Could the church have been all wrong about the Lord’s Supper/Communion/Eucharist? Brethren writer Vernard Eller asked this question years ago and made it the title of a book. Admittedly, phrased this way, the question is a shocker. It’s a shocker to those who put a lot of stock in church history as a support for doctrine and practice. But the question is not off-base. Especially when you consider that there’s not a whole lot of Scripture devoted to instruction on how to observe the Lord’s Supper. I have read at least one writer make the (I think) legitimate observation that there is clearer explanation in Scripture on how to perform feetwashing than the Lord’s Supper.
There are some who scoff at those who show concern for identifying the “right” way to do some church ceremony or ritual. Well, as far as I’m concerned, scoff away! The reason I care about the right way to do ritual is not because I’m obsessive-compulsive about Bible interpretation. No – I care about this because I want to understand the Lord’s Supper’s intended meaning, and I want to personally gain from the Lord’s Supper the benefit that God intends for me.
So these are some of the questions that are on my mind concerning the Lord’s Supper:
- What should be the role of the Supper in congregational life? How should it fit in with congregational worship in general?
- What is the relationship of the Supper to the teaching ministry of the church, i.e. how does Table relate to Word, using the traditional Word-Table frame of reference?
- How often should the Supper be observed? Weekly? Monthly? Quarterly?
- Who can partake of the Supper? Should it be “closed” to those not in “communion” with a given church? Can children of believers participate? How much control should church leaders exert over its observance?
Books have been written about these topics. However, a critical question to ask when interpreting the New Testament is when a given practice is prescriptive rather than merely descriptive. My guiding principle is that a New Testament practice should be followed closely when there is a theological principle at stake in the continuation of the practice. Three interpretive questions come to mind in making this determination:
- What is the New Testament practice?
- What is the theological, enduring principle at stake?
- If there is a theological principle at stake, why wouldn’t we want to follow the New Testament practice?
So, here we go! We’ll begin to try to answer some of these questions next post.
What do you think? Is it possible that the church could get an ordinance/sacrament all wrong? How much stock do you put into tradition or church history when forming your own convictions?