But if the church lives by Scripture and must constantly reform itself in the light of
Scripture, then it may be useful to place alongside our contemporary practices some
principles that appear to us to be scriptural and relevant to the modern understanding of
the Lord's Supper. These will be stated briefly in thesis form.
(I) In line with what appears to have been the practice of the early church in the New
Testament the Lord's Supper should be celebrated frequently in the church, and there is
good reason for doing so on each Lord's Day.
(2) The New Testament links the exposition of the Scriptures and apostolic teaching
with the celebration of the Lord's Supper; the Supper ought always to be an occasion for
the preaching of the Word.
(3) The New Testament says nothing about who should conduct or celebrate the sacrament,
and there is no evidence whatever that anything corresponding to our modern
"ordination" was essential. The celebration of the sacrament today should not be
confined to those ordained to the ministry by the laying on of hands but should be open to
any believer authorized by the church to do so.
(4) The New Testament says nothing about any particular conditions for participation in
the sacrament beyond a willingness to come to Christ in faith and with love for other
believers. The Lord's Supper today should be open to all who wish to feed on Christ and
profess faith in him. This implies that unbaptized believers may take part, although it
would be normal for such persons to undergo baptism without delay. It also means that
there should be no barriers of age; what matters is faith and an understanding of what is
happening appropriate to the age of the participant.
(5) The New Testament welcomes sinners to the Lord's table but also warns against
unworthy participation in a spirit of frivolity or lovelessness. The church today in
maintaining an "open table" should also remind participants of the solemn
implications of the sacrament.
(6) The Lord's Supper in the New Testament is a meal. The appropriate setting for the
sacrament is a table, and the appropriate posture in our western culture is sitting. To
describe the central piece of furniture as an altar is completely unjustified in terms of
the New Testament understanding of the meal.
(7) The New Testament envisages the use of one loaf and a common cup. It would be good
to maintain this symbolism today. Where a common cup is not practicable, the communicants
may partake simultaneously. The practice whereby each person breaks a piece off a common
loaf or is handed a piece broken by the celebrant or his neighbor would helpfully
symbolize the breaking of bread and the unity of the church.
(8) The New Testament does not indicate that the bread and the cup were 'consecrated'
in any way for the sacrament. Neither the practice of offering the elements to God nor
that of offering a prayer of epiclesis for the Spirit to bless the elements has any
foundation in Scripture.
(9) In the New Testament the essential elements in the Breaking of Bread were
thanksgiving and distribution of the bread and cup in turn to the accompaniment of the
interpretative sayings. In the church today we are heirs of a rich collection of prayers
and other liturgical forms which elaborate on these essentially simple acts. The church
today should beware lest it loses the simplicity and directness of the New Testament
pattern. If, on the one hand, it is regrettable that sonic branches of the church fail to
make use of the help and inspiration that can be drawn from the treasury of liturgy and
hymnody, it is also, on the other hand, regrettable if adherence to a fixed and elaborate
form of service is made the norm in other branches of the church.
(10) The New Testament celebration of the Lord's Supper included, at least on some
occasions, an expression of the unity and love of believers. The inclusion of some symbol
of unity appropriate to our culture, such as shaking hands, and of some expression of
concern for the needy, such as the giving of money for charitable purposes, Is desirable
(11) The New Testament itself recognizes the difficulties that arose when the Lord's
Supper was part of a common church meal. Nevertheless, the linking of the Supper with a
meal may offer a form of fellowship that could contribute to the edification of the church
(12) The New Testament links together past, present and future in the significance of
the Lord's Supper; it looks back to the death of Jesus for our salvation, it rejoices in
the gift of present salvation and fellowship with the risen Lord, and it looks forward to
his coming and the inauguration of the heavenly banquet. The church today needs to ask
whether it does justice to all these elements and thus celebrates the Supper with real
thanksgiving and fullness of joy.
This excerpt comes from Last Supper and Lord's Supper, Eerdmans
Pub. Co., 1980, pp.155-157, and is used with permission.