Remember the Signs
As many churches and communities are heading into an uncertain period of quarantine, it is important that we keep our wits about us. As Aslan told Jill, “Remember the Signs.” Times like these fog the brain and we begin to do things that ought to be left undone. The authority of God’s Word is not suspended during these times. Rather, these moments should heighten our desire to seek the Lord, closely obey His Word, and teach the nations to do likewise.
The Supper of Our Lord
One way in which Christians mighty thoughtlessly go off the reservation is in regards to the Lord’s Supper. Practicing “private communion” either by yourself or with just your family might seem like a sensible way to continue to worship and honor the Lord, but is in fact a sort of oxymoron, or an inversion of the precise meaning of the meal. Remember that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a sign of something, not just a nice tradition. It is meaningful bread and wine.
In other words, the meal is a sign of the Church’s union with Christ. We are commanded to “discern the body (1 Cor. 11:29).” I take this to mean that we are not only to see in the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ, but also we are to discern His body in the gathered saints.
Private communion inverts this. It takes a sign which represents the many-membered body of Christ and its union with our Head (whose body was broken and blood shed), and turns it into a sign of individualism. Furthermore, it neglects the proper ordering of Christ’s body, as it makes fathers (or individuals) into de facto elders in their own home. Christ is the Head of His church, and as such has ordered His church with various offices. Private communion is like telling the Lord with whom you are to be communing with that you really don’t bother about how He has established His church. You’ll do your own thang.
During these times, it is easy for various jurisdictions to get out of their lane. Your elders ought not to spank your children, so you ought not to do their job. Governors are not pastors so they shouldn’t excommunicate someone. Pastors are not senators, so they shouldn’t draft legislation.
Hodge On the Matter
Charles Hodge has a helpful point here regarding a relevant clause in the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chap. XXIX, Sec. III) which reads that the elders should “give both [bread and wine] to the communicants; but to none who are not then present in the congregation.”1Acts 20:7. And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came to- gether to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. 1 Cor. 11:20. When ye come together there- fore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper
Here’s Hodge’s comment:
“It follows that it should not be sent to persons not present at the administration, nor administered by the officiating priest to himself alone. In particular cases, however, it may be administered in private houses, for the benefit of Christians long confined by sickness, provided that the officers and a sufficient number of the members of the Church be present to preserve the true character of the ordinance as a communion (Hodge’s Commentary pg. 362).”Charles Hodge (Emphasis Mine)
In other words, we need to be mindful about the “true character” of the meal, while at the same time noting that there are exceptional cases (i.e. long confinement due to sickness). The key here is the remembering the “true character” of what we’re doing when we partake of the Lord’s Supper. We are eating a covenant meal. The Lord with His people. The minister is a representative of the Lord, and as such has authority to administer the sacrament. It isn’t meant for private devotion, it is meant for the community of believers.
If this quarantine were to last for a long time, Pastors and churches would need to make arrangements to have small gatherings of believers where the Word and Sacrament could be partaken. But the family is not a church to itself. It has its own jurisdiction, but it is not given the authority to act as an authorized representative of the Head of the Church (Christ) in regards to ecclesiastical matters. This isn’t because of some holy juju that the Pastors/elders have. Rather, we must recognize that Christ has ordered His church. He has set apart elders to be His authorized representatives in sacred matters. Fathers are assigned a different task.
So talking about private or family communion makes about as much sense as talking about dry water.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Acts 20:7. And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came to- gether to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. 1 Cor. 11:20. When ye come together there- fore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper|