I certainly wish everyone believed the same thing about the Lord’s Supper. Some have not studied the Bible carefully while other people let tradition control their understanding of the Lord’s Supper. We want to be as clear as possible, while being humble about what we believe the Bible teaches. In the end, the Bible is what we have to accept.
This chapter is going to be very different from all the other chapters because it will focus on some of the wrong views held by various people. We do not wish to speak badly about them. But we also must understand what it is we don’t believe as well as what we do believe. Sometimes we can better understand what we believe by studying this way. This is by no means the best way of learning the Bible’s teaching, but since so many people have been confused on this topic, I thought it best to begin by mentioning some of them.
Jesus said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk. 22:19) Some people have said, “Ah, see, Jesus said, ‘This bread IS my body.’ Therefore, somehow the bread has really become the body of Jesus.” Many professing believers believed this. Certainly this is wrong. How could the bread be Jesus’ body when he was sitting (lying) right beside of them? Did Jesus eat His own body at the Supper (we read that He ate and drank with the disciples, see Mark 14:22)? No. What Jesus means by “This is my body.” is “This represents my body.” Remember, Jesus also said, “I am the door.” (Jn. 10:9). He is not literally a door but He represents the door in the story.
So, we must not think that somehow, the bread and the wine became Christ’s body and blood. Jesus is in heaven seated at the right hand of God (Col. 3:1). His body does not leave that presence to become bread and wine. Though we will deal with this more fully later on, we must remember that we are not literally (physically) chewing on Christ’s body, nor drinking His blood.
Many godly Christians fear the Lord’s Supper. They fear what they do not know. They understand the Lord’s Supper is serious but do not understand how it could be of benefit to anyone. I have known grown ups who have almost sunk in their pews when they sit down and notice that the table has been prepared for the Lord’s Supper that Sunday morning.
Our Lord did not command us to “do this in remembrance” of Him so that we would fear. Jesus gave thanks and blessed the bread and wine (Mark 14:22-23). These elements were blessed and our Lord gave thanks for them. So, they are not to be occasions of fear but an opportunity for giving thanks. We are called to eat something that is blessed and set apart. To be serious is one thing but to be so scared that it becomes a source of great anxiety is another thing.
I used to be very much afraid of the Lord’s Supper. I thought everyone else really received something wonderful during that time and that I was simply going to be judged. My fear was unnecessary. My fear had to do with my misunderstanding. I did not know enough to gain comfort from the Lord’s Supper.
Little children have been afraid of many things that they outgrew once they understood what they were about. For example, many young boys and girls are afraid of going under water. They are scared to death. They watch other kids laughing and having fun in the pool but they simply sit on the side or wade in the shallow part because they are afraid of the water. Once they understand and experience the thrill of going under water, they quickly forget whatever fears they had. Their fears were fueled by their misunderstanding of what they thought would happen the second they went under. Believers who have lived in fear of the Lord’s Supper look forward to it now because they now understand what it is all about.
Another great misunderstanding plaguing many Christians is one of legalism. Now, we must define what this word means before we use it in this context. Legalism teaches that our good works, behavior, acts, etc. gain and earn God’s approval and acceptance. It teaches that our relationship to God is for the most part dependent on our performance.
Now, we would never want to deny the importance and necessity of “good works.” But we must understand what place they have in a believer’s life. Good works flow from our relationship with God and we have a firm and stable relationship with Him when we humbly believe and receive Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. Our relationship has been purchased by Christ and our standing and acceptance with God is dependent solely on what Jesus has done for us on the cross. All this is received by faith in Jesus Christ.
Legalism undercuts this. In the area of the Lord’s Supper, legalism teaches that we have to be good enough to come to the Lord’s Supper. The person thinks he or she has done pretty well this week and so feels very confident in coming to the Lord’s Table. At another week or month, the person feels and believes he or she was exceptionally bad that week and feels unworthy to come to the Supper. This is one of the biggest problems in the church when it comes to the Lord’s Supper.
