Fathers and the Lord’s Supper

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

At least in our immediate circles it is agreed that family ties don’t dissolve when passing through the doors of the church. That doesn’t diminish the authority or devalue the role of the church, but it does leave family authority and roles in tact, which leaves us carefully navigating how to rightly interact in circumstances where there seems to be overlap. One such place is in the observance of the Lord’s Supper, specifically, what role a father, as an authority in the family, plays in regulating this ordinance of the church, if any.

I would like to explore this subject and provide a few thoughts which I believe are relevant and important.

When comparing the Mosaic covenant to the new covenant, one thing which is immediately apparent is the dramatic difference in the number of ordinances. Ordinances under the Mosaic covenant seem almost innumerable, while under the new covenant, there are only two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. With the coming of Jesus Christ, all of the shadows that prefigured His coming become unnecessary, and so He has left us with only these two great pictorials – baptism, picturing spiritual resurrection, and the Lord’s Supper, picturing the enlivening and sustaining power of Jesus’ self-sacrifice. In light of this, how important it is that we observe these two ordinances with care and precision! Their close association with the gospel message – a preaching in picture, so to speak – makes it absolutely essential that our observances communicate exactly what was intended. No more, no less.

This brings us to the topic of this post, which is to explore a father’s role in the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Consider these two central points:

1. The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of the church.

Regarding the Lord’s Supper, the Apostle Paul said, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you…” (1 Corinthians 11:23a). That is what we should be striving for: an observance that represents just what Paul received from the Lord and delivered to the churches. And what is that? 1 Corinthians 11 makes it clear that this ordinance is to be observed according to the repeated phrase, “come together” (verses 17, 18, 20, 33, 34). It is an ordinance for a gathered local church, not an ordinance of the family. 

This accords perfectly with what Paul has already said in the previous chapter, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). One important aspect of the Lord’s Supper is our oneness, expressed through our communion with each other and with our great Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Which brings us to the second point. 

2. There is one Mediator between God and man. 

What the Apostle Paul says with such great clarity in 1 Timothy 2:5 has a bearing on our observance of the Lord’s Supper: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus”. The way in which we observe this ordinance cannot risk miscommunicating on this point. Fathers and mothers, sons and daughters of biological families have one relationship with regards to this great remembrance of the life-giving, sacrificial death of our Lord – that of spiritual brothers and sisters. To risk confusion on this point by encouraging or even allowing a father to be the exclusive point of distribution of the bread and the cup to the members of his family is to incur a great risk without a hint of warrant from Scripture.

That does not mean, however, that a father does not have an important role as a spiritual brother to his wife and children. Of course he does! To again quote the Apostle Paul, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any tespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1). This is an important role, it has clear implications for an observance of the Lord’s Supper which includes careful self-examination and repentance, and it is a role that a father may often be in the best position to play. But it is not an exclusive role, and it is not a mediatorial role.

For these two straightforward reasons, it is overwhelmingly the better part of wisdom to avoid having a father distribute the elements of the Lord’s Supper to his family. I would go so far as to say that distribution of the elements exclusively through fathers is a rejection, though likely unintended, of the Regulative Principle of Worship, which constrains its adherents to only do in corporate worship those things which have clear warrant in Scripture, either by command, pattern, or necessary inference.

The Lord’s people have a right – even a duty – to delight in God by delighting in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. It is a beautiful picture of the gospel, and a wonderful time of feeding on Christ by faith and acknowledging our oneness in Him. May our observance of it be what Paul received from the Lord and delivered to the churches.