Should the Lord's Supper Be Served to Shut-ins?

R.C. Sproul Jr. writes:

"It is most certainly appropriate for the elders of the church to serve communion to members who are, for health or other reasons, unable to attend the gathering of God’s people on the Lord’s Day."

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Chip Van Emmerik's picture

The question I always want to ask when this comes up is, "What is the purpose of Communion?" My objection would be in Sproul's second category. Inviting a few people to join the elder and the shut-in is still not communion. Communion is for the corporate body. Even in the scenario Sproul describes, you are still segmenting the body to celebrate Communion with the shut in.The only way to do this right is to invite the whole church over to the shut-in's house for a a special service. Then I could see doing it. But, again, why are you doing it? Frankly, many Americans have unconsciously attached some kind of mystical association to Communion, a hold-over I believe from Catholicism and Lutheranism. Sproul opens the door to this faulty line of thought with his closing sentence, "Please, bring the means of grace to those who need the means of grace." Go visit. Share a meal. But let's not disrupt the corporate celebration to make ourselves feel like we are doing our duty to the needy in our midst.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

TylerR's picture

Editor

I think you are correct - the crux of the matter is the meaning of the Lord's Supper. Is it a real means of grace (in some form or fashion), or is it symbolic? The answer one has will probably determine whether a shut-in can or ought to be served the Lord's Supper. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Chip,

I fail to see any difference between a group of elders and part of the congregation having communion with a shut-in and having it in the church, unless you insist on only serving communion when every single member and elder is present.

Along those same lines, since the early church had at least 5000 members (and maybe 5000 families) and it was obvious that they met "house to house," I sincerely doubt that the church rented the local colosseum so that they could have the Lord's supper together.

If the purpose of communion is "to show the Lord's death until he come," how is having it with a smaller group (i.e. subset of the church) a problem?

Dave Barnhart

Don Johnson's picture

The fact that Sproul is a sacramentalist should be kept in mind in this discussion. I don't know exactly what kind of sacramental view he takes, but he will believe some kind of grace is conveyed or experienced by partaking of communion, thus making the idea of taking communion to shut-ins.

For those of us who believe communion is an ordinance, we attach no such mystical properties to it. I am not sure that I would agree with Chip that it can only be a corporate thing, but I share his discomfort at the idea that taking communion to shut-ins is necessary. We have to be wary of attaching mystical properties to any ritual of the New Testament church. We worship God in Spirit and in truth (Jn 4.23). Jesus uttered those words after declaring that the Jewish Jerusalem-centric view of worship was correct for the then passing OT age. In the NT, religion is spiritual, not temporal, so even the two prescribed rituals of baptism and communion must be safeguarded from becoming mystical or in any sense a kind of substitute for idolatry.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Christian (Baptist) serving overseas (in Kuwait).  Away from home church for months.  Could take communion (with other Christians), served by a U.S. Army Chaplain (evangelical protestant).

For those who say that communion apart from church body is not acceptable, should/must he abstain during his time overseas?

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

Christian (Baptist) serving overseas (in Kuwait).  Away from home church for months.  Could take communion (with other Christians), served by a U.S. Army Chaplain (evangelical protestant).

For those who say that communion apart from church body is not acceptable, should/must he abstain during his time overseas?

Larry,

In that instance, isn't the local assembly still the one commemorating the Lord's sacrifice? Many of these bases overseas are attended by missionaries planting churches. If there isn't a local assembly, just a traveling chaplain visiting a FOB or something, then I have to go back to my initial question and ask, why are they wanting to hold Communion during a temporary absence from the local assembly? I mean, I don't look to participate in Communion every time I go on vacation or travel for work requires me to visit a distant assembly away from home on the Lord's Day. My personal part in Communion is only a portion of the consideration; my community association with others sharing in the memorial is also part of the consideration. That is why we do this with other believers instead of as part of our own personal devotional time.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

dcbii wrote:

Chip,

I fail to see any difference between a group of elders and part of the congregation having communion with a shut-in and having it in the church, unless you insist on only serving communion when every single member and elder is present.

