Church Online and the Lord’s Supper

by Paul on September 17, 2009

The Lord’s Supper, like Baptism, is part of the Christian practice that varies from denomination to denomination, tradition to tradition.  Some participate in the Lord’s Supper every time their church meets.  Others celebrate the Lord’s Supper once a month or once a quarter.  Some use unleavened bread and wine others use whatever bread and drinking elements they have at hand.  Some celebrate in a church building, others in small home gatherings.  Some are quite formal, others vary casual.  Some believe it is a grace issue, others believe it is an obedience issue.  All have their reasons and most of those reasons are…well…reasonable.

Unfortunately, because of the hardness of our hearts, something we have in common has become something that divides us.  I’m sure that is not what Christ intended.

Like I said before, I can’t address all the issues surrounding the Lord’s Supper in this post.  Nor do I expect my post to resolve much for most people.  I merely want to look at the observance of the Lord’s Supper within the context of church online.

Let’s get started!

What do we know about the Lord’s Supper?

We know that Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, celebrated Passover with His disciples.  We know that Jesus looked forward to celebrating this last Passover with His disciples.  We know Jesus washed the disciples’ feet before the meal.  We know that Jesus revealed Judas as the betrayer, and that Judas left to betray Jesus, before Jesus took up the cup and bread.  We know that Jesus said He would not celebrate Passover again until it was fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.  We know that Jesus took the cup, gave thanks, and told the disciples to share it.  Jesus said the cup is the new covenant, established by His blood that was shed.  Jesus also said He would not taste of the fruit of the vine again until the Kingdom of God comes.  Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the disciples.  Jesus called the bread His body and said it was given for them.  He told them to eat it in remembrance of Him.

From the Apostle Paul, we know that the church continued to observe the Lord’s Supper – the sharing of bread and cup – after Jesus’ death.  We know that the Lord’s Supper was not for those who continued to worship idols.  We know that the Lord’s Supper was something shared all who were part of ‘the body.’  We know that members of the church came together in one place to have the Lord’s Supper.  We know that the Lord’s Supper was not simply a meal together, but was a separate event that could follow a meal.  We know that the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup was to remember what Christ did and remember the new covenant.  We know that as long as we drink the cup and eat the bread that we declare the Lord’s death until He comes.  We know that some took the Lord’s Supper in a disorderly fashion – some eating too much, some getting drunk, some not eating at all (there was nothing left for them).  According to Paul, this wasn’t the proper way to remember the Lord’s death, the Lord’s Supper was separate from the meals we eat to nourish our bodies.  We know that some had been judged (fell ill and died) because they did not examine their hearts before they participated in the Lord’s Supper and took it in an unworthy manner.  We know that self-examination is an important part of the Lord’s Supper.

I tried to be thorough.  If I missed something, leave a comment.

Essential Elements of the Lord’s Supper

To me, as I look at what we know of the Lord’s Supper, I can identify three essential elements.  We need the cup (I’m not arguing what needs to be in the cup).  We need bread (I’m not arguing what kind of bread).  We need other Believers (I’m not arguing that you have to like them, you just have to love them.  There is a difference.).

Essential Attitudes for the Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper is an act of obedience.  Believers obey Jesus’ command to participate in the Lord’s Supper to remember Him, declare His death, and remember the New Covenant.

The Lord’s Supper is an act of reflection.  Believers reflect on their lives in the light of Christ’s sacrifice.  They examine their motives for being Followers of Christ.

The Lord’s Supper is an act of repentance and forgiveness.  If we find our motives out of sync with Christ, we confess and receive forgiveness so that we can participate in the Lord’s Supper with a pure heart.

The Lord’s Supper is an act of respect for all members of the Body of Christ.  It should unify us in our diversity.

Two Things to Note

The Bible is silent about two things in reference to the Lord’s Supper.  First, it doesn’t tell us how often to observe the Lord’s Supper.  Second it does not tell us where to observe the Lord’s Supper.  It seems that the observation of the Lord’s Supper and the attitude of the believers participating in it, rather than the frequency and place, are the critical things to keep in mind.

The Lord’s Supper and Church Online

Churches online are starting to experiment with what it means to observe the Lord’s Supper in an online community.  Lifechurch.tv recently observed the Lord’s Supper in their online experiences.  People participating in the experience were encouraged to gather some kind of bread and something to fill the cup and set it aside until the portion of the service dedicated to the Lord’s Supper.  At that time, one of the Lifechurch.tv leaders explained the significance of the Lord’s Supper, read one of the passages associated with the Lord’s Supper, and every person involved in the experience, wherever they were, ate their bread and drank from their cup.

Objections

Once again, like with baptism, the biggest objection to celebrating the Lord’s Supper with an online community revolves around the definition of community.  There is the idea that the community of Believers gathers to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  If you do not believe that communities can exist online – that people have to breathe the same air and touch one another to be in community – then you cannot accept the validity of practicing the Lord’s Supper online.   The definition of community is once again the linchpin of this debate.

Exceptions

Once again, the group opposing the Lord’s Supper as part of church online makes exceptions for people with disabilities and for Believers living in areas of high persecution.  I talked about my thoughts on those in my post on Baptism and Church Online.

Other Objections

As with Baptism, I believe there are instances when participating in the Lord’s Supper online might be a problem, and even a sin.  There are some traditions that require the Lord’s Supper to be administered (touched) by a priest or someone of spiritual authority.  If you’ve chosen to operate within one of those traditions, it is impossible for you to experience the Lord’s Supper online.  If you did, you might be in rebellion to the authority you’ve accepted and potentially cause disunity within your tradition.  I’m sure rebellion is an improper motivation for the Lord’s Supper.  If you partake in the Lord’s Supper in this way, you are probably guilty of sin in your own heart.

Even if you do not recognize such authority structures within your tradition, if you feel uncomfortable about participating in the Lord’s Supper online, you shouldn’t do it.  In this situation, if you feel that it is a sin, then it is sin for you.

That being said, I’m not sure either perspective has a Scriptural position to condemn those who participate in the Lord’s Supper online.  As long as the essential elements are in place and people have the proper attitudes, I’m not sure we can condemn them or their actions.  We may be uncomfortable, but our discomfort is not an excuse for passing judgment.

This is assuming, of course, that you think online community is possible.  If you don’t, it’s a moot point.

The Proof is in the Fruit

I guess we need to wait and see if people and churches who practice the Lord’s Supper online fall ill and die.   No, I’m not being flippant.  The proof is always in the fruit and fruit takes time to grow.  Christ will judge how people in online communities celebrate the Lord’s Supper.   I understand the burden of leadership in this area and I accept it.  That doesn’t mean I’m right, but at least I’ve thought it through.  I hope others have as well.

As for me, I prefer offline celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  Like I’ve said before, though, my preferences shouldn’t push a misapplication of Scripture.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.  If you think I missed something, let me know.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • TwitThis
  • E-mail this story to a friend!

This website uses IntenseDebate comments, but they are not currently loaded because either your browser doesn't support JavaScript, or they didn't load fast enough.

Leave a Comment

Previous post: Baptism and Church Online

Next post: The Grossest Misconception of Church Online