The Lord’s Supper is one of the ordinances that Jesus Christ instituted during his stay on earth. He instituted it during His last Passover with the disciples. “As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, ‘Take this and eat it, for this is my body.’ And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, ‘Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many’” (Matt. 26:26-28, NLT). This was Jesus’ instructions to the disciples before His crucifixion. It was to be carried on from generation to generation—any time they meet on the Lord’s Day, in remembering him as they did so. “… Do this to remember me” (Lk. 22:19, NLT).
As followers of Christ, we are bound to observe this ordinance to remember the Lord Jesus’ death and to keep announcing His death till he comes. “For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again” (1 Cor. 11:26). Furthermore, this is a congregational act by which we corporately affirm our faith, celebrate the completed work of Christ, focus on our unity, and visibly proclaim to the world that Jesus is the only way of salvation.
The Church of Pentecost (CoP) is a leading Pentecostal church in Ghana. It is established in 136 countries around the globe (CoP Website). The Church stresses the importance of partaking in the Lord’s Supper to her members. As an institution that seeks the holistic growth of her members, CoP places much premium on the Lord’s Supper and other New Testament rituals in the body of Christ. To ensure that her members partake in the Lord’s Supper without any hindrance, the church sets aside a week in every month for members to prepare themselves for the sacred ritual. This set period is to make members become conscious of the fact that they have a glorious feast with the Lord Jesus Christ. This beholds on them, to continually set themselves apart. This achieves the purpose of ensuring maximum participation by members.
However, there are quite a number of members who do not attend the Lord’s Supper, hence, making the church not to achieve the optimum rate of participation. From the recent Extraordinary Council Meetings held from May 4-6, 2022, at Gomoa Fetteh, it was identified that the participation rate of the church populace for Lord’s Supper was not at optimal level. This is a challenge to the clergy and laity! This, coupled with other factors, led to the writing of this paper. Why will individuals who profess to be followers of Christ stay away from dinning with the Lord Jesus Christ who has commanded us to fellowship with him?
This paper looks into the meaning of ordinance and the Lord’s Supper as an ordinance. Factors accounting for some members not participating in the Lord’s Supper will be highlighted. Finally, some suggestions towards reaching an optimal participation rate for Lord’s Supper in the CoP will be outlined.
THE ORDINANCE OF THE CHURCH
The Encarta English Dictionary defines ordinance as “a law or rule made by an authority such as a city government.” This law must be observed by all under the authority of the government. Failure to observe the law calls for punishment to the offender.Also, it “is something regularly done because it is formally prescribed, especially a religious ceremony such as Communion” (Collins Dictionary).
Protestants have historically recognized two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, whereas Roman Catholics have held to seven sacraments: baptism, Lord’s Supper, confirmation, penance, extreme unction, holy orders, and marriage. There exist differences of opinion regarding terminology. Catholics (and some Protestants) prefer the term sacrament, which comes from the Latin sacramentum, meaning “a thing set apart as sacred”.
The term sacramentum in the Latin Vulgate was also used to translate the Greek word musterion (Eph. 5:32) and “came to be used for anything that had a secret or mysterious significance.” Saint Augustine of Hippo called it “visible form of an invisible grace.” Sacrament was later defined as an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” It is for this reason that many Protestants (including CoP) have preferred the term ordinance.
An ordinance is usually “not considered a conduit of grace but simply a practice commanded to be performed by the Lord.” It might be defined as “an outward rite prescribed by Christ to be performed by His church.” It is a practice that demonstrates the participants’ faith. Simply put, an ordinance is an act of man in obedience to God.
In the CoP, there are two main ordinances the church upholds and put them into practice. They are the Baptism by immersion and the Lord’s Supper.
THE LORD’S SUPPER AS AN ORDINANCE
Jesus established two ordinances for the church—water baptism (Matt. 28:19) and the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:24, 25). The Lord’s Supper is the continuation of the identity of a believer with the body of Christ which is the church. It is a reminder of God’s commitment to and covenant with his people through Christ.
