Communion, Part 1: What Is Communion?

Communion, Part 1: What Is Communion?

As a young pastor, I will never forget the day that a new Christian approached me after church to complain. They could not understand why we had such a small snack and long lines to get it.

What they were talking about was communion. Apparently, I had failed to explain what we were doing and they could not make sense of what we were doing.

What is communion?

The second sacrament that constitutes the Christian church (in addition to baptism) has several names. When calling it “Communion,” we emphasize the fellowship (or communion) we have with God the Father and each other through Jesus. Calling it “the Lord’s Table” emphasizes that we follow the example Jesus set at the Last Supper Passover meal he had with his disciples. The name Eucharist (meaning thanksgiving) emphasizes thanksgiving and the joyful celebration of God’s work for us, in us, through us, and in spite of us.

The debates about which name is theologically correct are too often filled with anger, charges of heresy, and threats of excommunication. When controversies come into the evangelical church, they are most ugly when they are little more than cultural and political-control quarrels over “words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”1 Subsequently, it is fine to use any or all three terms depending on the emphasis that is most suitable for the context.

The real issue is the meaning of the sacrament itself.

(1) It reminds us in a dramatic manner of the death of Jesus Christ in our place for our sins.

(2) It calls Christians to put their sin to death in light of the fact that Jesus died for our sins and compels us to examine ourselves and repent of sin before partaking.

(3) It shows the unity of God’s people around the person and work of Jesus.

(4) It anticipates our participation in the marriage supper of the Lamb when his kingdom comes in its fullness.

Practically speaking, Communion is to be considered as participation in a family around a table rather than as a sacrifice upon an altar. Furthermore, it should be an occasion when God’s loving grace impacts us deeply so that the gospel takes deeper and deeper root in our lives. Understood biblically, grace is the unmerited favor or God’s goodwill,2 his helpful enablement for life and service,3 and a trans- formational power from the Spirit that brings blessing to us.4 Each of these aspects of God’s grace is inextricably connected to the partaking of Communion.

11 Tim. 6:4–5.

2John 1:16, 17; Eph. 2:8.

3Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor. 9:8.

4Rom. 6:1, 14–17; 2 Cor. 6:1ff.; Eph. 1:7; 2:5–8.

This blog was adapted from previous work by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears.

Mark Driscoll
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