In this discussion of the Lord’s Supper, we review various authorities given the church by Christ. Not only do we discuss how the Last Supper is to be given, but also the fact that we practice “closed communion” which means only members of our church are to partake the communion at our church. We do this, not to exclude other saved souls, but rather to participate the way the Lord had commanded.
This discussion is broken down into the following subjects: (feel free to click on the titles below to go specifically to that section of our text)
- The Origin of the Supper
- The Recipients of the Supper
- The Authority of the Church
- The Elements of the Supper
- The Unleavened Bread
- The Fruit of the Vine
- The Restrictions of the Supper
- It Can Only be Observed in Church Capacity
- Only Faithful Members Can Participate
Our thanks to Pastor D. Wharton of Beacon Missionary Baptist Church in Redding, CA for allowing us to reprint this scriptural study of The Lord’s Supper and it’s authorizations. (References to scripture in this article are made from the King James Version)
The most important doctrine in the Bible is the message of how to be born again. Without salvation from hell, we would have nothing. After one is saved, the next step of faith is to be baptized and become a member of one of the Lord’s true churches. After we become a part of the Lord’s Church, one of the greatest privileges we will have is to participate in the Lord’s Supper. It is a special occasion that only members of His local visible church can participate in.
The supper is a very misunderstood doctrine in the religious world. Some groups even teach that it is something to do with getting us saved, (born into the family of God). One religious group teaches that the elements of the supper literally become the blood and body of Jesus Christ. Many groups teach that the supper can be taken by any saved person at any time and in any church they happen to be in.
Some have been foolish enough to believe they were partaking of the supper when they used crackers and soda pop for it’s elements. It is sad that such misunderstanding makes a very beautiful doctrine so detrimental to the lives of people who want to please God.
This is one of the most important doctrines taught in the Bible. Jesus left two ordinances (commandments) with His church, baptism and the Lord’s supper. These ordinances were given to the church Jesus built during His personal ministry.
The only churches that can practice these ordinances are those that can show an unbroken chain of existence back to the church established by Jesus in AD30. The only churches that will be recognized by the Lord are those that practice the ordinances according to the scriptures.
Why is this doctrine so important? Look what happened to those in the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:29-30 “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.”
The church at Corinth was not taking the supper correctly and we are told that many had become sick and some had died because of their misuse of this ordinance. Those who say it doesn’t matter how the supper is taken need to closely examine these scriptures.
Our church practices what is called “closed communion”, we do this because the Bible plainly reveals rules for how the supper is to be taken. We cannot meet those rules if we let everyone who attends our service take the supper whether they be members or not. We will show, in this series of lessons, why it would violate the scriptures to practice communion open to all the saved without regard to membership in our local church.
THE ORIGIN OF THE SUPPER
It is essential to this study to understand that Jesus started the church during His personal ministry here on earth. It was not established on the day of Pentecost but began as He called out the men that had been prepared by John the Baptist.
1 Corinthians 12:28 “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” We know that the apostles were set in the church as Jesus called them out as He began His earthly ministry.
He promised them that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the church He had built upon Himself and at the same time gave them the authority to bring people into the church and put people out of the church who walk disorderly. Matthew 16:18-19 “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
His church has existed in every age and it is evident that only Baptists can prove a historical existence that dates back to this church established by Jesus.
When Jesus was ready to go to the cross to shed His blood for the sins of mankind and for the church He established, he called his disciples together and revealed that He must go. They were very discouraged because they loved Jesus and their whole lives revolved around Him. They could not imagine serving Him as His church without His presence. He comforted them in John 14: 1-3 “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.” Here He tells His church that He must go but while He is gone He will be preparing a special place, for His bride, the church, that when He returns we can be together.
When he initiates the super He renews this promise. Matthew 26:26-29 “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples and said, Take, eat, this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it, for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
The Lord’s supper is a memorial ordinance left with His church that we might take this picture out to remember our Savior and coming Bridegroom. It is one of the most beautiful and significant doctrines of the Bible. It is the picture left by the Bridegroom (Christ) with His fiances (the church) to be viewed in every age until His return for the marriage.
