Last week, I wrote the first of a few articles addressing various practical issues related to the important (but all too often neglected) principle and practice of church membership. This second instalment provides some reasons why the Lord’s Supper is reserved for those who are members of a local church.
- Because the Lord’s Supper is for Christians. And the New Testament knows nothing of a non-church member Christian. All Christians, both by biblical example and biblical principle, are to be mutually submissive and accountable members of a church. To refuse church membership is to make the self-identifying statement that you are not a Christian. And God does not permit non-Christians at His Table. It is for His family only.
- Because it is an ordinance that reaffirms the new covenant. And the new covenant is inseparable from the new covenant community, that is, the church (Matthew 26:26; 1 Corinthians 11:17–23).
- Because both ordinances that the Lord gave to the church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are inseparable from the Body of Christ, the church. We are baptised into the church (1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 6). We eat the Lord’s Supper as a church (1 Corinthians 11:17–20—the church “came together” for the meal). Since it is a communal meal, the assumption is that those participating are a part of the said communion.
- Because the Lord’s Supper is a pledge (though it is more than that) of covenantal faithfulness to the Saviour and therefore to the saints. How can one meaningfully make such a pledge of faithfulness while at the same time refusing to be accountable to Christ’s church?
- Because the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the gospel (1 Corinthians 11:26) and the members of the local church are entrusted with the stewardship of that gospel (1 Timothy 3:15–16). There can be no corporate privileges of the gospel (including the Lord’s Supper) when at the same time there is a refusal to take corporate responsibility for the gospel.
- Because the instructions concerning the Table are such that it is clear that it a place for accountability and, if need be, discipline. You cannot hold people accountable who have no covenantal relationship with you.
- Because since the Lord’s Table places a heavy emphasis upon the Body of Christ, it is highly incongruous, even hypocritical, to claim to appreciate the Body of Christ given for you while at the same time rejecting the Body of Christ sitting with you (1 Corinthians 11:27–29).
- Because of the implicit disciplinary danger of partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:27–34). As this text highlights, some members were disciplined by God for their ill treatment of other Christians (see vv. 17–22). Clearly, a Christian’s relationship with other Christians is important to God. To reject a committed relationship with other Christians by refusing or rejecting membership is clearly to mistreat them. It is dangerous therefore for non-church members to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
- “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:18). To refuse church membership is to refuse what the Lord’s Supper pictures—“the many (Christians) are made one (body).” How can a person realistically participate in an ordinance that proclaims oneness with Christ and one another, while at the same time rejecting the oneness as demonstrated in church membership?
- Because the Lord’s Supper is the new covenant fulfilment of the type of the old covenant Passover. And that communal meal was for members only (Exodus 12:1–28, 43–51; Matthew 26:17–30; 1 Corinthians 5:6–8).
In summary, it is impossible to receive the Lord’s Body and to reject the Lord’s Body at the same time. It is impossible to renew commitment to Christ and to reject Christ at the same time. It is impossible to simultaneously love Christ and to not love who and what He loves—the church.
Scripture clearly teaches that individualism (in this case evidenced by rejecting the church) cannot coexist with what the gospel does for every believer. Namely, by the power of the gospel Christians share in an unbreakable identification with Christ and His people; an inseparable incorporation with Christ and His people; and an indissoluble participation with Christ and His people (Romans 6). Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper picture these covenantal realities. To participate in the signs while rejecting what they signify is not only nonsensical; it is, in the end, hypocritical.
(Please note: Christian visitors to our church who are baptised and are members in good standing [not under discipline] of another church are permitted to join us for the Lord’s Supper.)
Bobby Jamieson helpfully writes of church membership:
Church membership is required because [through it] we enact our submissions to Jesus. We embrace our membership in the universal body by becoming members of a local body. Professing Christians who don’t belong to any church are rejecting Jesus’ authority by refusing to submit to His proxy.
He then concludes: “Allowing individuals who aren’t members of any church to participate in the Lord’s Supper gives them the benefits of fellowship without the commitment, the intimacy without the promise.”1
It is for all of these reasons, and probably more, that the meal prescribed by the Lord is for members only. Are you a church member? Then come on in and take a seat at the Table. If you profess to be a Christian and yet you are not a church member, then why not? In the meantime, we’ll keep saving a seat until you are. We’d love for you to join us for the family meal.