Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Lord's Supper and Lividness

It was my fourth week serving as the new senior pastor of Liberty Baptist Church and I received one of the nastiest voicemail messages I have ever heard. The lady, who left the message, said she had been visiting for several months and was very close to becoming a new member of our church. All that changed after I explained the Lord’s Supper. This irate woman, who kept her identity anonymous, was so upset that she informed me that she would never set foot in our church again. I found out later that she was so angry at what I said she stormed out of our sanctuary, which of course upset some of our own members. So what did I say to make her so furious?

I explained that the Lord’s Supper, according to Scripture, is exclusive; that is it’s not for everyone. And it’s not even for people who have only made a profession of faith. I taught that the Lord’s Supper is only for believers, who have been baptized as a Christian and are in good standing with their local church. And since this is our church’s biblical conviction, we ask those who are not members and do not meet these prerequisites not to join us at the Lord’s Table.[1]

I admit this can come across as arrogant and close-minded to those who don’t understand our rationale. But one of the reasons we restrict those who come to the Lord’s Table is because we are concerned with understanding and applying God’s Word correctly. Another reason is our concern for the well-being of others. Paul warned that partaking of the Lord’s Supper can actually do harm to those who do not take it rightly (see 1 Cor. 11:17, 29-30, 34).

In this post, my goal is to show from Scripture who is permitted to observe the Lord’s Supper. If you disagree, please try to keep in mind that these aren't my “house rules”, as if we were playing a board game and this is the way I like to do it. Instead, these are King Jesus' parameters for those who are authorized to come to His table. He instituted the Lord’s Supper so he gets to say who is eligible to take it and we don’t have the right to overrule his ordinances with our preferences.

The Lord’s Supper is for believers.
In Luke 22:15, we learn that the Lord’s Supper originates with the Passover meal. The first Passover is recorded in Exodus 12. In that account, God is preparing to judge Egypt and redeem his people. The Lord is going to send the tenth and final plague, which will claim the life of every firstborn son. In order to escape this judgment the Lord tells his people to sacrifice a lamb, apply its blood to their doorposts and eat the Passover meal. All those who believe the Lord’s promise of destruction and deliverance and in turn apply the blood of the lamb to their doorpost will be spared of God’s judgment and redeemed from bondage.

Since this is the context in which Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, it follows then that this meal is only for his people. It is not open to just anyone. It is reserved for those who believe in the promises of the gospel. The Lord’s Supper is only for those who have been delivered from God’s judgment by trusting in the sacrifice of the true Passover Lamb and thus have had the blood of Jesus applied to their hearts by faith.

The Lord’s Supper is for believers, who have been baptized as a Christian.
If someone has truly accepted Christ by faith then they will obey his command to be baptized. Too often, people mistakenly view baptism as a ritual to make themselves feel good or an act of personal fulfillment. But that’s not a biblical view of baptism. Baptism is a command issued by King Jesus that is to be obeyed by all those who profess to follow him. Someone who professes Christ, but refuses to obey him and publicly identify with him through the waters of baptism is confused about what it means to trust and follow Christ. A refusal to be baptized could be evidence that a person is not actually a believer.[2] This is one reason why a person ought to be baptized by immersion before observing the Lord’s Supper.

Additionally, in the New Testament the sequence for every single conversion is first to trust in Jesus, then be baptized, and then observe the Lord's Supper. This sequence is clearly seen throughout the book of Acts as well as in Jesus’ own words to his first disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples...baptizing them...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus clearly taught that only after a disciple is made, he is to be baptized. And then after he is baptized, he is to obey his other commands, which would include the command to take the Lord’s Supper.

The New Testament knows of no Christian who observes the Lord’s Supper without first having been baptized.[3] Since this is the paradigm of Scripture and the commands of Jesus, I do not have the authority to tell someone they can take the Lord Supper in a way that contradicts the instructions of the very One who instituted it.

The Lord’s Supper is for believers, who have been baptized as a Christian and are in good standing with their local church.
It is important to realize that the Lord’s Supper is not merely for the individual believer, but for the corporate church. Three times in his instructions to the Corinthians about the Lord’s Supper, Paul explains that this special meal should only be observed when the church “[comes] together” (see 1 Corinthians 11:18; 20; 33). The clear implication of Paul’s instructions is that the Lord’s Supper is corporate and public in its nature. This is by design. The Lord’s Supper is meant to express not just our individual fellowship with Jesus, but also our corporate fellowship with the church to which we belong. This is why, at our church, when we take the bread and the cup we always do it together and not separately. It is a way of intentionally expressing our fellowship with one another.

So the third qualification for taking the Lord’s Supper is that a person must also be a member in good standing with their local church. If a professing, baptized Christian is under church discipline and thus out of fellowship with Christ and the church, Scripture forbids the church to allow that person to eat the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Corinthians 5:11). The whole reason for barring them from the Table is so that they will forsake their sin and be restored to Christ and his church, experiencing the joy of fellowship with him and his body.

So if someone is not in good standing with their local church, because they are not a member of one or because they have been put out of the fellowship due to unrepentant sin, then they should not be permitted to the Lord’s Table. To allow them to do so is to contradict what is clearly taught in Scripture.

What do you think? Have I correctly understood the Scriptures on this important subject? Let me know your thoughts. But please, no livid voicemails.

[1] This is commonly referred to as “fencing the table”. 
[2] I do not think that those who believe padeobaptism is a valid form of baptism are unregenerate. I know many believers who hold to this view.
[3] While Christians have disagreed on what constitutes a valid baptism, virtually all Christians for the last 2000 years have agreed on this point: baptism always precedes the Lord’s Supper.


  1. My question in in regards to your introduction. "And since this is our church’s biblical conviction, we ask those who are not members and do not meet these prerequisites not to join us at the Lord’s Table." I agree with your requirements and I believe they are biblical backed. I am confused by your wording. Does LBC only allow members to come to the Table? What if I am a visitor, regenerate believer, good standing with my church body, and I am coming to LBC hoping to join, but not a member yet. Would you ask me to not come to the table? Not sure if you should have used "or" where "and" is. Maybe not. Good post!

    Taylor C.

    1. That's a great question, Taylor! We encourage those who are not members, but do meet these prerequisites to join us at the table. The sentence you referenced can be a little confusing. This is how I say it on Sunday mornings: "If you are a guest (i.e. not a member of our church), but you are trusting in Jesus, have identified with him in baptism, and are in good standing with your local church, we invite you to join us in celebrating the Lord's Supper." Does that make sense? Thanks for your question!