Some relevant Scripture passages: Exodus 12; Matt. 26:17-29; Mark 14:14-25; Luke 22:7-38; John 6:27-63; Acts 2:42,46; 20:7; 1 Cor. 10:16-22; 11:17-34; Rev. 19:9 (compare with Matt. 22:1-14)
1. What is the meaning/purpose of Communion?
Communion is the N.T. version of the O.T. Passover meal (Matt. 26:17,26-27).
Passover served as a reminder of the Lamb’s sacrifice and Israel’s deliverance from Egypt (Ex. 12:24-27), whereas communion serves as a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice (1 Cor. 11:24-26), and the church’s deliverance from sins (Matt. 26:28). Both ordinances were not to be received individually, but as a family gathered together (Ex. 12:3-4; 1 Cor. 10:17), hence the word “communion”. Furthermore, both ordinances unified the participants. In the Passover, the household(s) were unified under the blood of 1 Lamb, and by sharing the same lamb in their meal. In Communion, the One (Jesus) was broken, so that many (believers) can become one (church). The church is symbolically and physically unified by sharing communion, just as we are actually and spiritually unified by receiving Christ. Therefore, God condemns the receiving of communion when there is divisive hearts and factions in the body, urging us to “discern the body rightly” before we participate (see 1 Cor. 11:17-22,27-34)…this extends to even maintaining hearts of unity toward professing believers who betray you (Mark 14:18; Rom. 12:18), all on the grounds of Christ’s finished work – the ONLY true source of unity!
2. Is a “love feast” the same thing as communion?
The term “love feast” is found in Jude 1:12, and seems to be referred to in 2 Pet. 2:13. It was essentially a meal shared by the church, as is recorded in 1 Cor. 11:20-22. Though it is clear that communion is part of the love feast (see 1 Cor. 11:20-11), it seems like it was a separate event within the love feast (see Luke 22:20 – “He took the cup AFTER SUPPER”). During the Passover meal, they would’ve eaten lamb, herbs, etc. (just like during a “love feast” you could eat a variety of food), but the communion itself is only celebrated with bread and wine.
3. Should non-believers be discouraged from taking communion?
As is clear from question 1, communion is meant for those who have received Christ. Just as God lays conditions for us to receive the indwelling Holy Spirit of Christ (i.e. repent and believe the gospel), so I believe He sets the same conditions for all who would receive Christ symbolically through the indwelling bread and wine. I say this for the following reasons:
- God says: “This is the ordinance of the Passover: No foreigner shall eat it.” (Ex. 12:43). And in looking backward on the Passover, Hebrews 11:28 also emphasizes the need for faith, “lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them.” I think the Passover meal serves as a type for communion.
- Jesus says of the communion cup, “this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins,” (Matt. 26:28). The wine that is received at communion is to be drunk by those whose sins have been forgiven. Only those who have trusted in Christ’s salvation have their sins forgiven, thus the cup is extended to those people, and no further.
- Paul probably makes the strongest point toward this in 1 Corinthians. In 1 Cor. 10:16-22, he compares food offered to idols to eating communion. He shows the seriousness of eating foods that are offered to idols (which are really demons, see 1 Cor. 10:19-20), and the equal seriousness of receiving communion. He calls this a participation and fellowship with the God whose food you are eating. Thus, as he speaks strongly against Christians participating in eating food known to be offered to idols, it seems inferred that there is an equally stern warning against welcoming people who bow to other gods to participate in the food we eat in celebration of God Almighty. He would later write, “Whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord,” (1 Cor. 11:27). Paul also says, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes,” (1 Cor. 11:26). It would seem that if you do not proclaim Christ’s sacrifice, you are wrong to eat communion as though you do proclaim Him.
All this to say, I think it should be clear that communion is reserved only for professing believers. Of course, all efforts will be made to lead people to becoming a disciple of Christ, and sharing the communion table with us. But anything less than this standard seems to be cheapening the awesome sacrifice of Christ that we celebrate at communion. Furthermore, from personal experience, I remember being a child for years and watching as everyone ate communion while I was not allowed to. I never held a grudge about this, as my parents explained that the communion table was open to me whenever I decide to follow Jesus (or they said something to that effect). In fact, this enticed me to want to be part of the church community and give my life to Christ. As Paul said in a different context: “I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them.” (Rom. 11:13-14).
4. How should we view Judas as being part of the Lord’s Supper?
If Jesus would have offered the communion meal to those who clearly were not professing followers of Him, that would be different than offering it to Judas. Judas was a professing believer at this time (even though Jesus knew His heart had rejected Him). I think this should challenge us to examine our hearts in making sure we are not being divisive or thinking that some people aren’t “worthy” of sharing communion, even if they betray us. I think it also should show us that it’s not up to us to give rigorous tests that would “ensure” someone is truly a believer before they take communion. Instead, we welcome all who truly profess Christ, and deal (usually individually) with people who seem hypocritical in their commitment.
5. How should the church administer communion? how often? who? in what manner?
1 Cor. 11:20 indicates that the church celebrated communion as often as they came together as a worshipping body. I think when we celebrate communion, it should be clear what it represents, and that it is a celebration reserved for professing believers, but that we would be overjoyed for more people to join us at the table because they’ve decided to become disciples of the Living Christ. I think we also should be purposeful to pray through and discern if we come in unity to the Lord’s table (not just with each other, but with other believers gathered elsewhere, and seek reconciliation before coming together to eat [see Matt. 5:23-24; 1 Cor. 11:28-29]).