Why We Won’t Have Online Communion

"Many churches will work to adapt their normal practices to online formats, including the Lord’s Supper. We, too, have worked to provide continuity of worship and Bible study via the internet, yet we will not be making the same provision for the Lord’s Supper. Here are three reasons why." - GARBC

5437 reads

There are 63 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The gist of reason #2 seems to be that if we can't do it right, we shouldn't do it at all. I agree with that, but it's not clear to me why we necessarily couldn't figure out how to do it right from our homes. I can't see how the first reason speaks to the "online or not" question at all. The third is on point, but why would Christians, of all people, insists that we're not really together unless we're together physically? I'm open to that possibility, but it's not at all obvious to me. Maybe someone can help me see it? (I accept that digital presence isn't as good... but in these times, we don't get to choose "as good;" we get to choose what's possible.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

TylerR's picture

Editor

My knee-jerk reaction is to say no. But, the pragmatic side of me says ... why not?

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Don Johnson's picture

I agree, the first two "reasons" had me going, "What? Nothing there." The third one makes a valid point.

I think overall we need to be careful about communicating that our online services are some kind of substitute for church meetings. They church really can't function properly without gathering together. The church can limp along with a kind of substitute for the normal gatherings, but it is just limping along.

The first Sunday we are back together is going to be a great day of rejoicing.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Mr. Ed's picture

To many people in Christian circles the observance of the Lord's Supper has some kind of mystical meaning.  Even in our Baptist churches there is the tendency to feel that one must observe the Lord's Supper in order to be in communion with the Lord.  We do not need the Lord's Supper in order to examine ourselves, the observance of the Lord's supper does nothing to forgive sins.  If we truly believe that the Lord's Supper is just a memorial observance and the elements are nothing more that bread/crackers and juice the question just comes down to when and where it is done.  Some churches do it every week, some once a month, some once a quarter, etc.  There is no requirement as to how often.  There is the idea as to when you come together into one place or when the church meets.    

When I was a pastor of a Union Church, I found a home "communion" kit.  (I dislike the term mainly because of the idea many have of this being a sacrament).  I did not like the idea of taking this into someone's home (shut-in) or hospital visits.  To offer some type of compromise, I asked that another member of the body be present with me and the shut-in.    If I was ever in the position to be unable to attend a church and observe the Lord's Supper as a body of believers, it would never bother me because I know there is no means of grace contained in the observance.  Then the question comes up about how much authority or say power the clergy has over the people.  I believe in the priesthood of the believer and position of pastor, but that all are equal before the Lord when it comes to relationship to Him.

Larry's picture

Moderator

The gist of reason #2 seems to be that if we can't do it right, we shouldn't do it at all. I agree with that, but it's not clear to me why we necessarily couldn't figure out how to do it right from our homes.

Overall, I am not impressed by the article. But to this point of Aaron's, I would say if we aren't doing it right, then we aren't doing it all. There is only one way to do communion. In a sense, this is similar to baptism and those who would say, "If we don't have enough water to immerse, we will just baptize by sprinkling." The answer is "No. You will not baptize by sprinkling because it won't be baptism."

It's like someone trying to make a square while only having three sticks. "Well, we will just make a three-sided square." The answer is "No. There is no such thing. What you will make a triangle." Triangles are good. They simply are not squares. So in this case, if  we can't do the Lord's Supper as the Bible prescribes, then we can't make a three-sided square and call it the Lord's Supper.

TylerR's picture

Editor

You wrote:

So in this case, if  we can't do the Lord's Supper as the Bible prescribes, then we can't make a three-sided square and call it the Lord's Supper.

By your logic we cannot do virtual meetings with the congregation, then? Is this worship, in any sense of the word? Should we bother to open with prayer during virtual meetings, then? Should underground believers in China forsake meeting virtually, because it isn't authentic? Can they ever observe the Lord's Supper properly, then?

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

Virtual "meetings"? No because they aren't meetings really. I think one of the dangers during this time is creating substitutes that aren't really substitutes. We need to guard against long term damage to solve a short term probably. I hope we are seeing the inefficiency and "un-idealness" of these virtual kinds of things.

There is plenty of  NT warrant for Bible teaching, praying, and singing apart from the gathered assembly. There is no NT warrant that I am aware of for communion outside the assembly. In the NT, communion is proclamation of our unity in Christ by participating together in a memorial using elements. It is specified that it is "when you come together." There is no evidence that it was ever done apart. In fact, the very meaning of it (unity in one body) cannot be communicated apart. 

