If you were asked why your local church observes or should keep observing the Lord’s Supper, how would you respond? How much biblical theology could you muster up? Our weakness of theology on the importance of this local church ordinance is why so few believers truly value or fully participate in it as the Lord originally intended. In his book The Baptist Way, Norman Stanton lists four rich theological reasons to be a faithful participant of it every time your local church gathers around this sacred table:
(I threw in a convicting takeaway for each one that that Lord is bringing to bear on my heart and life.)
The New Testament gives clear testimony that the early Christians held the Lord’s Supper in high esteem. They believed the meal contained profound implications in its meaning and observance. From the New Testament evidence, several interdependent themes emerge that are associated with and identified by the observance of the Lord’s Supper.
First, the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the gospel (1 Co. 11:26).
As was the case with baptism, this ordinance is a visual sermon that proclaims the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ. The meal is a visible proclamation of the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ.
The breaking of the bread represents visually the sacrifice of Christ’s body for our sake (“this is My body, which is given for you,” Luke 22:19). The fruit of the vine poured out speaks visually of the shedding of the blood of Jesus for the sins of the world (Heb. 9:22; Mark 14:24). The eating and drinking of the elements of the supper are symbolic in themselves because these acts speak of the personal aspect of Christ’s sacrifice—“he died for me.”
The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance and reenactment, recalling the sacrificial death of Jesus. Participants in the Lord’s Supper are to remember Jesus, especially his sacrificial death on the cross. As the partakers “remember” what Christ has done, they also reenact in a commemorative way the events of the crucifixion. The ordinance is thus a visual retelling of the events of Jesus’ earthly life, climaxing in his death. The recounting of the life and death of Christ is our obedient response to Christ’s command, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Believers ought to respond with gratitude upon their remembrance of these events from the life of Christ (the Eucharist). Believers are to thank God for the elements of the Lord’s Supper of which they partake and for the sacrifice of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.
The Lord’s Supper is an event in which we declare that we have received by faith the new life that only Christ can give. Just as we must regularly eat food to sustain our physical lives, so also does the reception of the elements remind us that Christ is the source of our spiritual life. The Lord’s Supper symbolizes our faith in Christ and his atoning work as the source of spiritual vitality.
Convicting Takeaway: To excuse away intentional participation in the observance of this ordinance is to be, from heaven’s blunt perspective, an UNFAITHFUL steward with the good news of Jesus.
Second, the eating and drinking of the elements of the Lord’s Supper occurs in a context in which loyalty to Christ is contrasted with loyalty to idols (1 Co. 10:16-21).
Paul emphasized that partaking of the bread and cup constitutes a confession of allegiance to Christ and therefore demands a separation from and renunciation of all idolatrous allegiances. In this manner, the Lord’s Supper becomes a repeated, personal recommitment to Jesus as Lord. The eating and drinking of the elements symbolizes this renewal as well as his life and death.
Convicting Takeaway: To put any honestly-optional priority or preference ahead of observing this ordinance with our God-assigned assembly is IDOLATRY, an unwillingness on our part to separate from this world and its own incarnate gods.
A third tenet of the Lord’s Supper is communion, or fellowship… an expression of the unity of the church of Christ (1 Co. 10:17).
The supper is an ordinance of the church and must be observed in a congregational context. All figuratively partake of the single body and blood of Christ. Although the church is made up of many members, it nevertheless remains one organism. Baptists believe that those who participate in the supper in a local church declare their personal and corporate union with Christ as well as their fellowship with one another. The sharing of the cup and the bread underscores that the many are one in Christ.
Convicting Takeaway: To seek self-guided, insulated”communion” with Christ independently of the local congregation in which He has providently placed us is a SLIGHT of epic proportions to not only your God but our fellow church members.
The Lord’s Supper is also a reminder of the future return of Jesus Christ (1 Co. 11:26).
Jesus promised that he would not “drink of this fruit of the vine” until the day when he drinks it anew with his disciples in his Father’s kingdom (Matt. 26:29). The ordinance thus anticipates and proclaims the Lord’s second coming. The supper also proclaims that the same Lord who died, was raised, and ascended to the Father will return in triumph, blessing, and judgment.
Convicting Takeaway: To be delinquent in body or spirit when Christ’s body gathers to commemorate His precious sacrifices exposes where we are suffering from the malaise of walking by sight in this present world instead of possessing the otherworldly optimism and vision that has always distinguished the chaste, God-honoring remnant of every generation.
Norman, R. Stanton. The Baptist Way . B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.