Communion (The Lord's Supper) (last update to this study was made on 10/29/2003)
Jesus made the statement to his disciples "Except ye eat My flesh and drink My blood, ye have no life in you."
The Roman Catholic church has placed a number of sacraments (something sacred) to be practiced by those of their faith, one of which is Holy Communion (The Lord's Supper). Such outward signs are practiced to seal and confirm the covenant promises of God. Such activity would use some sort of visible element as a sign indicating a redeeming benefit to the believer. In this case, the visible elements would be wine and bread. For such, it is believed that during this meal a special connection takes place with Christ and the participant (e.g., believer). It is believed that it is at this moment that Christ is now present in a special way. It is believed that some sort of divine miracle occurs and that the elements of wine and bread actually changes into the very substance of the blood and body of Jesus Christ, therefore his presence in a special or unique manner. Though the wine and bread do not change form, it is believed that they truly become the actual flesh and blood of our Lord. Some know this to be called "transubstantiation".
To no surprise, Protestants have traditionally objected the idea of transubstantiation, though they too are engaged in special ordinances such as "Communion". Such an activity is viewed as instituted by Jesus Christ (e.g., do this in remembrance of me); highly significant; ongoing or perpetual; and designed to benefit the participating believer (e.g., signify and seal if received in faith). Such practices are highly regarded as both a duty and privilege of their Christian faith. (note: Martin Luther believed that the presence of Christ was added to (rather than replacing or changing into) the wine and bread elements). For Luther, the very words of Christ himself proved Luther's point by saying "this is my body". Luther used the verb IS in a literal sense rather than a figurative manner. Of course, others disagreed with Luther while affirming Christ meant it in a representative sense just as he had done in other areas (e.g., I am the door, etc.). In fact, these same people would argue the point that the body and blood of Christ was clearly not present in actual "substance" at the communion and it is done only in memory of Christ. Their stance is that the presence of Christ is no more (and no less) different at communion than his normal presence at other times (e.g., I am with you always).
So, what do we believe and hold to be true?
First, we have come to learn that there is no redeeming power in the physical elements (e.g., wine and bread) themselves for that belongs to God. We understand that they can serve as a sign and nonverbal form of communication declaring one's faith. Clearly such an act can and often does benefit an individual. And for those with greater understanding and participating in communion, it is an outward declaration of an inward reality as they do not require an outward symbol as a "point of contact" to strengthen their faith.
Second, we have come to learn that the wine and bread that we drink new with Christ in the Father's kingdom is not the physical elements (wine and bread). Paul writes "Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. 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." (I Cor 10:14-17). We have come to learn that the kingdom of God is not meat and drink (Rom 14:17). So we can plainly see that the true cup in which we bless is in the blood (life) of Christ. The true bread that is broken is his body (who we are) and we all partake of that breaking. It is a spiritual communion is which we partake.
This leads to the question ---- since we understand spiritual communion which does not involve any use of outward forms, are they to be despised as empty ritualism or formalism? Though many (and I mean many) have corrupted this outward practice into becoming a carnal ritual, should it become all together rejected in our faith? Looking at our text verse, we "eat his flesh and drink his blood", it is here that we come to understand communion. The Word became flesh and we eat of Christ who is that Word. Likewise, there is life in the blood and we seek glory, honor, immortality, age-abiding life. We continue to seek out his life as we lose our own life. Jesus told his disciples "This is my body, broken for you" and "This cup is the new covenant, drink all of it". This "communion" is a "sharing" or a "participation" as other translators put it.
I have noticed that many like drinking of his blood, partaking of his life, but really do not understand the breaking of the bread. Yet, should we neglect the breaking of the body? Are we to forget the sharing or participating or communion among the saints? There are many sick among us because we do not discern the needs of the body! Many become sick, many become emotionally burdened and take on thoughts that are heavy and unnecessary, all because we do not have an active sharing among the body. Do we discern and share their needs? We do not understand communion, spiritual communion. Are we to think only of ourselves and become incapable of ministering to the needs of the body, our brethren? If not, how can we ever expect to minister or reach the needs of creation?
Point and case, I do not personally find the NEED to have an outward communion for myself. I have come to learn that true communion is in the spirit. The carnal ordinances of the old covenant are long past. However, we must be careful not to create idols in our minds and become so legalistic that we CANNOT participate with other believers if they desire the outward declaration using wine and bread. We are to have love and grace and not condemn those who desire this outward act of communion. In fact, at such times we are in perfect position to teach (in a kind and gentle spirit) and show them a better way. In such cases, we participate for the sake of another, it becomes communion or sharing with the body.
I find a great passage by Paul which demonstrates a wonderful principle that can applied to this idea of communion. What did Paul say about idols and meats? "... for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither if we eat not, are we the worst" (I Cor 8:8). You see, it cannot add anything to you as those of a weaker disposition (and wrong understanding) suppose when they partake of physical wine and bread. Likewise, we must equally note that it cannot hurt those that do eat!
In closing, we have the liberty in the Spirit to do either, though beware of it becoming a ritual and NEEDFUL point of contact. If the Father would have us participate in an outward declaration of communion, be it far from us to reject His direction.