the shape of leadership

What We Believe About Communion

A series on the AG Statement of Fundamental Truths

Allen Tennison on May 22, 2024

While I was never a rebellious preacher’s kid, my behavior once shocked a deacon.

Our church used pieces of delicious sourdough bread in celebrating the Lord’s Supper. One Sunday just after Communion, a children’s church leader asked me to retrieve something from the church kitchen.

Upon entering, I saw a plate of leftover bread I knew would go in the trash. I was also hungry.

A minute later, a deacon walked in to see the pastor’s kid devouring leftover Communion bread. The deacon ordered me to back away from the plate and later told my dad what I had done.

When teaching on the Lord’s Supper years later as a professor, I sometimes told this story, asking students whether my childhood actions were wrong and why.

Many students felt uncomfortable with the story but struggled to explain why. Some said the problem was gluttony. Others suggested I technically stole the bread.

A few insisted I had done nothing wrong, and said the deacon should have minded his own business.

There was always someone, however, who challenged my actions based on a presumed sacredness of the bread itself. From this perspective, I had shown disrespect by not treating the leftover bread as imbued with the presence of Christ.

I wanted students to answer my question based on their understanding of the Lord’s Supper. The significance of this meal is such that talking about it can mean exploring both the person of Jesus and the meaning of the Church.


New Testament Teaching

Article 6 of the Statement of Fundamental Truths recognizes two ordinances: “Baptism in Water” and “Holy Communion.” An ordinance is a Church practice commanded by Jesus that reenacts a key part of the gospel.

In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commanded water baptism, which represents His death and resurrection (Romans 6:3–4).

Jesus commanded Communion in Luke 22:19. This meal reflects and recalls Christ’s sacrifice:

He [Jesus] took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

There are various names for the second ordinance. In 1 Corinthians 10:16, Paul describes the meal as a “communion” (KJV). Paul goes on to call it the “Lord’s Table” (10:21) or “Lord’s Supper” (11:20).

Paul further talks about giving thanks (eucharistia) for the meal. Over time, the Lord’s Supper also became known as the Eucharist, based on the words of thanksgiving that accompanied it as the central act of Christian worship for most of Church history.

The story of the Last Supper in Matthew 26:26–29, Mark 14:22–25, and Luke 22:15–20 provides the narrative foundation for the practice of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus shared a Passover meal with His disciples on the night He was betrayed.

Traditionally, four cups were passed around during the Passover, in association with God’s four promises to deliver Israel in Exodus 6:6–7. At the third cup, Jesus offered the promise of a new testament or covenant sealed by His vicarious sacrifice, with the cup representing His blood and the broken bread His body.

Jesus also anticipated sharing a future meal with His disciples. In other words, His death would not be the final word on Jesus.

The implications of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament revolved around the practice and struggle of being the Church. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told His disciples to repeat the meal “in remembrance of me.”

In the Book of Acts (also written by Luke), the practice of breaking bread likely refers to the Church’s ongoing Communion observance. According to Acts 2:42, the believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Paul also broke bread with the churches he planted (Acts 20:7).

Communion expressed a profound, almost subversive, understanding of the unity of the Church in Jesus. According to Jewish customs, eating with Gentiles was problematic. Because of this, even some apostles struggled with eating at the same table as Gentile believers (Galatians 2:11–13).

Because the Lord’s Supper expresses our unity in Christ, it can also pinpoint divisions where they exist. In fact, the earliest written explanation of this ordinance occurs in a context of correction. It seems some Corinthian Christians were treating one another disrespectfully during the meal (1 Corinthians 11:17–34).

Communion is a memorial, proclamation, and celebration in anticipation of
Christ’s second

Paul warns against taking Communion in an “unworthy manner” (verse 27). Some in Corinth were partaking before others arrived. The latecomers were likely the poor who had been working all day.

Arriving without food or drink and finding nothing left for them, these struggling church members were excluded from the Lord’s Supper. The situation only exacerbated social and economic disparities within the congregation.

