Online Services and the Lord’s Supper
The pastors and elders share their deliberation and thoughts on the decision to defer observing the Lord's Supper until we can physically gather as a church.
To comply with the precautionary measures instituted by the Government, we have suspended the physical gatherings of our worship services and ministries. We have also requested that our care groups and small group Bible studies be conducted online only, regardless of group size. In addition, we have encouraged members to participate in our worship services at home with their families only, and not in groups.
The pastors-elders have discussed at length the impact of these measures on our practice of the Lord’s Supper. This article summarises our views on this matter.
Will we livestream the Lord’s Supper?
No. The English Congregation Leadership’s decision is that we defer practising the Lord’s Supper until we are able to physically gather again as a church.
The pastors-elders arrived at this decision based on an understanding of what Scripture says concerning the Lord’s Supper.
In Luke 22:14-20, Jesus institutes the practice of the Lord’s Supper, transforming the Jewish Passover meal into a new-covenant meal that remembers His sacrificial death. The bread symbolises Jesus’ body broken for His people; the cup symbolises Jesus’ blood poured out to establish a covenantal relationship with His people.
By partaking in the Lord’s Supper, we are proclaiming the Lord’s death. We also show that we have entered into and are continuing in a covenantal relationship with God and His people, by virtue of sharing in Christ’s sacrificial death for us. And not only do we look back on Jesus’ finished work on the cross, we also look forward to His return.
The Lord’s Supper is a sign of the unity that we share as God’s covenant people in Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
In 1 Corinthians 11, therefore, Paul urges the church to conduct the Lord’s Supper in holiness, love and unity. Paul refers five times to the fact that they celebrate the Lord’s Supper when they come together as a church (vv17, 18, 20, 33, 34). The Christians at Corinth are to “discern the body” (v29) (i.e. the church and their relationships with one another) in order to eat and drink in a way that honours Christ. Paul also calls them to “wait for (or share with) one another” (v33) when they come together for the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is a shared meal signifying that many have joined as one, because we share in Christ together. Therefore, because we are unable to physically come together and share in the meal, the pastors-elders have decided to defer our practice of this ordinance until we are able to resume our physical gatherings. While we are grateful for how technology has enabled us to live-stream our services, we hesitate to equate a virtual gathering with an actual one simply because we are not physically present with one another.
The pastors-elders wrestled with this decision, which was not an easy one to make. We understand that when Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me”, He speaks with the weight of a command. The imperative to continue to remember our Saviour’s sacrifice helps to focus our hearts on Christ, and to strengthen our faith and hope.
Yet we are also aware that Scripture does not explicitly specify how frequently we are to conduct the Lord’s Supper. Jesus simply said: “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Therefore, on balance, we think it best to defer practising the Lord’s Supper for now, until we can do so in a manner that best abides by biblical norms and principles.
How, then, shall we remember the death of Jesus Christ in the meantime?
Life amid a pandemic involves suffering and loss. One such loss is our inability to physically gather as a church. In these extraordinary times, we yearn for the “ordinary” means of grace—such as the regular gathering of God’s people and the sharing of our communion meal. So we learn to lament and to seek mercy from our compassionate Father, who “knows our frame and remembers that we are dust.” (Ps 103:14)
Our temporary “fasting” cultivates in us a longing for an even greater meal. Then, we shall feast with Jesus when all is fulfilled in the kingdom of God (Lk 22:16). In the meantime, we continue to wait patiently on our sovereign Lord, who remains faithful, good and true.
We also learn to look beyond the ordinance, and to long for the Lord himself. The elements have no spiritual value in and of themselves. But we can continue to remember, praise and give thanks to Him who was “pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities” (Isa 53a). We also press on to humbly examine ourselves, confess and repent, pursue holiness and brotherly love, and maintain our unity of the Spirit. In all this, we can be encouraged because we have a great high priest who has died, risen and passed through the heavens, Jesus, God’s beloved Son. He is able to sympathise with our weaknesses. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:15-16)