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Communion: What are we to believe about it?

Gary Googe Feb 14

Communion is a practice most churchgoers are familiar with.  Sometimes people call it The Lord’s Supper, The Eucharist, The Remembrance Service, or The Memorial Service.  However, the beliefs about it vary.  The elements, the manner, the frequency, and even the purpose is debated in church circles. There’s such a diversity of beliefs it seems no one rests on a majority position about it. And all these people use the Bible to some extent to back up their beliefs. So, this is certainly a very controversial subject.

Having grown up attending a local church myself, I came to have my own beliefs about this ritual at an early age, but I eventually began hearing about all the other beliefs people have about it. I’m reminded of an article I recently wrote. I named it Spiritual Growth: What are three of the hardest words to utter? There I point out that being willing to admit you’ve been wrong about something is a major part of the process of gaining a correct understanding from the Bible concerning such basic but important things as the means to salvation and/or spiritual growth.  But it also includes things pertaining to this ritual.

Let’s begin our study by looking at a command our Lord gave to the apostles about this. We have statements that are similar about it in Matthew, Mark, and Luke but nothing in John. Because there’s so much overlap in these passages, in this study we’ll just note what Luke has to say about it.

Luke 22:19

19 And he [Jesus Christ] took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them [the apostles], saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. [Emphasis added]

You’ll often hear this verse and others about this event cited when believers today practice this memorial.  What are we to think of this? Let’s note some questions that people debate about it.

How often is it to be done? Weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, as often as one would like or what?

Who is to participate in this observance? Is it to be local church members only, any believers in an assembly where it is practiced, only believers who’ve confessed their sins, and who is to make the determination about all this?

Who is authorized to administer it? Can anyone or are only certain people supposed to do that?

What are the elements that should be used? Is it to be wine, grape juice, or does it matter? If it’s wine, are children to be allowed to participate? Does everyone use the same cup or does everyone get their own cup? Should only unleavened bread be used? Should the bread be a part of a loaf or a wafer? Are only loaves, wafers or crackers prepared by a church supply house allowed, or does it make any difference?

Where can people partake of it? For instance, should people sit in a church pew to observe this, should they be reclined as the apostles were, or should they come down front in a church building and even kneel at what is often called an altar?

How can it be done worthily? The Bible says this ritual is to be done in a “worthy” manner.  How specifically is that done? There’s Scripture that says some people died who did it unworthily.  If people do it unworthily today, should they be concerned about judgment from God being inflicted upon them? You might even want to consult my article about divine discipline concerning this—Discipline: Does God punish Christians for their sins?

Are the elements only symbols or do they get transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ as the Catholic church teaches?

As you can see by all the above, there’s quite a variety of beliefs about all this.  I think you’ll find that there are even more questions than those I’ve cited that can be addressed.  For instance, have you ever wondered why there are no clear instructions in the Bible regarding this observance and the manner in which it is to be practiced? In other words, exactly how is it that Christ’s command, as per the Luke 22:19, is to be obeyed and by whom? Could it be that this ritual was only for Israel and not Body of Christ believers of today?

The command for this that says it is to be done till Christ comes brings on still another question.  Which coming is He referring to in this passage? Is it the one that is usually called the Second Coming or is it His coming for the Body of Christ church that is usually spoken of as the Rapture? For more information on these two “comings” of Christ, please see my article about them—Rapture: How is this different from the Second Coming? But when Christ said this communion observance was to occur until He comes, again, which coming was He referring to in the command? Which one did He have in mind? The answer to this question should be obvious to all because at the time the command was given, the Rapture remained a mystery, that is, a secret still held in the mind of God.  The teaching regarding the Rapture would not even be made known until some years later through the teaching and writings of the apostle Paul.  Therefore, we must conclude that when Christ made this statement to the apostles it was addressed to them and to the people of Israel, not Gentiles or us today.  When Paul addresses the church in Corinth about it, there you have mainly Gentiles with probably only a few Jews who were trying to impose this observance on this Gentile church [just as they had done in trying to impose circumcision on them], assuming it was something they, too, were to observe.  There, too, the New Covenant was still in place and would be until the end of the timeframe of the book of Acts when it became clear that Israel would not accept Jesus as their prophesied Messiah.  After then, in God’s eyes, there is no difference between believer Jews and believer Gentiles.  They are now all seen as one body of people united with Jesus Christ.

