The Lord's Table
My Dear _____:
The question of the Lord's table is often a most perplexing one to the child of God. Not only are there many tables, set up on different grounds, around him on every hand, but also, when he begins to enquire into the subject, he finds almost as many theories as tables, concerning the significance of the supper of which he is invited to partake. His only remedy therefore, if he desires to avoid error and to be found in obedience to his Lord, is to turn away from the confused voices of theologians to the clear and distinct teaching of the word of God. It is to this teaching I desire to lead you in this letter.
As we might expect, there is nothing wanting on such a subject in the Scriptures. Thus I Cor. 10 explains the character of the table, and chap. 11 gives us the character of the supper, and the manner in which it should be eaten.
First we will consider the question of the table. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we [being] many are one bread, [and] one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread" (I Cor. 10: 16,17). This scripture evidently teaches two things; first, that the loaf or "the bread" on the table is a symbol of the body of Christ ("for we being many are one bread, one body"-see also I Cor. 12: 13) ; and secondly, that we partake of it as members of that body ("for we are all partakers of that one bread"). As therefore we have communion of the blood of Christ through the wine, so also of the body of Christ through the bread, when we partake according to the thoughts of God. The table is thus the expression of the unity of the body of Christ; and consequently it is only the members of that body who can be properly gathered around it. The "church" of England, strangely enough, agrees with this principle; for it admits no one to its table who has not been baptized; and it declares that every baptized one is made "a member of Christ," etc. The error, you will see, lies in attributing to baptism (as the means) what can only be wrought by the Spirit of God. I cite this case only to show you that the principle affirmed, so far from being peculiar, is widely accepted.
Now, it is by the application of this principle that you can decide which of all the tables around you is the Lord's. Test every denominational table by it, and what is the result? You will perceive at once that no sectarian system can have the Lord's table, because the ground on which it is spread, in every case, is narrower than that of the body of Christ. Admitting, or rather conceding for the moment, that all its followers may be members of the body of Christ, we should still have to say, Are there no other members of that body outside this denomination? If there are, then such a table, however sincerely, conscientiously, and piously spread, is not the table of the Lord. Should it be replied, "But we are quite willing to receive all other members of the body of Christ," I should have to answer, "This does not affect the question at all; for the ground taken determines the character of the table spread upon it; and the ground taken in each denomination is of such a character that many godly Christians could not have fellowship with it." The dissenter*, for example, is shut out, for conscience sake, from the table of the Anglican "church*"; and the Anglican* is similarly excluded from the tables of dissent*; and hence, neither in the one nor the other can the Lord's table be discovered, as the ground taken is other than that of the body of Christ.
Once more, test many of the unsectarian tables by this principle. You may perhaps tell me that you know of a place where all denominationalism is disavowed, and where it is taught that all Christians, and none but Christians, should be united. Very good; but I still should have a few questions to ask. I should inquire, Are the believers in such a place gathered simply unto the name of Christ? Is there liberty in the Spirit to minister by whom He wills? Is there the exercise of godly discipline? etc. For the Lord cannot sanction anything which is not in accordance with the Scriptures--anything which is unsuited to the character of His own name. If these questions could be answered in the affirmative, then you might perhaps conclude, that you had found the Lord's table; but if not, however fair and inviting it might seem at the first, you would have to reject it equally with those in the denominational systems around.
If we add a few characteristics of the Lord's table, it may serve to preserve you from mistake.
1. The table must be spread on ground outside of all denominational systems, otherwise, as we have shown, it could not comprehend all the members of the body of Christ.
2. The saints should be gathered on the first day of the week around the table. We thus read: "Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread" (Acts 20:7), an undeniable proof that it was their custom. See too in John 20, how our blessed Lord, on two occasions after His resurrection, chose the first day of the week for presenting Himself in the midst of His gathered disciples (vv. 19, 26), thus consecrating (if such a word may be used) this day for their assembling to show forth His death.
3. The purpose of the gathering should be to break bread. I point this out, as in many places there is a weekly table, but altogether in subordination to other things, such as preaching, etc.
4. Everything in connection with the table - worship, ministry, and discipline, must be in accordance with, and in subjection to, the word of God. If there is a single human regulation, on whatever ground adopted, the character of the table is destroyed. For it is the table of the Lord; and hence His authority alone can be recognized by His gathered saints.
Need I add more? But there is a danger or two which I would fain indicate. The first is indifference. It was only the other day that I asked a believer if she were at the Lord's table. Apprehending my meaning, she replied, "It is enough for me to know that Christ is my Saviour, and I do not desire to trouble myself with such questions as these." Can anything be more sad? As if it was not of all-importance to ascertain the mind of the Lord; for surely if He has indicated His will upon this question, it should be our joy to discover it, and to be found in obedience to it. Another replied in a different way. He said, "I am not called upon to judge my fellow-believers, and I desire to have fellowship with all." "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Rev. 2, 3). We are thus called upon to judge the ways of our fellow-believers - indeed of the "churches"; to measure everything by the Word; and to refuse all which it does not sanction, or which it condemns. Indifference is that spirit of Laodiceanism concerning which our Lord says, "So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth" (Rev. 3: 16).
The other danger is that of association. For example, how many a young believer is led unwittingly into that which is contrary to the Lord's mind from friendly, relative, or even spiritual associations! He is guided by the opinions of his friends, etc., instead of the word of God; or it may be that, having been converted or received blessing in a particular place, he naturally desires to continue where the blessing was received. But the question in every case should be, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9: 6). Otherwise he might, in the right desire, according to the Lord's own word, to remember Him in His death, be found doing it in a way which is really displeasing to Him.
Warning you against these dangers, let me remind you that it is far better to wait than to partake of the Lord's Supper in disobedience. Before therefore you seek admission to the table, search the Scriptures, looking to the Lord for guidance; "and if thine eye is single, thy whole body shall be full of light."
Reserving the question of the supper for another letter,
Believe me, dear ______,
Yours affectionately in Christ,
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