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VOLUME 16, ISSUE 3
Rick Barker is a native of Southwestern Ohio and facilitates a weekly Bible study for former and transitioning Adventists in the Dayton, Ohio, area. Rick graduated from Andrews University in 1987 and received a Masters degree from the University of Dayton. Rick and his wife Sheryl formally left the Adventist chuch in 2004. Prior to this they had been active in the Miamisburg and Wilmington, Ohio, churches.
D E P A R T M E N T S
Adventism EXAMINED with Rick Barker
ADVENTISM’S FUNDAMENTAL BELIEF #16
THE LORD'S SUPPER
Adventism’s Fundamental Belief #16: The Lord’s Supper
The Lord's Supper is a participation in the emblems of the body and blood of Jesus as an expression of faith in Him, our Lord and Savior. In this experience of communion Christ is present to meet and strengthen His people. As we partake, we joyfully proclaim the Lord's death until He comes again. Preparation for the Supper includes self-examination, repentance, and confession. The Master ordained the service of foot washing to signify renewed cleansing, to express a willingness to serve one another in Christlike humility, and to unite our hearts in love. The communion service is open to all believing Christians.
Comments about the belief statement
This Fundamental Belief on the Lord’s Supper appears simple and straightforward. Let’s examine it closely, however, to determine how Scriptural the beliefs actually are.
First, Scripture never describes the elements of communion as “emblems” or “symbols”. This interpretation is a very common understanding, one that is certainly not unique to Adventism. In the strictest sense, however, this designation is a tradition rather than sola Scriptura. Scripture only tells us that we are sharing in the body and blood of Christ (e.g. 1 Cor. 10:16-17); it never details specifically “how” that sharing takes place. Different churches have defined that “sharing” differently, resulting in traditions that are taught as dogma.
Second, the opening statement in the Fundamental Belief also describes participation in communion as an act of expressing our faith in Christ. Again, the doctrine goes beyond what is stated in Scripture. Communion is not described in the Bible as an expression of faith.
Next, the Fundamental Belief states that Christ is present in communion “to meet and strengthen His people.” I ask, though, whether this statement is based solely on Scripture or whether Adventists are relying on some of the same traditions that they criticize others for adopting.
The next statement, that taking communion proclaims the Lord’s death, is the first solidly biblical teaching in the belief statement. It is drawn from the passage. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).
The belief statement further addresses the scriptural command for self-examination in regards to communion: “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:28).
The belief statement further introduces foot washing into the Lord’s Supper. In the context of John 13, Jesus’ example of foot washing was one of humbling oneself to serve, not of requiring “renewed cleansing”. Also, while foot washing itself is not “wrong”, I cannot agree with Adventists’ conclusion that foot washing is established as a necessary precursor to communion because neither the example nor instruction on the practice are provided in any other passages of the Bible. However, my single largest objection to the manner in which Adventists have applied the passages of foot washing is that it allows a single, symbolic act to replace the continual attitude of serving one another.
Who may take communion is another subject on which churches differ. Some churches only allow baptized believers to participate in communion. Others have a minimum age, or prerequisite classes (such as confirmation). A few churches limit communion to their own members, and others allow all believers to participate. The gospels and 1 Corinthians 10 show that Jesus inaugurated the Lord’s Supper with His disciples, and Paul instructed the Corinthian Christians how to celebrate communion, but these provide no specific instructions on who is allowed to participate.
Scripture links communion with atonement and the New Covenant both directly (Mt. 26.28) and indirectly (Heb. 9:11-15), but these important truths are missing from the Fundamental Belief. This absence raises the question: can a church that teaches an incomplete atonement and chooses the old covenant over the new legitimately serve biblical communion? In conclusion, Adventist teaching on the Lord’s Supper isn’t particularly unique nor heterodox. While churches and denominations may define traditions where Scripture is silent or unspecific, it is healthy, nevertheless, for believers to understand what teachings are based on traditions and which are drawn solely and directly from Scripture. †
Copyright 2015 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Camp Verde, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised November 10, 2015. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
ADVENTIST COMMUNION: FROM THE BIBLE OR TRADITION?