The Lord's Supper

The Lord’s Table: Who and When? (with extended treatment regarding our children coming to the table...)

Debates are always controlled by the definitions. We believe that an excellent definition of the Lord’s Supper is expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith: (a recommended read!)

What is the Lord’s Supper, really?

From the account in Luke 22:15, Christ longs to celebrate a Passover meal with his disciples. During this annual observance, celebrated to recall the history of Israelite redemption from slavery, Jesus, “took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And likewise the cup, after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." (Luke 22:19)

Jesus took the elements of this traditional meal and added a new context: The Passover of Egypt was now to be understood as being intimately connected to his atoning work yet to be accomplished upon the cross.

The disciples took note. The Apostle Paul, after his dialogue with The Twelve (whom he was able to meet) and directed by the Holy Spirit, makes a specific comment upon the tradition as it was observed in Corinth, “When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”(1 Cor. 11:22-23)

The early church adopted a regular tradition of celebrating a meal together that had as its focus the relationship they had with their Lord and fellow believers. In Corinth, their observance of this meal wrongly ended up humiliating members of the church. Paul offers a clarifying statement, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

Here is where the debate rages, what does it mean to “discern the body”?

From this passage in 1 Corinthians 11, if ”the body” refers to some aspect of Jesus Christ being present, or represented in some fashion among the elements of the Lord’s Supper, then the debate will center upon an individual’s spiritual and cognitive ability to appreciate Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

However, if “the body” refers to the “communion of the saints,” or as Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 1:18 & 24; and 1 Corinthians 12:12 state, that Christ’s body is the Church; then “discerning”relates to a participant understanding that they rightly belong to Christ as they rightly interact with other Christians in the Church.

Here is where the debate and resulting conclusions are predicated.

History and Theology

The historic, and classic Presbyterian position on the Lord's Supper communicates the following values: All true believers should partake regularly, and see within the meal, a confirmation of the benefits of Christ applied to them. Believers are spiritually nourished and grow by participating in the observance. It is a reminder of the pledges and duties they have made to Christ and to His Church. The words and elements of the Lord's Supper communicate in the strongest way -- that which is being represented to all the senses IS the REALITY of what Christ has accomplished for the believer and a picture of what they possess spiritually.

The Presbyterian confession offers encouraging words -- TO THE TRUE BELIEVER! Because only true believers have saving faith. Only true believers can inwardly appreciate what the meal represents since they have been "born again." The Confession goes on to say that if an UNbeliver participates in the meal, they receive NO benefit; but in fact, eat and drink judgment upon themselves! They are not "fit" to partake in the meal because they do not "share" in the faith of Christ or His Church. Only true believers "feed upon Christ;" NOT upon any "fleshly" representation of Christ's body or blood in the bread and cup, but feed upon Christ "by faith."

Now the exact phrase: "feed upon Christ by faith," is not found in the Bible, but is derived from some key New Testament passages. John 6, Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you...for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink." The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10, "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" These two passages add to the controversy of the Lord's Table. What does it mean to eat and drink flesh and blood? What does it mean to "participate (share)" in the blood and body? In the Protestant tradition, it is best appreciated by those whose faith us dependent upon all of who Christ is, and did, for an individuals salvation. A faith that apprehends John 6:63, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life."

So the classic standard for who may participate in the Lord's Supper would be as follows: Believers! Those who have faith. True believers set themselves apart not simply by assenting to spiritual truths, but respond with physical devotion by being baptized, and by pledging themselves to a church body (and value the discipline by their church body). This is the absolute minimum that is required.

But this opens the door for more conversation doesn't it? Can't a person be a "true believer" without being baptized? We baptize our children, and our congregation pledges to receive them into the body of Christ -- when do they become true believers?

We come back again to an aforementioned question: Is the Lord's Supper primarily about something going on inside the believer or is about to whom the believer belongs?

Finding Room For More:

I recently read a paper written by someone who wanted to recant. This person had argued against infant baptism his whole life; but he was now convinced that he had argued wrongly. He admitted that he had approached the debate by singling out specific verses in which to build a theology to support his position. One day, he realized that he was building a theology that was confusing – it did not fit everywhere throughout the Bible. He had to keep on making new arguments, stretch meanings, and ignore implications. It all changed when he adopted a new perspective on the Scriptures – Covenant Theology. He learned to accept the Old Testament as a foundation for the New Testament. He saw Israel as the church in her infancy. He accepted the idea that the church could be both physical and spiritual (visible & invisible). Everything made sense now –and he was apologizing for arguing against what now seemed to him to be an obvious interpretation of the entire Bible.

In matters relating to participating in the sacraments, even by the youngest of the church, those who have come to accept Covenant Theology are going to defend their case founded upon the Old Testament examples of the children of Israel participating in regular covenant celebrations.

