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The Lord’s Supper Observed by Local Churches
By J. M. Pendleton (1811 - 1891)

      The churches composed, as they are, of Christ’s baptized disciples meet for the worship of their Lord. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” is the language addressed to Christians in apostolic times. Among the duties and the privileges of a congregation of baptized believers in Christ is included a commemoration of His death at His Table. Every local church is required to observe this ordinance. Its obligation to do so is inseparable from its independence; and the doctrine of church independence will be developed in future sections of this chapter. The ordinances of the gospel are placed by Christ in the custody of His churches. They dare not change them in any respect; to change them would be disloyalty to their Lord. They have no legislative power; they are simply executive democracies required to carry into effect the will of their Head. Who but His churches can be expected to preserve the integrity and the purity of the ordinances of the Lord Jesus? These ordinances are to be kept as they were delivered to the churches and received by them. This is indispensable to the maintenance of gospel order.

      What Paul writes to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 11:20-34) clearly indicates the necessity of coming together “to eat the Lord’s Supper.” True, he refers to certain irregularities, which he severally condemns; but when he asks, “Despise ye the church of God?” he refers to its members, not to their individual, but in their collective, capacity — the congregation of God. So, in verses 33, 34, the words “when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another,” and “that ye come not together unto condemnation,” show beyond doubt that the assembling of the church was requisite to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is a church ordinance, and therefore Baptists oppose any and every attempt to administer it privately to individuals without church sanction.

      What was true of the Corinthian church as to the “coming together” of its members to commemorate the death of Christ was doubtless true of all other churches of that period. It would be absurd to suppose that there was a capricious diversity in the customs of the churches. We may therefore assume that there was uniformity.

      With regard to the Lord’s Supper there are different views held by different religious denominations. Roman Catholics believe in what they call Transubstantiation — that is, that by the consecration of the priest, the bread and wine are changed into the real body and the real blood of Christ. This doctrine defies all reasonable credence, and can be accepted only by a voracious credulity. It requires a renunciation of common sense to believe that when Jesus took bread into His hands, that bread became His body; so that He held His body in His hands! The statement of such a dogma is its sufficient exposure.

      Lutherans, while they dissent from the Romish view, advocate what they call Consubstantiation. By this they mean that in the Lord’s Supper the body and the blood of Christ are really present in the bread and the wine. While this view differs from the Romish, it is equally mysterious and scarcely less incredible; for it demands the impossible belief that the body of Christ is not only present in many places on earth at the same time, but that it is also in Heaven. Surely the body of Christ is not omnipresent.

      Episcopalians and Methodists, as well as Romanists and Lutherans, receive kneeling the bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper. The posture is an unnatural one, and the custom of kneeling no doubt has an historical connection with Transubstantiation — that is to say, when the dogma was accepted as true, the bread and the wine were considered suitable objects of adoration. Hence the kneeling attitude was assumed by Romanists, transmitted by them to Episcopalians, and from them inherited by Methodists. It is strange, in view of the idolatrous origin of the custom of kneeling, that it is continued by those who adjure idolatry.

      There is one thing in the service of Episcopalians and Methodists which must ever impress Baptists as very strange: The minister, in delivering the bread to each person, says, “The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.” In giving the cup he says, “The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.” (The Methodist's “Discipline” transposes the terms “body” and “soul.”) This may not be, but it seems to be, a prayer offered to the body and the blood of Christ, which are invoked to preserve unto everlasting life the body and the soul of the person addressed. Prayer to Christ is eminently proper, for it is justified by the example of the dying Stephen; but prayer to the body and the blood of Christ is utterly indefensible.

      Presbyterians are nearer right in their views of the Lord’s Supper than are the denominations to which I have referred. They do not kneel and they make prominent the commemorative feature of the ordinance. True, they call it a “sealing ordinance;” and these words Baptists vainly try to understand. What is sealed? “The covenant of grace,” they say. How is this? They say also that “baptism seals” it. Has it two seals? Among men covenants are invalid without seals. Is the covenant of grace invalid for purposes of salvation unless the seals of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are appended to it? Presbyterians will hardly answer in the affirmative. The truth is the New Testament never refers to baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “sealing ordinances,” and for the best reason: It teaches that believers are “sealed by the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption.” If the Holy Spirit seals, there is security; and there is something wrong in the theology which makes baptism and the Lord’s Supper “sealing ordinances.”

