The Lord's Supper

by John C. Wenger

The other major ordinance of the apostolic church is the communion service or Lord's Supper, instituted by our Saviour on the Thursday night prior to Good Friday, A.D. 30. Jesus indicated that the two emblems of this ceremony each have a dual symbolism. The bread represents the body of Christ which has been broken for us (Matt. 26:26), and also Christian fellowship in the Lord (I Cor. 10:16, 17). The fruit of the vine, called "the cup" (Mark 14:25; I Cor. 11:25), symbolizes the blood of Christ which has been shed for us, as well as the New Testament which His death inaugurated. (1 Cor. 11:25; Luke 22:20; Heb. 9:16.42).

The main question associated with the observance of the Lord's Supper is that of who should be admitted to the table. Those who practice what is called open communion state that no believer of any persuasion should be excluded from the Lord's Supper because it is not a denominational table, it is the Lord's table. Furthermore, they say, it is the individual who shall examine himself, not the church (I Cor. 11:28). It is also objected that close communion seems too exclusive within Christendom; it tends to be divisive within the Christian Church. It is also said that close communion reflects on the spiritual Christians of other denominations.

It must be admitted that there is some weight to the considerations which favor open communion. There is another side, however. The assumption of those who defend close communion is that the Lord's Supper requires a common faith and a common separation from the world. Furthermore, the Scriptures teach that, although the individual shall examine himself, the church also does have some responsibility for the Christian life of its members. Paul, for example, requested the church at Corinth to expel from its fellowship the incestuous person (I Cor. 5:2, 13). Those who hold to close communion do not claim omniscience; they claim only that there are Biblical requirements for membership in the church and for admission to the Lord's table. A major reason for close communion is that church discipline would be meaningless if only the individual himself were the judge as to whether he enjoyed full fellowship in the congregation. It seems impossible to recognize the norms of all other denominations as satisfying New Testament requirements for church membership. Close communion is therefore in part made necessary by the behavior of some professing Christians, and in part it is occasioned by the sub-Christian standards of some denominations. It would seem inconsistent to refuse communion to a member of one's group for not accepting the discipline of the group, but to offer communion to an individual from another group having no such disciplinary standard.

Adherents of close communion-generally the stricter Christian bodies-therefore regretfully insist that they must continue to offer the emblems of the sacramental signs only to those in full fellow- ship in their group. They recognize full well of course that other denominations contain many spiritual members who are just as much entitled to come to the Lord's table as their own members. It is not those spiritual and consecrated members who make close communion necessary; it is rather the fact that many professing believers are not of that type and yet are rated as communicant in their respective churches because said churches do not strictly insist on Biblical standards of life for their members.

The basic question therefore is whether those groups having their present high requirements for membership and communion shall lower these standards down to the level of a Christendom which too often appears "lukewarm" spiritually. Shall the church succumb to the easygoing type of Christian life which is all too prevalent today, or must it follow the Lord in personal cross-bearing and earnest discipleship at any cost? To ask the question is to answer it. Nevertheless, close communion is not something to gloat about: it is a matter of deep regret. It calls for an even greater manifestation of redeeming love toward all men, and especially toward those who are in Christ in the various denominations of Christendom.

Above from Introduction to Theology by John C. Wenger (pp. 240-242), © copyright 1954, renewed 1980 by Mennonite Publishing House, Scottdale, Pennsylvania USA. All rights reserved.
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June 22, 2000

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