Who partakes at the Lord’s supper?
Those who “break bread” together express a unique oneness: “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17). When the apostle deals with gifts (12:1), he shows that their functioning must be regulated by the truth that “ye are [the] body of Christ” (12:27). They expressed in breaking bread that they were like a body (10:17), which takes its character from the one Body of which all believers form a part (Ephesians 4:4;1 Corinthians 12:12, 13). Obviously, for those who break bread together to function as a unified body, they must be part of the assembly. This is consistent with the Christians’ practice in Acts. Established churches of God “broke bread” (Acts 2:42; 20:7). Partaking at the Lord’s Supper is not the right of individuals, but the responsibility of a church of God.
What is the role of elders in assembly reception?
The repeated expression, “them that have the rule over you” (Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24) is otherwise translated “your leaders” (JND) or “your guides” (AV margin). The assembly, as “house of God” (1 Timothy 3:15), administers for God in receiving to and putting away from the assembly. In these and all spiritual matters, the elders guide the assembly. Their character and understanding of the Scriptures give the believers confidence that their guidance is godly and scriptural. As leaders, they need a basis for informed decisions (Proverbs 25:2b) founded on the Word of God. By kind, personal conversations with new believers or with visitors who have been attending assembly meetings, they become acquainted with the spiritual qualities of these believers. These matters are confirmed by a united meeting of “the oversight” (1 Timothy 4:14, “presbytery”). Such men are not dictators (“lords,” I Peter 5:3), but they guide by counsel (Thayer). Especially at critical times, they inform the assembly of at least some of the facts and truths on which their decisions are based.
What scriptures guide overseers in interviewing believers for assembly fellowship?
Barnabas wanted the believers in Jerusalem to know three things in order to welcome Saul to the privileges and responsibilities of the assembly (Acts 9:26-29). Barnabas “declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way (his conversion), and that he had spoken to him (his doctrine), and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus (his life)” (verse 27). If a person is to be part of “the fellowship” (Acts 2:42), he must share these three things with the other believers: a common life (he must be saved); a common faith (he must be willing to believe “the faith once for all delivered to the saints”); a common standard of behavior (he must have a testimony consistent with Christian truth; this includes baptism). Different individuals present different needs. Someone who has attended other congregations may be questioned more closely about what he believes. A new believer may questioned more fully about his life, perhaps including moral and marital history, financial dealings, substance abuse, or other matters that elders may even prefer not to discuss. This is not a matter of prying, nor should it be confrontational or embarrassing to anyone involved. The assembly must know those who become part of it. In the process of getting to know these people on a warm, personal, social basis, any questions that arise must be settled to the satisfaction of those who guide the assembly and help preserve its integrity.
Is there a difference in the treatment of those put away from the assembly and those who leave the fellowship?
Those put away from the assembly have the additional stipulation “with such an one no not to eat” (1 Corinthians 5:11). Social interaction with them must cease. This is not the case with one who voluntarily leaves the fellowship. Social interaction may, however, decline because he begins to form associations that are spiritually detrimental. When every spiritual effort has been made to encourage a believer to remain in the assembly and still he persists in leaving, the assembly should be sadly informed of this decision. This, though, is different from his being put away. Both an individual put away and one who leaves the fellowship should always be treated with courtesy and kindness. The concern of all the assembly should be for the spiritual restoration and recovery of both. Consistent public and private prayer to this end is appropriate. Every contact with such individuals should be influenced by a desire that they will submit to the Lord and His Word for their own spiritual benefit.
These cases differ somewhat in their return to the assembly. Greater caution may be suitable for those put away. In both cases, their attendance as they “sit back” at assembly meetings indicates some degree of recovery. Also, before either is received back into the fellowship, he should give evidence that his spiritual strength has been restored, that the reason for his leaving has been judged before the Lord, and that his motivation for returning is spiritual. Appropriate questions about the person’s life and doctrine must be asked by the elders, although in a considerate manner.