Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Are we doing Communion right?

To answer that question, let's first look at how the Christians celebrated the Lord's Supper in the New Testament.  The Lord Jesus, Himself, showed by example that the Lord's supper was to be a meal shared among his followers in which the bread and the wine brought remembrance of Him.  To the early Christians, the Lord's supper was a festive meal, a chance for Christian brothers and sisters to get together and share their lives and their food and remember Christ. The would break the bread in the beginning of the meal and pass it around, then eat, and afterward they would share the cup.   There were no clergymen there to officiate. It was essentially a Christian banquet.

(See Eric Svendsen: The Table of the Lord  and William Barclay: The Lord's Supper)

Paul mentions the Lord's supper in 1 Corinthians 11 and warns the believers to participate in a worthy manner. If you read the entire passage in context, it appears that some people were using the supper as a chance to get drunk while others weren't sharing their food with the poor! Those are the issues he was addressing.

In most modern protestant churches today, the Lord's supper has been reduced to a bite-size cracker and a shot glass of grape juice served by ushers in a very solemn atmosphere. The pastor usually encourages everyone to examine themselves and repent of any wrongdoings before partaking of Communion.

So, how did we get so far from the way the early church did the Lord's supper?  Sometime around the 2nd century the taking of the bread and the cup became separated from the meal. Some say it was because Christians didn't want unbelievers to profane the Lord's supper by participating in the meal, but it also could have been the growing influence of pagan religious ritual.  The term Eucharist came to replace the terms, "the bread and the cup" and the entire process began to be looked at as a holy offering.  The "elements" were then placed on the altar of the church, making them seem like sacrifices and creating a sort of mystique around them as being supernatural in nature. People now looked at them in awe, as things only priests could handle. 

Under further influence by pagan mystery religions, the bread and the cup were now considered holy and the taking of them a sacred ritual that could only be performed by priests.  It became shrouded in a religious mist, viewed in awe and taken with glumness. Finally in the forth century, the doctrine of transubstantiation came into being. This is the view that the bread and wine change into the Lord's actual body and blood.  Now, the common man became terrified to take the sacred elements, believing they were actually partaking of Jesus's body, thus further separating the church from the clergy.

Of course the Protestants got away from the view of transubstantiation during the Reformation but we kept most of the other aspects of the now far-removed-from-the-Bible  Lord's supper!

So what are your thoughts? I have to be honest. This information blew me away.

Taken from Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna


  1. I still find all of this quite fascinating! Yes, it's different than what I grew up with in 'church'. But, wow. Once you know the history, it just makes sense. It's like so many of us have been robots - doing what we're told, and never challenging what we're taught - never measuring it all with the Word of God. My husband has often challenged our kids (and myself too) with the question, "Why do we do what we do?" And once I really think on it, I sit there stumped. The greatest question ... "Why?", and so many of us have failed to ask it.
    Thanks again for the insight. All of this information you've been showing from Pagan Christianity, and other teachings I've heard (Andrew Farley has some good thoughts on grace vs. the law too)really challenges, and should cause us to look deeper into His Word.
    In regards to Communion - a friend and I have briefly discussed this too. And she had this viewpoint as well. That it is more of a meal shared - fellowship with other believers over a meal. Not so much the cracker and grape juice every first Sunday of the month.

  2. Great information, MaryLu! I didn't know that communion was originally a full meal, but now that I think of the Lord's Supper passage, it does make sense that it was a meal. Wow, how far we have come! Can't wait to have Communion God's way in heaven :-)

  3. Exactly, Caroline! I have been the same way.. just going through the rituals never questioning where they came from, but more importantly never questioning why the church in the New Testament looked so different. The problem is.. how to change thousand year old traditions?

    Yes, Gwendolyn.. in heaven, I imagine we'll be feasting regularly with our Father! IT will be so awesome. :-)

  4. Well, it sort of confirms some of my own pet peeves in both the pulpit and the pew! We have believers who look on the Lord's supper as some sort of Protestant mass ritual, from which they get brownie points for participating in regularly (not exactly put that way in so many words of course). On the other hand, some of our pastors and missionaries are withholding the Lord's table from their people "because this is not an organized church yet" (!!!) or "there's no one qualified to administer." There is quite a list of requirements that must be in place before you can think about performing the ceremony! Humbug! Other than examining oneself and waiting for one another, the Scriptures don't put a lot of stipulations on it.

  5. I wish we did do communion the way the original 12 did it.
    Our former youth pastor became a missionary to Romania, so our last youth group with him we kind of reanacted the Last Supper. Actual chunks of bread and everything with the oil stuff or whatever that you dip it in and the lights were dimmed and it was really cool. Then after we sang worship songs.
    -Rebekkah xD

  6. And what stands out to me is that they did this with joy and fellowship, the church shared with each other in the meal they gathered in His name to remember Him.
    -Rebekkah xD

  7. That's amazing, Diane... withholding the Lord's Supper!! I've never heard of that. Why not get a group of committed Christians together for a potluck and celebrate the Lord's supper then!

    Rebekkah, I wish we did Communion like it used to be done too. Your reenactment of the actual Lord's supper sounds really beautiful!! It is supposed to be done with joy and fellowship.. like a celebration.. It must make the Lord sad to see how we've made it so solemn and depressing and something done alone with one's own thoughts.

  8. I have been pondering this since I read it yesterday. It is interesting at how the church of the Bible seemed to be far more of a community than we are today. Today we go church on Sunday, go home, then repeat in a week. A lot of us don’t even know most people who comes to our church week after week. While in the NT, it seems that people knew each other, loved each other, prayed for one another, and held each other accountable. The church was their family. We don’t have that much anymore.

  9. Thurs Aug 2nd,
    "Morning, MaryLu."
    Sorry I am so late in replying to this blog ... but I am in total agreement with "the way Communion used to be done", back with the New Testament Christians. Definitely more -- meaningful, thoughtful, and intimate -- in rememberance of our Lord and Saviour.
    In our Church, both emblems (small piece of bread, and small cup of grape juice) are first administered to everyone participating, and then ... after the Pastor prays over them ... we eat/drink all "together". In rememberance though only ... not believing we are eating/drinking of the Lord's actual body and blood.
    Wouldn't it be something "if" we could return to the "original" way designed by Jesus Himself !
    Thanks for sharing.
    Take care, and, God Bless,
    In Him, Brenda Hurley

  10. Emma, that's precisely it!! The NT church was more of a community of believers who intimately shared their lives together. They were closer than good friends.. they were more like family.. brothers and sisters.

    Morning Brenda! I was beginning to worry about you!! Glad you are okay. Yes, I would love to go back to the original way of celebrating the Lord's supper... imaging a victorious feast filled with joy and great fellowship where the poor are well fed and Jesus is glorified!