When it comes to communion, I’ve seen it done a hundred ways. My friends, Grace Bretherans, wash each other’s feet every time they observe the table. Some churches pass around a loaf of bread, others pass broken crackers. Some pass around a chalice, others pass portioned cups. And then there are those who dip the bread into the juice and partake it that way. Catholics teach that the bread and the wine are actually turned into blood and flesh before it is consumed, while Protestants teach that nobody should partake unless they are right with God for fear of death. The poplar thing when I was in college was to question why we couldn’t practice communion in our dorm with grape soda and cheese nips. Then we complained when our school practiced corporate communion in chapel once a quarter while teaching that it was a function of the church.
One thing is clear, there are a lot of variations and several distinctions concerning the Lord’s Table. Since I am a baptist and cannot give a fair argument for any other practices, I’m going to let you all in on a little bit of why we do the things we do.
Communion is a unique function within the church age. Before Christ came, the nation of Israel practiced the tradition on Passover remembering the Lord’s provision in leading them out of slavery in Egypt. If you have never experienced a traditional Passover celebration you should definitely put it on your bucket list. When Jesus dined with the disciples the night before He died, He offered new symbolic meaning to the feast and taught us that as often as we practice it we should do it in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19, I Corinthians 11:24-24). Baptist don’t typically practice it more than once a month because they don’t want to lose the significants of the service, but others will practice it every week.
If you’ve been to a baptist church you’ve probably seen the small cups and the broken crackers and the elegant attention given to the service. The reason the portions are quartered out is because baptists from long ago decided that it was a good way to provide equality to how everyone was served and then wait to partake it together. This was a direct result of the Corinthian church which had been abusing the services. Some were getting drunk, others were pigging out. Baptist are pretty good a preventative measures so they divide up the portions and wait so that no one can have preeminence.
While it is undeniable that the early church used actual wine for the ceremony (you can’t get drunk off of grape juice) traditional baptists tend to be teetotalers since America’s prohibition and simply use the fresh stuff, again to be preemptive. The reason they use kosher crackers, however, is because they are trying to be as literal to the original Passover feast as possible (even though they forgo the wine). The unleavened matza represents the sinless body of Christ because leaven is often used to symbolize sin.
Why we do what we do is mostly steeped it traditions promoted by conformity. Many young adults are diametrically opposed to spouting traditions without meaning. There are, however, some important traditions that are worth considering.
Communion has always been an ordinance of the church. Many well meaning young college students want to know why they shouldn’t practice communion in their dorms; this is the answer. Your dorm is not a church. I will address this more fully later this week when we ask why an individual needs the church, but the “where two or three are gathered” passage just doesn’t work in this scenario. First of all, that verse is talking about authority and discipline and unless you are going to recognize me as an authority to discipline you as I feel fit, then you don’t really have the right to call your dorm room a church just so you can meet once in a while and have cracker jacks and grape juice and call it a sacrament. The institution of the church, which Jesus established Himself and set in place to represent His work and body after He was gone, is not just a group of Christians whenever they gather in groups. A college is not a church, it’s a para-church. It’s not that four walls and a steeple are needed, but there does need to be some order and authority before we can just go around calling whatever we want church.
Communion is a serious act of worship and it is not to be taken lightly. When we suggest that we can do it with pop and cereal what we are suggesting is that it is not a serious thing. Yes, you can practice communion with whatever substance is legally permissible, but why would you do it so flippantly? If you lived in a third world country and all you could get your hands on were Pringles and tea, then it would probably be okay, but that’s not what many young adults are asking. Are they?
So whatever methods you use in remembering the Lord’s Supper, make sure that you are giving reverence to the occasion and that you have settled your heart right with God.