Remember the church is not an invisible body made up of all the saved but is always local and visible, a body that represents the teachings of our Savior to the world. When we see the church, as she is taught in the scriptures, we see why only members of the church can partake of the supper. When we see the requirements placed upon the church in how we can take it lawfully we will understand why only members of the local body can take the supper.
Many, in the religious world, condemn our church because we do not allow all the saved to partake of the supper with us. Some get very offended believing that we are questioning whether they are saved or not. Nothing could be further from the truth. While it is necessary for the recipients of the supper to be saved, the ordinance is not about whether we are saved, but about a relationship we have with Christ and His espoused bride. All saved who want to be part of His bride need to be in His church and all are welcome to participate with us in the supper if they become part of His church. We would do our Savior disservice if we open His table to those who are not qualified to sit at it.
1 Corinthians 10:21 “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.” The ordinance of the supper is in the church and each church is told to examine herself to see if there is sin in the body before taking the supper. We have no control over any other believers in Christ but those who are part of our local body. The instructions are plain, put those out of the body who are unrepentant of sin before you eat the supper.
THE RECIPIENTS OF THE SUPPER
Who can take the Lord’s Supper? As we previously mentioned, not everyone is eligible to take the Lord’s Supper. The first thing that would seem very obvious is that only saved people can partake. The second thing we notice from the scriptures is, only members of the local church are eligible to take the supper. This teaching offends many of God’s children.
When our church does not allow all the saved in our service to participate in the supper we are accused of discrimination against God’s children. Baptists have never taught closed communion with the idea of indicating that we are better than others. The Bible teaches that only members of the local visible church can partake. Are we to ignore the instructions of God to please men? God forbid.
Ok, what scriptures make us take this position? When we closely examine all the scriptures we will see that communion open to all the saved is a violation of God’s word. There are a combination of Bible teachings that must be seen to understand the subject. Only serious students of the Bible will understand this doctrine. The first thing we have to see is Christ only gave authority to His church to take His supper. Many believe the Bible gives them the right to take the supper, but the Bible makes it clear that the authority is in the church, not the man.
THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH
John 3:26-27 “And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.” John realized that Jesus had the authority from heaven to baptize. In the fourth chapter of John, we see that the pharisees knew the church had their authority to baptize from Jesus because they attributed the baptizing to Him, though He wasn’t actually performing the baptisms Himself.
John 4:1-2 “When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) Again, Jesus makes it clear that He is giving authority to the church to carry out His business here on earth in Matthew 28:18-20 “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” The main problem with those who do not accept the Bible teaching of closed communion (the Lord’s supper restricted to only the members of the local church), is their failure to see the need of authority from Christ. They read the Bible as a book that gives authority to individuals rather than to the local visible church that Jesus established during His personal ministry.
In Matthew 16:18-19 Jesus says, And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Two things are seen in these scriptures, one, Jesus said His church would never go out of existence and two, the church has His authority to take members in and put members out of the church.
This same language is used in Matthew 18:17-18 “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto three as a heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The church is instructed to exclude a brother who is causing division in the church and will not repent. Most churches do not practice discipline of their members when they walk disorderly but the Lord’s church is instructed to do it that we do not lose our relationship with Christ.
First Corinthians the fifth chapter begins to show why it is impossible to practice open communion and be a scriptural church. 1 Corinthians 5:1-7 “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorifying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” The church is instructed to exclude the brother for committing fornication. They were told to exclude him when they were gathered together in church capacity. The church was to do it, not the pastor, the deacons, prominent members, but the whole body, the church. The brother is to be delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh. This does not mean he loses his salvation but means that he is taken out of the protection of the church that he might feel the full conviction of his sin, and that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. This may include the man, but it’s main teaching is that the spirit of the church would be saved in the day of the Lord. A church that does not follow the teachings of the Bible will lose it’s position as the body of Christ. It is clear that the Lord’s supper is under consideration here as the church is told to purge out the old leaven that they might be a new lump. How can we take the Lord’s supper with people who have no authority to discipline if they walk in sin? We only have authority over our own members.