I think underground churches in China don't meet virtually, but they are also house churches in which the assembly is the group that meets in the house. So yes, they can observe the Lord's Supper properly as an assembly.

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

You are ill-informed about what is going on in China. Members of the Early Rain Church, for example, have been meeting virtually since their church was shut down. I wonder if they could ever celebrate the Lord's Supper, according to your definition. How many people need to be gathered together in order for it to be legit? Is a family unit enough? If not, how many people would you require?

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Don Johnson wrote:

I think overall we need to be careful about communicating that our online services are some kind of substitute for church meetings. They church really can't function properly without gathering together. The church can limp along with a kind of substitute for the normal gatherings, but it is just limping along.

I would agree with you that churches are limping right now, but some of the arguments against doing anything remotely add up to "OK church, you're limping.  We refuse to hand out crutches, so since you're not completely healthy, you're just going to have to do without any helps at all."  We have tools now that earlier generations did not have, and we should evaluate carefully what makes sense to do in a reduced capacity.  The argument about no communion seems to me to resemble the arguments put forth by some as to why they won't have video messages or online services.  I think the majority of the church members "get" that this is no viable long-term replacement for the assembled church, but refusing to make any accommodations at all is cutting off one's nose to spite the face.

I'm also sympathetic to the idea that it's better to wait for when we again reassemble to have the Lord's supper, as it would also seem to me like something is "off" doing it outside a church context.  However, at the time of the Last Supper, the Lord celebrated communion with just the 12, even though there were a number of other disciples local to that area.  That would indicate to me that the celebration does not require the entire church to be present to be valid.  In addition, the Jerusalem church being about 5000 members in Acts also had the notation that they were "breaking bread from house to house" rather than as an assembled group at the local colosseum.  Maybe that was more fellowship meals than the Lord's supper, but I've seen good arguments claiming the latter.  Either way, I don't think this is quite as simple as some want to claim.

As an aside, we also do baptisms with the assembled church, but there are definitely examples in the NT of doing it outside a church.  I'm sure some will claim that that was only because there was no church in the area, but isn't that the point here as well?  We don't have churches we can assemble in right now, but since the true church is the believers rather than a building, I would think that would mean we can find ways to do church ministry among the members, even when they can't be together.

Quote:

The first Sunday we are back together is going to be a great day of rejoicing.

Absolutely!

Dave Barnhart

TylerR's picture

Editor

The tendency is to be inflexible and rigid. The other tendency is to embrace new things without conscious reflection. Every pastor will come to different conclusions, in his own context, with his own resources. One thing I am fairly certain about is that our brothers and sisters abroad have had to think through "doing church" in exigent circumstances far more thoroughly than we have.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

You are ill-informed about what is going on in China.

Ill-informed? Hardly. I would say I am not informed at all at present. I am speaking historically from the ministry opportunities I had with China and the fact that China reportedly keeps a very tight control on the internet. So I am glad to be corrected if I am wrong. It makes no difference to my point.

Members of the Early Rain Church, for example, have been meeting virtually since their church was shut down.

So it sounds like many of them are in difficult circumstances as well.

I wonder if they could ever celebrate the Lord's Supper, according to your definition.

I would say No.

How many people need to be gathered together in order for it to be legit? Is a family unit enough? If not, how many people would you require?

This is a straw man. It has nothing to do with number. It has to do with the body asssembling, a meeting where the body assembles.. Have they come together? There is no quorum. There is no number. There is a body. The question is, Is the church gathered together to celebrate their unity in Christ?

Larry's picture

Moderator

Every pastor will come to different conclusions, in his own context, with his own resources. 

This might be, but I wonder if this is legitimate. If Scripture has said something, shouldn't we all come to the same conclusion about it? 

Chuck Rawsthorne's picture

It certainly does seem "odd" to do it if we have not "come together", a phrase which appears 3 or 4 times in I Corinthians 11.  I am not sure I would do it "online" or virtually, but also wonder if we would feel the same way if having the Lord's Supper and we have an overflow crowd in another room, watching and participating by video?  Or, I would guess some churches with satellite campuses that may all watch the same pastor...are they gathering though they are not in the same building?  I would need the Lord to give me more wisdom and I certainly think we can be patient and wait.  My concern, like someone mentioned, is that people begin to think there is something "mystical" or extra spiritual to partaking and missing it one month is doing something wrong (and not every church even does it every month. 

CRR

Larry's picture

Moderator

I am not sure I would do it "online" or virtually, but also wonder if we would feel the same way if having the Lord's Supper and we have an overflow crowd in another room, watching and participating by video?