The name “Lord’s Supper” comes from 1 Corinthians 11:20. Other names for the ceremony include “the Last Supper” (Matt 26:29), “the Lord’s Table” (1 Cor 10:21), “Fellowship” (1 Cor 10:16), “Eucharist” (the Greek word for ‘thanksgiving’ in Matt 26:27; Mk 14:23), “Breaking of Bread” (Acts 2:42, NRSV), “the Mass” and “the Cup of Blessing” (1 Cor 10:16, KJV).
Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper on the eve of his crucifixion during the last supper he shared with the disciples. Jesus was eager to eat the Holy Communion with his disciples during the Passover feast (Lk. 22:7-23, Matt. 26:17-30, Mk. 14:12-26), before his departure from earth. He took bread and, when He had broken it, said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24). In the same way, he also took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:25). After dinning with them, Jesus commanded his disciples to continue in the practice in remembrance of him.
LORD’S SUPPER IN NEW TESTAMENT TIMES
As said earlier, the Lord’s Supper was introduced by Jesus on the eve of His crucifixion. He wanted to leave behind an ordinance for them to remember, and to practice continually until His return (Matt. 26:26-29; Mk. 14:22-25; Lk. 22:14-23). This was a new covenant or testament in contrast with the old Mosaic covenant. To enact the covenant, death was necessary because it provided forgiveness of sins, hence, the symbol of the wine. The Lord’s Supper became a key element in the fellowship of believers (Acts 2:42), and was practiced at their daily meetings (Acts 2:46). It later became a Sunday meal during Sunday gatherings (Acts 20:7) in the Early Church. This was later practiced by the Gentile churches such as Corinthians who kept it as an ordinance (1 Cor. 11:17-34).
EMBLEMS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
Unlike the Passover feast which uses lamb with bitter leaves and unleavened bread, Jesus used bread and wine for the Lord’s Supper feast. Why did Jesus use these two items? Below are the reasons why no other objects other than these two were used.
Bread is a universal meal. Although there are different types of bread, every culture has bread. God provided bread for the Israelites when he gave them Manna. This food means “What is this?” They fed on this divine bread for forty (40) years (Exo. 16:15:35, Num. 11:7). The Psalmist call manna ‘corn from heaven’ (Ps. 78: 24). The manna was actually the bread from heaven (Jn. 6:31). Jesus gave them the answer to the long-awaited question that was asked in the wilderness experience by saying “I am the bread which came down from heaven” (Jn. 6:41). Jesus is the living bread (John 6:58). The eating of the manna ensured divine strength and energy for their forty years journey in the wilderness. The miracle bread ensured that there was none sick among the Israelites (Ps. 105: 27-40). The breaking of bread was to show his suffering. Jesus broke the bread himself signifying giving up himself for his death. The soldiers were not able to get hold of Jesus until he gave up himself. “And when he said to them, I am he, they went back, falling to the earth” (Jn. 18:6).
Wine was a symbol of joy (Joel 3:18, Prov. 3:10) and the wine represent the blood of Christ. Passover lamb was shared per house-hold but the blood of Christ was for all humanity. Just as the blood of a Lamb caused Passover over of the angel of death in Egypt, so also the blood of Christ has caused Passover over all believers from death to life.
One may ask whether these are the only emblems. Yes! These are those that Jesus Christ used with His disciples. Notwithstanding believers can use close substitutes. E.g., some churches use wafer or biscuit as bread and red wine or soobolo as wine for the Holy Communion, they are the available.
WHO QUALIFIES TO PARTICIPATE IN THE LORD’S SUPPER?
Jesus organised it for all His disciples for they were all believers until the fall of Judas. Paul continued to define those who can partake in the Lord’s Supper by giving yardstick—Self-examination. This, according to him, will keep people from being sick and dying.
In CoP, the Lord’s Supper is opened for anyone who recognises their relationship with God as a right such as a believer (1 Cor. 10:11), one baptised in water (Mt. 28:19), and a self-examined person who is right with his or her Maker (1 Cor. 11:27-29). Such a person must have been extended the right hand of fellowship; a solemn act of partnership signifying acceptance, agreement and trust into the body of Christ. Apostle Paul attests to this: “In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews” (Gal 2:9, NLT).
In contrast, the following are not allowed to partake in the Lord’s Supper: children, unbaptised believers, husband of more than one wife and vice versa, and cohabiting individuals. Others are unbelievers, sinners, indulgence in immoral behaviours, witch or wizard, etc.
REASONS FOR NON-OPTIMAL PARTICIPATION RATE IN THE LORD’S SUPPER
Some Christians do not fall short of dinning with the Lord but give flimsy excuses which keep them away from attending the Lord’s Table. Some of them will be discussed here:
Non-extension of right hand of fellowship. Some Christians do not attend the Lord’s Supper not because of any sin they have committed, but as a result of non-extension of right hand of fellowship. Such people attend church on Lord’s Supper Sundays but are not allowed to dine with the Lord.
Evading paying tithes on the Lord’s Supper Day. The payment of tithes, unlike tax, has been very difficult for some Christians in our generation. As a practice in CoP, tithes are paid on every Sunday, with the first Sunday of every month being the closing period. This is to give monthly workers who receive their salaries at the end of the month the benefit to bring their sacrifice to the Lord. It is said that some Christians intentionally refuse to attend church on the first Sunday of the month, which is the Lord’s Supper Sunday, to evade tithes.
Organising child christening on the Lord’s Supper Day. The situation where children are christened on Lord’s Supper Sundays has been one of the factors for low attendance to the Lord’s Supper. Some churches other than CoP hold such ceremonies which attracts some of our members who are family members and friends to the person in question on the basis of solidarity. Others attend anticipating that they will come and support them also during their turn.
Paying visits to friends in different churches on communion days. In addition to the earlier point discussed, some of our members accompany friends to their church for no reason than to pay them visits. And this happens on the Lord’s Supper Sunday. They therefore exempt themselves from participating in the sacred feast.
Holding of and attending to funeral celebrations. Funerals, as human as we are, is part of us. Nothing can be done about it. Since we live in a community, we must attend funerals. Jesus once said as Christians we are to mourn with those who are mourning. This also affects members participation to the Lord’s Supper in cases where members travel and do not attend church. There can also be instances where members lose close relation(s). Since funerals are normally communal affairs, church members often abandon church services (including Communion services) to attend what they regard as ‘important family affair.
The demand for a special kind of apparel often prevents people from partaking in the Lord’s Supper. Some Christians from their background are used to the wearing of white clothes during Lord’s Supper days. Such practice stem from their backgrounds as idol worshippers. It is known from our forebears that idolaters are fond of putting on white apparels during their ritual services. From this same perception, some Christians have carried it over into Christendom. This has eaten them up to the extent that they find it difficult to attend the Lord’s Table when there is no white dress to put on.
Many Christians abstain from the Lord’s Supper because they had sex with their partners. Having sex in marriage is good. Sex should be enjoyed by married couples even on the eve of attending the Lord’s Supper, when the need arises. This does not make married couples unholy. Remember what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:5, “Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer” (NLT). In other words, couples have to decide together when not to have sex which could either be before or after Lord’s Supper. Where there is no agreement, one should not deprive the other of sexual relations. In this case, it is biblically not wrong to have sex either before or after Lord’s Supper.
Some New Testament believers (women) still see themselves as unholy during their menstrual period. Their belief stems from Leviticus 15:19-28, which regard as unholy women who are in their periods. They believe that such women must not come close to the congregation. They were to stay behind till they were sanctified and rituals performed. A similar one is the emission of semen from men (Lev 15:16-17).
Some Christians stay away from the Lord’s Supper because of what is referred to as “Job’s Syndrome”. They blatantly refuse to partake in the Lord’s Supper with the reason being that perhaps they might have committed evil unknowingly, hence, do not want to encounter the Lord’s wrath at the supper. They take precedence from Job’s prayer on behalf of his children that “…perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts” (Job 1:5, NIV). They fail to recognise God’s provision for all those who confess their sins to Him for forgiveness.
Remaining an unforgiving Christian is also one reason why since members abstain from the Lord’s Supper. Until one forgives, his sins are not forgiven. Jesus said, “…forgive, and ye shall be forgiven…” (Lk. 6:37, NKJV). Some Christians find it difficult to forgive for reasons best known to themselves. This makes them harbour grudges within themselves, making it difficult for them to partake in the Lord’s Supper.
An unbaptised believer cannot partake in the Lord’s Supper which is for believers in the body of Christ. Being accepted into the body of Christ begins from baptism by immersion. Jesus commanded the disciples to baptise everyone who believes in him so that they could be admitted into the body of Christ. Thus, a new convert who is not baptised cannot partake in the Lord’s Supper. This is making it difficult for new converts to dine with the Lord.
The issue of Cohabitation also hinders some members from partaking in the Lord’s Supper. This is because the marriage rites has not been fully performed. As a result, some of them feel shy to come to church so they can partake in the Lord’s Supper. They end up not coming at all. Those who are fortunate to attend also become spectators. This discourages them to attend church service on Communion Sundays; thereby, leading to low attendance to the Lord’s Supper.
TOWARDS REACHING AN OPTIMAL LORD’S SUPPER PARTICIPATION RATE IN THE CHURCH OF PENTECOST
We have known from the foregoing discussions the reasons why most of our members do not partake in the Lord’s Supper. Below are some suggested recommendations that can help members in CoP in particular and Christendom in general whip up interest in the Lord’s Supper.
The Church of Pentecost has to extend the right hand of fellowship to new converts. Immediately one accepts Jesus Christ and is baptised, an extension of right hand of fellowship must be extended to new converts so they could partake in the Lord’s Supper. This is done when there are no other factors which could prevent them from dining with the Lord. In other words, new converts are allowed to dine with the Lord when they have no other issues that could deny them from enjoying the meal. Apostle Paul, at repentance, was extended the right hand of fellowship into the body of Christ. This afforded him the chance to be recognised as part of the believers, for they feared him because of his initial fight against the church.
Members must be taught to understand that tithes belong to the Lord. It is very appropriate for believers to pay their tithes, and must be paid to where their spiritual nourishment come from—thus to the Local Church or Assembly; tithes belong to the Lord. Abraham paid tithes to the high priest who gave him bread and wine. “…Then Abram gave him a tenth of all the goods he had taken” (Gen. 14:20). It must be noted that one cannot live throughout the month without eating or drinking. Once a person eats, he has to pay tithes. But where one sincerely knows that he received nothing throughout the tithing week, no one can stop them from attending the Lord’s Supper. Attending the Lord’s Supper is having a personal relationship with God, and no one should be denied of it. Jesus did not deny Judas from dining with him though he knew his intentions.
Members have to desist from going to naming ceremony on Lord’s Supper days. Christianity is not ‘scratch my back and let me scratch your back’, but it is having a divine encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. Many people see church as a group or fan club. This should not be so. A church is the association of individuals who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and personal saviour. They have also accepted to live by the principles of God so their very lives can be transformed to be like that of Christ. In the end, they are assured of having an eternal home in heaven. Attending church is not like engaging in nnoboa. People exchange their relationship with God for such things. Once they accompany you to church, the next time they expect you to do same for them—by accompanying them to church. There are some who attend such ceremonies even on a Lord’s Supper Sunday. There are times when they don’t even have a direct relationship with the one having the ceremony. Those having the programme may be friends of loved ones. I visited an Assembly in my District on a Lord’s Supper Day to find out that almost four-fifth of the church had gone for naming ceremony of a sister who is not a member of our church. I am not saying one should not accompany a relative to such functions. The church should not encourage members to indulge in such manner. This practice must be discarded. One should be firm to tell a relative not to fix such programmes on such days. Leaders must teach members to desist from such practices. At least, the CoP member should go for Lord’s Supper and after that can accompany the friend.
Members must be encouraged to stop paying visits to their friends’ churches on communion days. In addition to the earlier point discussed, some members who are communicants should stop visiting friends and loved ones who are in different denominations, especially on Lord’s Supper days. Such practices must be discouraged. This, when done, will increase attendance to Lord’s Supper. It is not to discourage members from visiting their friends and loved ones.