Romans 10:12

12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: [HELLEN = used to speak of Gentiles] for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.  [Emphasis added]

We have another passage that tells us practically the same thing.

1 Corinthians 12:12-14

12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

14 For the body is not one member, but many. [Emphasis added]

In dealing with God, from the time of Abraham till the salvation and revelation given to the apostle Paul, He gave Jews priority over Gentiles.  We see that in the earthly ministry of Christ and His work with the apostles.

Matthew 10:5-6

These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:

But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. [Emphasis added]

But this and much more changed with the salvation and commissioning of the apostle Paul.  There was a transition period for a time after that, but that period completely ended with an interruption of things by the end of the timeframe of the book of Acts. 

Acts 28:27-28

27 For the heart of this people [speaking of Israel] is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

28 Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it. [Emphasis added]

Unlike before, Paul’s commission and ministry were almost exclusively with Gentiles, as ours is today.  Note what he says to his Ephesian converts.

Ephesians 2:11-13

11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision [Israelites and proselyte Jews] in the flesh made by hands;

12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:

13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. [Emphasis added]

Could this be any clearer? An important change has come but even today most churchgoers are left in the dark, knowing little or nothing about it.  Most preachers spend most of their time teaching out of non-Pauline passages of Scripture.

If we’re to draw the right conclusions about anything in the Bible, it is imperative that we fulfill the principle of rightly dividing what we read in the Scriptures.  The apostle Paul’s statement about this should be complied with by all of us. Unfortunately, most of Christendom knows little or nothing about the meaning of this principle and this next verse [a command] we’ll note that speaks of it.

2 Timothy 2:15

15 Study [SPOUDAZO = be diligent] to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.  [Emphasis added]

This sets forth the fact that while all Scripoture is FOR us it is not all TO us or about us.  Violation of this principle is what has brought about nearly all the doctrinal divisions and the development of so many church denominations which have such a variety of beliefs about this and so many other things. I even have a whole article on this website about this—Division: Why can’t Christians get along? There are also numerous videos about it available for you to view.  Here’s the title of one of them—#18 ~ Rightly dividing the Scriptures – Part 1.

Now let’s look at Paul’s comments about communion to the Corinthian church of believers.  And please bear in mind as we go through this passage that it was one of Paul’s first epistles written sometime before the end of the timeframe of the book of Acts.  Many things in that period were in a state of transition.  We’ll begin with this passage and then look at some others.  But it is this one that is particularly important for our study of this subject.

1 Corinthians 11:20

20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. [Emphasis added]

Then we have more about this in this context that is important to help us understand what our beliefs are to be about this.

1 Corinthians 11:23-34

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:

Here he’s speaking of the special revelation that the Lord Himself had given Paul regarding this event. This was a part of what qualified him to talk and write about it. Some have claimed that this special revelation given to Paul indicates that the ritual is for us today, but if that’s the case, why do we still have so many questions and such debate concerning it, as I’ve cited earlier in this article? If this which is called communion is for us to observe in our time, everything we need to know about it should be clearly stated for us in Scripture.

24 And when he [Jesus Christ] 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. [Emphasis added]

Again, to whom was this ritual given? Who was He speaking with when it was originally given? Answer: The twelve apostles! And who were they representing? Answer: Israel! Our directives come to us through the apostle Paul, not the Twelve.  This is true even with our gospel. Ours is not the same as the one given to Israel.

Galatians 2:7

But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; [Emphasis added]

For more information about these two different gospels please see my articles that explain them—

Bible: What are The Two Programs?

Gospels: Did Peter and Paul preach the same gospel?

Gospel: Is OUR gospel in “the four gospels”?

Christ’s introduction of this ritual occurred during the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. Obviously, He’s speaking of the unleavened bread the apostles were then consuming which we now know is simply representative of Christ’s body that would be crucified that next day.  There, too, His blood would be shed for the sins of the world.  But even the full and complete meaning of that would not be given until it was provided for us through the special revelation given to the apostle Paul.

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.

It has appeared to some that His work accomplished through His death, burial, and resurrection was done only for those who accept it [often called limited atonement], but such is not the case.  It was done for all mankind, making salvation available to all people.  Christ paid the penalty for all mankind, all the world, not just some. Even the apostle John tells us this.

1 John 2:2

And he [Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. [Emphasis added]

We have the apostle Paul telling us the same thing.