Instead of reflecting unity through Communion, the church at Corinth was deepening divisions through their unwillingness to share. According to Paul, they failed to discern the body of Christ to which they all belonged.

This misuse of the Lord’s Supper was so egregious Paul saw sicknesses among church members as divine judgment.

In warning the congregation, Paul provides an account of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23–26. According to Paul, he received the practice from Jesus and passed it on to the Church.

The meal remembers Christ’s sacrifice, declaring His death until He returns. Communion is a memorial, proclamation, and celebration in anticipation of Christ’s second coming.

Communion also serves as a sign of our faithfulness to God. Paul first references the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 10:14–22 when he warns against the idolatrous practice of eating in pagan temples.

As Paul explains, when Christians eat and drink the Lord’s Supper, they are participating as one community in the body and blood of Christ. That kind of sharing calls for exclusivity. Believers sharing a meal at Christ’s table cannot also a share a meal at a table set before idols.

Jesus himself commanded the practice of Communion. This ordinance reminds us that Christ’s sacrifice is the foundation for a new covenant under the one God we worship.

The Lord’s Supper is a sign of unity among those who share in the body and blood of Jesus. It is also a proclamation of the Cross as we await Christ’s return.


Church History

In the Early Church, the Lord’s Supper was part of a weekly “love feast,” although other traditions soon developed. Theology surrounding Communion as an act of worship also progressed.

Implications of the Lord’s Supper revolved around how believers understood the incarnate nature of Jesus.

There is evidence for various interpretations of the Lord’s Supper by the second century. Some highlighted the celebration primarily as a remembrance of Jesus, while others spoke of the bread and cup as a type of sacrifice.

Still others emphasized the benefits of Communion, seeing it as part of personal sanctification. Over time, many Christians came to view the meal as a type of spiritual medicine.

During the Middle Ages, there was debate concerning Christ’s presence in the bread and cup. Eventually, the Catholic Church adopted the position that when a priest called on the Spirit and spoke the proper words, the elements of bread and wine literally transformed into Christ’s body and blood (despite not changing in appearance). The formal terminology for this is “transubstantiation.”

Protestant reformers rejected this view, although they did not all agree on how to interpret the Lord’s Supper. Among other things, they diverged over the implications of Christ’s Incarnation on Communion.

The Lord’s Supper had been the focus of Christian worship for centuries. When Christians cannot agree on the theology of their worship, they do not stay united.

Martin Luther taught that Jesus could be physically present in, with, and under the bread and cup in a form of “sacramental union.”

Because Luther believed the divine and human natures of Christ share attributes, Jesus could be physically present everywhere since God is everywhere. If the divine and human natures of Jesus coexisted in one person, the bread and cup could also coexist with the physical presence of Christ, who plainly said, “This is my body.”

An adjacent version of this view was known as “consubstantiation.” The bread and drink remained the same in substance, but they also contained the physical presence of Christ, which participants ingested for their spiritual good.

Swiss Protestant leader Ulrich Zwingli argued that Jesus could not be physically present everywhere because His physicality belonged to His human nature, which remained at the Father’s right hand.

According to Zwingli, the Lord’s Supper was only a memorial to the sacrifice of Jesus (a view known as “memorialism”). When Jesus said, “This is my body,” He meant the bread represents His body. The bread and cup are visual aids for remembering the Cross; they do not convey the actual presence of Jesus.

John Calvin agreed with Zwingli that Jesus is physically present only at the Father’s right hand. Unlike Zwingli, though, Calvin argued that Jesus could be spiritually present in the bread and cup by faith.

The first Christians in Jerusalem continually shared in the “breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42).
As Christianity spread, so did the regular observance of Communion.

For Calvin, the bread and cup were more than symbols. They were instruments for the spiritual presence of Jesus. It wasn’t through the act of ingesting Christ that participants received His presence. Instead, the Spirit worked through their faith to convey Christ.



Historic Christian traditions remain divided in how they answer certain questions regarding Communion.

