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The Lord's Table at GfBC

Questions about the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, are nothing new to confessional and reformed churches. Our forefathers wrestled with many of the same questions we often receive, and in fact, the divines who wrote our Confession of Faith (2nd London Baptist Confession, 1689) included eight paragraphs to express the doctrine and practice necessary for a Biblical observance of the Lord’s Table. Our Baptist Confession tracks very nearly with The Westminster Confession of Faith, so among both Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians, widespread agreement exists on the mode, duties and significance of the Lord’s Table in the worship of God’s people.

Despite our affirmation of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of faith, as a family integrated church we often face scrutiny in the area of the Lord’s Supper because of a surmised emphasis (overemphasis) on family life. When we add this conjecture to the historical complexity of the issues surrounding the Lord’s Table in general, we end up with wrong assumptions made by those outside this local body about the observation of the Lord’s Supper at Grace family Baptist Church. We’re also self-conscious of our duty as elders to anticipate misunderstanding by visitors and our own members regarding why we partake of the ordinances in the manner in which we do.

Our desire in this article is to explain briefly our practice of the Lord’s Supper, or how we partake of the elements. Secondly, we will illustrate what we believe the Scriptures require regarding the Lord’s Supper, and how our practice accords with Biblical and historical confessional standards, both with respect to the mode of the ordinance, who administers it, and also the frequency of it.

We often receive questions on our practice of the Lord’s Table that assume we partake of the elements in some novel or unorthodox manner, especially as it relates to the role of fathers. We will demonstrate how this isn’t the case at all. In our Order of Worship each Lord’s Day, we have a time of corporate confession and individual meditation on Christ and His Word immediately after the preaching and just prior to the Lord’s Supper. This takes place in the context of families as the officiating elder will invite heads of households to gather their families together (and invite guests nearby them) to pray, to consider together what they have just heard preached, and then to return to their place corporately in preparation for the Lord’s Table. Jesus commands us: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt 5:23–24 ESV). We gather together as families prior to the Lord’s Supper simply because that is the place in which reconciliation is most often needed. Further, this provides opportunity for family members to remind one another of their duty to go and be reconciled to other brothers and sisters prior to coming to the table.

After this, the officiating elder admonishes the church of the believer’s duty to examine himself in light of Christ; of the seriousness of this duty; of the corporate significance of this duty; of the consequences of failing in this duty. We believe partaking the elements demands a level of examination that requires an understanding of both a personal and corporate significance. (1 Corinthians 11:27-30, 34). We then explain the benefits attaining to those who come humbly by faith to feast spiritually on Christ at His Table. We extend an invitation to all true believers to partake of the Table together provided they have professed faith in Christ alone for salvation; are capable of the type of self-examination required; have been Scripturally baptized; and are members in good standing of this or another true church.

After the pattern of our Lord, the officiating elder gives thanks for the bread and the cup and for God’s full provision in Christ. He then directs the deacons to distribute the elements to the body of Christ assembled as a local gathering, first the bread, and then the cup. Fathers do not distribute the elements to their families. Paedocommunion is not abided. Christ is exalted and remembered according to the Scriptures for His person and work on behalf of His body…His corporate body.

We strive to conduct the Lord’s Supper according to the Biblically required–and confessionally articulated–manner instituted by our Lord. This brings us to the issue of why we observe the Supper in this manner. While not an exhaustive list, we consider the following to be key issues that determine why we observe the Lord’s Table in the manner in which we do: 1) the Lord’s Table is a corporate celebration; 2) through the Table we proclaim our union with Christ and each other; 3) the ordinance is to be administered by ordained ministers only; 4) private observance (including “family” observance) must be excluded; and 5) unless Providentially hindered, the Lord’s Supper ought to be observed weekly.

For the first consideration, the Lord’s Table is clearly a corporate ordinance. This is not a family event or a private memorial. Christ instituted it and commanded its observation in His church. In fact when the apostle Paul gives correction regarding the Lord’s Supper to the church at Corinth, he uses the phrase “come together” (συν?ρχεσθε) five times (1 Cor 11:17-34). The verb form indicates that the apostle assumes as simple fact that the Supper is to be observed corporately, and it’s also plural, so for those of us in Texas, it means “ya’ll come together”.

This speaks of the whole assembly, not individuals or sub-groups, partaking together. In fact, sub-groups were part of the specific problem Paul addressed with the church at Corinth. They were not truly unified because some were being left out. “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part,” (1 Cor 11:17–18 ESV). The elevation of individual preferences and special interests above the corporate observance of the table was the very problem Paul addresses here. So does it make sense during this Lord’s Supper to divide the body in any way? No, therefore it is completely inappropriate for the Lord’s Supper to be observed by families only or for fathers to administer the elements to their respective families. Paul actually says in verse 20 that their divisions nullified the efficacy of the ordinance: “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat”. We must not splinter the joints of the table at the very moment we are provided a feast.

Secondly, we have a duty of proclamation in our observance of the Lord’s Table (which also influences the frequency of our observance, as we will address below). “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26 ESV). The Table declares the atoning work of Christ and the resulting unity of His people with Him and with one another. The very point of Paul’s instruction to the church at Corinth regarding the Supper was to rebuke them for divisions, because these divisions dishonored the unifying work of Christ and hindered their testimony. By implication, we believe that churches today who neglect the corporate proclamation of the Table by allowing families to partake of the Lord’s Supper as a sub-group are condoning a practice prohibited in the first letter to the Corinthian church. The herald’s voice of our corporate unity is shouted down by the murmurs of individualism.

