BRING BACK THE LORD'S SUPPER: Open Letter to Southern Baptists
Written by Kevin L. Howard
Dear Southern Baptists and other like-minded evangelicals:
I came to Christ more than 25 years ago in a Southern Baptist church. Since then, I've been a member of Southern Baptist churches in five regions of the United States. I'm concerned about the church in America and particularly Southern Baptist congregations. I've briefly outlined the issues and possible solutions below.
- Southern Baptists could do a better job promoting the Lord's Supper among God's people by partaking of it more often. It seems the Lord's Supper is something many churches do only occasionally and sometimes as an after thought.
- The average Southern Baptist church, I'm guessing, has few people who could engage in an intelligent discussion on significant theological issues like the deity of Christ or the Trinity. Our failure to give the Lord's Supper the priority it deserves has either led to (or is a symptom of a) weak theology in the pew. And a weak theology typically means a weak Christian life filled with pet sins (if the average person on our pew could even be considered a Christian in the biblical sense of the word).
- Leaders could make sure they interweave the Supper's importance into their sermons along the way, even in services where communion isn't given. Pastors would do well to explain its relevance as often as they have opportunity. While the Lord's Supper isn't magic, Christ commanded it as an important component to daily Christian living. It teaches us visually how to approach God--with open hands and open mouths--in a fully needy state. It pictures grace through faith. We come to the table the way we approach God--not of our own power but because he invites us and makes us alive so we may approach. We don't deserve grace or a seat at the Lord's Table, but we can come to him and his Table at his beckoning.
- The Lord's Supper levels the playing field. While pastors have a special role of authority in the church, the Lord's Supper reminds all of us that we're sinners in need of God's mercy. We're all partakers, and needy of his grace, even if we're officiating.
- The Eucharist reminds us of God's holiness and how he hates sin to the point of punishing it. The Lord's Supper remains a great platform for pastors to warn straying confessors of their sin (1 Cor 11). I pray that pastors and elders warn people every time they break the bread and serve the wine. I hope they sound the alarm of sin--all who come to God haphazardly will pay a steep penalty. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God (Heb 10:31). Every Lord's Supper provides an opportunity to teach people accountability to God and his church. American "Christians" are vastly unaware of the responsibility the church has to discipline its people (Mt 18:15-20). I wonder how much of this rebellious unsubmissive spirit in our churches is due to our failure to administer the Lord's Supper on a regular basis so people actually taste of God's goodness and reflect on his abhorrence of sin. (I'd like to know if there is a connection between a church's dysfunction and its infrequency of serving the Lord's Supper.)
- While no schedule exists in Scripture for how often to partake, why not make sure people in the congregation go only a short time before participating in, or else hearing about, the Lord's Supper? After all, we have no command from God to take an offering every week, yet I know of no church that would consider letting a Sunday service end without passing the plate. Is the Lord's Supper less important? Christ never commanded Sunday school as we now know it, yet almost every Southern Baptist church has it in some form every week. Is the Lord's Supper less important?
And if there are Southern Baptist churches out there that partake of the Lord's Supper weekly, being accused of taking Christ's command too seriously isn't so bad. Besides, these Christians are probably much closer to the first century church than the once-a-month or once-a-quarter people.
Allow me to push the issue a bit. Are our churches better or worse for having left the Lord's Supper as a once-a-quarter event? While some churches partake every month, why not make sure we do it often enough to pull our hearts back to God on a regular basis? A church doesn't have to serve the Lord's Supper weekly to be biblical, but it does have to serve it regularly. While I don't want to be legalistic, does once a quarter really place the emphasis on Christ the way it should? I'm guessing that once a month, with a few random communion services intermingled throughout the year, along with mentioning it often in the sermons, gets much closer to helping people grow a rigorous theology that will make true disciples--people who'll remain faithful if radical Muslims overrun our country tomorrow.
Instead of leading American Christians to further indulge in the comfortable lives they have known for too long, let's prepare a generation for suffering and persecution. The Lord's Supper injects the taste of suffering right into our worship services. It will also help us savor God's glory--something the American church needs to relish more often.
Sincerely in Christ,
Kevin L. Howard
Sermon Outline: The Lord's Supper: Finding Strength in Difficult Times