In such a case, they are all still assembled, right? Same place, same time, altogether.

Or, I would guess some churches with satellite campuses that may all watch the same pastor...are they gathering though they are not in the same building? 

The bigger question here is are they one body to start with? I would lean towards no. i think there are problems with multisite churches that have been too easily glossed over. 

Bert Perry's picture

I'm glad Tyler mentions China, because when we consider the propriety of having the Lord's Supper in house churches/among families, we've got to consider the experience of the early church, as well as the experience of afflicted believers all over the world today--not just in China.

And that experience is, at least according to some of the historians I've read, house churches.  So count me in as an enthusiastic "yes" for home communion, especially considering that the witness of the New Testament seems to indicate some level of tribulation (and falling away) in the days before the great tribulation.  

I also appreciated the thought of why it's important to do some things imperfectly--the perfect being the enemy of the good, as the proverb goes.  For that matter, let's consider who was at the first Communion; 13 guys, one of whom was eminently not eligible to partake, all of whom had yet to realize what Christ was getting at in His teaching to the full extent.  Sounds a lot to me like Christ was telling us to be willing to do things imperfectly.

Side note; I'm vaguely aware of what the persecuted church is going through in China, but will cheerfully admit I'm not fully aware, either. I also think it would be a great thing if American believers would spend some more time with people who have worshipped in house churches in China and maybe learn some new tricks.  If it's the race we just might end up running, we might as well start training, no?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

I'm glad Tyler mentions China, because when we consider the propriety of having the Lord's Supper in house churches

I am not aware of anyone who would object to communion in a biblical house church. Certainly not me. That's not the issue. The question at hand is whether a church can observe communion when they are not gathered as a church. 

If someone thinks the biblical instructions concerning "when you come together" can be dispensed with, then I think they should tell us the biblical reason why.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Why isn't a video meeting a real meeting? Why isn't it "coming together"?

Are the people not real? Are they not really seeing and hearing each other? Are they not really interacting? If they do something at the same time is it not real simultaneity?

The only thing missing is physical proximity. It's a big thing, but is it big enough to make the rest "not real"? Why? Why does it have that meaning and power?

I'm not sure the lack of physical proximity doesn't de-realize all the other features of togetherness, but I don't know why I should think it does either. 

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Why isn't a video meeting a real meeting? Why isn't it "coming together"? ...

Some wise person said:

The only thing missing is physical proximity.

And as has been said, "It is a big thing."

I would not say it isn't a real meeting. I would say it isn't coming together. I can't imagine we need to argue for that since it is, be definition, not together. If it was together, we wouldn't need Zoom or Facebook Live or some other software for it. We would be together. The reason we need these things is because we aren't together.

Bert Perry's picture

Beyond physical proximity, I don't see a whole lot of instructions beyond fencing off the Lord's Supper from those in unrepentant sin and recognizing the very real presence of the Lord in what the church is doing.  And regarding physical proximity, it also strikes me that if what I've read about church history is correct, there most likely would have been a lot of small house churches starting to meet when critical pastors and leaders were sent to the Circus Maximus.  So I'm not altogether convinced that a lack of proximity for "the whole church" is really something that our forefathers in faith would have recognized as a real barrier to the Lord's Supper.

But on the light side, if we posit that they always met at a church, and that the mode of the Lord's Supper is very critical, then we would assume that it is also very critical that the elements be exactly the same as in the Upper Room.  That means barley bread, not wheat, since Jesus was poor and barley was cheaper, and it was also 18 centuries before Thomas Welch was born and half a year after the grape harvest.  Just sayin'.  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

We're not doing the Lord's Supper online, but plan to do it when we return on 09 May. However, if this were extended into June, I would re-consider. We typically do it once per month.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mr. Ed's picture

" That's not the issue. The question at hand is whether a church can observe communion when they are not gathered as a church. "

 

How many of you would say we need a church to have the Lord's Supper?  Why can't I as a believer do this anytime I want to in my own home?  Can a church that is between pastors observe this without a clergyman present?  

Joeb's picture

My church being made up of house churches who all meet together one Sunday at a Girls and boys club and then meets together on the next Sunday at the individual house churches.  Unfortunately I don't know how to set up Zoom so I have been going to Bedside Baptist for a couple of weeks.  I finally got Zoom up and running and attended my house church Zoom meeting yesterday.  We had communion over Zoom and it went well.  So I don't see a problem with it but agree it's up to the Senior Pastor of each church to make that call.  

Larry's picture

Moderator

How many of you would say we need a church to have the Lord's Supper?

