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Why do churches practice
the Lord's Supper?

The Lord's Supper, also referred to as Holy Communion, is one of two ordinances which Jesus gave to the church (the other being water baptism). Its practice is exercised in virtually all Christian churches in varying frequency — perhaps as often as every service or only one service a month. The origin of the practice begins with Christ's Last Supper with his disciples, the evening before his trial and execution. The following text is taken from Paul's account of the event, and is the most frequent passage used in its association:

1 Cor. 11:24 "...and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.
11:25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.
11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.
11:27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
11:28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup.
11:29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body."

The Lord's Supper originated as a meal of fellowship between Jesus and disciples, the evening before his trial and execution. This, however, was not a typical meal, but was an event of symbolic significance. It was Thursday of the calendar week of the Passover feast in Israel, which was a commemoration of the death angel's passing over the Hebrew children in Egypt. During that historic event nearly fifteen hundred years earlier, each family obediently sacrificed a lamb for a meal and wiped its blood on their doorposts, which resulted in their national origin and deliverance from slavery (Ex. 12:1-51).

The Lord's Supper was a Passover meal, in which Jesus portrayed Himself as the Lamb of the Passover. He showed that by partaking of His sacrifice by faith, with His blood wiped spiritually on the doorposts of one's heart, death will pass over, bringing deliverance from sin and everlasting life in the promised land.

During his supper with his disciples, Jesus used bread and the "fruit of the vine," as symbols of his body and blood which were soon to be rendered as an atonement for sin. He broke off portions from the unleavened bread and offered them to His disciples to eat, saying, "This is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." Later, he shared with them a common cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me" (1 Cor. 11:24-25).

As the Passover feast was established as an everlasting memorial for the Jew, Jesus proclaimed his last supper as an ordinance for His followers — a memorial supper to be observed until His return. "This do... in remembrance of me... For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes" (1 Cor. 11:26).

Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper as a continual practice for His followers for several reasons, of which here are four:

(1) To remember His suffering & Covenant (1 Cor. 11:24-25). Jesus did not want His followers to grow forgetful of the great sacrifice He paid for them, and the incredible testament of salvation which we received.

(2) To Proclaim His death till He returns (1 Cor. 11:26). The enactment of this supper, to be repeated over and over, continually emphasized the essential fact of His death, portrayed the reasons why, and served as a reminder of His second coming.

(3) To take self examination of our lives (1 Cor. 11:28). Jesus instituted this supper as a very holy moment, for us to consider the state of our own heart before God. As we approach the sacredness of His body and blood, we weigh our heart against the awesomeness of His sacrifice. In this humble state, any faults, imperfections and sins come to realization, allowing us to confess them and obtain His forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

(4) To discern or recognize the Lord's body (1 Cor. 11:29). Discernment of the Lord's body is one of the most remarkable truths in the Bible. Jesus served His disciples bread and wine as symbols of the divine merger which took place between Himself (His sufferings) and His followers. By becoming one with Jesus, we merge into one body, which brings about a unique effect: His body becomes ours, and our body becomes His. Christ's followers are enabled to appropriate the substitution of His body in the place of their own on the cross, while they substitute their body in the place of His on the earth.

Discernment of the Lord's body first brings recognition to how He became "our" body of sin for us, suffering and dying as the substitute for our sins. Peter wrote that Jesus "bore our sins in His own body on the tree..." (1 Pet. 2:24), and Paul said, God "...made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us..." (2 Cor. 5:21). Secondly, it also takes in account how that all believers become "His" body here on the earth. Paul wrote, "Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually" (1 Cor. 12:27). Later, to the church of Ephesus he said, "For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones" (Eph. 5:30). Paul also said our body is God's temple, that His Holy Spirit dwells in every believer (1 Cor. 3:16).

How important it is for believers to fully discern both elements of Christ's body. Jesus gave a solemn warning that to partake of the sacredness of the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner, perhaps with unconfessed sin in our lives or without a proper estimation of the Lord's body, would make us guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. He also explained that some may become sickly or die prematurely, because they have not properly discerned the Lord's body (1 Cor. 11:29).

Christ's strength and blessing is connected with the value we place on this divine merger between His bodily sufferings, and His body, the church. This is consistent with other scripture, where Jesus made it clear that He combined His identity with the church. In fact, He views any actions toward His people, as actions toward Himself, saying that whatever we do for the "least" of our brethren, we have done it unto Him (Matt. 25:40). Elsewhere, other passages confirm that a right relationship with Christ is not possible without a right relationship with our Christian brothers. John wrote, "If someone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also" (1 John 4:20-21).

Furthermore, how is it possible to separate Christ's sufferings from the people for which He suffered? Since "the value of anything is established by what it can be traded for," Jesus clearly expressed His value upon God's people by redeeming them with the price of His own life and sufferings. To Jesus, His people are equal to His shed blood and broken body. He views them equally as precious, and dwells in them by His Spirit, making them the body of His hands, fingers and toes through which He ministers in this world (1 Cor. 12:12-27).

Considering these facts, there may be times that Christians have lacked God's strength and healing, either because they failed to discern the atonement of Christ's bodily sufferings in their behalf, or because they did not properly love or value their brethren — the body of Christ. This may explain why the contemporary church has lacked strength, or not risen to its full potential in our world, because in many cases it has tried to value His sufferings without appreciating the whole body of Christ — including His children of different congregations or denominations.

As we partake in the Lord's Supper and consider Christ's precious sufferings, let us also examine our discernment of His body, the church. Do we love the least of our brothers in our fellowship? Do we harbor grudges or unforgiveness? Do we discern the body of Christ in our neighboring congregations? Do we esteem them and love them as a part of the family of God? Jesus said they are His body — they are the great treasure for which He traded His life, they are in whom He dwells by His Spirit. And whatever value we place upon them, is the value we place upon Christ.

"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, being many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread" (1 Cor. 10:16-17).

This article is from the book, What People Ask About the Church, authored and copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1990-2015, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA - Nashville, TN. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple permission form. Many of our writings are also available as free pdf tri-fold pamphlets, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us.