The Family Meeting – Celebrating Communion

September 4, 2013 — 4 Comments

This series will drill down on the missional community practice called “The Family Meeting”.  Although there isn’t a formula, here are some things to consider putting into practice:

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Celebrating Communion

For the final post in this series, I wanted to highlight how we practice the ordinance of communion together in a missional community setting.  Corporately, we celebrate communion in our Sunday worship gatherings and monthly we have a dedicated prayer service where we also celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  In addition to these corporate environments, we strongly encourage missional communities to celebrate communion together in the Family Meal or after an Evening of Prayer as well.

The ordinance of communion is an ancient act of worship that Christ instituted 2000 years ago for His church. It’s a visible sermon to our own souls of the concrete promises of God, obtained for us by Jesus’s death and resurrection.  And it is an important opportunity to let lost people who have joined your group know that they still must make the commitment to Christ.

In Jesus’s ministry, He had the large group that anybody could join, but from time to time He brought them to critical decision points (Lk 18:18-24; John 6:52-66; Lk 9:57-62). This gave them the important gift of knowing that they weren’t part of Jesus simply because they liked being in the large group. They still had a major decision to make about Him.  Communion is a similar way to have a decisive conversation with someone who doesn’t yet follow Jesus, as the Lord’s Table is only for those who have trusted in Christ.

Communion in Practice

In the earliest practices of the church, our brothers and sisters in Christ celebrated communion with a meal at the centerpiece.  Early in the meal, they gave thanks and broke the bread to initiate the meal, and to conclude they would raise the cup and remind one another of Christ’s shed blood.  In between was conversation and reflection centered around Jesus and his finished work.  We have tried to include this in our regular gatherings to reinforce that the community is at the heart of Christian discipleship.

For guidelines to practicing communion, first look to the Scriptures in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29:

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.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

When only believers are present a Family Meal, go ahead and break bread at the beginning, reminding those at the table of what is above.  Spend some time of simple quiet reflection, and allow people the opportunity to discern if there is anything that must be repented of or division that exists in the community before you eat.  Similarly, after you have had some good conversation, at the conclusion of the meal, gather some wine and remind the community of what Paul tells us about the cup.

If there are people there who don’t yet know Jesus and you still want to practice communion, I’d suggest that you do the bread and the cup altogether in one period of time, generally after the meal.  You can say something to the effect of “Communion is something that Christians do. It’s not really for people who are still making up their minds about Jesus. It’s for people who have staked their whole hope on Him and have said, ‘I’m all in for Jesus.’ If you are still undecided about Jesus, we’re glad you’re here and you’re completely welcome, but please pass the bread and cup without taking it. It’s not a slight or judgment on you, but something we hold dear.” Make sure they know that it’s not weird or a big deal that they are just there to watch during this short time!

Either way, pray or have multiple people pray and thank God for the enormous reality behind the bread and the cup. Thank God for all the blessings that come from the cross – for example, salvation, reconciliation, a living hope, freedom to love God, eternal life, a promised resurrection, hope of purpose in suffering, etc.

A Final Word

I’ve found that it is important to transition people out of a time of reflection and worship, so make sure after you’ve prayed that you give a next step – whether it’s inviting people to wash up the dishes, or go grab the kids, or something else.  Having a plan is helpful!

How do you go about practicing communion as a community?

http://toddengstrom.com/2013/08/26/the-family-meeting-sharing-a-meal/

Todd Engstrom

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Although I was raised in the church and had a knowledge of God, I didn’t embrace Jesus until I heard gospel preached and lived out by some Young Life leaders. God has proven faithful and good to me since that day, even in great suffering and loss. I have learned to treasure Romans 8:28 as a wellspring of hope and truth. God has blessed me with an amazing wife (Olivia), three sons (Micah, Hudson and Owen) and a daughter (Emmaline). Growing up in the northwest, the thought never crossed my mind that I would have four children who are native Texans. Despite landing in the south, I still watch Notre Dame games with my children every Saturday in hopes they will land at my alma mater.

4 responses to The Family Meeting – Celebrating Communion

  1. Thanks for this helpful outline. However I would question whether to exclude not-yet Christ followers from communion. After all, didn’t Jesus include Judas with full knowledge of the state of his heart? I would probably argue (though I haven’t studied this extensively) that Jesus welcomes all people at the communion table.