Along those same lines, since the early church had at least 5000 members (and maybe 5000 families) and it was obvious that they met "house to house," I sincerely doubt that the church rented the local colosseum so that they could have the Lord's supper together.

If the purpose of communion is "to show the Lord's death until he come," how is having it with a smaller group (i.e. subset of the church) a problem?

Dave,

The difference is that no one is being excluded just because some chose not to attend that service, which is why I included the caveat that the whole church could be invited to the shut-in's house. I don' think looking at the very brief and transitional period of early Acts is the best way to formulate your understanding. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Larry Nelson's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:

 

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

 

Christian (Baptist) serving overseas (in Kuwait).  Away from home church for months.  Could take communion (with other Christians), served by a U.S. Army Chaplain (evangelical protestant).

For those who say that communion apart from church body is not acceptable, should/must he abstain during his time overseas?

 

Larry,

 

In that instance, isn't the local assembly still the one commemorating the Lord's sacrifice?

Chip,

I don't know.  You tell me.  What constitutes a local assembly apart from one's home church?  How many believing shut-ins (e.g. nursing home residents) would need to be present to constitute a local assembly for the purpose of partaking in communion?

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:

 

 

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

 

Christian (Baptist) serving overseas (in Kuwait).  Away from home church for months.  Could take communion (with other Christians), served by a U.S. Army Chaplain (evangelical protestant).

For those who say that communion apart from church body is not acceptable, should/must he abstain during his time overseas?

 

Larry,

 

In that instance, isn't the local assembly still the one commemorating the Lord's sacrifice?

 

 

Chip,

I don't know.  You tell me.  What constitutes a local assembly apart from one's home church?  How many believing shut-ins (e.g. nursing home residents) would need to be present to constitute a local assembly for the purpose of partaking in communion?

Larry, 

I was editing this post at the same time you were typing, so I may have answered your question already. If not, I would have to ask what makes a church a church instead of a Bible study?

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Larry Nelson's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:

 

dcbii wrote:

 

Chip,

I fail to see any difference between a group of elders and part of the congregation having communion with a shut-in and having it in the church, unless you insist on only serving communion when every single member and elder is present.

Along those same lines, since the early church had at least 5000 members (and maybe 5000 families) and it was obvious that they met "house to house," I sincerely doubt that the church rented the local colosseum so that they could have the Lord's supper together.

If the purpose of communion is "to show the Lord's death until he come," how is having it with a smaller group (i.e. subset of the church) a problem?

 

Dave,

 

The difference is that no one is being excluded just because some chose not to attend that service, which is why I included the caveat that the whole church could be invited to the shut-in's house. I don' think looking at the very brief and transitional period of early Acts is the best way to formulate your understanding.

Chip, I'm trying to understand what you're saying.  So if the entire church is invited to a shut-in's home to partake of communion, but if none chose to attend, would communion be acceptable for only the shut-in since the invitation to the rest of the church was at least made?

 

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Something no one has commented on yet is Sproul's requirement that Communion be administered by an elder. I think this harkens back to the sacrementalism that I mentioned earlier and Don also highlighted. That stance would presumably also require only an elder to perform baptisms. A more Baptist "tradition" is that the deacons must pass the Communion plates. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

David R. Brumbelow's picture

The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrament. Therefore a shut-in will make it to Heaven by faith in Christ alone, not because of the Lord’s Supper. Of course, only those who have placed their faith in Christ are qualified to partake of the Lord’s Supper.

The Lord’s Supper is one of the Ordinances of the church, not of the individual.

Paul spoke of the Lord’s Supper by saying when you come together as a church, and, when you come together in one place (1 Corinthians 11).

So yes, the Lord’s Supper should be observed at a church service, not with everyone doing their own thing.
David R. Brumbelow

TylerR's picture

Editor

David wrote:

The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrament. Therefore a shut-in will make it to Heaven by faith in Christ alone, not because of the Lord’s Supper

Let's not be too hasty in imputing a position to our Reformed brethren that they don't hold to. There are different degrees of sacrementalism among our brethren who believe the Lord's Supper is a means of grace. Robert Reymond, for instance (a Presbyterian), declares that the Lord's Supper acts as spiritual nourishment for the believer; “[b]y them the crucified Christ spiritually gives himself and his atoning benefits to the believer to strengthen and nurture him," (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd ed. [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998], 961). 

