Pentecostal Understanding of the Lord's Supper
Pentecostalism is one of the fastest-growing faith communities in the world, according to the Pew Research Center. Although there is no formal doctrinal organization among Christian Pentecostal churches, these faiths share a set of beliefs, including “gifts of the spirit,” such as speaking in tongues or faith healing and the literal truth of the Bible. A key sacrament for Pentecostals is the sharing of Holy Communion, a reenactment of the Last Supper, as seen, for instance, in the 16 “Fundamental Truths” of the Assemblies of God USA.
1 Biblical Origin
The Gospel of Matthew, 26:17-30, recounts the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples just before his arrest and crucifixion. After predicting his betrayal, Jesus breaks the bread and tells the disciples that it is his body; likewise, he tells them the wine is his blood “of the new covenant.” The Apostle Paul recounts that event in 1 Corinthians 11:20-25, adding a warning that worshipers who partake of this ritual “unworthily” will only reenact the death of Jesus and partake of his own damnation, instead of the salvation Jesus otherwise offers.
Pentecostals see the Last Supper both as a literal event, recorded as historical fact, and as a key part of the promise of Christianity. The Rev. Earl Creps, director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, calls the term “Last Supper” a misnomer, because it was really the “first supper,” the beginning of Christian belief. Both Matthew and 1 Corinthians use the term “new covenant,” in the New King James version cited by Creps; this term is significant. The “new covenant” refers, Pentecostals believe, to the agreement between the individual and God, replacing the Old Testament covenant between God and the people of Abraham. This agreement rests upon individual faith rather than doctrinal orthodoxy.
Believers reenact the Last Supper and by taking the bread and “wine,” or grape juice, they renew the covenant that Jesus initiated. It is a symbolic act that unites Christians in action as they are united in belief. However, it is more than symbolic; Creps explains that participation in Holy Communion calls believers to “a moment of accountability,” reflecting Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians. Because Pentecostalism focuses on the direct experience of the Holy Spirit, this sacrament takes on special significance, a one-on-one, tangible expression of the individual’s relationship with God.
Most Pentecostals believe in prophecy, one of the gifts of the spirit that God can bestow on the faithful. Creps calls the communion table “a table of prophecy,” because the unity it demonstrates between Christians’ souls and Jesus Christ foretells an ultimate, permanent unity among them after the time of the final judgment, when Jesus’ kingdom will become physical fact. That, he anticipates, will be “the real Last Supper,” because it will never end.