Some questions probe the meaning or nature of the Lord’s Supper. What is the connection between Christ’s presence and the bread and cup? What are the implications of Communion for the Church as a community? How does participation in the Lord’s Supper benefit believers?

Other questions focus on Communion practice. Who can oversee it? Who may receive the elements? How often should a congregation observe Communion? What can serve as the bread and cup?

The Statement of Fundamental Truths does not address all of these questions. However, long-standing practice in the Assemblies of God provides some answers.

Since the AG practices “open Communion,” anyone who confesses Christ as Savior may receive the elements, regardless of church affiliation.

Any Christian can also oversee a Communion service. There is no ministry or credential requirement (although proper vetting and training are still recommended).

The first Christians in Jerusalem continually shared in the “breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42). As Christianity spread, so did the regular observance of Communion.

For most of Church history, the Lord’s Supper was at the heart of Sunday worship gatherings, with everything else revolving around the experience.

After the Protestant Reformation, Communion became a monthly practice rather than a weekly one for many churches. This was part of an effort to distinguish the Lord’s Supper as an ordinance rather than a sacrament.

Although Assemblies of God congregations differ in how frequently they take Communion, observing the Lord’s Supper monthly is common.

The paragraph on “Holy Communion” in Article 6 defines the elements and explains the meaning of Communion, reiterating that it is a command “enjoined on all believers.”

Article 6 identifies the elements as bread and “the fruit of the vine.” That phrase reflects a tradition in the U.S. Assemblies of God to use grape juice rather than wine, affirming a commitment to sobriety. (The use of grape juice is not unique to the AG.)

Regarding questions about the nature of Communion, Article 6 calls it “an ordinance” — that is, a command from Christ and reflection of His gospel.

The Assemblies of God rejects the notion that observing Communion brings the saving grace it represents. This is a denial of one tenet of sacramental theology.

Article 6 describes the Lord’s Supper as a symbol, memorial, and prophecy. As a symbol, Communion expresses “our sharing the divine nature of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

According to 2 Peter 1:4, which Article 6 cites, the promises of God in Christ enable us to “participate in the divine nature.” Peter does not mean we become gods, but that we are to reflect the nature of God more and more.

This transformation is ongoing — from the development of our moral character in the present age to the culmination of our redemption at the resurrection. Sharing a meal representing the body and blood of Jesus is a reminder of our participation in Christ’s incorruptible nature.

As a memorial, Communion symbolizes the suffering and death of Jesus. Paul says the Lord’s Supper is a continual proclamation of Christ’s death (1 Corinthians 11:26). It is a reminder of what Jesus did on our behalf. It also declares what He can do for those who have yet to trust in Him.

Many in the Assemblies of God have understood Communion primarily as a memorial that does not convey Christ’s presence beyond remembrance. While the Fellowship’s founders agreed that it was a memorial, some cautioned against thinking of Communion as only a memorial.

E.N. Bell, the first AG general superintendent, described Communion this way:

It is more than a memorial feast. Jesus is there in the Spirit to bless, quicken, uplift and heal; but what benefit the partaker will receive depends much on his spiritual discernment, his faith and his appropriation from the spiritually present living Christ.

J. Roswell Flower, the Fellowship’s first general secretary, addressed why water baptism happens only once, while Communion is ongoing. According to Flower, the second ordinance “typifies a continual partaking of the Life of Jesus as though He had been slain freshly for us as a continual sacrifice, freshly killed, for we need the fresh sacrifice to be made real to us continually, to cover us and protect us from the enemy.”

Flower continued, “The Lord Jesus is brought very near in the observance of the Lord’s supper.”

Seeing the presence of Christ as uniquely tied to the meal risks making too much of the elements themselves. Early Pentecostals wanted to avoid treating the Lord’s Supper as somehow magical.

Communion symbolizes the Church’s identity as Christ’s people — called to unity in Him, forgiven through His sacrifice, and awaiting His return.

On the other hand, there is also a danger in making too little of the Lord’s Supper by not expecting the presence of Christ at all.

