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Understanding the Church – Part 5

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Understanding the Church – Part 5
Posted on December 18, 2020  - By Dr. Scott Shiffer

In our last post of this series, we discussed the ordinance of baptism. In this post, we will discuss the other major ordinance of the faith — the Lord’s Supper.

The Lord’s Supper is an act by which believers take part as a community in remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Specifically, it is a time to reflect upon Christ’s atonement on the cross. The bread (leavened or unleavened) the community shares is a reminder of the body of Christ, which was beaten and broken on the cross. The wine (or grape juice) normally shared by the community is representative of the blood that Christ shed on the cross. 

The purpose of partaking in the Lord’s Supper together is not simply physical nourishment, but spiritual nourishment for believers. It helps them see their unity as a church and, through remembrance of His death on their behalf, affirms the love Christ has for them, that they are all members of the body of Christ, and that they all share the same faith in Christ.

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The Lord’s Supper shows believers that we are all equally yoked in Christ, because He performed the same sacrifice for all of us, and we are all saved through the same means. There is no room for spiritual pride among believers; we should all be humbled, knowing what Christ has done for our redemption.

We should all be humbled, knowing what Christ has done for our redemption

Three primary views

What does it mean that the bread is Christ’s body and the wine is His blood? There are several views concerning this.

The first view is transubstantiation. This is a Roman Catholic view that treats the elements as the actual body and blood of Christ. They teach that as the priest prays over the bread and wine, they become Christ’s literal flesh and blood.

The second view is the Lutheran View. Martin Luther rejected transubstantiation and instead argued that Christ’s physical body was present in the bread, with the bread, and under the bread. This view is known as consubstantiation. Luther did not want to veer too far away from the Catholic view, but he wanted to accept the fact that the bread also remained bread. It’s believed that John Calvin thought Christ was spiritually present in the elements; this is very similar to what Luther taught.

The final view is that the elements are merely symbolic of Christ’s body and blood.

Even though Protestants do not always agree on the nature of the elements, they are surprisingly unified in the belief that the Lord’s Supper is an act reserved for believers alone.

The Lord’s Supper is a serious event that is for the whole church to partake in as a community.

I believe that the elements are only symbolic, but that the Lord’s Supper is meant to be a time of reverence and humility, where the congregation corporately shares a time of remembrance about who Jesus is and what He did for all believers on the cross. Even if Christ is not physically or spiritually present in the bread and wine, the time must still be taken very seriously, because it not only reminds us that we are saved, but also how we are saved.

The Lord’s Supper is meant to be a time of reverence and humility

Practical questions

One concern about the Lord’s Supper that elicits in-house debate pertains to the criteria that should be used to determine who is welcome to partake of the elements. Typically, one of three views is normally advocated:

  • Open communion: All believers are invited to partake of the elements, regardless of church membership or denominational affiliation.
  • Close communion: All believers who are members in good standing of a church of similar faith and order are invited to partake. This typically includes believers who are members of similar denominations.
  • Closed communion: Only believers who are members in good standing of a specific local church are invited to partake.

Another question is: how often should we take the Lord’s Supper? There is no mandate on how often the supper should be observed. Some churches take it once a week, others once a month, others every quarter, and still others only once or twice a year. The frequency of this observance is determined by individual churches. However, the Lord’s Supper should not be taken so infrequently that the church treats it as an afterthought. It should also not be taken so frequently that it is held without reverence.

Dr. Scott Shiffer

About Dr. Scott Shiffer

Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Faith and Culture Now, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations, including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for many years. Scott is married and has four children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges every day.



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