Who Should Eat the Lord’s Supper?
By Rick Owen
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger;
and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
If the Lord’s Supper symbolically communicates the redemption that comes through Christ our Passover under the New Covenant (1 Cor. 5:7; 11:26), then it seems appropriate to invite all comers (including unbelievers) to participate in the meal. We invite and welcome everyone to participate in prayers, songs, Scripture reading, preaching, teaching and discussion. Why not the “gospel feast?” This idea, of course, excludes false teachers and professing believers in moral rebellion, whose known conduct brings reproach upon the name of Christ and spiritual decay to the church. Such persons should not be allowed to attend or participate in any part of the church’s meetings (Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:28-31; 1 Cor. 5:1-2, 11, 13; Titus 1:11; 2 Thess. 3:10; 2 Peter 2:13; Jude 1:12).
The admonition to love and follow Christ should run through everything we do in the church. Shouldn’t it connect with the Lord’s Supper too? An open invitation to participate makes more sense when the Supper is viewed as a real fellowship meal to be shared in hospitality as a Christ-centered love feast. Excluding others from the meal and leaving them hungry was part of the very problem Paul rebuked in 1 Corinthians 11. The “worthy manner” which honored Christ, demonstrated the gospel of grace and showed proper regard for His brethren was acceptance and inclusion. Jesus ate freely with sinners. I believe we should encourage sinners to eat with Jesus. This is consistent with the free offer of the gospel (Isa. 55:1; John 4:10; 6:35, 53-58; Rev. 21:6; 22:1, 17).
Most churches, however, no longer practice the Lord’s Supper as a real meal; they have turned it into a token meal. This carries paltry implications. Instead of making it possible for a person to eat until he or she is satisfied, the chip-and-sip ritual provides no meal at all. It pictures tiny provision and perhaps just a wee place for God to fill. This is not consistent with other biblical feasts that represented God’s generous provision in meeting mankind’s deepest need for fellowship with God. The Lord's Supper should represent Christ's plentiful redemption and gracious fellowship (cf. Rev. 3:20).
Both the Old Covenant and New Covenant are full of feasting with God and Christ in robust, tangible, visceral worship. Worship involves all of our faculties and senses as we abandon the whole of our lives to God in service to one another (Rom. 6:13, 22; 12:1ff). "They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:46-47, NIV). It appears from this passage that unbelievers were coming to faith in Christ in a setting where believers were breaking bread in hospitable fellowship and joyful worship (cf. 1 Cor. 14:24-25). It is hard to imagine that anyone present would have been sidelined as an observer of the meal and allowed to go hungry. ("Lord's Supper Logic," linked below, shows that breaking bread, the sharing of a meal, was the Lord's Supper, and vice versa, when Christians gathered for fellowship in the NT.)
God’s hospitality pursues and welcomes strangers (Luke 14:16, 21-23; Heb. 13:2). He provides for and feeds His enemies (Rom. 5:10; 12:20). Jesus washed the feet of Judas and broke bread with him “on the night He was betrayed” (John 13:5, 10b-11; 18-27; 1 Cor. 11:23). He set an example for His disciples to follow. Like Jesus, they were to humble themselves to serve “unclean” sinners and love one another (John 13:13-17, 34-35). “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Not only may everyone come to Christ and eat by faith, each person must come to Christ. Jesus is the true Bread from heaven upon whom we must spiritually feed by faith or we will perish. Just as earthly food is necessary for mortal life, Jesus Christ is essential as spiritual food for eternal life. The Lord’s Supper represents this truth well. It seems to be the perfect occasion to compel hungry hearts to enter into the abundant life of joyous feasting with Jesus and His people.
"The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.'
And let the one who hears say, 'Come.'
And let the one who is thirsty come;
let the one who desires take the water of life without price."
For further study and reflection:
Church as a Meal
Who Ordered The Change?
Lord’s Supper Logic
The Lord's Supper: Rehearsal Dinner for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb
The Lord's Table (blog series by Dr. Eric Svendsen)