We find only two remaining ordinances in New Testament Christianity — water baptism and the Lord's Supper (i.e. communion). These ordinances are very simple in comparison to the elaborate ritual of the Old Testament.
Baptism is only practiced once in a person's life, and the New Testament gives no instruction on how often to celebrate communion. (It only says "as often as you do it…") This is a striking contrast to the Old Testament forms spelled out in exacting detail.
In Dwell, baptism and the Lord's Supper are practiced in the more intimate setting of our home churches with other Christians. We also take the Lord's Supper at large meetings attended only by Christians in Dwell, such as Servant Team retreats for our lay leadership.
Apart from the logistics and time it would take, we do not include communion as part of our Central Teachings (CT) primarily because these meetings are also designed for people who have not yet begun a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We do not want to confuse or make them feel excluded while they investigate the claims of the Bible and the offer of forgiveness from Christ.
What is Communion?
In Paul's letter of 1 Corinthians (chapters 11-13), he addresses problems the Corinthian churches were having in their house meetings. Paul not only rebukes them for their wrong attitude; he also explains the right way to meet together, and he begins this description by explaining the Lord's Supper in 11:23-26.
So much misunderstanding and superstition surrounds this ritual. It is actually a very beautiful way for Christians to come together, but we must understand its meaning and purpose before we can benefit from it.
Having been directly instructed by the risen Lord on this matter (vs 23a), Paul explains it to them and us:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.
The Lord's Supper is not a magical reenactment of Christ's death by which God's acceptance is doled out to us. This view of ritual is totally foreign to the Bible. Rather, the Lord's Supper is a symbol of Christ's gift to us.
The first Lord's Supper was a Passover meal, highly symbolic of God's provision of a blameless substitute to exempt us from God's judgment for sin (Exodus 12). This ritual meal was a foreshadowing of Christ's death. When Jesus took it with his disciples, he was announcing that he was about to fulfill what the first Passover foreshadowed, which is why we don't sacrifice animals anymore. Instead, Jesus focuses our attention on new symbolic elements, namely the bread and the wine.
Why bread and wine?
The bread is not magically turned into Christ's body. When Jesus said, "This is my body," his disciples knew where his physical body was. They knew he was speaking figuratively, as he often did (e.g. "I am the door"; "I am the vine").
The bread represents his body, his person containing God's spiritual life that is now available to us (John. 6:35). Through union with Christ, we have access to the spiritual life of God. The hunger in our hearts for love, meaning, security and significance can be fundamentally satisfied by knowing Christ, instead of restlessly seeking to fill that emptiness with poor substitutes (John. 6:27).
The wine is not magically turned into Christ's blood. It signifies "the new covenant in (at the cost of) my blood." That is, the wine represents the death of Jesus, which makes this new life available to us. God's life is available to us only because he forgives us of our sins. This forgiveness is available solely through Jesus' voluntary and substitutionary death.
Why take communion?
Paul explains three purposes for taking the Lord's Supper:
First, it is a remembrance (vs 24,25). It is one way to remind ourselves of this precious, awesome gift from a gracious God. What a tragic irony that a ritual, which beautifully emphasizes God's gift to us has been perverted into a work that we do to earn God's favor! We need to be reminded because we so easily drift into a spoiled, thankless attitude toward God.
Second, it is a proclamation (vs 26). Taking the Lord's Supper is one way of communicating to God and others that you have personally received Christ's gift, and that you have personally trusted in his death to forgive your sins and unite you with God. This is why it is inappropriate to observe communion unless you've received Christ.
Third, it is also an expression of our unity with each other (1 Corinthians 10:16,17). Just as we are united to Christ, we are also united to one another. Thus, communion is a "sharing" (Gr. koinonia)—a way of expressing our spiritual unity in Christ as our high priest (Hebrews 4:14-15).
That's why we observe it in a personal way with Christian friends who know and love one another—not in a formal, ceremonial way with a minister or priest acting as our mediator.
Portions of this article are direct abstracts from a teaching called "3 Keys to Dynamic Meetings," prepared from 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 by Gary DeLashmutt.