1 Corinthians 5:11-12 “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one know not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?” We are instructed not to eat the supper with those that are living in sin. How can we practice what these scriptures teach if we allow all the saved to take the supper with us. We are instructed to exclude disorderly members before we take the supper and we only have authority over those who are members of our local church. It may feel warm and fuzzy to say that we let all believers take the supper with us, but how can we be true to the One being honored in the supper if we violate the scriptures that regulate how to take the supper?
THE ELEMENTS OF THE SUPPER
We have learned that the Lord’s supper is a church ordinance. We are told as often as we do it, do it in remembrance of Him. Jesus started His church during His ministry here on earth and engaged Himself to that body. The church will be Christ’s wife in eternity. When He left His engagement bride He gave her a picture to remember Him by. The Lord’s supper is a picture of Jesus and we, as His engaged bride take the picture out to remember Him. We look at the picture to remind us how wonderful He is and how much we want Him to return for the marriage.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 says, “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat his bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” As this ordinance pictures the Bridegroom, it draws our attention to the need of being faithful to Him. When we take the supper we must look at our relationship with Jesus. Am I being faithful to Him, am I serving Him like the Bible teaches me? Therefore, when we take the supper we reflect on the sin in our life and repent of it that we might grow closer to Jesus.
1 Corinthians 11:28-29 “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” We will notice that each element of the Lord’s supper pictures something that Jesus has done for us.
The Lord’s Supper deals with the shed blood and broken body of Christ, which is the means of salvation for all mankind. However, the picture that He gave to His church reveals the entire purpose of His sacrifice which proclaims in a special way His death for His Bride. Acts 20:28 “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”
THE UNLEAVENED BREAD
Luke 22:19 does not say that the bread was unleavened, but we know that he was using a loaf from Passover, which, according to Exodus 12:15, was commanded to be unleavened bread: violation of this brought the penalty of death. In the scriptures leaven represents sin. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” The bread represents the body of Christ which is sinless. It also reminds us that we are to purge sin out of our body and our church body, as we represent Him.
The supper cannot be taken without purging the body of sin, as 1 Corinthians 5:7 says. Again we see that the church must remove members who are involved in sin and not willing to repent. The loaf represents the body of Christ, comprised of members of that body. 1 Corinthians 10:16 “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” 1 Corinthians 12:12 “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.” Thus, we see that the bread represents the body of Christ, His church.
The broken bread represents His body broken. Many say that the supper is for all the saved and not just for His church because the elements represent Christ’s death for us on the cross. Even though the communion does represent His death which was for all men, the larger picture is one that is only directed to His church. The bread is a picture of His broken body. Christ’s body was not broken on the cross. John 19:34-36 “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled. A bone of him shall not be broken.” The body broken shows how the death of Christ on the cross made it possible for His body (the church) to be in many places at the same time. While Christ was on earth the church could only be where Jesus physically was. When he died on the cross His church started multiplying and today we have the Lord’s churches all over the world. Just as Jesus said in Acts 1:8 “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
THE FRUIT OF THE VINE
The drink of the Lord’s Supper reveals the blood of Jesus shed for us. Matthew 26:28-29 “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” In these scriptures He is talking with His church and reminds them that when he comes again they will eat the supper in the new kingdom. Even though the shed blood reveals what He did that we might be born again, in the supper it reveals what He did so we might have a church to serve Him in. Remember the scripture we quoted earlier, Act 20:28 says that He shed His blood for the church and that is what it shows us here.
The elements of the Lord’s Supper reveal what Jesus did for us. It shows that He not only died to save us from hell, but also to provide a church for His children to serve Him in. It also reminds us of the commitment He has made to be the bridegroom of His faithful church. The supper ought to encourage us to live faithful Christian lives.