If we can speak of an increased awareness of the Spirit’s presence during the portion of worship involving singing, we can become more aware of Christ’s presence when worshipping through Communion.

Many early Pentecostals saw Communion as an occasion for healing — both spiritually and physically — as believers became more attuned to Christ’s presence and sacrifice. In fact, they shared numerous testimonies of healing during Communion.

Over the years, Pentecostals have talked about other spiritual benefits of the Lord’s Supper by emphasizing the meal as an instruction in and assurance of faith, a call for unity and reconciliation with one another, an act of worship and thanksgiving to God, and a sanctifying experience. As an observance that anticipates Christ’s return, Communion also gives believers hope.

Article 6 describes the Lord’s Supper as a prophecy pointing to Christ’s second coming. Jesus promised His disciples He would share a meal with them again. So the Church observes Communion now in anticipation of that day.

In this way, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of not only the Lord’s death for our sins, but also the Lord’s return for the completion of our redemption. It symbolizes the benefits of salvation from beginning to end.

As Article 6 notes, the Bible commands believers to partake of the Lord’s Supper “till He come!” Whether weekly or monthly, Christians should participate in Communion with some regularity whenever and wherever they gather.

Communion symbolizes the Church’s identity as Christ’s people — called to unity in Him, forgiven through His sacrifice, and awaiting His return.


Pastoral Practice

One way of thinking about the role of the Lord’s Supper in worship is by returning to the original idea of Communion as a meal the Church shared as a declaration of Jesus.

First, a shared meal requires hospitality. When people eat a meal together, they share the same table. When Christians celebrate Communion, it’s as though the entire Church becomes one table around which the community sits as a family. Everyone who belongs to Christ may share in the meal because they are part of God’s family.

The table is set only for believers. This is a point we must take seriously. The Lord’s Supper is for all Christians, not for all who are present. At the same time, any who wish to partake in the meal may use that moment to repent and accept Christ’s gift of salvation, which the meal represents.

Second, a shared meal suggests a shared hunger. We have an ongoing need for physical and spiritual sustenance. Communion is for those who hunger for God.

Eating acknowledges we need food. In partaking of the Lord’s Supper, we remind ourselves of our need for God, who has made provision for us through Jesus.

Throughout most of Church history, the gathering of Christians in worship revolved around the table or altar of Communion. Partaking in the Lord’s Supper was the moment in every service for the spiritual sustenance of believers.

Early Pentecostal worshippers focused on a different kind of altar as the focal point of their gatherings: a time of prayer following the singing or sermon. During this altar time, the body of Christ came forward to encounter the Holy Spirit and receive from God.

Our celebration of the Lord’s Supper can be a time around the altar in both senses. As believers, we can discern the presence of Christ that the Lord’s Supper represents. As Pentecostals, we can ask the Holy Spirit to continue filling us as we partake of the meal. The Holy Spirit makes the meal filling because He feeds us Jesus.

Finally, a shared meal offers healing in two ways. Meals are physically healing because they provide sustenance. Early Pentecostals saw the Lord’s Supper as a time to receive physical healing, but we should also view it as a means of deeper consecration and spiritual development.

Additionally, a shared meal can be healing by reconnecting us with the community to which we belong. Family dinners build relational connections. Coming together as believers reminds us that we belong to one another just as we belong to Christ.

As members of Christ’s body, we can recalibrate how we view and respond to one another while taking the Lord’s Supper together.

Paul warns against eating the meal in an “unworthy manner” by failing to discern the body of Christ to which we all belong (1 Corinthians 11:27). Conversely, Communion unites the Church when we see and respond to fellow believers as those who share equally in the body of Christ.

Communion highlights three necessary virtues for believers. By reminding us of the sacrifice of Christ, it fortifies our faith. By pointing us to the return of Christ, it bolsters our hope. And by bringing us together around the Lord’s table as one family, it reinforces our love.

The presence of Christ — which the Spirit makes real to us through the Lord’s Supper — points us back to the faith, hope, and love that more fully reflect the image of Jesus in us.


This article appears in the Spring 2024 issue of Influence magazine.

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