Boys were circumcised on the eighth day. By this, they became members of Abraham's unique family, inheritors of God's covenant blessings, and members of God’s kingdom. These children were expected to obey the laws of Israel and they were never asked, “"Won't you today invite Jehovah into your heart?"”

Children were to ask questions about their faith, and fathers were to teach them. Most of the questions would be answered in the following way, “So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.” (Numbers 15:40). Children were taught to remember that they were God’s people, set apart as wholly peculiar, and they were to keep the covenant commandments. Is it any wonder that Jesus would repeat at the Last Supper, “Do this in remembrance of me”?

But how can anyone “remember”if they are not being discipled? How can they remember if they never witness a regular observance of the sacraments? How will our children learn if never given the opportunity to ask the questions about their faith?

The New Testament regularly refers to God’s people as His “saints.” They are set apart to worship God, distinct from the rest of the world. Our children are also set apart (1 Cor. 7:14), and like adults, are required to obey God’s commands (unless they are really understood to be “outsiders”1. Cor. 5:12) because from the Old Testament, they were considered a part of the nation (Joshua 8:35), and clearly Jesus thought that the Kingdom of God belonged especially to children (Mark 10:14).

Setting a Standard

And yet “remembering” does not only occur during the time of the actual religious observance. Surely “remembering” is meant to be a moment by moment reality –developing our identity, leading us to holiness.

In the infamous 1 Corinthians 11 passage, there is a “judgment” section (29-35). Christians are different from the world, and are subject to a different standard of judgment. The Apostle Paul established this distinction earlier in his letter to the Corinthian church, “I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler- not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you." (1 Cor. 5:11-13). Christians are disciplined by the Church because although they are not the intended recipients of God’s wrath (1 Thes. 5:9), they are still required to abide by God’s commandments as a sign of their desire to please God and encourage the body of believers.

How does this type of discipline take place? If an adult member is under church discipline, he should not partake of the Supper – if blatantly sinning, he is not acting like a member –he is not remembering that he is a saint (holy). He must repent of his sins and live again to please the LORD.

But what about a young child? What do we do with the baptized child who does not obey mom or dad at home? What if this same child has problems obeying anyone, including God's standards? What if he can’t sit still in church? At what point do we permit a child to partake of the meal, and yet exercise the discipline to which all church members are subject?

While we affirm that children, in their baptism, belong to the family of God – set apart as holy; we must equally consider that proper “discipline” is also a function of training our children to identify with the body of Christ. As we rightly expect a certain standard of obedience from our adult members, we should also expect an “appropriate” standard for the youngest members of the body of Christ. Here is a list of standards we believe to be appropriate for ALL members of “The Body”of Christ: Those coming to the Table must:
- Be baptized
- Be a member "in good standing" of a Christian church *
- Be a "True Believer"

- Heed the admonitions of the Words of Institution and the words of the presiding Elders**
- “Remember” the “body of Christ”by recognizing that "communion" with the Lord is not simply a "litugical movement" in a church service, but a daily pursuit of God's commands and a daily need to humbly confess and repent of sins.
- As children – should never be “hindered”(meaning they should witness the regular observance of the sacraments so that they will ask questions about the faith, and THEIR faith)!
- As children – should be regarded as “covenant members”of the church through their baptism and members of the body with their parent(s)
- As children – should be treated as any church member -- under the authority and blessing of the Elders who are called to determine the sincerity of each member's faith and devotion***

These words are submitted for your consideration and edification. As with all the “buttons”listed on our home page, we are only addressing them briefly. For much more comments and clarification, please contact us. Again, we recommend further readings on this topic at

God bless you, and the communion of the saints!

* We agree with the Westminster Confession that some churches are more “pure” than others. Being “pure” represents every aspect of a church’s theology, practice, morality, spirituality, etc. As we are an historic, confessional, and Reformed church, it is our preference for a Christian to be a member of such a body. While we affirm the “communion of the saints,” we do have some “differences” with other churches outside of our tradition. We would be happy to share those “distinctive doctrines.” For more on this, please contact us. To find out with whom our denomination has “fraternal relations”visit:

** Words of Institution: For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Cor. 11:24-27) For more on this from our denomination’s website, visit:

*** The Elders of ARP churches are responsible for admitting people to the Table of ARP churches, “they exercise government and discipline. They oversee the spiritual interests both of the particular congregation and of the Church generally… “(For more, visit:



The early church adopted a regular tradition of celebrating a meal together that had as its focus the relationship they had with their Lord and fellow believers.

The words and elements of the Lord's Supper communicate in the strongest way -- what is being represented to all the senses IS the reality of what the believer possesses spiritually.

Boys were circumcised on the eighth day. By this, they became members of God's kingdom. They were expected to obey the laws of Israel and they were never asked, "Won't you today invite Jehovah into your heart?"

If an adult member is under church discipline, he should not partake of the Supper -- if blatantly sinning, he is not acting like a member -- he is not remembering that he is a saint (holy). He must repent of his sins and live again to please the LORD.