Is taking the Lord’s Supper connected with salvation?
I was talking to a member of a church with different beliefs on salvation from mine, and she gave reasonable and biblical evidence for why communion is the way to salvation. She used John 6:53-58 as the basis for her belief, saying that the only way to have eternal life is to take part in eating the flesh and drinking the blood. She further went on to explain that communion was created for a certain time (Matthew 26:27-29, Luke 22:14-15), and should not be taken every Sunday, but is a more special occasion. She then referred back to the Old Testament in showing that communion is an over arching theme in the bible (Exodus 12). I then asked where baptism fits into all of this, and she responded that first one must be baptized and then one must eat communion to be saved. She compared baptism to the circumcision that the “foreigners” had to go through before taking communion (Exodus 12:48), concluding that one must be baptized and then participate in communion in order to reach salvation. As I study this out more, it becomes harder for me to believe completely, but I find John 6:53-54 concerning. Do we need to partake in communion to have eternal life?
Personally, I would advise getting into a debate over the question of the communion, at least in part because it is probably a very emotional issue, and arguing over emotional issues generally does not make much progress. Besides, one’s view of this is probably not a salvation issue. Nevertheless, your friend makes reasonable points and she asks good questions, so you should do your best to answer these points and questions.
First of all, most commentators believe that Jesus is not talking about the Lord’s Supper in John 6:53-58. He is saying, in essence, that unless you have a relationship with me, you do not have life. If he were referring to the Communion, that would have been very confusing for the apostles and other followers, to say the least, as they would have had no idea what Jesus was talking about. To use John 6:53-58 as a proof text for the need to take the Lord’s Supper is quite dubious, as it is most probable that he is not even talking about that topic. In context, he also says that he is the Bread of Life and no-one that I know of believes that he is talking about the Communion. This adds weight to the likely conclusion that John 6:53-58 is not about the Communion.
As for Matthew 26:27-29, Jesus is telling his apostles that they will not take this supper again until his kingdom comes. Well, his kingdom came at Pentecost (as Catholics believe, by the way), so Jesus is saying that it will not be until after I die and I send the Holy Spirit that you will take this supper again. Luke 22 adds just a bit here. It talks about the Lord’s Supper finding its fulfillment in the Kingdom. What he was doing at the Passover meal was a symbol which would find its true meaning after Jesus had died and was raised—in the kingdom. I see nothing here about the frequency of sharing the Lord’s Supper. In fact, I do not even see a hint about how often it should be celebrated. Where in this passage does it say that it should be saved for “special occasions?” That would be reading into the text, not from the text.
You may want to let your friend know that in the church of the first and second century, the evidence is 100% clear that they took this communion weekly, on Sunday. All early church fathers are unanimous on this. So, her theory would have to explain why the apostles and their immediate successors taught the church to take communion weekly. The idea of taking the Lord’s Supper less often developed after the sixth century.
The Bible teaches that the Communion is a remembrance (Luke 22:19). I know of no passage in the Bible which supports the idea that our salvation is based on participation in the Lord’s Supper. If your friend has a passage that teaches this (John 6:53-58 does not), then perhaps she can show you one. The Catholic Church (I am assuming your friend is Catholic) has, unfortunately, turned what is a communion/sharing, and a remembrance into a reenactment of the sacrifice of Jesus, with salvation implications. They even have special “priests” performing this sacrifice, when, biblically, all Christians are priests (1 Peter 2:9). This development happened after the sixth century, and there is no evidence that the Bible supports this idea or that it was taught in the very early church. The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice. It is a celebration and remembrance. That is what Jesus said. The death of Jesus does not need to be reenacted in order for us to be saved.
The comparison of baptism to circumcision is biblical. The idea is found in Colossians 2:9-12, so your friend is correct there. Whether it is absolutely required that a person must be baptized before taking Communion is debated among believers. As far as I know, there is no scripture which definitely teaches on this topic, but in any case, this is not what your friend is concerned about. She has learned the Catholic doctrine of Sacramentalism, which is that simply participating in certain rituals has the effect of saving us and giving salvation. This is NOT biblical. We are saved by grace, through the blood of Jesus, as activated by our faith and brought to fulfillment at baptism. There is NO evidence that taking the Lord’s supper saves us or causes forgiveness of sins or that it is required to maintain that salvation.