I don't think any of our Reformed brethren would ever dare say that the Lord's Supper has anything to do with salvation. No, the crux of the matter is that they believe the Supper is a means of grace and spiritual nourishment. Thus, to deprive a shut-in believer of this means of grace would be terribly wrong, from their point of view. They also view the preached word as a means of grace (a view I completely sympathize with), and the shut-in will obviously miss out on first-hand exposure to the preaching on the Lord's Day. 

Because I don't see the Lord's Supper as a means of grace per se, but a memorial of Christ's finished work and a promise of His return, I don't see the warrant for bringing the Lord's Supper to shut-ins. It would be far better to do a Pastoral visit and share some Scripture with the person - sort of a one-on-one preaching session. 

I'd be really interested to hear a non-Baptist chime in with a perspective supporting Sproul. This is an interesting and important topic. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Don Johnson's picture

TylerR wrote:

David wrote:

The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrament. Therefore a shut-in will make it to Heaven by faith in Christ alone, not because of the Lord’s Supper

Let's not be too hasty in imputing a position to our Reformed brethren that they don't hold to. There are different degrees of sacrementalism among our brethren who believe the Lord's Supper is a means of grace. Robert Reymond, for instance (a Presbyterian), declares that the Lord's Supper acts as spiritual nourishment for the believer; “[b]y them the crucified Christ spiritually gives himself and his atoning benefits to the believer to strengthen and nurture him," (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd ed. [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998], 961).

Do you think Reymond is AT ALL biblical here?

TylerR wrote:
I don't think any of our Reformed brethren would ever dare say that the Lord's Supper has anything to do with salvation. 

Maybe not, but then why insist that there is something magical about communion? Exactly what does "means of grace" and "spiritual nourishment" mean? Since when is grace (of any kind) obtained by performing a ritual (work)? Supposedly the Reformed are the people of "by faith alone", but unfortunately they are still stuck with a few toes in Rome. It isn't merely a trivial dispute.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

TylerR's picture

Editor

You misunderstood what I said. I am not agreeing with our Reformed brethren. I was merely cautioning folks that Reformed believers do not think that partaking in the Lord's Supper aids in salvation. It would slanderous to say that about them. It is not their position. I also think Reformed Baptists would agree with us about the Lord's Supper being a memorial, not a means of grace. 

Moreover, if someone wants to level that charge against Reformed folks, they should focus on their view of baptism, not the Supper. They view Baptism as signifying the applicational phase of Christ's work, and the Supper as the accomplished phase. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

DavidO's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

Do you think Reymond is AT ALL biblical here?

...why insist that there is something magical about communion? Exactly what does "means of grace" and "spiritual nourishment" mean? Since when is grace (of any kind) obtained by performing a ritual (work)? Supposedly the Reformed are the people of "by faith alone", but unfortunately they are still stuck with a few toes in Rome. It isn't merely a trivial dispute.

So why do we observe the Lord's Supper?  Is it an empty ritual?  Just rote obedience?  Or does it show something and preach Christ in divinely appointed symbol?  If this latter, doesn't something spiritual go on in its observance?  As we consider how bread and wine nourish our physical bodies and remember those words "if you will not eat my flesh and drink my blood . . ." isn't God graciously at work in our hearts strengthening our faith?

Symbolic?  Yes.

Means of grace?  Yes.

Mystical event?  YES!

Don Johnson's picture

DavidO wrote:

So why do we observe the Lord's Supper?  Is it an empty ritual?  Just rote obedience?  Or does it show something and preach Christ in divinely appointed symbol?  If this latter, doesn't something spiritual go on in its observance?  As we consider how bread and wine nourish our physical bodies and remember those words "if you will not eat my flesh and drink my blood . . ." isn't God graciously at work in our hearts strengthening our faith?