I would (obviously) because there is no scriptural indication otherwise. Where in the NT is the Lord's Supper celebrated outside the assembly of the church?

Why can't I as a believer do this anytime I want to in my own home?

Because you are not a church. You can't celebrate your unity as a body with people that you are not unified with. You can have bread and juice or even wine and remember the Savior's sacrifice for us. But that isn't the Lord's Supper.

 Can a church that is between pastors observe this without a clergyman present?  

Of course, because it is a church ordinance, not a pastor's ordinance. Sacerdotalism is not biblical. Communion is communion because of who does it (the church in assembly) and what it means (remembering the Savior's sacrifice for us and the unity it has brought to us.

Larry's picture

Moderator

And regarding physical proximity, it also strikes me that if what I've read about church history is correct, there most likely would have been a lot of small house churches starting to meet when critical pastors and leaders were sent to the Circus Maximus.  So I'm not altogether convinced that a lack of proximity for "the whole church" is really something that our forefathers in faith would have recognized as a real barrier to the Lord's Supper.

A house church is a whole church. Surely in times past and in many places today, a local body is a house church without a building of its own. That is hardly a drawback to being a church. The Bible never defines a church by owning a building or even a meeting place. It defines a church other ways. So should we.

 if we posit that they always met at a church

I think what you mean is "met at a church building." And no, that wasn't always the case. But as above, having a church building is not a necessary component of being a church. This where language gets slippery because of imprecision. People use "church" when they mean "church building." Thus, confusion occurs.

...we would assume that it is also very critical that the elements be exactly the same as in the Upper Room.  That means barley bread, not wheat, since Jesus was poor and barley was cheaper, and it was also 18 centuries before Thomas Welch was born and half a year after the grape harvest.  

I think it's pretty important that the elements be what the NT says they are: Bread and Cup. The Bible doesn't specify barley vs. wheat and doesn't specify Welch's vs. something else. Those are simply made up things. 

Again, the issue is whether or not we are free to remake divinely ordained acts of corporate worship into things that reflect our own thinking or acceptability? Or are we bound to do it the way God has said to do it? Does God get to regulate worship in his church? Or do we?

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Larry wrote:

I would not say it isn't a real meeting. I would say it isn't coming together. I can't imagine we need to argue for that since it is, be definition, not together. If it was together, we wouldn't need Zoom or Facebook Live or some other software for it. We would be together. The reason we need these things is because we aren't together.

I'm still trying to work through for myself whether "together" can be virtual or not.  Our church hasn't done services with Zoom or anything live like that, though we have had messages over YouTube.  However, for the past couple weeks, my family (My parents, all their kids and spouses and nearly all grandchildren) have done a weekly Zoom call.  There is certainly some sense in which we're not together (no hugs or other physical contact, no shared meals, or things like that), but there's no doubt I'm talking with all of them almost exactly as if we were in the same room together at a family gathering.  I'm not sure which way I fall on this, but it is something to think about.

As for technology being necessary, you could also then argue that if the room is large enough that a microphone and sound system are necessary to hear those speaking or leading the worship service, then we're not really together either.  On any given Sunday, I have had less interaction with the pastors in a direct way in large churches I have attended than I might over a Zoom meeting.  In what sense, then, are we really "together?"  I don't think the need for technology can itself be the defining factor.

As to communion in the early church, mentioned by me and at least one other, how big a subset of the church members would you have to have to have communion properly?  It was clear that the early church did some of their functions from house to house.  Would that require more than just the family or extended family living there?  I think it's fairly clear that the entire 5000 or do didn't meet together in one place.  Again, I'm not that comfortable with the idea of communion with just my family, but given what we see in scripture, how many would we have to have to be biblical?

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

Sorry, I just can't go there as a rule, because for starters, Acts records a severe persecution of the church causing its scattering from Jerusalem and Judea.  It would be very unlikely for the overall structure--elders, deacons, etc..--to "cleanly" survive that kind of scattering.  You also have the issue that the church had not (Acts 2) officially constituted at the first Lord's Supper, and for that matter, the migration from apostles to deacons and elders wouldn't really occur for a number of years after Acts 2.  But they celebrated the Lord's Supper.  And in like manner, Christ doesn't say "do this only when you have all the things in place to be a properly constituted church", but rather simply says "do this in remembrance of me."  When Paul sends Timothy to Ephesus, moreover, he did so in order to put elders into place--the churches, again, would not be considered "properly constituted" today, I'd dare suggest.  Various churches in the NT did not have elders, deacons, and the like in place, and Christ would have known that, but still He told the apostles "do this in remembrance of me".  