1 Timothy 2:5-6

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. [Emphasis added]

1 Corinthians 11 continued

Paul continues to reflect on what was given to Israel about this. This is addressed to Jews, to IsraelitesIt was to them that this ritual of communion was initially given, not Gentiles.  Paul is here reflecting on all this.

26 For as often as ye [Israelites] eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

The “coming” mentioned here is His Second Coming, not the Rapture.  In his teaching, Paul not only spoke about the Rapture but sometimes the Second Coming as he does here in this passage.  Again, that coming, the Rapture had still not been revealed when Christ first observed this ritual with The Twelve Apostles.  So, the Rapture is clearly not under discussion here.  Here He has to be speaking of His return at the end of the Tribulation.  That period is then followed by the thousand-year earthly kingdom He will then establish.  At that time, as members of that which is called the Body of Christ, we’ll already be in Heaven.  We won’t even be on Earth when this reaches its final termination point.

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.

Here we have strict law warning unbelievers and others [those who are “unworthy”] not to partake of this lest they die much as Annanias and Sapphira did for their disobedience recorded in Acts 5:1-11.  Furthermore, the communion ritual was not set aside until the end of the timeframe of the book of Acts.

28 But let a man examine himself [being certain that he’s placed his faith in Jesus Christ as the provider of his salvation], and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.

29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily [as an unbeliever], eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

Again, this is “damnation” like that which was experienced by Annanias and Sapphira as it is recorded in Acts 5:1-11.  People dropped dead for their disobedience. Their punishment was physical death

30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep [ones who have passed away in death].

Do we see this happening today when people participate in this ritual unworthily? We do not! And that’s clear evidence that this God-prescribed ritual is not in place today. If it was there’d be a lot of dead bodies in churches and elsewhere on account of it.

31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.

32 But when we [as members of the Body of Christ] are judged, we are chastened [PAIDEUO = instructed] of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.

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. [Emphasis added]

Therefore, this ritual remained in place, particularly for believing Israelites, until the end of the timeframe of the book of Acts.  Such was true for believers to share and have all material things in common, the performance of miracles, speaking in tongues, and more.  But please note that as Paul reflects on this he’s not giving here or elsewhere in his writings any exact manner in which this ritual was or is to be observed.  We have no such instructions that are addressed to us today as members of the Body of Christ.  The reality of this is that we need not concern ourselves with the performance of anything that’s not been revealed to us that’s for our application.

Now let’s go back and address some of the questions about this ritual that I first mentioned in this article.  But before we get to that, please realize that this ritual was given to Israel, not the Body of Christ believersThere’s nothing in Scripture that tells us this ritual is for us today.  Yes, the apostle Paul speaks of it, but he also speaks of other things that were only a part of the transitional period between Israel and the Dispensation of Law and this present Dispensation of Grace of which we are a part today. Are any believers empowered to miraculously heal or speak in tongues today? They are not! We only have counterfeits.  Numerous practices went on in that transitional period that took things from where they were then to where they are today, and communion as our Lord observed it with The Twelve Apostles was one of them.

How often is it to be done? It was given to Israel and no specific time frequency was given.

Who is to participate in this observance? No participation is required of anyone today.

Who is authorized to administer it? No one!

What are the elements that should be used? Here, too, it is not something we should be concerned about.

Where should people partake of it? Nowhere!

How can it be done worthily? As I explain in my article I referenced, Discipline: Does God punish Christians for their sins?, God is not working with His people in the same way today as He was in times past.

Are the elements only symbols? Yes! Do they become the actual body and blood of Christ, what is sometimes called transubstantiation? They do not!  There’s nothing in the sixty-six books of the Bible that teaches that they do.

Conclusion—

As with so many things in Scripture, there’s a lot of division among those who seek to comply with the command on communion. Have I ever partaken of communion? Yes! Was I ever water baptized? Yes! Twice, thinking I needed to be sure I’d done it “right.” Did I ever walk an isle thinking I had to “confess Christ before men” to be saved? Yes! On and on the list goes.  Many times I’ve been wrong about a lot of things.  Do I now have all my “doctrine” correct? Probably not! But that’s okay.  I’m still in the process of growing in my understanding of this marvelous book called the Bible.  I thought long and hard about the subject matter of this article before I wrote it.  But here I stand! I hope you’ll benefit from many of the things I’ve learned over this long and exciting journey.  I am thankful to perhaps have a small part in yours.

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