Symbolic?  Yes.

Means of grace?  Yes.

Mystical event?  YES!

All right then, as a means of grace, what grace does the participant get that a non-participant doesn't get and why?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

DavidO's picture

The grace that God may work in those who observe the ordinance.

If you take no real issue with my description of the supper, the matter is simple.  If the supper is commanded, even in part, for our benefit, it follows non-observance can mean less benefit received.

 

 

Don Johnson's picture

What is that?

Further, are you saying that the physical act of taking part in communion conveys that grace? Whatever it is?

You appear to be dancing around without actually defining what this supposed grace is. What is it? do you have any biblical terminology to clearly delineate it and how it is procured?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that if we are indeed to do this in remembrance of Him, that perhaps those who are shut in not only can, but ought to partake as a matter of obedience and proclaiming Him.  No?

Not a matter of receiving grace, of course, but I would infer that those who partake despite not being able to attend a church meeting do indeed receive a blessing (a blessing in sanctification?) due to their obedience to eat that supper and proclaim His death until He comes again.  

One possible key issue is that the "you" in 1 Cor. 11 and in the Gospel narratives is plural--or if not, Luther's 1545 translation betrays me  (sorry, my Greek is not good enough to do it in the original).  So I would be OK with arguing that more than one person ought to partake, and that perhaps some teaching of the homebound ought to take place--which probably ought to take place when visiting the homebound or nursing-home-bound anyways, no?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

DavidO's picture

I could simply answer that means of grace are those appointments (preaching, Bible reading, the ordinances/sacraments, exhortation from non-clergy) by which God imparts faith and growth and edification (gracious endowments from our Father, no?) to his people, but it would perhaps be more helpful to hear you explain what you think the memorial of the supper accomplishes.  Is it merely a duty of obedience?  An act of worship?  What's it for?  

EDIT:  I should clarify that I don't view this as mechanical as in: Eat the bread, get grace; drink the juice, presto--more grace!  I don't know that I can be more clear than I was above.  In seeing the breaking of the bread, the pouring of the wine; in eating and drinking, we experience a vivid reminder of what was done on our behalf as well as being made mindful of his soon return.  It strengthens our faith and encourages us in our relationship with Christ.  This is a grace of God to us.  The supper is the means, the occasion, if you'd rather, by which it is communicated to us.  

 

DavidO's picture

I should also clarify that I don't say the things above to argue that special trips must be made to shut-ins to administer the supper.  I think the Bible teaches it is a corporate thing.  I don't think it would be improper, however, for a pastor and group from the congregation to visit shut-ins who so desire to hold a mini-communion service.

DavidO's picture

From Keach's Baptist Catechism:

Q. How do baptism and the Lords supper become effectual means of salvation? 
A. Baptism and the Lords supper become effectual means of salvation, not for any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them, but only by the blessing of Christ (1 Pet. 3:21; Mt. 3:11; 1 Cor. 3:6, 7), and the working of the Spirit in those that by faith receive them (1 Cor. 12:3; Mt. 28:19).

Q. What is the Lord’s supper? 
A. The Lord’s supper is an ordinance of the New Testament, instituted by Jesus Christ; wherein by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to his appointment, his death is shown forth, and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace (Mt. 26:26, 27, 28; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; 10:16).

Andrew K's picture

Chapter 30: 7._____ Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.
( 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 ) [emphasis mine]

While not all Reformed Baptists agree in this area, the Lord's Supper as a means of grace is indeed traditional Particular Baptist teaching. If you read their writings, they weren't generally afraid of the term "sacrament" either, using it synonymously with "ordinance."

By "means of grace," we mean a visible manifestation of the Word proclaimed which strengthens faith. Just as the Spirit, through the simple act of reading the Word of God, produces and strengthens faith, so faith is strengthened through the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Richard Barcellos does a great job on the exegetical side, discussing the passage of 1 Corinthians 10 in-depth, and explaining that the term "participate" suggests an authentic, vertical dimension not communicated in the strict memorialist view, i.e., real communion with Christ. Otherwise, Paul's warning about "participating with demons" is robbed of force.

