of the week each year. Because our remembrance is about Christ’s betrayal and His death for us, our way of observing this ordinance honors that fact by observing it the same day and the same time each year.
As for the calculation to how we conclude that Tuesday evening is the correct evening, one must consider the Hebrew week. The Hebrew day began with evening and then morning (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). Our current Tuesday evening is truly the first part of Wednesday, which begins at sunset or around 6 pm on Tuesday and ends on Wednesday around 6 pm. Jesus rose on the first day of the week before sunrise, which would be between sunset Saturday and sunrise Sunday. He was three days and three nights in the lower parts of the earth (see Matt. 12:40). That fact makes the night of His betrayal on Tuesday evening (true Wednesday first part), and the day of His crucifixion Wednesday pm, and His burial late Wednesday afternoon, before 6 pm.
B. Who Is To Partake of It? (only members, and all members of a given church?)
1 Corinthians 11: 33 Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.
1. Every member of the congregation must participate.
I Corinthians 11:33 not only gives evidence that the ordinance is inclusive, not leaving out any member, but it shows how God looks at each church as a whole.
1 Corinthians 10:17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.
I Corinthians 10:17 this verse demonstrates the fact that each church functions as a whole unit. In Matthew 26:27 the Lord makes it clear that He wants all those present to take it.
Matthew 26:27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
The pattern of the Passover in Numbers 9:13 demonstrates that if any member of the whole congregation did not keep the Passover, he must be removed from their midst.
Numbers 9:13 But the man that is clean, and is not in a journey, and forbeareth to keep the passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people: because he brought not the offering of the LORD in his appointed season, that man shall bear his sin.
There was no excuse to forbear (not participate) unless the person was on a journey and could not be present and on time for it, or if he was unclean by reason of contact with a dead body. If that person was absent, he was to take it the following month.
Numbers 9:10 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or [be] in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover unto the LORD. 11 The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, [and] eat it with unleavened bread and bitter [herbs].
2. Every member must be found clean.
He is to look at himself. If his judgment of himself is good, then he would be found clean by everyone else who looked at him.
We see that every member is required to participate in the ordinance. He must also beware that if he takes it unworthily, he invites judgment from God to his life.
Being unworthy is not an option to withdraw from participating, but it is a way the Lord forces every member to be judge himself to be clean. If he finds himself unclean, he must repent and make things right with the Lord. It is important that each member understand that this is THE time when he must not postpone his need to repent and get right with God.
I Corinthians 11:27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.
We see also see the evidence of removing someone from the Lord’s table on the basis of his well-known, unacceptable, and serious sin. As Paul says, “We are one bread.” That bread must be unleavened for the occasion of observing the ordinance.
1 Corinthians 5:6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? (The lump or bread here is the church) 7 ¶ Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye (plural pronoun) may be a new lump (singular, meaning as a whole), as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
What was the leaven in the context?
1 Corinthians 5: 2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. (Can we really sit at the same table with such an one?) 12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
For what the church and the pastor see, they have a responsibility, as a church, to judge. Paul rebuked them for not judging obvious sin. What the church can’t see, God will judge Himself. Paul declares that unconfessed sin was the reason that many of the church members would be weak, sick, or sleep (die) even.
We could further see how that Jesus rebukes some angels (pastors) in Revelation for the fact that they allowed things in their churches that He condemned. Pastors are charged to be watchful and make difficult decisions.
C. Where Was It To Be Taken?
1 Corinthians 11:18 For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.
1 Corinthians 11:20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.
1 Corinthians 11:22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.
If we want to eat the Lord’s Supper, we have houses for that, but if we will take communion, then we have to come together in the church. Communion is not for take-out, and it’s not for whosoever shows up.
