Should we livestream the Lord’s Supper? Dr. Scott Swain discusses how we should approach the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper during times when the church cannot gather in person.
This is a question that has come up a lot in recent days as a result of the global pandemic. It’s not that Christians have not had situations in the past where they weren’t able to assemble for public worship, but with the new technology that’s available to us and the opportunities for streaming worship and streaming preaching, the question has arisen: should we livestream the Lord’s Supper? The short answer, I think, is no, and it has something to do with the nature of the Lord’s Supper itself.
The Nature of the Lord’s Supper
The elements of the Lord’s Supper are the sharing of a meal as God’s covenant people that consists of bread and wine.The nature of a sacrament is to bring together some elements with a promise that Jesus has given to the practice and administration of those elements. When it comes to the Lord’s Supper, the elements of the Lord’s Supper are not merely the bread and the wine. The elements of the Lord’s Supper are the sharing of a meal as God’s covenant people that consists of bread and wine. It’s to the entirety of the event that the Lord has attached the promise that I will be with you, that I will feed you, that I will strengthen you and encourage you. If there is no gathered assembly of God’s people, the conditions for celebrating the Lord’s Supper aren’t there, and therefore there can be no sacrament.
The Word of God Travels
Now the good news is that God has not only given us a means of grace for gathering his people together in the Lord’s Supper, but he’s also given us a means of grace that has the ability to travel. In Scripture, God often describes his Word as going on a journey. He says in Isaiah that the word I’ve sent forth from my mouth will not fail to accomplish the purpose for which I’ve sent it (Isa. 55:11).
In Ephesians, Paul, describing Jesus’s own ministry of preaching through his apostles, says he came and preached to those who are far off, and he also came and preached to those who are near (Eph. 2:17). One of the great benefits of new streaming technologies is that we can benefit through the ministry of the Word, through a means of grace that is actually designed to travel through these new technologies.
But that doesn’t take away the fact that it’s actually hard to go without the Lord’s Supper, insofar as we’re not able to assemble together as God’s people. It’s hard because the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace, and it’s hard to go without that. But it’s also hard because very frankly, we as Western Christians have become very accustomed to instant gratification. We’re not used to not getting what we want when we want it, and we don’t like it very much when we don’t.
Western Christians have become very accustomed to instant gratification. We’re not used to not getting what we want when we want it.I think that it’s precisely this opportunity that gives us a chance to cultivate something that Scripture does want us to be able to cultivate, and that’s the practice of lament. When we’re not able to enjoy the good things that God has given us, when things separate us from the Lord’s Supper, as this pandemic has in many different cases, this provides us an opportunity to remember what a blessing it is to gather with God’s people and to take the bread and the wine, which are promises of Christ to us. It gives us a chance to lament the loss of these things, but it also gives us a chance to deepen our appreciation of this means of grace and to deepen our anticipation of the time when we’ll be gathered together to participate in the Lord’s Supper again.