The Lord’s Supper is one of the greatest blessings that Jesus Christ has given his church. Our inability to celebrate the Lord’s Supper for a season can only be, should only be, cause for sorrow and tears. For now, we are not able to celebrate this remembrance of the Lord by “tasting” and “seeing” his goodness (Ps 34:8).
Over the past week, I’ve been involved in a number of conversations about whether churches should live stream the Lord’s Supper.
In most cases, the conversations have not been about whether live streaming the Lord’s Supper is valid under normal circumstances (for an argument that it should be considered so, see here). Most of the conversations I’ve participated in have been among Reformed and Presbyterian ministers with a shared understanding of the church, pastoral ministry, and the sacraments. The question in these conversations has been whether the extraordinary circumstances of life under a quarantine allow for extraordinary ways of administering the Lord’s Supper.
The Gospel Coalition has published two baptistic perspectives on the question of whether churches should live stream the Lord’s Supper, one negative, the other affirmative. In addition, Christianity Today has posted an article, written from a Protestant sacramental viewpoint, which argues that the Lord’s Supper may indeed fulfill its function as a means of grace, even when celebrated online.
I do not believe churches should live stream the Lord’s Supper for fairly standard Reformed reasons. The most fundamental reason has to do with the nature of the sacrament itself.
A sacrament, at the most basic level, is a symbolic action ordained by Jesus Christ to which he has attached the promise of his presence and blessing (Exod 20:24; Matt 28:18-20; Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 10:1-4, 16; 11:24-25). The “sign,” on this understanding, is not simply the “elements” of water, bread, and wine. The sign is the entirety of the symbolic action which, in the case of the Lord’s Supper, is a shared meal (1 Cor 10:17). Moreover, when it comes to the Lord’s Supper, the symbolic action of a shared meal has a specific, divinely ordained context: “when you come together” (1 Cor 11:33). The “sign” of the Lord’s Supper is a shared meal, partaken in the covenant assembly of God’s people, i.e., the gathered church. To this symbolic action, Christ has attached the promise of his presence and blessing: “there I will give you my love” (Song 7:12).