3 June 2020

The Lord’s Supper – one place or many?

Dear Church Family,

Some of you have asked about the fact that we have not been celebrating the Lord’s Supper during this period of lockdown, and this is an attempt to explain why we as elders have decided not to have the Lord’s Supper online, but to wait until we are able to meet together again physically in one place. First though, it’s important for me to acknowledge that leaders of other churches, who have an equal reverence for the Lord’s Supper, have come to a different decision on this. I do not believe they’re doing anything sinful – this is an issue we’ve all had to think about for the first time, and godly people have come to different conclusions. We believe the decision we’ve come to is the best way to preserve the significance of the Lord’s Supper, but we have no desire to fall out with those who have come to a different decision.

The first question that needs to be answered is: What is the significance of Lord’s Supper? Simply put, it’s a symbolic meal that commemorates Christ’s death and what it achieved. And his death achieved a double reconciliation – it brought his people into fellowship with God and with one another (as we’ve seen recently in Ephesians). So, the Lord’s Supper celebrates that double achievement. The sin that separated each one of us from God has been removed by Jesus, and he has united all of us together in one body.

So why not celebrate that online? Well, when it comes to the first aspect of reconciliation, we could. Each of us could go to our own kitchen, get bread and wine, and then eat and drink in front of our separate screens and the symbolism would not be lost. We would be symbolically “feeding” on Christ’s body and blood – each of us individually receiving the benefits of his death on the cross.

It’s not so straightforward when we think about the second aspect of the supper’s symbolism (that Christ’s death has united us in one body). The apostle Paul described it like this:

“And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

Each of us eating our own separate loaves in our own separate places loses the symbolism of our unity. That symbolism can only be seen when we come together in one place and share the same bread and wine. 

But we might wonder if this really matters. After all, we keep saying that online church isn’t what the church is truly meant to be, but we still do it. So why can’t we acknowledge that celebrating the Lord’s Supper online is also not what it’s truly meant to be – and then have it anyway? 

In answer to that, we can say that preaching, praying and singing are not symbolic acts. A sermon is still a sermon if we listen to it online. However, because the Lord’s Supper is symbolic, it’s not really the Lord’s Supper if the symbolism is lost. Think about baptism, the other symbolic act which the church celebrates. If we held an online baptism where someone immersed him or herself in their bath at home, while Steve or I (in another place) announced: “We baptise you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” – would you consider that a legitimate baptism? If not, why not? Isn’t it because the symbolism of baptism would be lost? We do not baptize ourselves because we do not wash away our own sins and raise ourselves to new life. That’s why someone else baptizes us – to symbolize that Jesus does the work of washing and raising us. A “baptism” carried out in two places at once has all the ingredients that are required, but it’s not an actual baptism because the ingredients are not coming together in one place. In a similar way, a celebration of “the Lord’s Supper” in many places at once may have all the ingredients of the Lord’s Supper, but it’s not an actual celebration of the Lords’ Supper because the symbolism of the many sharing one loaf is lost.

Even if you’re not convinced by what I’ve written, hopefully you can at least see why we came to our decision. It is not because of a lack of love for the Lord’s Supper, but a desire to preserve its powerful significance. I hope that these months when we have been deprived of the Lord’s Supper will make us appreciate it all the more when we are finally able to come together and celebrate it again.

With love,

Tim