Underneath this view is the mistaken idea that you and I could have a clean slate or a clean enough slate to come to the Lord (on account of my behavior). We are never accepted on account of our performances. Our standing before the Lord is based upon what Jesus has done. If we try to stand on our own before God, we will fall. “You are severed from Christ you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” (Gal. 5:4)
For some reason, many think that at this time in their Christian walk, before coming to the Lord’s Supper, they must be exceptionally good and clean (spiritually speaking). One lady I know visited a church and was not going to take the Lord’s Supper. It was reported to me after the Supper that she decided to take the Supper when she had not taken it for quite some time. She thought she had to be exceptionally good to take it but when she was reminded at the Supper that sinners in Christ should take it because they need it, she felt encouraged to participate. This kind of thing happens all the time. We do not come to the table because we are exceptionally good but because we are exceptionally weak and need our Savior and His blessings that much more.
For many years, the church was very superstitious about the Lord’s Supper. They thought the wine had magical powers or that the bread was so holy and special that it could never touch the ground. Some feared that a crumb would fall to the ground and that a mouse might eat it.
To this day, we find people still bowing before the bread and wine as if they were really Christ’s body. They believe in holy water, holy wine, etc. There are no such things. The bread and wine never ever change into anything. They remain as they are permanently.
There is no magic in the bread, nor is there any super power in the wine. The two elements are simply bread and wine. They are used to represent something much more, but in and of themselves, they are nothing more than bread and wine.
What this means is that after celebrating the Lord’s Supper, everyone can eat the bread and drink the wine. Strangers, friends, young children, etc. can all eat them because they are nothing more than bread and wine. They are used during the Supper in a holy way but they always remain the same.
I usually have crumbs in my Bible from the Lord’s Supper. They are usually found in 1 Cor. 11. The crumbs are dry and have been there for days. Are they holy? No. Can I eat them? Yes (if I wanted to). Can I throw them away? Yes. There is no magic in them.
Tradition and our experiences
Our experiences influence many of our thoughts and views. Tradition can play an important role in our lives as well and it can be very healthy, wholesome and beneficial. However, our experiences and tradition must not determine what we believe to be the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.
Some people have experienced certain rituals (incense, music, etc.) during the Lord’s Supper and expect to see them every time. They will say something like this: “I really enjoy it when they play such and such music during the Lord’s Supper. Why don’t we do it?” Some pastors put on their robes during this time and the people expect that each time the Lord’s Supper is served. Some want the bread pre-cut; others prefer the “common cup”; a few just want the Supper without the sermon; others expect to hear a bell toll during the words of institution, etc. Many enjoy the experience of kneeling and receiving the bread and wine. We can list many practices in the church that simply exist because they have always done them that way.
We need to be careful about all of these things. We should not (as we mentioned in our first chapter) add anything to this Supper. We should keep with the simple statements and teaching of Scripture and not make it more ritualistic than we need to.
This is becoming a problem. Since the bread and wine do not really become Christ’s body and blood, some therefore think the whole Supper is not all that beneficial and relevant. They simply tolerate the practice and care very little about preparing their hearts or even considering the right things during the Supper.
We must be careful not to make light of the Supper. Though we do not want to be superstitious, we also do not wish to dishonor the Lord at the table. Remember, this practice has been handed down to us from the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 11:23). As we do this until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26), we should proclaim everything about His death (1 Cor. 11:26) at the supper with great reverence. We do not want to be guilty of profaning or dishonoring what His body and blood represents (1 Cor. 11:27) lest we eat and drink judgment upon ourselves (1 Cor. 11:29).
We have given some hints into what the true view of the Lord’s Supper is by stating what we ought not to believe or practice. Our next study will explain the nature of the Lord’s Supper more clearly, but let us not forget what we should also avoid.
When a doctor instructs a diabetic to eat healthy food in right proportions in order to keep his blood sugar up, he also warns him against eating other kinds of food as well. He is to avoid certain foods while making sure he eats healthy food. So, in the Lord’s Supper, we must avoid many of the wrong things above.
1. How do we know that the bread and wine do not really turn into Christ’s body and blood?
2. Should we be afraid of the Lord’s Supper? Why?
3. What do we mean by legalism? How does it show up during the Lord’s Supper? Why should we avoid this?
4. Are there any magical powers in the bread and wine during and after the Supper? Do the bread and wine change into something else? Who can eat the bread and wine after the Supper?
5. Since the bread and wine remain the same, some people take the Supper lightly. Is that appropriate? Why or why not?