We don’t believe in a Universal Church. Each believer should be a member of a local church. Their local church is the place where he or she must participate in communion. We are one bread and one body with those of the same church. We are members of but one body. We are fitly framed together as a body, or lump, or bread. Each member belongs a body in one place only. A member cannot be in two different bodies at the same time. Communion is a (church) body’s responsibility and ordinance. One church body has no authority over the members of another church body. It cannot administrate communion to any of the members of another church. When I put food in my mouth, only the members of my own physical body get the nourishment from it. I cannot control the members of anyone else’s body. God appoints pastors to be accountable for THEIR flock only.
A. Why Do We Have To Take Communion?
1. It is a commandment of the Lord.
2. It fulfills a purpose and a need.
a. The purpose is to remember what my salvation cost and the necessity of His death for it. It’s a reminder for us and a testimony for Him.
1 Corinthians 11:25 …This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.
b. The need is to examine ourselves in order to take the leaven, the wickedness or corruption, out of our lives, and for the church to purge out the old leaven, in order to become a new lump each year. A fresh new start as a church on a yearly basis.
1) The Lord has given us BAPTISM to keep the church pure from without, and He has given us COMMUNION to keep the church pure from within.
2) Our bodies require constant purging to stay alive and healthy. If the body did not expel its waste, it wouldn’t take long for it to be so contaminated, that it would eventually die.
3) The church is the body of Christ, and He wants to keep his body clean. He washes it with the word and He purges it with communion.
4) The Lord told Nicodemus in John 3:12: “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?” Earthly things are supposed to help us understand heavenly things.
B. How We Take Communion
First, we as a church need to prepare for communion through self-examination. We must examine our motives, attitudes, and spirits at that time in our lives. These questions could be presented to your church body as you prepare the congregation for self-examination.
1. Has God tried to bring me to a decision in my life concerning a specific sin?
2. Has He been dealing with me on a specific issue?
3. What has been my response to that (His dealings with me)?
4. Do I want to continue to postpone my decision?
5. Am I dragging my feet with something?
6. Do I purposely ignore what the Lord is expecting of me?
Second, we need to judge ourselves. We must make decisions to submit ourselves to whatever the Lord has brought to our attention. Remember that if we don’t make decisions at that point, we’ll eat and drink damnation to ourselves, and God will judge or chastise us.
Third, we need to give thanks (pray), and then distribute the unleavened piece of bread, tarry for one another, and then eat together.
Fourth, we give thanks (pray), then we distribute the cup, fruit of the vine (grape juice cup), tarry for each one to receive theirs, and drink together.
1 Cor. 11:24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
In the context of Paul’s teachings to the Corinthian church about the doctrine of communion, nothing is said about the washing of feet or the singing of a hymn. We do sing most of the time after our Communion service, but it’s not part of the ordinance. If it had been part of the ordinance, Paul would have reminded the church of it when he explained the ordinance. The washing of feet had a whole different message and purpose to it.
I certainly don’t pretend to have covered all angles of this wonderful doctrine. In order to do that, I would have had to deal with every Scripture that deals with this subject. I think that there is sufficient information in this short study to explain why we practice Communion the way we do. I realize that others may practice the ordinance in a different manner. I’m not their judge. I am responsible for the understanding that God has given to me through my studies on this subject.
Romans 14:4 Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
Our church family, did not always practice Communion on the same night each year. I have come to understand what God clearly teaches in the New Testament regarding this memorial, just as He did for the Jews in the Old Testament for the practice of the Passover. A few years after we had been organized as a church, we adjusted our practice with this new understanding, having a solid Biblical basis instead of a tradition. It is our practice to participate in Communion with our members only, and only once a year.
My only reason to publish this is to help sharpen some swords. If this is accomplished, then to God be the glory.
1 Corinthians 4:7 ¶ For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
May you have a delightful time in His word as you look into it for yourself.
Note: Every effort has been made to insure that the grammar, context and verb conjugation in this document are all in agreement. There may be grammatical errors which are yet to be discovered, but I am confident that the doctrine is accurately manifested so far as my understanding goes at this writing.
Mario Monette, pastor
Église Biblique Baptiste Métropolitaine Sud
3395 boul. Mountainview
St-Hubert, QC, Canada, J3Y 5N4