Should a person be allowed to take the Lord’s Supper without being formally admitted into fellowship?
I read in 1 Cor. 10: 16, 17 regarding the Lord’s Supper that “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not [the] communion of the blood of the Christ? The bread which we break, is it not [the] communion of the body of the Christ? Because we [being] many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf”. Now the word used there for communion (koinonia), is elsewhere translated “fellowship” (for example Acts 2: 42; 1 Cor. 1: 9, 1 John 1: 3, 6, 7), and means partnership or to share in common. If we substitute fellowship for communion in the verse quoted, we can see at once the intimate connection between the Lord’s Supper and fellowship. We have a common interest (or fellowship) in the body and blood of Christ, and this fellowship is expressed by eating the bread and drinking the wine together. It goes without saying that you cannot celebrate the Lord’s Supper alone—Scripture always presents it as a shared meal, taken in fellowship with one another. Indeed, the Apostle strongly condemns even the spirit of approaching the occasion apart from the idea of fellowship: “When ye come therefore together into one place, it is not to eat [the] Lord’s supper. For each one in eating takes his own supper before [others], and one is hungry and another drinks to excess”, (1 Cor. 11: 20, 21). Further emphasis is given by verse 17: “We [being] many, are one loaf, one body”. The many individuals do in fact make up one whole, and this is proved by the fact that all commonly partake of the single loaf: “for we all partake of that one loaf”.
The breaking of bread, (as Scripture calls the Lord’s Supper), does not and cannot make fellowship. It is, however, the practical expression of fellowship already existing. We break bread together because we are in fellowship with one another. People speak of coming into fellowship and mean that they are breaking bread for the first time, but this is not the truth. You must be in fellowship before you partake of the Lord’s Supper. Fellowship precedes the breaking of bread, (see Acts 2: 42). To speak of partaking of the Lord’s Supper before fellowship is to reverse the Scriptural order. Indeed to put fellowship after the breaking of bread is to allow persons the privilege of the Lord’s supper, yet at the same time excusing them from the responsibilities of fellowship, and the cares and discipline of the assembly. That, I am afraid, is not of God. I repeat, fellowship precedes partaking of the Lord’s Supper together.
Properly speaking, you cannot partake of the Lord’s Supper together (in all its spiritual reality), without being in fellowship. Of course it is possible to go through the ritual without any real fellowship existing, but such an action is not and cannot be the Lord’s Supper, and is a wilful denial of fellowship according to God.
It is, of course, common practice in many places to partake of the Lord’s Supper with very little idea, if any, of fellowship. These may seem strong words, but the use of individual portions of bread and wine in some places speak for themselves. As to the cup, the Lord Jesus said, “Drink ye all of it”, (Matt. 26: 27), “and they all drank out of it”, (Mark 14: 23)—it was a common cup. Similarly, it was a common loaf—the fact that it had to be broken for distribution proves this. In short they all partook of the same common meal. Is this not fellowship in its fullest sense? By contrast, individual portions relate to individuals, each one having his own supper.
As the question indicated, there are some who believe that a person should be allowed to break bread without committing themselves to fellowship. Now what kind of situation is this? As 1 Cor. 10: 17 declares, the breaking of bread is a deliberate acclamation of fellowship. Are we going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with someone and then say we are not actually in fellowship with them? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? It is to say one thing and do another.
The truth is that you cannot and should not partake of the Lord’s Supper together without committing yourselves in fellowship to one another. Responsibility and privilege go together.