Monday, January 7, 2013
Communion - Who can give communion and in what context?
We recently talked about the issue of baptisms being done outside of the permission and the authority of the local church. Today, we tackle a similar topic. Is it right for a group of people unaffiliated with any local church to come to the Lord's table together? Is it right for a preacher to take the elements of communion around with him and give communion to the sick, shut ins, or groups of random people? Here are a few thoughts from the Bible.
1. The Lord's Table, or Communion, was instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper. Jesus was the first pastor, His apostles constituted His church. That group of people had the hallmarks of a church. They were organized, had unified doctrine, qualified leadership, and were under the authority and discipline of spiritual leadership (Jesus). As a matter of fact, the Bible tells us that we today are "built upon the foundation of the apostles." (Eph 2:20) The first communion service took place in a corporate setting, was under the authority of Jesus and was linked to the very foundation of the visible, local church.
2. The Apostle Paul gives instruction to the local church as to how to observe the Lord's Table in First Corinthians chapter eleven. These instructions were not given to or intended for individuals who had divorced themselves from the local visible church to go and do their own thing.
3. Participation in the Lord's Table is contingent upon examining ourselves. (1 Cor 11) If one sins against God by purposely walking away from attendance and faithfulness to the local, visible church, then how can they go to the Communion table with "clean hands and a pure heart." (Ps. 24:3-4) Confession of known sin must take place before participation.
4. The references in Acts to "breaking of bread" from house to house (Acts 2:42,46) does not give license to loose knit groups of random people who want to partake in Communion while avoiding the local church. First, good scholars cannot conclude whether these verses refer to partaking in communion or simply eating a common meal. Second, there was no church building big enough to hold this new congregation at Jerusalem. They met in house gatherings. Even if the verses referred to communion, we would still have to face the facts that this was an organized church with set doctrine, leadership, and discipline.
5. Nowhere in Scripture do we have modeled for us the idea of one man going to another and offering communion. In fact, Scripture models the opposite. Communion was always a church body thing. That is the example of the Last Supper - everyone gathered together. The idea of the roving minister offering individual communion came from the Catholic doctrine that says that Communion is part of one's salvation. This is not the Bible's teaching.
The conclusion in this matter is as simple as the model of Scripture itself. Jesus gave Communion to the Apostles, the foundation of the local, visible, organized local church. Communion then, is under the purview of the local church, and is to be observed by and in the local body. Paul gave instructions for communion to be carried out by that local assembly. No where do we find instructions for communion outside of the local church. Communion then is to be practiced in and by the local, visible, organized assembly when it is gathered together in the name of Jesus.