  2. Erich,
    Thanks for sharing…I’d point you towards 1 Corinthians 11 and Paul’s instruction to the church there about the nature of communion:

    But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 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? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

    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.

    Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

    So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. (1 Corinthians 11:17-34, ESV)

    There are a few things I would point out:
    1. The Lord’s Supper is not just an ordinary meal, as Paul teaches in the first paragraph.
    2. The Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the sufficiency of Christ’s broken body and shed blood for the community.
    3. There are provisions for believing Christians in active sin to not partake in the act.

    I’d find it hard for someone who doesn’t know Jesus to both appropriately understand the uniqueness of the Lord’s Supper, to desire to proclaim the good news of the gospel if they haven’t yet received it, and finally to partake in a “worthy manner”. Therefore, my conviction would be to limit non-Christians from participation.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on where you’d find permissibility…I’m always open to being corrected in my understanding!

  3. Hey Todd, thanks for your response, and my apologies for not responding sooner myself!

    Here are some of my general thoughts on this issue:

    1. Aside from this text, the NT does not seem to offer specific instruction on how to celebrate communion. Since this text is case-specific, it might be difficult to extract comprehensive teaching for the larger church.

    2. I’m not sure that the phrasing “the Lord’s Supper is not just an ordinary meal” is very helpful, since the first communion wasn’t strictly speaking a meal in itself, but rather a ceremony in the context of a meal. This being the case, I think we must put it in context with Jesus’ habit of eating meals with people on many different occasions. If most of Jesus’ previous meals set a clear precedent for including ‘outsiders,’ I would have trouble understanding this sudden switch to ‘insiders only.’

    3. If we are to make the case that only Christians should be allowed to receive communion, we have to face the fact that Jesus’ disciples could hardly have fit this kind of criteria. Jesus included Judas although he knew of his treachery. And in the passage immediately following the first communion, Matthew records Jesus foretelling that his own disciples will soon desert him (Matt 26:30-35).

    Some thoughts on the 1 Corinthians 11 text:

    1. Paul’s main concern seems to be divisions and factions among the church in Corinth. One way these factions are surfacing is when the church gathers for the communion meal. So rather than telling the church that only those who’ve got their life in order are eligible to join this family meal, he does exactly the opposite! Regardless of their differences in status, income, etc… they are to come together with mutual respect during the communion meal.

    2. With regard to the issue of active sin, Paul seems not to be primarily concerned with the drunkenness / selfishness itself, but rather with the blatant disregard for other members of the body, especially those with less income to buy food. The entire judgment language is framed in the context of selfishly disregarding the needs of poor church members.

    These are some of the main reasons I include not-yet-Christians in celebrating communion in our Taipei MC. I find this practice a powerful testimony for Jesus-seekers, whose inclusion communicates deep acceptance from both us, and the Father.

    But like you said, I’m definitely open to correction on this point!

    Peace,
    Erich

  4. Erich,
    Good thoughts, but I have a couple concerns with your reasoning. The basic thrust of your argument seems to be “permission in light of silence” – you feel the freedom to invite non-believers into the act of communion because this text is insufficient in its completeness and too specific in context. I know that may seem like a reduction, but you begin the argument by stating 1 Corinthians 11 doesn’t constitute enough teaching to conclude, and then at the end allow a pragmatic reason to argue for your position.

    Personally, I would generally tend towards a more conservative interpretation where other teachings in the bible are lacking. I would probably flip your line of argument around and say that there is no evidence that the Lord’s Supper was open to non-believers in the New Testament, and therefore one should consider this text in a more weighty fashion.

    With respect to your point on Jesus’ disciples, I would remind you that although Judas may not have been a follower of Christ in his heart, he was confessionally a follower of Christ, as were all the disciples. The Lord’s supper, in my opinion, is reserved for those who confess Christ as Lord. I also love that 1 Corinthians 11 makes participation in the Lord’s Supper a matter of conscience for the individual believer, not a responsibility of the person administering it. I simply cannot know the ultimate condition of everyone’s heart in my church, but I can rejoice in the biblical teaching that if they have confessed Christ, they are welcome at the Lord’s table.

    I hope some of this makes sense…it’s early in the morning :).
    Todd

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