Contend Earnestly: The Ins and Outs of Communion: Introduction

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Ins and Outs of Communion: Introduction

For whatever reason, the past year I have been thinking a lot about communion. For all my life I have only been a member in churches where communion was celebrated once a month with the reason always given that we don't want to make it just a repetitive event with no meaning. I always thought that made sense, until I really started to understand what worship meant. I always thought worship happened on Sunday, in the "sanctuary", with someone's grandma playing the organ or an ex-hippie playing the guitar and us singing songs (I have enjoyed both). This is what I thought worship was reduced to. Not much thought was put on the fact that every part of the weekly gathering was worship and that every day of my life was worship. When my eyes were opened to this reality, the questioning of communion started to really come into full view.

I started to think. If communion is a part of worship, why do we only do it once a month, whereas we collect an offering once a week? Can't giving become repetitive and meaningless? But, since we have to pay the bills at church, giving has always been given much more credence than communion. Once I started to question the amount of times communion was practiced, every other part of communion started to be put up for Scriptural testing. I will be honest, my historical viewpoint of communion is very weak. What I desire to put forth, and will lean on history buff's to aid, is the ins and outs of communion. Such as:

What is Communion? Am I a cannibal?

Who should practice communion?

What should I do during, before and after communion?

How often should we practice communion?

Where should it be practiced?

What elements should be used? i.e. Is wine appropriate?

Who should administer the elements?

All of these will be discussed at some point and hope that you will join in the discussion of understanding this very important part of our worship. Please also comment on other things that you would like to see a post on in regards to communion. Much discussion and killing has happened throughout the church ages on the different convictions of communion so I don't expect to "solve" those differences. What I would like to do is get a firmer grasp on what I believe and why and I invite you to join in the discussion and wonder if you will also actually challenge yourself through the Scriptures and not continue to observe communion the way you have always done it because "daddy told me this is how it should be done."

My tag line for this blog from the beginning that surprisingly has never changed (unlike my header picture) has been,

a blog dedicated to understanding how to live out theology. Always questioning tradition according to Scripture and never leaving Scripture out of the discussion.

This is what I hope to do once again with these posts on communion.

I will leave this first post with Calvin's comments on 1 Corinthians 10:16

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?
1 Corinthians 10:16

16. The cup of blessing. While the sacred Supper of Christ has two elements — bread and wine — he begins with the second. He calls it, the cup of blessing, as having been set apart for a mystical benediction. For I do not agree with those who understand blessing to mean thanksgiving, and interpret the verb to bless, as meaning to give thanks. I acknowledge, indeed, that it is sometimes employed in this sense, but never in the construction that Paul has here made use of, for the idea of Erasmus, as to supplying a preposition, is exceedingly forced. On the other hand, the meaning that I adopt is easy, and has nothing of intricacy.

To bless the cup, then, is to set it apart for this purpose, that it may be to us an emblem of the blood of Christ. This is done by the word of promise, when believers meet together according to Christ’s appointment to celebrate the remembrance of his death in this Sacrament. The consecration, however, which the Papists make use of, is a kind of sorcery derived from heathens, which has nothing in common with the pure rite observed by Christians. Everything, it is true, that we eat is sanctified by the word of God, as Paul himself elsewhere bears witness, (1 Timothy 4:5;) but that blessing is for a different purpose — that our use of the gifts of God may be pure, and may tend to the glory of their Author, and to our advantage. On the other hand, the design of the mystical blessing in the Supper is, that the wine may be no longer a common beverage, but set apart for the spiritual nourishment of the soul, while it is an emblem of the blood of Christ.

Paul says, that the cup which has been in this manner blessed is κοινωνίαν — the communion of the blood of the Lord. It is asked, in what sense? Let contention be avoided, and there will be nothing of obscurity. It is true, that believers are united together by Christ’s blood, so as to become one body. It is also true, that a unity of this kind is with propriety termed κοινωνία(communion.) I make the same acknowledgment as to the bread. Farther, I observe what Paul immediately adds, as it were, by way of explanation — that we all become one body, because we are together partakers of the same bread. But whence, I pray you, comes that κοινωνία (communion) between us, but from this, that we are united to Christ in such a way, that

we are flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bones? (Ephesians 5:30.)

For we must first of all be incorporated (so to speak) into Christ, that we may be united to each other. In addition to this, Paul is not disputing at present merely in reference to a mutual fellowship among men, but as to the spiritual union between Christ and believers, with the view of drawing from this, that it is an intolerable sacrilege for them to be polluted by fellowship with idols. From the connection of the passage, therefore, we may conclude, that (κοινωνίαν) the communion of the blood is that connection which we have with the blood of Christ, when he engrafts all of us together into his body, that he may live in us, and we in him.

Now, when the cup is called a participation, the expression, I acknowledge, is figurative, provided that the truth held forth in the figure is not taken away, or, in other words, provided that the reality itself is also present, and that the soul has as truly communion in the blood, as we drink wine with the mouth. But Papists could not say this, that the cup of blessing is a participation in the blood of Christ, for the Supper that they observe is mutilated and torn: if indeed we can give the name of the Supper to that strange ceremony which is a patchwork of various human contrivances, and scarcely retains the slightest vestige of the institution of our Lord. But, supposing that everything else were as it ought to be, this one thing is at variance with the right use of the Supper — the keeping back of the whole of the people from partaking of the cup, which is the half of the Sacrament.