TylerR's picture

Editor

GARBC:

We believe that the Lord’s Supper is the commemoration of His death until He come, and should be preceded always by solemn self-examination. We believe that the Biblical order of the ordinances is baptism first and then the Lord’s Supper, and that participants in the Lord’s Supper should be immersed believers.

BFM 2000:

The Lord's Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Your quote included the following:

worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses

I find no warrant for this kind of suggestion. We observe the Lord's Supper in remembrance of His shed blood and broken body until He returns. I see no justification for suggesting Christ is present, in any form or fashion, in the bread and wine (juice!). I've never understood. I read Reymond's view. I've read Berkhof. I've read Calvin. I honestly just don't understand where folks get this idea.

For what it's worth, here is my own explanation of the Lord's Supper as a memorial. I have to re-do it to interact with Reymond; I'll get to it someday. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Andrew K's picture

TylerR wrote:

Your quote included the following:

worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses

I find no warrant for this kind of suggestion. We observe the Lord's Supper in remembrance of His shed blood and broken body until He returns. I see no justification for suggesting Christ is present, in any form or fashion, in the bread and wine (juice!). I've never understood. I read Reymond's view. I've read Berkhof. I've read Calvin. I honestly just don't understand where folks get this idea.

For what it's worth, here is my own explanation of the Lord's Supper as a memorial. I have to re-do it to interact with Reymond; I'll get to it someday. 

I don't disagree that the Lord's Supper is a memorial. But I think that Scripture indicates it is more than that. Again, in 1 Cor. 10.16: 

          Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?

What does it mean to "share" in the blood of Christ? What does it mean to "share" in the body of Christ? It must somehow be parallel to the "sharing" that occurs when partaking of pagan sacrificial meals, which Paul warns about later, wherein there is a spiritual sharing in demons.

Again, this is all in the context of warnings against idolatry. But if this is only a memorial in view, why should that be an issue? If Christ is not spiritually present in some sense, what is the community partaking of?

A purely memorialist view just doesn't seem to square with what Paul is communicating in this passage.

(once more, I'm not much of an exegete myself, so I'm heavily relying on Richard Barcellos's work here, which I found excellent and convincing. For a much better treatment on the issue, refer to him.)

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Andrew K wrote:

 

TylerR wrote:

 

Your quote included the following:

worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses

I find no warrant for this kind of suggestion. We observe the Lord's Supper in remembrance of His shed blood and broken body until He returns. I see no justification for suggesting Christ is present, in any form or fashion, in the bread and wine (juice!). I've never understood. I read Reymond's view. I've read Berkhof. I've read Calvin. I honestly just don't understand where folks get this idea.

For what it's worth, here is my own explanation of the Lord's Supper as a memorial. I have to re-do it to interact with Reymond; I'll get to it someday. 

 

 

I don't disagree that the Lord's Supper is a memorial. But I think that Scripture indicates it is more than that. Again, in 1 Cor. 10.16: 

          Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?

What does it mean to "share" in the blood of Christ? What does it mean to "share" in the body of Christ? It must somehow be parallel to the "sharing" that occurs when partaking of pagan sacrificial meals, which Paul warns about later, wherein there is a spiritual sharing in demons.

Again, this is all in the context of warnings against idolatry. But if this is only a memorial in view, why should that be an issue? If Christ is not spiritually present in some sense, what is the community partaking of?

A purely memorialist view just doesn't seem to square with what Paul is communicating in this passage.

(once more, I'm not much of an exegete myself, so I'm heavily relying on Richard Barcellos's work here, which I found excellent and convincing. For a much better treatment on the issue, refer to him.)

They are sharing in the memorial. It is a memorial for them, assuming they are believers. Those who have no relationship with Christ have no part in the memorial. Think Nehemiah 2:20 as an exemplar. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

DavidO's picture

Chip, in light of I Cor. 11:26, a purely memorial view does not seem sufficient.

. . . as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

The supper is a means of proclaiming Christ to people who are already converted.  What does this accomplish?  What does the making of the memorial accomplish. 

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