      Baptists hold that, as the Lord’s Supper is a church ordinance, the supreme prerequisite to it is church-membership. Baptism, it is true, is often referred to as a prerequisite, and so it is, but only in the sense that it is a prerequisite to church-membership. The members of every local church can claim it as a right to come to the Lord’s Table in that church, but in no other.... This is a matter so plain that it is needless to dwell on it. It sometimes creates a smile when it is said that Baptists are more liberal in their views and practice in regard to the Lord’s Supper than are any other people; but it is true. It is true in the sense that they believe that all whom they baptize and receive into church-membership are entitled to seats at the Lord’s Table; and it is true in the sense that they welcome to that Table all whom they baptize. They dare not sever from each other the two ordinances of the gospel. Of what other denomination can this be said? I refer to the denominations of Protestant Christendom. Among Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Methodists baptism and the Lord’s Supper are put asunder — that is to say, this is true of “baptized children” as distinguished from “communicants.” With Episcopalians and Lutherans these “baptized children,” so called, are kept from the Lord’s Table until they receive the rite of “Confirmation.” It is not possible to give a good reason for this practice; for if through “sponsors” they are entitled to baptism, they are also entitled to the Lord’s Supper. Presbyterians require in the “baptized children” evidence of personal piety before they are allowed to come to the Lord’s Table, and Methodists, to say the least, insist that there shall be “a desire to flee from the wrath to come.” The argument against inviting infants is that infants cannot “discern the body and blood of the Lord Jesus.” This is doubtless true; but it is equally true that they cannot discern the spiritual significance of baptism. If the inability to “discern” is a bar to the Lord’s Table, it should also be a bar to the Lord’s baptism. There can be no good reason for severing the ordinances of the gospel. Those who are entitled to baptism are entitled to the Lord’s Supper. There is an interference with scriptural order whenever the two ordinances are disjoined. The interference cannot be justified.

      Baptists, therefore, say that the Lord’s Supper is not scripturally observed among Pedobaptists. They have neither scriptural baptism nor scriptural church-membership, and there cannot be a scriptural administration of the Lord’s Supper. In addition to this, they withhold from a large number — perhaps a majority — of those who, in their judgment, are baptized the Lord’s Supper. This is a great inconsistency. It must be said, however, that if the ordinances were not sundered — that is, if all baptized by Pedobaptists were permitted to come to the Lord’s Supper — the service would be vitiated by the presence of a majority composed of unbelievers and of those incapable of believing. In view of such considerations as these, it will readily be seen why Baptists believe that Pedobaptists fail to observe the Lord’s Supper according to the New Testament, even as they fail to administer New Testament baptism.

      On the other hand, it is a distinctive Baptist principle that a scriptural church is a congregation of baptized believers in Christ, whose duty and privilege it is “to eat the Lord’s Supper.” All the members of such a church are required to commemorate their Lord’s death. They are united to Him by faith in His name, and through Him, by spiritual ties, to one another, while their baptism has incorporated them into one body, and their partaking of “one bread” (I Corinthians 10:17) is a symbol of their unity.

      Baptists detach from the Lord’s Supper every idea of Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation, ritual efficacy, sealing virtue, etc., and consider it a memorial of Christ’s death. Its commemorative office is that which constitutes its supreme distinction. Everything else connected with it is secondary and incidental. “This do in remembrance of me,” said Jesus in instituting the ordinances on the night of the betrayal. In the eating of the broken bread He requires that His crucified body be remembered; in the drinking of the cup He enjoins a remembrance of His blood. That the faculty of memory is specially exercised concerning the death of Christ in the sacred Supper is manifest from I Corinthians 11:26: “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” We do not show His birth, or baptism, or burial, or resurrection, or ascension, but His death. If ever the tragedy of Calvary should engross the thoughts of the Christian to the exclusion of every other subject, it is when he sits at the Table of the Lord. Then memory must reproduce the scenes of the crucifixion and so hold them up to the mind that Christ is “evidently set forth crucified.” Then in the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup the body and the blood of the Lord are “spiritually discerned,” and the ordinance, by the presence of the Holy Spirit, becomes a rich blessing to the soul. It becomes the means of strengthening faith in Christ and of increasing love to Him; while memory goes back to His death, and hope looks to His second coming, when His personal presence will supersede the necessity of any symbol to promote a remembrance of Him.


[From Distinctive Principles of Baptists, pp. 174-182, 1882 edition; via The Berea Baptist Banner, April, 2017, pp. 19-21. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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