We recently saw in a study of Acts 20 that it seemed to be the custom for the early church to celebrate the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day. At least this would be a fair inference from the words, “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread” (v. 7). The implication is that each Lord’s Day the disciples gathered for the purpose of partaking of the Lord’s Supper. From what follows, it is also clear that the Word was a primary part of the weekly gathering. Both of these means of grace were a normal part of weekly Lord’s Day worship. And they still are. Concerning this, I find the words of John Stott helpful when he observes, “What builds up the church more than anything else is the ministry of God’s Word as it comes to us through Scripture and Sacrament; audibly and visibly, in declaration and drama.” Both are necessary if we will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
But this, of course, assumes that those who partake of these means of grace actually “own” Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. In Acts 20 Luke records specifically that it was “the disciples” who gathered for the meal and for the message. This is significant, especially when it comes to who should be sitting at the Lord’s Table. That is, the Table of the Lord having been set, who is biblically permitted to attend? And the answer is clear, “disciples.”
The word “disciple” means “a follower” or “a learner.” It refers to someone who follows the teachings and the ways of another. It is the predominate word, from Acts onward, in the New Testament to describe those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ because they have been saved by His grace. He forgave them and they followed Him. In the words of Matthew 28:19-20, disciples have been baptised and are committed to obeying all that Jesus commanded His followers. Please don’t miss that: They have been baptised and are committed to obey all that Jesus commands. They obeyed their Lord as expressed in baptism (a declaration that they have already obeyed Him by repenting and believing the gospel), and once they left the water they continued to obey Him. Now let’s put this together and apply it to the picture in Acts 20 and then to BBC.
We can now paraphrase verse 7 as follows: “Now on the first day of the week when those who had been baptised [scripturally, i.e. by immersion] upon their profession of faith and who were characterised as obeying the other commands of the Lord came together, they partook of the Lord’s Supper—together.”
That paraphrase is biblically justified and it prescribes for whom the Communion Meal is offered. The Lord’s Supper is for the disciples of the Lord, defined as baptised followers of Christ. Such disciples give evidence that they belong to the family of God and therefore they are invited to the family meal.
This is the uniform teaching throughout the New Testament. The meal is for disciples of Christ, and by biblical definition that means that the person has been baptised upon a credible profession of faith and is walking in fellowship with the Lord. And by the way, as BBC practices this principle, it also means by extension that such an individual is a member of a local church. Disciples of Jesus Christ are baptised members of a local church. And this is because they truly acknowledge Jesus as Lord.
To summarise, the Lord’s Supper is a meal for members of God’s family. His family are related to one another in the Body of Christ. Therefore, when we gather Sunday evenings for the “breaking of bread,” this meal is for all of those who meet the biblical description of brothers and sisters in Christ.
Negatively this means that if one has not been baptised upon their profession of faith, and refuses to be accountable to a local church (not necessarily to our church), then he or she needs to pass on the elements. Failure to heed God’s prescription is dangerous, as Paul reveals in 1 Corinthians 11:27-31.
As a corollary to this, one who has been baptised upon profession of faith and who has become a member of a local church and yet consistently refuses to gather for the “family supper” is making a self-declaration that he or she is not a part of the family. This too has serious implications, for to be outside of God’s family is tantamount to being condemned (1 Corinthians 11:19 with 1 John 2:19).
Having noted these very sobering negatives let us however end on a positive note.
The Lord’s Supper is a meal for members of God’s family. And when we gather to partake the Lord, in a mysterious way, ministers sanctifying grace to His already justified children. By this repetitive meal, the Lord gives those who have been baptised (a once-off, non-repeatable ordinance) strength to fulfil their baptismal vows. That is, this “meal for members” is God’s means of grace to aid us in fulfilling our call as disciples of Christ; by enabling us to feed anew on Christ and His gospel, we are empowered to obey all that He has commanded.
Think of it this way: Our Lord enabled us to repent and to believe the gospel. Coupled with this He empowered us to obey Him in baptism, a public profession that we belong to Him and that by His power we will live for Him. The Lord’s Supper is His gracious enabling for us to live out those baptismal vows. Therefore, to reject baptism and to partake of the Lord’s Supper is as illogical—and insulting—as a person who refuses to make wedding vows and yet expects to celebrate a wedding reception. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is for those whom He has married and whom in turn have professed their allegiance in baptism. If one has not done the latter then they have no right to the former. The meal is for those whom He has married. This meal is for family members only.