Why are there so many denominations trying to squeeze under the umbrella called “Christianity”? The short answer is that they all believe different things while still claiming to follow Christ Jesus. Lutherans believe different doctrines from the Mormons who believe differently from Roman Catholics. Even those who bear the same denominational name sometimes have serious differences of doctrine.
And there is no reason to look beyond those who call themselves “Baptists.” Some Baptists glorify God in preaching His sovereignty over salvation, while most put salvation squarely on the sin-dead heart of the fallen sons of Adam. Some Baptists try to keep their distance from the methods and music of the world, while others embrace as much of the world as possible in order to draw the attention of the lost man. Some Baptists call themselves “Protestants,” while others, like ourselves, see our forefathers in history long before the Reformation, stretching back to the Apostles. I get perturbed by former Southern Baptist Churches and churches of the Baptist Bible Fellowship who drop the “Baptist” name, calling themselves just “Church of the New Life” or some such thing. But in reality, since they believe themselves to be Protestants, and they are denying the doctrines our ancient Baptistic predecessors died to maintain, dropping the “Baptist” name is not really a bad thing.
Two particular points of disputed doctrine relates to the nature of Christ’s church and the Lord’s Supper. Many Baptists believe there are two kinds of churches – one local and the other universal – which supposedly incorporates everyone who believes on Christ as Saviour. Those who accept the universal church interpretation are forced to open their membership to anyone who claims to be a “Christian” if they have been baptized by immersion. And then on those occasions when they celebrate the Lord’s Supper, their doctrine demands the free admission of any and all believers. On the other hand, those who see only one kind of church in the Bible – local congregations scattered around the world – those churches usually serve Communion to only their membership. And that division has become a contentious issue within those churches calling themselves “Baptists.”
It has been many months since we have celebrated the Lord’s Supper. That is something which I plan to correct in the future. From now on, I hope to observe Communion on our Fellowship Sunday every three months. Buy since it has been some time, I felt the need to teach where our church stands on the areas of controversy about this subject. I may do more teaching on the Lord’s Supper again on the third Sunday in December, but then again, I may not.
The title “Lord’s Supper” is found only once in the Bible – I Corinthians 11:20. In that chapter Paul looks back on what we read here in Matthew 26, and then talks about the way that the Corinthian church was commemorating and ABUSING that commemoration. But here in Matthew, what takes place is not given a name or title. It is not “communion,” “the Lord’s Supper,” or “the Lord’s Table” and certainly not “the mass.” In verse 26 Christ “took the cup, and gave thanks.” The Greek word for “gave thanks” is “eucharistesas” from which is derived “Eucharist.” Since the primary aspect of the Lord’s Supper is not thanksgiving, it is best not to use this term. We at Calvary Baptist do not celebrate the “Eucharist” On the other hand, despite not seeing these words in our text, we do celebrate “communion,” “the Lord’s Supper,” or “the Lord’s Table.
In that first celebration, Christ and His disciples simply flow into it from the Passover Meal. And we see that the Lord used it as an allegorical statement that He was to be slain and that His blood would soon be shed for the salvation of His elect. “For this is my blood of the new Testament which is shed for many for the remission of sin.” Paul later quoted that verse to the church in Corinth adding, “as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.”
So far so good – most Baptists are in agreement thus far. But many who understand that there are also Biblical restrictions which apply to the Lord’s Supper. Briefly this morning, using both Matthew and Corinthians, I’d like to point out some of those restrictions.
The first is that the Lord’s Supper” is HIS supper, and we must go by His rules. No amount of brotherly love can permit us to bend the principles that Christ has laid down. Ie., just as we wouldn’t tell a sincere Muslim or Hindu that he is going to Heaven through his false faith, we can’t let someone eat the Lord’s Supper thinking it will save his soul or make him a better person. In his best interest, we should stop him before he even begins.
This is only one area where rules and restrictions apply.
For example, the Lord’s supper should be observed with special bread and the fruit of the vine.
