When I invite Christians to partake of the Lord’s Supper at Grace Presbyterian Church, why do I invite baptized believers in Jesus Christ who are members in good standing of an evangelical church? Why is church membership required for Communion? Why is it not enough to be a Christian?
Church membership is required because the Lord’s Supper is a covenant meal for God’s covenant people. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper in place of the Passover (Luke 22:7-8, 11, 13, 15), which was the covenant meal of the old covenant (Exodus 12:43-51). Jesus referred to the cup as “the new covenant in his blood” (Luke 22:20). And when Jesus instituted the Supper, he gave it to his disciples in particular, not the world in general. It was a fellowship meal for his faithful followers.
When we read the book of Acts, which chronicles the growth and spread of the early Christian Church, we can see that the Lord’s Supper is celebrated by members of the church. For example, in Acts 2:41 we read that God saved 3,000 people on the Day of Pentecost. It was only after they received the word and were baptized that they participated in the breaking of the bread, which refers to the Lord’s Supper (2:42). Later in Luke’s history, we see that the early Church celebrated Communion on the first day of the week when they were gathered together as a church (20:7).
When Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians, he makes it clear that the Lord’s Supper is observed in the context of the local church gathering together as a church (1 Corinthians 1:2; 11:17, 18, 20, 23, 33). The Lord’s Supper is celebrated as a communal meal in the context of the gathered church. It is not only a time for the individual Christian to remember Christ’s death (1 Corinthians 11:24-25), but it is also a time for Christians to come together and realize that we are one body (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).
The other important consideration is the warning of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace for believers, but it can be a means of judgment for unbelievers. We are told that we are not to eat with one who calls himself a brother and lives a life of unrepentant sin (1 Corinthians 5:11). Instead, we are supposed to enjoy fellowship with those who are members in good standing of the community established by Christ.
The church membership requirement is unpopular in our culture. We live in a time of expressive individualism. We live in a day where the importance of the church is minimalized and marginalized. Sometimes people are confused by this requirement on account of the way many churches handle membership. But we must remain faithful to Christ’s instructions that his covenant meal is for his covenant people. We are, after all, communing with Christ and with each other. Let us do so in sincerity and truth.