Is private communion biblical?

This week, I delivered private communion to a few people who have not attended services for a long time.  Personally, I would prefer not to do private communion because there is a lack of a corporate gathering and fellowship.  The Lord’s Supper should be communal in nature (1 Cor. 11:20).  However, these were two elderly sisters who cannot get to church due to lack of mobility (ages 80s and above).  Moreover, they have not heard the word preached in this congregation for a long time.  I asked them how they have been getting fed spiritually, and asked if they have been listening to preachers on the radio or television (well, I thought that something would be better than nothing at all).  I believe that Word and Sacrament go together.

How many people would have to be present in order for it not to be considered a private communion?  Luther opposed private masses.  In the history of the early church, some priests have even done self-communion. Some use the example of Irenaeus, Jerome, and Chrysostom who believed that Christ consecrated the bread and wine and partook of the elements.  However, I don’t buy this because others were present for this.

I also believe that when partaking of the sacrament of holy communion, we are required to examine ourselves and to reflect on the significance of the sacrament of which one is about to partake (1 Cor. 11:28).  I also believe that confession and forgiveness should be ideally be done before partaking of the Lord’s Supper.  And if one does not attend church, where is the opportunity for them to search their hearts? If they can get to church, then they have no excuse; but what if they genuinely cannot participate in the corporate gathering of the body?  Should we leave them out?  Some people might say that it’s okay to leave them out.  But if we leave them out, then they do not have the opportunity to partake in Holy Communion at all.  That is not good either.

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Author: K.A. Sam

Kevin is a follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include coffee, biking, blogging theologizing, practical ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

13 thoughts on “Is private communion biblical?”

  1. Very interesting. Like you, we too have a long tradition of bringing communion to the homebound. In the Catholic Church, it is usually reserved for priests or deacons, however properly trained lay men and women can do it as well. I would imagine that, like you, the majority of those who receive communion at home are sick or elderly. This is certainly not a practice for those who are lazy! 🙂

    I know in the archdiocese I live in there is a TV program “Mass for Shut-ins” which is meant to help those who can’t make it to Mass to at least hear the proclamation of the week’s Gospel, including homily. I know that many of those who watch also receive communion at home. I also believe many deacons look to Acts 6 as a scriptural warrent for communion for the homebound, even though that passage doesn’t necessarily refer explicitly to communion.

    1 Corinthians 11 is also a great passage in regards to examining oneself before receiving communion. Within the Catholic Church hierarchy in the US, there has been a growing emphasis on confession before receiving communion, particularly if one has serious sin. While the teaching on confession and receiving communion hasn’t changed, there had been a lack of emphasis on it for much of the past 30 years.

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    1. Tim, I really like having confession and forgiveness before Holy Communion because I think it’s biblical. Too bad many Lutherans don’t follow as much as they should…well,, that’s what I think. We just take communion without thinking about what Christ has done on the cross and giving us grace.

      I also believe many deacons look to Acts 6 as a scriptural warrent for communion for the homebound, even though that passage doesn’t necessarily refer explicitly to communion.

      I looked at Acts 6:1. I can see how this can be used by deacons to warrant serving communion. Acts 6:1 never states that they were serving food but it’s just assumed from v.2 “serve tables.”

      RSV/ESV: “widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.”
      NJB: “in the daily distribution their own widows were being overlooked.”
      NAB: “widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.”
      TNIV: “widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.”

      The TNIV adds “of food” in v.1. And the NJB renders it as “give out food” in v.2 but it’s not there in the original text.

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  2. Kevin, solid post. There might be exceptions for private communion.

    You’re right, we to celebrate the communion in communion with other believers who are faithfully pursuing the same with the Triune God.

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  3. I would agree with TC: ideally communion takes place in a gathering with other believers, but where this is not possible a private communion is permitted. This would presumably include isolated believers in remote places or surrounded by unbelievers, as well as those who are housebound. Remember that Jesus promised that where two or three are gathered he is with them – not specifically about communion, but implying that no larger group is necessary for an authentic Christian gathering.