THE RESTRICTIONS OF THE SUPPER
We noticed at the beginning of this writing, the Lord’s Supper is an ordinance. An ordinance is a law, and therefore, has restrictions. As with everything we do in our church we want to make sure we do it God’s way. Many groups that call themselves churches, misunderstand and take what they call the supper in a wrong way. Our church is condemned by others because of our strictness to doing the supper just as God’s word reveals it. If following the scriptures completely is not important, then where do we draw the line? Listen to the serious warning of Revelation 22:18-19 “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophesy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall ad unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophesy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” If God gives us a law and we don’t follow it, it is serious.
What are the restrictions the Bible places on the supper? As we have already noticed the supper is for Jesus’s church. Therefore, only members of his local visible churches can partake. Even if we have visitors from another Missionary Baptist church we cannot invite them to have it with us because they are not members of our body and we have no authority over them. Within the church we are told to it correctly, so let’s notice what the Bible says about that.
IT CAN ONLY BE OBSERVED IN CHURCH CAPACITY
Paul addresses the church in 1 Corinthians the eleventh chapter about the wrong manner in which they were taking the supper. He states in verses 18, 20 and 33 that they were taking it when they were gathered together as the body of Christ. Notice what verse 29 says, “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” The Lord’s body is the church. It is a serious thing to take the supper in a wrong manner. The church represents the body of Christ and each member represents parts of that body. We bodily represent Jesus when we are gathered together. Because this church was taking the supper with some of the members not being included they were picturing the Lord’s body divided. This was such a serious violation of the manner in which the supper was to be taken that God was making some of them physically sick and others were dying. 1 Corinthians 11:30 “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.”
1 Corinthians 11:27 “Wherefore, whosoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.”
The word “unworthily” is not talking about whether any of the participants were worthy to take the supper, but was talking about taking the supper incorrectly. They were making a mockery of what Jesus had done when his body was broken that it might be in many places around the world. Each body around the world was to show the unity of God. It is the responsibility of the church to show that Christ is not divided.
ONLY FAITHFUL MEMBERS CAN PARTICIPATE
One of the reasons Christ gave the church the authority to discipline its members is because of His instructions not to eat with sinning brothers or sisters. 1 Corinthians 5:11 “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one no not to eat.” When we take the supper we are to show that the body of Christ is clean and in unity. We are reminded that it is the Lord’s table and He makes the rules who can sit at His table. 1 Corinthians 10:21 “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils, ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of the devils.”
1 Corinthians the fifth chapter said don’t eat the supper with any that are fornicators, covetous, idolaters, railers, drunkards or extortioners. Do we have a choice whether we eat with people we know are committing these kind of sins? Of course not, God makes the rules for setting at His table. How can we take the supper with brothers or sisters who are not members of our church when we don’t know if they are living faithfully for the Lord? Even if we did not know they were living in sin we do not have authority to discipline people who are not part of our church. How could we do what 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 tells us to do with a member of our church if found in sin, if that person isn’t a member of our church? “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Think of how disruptive it would be to the supper if we had to check out those in our congregation, who were not members, and tell them they couldn’t take the supper with us because they are sinners. God has given us the way to prepare for the supper and it can only be done to those in our own local congregation.
We can’t take the supper if there are divisions in our church. 1 Corinthians 11:18 “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.” If there are people divided in our church because of arguments, differences of opinion, etc., we must resolve those issues before we take the supper.
We are not to take the supper with those who are not doctrinally sound. 1 Corinthians 11:19 “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” this scripture is part of those talking about taking the supper unworthily or incorrectly. Romans 16:17 “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”
The Lord’s Supper is not to be taken with people of other faiths. 2 John 1:9-11 “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, has not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed. For he that biddith him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”
With all these restrictions in mind how could it be possible to practice communion open to all the saved. It is an ordinance left with the church. The church is responsible for making sure the supper is taken according to God’s instructions. We do not practice closed communion to exclude other saved people from it, but to do it God’s way. If a saved person is following the Lord they will be a member of a true church and will be able to take the supper on a regular basis with their own church.