Some considerations for the taking of the Lord's Table - reexamining the blueprint.


What is the great purpose of the Table?
The table was initiated on the foundation of the feast of the Passover. It is rooted and grounded in the events leading to the initiation of the New Covenant between God and sinners, which its elements foreshadow. The Lord Jesus says its root purpose is that our evil and wandering hearts might be repeatedly drawn together 'in remembrance of Me'. Its essence is a sacred occasion to gather in order to behold the Lamb. Paul writes that in joining to eat together, we focus not only on His person and office as a priest but specifically to 'show His death', to contemplate His perfect work. It is our opportunity to prayerfully feed on his flesh and contemplatively drink His blood - not by an idolatrous and blasphemous literalism, but truly and really by faith. Here we must distinctively dedicate our mind and being to gazing at the High Priest of our profession. Our attitude is primarily one of joyful thanksgiving and a sense of unworthiness, rather than of sorrow or imitation - though neither of these are out of place. We also gather in anticipation of His glorious return, to stir one another to remembrance and vigilance. Therefore distraction from this central purpose is most unwelcome and dangerous, in seeking to follow the scriptural procedure, this primary goal must constantly be guarded as the highest priority. We are not, as the disciples did, to fall to distracting disputes or dialogues, which soil the feast with vainglory and fleshly contention. Failure to partake of the feast is a serious matter, and risks breaching our Lord's great command before His death, unless justified by strong reasons.

Recalling and forsaking sin.

A vital preparation for the Table is described in 1 Cor.11 as self examination. This must precede the Table or itself become a distraction from it. It indicates the importance of announcing the times for the Table publically and clearly and reminding the brethren to come prepared beforehand. Those who failure to examine themselves, seeing their own deep unworthiness, 'shall be guilty of the body and blood', and this may result in Lord's direct chastisement, in serious cases to sickness or even death. It is important for brethren to confess to one another and forsake known sin prior to offering the sacrifice of thanksgiving (Matt.5.24). Therefore there must always be liberty for brethren not to partake, such reasons may be secret, but they should not be prolonged. It may also be appropriate for there to be due time and occasion to confess and forsake sin before the Table, and there may need to be public exhortation both to the examination and to the confession and repentance that properly result.

Union of body - one bread.

The Table is also described as a communion, an occasion for formal intimacy with the Lord and also with one another, as His members. For in the one loaf, not only He, but we are also depicted, 'For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.' It is a time for rededication to Him, and derivatively, for His sake and in His Name, to one another, as His body. For 'for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?'.

Conditions for taking?

As the Lord's Table is distinguished from the devils' (1 Cor.10.21), it is most inappropriate for unbelievers to outwardly share in the elements, just as they have no part in the sacred communion. It promotes confusion, both inside and outside the church as to the real character of Christ's body (v.27, Ex 12.43). Plainly it is a meal. Believers not fit to eat with should therefore not be partake of the Table, the Apostle lists these as: fornicators, covetous, idolaters, railers, drunkards, or extortioners (1 Cor 5.11).

How often?

The scripture appears to indicate that the feast was taken weekly (Act 20.7), usually on the Lord's Day, though there seems to be a hint that bread was broken daily (Acts 2.46), which may indicate the Lord's supper was held on other days too.

The Table when not to be taken?
Excommunication involves the loss of many benefits of fellowship, Mt 18:17, one of which must be the most intimate form of church fellowship. This is explicitly confirmed in 1 Cor.5.7-8, and the administration of this discipline is the primary responsibility of the church officers, and secondarily of the whole church (1 Cor. 5.3 and v.4-5).

Members and non members.
If a member falls into sin and his privilege of partaking at the Table is removed, is this not also true for a non-member and upon the same textual basis? So there is some obligation on the church to vet and police the Table, and this obligation must primarily fall to the officers. It also imposes some obligation to ensure that regular visitors and partakers of the Table are walking with God, and not excommunicated from other fellowships, or if they are that the grounds for that action are wholly unjustified (2 Jn 10) - something which cannot usually be ascertained easily. This alone seems to justify the value of letters of commendation or of investigation for those who would regularly join the Table, irrespective of their desire to join or not (Ro 16.1, 1Co 11.18).
How watertight must the bar to the Table be?
Given that Luke, in contrast to other Gospels, offers a strict chronology (Lk.1.1-3, kayexhv), Judas seems to have partaken of the first Table (Lk.22.19-22), with the Lord's full knowledge of his apostasy. There are other indications of this apparent 'lapse' of church discipline, (Jn.13.2, 21-30 and Ps 41.9, 'My bread'). This suggests that the primary focus of the Table is remembrance and the sacrifice of Thanksgiving, and during periods of doubt or apparent rebellion, gainsayers and hypocrites who might be suspected of meriting exclusion, but as yet without manifest proof, may for a while be admitted to avoid distraction and premature disturbance, leaving the matter in the Lord's hands for sovereign vindication of His own Name.

How to vet?

Whatever procedure is used, it should cause as little disturbance and distraction as possible, flagrant breaches of it however are not to be permitted.

What of the unbaptised?
By analogy with the Passover, in which the uncircumcised were not to partake, the question may be posed about those who have not been baptised (Ex.12.44-5,48, Num 9.13-14). Circumcision is a figure of regeneration (Le 26:41, Deut. 10.16, 30.6, Jer. 6.10, 9.26), Baptism is a figure of regeneration (1 Pet.3.21, Tit 3.5, Rom.6.3-5), the two are clearly parallel symbols, though the mode and nature of their administration and relation to their covenants are distinct (Col.2.12-13). It seems improper by analogy therefore to admit the young before they have publically testified to their faith in Baptism.
As to Presbyterians, Congregationalists and others who are evidently regenerate, disobedient with respect to the outward sign, but obedient to the substance of the Gospel, it seems improper to me to rigorously decline them admission to the Table, provided their intention to join the Table seems well motivated, especially as once off or irregular visitors, when they have kept the substance of the command (2 Ch 30.18).

May the Lord sanctify and greatly enrich and deepen our fellowship with Him and with one another in the remembrance of His love, which is far better than wine (Song 4.10), to His pleasure and glory.