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Why we are suspending the Lords Supper for the present crisis

In this difficult season, I want to explain why we are suspending the Lord’s Supper until the entire church body is able to gather again. The plain and simple reason is that the New Testament teaches us that the act of the Lord’s Supper is a corporate event.

A few years ago, I remember watching the series television series From the Earth to Moon. It was the first time that I learned that when the first astronauts landed on the moon, Buzz Aldrin privately observed the Lord’s Supper as a means to represent the commonality with mankind while on the surface of two different worlds. I remember thinking at the time why is he doing that? And even later, Aldrin (a Presbyterian elder) confessed that now that he has had time to rethink the matter, he probably would have chosen a different act for that expression.

It was wrong for two reasons. First, the Lord’s Supper is a public display of our dependence upon the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not intended for all mankind, but only for those who have placed their faith alone in the atoning work of Jesus to be reconciled before a holy God. Therefore, in no way should it be shared as an expression of commonality with mankind. Yes, all people are sinners and need Christ. But not all have (or will) place their faith in Jesus. Having the supper elements distributed in our corporate gatherings prevents the participation of non-believers in this sacred act.

Second, it was also wrong for Aldrin to do this because the Lord’s Supper is public in addition to being a corporate event. Much like baptism, it is meant to be done with our brothers and sisters within a public setting displaying of our hope in the gospel until the Lord returns. Baptism is a person’s individual public confession (done by sanction of the church). But communion, is just that. It shows our commonality in the gospel as a community.

Pastors Mark Dever and Paul Alexander write, ‘Taking the Lord’s Supper is a participation in the unity of the church’s fellowship around the remembrance of Jesus Christ and the proclamation of His saving person work through the symbols of bread and wine … Communion is a symbol of the unity and fellowship of the church’ (Alexander & Dever, The Deliberate Church, p. 107).  Citing 1 Corinthians 10:17, Baptist theologian, Wayne Grudem writes. ‘When Christians participate in the Lord’s Supper together they also give a clear sign of their unity with one another.’ (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 990). Pastor Bobby Jamieson adds, ‘the Lord’s Supper isn’t a private devotional act that a couple hundred people happen to perform at the same time. Instead, the Lord’s Supper is something we do not just do with the church, but as the Church.’ (Jamieson, Going Public, p. 120).

In each place in the New Testament when the Lord’s Supper is observed, it is always spoken of as corporate event, not private. Paul tells the church meeting at Corinth, in 1 Corinthians 10:17, ‘Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.’  Notice also in the following chapter, he says specifically in regards to the Supper and to the fellowship meals the repeated phrase, ‘when you gather together.’ (see 1 Cor. 11:17, 18, & 20). And also when he writes  in 1 Corinthians 11:26 (ESV) ‘For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’ The ‘you’ in this verse is a second person plural. In no place in the New Testament do we have the supper being celebrated individually, but always corporately. The supper is an event that only happens when, the people who are in covenant with one another as a church meet together. If you have multiple gatherings celebrating the supper, you don’t have one church. You have multiple churches.

Dever and Alexander, note that the Supper is also the means for church discipline to exclude any member who refuses to repent when in public sin. ‘Those who do not meet the prerequisites of unity with the church should be excluded from participation in the symbol of that unity. Those giving no evidence or contrary evidence regarding genuine repentance and belief should be excluded from the Lord’s Supper’ (Alexander and Dever, The Deliberate Church, p.107). That type of discipline cannot be enforced unless the church is gathered and celebrating communion together.

Therefore, we should not try to conduct the supper individually, with juice and crackers, in our homes any more than we would think it is correct to conduct a baptism on our own. These are acts that should be done when the church gathers as a corporate entity. Our streaming worship services are at the limits already as a secondary option. We need to be fed God’s Word and we have opportunity to build upon in our virtual small groups. But even this pales in comparison with meeting face to face. It is not the optimal and better means of worship as reflected in the New Testament and should only be a temporary solution. However, the Lord’s Supper is not an act we should compromise because of what it represents in the church.

Let us use this time of separation to create a longing to be with one another again. That desire is good. It was our Lord’s similar longing when He celebrated the first supper. He had been looking forward to its inauguration. Luke 22:15-16 (ESV) 15  And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16  For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” In our waiting, look forward and pray for when our local body unites once again. Better still, allow this time of waiting to remind us our true longing for the time when even the supper will no longer be necessary and we all dine at the marriage feast of the Lamb when all the saints gather in heaven.