Some considerations for the taking of the
Lord's Table - reexamining the blueprint.
What is the great purpose of
The table was initiated on the foundation of the feast of the Passover.
It is rooted and grounded in the events leading to the initiation of
the New Covenant between God and sinners, which its elements
foreshadow. The Lord Jesus says its root purpose is that our evil and
wandering hearts might be repeatedly drawn together 'in remembrance of
Me'. Its essence is a sacred occasion to gather in order to behold the
Lamb. Paul writes that in joining to eat together, we focus not only on
His person and office as a priest but specifically to 'show His death',
to contemplate His perfect work. It is our opportunity to prayerfully
feed on his flesh and contemplatively drink His blood - not by an
idolatrous and blasphemous literalism, but truly and really by faith.
Here we must distinctively dedicate our mind and being to gazing at the
High Priest of our profession. Our attitude is primarily one of joyful
thanksgiving and a sense of unworthiness, rather than of sorrow or
imitation - though neither of these are out of place. We also gather in
anticipation of His glorious return, to stir one another to remembrance
and vigilance. Therefore distraction from this central purpose is most
unwelcome and dangerous, in seeking to follow the scriptural procedure,
this primary goal must constantly be guarded as the highest priority.
We are not, as the disciples did, to fall to distracting disputes or
dialogues, which soil the feast with vainglory and fleshly contention.
Failure to partake of the feast is a serious matter, and risks
breaching our Lord's great command before His death, unless justified
by strong reasons.
Recalling and forsaking sin.
A vital preparation for the Table is described in 1 Cor.11 as self
examination. This must precede the Table or itself become a distraction
from it. It indicates the importance of announcing the times for the
Table publically and clearly and reminding the brethren to come
prepared beforehand. Those who failure to examine themselves, seeing
their own deep unworthiness, 'shall be guilty of the body and blood',
and this may result in Lord's direct chastisement, in serious cases to
sickness or even death. It is important for brethren to confess to one
another and forsake known sin prior to offering the sacrifice of
thanksgiving (Matt.5.24). Therefore there must always be liberty for
brethren not to partake, such reasons may be secret, but they should
not be prolonged. It may also be appropriate for there to be due time
and occasion to confess and forsake sin before the Table, and there may
need to be public exhortation both to the examination and to the
confession and repentance that properly result.
Union of body - one bread.
The Table is also described as a communion, an occasion for formal
intimacy with the Lord and also with one another, as His members. For
in the one loaf, not only He, but we are also depicted, 'For we being
many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one
bread.' It is a time for rededication to Him, and derivatively, for His
sake and in His Name, to one another, as His body. For 'for he that
loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he
hath not seen?'.
Conditions for taking?
As the Lord's Table is distinguished from the devils' (1 Cor.10.21), it
is most inappropriate for unbelievers to outwardly share in the
elements, just as they have no part in the sacred communion. It
promotes confusion, both inside and outside the church as to the real
character of Christ's body (v.27, Ex 12.43). Plainly it is a meal.
Believers not fit to eat with should therefore not be partake of the
Table, the Apostle lists these as: fornicators, covetous, idolaters,
railers, drunkards, or extortioners (1 Cor 5.11).
The scripture appears to indicate that the feast was taken weekly (Act
20.7), usually on the Lord's Day, though there seems to be a hint that
bread was broken daily (Acts 2.46), which may indicate the Lord's
supper was held on other days too.
The Table when not to be taken?
Excommunication involves the loss of many benefits of fellowship, Mt
18:17, one of which must be the most intimate form of church
fellowship. This is explicitly confirmed in 1 Cor.5.7-8, and the
administration of this discipline is the primary responsibility of the
church officers, and secondarily of the whole church (1 Cor. 5.3 and
Members and non members.
If a member falls into sin and his privilege of partaking at the Table
is removed, is this not also true for a non-member and upon the same
textual basis? So there is some obligation on the church to vet and
police the Table, and this obligation must primarily fall to the
officers. It also imposes some obligation to ensure that regular
visitors and partakers of the Table are walking with God, and not
excommunicated from other fellowships, or if they are that the grounds
for that action are wholly unjustified (2 Jn 10) - something which
cannot usually be ascertained easily. This alone seems to justify the
value of letters of commendation or of investigation for those who
would regularly join the Table, irrespective of their desire to join or
not (Ro 16.1, 1Co 11.18).
How watertight must the bar to the Table be?
Given that Luke, in contrast to other Gospels, offers a strict
chronology (Lk.1.1-3, kayexhv), Judas seems to have partaken of the
first Table (Lk.22.19-22), with the Lord's full knowledge of his
apostasy. There are other indications of this apparent 'lapse' of
church discipline, (Jn.13.2, 21-30 and Ps 41.9, 'My bread'). This
suggests that the primary focus of the Table is remembrance and the
sacrifice of Thanksgiving, and during periods of doubt or apparent
rebellion, gainsayers and hypocrites who might be suspected of meriting
exclusion, but as yet without manifest proof, may for a while be
admitted to avoid distraction and premature disturbance, leaving the
matter in the Lord's hands for sovereign vindication of His own Name.
How to vet?
Whatever procedure is used, it should cause as little disturbance and
distraction as possible, flagrant breaches of it however are not to be
What of the unbaptised?
By analogy with the Passover, in which the uncircumcised were not to
partake, the question may be posed about those who have not been
baptised (Ex.12.44-5,48, Num 9.13-14). Circumcision is a figure of
regeneration (Le 26:41, Deut. 10.16, 30.6, Jer. 6.10, 9.26), Baptism is
a figure of regeneration (1 Pet.3.21, Tit 3.5, Rom.6.3-5), the two are
clearly parallel symbols, though the mode and nature of their
administration and relation to their covenants are distinct
(Col.2.12-13). It seems improper by analogy therefore to admit the
young before they have publically testified to their faith in Baptism.
As to Presbyterians, Congregationalists and others who are evidently
regenerate, disobedient with respect to the outward sign, but obedient
to the substance of the Gospel, it seems improper to me to rigorously
decline them admission to the Table, provided their intention to join
the Table seems well motivated, especially as once off or irregular
visitors, when they have kept the substance of the command (2 Ch 30.18).
May the Lord sanctify and greatly enrich
and deepen our fellowship with Him and with one another in the
remembrance of His love, which is far better than wine (Song 4.10), to
His pleasure and glory.