Should the Emblems of the Lord’s Supper Be Taken by Christians Only?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Friday, April 2, 2010 at 10:09am
QUESTION: Our small group has been discussing communion, and what it means when we partake of the Lord’s Supper each week. We were always taught that you do not partake of communion until you are a baptized believer. Does that come from Scripture or from tradition? Does “partaking in a worthy manner” (1 Cor. 11:27) mean that you must first be able to understand baptism and its meaning?
ANSWER: I take it that your main question is whether only Christians (baptized believers) are supposed to receive the emblems of the Lord’s Supper. The answer is yes, the Supper is for believers only. There is no specific Biblical statement to that effect, but by implication the Supper has meaning only for Christians. When Jesus instituted the Supper, saying of the cup, “Drink from it, all of you” (Matt. 26:27), he was speaking only to his disciples (apostles). When the church began on the Day of Pentecost, it was only the (approximately) 3,000 baptized believers who devoted themselves to “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:41-42). Only those who already partake of the benefits of Christ’s broken body and shed blood can meaningfully partake of the bread and the cup which memorialize them (1 Cor. 10:16). Only those who are a part of the “one body” should partake together of the “one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17).
When Jesus instituted the Supper, he said, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24-25). This “remembrance” has two applications. First, it means “Do this as a MEMORIAL to Me.” I.e., when we take the LS we are proclaiming the Lord’s death (1 Cor. 11:26) to the world; we are raising a monument in honor of His atoning work on Calvary. We are declaring to everyone that we believe Jesus died for our sins and that He alone is our hope of eternal life. Only a Christian can meaningfully participate in such a memorial service. For a non-Christian to lift up the cross in such a manner is hypocritical. We cannot sincerely proclaim to others that Christ died for our sins if we have never personally put our “faith in His blood” (Rom. 3:25, NIV) and received its benefits into our own lives.
The second application of “Do this in remembrance of Me” is this: “Do this in order to keep the MEMORY of Jesus’ death for your sins alive in your own mind.” I.e., do this on a regular basis so that you will not forget that Jesus’ sacrifice is the only reason you are saved. Do this to keep your personal “faith in His blood” STRONG. Your faith is what keeps you justified or forgiven; you need regular participation in the LS to keep your faith from dying. Thus it is clear that taking the emblems of the Supper is meaningful only for someone who is a believer, someone who is already saved. Part of the “remembering” that we do in the LS is remembering that we personally were (spiritually) “sprinkled with His blood” (1 Peter 1:2) when we were (physically) washed with pure water in our baptism (Heb. 10:22). Again, this means nothing to an unbeliever or to someone who has never been baptized. The point is not so much understanding what baptism means in and of itself, but understanding what it means to be saved by the blood of Jesus Christ (which happens in baptism).
Those in charge of the communion service should make it clear through oral announcement or through an explanation in the bulletin that the emblems are intended only for members of the body of Christ. I grew up in a Christian Church (in Minorsville, KY). One of the elders who gave the communion meditation on a regular basis would always say prior to the serving of the emblems, “We neither invite nor debar” anyone to partake or from partaking. (This is good Restoration Movement terminology.) The main point of this qualification is to say that you do not have to be a member of this local congregation to join with us in the communion service; all Christians (baptized believers) should feel welcome to participate based on their own understanding of their personal salvation status.
That statement, however, should never be intended to leave the impression that the Supper is for anyone who chooses to partake, whether Christian or not. Under no circumstances should non-Christians be encouraged to partake of the emblems. Most non-Christians understand that this part of the service is not for them, so this is usually not a problem. Gentle reminders may sometimes be needed, though. On the other hand, if a non-Christian does partake, this is not something to be agitated about, since such partaking will not make the non-Christian any more lost than he or she already is.