Can I observe communion with my family or Christian friends?
In last week’s blog, I encouraged every serious follower of Jesus, especially parents and grandparents, to begin the practice of briefly articulating in writing what they believe on all things Christian. It’s a practice I call writing Jesus speeches.
The following is an example of something I wrote recently in response to this question: “I’m not ordained. But, can I serve communion to my family or observe it with a group of Christian friends outside of the church?”
The Bible gives very few guidelines for how communion is to be “done” outside of the gospels and in I Cor. 11. In the early churches, communion was never a ceremony in a church building. It was a potluck meal – a “supper”, served in a home. They usually began like the first communion, one person broke a loaf of bread in half or pieces, saying a prayer of remembrance for Christ’s body broken for us, and passed the pieces to everyone else, with great reverence. Then they ate their meal.
After the meal, they prayed and passed a cup of wine around for everyone to drink. Just like Jesus did. “Likewise the cup, after supper saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:20. So, what else must a Christian consider before observing communion on their own?
Paul gives us these additional warnings and reminders in I Cor. 11:17-34 that we would do well to consider before serving or taking communion.
Take communion, the breaking of bread and drinking the wine seriously and reverently.
Don’t start eating your meal before anyone else.
Share all food in common so that no poorer person is hungry while others have plenty.
Don’t drink too much wine when it’s passed or with the meal, so that anyone is intoxicated.
Keep observing this practice until Jesus comes back.
Don’t take communion with unconfessed, unrepentant sin in your life. It’s what Paul calls, “In an unworthy manner.” Therefore, before you take communion, have a time of self-examination to allow the Holy Spirit to convict you of any sin.
In fact, if you do not take the warnings Paul says about self-examination and confession seriously, you may get sick and some people in Paul’s day and presumably even today, actually died. However, if we are honest and contrite before God, we will not be judged by him.
Communion is only for believers. We should actually warn non-believers, to not take communion. If you have family members and you’re not sure they are being born again, I would probably not do communion at all, as to not embarrass them or tempt them to commit this sin. Either that or I’d talk to them privately beforehand about abstaining.
Guidelines for communion done out of the church
If you’re going to observe communion outside your church, I’d recommend the following:
1. Talk to your pastor first to see if your church prohibits communion outside of the church, or by un-ordained people. Even though I believe the Bible has no such restrictions, if you are a member of a church you have put yourself voluntarily under their authority and as such you personally may not have this freedom.
2. Ask yourself why you are wanting to serve your family or a small group communion. Is your motive convenience or faithfulness?
3. Consider doing the ceremony around a meal as the early church did. This is not a feast it’s a meal of remembrance, the primary purpose for which is to “remember and believe” – spiritual nourishment, not stuffing yourself. I wouldn’t serve communion in a restaurant simply because of all the other distractions around me. I serve bread or a cracker and serve wine or grape juice in an effort to stay as close to the original as possible. I’ve heard of groups serving coke and pizza. It’s not a sin, but I think it cheapens communion.
4. Make a big deal of it. This is serious business observing a God’s death for us. I’m not against normal discussions during the meal, but the actual breaking of bread and drinking the wine should be done in reverence. I or someone leads this time, responding either in Jesus words or Paul’s quotes of Jesus words.
5. After communion is served, talk about it with each other. Share with them some things you had to consider before doing this – the ideas in this blog.
6. I only do this with my family or with groups of Christians, rarely. I prefer the solemnity of a church service, but find there are occasions when it feels right, like when we’re on vacation and can’t be in our church when they are observing communion. In those times, I felt tied to both our church, the early church and Christ himself, as it should be.
What gives me (or us) the authority to do this?
Protestants believe in the priesthood of all believers. No one stands between Jesus and the believer, and we are called to act as Christ’s priests on earth. One portion of scripture on which we lean for this is I Peter 2:9, 5. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” However, some churches have determined that pastors are the new priesthood or there is a hierarchy of this priesthood with pastors at the top. While I respect my pastor’s character and position, I find nothing in the Bible that prohibits thoughtful, spiritually mature, born again followers of Jesus from celebrating the most amazing gift of grace the world has ever experienced!
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Question: What do you think? Do you have any comments, questions, or things I may have forgotten?
Following Jesus in Real Life