The bread which we break. From this it appears, that it was the custom of the ancient Church to break one loaf, and distribute to every one his own morsel, in order that there might be presented more clearly to the view of all believers their union to the one body of Christ. And that this custom was long kept up appears from the testimony of those who flourished in the three centuries that succeeded the age of the Apostles. Hence arose the superstition, that no one dared to touch the bread with his hand, but each one had it put into his mouth by the priest.

17. For we are one bread. I have already stated above, that it was not Paul’s particular design here to exhort us to love, but he mentions this by the way, that the Corinthians may understand that we must, even by external profession, maintain that unity which subsists between us and Christ, inasmuch as we all assemble together to receive the symbol of that sacred unity. In this second part of the statement, he makes mention only of the one part of the Sacrament, and it is the manner of Scripture to describe by Synecdoche the entire Supper by the breaking of bread. It is necessary to warn my readers, in passing, as to this, lest any less experienced person should be put off his guard by the foolish cavil that is brought forward by certain sycophants — as if Paul, by mentioning merely the bread, had it in view to deprive the people of the one half of the Sacrament.

Calvin, John: Calvin's Commentaries: 1 Corinthians. electronic ed. Albany, OR : Ages Software, 1998 (Logos Library System; Calvin's Commentaries), S. 1 Co 10:16


Arthur Sido said...

Very interesting post. I agree that we need to look beyond our traditions and expectations and search the Scriptures. If the meaning and practice of the church was acceptable in the first century, it should be acceptable today.

TL said...

Way to jump into this issue, Seth.

An interesting historical sidenote:
Calvin wanted weekly communion for his church in Geneva, but was prevented from doing so by his elders. Many, if not almost all the Reformers (including Luther) retained a high, high view of Communion albeit with the the appropriate corrective distinctions made to the RCC's articlatuion of transubstantiation...and the innapropriate re-sacrificing of Christ.

Although it has a $7.95 print price tag, we have made a commitment to make all our publications to be free of charge, so your readers are welcome to download a devotional book solely on Communion. They can find it here:

It is biblical, historical, and very accessible.

Seth McBee said...

I highly recommend the book that TL links to, plus it has one some great insights from one of my favorite pastors...

Eric Venable.

::: that's for you TL ;) :::


michael said...

Man bro good stuff!! I love it! Here is my opinion on worship and communion. I don't believe alot of christians understand what it means to worship the Lord. I think we get caught up in "it has to happen at church." Everything we do can be a form of worship. As far as communion is concerned, i believe the elements dont matter. God is not legalistic so why should we be? Did Jesus say it has to be done with wine and bread only? I break bread alot,remembering what Jesus did...if i am wrong in doing that, please show me. Bro you are an awesome man of God! Thanks for writing this!

TL said...

bro i mean no intentional bruising, so hang on and hear me out: God IS a legalist...he loves law, he loves justice, he loves perfect adherence, he loves perfection in rule following-- the thing is...only he is the second adam....only he follows the law perfectly.

the elements don't matter!?
what kind of arminian non-biblical church do you belong to?
the reformed understanding: "the signs point to that which is signified" bro, the signs/elements are crucial. our Lord Jesus Christ used bread and alcoholic wine. he did not use cheezits and kool-aid (a real, bizarre Promise Keepers experience, I might add) when you drive to Seattle, would a sign reading "Coca-Cola" help you? no, my man. you want a sign saying "Seattle" and you wantthat sign to show you the proper mileage, because the proper sign brings you to that which is signified. Our Lord did not institute filet mignon and water with lemon. sprite with a maraschino cherry DOES NOT communicate our Lord's blood spilt as a sign and seal of a NEW COVENANT. please bro, for the sake of our mutual Savior's work, please, please look into this matter. i plead as one who desires something more for you, not as a one who barrages you with insults.

Arthur Sido said...


Perhaps you are spending a little too much time worrying about the form and not nearly enough in concerning yourself with the purpose. I would say you can have a perfectly "reformed" gathering, follow the proper liturgucal ritual, say the right words and use the right elements and not have a Biblical observance of the breaking of bread.

Seth McBee said...

Just as a side and not trying to pee on your leg...

TL is someone who desires and "worries" a ton about what you put forth. I know you don't know him, so no big deal, but just wanted to let you know what I personally know of TL.

Arthur Sido said...


I have eight kids, getting peed on is nothing new for me!

Michael said...


I understand God is a legalist. I understand the Old Testament and the 10 Laws He instituted. I also understand how man broke the laws down to 683 seperate laws. Man is good at screwing stuff up.

I understand the transaction that took place on the cross. I understand what the elements signify. I also understand that its not about religion and a relationship.

I appreciate your passion. I appreciate you taking a stand. See my heart. Im not putting down the gospel in anyway.

I plead that you make sure you have a true relationship with Him. Make sure its not about religion and the "stuff" that goes along with religion.

As far as me being some arminiast promise keepers garbage im far from that sir. Believe me

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