The first and only time that Christ Jesus ate the Lord’s Supper it was the night of the Passover meal. The Old Testament gets pretty specific about the ingredients of that special, annual supper. There were general restrictions placed upon the Israelite’s diet, and yet at ordinary meals there could still be a lot of variety. But not on the night in which Israel remembered the Passover. The menu included roasted lamb or goat, bitter herbs, fruit of the vine and bread.
“The Passover” was the first day of the “Feast of Unleavened Bread,” and by the command of God, only bread without yeast could be served that night. Throughout the Word of God, leaven has been used as an illustration of sin. It was not usually sin in itself, but it was used as an illustration of sin. However, from the Passover on through the following week, it really was sin in the sight of God to be eating bread which had been prepared with leaven or yeast. Not only was Israel supposed to be living sin-free during this period – since this bread depicted the body of Christ, the illustration extended to the perfect purity and sinlessness of the Son of God. Christ Jesus was impeccable – without sin – and without even the ability to sin.
There is no reason or excuse to use anything but unleavened bread in the observance of the Lord’s Supper. I think that it would be sacrilegious – heretical – to serve Pizza and Coca-Cola at the Lord’s Table. Everyone may love cookies, ice cream, and a chocolate milk shake, but such things would be inappropriate for the Lord’s Supper. In fact, I will stick my neck out and say that even a mouth-watering lamb roast would not be right, simply because that was not what the Lord used for the “Lord’s Supper,” nor was it of what Paul spoke.
The second ingredient which we see Christ use was simply styled “the cup.” Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul all use the word “cup” rather than any other term. In no scripture speaking of the “Lord’s Supper” is the word “wine” used – only the “cup.” At Calvary Baptist, the cups which we use are filled with unfermented fruit of the vine – grape juice. I acknowledge that this is one of the things which divide otherwise friendly Baptists. I have heard self-propelled experts, on both sides hotly debate the subject – wine or juice, wine or juice. But I am not going to join that debate and divide God’s people any more than they already are. Yet I can’t picture Christ ordering us to use something intoxicating, when Bible clearly tells us not to. The Bible commanded the Old Testament priest not to drink fermented wine in his religious service. This arose after Nadab and Abihu apparently were emboldened to sin, while under the influence. Although it was not the Passover, I think the principle reaches the Passover and the Lord’s Supper. The truth is that the word “wine” in Bible can refer to either fermented or unfermented fruit of vine. The reason I use unfermented wine, is that I feel this best honors the Saviour, and that is my ONLY desire. And I believe without the alcohol, grape juice depicts Christ’s sinlessness better than fermented wine.
But there is an additional point. Not too long ago I told you about a man in our Calgary church – George Dinsmore. Bro. Dinsmore was a recovering alcoholic, and his body clearly showed the wear and tear of his abuse. After knowing the man for couple years, we were forced to conduct his funeral. He died of alcohol poisoning – after a friend invited him to a birthday party where alcohol was served. Would that man have returned to poisoning himself, if he had a tiny sip of wine at the Lord’s Supper? I don’t know, but thankfully that did not happen, and it will not come up at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
The Roman Catholic believes in “transubstantiation” – that he eats the literal body and blood of Christ. In some mystical, magical way, when the Catholic priest “blesses” the bread he believes it is changed into flesh, and the wine becomes blood. That denomination proudly practices a type of cannibalism. And that is in the shadow of Leviticus 3:17 which tells us through Israel, “It shall be a perpetual statue for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that ye eat neither fat nor blood.” Slightly differently to Catholicism, most Protestants believe in “consubstantiation” – that the bread and wine contain or are mixed with the body and blood of Christ. Also both Catholics and most Protestants believe that participating in the “Lord’s Supper” imparts a special spiritual blessing – it is a “sacrament.” But one of the early Prostestant leaders, the one who I pointed out in last week’s history note, Huldrych Zwingli, agreed with the Baptists, that the bead is simply appointed as a symbol of the body of Christ. If Luther in Germany had listened to Zwingli in Switzerland it might have radically changed history. But Luther urged the secular rulers to “stab, and slay and kill” the Anabaptists who were quietly trying to glorify and obey the Saviour.