Furthermore, the 2nd London Baptist speaks of the necessity of both a corporate observance and the proclamation of Christ’s death:

“The supper of the Lord Jesus was instituted by him the same night wherein he was betrayed, to be observed in his churches unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance, and shewing forth the sacrifice of himself in his death, confirmation of the faith of believers in all the benefits thereof, their spiritual nourishment, and growth in him, their further engagement in, and to all duties which they owe to him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other. (LBC 30:1, emphasis added)

This paragraph affirms both the necessity of corporate observance and also the proclamation of the “bond and pledge” of our communion with Christ and each other. The “shewing forth the sacrifice of himself in his death” speaks to the corporate proclamation of Christ’s atoning work, shouldering the burden of the sin of his people on his own shoulders. He then builds up those people into one body as His temple. “…Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Eph 2:20–22 ESV). The church is ultimately not about individuals, but about one united body, for the glory of God. The peal of that glorious truth rings farther and louder from the roof of His united temple than can ever be heard from our individual cellars.

Thirdly, the elements are to be distributed by ordained officers only. The second paragraph in the chapter entitled “Of the Lord’s Supper” clearly points to elders officiating the distribution.

“The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed his ministers to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to a holy use, and to take and break the bread; to take the cup, and, they communicating also themselves, [ministers] to give both to the communicants.” (LBC 30:3, emphasis added)

This is an issue of jurisdiction. The Lord has clearly placed the ordinances in the jurisdiction of the church, therefore officers of His church administer the elements. We believe this excludes fathers trespassing territory not their own and usurping a role in the Lord’s Table not articulated in the Scriptures nor affirmed in our confession.

Fourthly, private observance of the table has been historically excluded, because it directly contradicts the corporate nature of the ordinance. Consider the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, from which our Baptist Confession obtains much of its wording.

“Private masses, or receiving this sacrament by a priest, or any other, alone; as likewise the denial of the cup to the people; worshipping the elements, the lifting them up, or carrying them about for adoration, and the reserving them for any pretended religious use, are all contrary to the nature of this sacrament, and to the institution of Christ.” (Westminster COF, 29:4, emphasis added).

Notice that paragraph four in the Westminster Confession expresses very clearly what is implied in the Baptist confession: “Private mass…or any other alone…are contrary to the nature of this ordinance, and the institution of Christ.” Unfortunately, our Baptist forefathers chose to omit that important statement prohibiting “private masses”, but the substance of it remains in the Baptist version, even if not articulated as explicitly as our Presbyterian brothers. Private observance–even cloistered families observing in the midst of the corporate gathering–is barred.

Finally, not only does Christ’s institution of the Lord’s Supper demand a corporate celebration, by the elders of the church, and exclude private observance, but we also believe it demands a weekly observance unless providentially hindered. Consider Paul’s words to the church at Corinth. He quotes Christ: “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:25 ESV). Then he repeats the phrase for emphasis, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:26 ESV). Now add to that the apostle’s use of the word translated as “come together” five times in this section concerning the Lord’s table. He uses it twice more in this epistle (14:23, 26) obviously indicating the regular gathering for corporate worship. Paul clearly has in mind observance of the table that corresponds with the regular (weekly) gathering of God’s people. Our confession of faith summarizes it this way:

“The supper of the Lord Jesus was instituted by him the same night wherein he was betrayed, to be observed in his churches unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance, and shewing forth the sacrifice of himself in his death, confirmation of the faith of believers in all the benefits thereof, their spiritual nourishment, and growth in him, their further engagement in, and to all duties which they owe to him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other. (LBC 30:1, emphasis added)

Paul speaks of “proclaim[ing] the Lord’s death” and the confession of faith describes “perpetual remembrance”. Are we satisfied with proclaiming the Word of God only monthly or quarterly? Of course not. Are we content with an infrequent “confirmation of the faith of believers”? We hope not. Are we in need of more than occasional “nourishment and growth in him”? Of that we are certain! So why would we relegate the Table to a periodic interval if it accrues to the benefit of God’s people. But someone might object: “doesn’t a weekly observance diminish it’s significance?” or “does it cease to be ‘special’ if we do it every week?” Not at all, if the doctrine of the table is rightly understood. As our spiritual palette is cultivated, we learn to delight in our Master’s bounty more and more.

Issues surrounding the Lord’s Table have caused serious study within the church for more than twenty centuries. We haven’t nearly wrestled with all the issues in this short paper. But the practical questions are clear. The Lord’s Table simply must be a corporate celebration. If it is less than a fully corporate remembrance, our proclamation of our union with Christ and each other is squelched. If we blur jurisdiction lines by fathers administering the elements instead of ordained ministers, we fail to recognize the legitimate authority and means of grace provided by Christ. Therefore, private observance must be excluded. Even though it may feed us sentimentally to have fathers distribute the elements to their families, our emotions and our pride don’t need feeding; our souls need feeding according the means provided by Christ. And finally, but not unimportantly, unless Providentially hindered, the Lord’s Supper ought to be observed weekly for the good of those souls dependent upon the nourishment of the risen Savior for growth and perseverance.