Who should be included in the Lord’s Supper? As I’ve been researching today for my promised essay on Mennonites and ordinances, I came across this answer in the Schleitheim Confession (the earliest Anabaptist statement of faith):
Concerning the breaking of bread, we have become one and agree thus: all those who desire to break the one bread in remembrance of the broken body of Christ and all those who wish to drink of one drink in remembrance of the shed blood of Christ, they must beforehand be united in the one body of Christ, that is the congregation of God, whose head is Christ, and that by baptism. For as Paul indicates, we cannot be partakers at the same time of the table of the Lord and the table of devils. Nor can we at the same time partake and drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils. That is: all those who have fellowship with the dead works of darkness have no part in the light. Thus all those who follow the devil and the world, have no part with those who have been called out of the world unto God. All those who lie in evil have no part in the good.
So it shall and must be, that whoever does not share the calling of the one God to one faith, to one baptism, to one spirit, to one body together with all the children of God, may not be made one loaf together with them, as must be true if one wishes truly to break bread according to the command of Christ.
I find it interesting how this statement affirms two realities at the same time: (a) Not everyone has a right to take part in breaking bread and (b) there is only “one body of Christ” composed of “all the children of God.”
On the one hand, there is a warning that those who “have fellowship with the dead works of darkness” have no right to the Lord’s Table. It is easy to understand this concern, given how the Roman Catholic mass was extended to all citizens within the Holy Roman Empire, holy and unholy alike. Latter in the Schleitheim Confession this separation from evil is described in very specific language:
…Everything which has not been united with our God in Christ is nothing but an abomination which we should shun. By this are meant all popish and repopish works and idolatry, gatherings, church attendance, winehouses, guarantees and commitments of unbelief, and other things of the kind, which the world regards highly, and yet which are carnal or flatly counter to the command of God, after the pattern of all the iniquity which is in the world. From all this we shall be separated…
The second concern, the concern for unity, may seem less expected. After all, this confession was written by believers that had just broken off from what everyone else thought was the church. But this concern for oneness is also clearly stated: Anyone who does not “share” in “one body together with all the children of God” is not eligible to break bread. Perhaps significantly, no mention is made of sharing a oneness merely with one specific congregation; the vision of these Anabaptists extended to all who belonged to Christ. In this context this meant, at minimum [?], that scattered, rapidly-growing, loosely-connected network of what we now call Anabaptist congregations, which at the time were not formally united into one denomination or church alliance. [Edit: For a more accurate nuance than what I initially wrote here, see Kevin Brendler’s comment below, with my response. You can find the notes Brendler mentions by following the Schleitheim Confession link above.]
The Schleitheim Confession cites Paul as it expresses its warning against the dead works of darkness. In 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 Paul includes these words:
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. (v. 21)
The Schleitheim Confession’s concern for oneness springs equally from Paul, borrowing language from Ephesians 4:4-6. Paul also expresses this concern in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, where his primary concern is that the Lord’s Supper is being observed in a way that divides believers from one another. Rich believers are consuming the bread and wine of the church love feast without waiting for their poor, tardy brothers! This selfish practice is so at odds with the sacrificial, serving nature of Christ’s death that the Corinthians are supposedly remembering that Paul wonders whether they are even discerning the signified presence of the Lord’s body in the bread and wine that they are consuming! How can they keep the bread and wine of the supper to themselves when Jesus did not keep his own body from them–when he shared it freely, even unto death?
The framers of the Schleithheim Confession were right to emphasize both holiness and unity. They were right to say that both walking in darkness and being disunited from the one body of Christ make one ineligible for the Lord’s Supper.
But look again. Perhaps most amazingly, these early Anabaptists did not describe these two prerequisites as conflicting values. Rather, they linked them as inseparable:
…They must beforehand be united in the one body of Christ, that is the congregation of God, whose head is Christ, and that by baptism. For as Paul indicates, we cannot be partakers at the same time of the table of the Lord and the table of devils. (emphasis added)
Note the linking word “for.” We could paraphrase these sentences like this: They must be united to the one Church because they must not be unholy. The implication is clear: You are either part of Christ’s one church, or you are unholy. There is no such thing as a holy Christian who has no concern to be united in “one body together with all the children of God.” And there is no such thing as a member of that one body of Christ who is too unholy to take part in the Lord’s Supper.
Since the Roman Catholic Church had dominated Europe for centuries with its strong emphasis on the singularity of the one true Church, these Anabaptists were very clear about the unity of all true believers. Since they had just left that church to escape its entrenched sins, they were clear on the need for holiness. Both concerns were expressed clearly in their qualifications for sharing in the Lord’s Supper.
What about your church? Is it clear on the unity of all true believers? Is it also clear that all members of Christ’s body will do the deeds of light? Are these truths pitted against each other or seen as inseparable? And are both truths clearly displayed whenever you share the Lord’s Supper?
Thank you for reading! I welcome your insights in the comments below.