Carl O. Cooper, a member of the Warner’s Chapel congregation in Clemmons, NC, is the author of The Communion Leaders Handbook. It contains almost 200 pages of biblical teaching and recommendations, including examples of remarks which are appropriate for the man who leads at the Lord’s Supper. Proper understanding of the meaning of the Communion is essential for the spiritual health of every congregation. This places responsibility on the one who leads this part of worship that the right impression should be conveyed to the assembly.
Humans have a tendency to take for granted those things that are regularly a part of our worship assemblies. We may assume the basic truths about the communion are understood by everyone. In fact, however, there are some basic points which may not always be considered.
Four texts give the account of how Jesus set the pattern for the Supper (Matt. 26:26ff; Mark 14:22ff; Luke 22:19ff; 1 Cor. 11:23ff).
Christians are given a positive command: “This do in remembrance of me.” The when and how this is to be obeyed is in apostolic example (Acts 20:7) and teaching (1 Cor. 11:20ff).
The Supper is called “Communion” because by partaking we identify ourselves with the blood and body of Christ and with one another (1 Cor. 10:16f). The proper order for the communion is prayer of thanksgiving for the bread with the bread then distributed to the congregation. After the bread is eaten, a separate prayer of thanks is to be given for the fruit of the vine. It is not the scriptural order to ahve one prayer at the beginning and then serve the items together.
Though it is good for the congregation to pray about many things, the prayer with the bread and the cup has the essential purpose to give thanks. It is a mistake to pray about various other things while neglecting to give thanks for the bread and to give thanks for the cup.
To “bless” the bread (or the cup) simply means to give thanks for it. An error sometimes heard is for one to pray that God would “bless this bread.” That is a different use of the term “bless.” The prayer is not to ask God to do anything for the bread or cup. (Sometimes in prayers before common meals one may pray, “Bless this food to our bodies…” That is not the usage in connection with the Lord’s Supper.) One of the great errors of Catholicism is that when the priest blesses the bread it changes into the body of Christ. We should be cautious that the wording of our prayers does not suggest any such thing. The purpose of the prayers with the bread and the fruit of the vine is to thank God for each element of the Supper.
The Bible never refers to the contents of the cup as “wine.” Instead it is simply “the fruit of the vine.”
The communion is not a “sacrament,” and should not be so designated. The term “sacrament” comes from the sacerdotal system of Catholicism, which regards such things as the means by which the priest conveys spiritual blessings.
The bread Jesus used was unleavened bread, which means it contained no yeast.
“The cup” refers to the contents, not to the container. Whether there is one or a multiplicity of containers, it is still one cup. Some folks once implied to me that they were a more scriptural congregation because, they said, “We are a church of Christ that believes in ‘one cup.'” I replied, “That’s all we have – one cup, but several containers.”
Partaking of the Lord’s Supper is not for the purpose of having sins forgiven. Sins are forgiven at baptism and when Christians confess their sins (Acts 2:38; 1 John 1:9). The blood of Christ provides for forgiveness, but the Lord’s Supper is only a memorial of Christ’s body and blood, not the means of contacting it for pardon.
The communion is in remembrance of Christ’s death, not his resurrection. The time for partaking of it is the “first day of the week,” which is when Christ arose, but it is not correct in the remarks at the table to say, “This is in memory of Christ’s death and resurrection.”
The Lord’s Supper is intended for the worship assembly of the church on the Lord’s Day. It is not for Saturday nights, or so-called holy days, or weddings. The pattern for the church found in the New Testament is for the church to “come together in one place” (1 Cor. 11:20) on the “first day of the week” (Acts 20:7).
The Supper is to be an ongoing observance. “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26). Faithfully partaking is a demonstration of our faith in Christ’s death. Neglecting the Supper reflects doubt as to the genuineness of one’s faith.
The Communion is for Christians. If one is not a disciple of Christ it can hardly be eaten in fellowship with the Lord. On the other hand, the church is not instructed to practice “closed communion.” This refers to a practice in some denominations in which they specify which persons are allowed to partake.
The contribution is not a part of the Lord’s Supper. While it may seem a good order to take the collection immediately after the communion, it is not an additional part of the communion ritual. It is not to be assumed that by having a prayer before the contribution and immediately after having had two prayers in the Supper that the collection is the third part of Communion.
It is right for the church to pray at any time. However, it is not required that there be a prayer before taking the collection.