    I suspect that Tim is talking about something subtly different from what you are. The Catholic practice, certainly when there is no priest, is to distribute some of the consecrated elements deliberately kept behind after a public communion service. Some Anglicans do the same. Is this what you do, Kevin? Or do you do what evangelical Anglican priests prefer, which is a complete communion service, including the prayer of general confession, with the person visited and newly consecrated elements?

    I think Tim is also correct about the biblical background, in its historical context. In the church as described in Acts they didn’t separate communion from their shared meal, otherwise known as the agape or “love feast”. This is the situation we see in 1 Corinthians 11. So their distribution to the housebound would have been these people’s communion. It was only later, perhaps in response to the kinds of abuses described in 1 Corinthians 11:20-21 and Jude 12, that communion was reduced to a merely symbolic meal.

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    1. Peter, it is possible that Matt. 18:20 (“where 2 or 3 are gathered”) could also be applied to Holy Communion. If it’s an authentic Christian worship gathering, then I don’t see any problem.

      Is this what you do, Kevin? Or do you do what evangelical Anglican priests prefer, which is a complete communion service, including the prayer of general confession, with the person visited and newly consecrated elements?

      Lutherans do the same as Anglicans. Lutherans don’t keep a reserve on hand like Catholics do with the tabernacle. After the worship service, the consecrated bread is no longer considered consecrated. But Lutherans also have a practice where parishioners can bring the newly consecrated bread and wine to those who are housebound, but must be done right after the service. This is justified in that the service is not officially over but is considered carried forward into the home of the housebound believers. But in my opinion, this practice and theology seem a bit inconsistent. That’s why I personally prefer to do the entire service over again consecrating the elements at the home.

      Yes, I believe you are right about communion in Acts being a real meal “love feast”. However, I’m not convinced that Acts 6 was referring to the actual “love feast”, but more the distribution of food to those who needed it. It is interesting how the institutionalized church reduced the “love feast” into a symbolic meal, and we seem to be content to keep it as such. Sometimes, I find deeper fellowship with members at church lunches and dinners.

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  4. I would agree that providing pastoral ministry to shut-ins is a significant exception to the basic expectation that communion be done in community – and I suppose so long as it is the pastor and the shut-in along with anyone else there it could be considered a kind of community or even fellowship (koinonia) so it would be fine. Is not the Trinity (three persons) community? Why should we require more?

    Also this kind of thing is very common in the chaplaincy where pastoral ministry is offered in an institutional setting (i.e., hospital, prison or other) when typical avenues for communion are not typically available.

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  5. Brian, you are right. You example of chaplaincy is perfect. It’s an area I didn’t think of that limits pastoral ministry to 2-3 persons. Inmates who have received Christ need to take communion too. I suppose in cases of solitary confinement in maximum security, the pastor and the inmate are about the only fellowship and spiritual community there is. I can see myself doing communion in this kind of situation.

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  6. What about a family of baptised believers having communion weekly on the Lord’s day at home? We have communion at church but not every week and not frequently. I feel we ought to celebrate the Lord’s supper weekly and would this be stretching the Acts 2:46 breaking bread from house to house too far?

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  7. Simon, that’s a good question. Daily communion happens in some Christian circles, e.g., Roman Catholic. Weekly communion is practiced in many churches where there is a pastor to preside over Holy Communion. But I know you were commenting on holy communion in the context of a family setting each week. I could see this happening where a pastor, providing there is a pastor to preside over it.

    The meaning in Acts 2:46 is not easy to determine. Some scholars do believe it to mean the Lord’s Supper; but some believe it”s referring to eating a real meal together. However, in Acts 2:42 the words breaking of bread appear within the sequence of teaching, fellowship, and prayers in worship services. Maybe someone else can add to this?

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    1. If we are kings and priests to God and a man is considered the priest of his household, the passover was celebrated as a family meal does it not follow that a family can share communion together as fellow believers without the need for a pastor to be present? Just a thought. I would be interested to read your thoughts one and all.

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  8. Simon, many churches have different ways of doing holy communion. Based on your example of a family celebrating the passover of the lamb, I suppose a family could have their own communion. In my church, the pastor ordinarily administers the sacraments of holy communion and baptism but in special cases, a lay person can do so. Lay leaders have also received special training to do so. These are denominational rules and can seem limiting to some Christians. I respect every church’s traditions because there are varying theological beliefs that can be supported by scripture.

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