Really, while I do think it's important to aim for a sound, coherent ecclesiastical structure, there are a number hints in Scripture (another example being 1 Cor. 14) that the overall effect at these churches was in some ways a potluck--some people brought songs, some brought prophecies, some brought teaching, etc..  I don't know that we "need" to go quite back to there, but it's a reality worth considering.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Who said anything about a "fully constituted church"? And what does that even mean?

I do think it's important to aim for a sound, coherent ecclesiastical structure

I would prefer biblical ecclesiastical structure, which would be sound, but I think it is a more precise way of putting it. 

The church in Acts is in formation and transition. Of course there was persecution and time when the elders were probably separated from the body. Of course there were large numbers who probably couldn't gather all in the same place. They didn't have church buildings dedicated to church gatherings. There were times they were without deacons and probably elders. But why do we assume that that has bearing on this question?

As for the churches at Ephesus without elders, the description is typically not "not fully constituted"; it is "out of order." Typically the categories are orderly church, disorderly church, or not a church at all. 

Communion does not require elders or deacons. That is sacerdotalism where an ordinance is made effective because it is administered by a priest or a pastor. The ordinances belong to the churches, not the pastors or the elders. As for a "potluck," modern faithful churches are a potluck as different people serve the body with their differing gifts. I think we absolutely should "go back there." Too many people in the church body are standing around twiddling their thumbs rather than serving with their gifts. I am also in favor of potlucks in other ways. 

Again, I think discussions like this are revealing a weak ecclesiology. We simply don't know the biblical and historic practice of faithful churches. We are not accustomed, as a whole, to dealing with Scripture. We import all sorts of things, probably without realization. And this discussion reveals it: Where in Scripture do we see an unassembled body partaking in communion? The answer is "nowhere." So any argument that we worship through communion without assembling is imported into Scripture. It does not arise from Scripture.

All this is a straw man and a red herring. It distracts from the real issue which is this: Are we free to remake divinely ordained acts of corporate worship into things that reflect our own thinking or acceptability? Or are we bound to do it the way God has said to do it? Does God get to regulate worship in his church? Or do we?

The way we answer that question will likely determine where we come down on this issue.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Dave,

There is certainly some sense in which we're not together (no hugs or other physical contact, no shared meals, or things like that), but there's no doubt I'm talking with all of them almost exactly as if we were in the same room together at a family gathering.

I imagine you feel a sense of limitation and recognize that it is not the same for some of the very reasons you mention. It's not that it's not good or helpful. It's that it isn't the same as being together.

As for technology being necessary,

My argu,ent has nothing to do with technology, though I would point out that even in a large room, you are "really together." in fact, you are so much together that technology is needed to make sure everyone that is together can hear.

As to communion in the early church, mentioned by me and at least one other, how big a subset of the church members would you have to have to have communion properly?

I think the focus on numbers or size is a straw man. That is not the issue. The issue is, "Is this the church?" vs. "Is this part of the church?" A church of 10 is a church just like a church of 10,000. Both can rightly celebrate communion. It's the same reason I wouldn't serve communion at school, camp, or youth group, a wedding, etc. It is an act of the gathered assembly--when you come together.

Bert Perry's picture

...what are the criteria as you see them, Larry? 

Really, what you're doing is arguing from silence, which is a generally dangerous and usually logically invalid way of addressing a point, especially the Lord's Supper.  You've got not very many examples of it in Scripture--the Last Supper and Paul's rebuke to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 11:20 come to mind--but for developing a theology of the Lord's Supper, that's awfully thin in terms of evidence, and awfully full in terms of the assumptions you're making.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

You wrote:

Again, I think discussions like this are revealing a weak ecclesiology. We simply don't know the biblical and historic practice of faithful churches. We are not accustomed, as a whole, to dealing with Scripture. We import all sorts of things, probably without realization.

It would be helpful if you didn't impugn everyone who disagrees with you as being weak in ecclesiology!

You wrote:

And this discussion reveals it: Where in Scripture do we see an unassembled body partaking in communion? The answer is "nowhere." So any argument that we worship through communion without assembling is imported into Scripture. It does not arise from Scripture.

By your logic, I can say the following:

Where in Scripture do we see a pastor using a microphone? The answer is "nowhere." So any argument that a pastor use a microphone is imported into Scripture. It does not arise from Scripture.

Our regional GARBC association is fairly split on the issue. These are guys with graduate training who are convictional Baptists. Some pastors are doing it, others are not. Our church is not.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Pages