The Baptists (Anabatists) who meet in this building reject both “transubstantiation” and “consubstantiation” as totally man-made doctrines. We serve bread and the fruit of the vine as mere symbols of the sacrifice of Lord Jesus Christ. And isn’t that precisely what Jesus taught as He presented the bread and cup to His disciples? He held up the bread and said “This is my body,” and he lifted the cup, saying “This is the blood of the New Testament.” I have here pictures of the Oldfield’s three grandchildren. When I say “This is my eldest grandson Nikolai,” don’t you immediately know that it is a picture which only represents Nikolai? “This is Tanner.” No it isn’t – it is a picture of Tanner. “And this is Sahalie.” But it isn’t Sahalie, because she is sitting over there by her grandmother. When Jesus said of the bread, “this is my body,” it was only as a symbol – a picture.
It is important to recognize the PURPOSE of the Lord’s Supper.
As the Apostle Paul was lead by the Holy Spirit to look back on Matthew 26, he said, “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: 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. 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.”
Nowhere in the Bible are we told that the Lord’s Supper or Communion cleanses us from sin. The only sin-cleansing agent that the Word ever proscribes is the literal blood of Christ which was shed at the time of His death. And I repeat – the wine of Communion is not literal blood of Christ, but only an illustration of that blood. But again, most of Christendom believes that the Lord’s Table is “a sacrament” – that some sort of special or saving grace is incorporated in drinking that blood. Such is not the case, and therefore no spiritual harm falls on someone who does not participate. When a church refuses to serve Communion to someone, it does not hinder that person spiritually.
Communion should not be observed to earn or enhance salvation, nor should it be taken to please somebody. By taking the elements of the Supper, no one is effectively proving or even declaring their spiritual life. How you live on Monday, and what you say about the Lord on Tuesday better proves that you are a genuine Christian than whether or not you take the “Lord’s Supper” on Sunday. Communion is not a very good means of declaring your devotion or piety. It is not a love note sent to God, and it does nothing to bind Christians together. The Lord’s Supper should not be observed in order to make yourself feel better about yourself. This ordinance is an act of remembrance and worship – it is full of thanksgiving and praise.
Now let’s begin to separate the men from the boys – the Baptists from the other Baptists.
Matthew 26 does not begin with the disciples in the upper room celebrating the Passover and “Lord’s Supper.” It begins with Simon the former Leper, and Mary who anointed the head and feet of the Saviour. The meal at the beginning of the chapter was two days prior to the “Lord’s Supper.” Then Christ sent some of His disciples to prepare for a private observation of the Passover. By “private” I mean that this was a very small, intimate celebration. You will search the gospels in vain to find anyone at the Passover besides Jesus and the twelve. And then Judas left after the Passover and before the “Lord’s Supper.” None of the women where there; Simon was not present; the owners of the house were not invited. The only people present were members of the church which the Lord had founded some time earlier.
When the Lord’s Supper was established the only people to celebrate were members of Christ’s first church. A scriptural church is a group of people called together by the Lord for His worship and service. The place where the Supper is served does not matter, so long as the Lord’s church is present. If members choose not to attend or not to participate, that is perfectly permissible. But to offer the ordinance to only those who attend a special secret meeting, without inviting all the membership – that would be improper. And I don’t give the Lord’s Supper to dying saints in their hospital rooms or bedrooms. That idea is both unscriptural and unnecessary – there is no spiritual benefit or Biblical precedent.
There are some related practices which arise when we talk about this as a church ordinance. When restricted to church members, it goes without saying that we are talking about born-again people. Nowhere in Bible do we read of anyone but regenerated people partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Communion was never designed to turn sinners into saints – lost people into Christians. And furthermore it is the church who is obligated to oversee and apply this restriction. So each church needs to see that their observance of Communion is restricted to genuine saints. And the easiest way – the first and most obvious step – is restricting it to its own membership.
But more than just salvation is necessary – baptism is also a requisite. It cannot be demonstrated that anyone in the Bible took communion without receiving baptism first. These two ordinances of the church are a matched set; and they are only ordinances we have. Plus, the order of their observance is proscribed by the Lord. Matthew 28:19-20 gives us just one instance of that order. Baptism is the first step in the Lord’s service, obviously coming after repentance and faith. Without baptism we are not qualified to serve God in any other capacity. This is why we have command after command to be saved and baptized.
