Introduction To The Observance Of The Lord's Table
As we gather to observe the Lord's Table, we at Nepaug Bible Church always find it edifying to go back to the Bible, for we come from a wide variety of Christian heritages, and there has been much error and misunderstanding taught on this ordinance down through Church History. So, in the words of our Lord to the woman at the well, we review Scripture that we might know how to worship God in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)
(1) Some teach the doctrine of transubstantiation, that the elements in the cup and bread are changed into the actual blood and body of Jesus so that when one ingests them, he ingests Christ, thereby gaining salvation.
We do not believe this doctrine for several reasons: (a) Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches salvation is a gift of God, that it is not of works like ingesting elements lest any man should boast. (b) Also, when Jesus at the Last Supper told His disciples to drink of His cup, that it was His blood that was shed for many, He spoke to Orthodox Jews who knew that Leviticus 7:27 forbade them from ingesting blood upon pain of death. The only way the disciples partook of that cup was by believing Jesus had spoken symbolically of the wine. (c) Proof of this fact is seen in what the apostles did at the first Jerusalem Church Council in Acts 15:23-29. They wrote an epistle to Gentile believers on how to get along with Jewish believers, and one directive was that they abstain from ingesting blood. Had the apostles held to transubstantiation, they of necessity would have had to qualify that order, telling the Gentiles to avoid ingesting blood except in the matter of the Lord's Table. Yet, they gave no such qualification, what of course makes sense as Jewish believers would never have ingested blood anyway. Thus, the Apostles did not believe in transubstantiation, and if the Apostles did not, neither should we.
(d) However, we must explain a statement Jesus made in John 6:53 that holders of transubstantiation use in support of their view. That statement is as follows: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you." Jesus Himself clarified what He meant by those words just ten verses later in John 6:63 when He said, "(T)he flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life," those words in the same context at John 6:47 being: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life."
One may still ask why Jesus in John 6:53 ever spoke of eating His flesh and drinking His blood -- what was His point in using such words? The answer comes from the context: Jesus was speaking to the crowd He had recently miraculously fed the five loaves and two fishes on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They had since realized He had crossed the sea, so they had followed Him in other boats only to disembark where Jesus was in search of another free meal from Him. Jesus decided to use this event as a witnessing opportunity, so He instructed the people not to labor for food like loaves and fishes that if one eats of them he will still perish, but to work for the figurative Bread of Life that came down from heaven, that they might eat of it and live forever. The people then asked Him for that bread, so Jesus said, "I am the bread of life," that they should believe in Him for eternal life. Speaking thus of Himself figuratively, Jesus added His figurative statement on eating His flesh and drinking His blood, figuratively picturing the application of His atonement on the cross by faith.
Thus, Jesus was trying to get His hearers to shift from ingesting physical food for physical life to believe in Him for eternal life. However, transubstantiation does just the opposite: it seeks to take the issue of faith in Christ for salvation and to plug it back into eating literal food, so we cannot accept transubstantiation.
(2) Some teach the doctrine of consubstantiation, the view that Christ's spirit is "in, with or under" the communion elements, that ingesting them ingests Christ's Spirit, thereby imparting eternal life and salvation. However, once again, Ephesians 2:8-9 claims salvation is not by works like ingesting communion elements.
(3) John Calvin taught his Protestant followers receptionism, that when a believer ingests the communion elements, the Holy Spirit equips him to partake of Christ's heavenly body and blood, and when that occurs, God then pours eternal life into the believer. However, the answer to all of this is Hebrews 9:28 that claims: "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many, and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin" -- that is, without dealing with the issue of sin, but -- "unto salvation." Also, Hebrews 10:14 claims, "For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." Christ died once, He was buried once, He rose once and He has ascended to the Father's right hand where He currently sits enthroned and intercedes for us who believe in Him. His work on the cross is thus a finished work.
If you go into a church that teaches transubstantiation or consubstantiation and look up on the wall behind the pulpit and communion table, you will see a cross and on the cross a figure of Jesus. Why? Because they believe in that church that Jesus is still being sacrificed in some way during the communion service. That is why the communion table is center-stage, it is large, and it is called an altar. At one point in the service, the minister bows to worship the elements because he believes them to be Jesus in some way. We of course hold such a deed to be the sin of idolatry. In our church we have a cross on the wall, but it is bare since our Lord's work on the cross is finished. Our communion table is down on the sanctuary floor, it is small, it is not called an altar but a table, for all we serve on it is grape juice and saltine crackers.
Our pulpit is center-stage because Jesus said, "(T)he words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life," John 6:63. Indeed, if you came to our church looking for salvation today, I testify that you will not find it by ingesting our saltine crackers and grape juice, but by believing the Gospel that was preached to you from our pulpit. One must thus believe the Gospel that Christ died for his sins, was buried and bodily rose from the dead to be saved and be given eternal life. (1 Corinthians 15:1-11) Indeed, one must make this commitment to qualify to partake of the elements. If you need to make this commitment, we encourage you to do so right now!
We practice "open communion" at our church, for we believe in the Universal Body of Christ, that every individual who trusts in Christ for salvation is a believer regardless if he or she is a member of our local church. If you are not a member of our local church, but you are in right relationship with the Lord, you are part of the Universal Body of Christ, so we invite and encourage you to participate with us in observing the Lord's Table.
As we thus prepare to partake of the communion elements, we must heed the call of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:27-28 to examine ourselves lest we partake unworthily of the Lord's table and so face God's discipline. Thus, we pause for a short period of time before ingesting the elements in order to examine our hearts and confess our sins to God for forgiveness in the event that we have sinned and not already confessed it.
A word of clarification at this point: a number of us have come from a heritage where we were taught to confess our sins to the minister that he might absolve us of our sins. Please do not confess your sins to me for absolution: I cannot absolve you of your sins, for I am a sinner just like anyone else, I am just your brother in Christ, so I must examine myself before partaking of the elements even if I as the Pastor of Nepaug Bible Church officiate this service. 1 Timothy 2:5 claims we have one Mediator between us and God, the man Christ Jesus. So, to confess our sins, we pray to God the Father in Jesus' name, confessing our sin(s) to Him, and God forgives us, 1 John 1:9. If the sin was a wrong committed against another person, we can go to that party after the service and apologize and make amends as needed, but forgiveness from God involves the individual believer and God alone.
Let us now pause for 15 seconds of time for private, personal examination and confession as needed before the Lord. (Pause for 15 seconds, and then proceed with the observance of the Lord's Table.)