Members must be encouraged to prioritize the Lord’s Supper during funerals. Funerals are organised either on Saturday or any day within the week in Ghana. Funerals are not organised on Sundays. Even those who celebrate on Sundays do so after church services. It is unfortunate to know that some Christians fail to dine with the Lord when funerals are organised a day preceding the Lord’s Supper Sunday. There is nothing wrong with finding time in the heat of funeral to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with believers. It even shows one’s maturity in the Lord. Such a behaviour indicates that they place much premium on the fellowship of God as against that of man. Bereaved members must come for the Lord’s Supper and later visit the funeral grounds. Those who travel for funeral should make it a point to dine with the Lord wherever they find themselves on Sundays and report to their presiding afterwards.
Again, members must be encouraged to embrace the “no white clothes for communion service”. There is no specified attire earmarked for the observation of Lord’s Supper rituals. Even in the New Testament, there is no prescribed dress for Christians. The closest one is for believers to dress modestly (1 Tim. 2:9-10). Christians without white colour uniforms should come to church without any feeling of inferiority. Jesus did not prescribe dressing for us when attending the Lord’s Table. Put on anything you have provided it decent.
Sexual acts before the Lord’s Supper is not unholy. Having sex in marriage is good. Sex can be enjoyed by married couples even on the eve of attending the Lord’s Supper. This does not make married couples unholy. In other words, God does not prohibit such act by married couples. Once they enjoy themselves at home, they can still partake in the Holy Communion. Remember, the body of the man is for the woman and a vice versa. “The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor 7:4-5, NLT).
Bodily discharges is not evil. In the New Testament, all these rituals have been dealt with by the blood of Jesus. The animals that were used for purification symbolizes Christ the coming Saviour. He was to die as an atonement for our sins. Hence, believers are no more in condemnation. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1, NKJV). A believer can be in her period and can still dine with the Lord or release bodily fluids and still attend the Lord’s Supper provided it was not a self-induced one such as masturbation.
There is also the need for Christians to have a forgiving heart. Until one forgives, his sins are not forgiven. Jesus said, “…forgive, and ye shall be forgiven…” (Lk. 6:37, NKJV). Jesus expects us to forgive each other. The magnitude of the error should not prevent one from stretching forth the hand of forgiveness. It is better to forgive so you can partake in the meal in Jesus’ presence than to keep away from it and face eternal punishment. One woman told me; it will be very difficult for her to forgive a fellow Christian who has wronged her. Such a person will find it very difficult to attend the Lord’s Supper. We should forgive.
There is no need for Christians to harbor guilt feelings. In order to partake in the Lord’s Supper and to overcome the Job’s syndrome, members must always pray to God for forgiveness of sin, even when they do not remember committing it. And when confessed, they must believe that they have been forgiven. “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 Jn. 1:9, NLT).
Christians must agree to water baptism. Once a believer accepts Christ, they must be sent for water baptism which is followed with the extension of right hand of fellowship. “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19, NLT). This must be done to pave way for new individuals take part in the Lord’s Supper after going through the appropriate teachings.
Christians must be involved in Biblically and socially accepted marriages. Some members who have not paid their partners’ bride price to some of them, feel shy to attend church and not partake in the Lord’s Supper. They end up not coming at all. Those who are fortunate to attend also become spectators. This does not encourage them to attend church service on Communion Sundays. The men are being encourage to perform their partners’ bride price to enable them dine with the Lord.
Eating and drinking the body and the wine in the presence of the LORD is not just chemistry but a mystery. It is a divine meal that affirms our fellowship with the Lord. It is a must for all Christians.
As Christians we should be obedient and determine to dine with the Lord at all times. We should let nothing take us from dinning in the presence of the Lord; there are many benefits in partaking in the Lord’s Supper.
When these are observed and practised, the church will reach an optimal participation rate for Lord’s Supper in The Church of Pentecost, in particular, and other denominations in general.
May God help us all.
Written by Asamoah Emmanuel Foster