And this leads us to the question – what constitutes scriptural baptism? There are four components of Scriptural Baptism. A scriptural candidate: that is a saved person. A scriptural purpose: to depict his new life in Christ; not to save him. A scriptural manner: by immersion in water. A scriptural authority to baptize him: a doctrinally sound New Testament church.
Christ started a Baptistic church and that was during His earthly ministry. No Protestant church was established by Christ – they all had human founders. Therefore no Protestant church has Christ’s authority to serve Him in any way – including baptism. This means that no regenerated Protestant has a Biblical invitation to observe the Lord’s Supper. As long as he is a Protestant, he has not been scripturally baptized, and therefore he is not qualified to receive the elements of the Lord’s Supper.
Additionally, there is the fact that not every Baptist church is has remained true to the doctrines of the Bible. It is not the name “Baptist,” but the authority and doctrine of Christ which makes a congregation one of the Lord’s churches. If a person has not been baptized by a Baptist church, his baptism will not be recognized as a scriptural candidate for membership by our church. But even that baptism is not enough. If he is not a member here then he will not be invited to join our observance of the Lord’s table. That doesn’t mean we reject that person’s testimony of salvation. We aren’t saying that the person is not a child of God. We are only saying that he is does not meet the qualifications for our observance of the Lord’s Table.
So we restrict our observance of the “Lord’s Supper” to our own church membership. This is the Biblical outline. Acts 2:41-42 says, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” The pattern found in God’s word is: salvation, baptism, church membership and then breaking of bread. No matter how you broadly you might define “breaking of bread,” the Lord’s Supper must be included. In the baptizing of those believers in Acts 2, they became members of the Lord’s church in Jerusalem. And in that they became eligible for the Lord’s Table when it was offered in that church.
What if someone came along who was a member of another of the Lord’s churches, but not in Jerusalem. He wouldn’t need to be rebaptized to join the Jerusalem church, but he would need to formally request membership and to be received. Until that time, he is not a member, and should not received communion in that church. We believe that only church members should receive communion. Only members of THIS church should partake of this church’s observance of the Supper. I, personally, wouldn’t take part in the observance of the Supper in another church, and it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if it wasn’t offered to me. That other Baptist church should offer the Lord’s Supper to their own members.
This is not a relatively new restriction of the Lord’s Table. This was the common practice among Baptists until some time during the last couple of centuries. But don’t think that we practice this restriction because some ancient Baptists did. We do so because we feel that this is the Biblical way. The only people we invite to table of Christ are Christians, baptized and accepted into the membership of Calvary Independent Baptist Church.
God established these restrictions for the protection of the congregation. If we invite all professing Christians to partake, we are saying that they are all properly baptized. If we invite every professing Christian, then we are approving the doctrines of their home church. And if they are good enough for the Lord’s Table, then they are good enough to become members with us. That is precisely how so many Baptists of the 19th and early 20th centuries lost their Baptist distinctives and became Protestant cogregations. They received Protestants into their churches through corrupted forms of the “Lord’s Supper.” Open communion is an example of practical ecumenism, and it will eventually strip the church of its distinctive, original doctrines. The Lord laid down this rule to protect His churches.
So here is our doctrine of the Lord’s Supper –
We recognize the Lord’s authority and the Biblically proscribed elements of the Table. Every recipient must be a child of God by faith in Christ Jesus. Then they should be scripturally baptized by a church like us in doctrine and practice. But as we find in the Bible, that person must also be a member of the church observing the ordinance. That person must have a scriptural reason to partake. Does he want to be saved? Then he shouldn’t participate; the Lord’s Supper is for already saved people. Does he want to put on a show or deceive someone, then he is incurring the anger of the Lord. But if he wants to praise and honor the Lord for saving his soul through the blood and death of Christ, then he may proceed. But if that person is harboring sin in his life, he needs confess and repent before the Lord before receiving the elements.
Upon the first occasion of the “Lord’s Supper,” only the saved members of Christ’s first church were present. That is the way it ought to be in its observance today.