Different names are used, the Eucharist, Communion, the Table, or the Lord’s Supper, but all of these names point to the same reality. It is one of two ordinances that Christ left for his church. And as there are many names for this ordinance, there are multiple times as many questions about it. For example,
Who is allowed to administer the Lord’s Supper?
How often should Christians take the Lord’s Supper?
Is the Lord’s Supper open only to church members or are all Christians invited to the table?
What is the meaning of the Lord’s Supper?
Why do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper?
And the list could go on and on. But this article will focus on one question.
When and where is the Lord’s Supper to be received? Is it for individual Christians to receive and celebrate or is a godly husband permitted to lead his family to take the Supper or is the Supper intended to be received and celebrated only when the church is gathered? In other words, is it an individualistic Christian ordinance or is it a corporate Christian ordinance?
To help answer this question, we will turn to the Scriptures. The longest sustained teaching on the Lord’s Supper is found in 1 Corinthians 11:17–34.
1 Corinthians 11:17–34
17 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. 18 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, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 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.
23 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, 24 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.” 25 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.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—34 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.
So, what may we conclude from this passage about the individualistic or corporate nature of the Lord’s Supper?
[Note: Epistemological integrity would demand that dogmatic conclusions not be reached. In other words, there are no “slam dunk” arguments about this question that can be made from this passage (or any other passage). There are, however, implications that strongly suggest the Lord’s Supper should be viewed as a corporate celebration and not as an individualistic celebration.
We will consider seven lines of argument from this passage that suggest that the Lord’s Supper is a corporate ordinance. These arguments are not listed in any particular order of importance. My arguments will be brief. This blog isn’t intended to be a treatise on this topic.
First, we must ask to whom this letter (1 Corinthians) was written. First Corinthians 1:2 clearly shows us that the letter was written to the whole church. If the letter was written to the whole church then those who “come together” (11:17, 18, 20, etc.) to celebrate the Supper are the church.
Second, the pronoun “you” in this passage is always in the plural. In this sense Greek is a more precise language than English. In English it isn’t always clear whether “you” is referring to an individual or a group of individuals. This isn’t the case in Greek. There are different words for a singular “you” and a plural “you.” In South Carolina we distinguish this by saying y’all when we mean plural—but I digress.
Third, five times in this passage the phrase “when you come together” is used in this passage and one time “when you come together as a church.” A honest reading of the text tells us that Paul here is speaking of the church gathering together corporately.
Fourth, Paul admonishes the Corinthians because he has received word of divisions existing among the believers and these divisions have surfaced around the Lord’s Table. Divisions can only exist in community, not individually.
Fifth, the Corinthians were taking the Supper in a way that promoted individualism rather than unity so Paul asked the question, “Or do you despise the church of God?” Again, this seems to suggest that the Supper is for the church.
Sixth, Paul asks another question, “Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” This question implies that the Supper is for our corporate gathering. If you’re just hungry do that at home.
Seventh, there is a self-examination that is done in conjunction with the Supper, but even that examination is not individualistic but it is done in conjunction with the corporate gathering. The church body helps to affirm that we are indeed walking in the faith.
Given the teaching that the Lord’s Supper is to be taken as a church, what points of application may we deduce? Let me suggest two.
We ought not to take the Lord’s Supper as a Sunday school class or home group or biological family to the neglect of the church gathered. The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance given to the church for the church. We shouldn’t celebrate it on our own. While this author is unsure of whether celebrating apart from the church should be considered sin, it surely is unwise to celebrate it on one’s own.
But what about faithful church members who are “shut-in” due to age or infirmity—would it be proper to serve the Supper to them in their homes (or nursing homes)? First, we must be careful to teach these shut-ins that there isn’t anything salvific in the Supper. In other words, taking the Lord’s Supper doesn’t guarantee one’s salvation and not taking the Supper doesn’t guarantee someone’s perdition. The Supper is a time to remember and celebrate what Christ has accomplished on our behalf.
But for these faithful Christians who are no longer able to attend, they, by nature of their infirmity, are no longer able to participate in this celebration. It would seem prudent and loving to allow the Lord’s Supper to be served to these saints under the following two conditions. First, again, the shut-ins (and the church) should understand that the Supper isn’t salvific. Second, the gathered church should be publicly informed and invited to participate as the Supper is served to these shut-ins.
In the Supper the Lord has given us a wonderful visual picture of gospel. As Christians we should not only rejoice in the gospel, but we should rejoice when we gather together to see dozens or hundreds or perhaps even thousands of others all confessing the same gospel as they take the Supper.
For His Glory,
 The two ordinances are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Some refer to these ordinances as “sacraments.” For a helpful discussion on the use of the terms “sacrament” and “ordinance,” see John S. Hammett, 40 Questions about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper,” (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2015), 19–24.