Is It Appropriate to Serve Communion to Shut-ins?

from Sep 13, 2014 Category: Articles

It is most certainly appropriate for the elders of the church to serve communion to members who are, for health or other reasons, unable to attend the gathering of God’s people on the Lord’s Day. Before we get to how and why, however, let me list a few caveats. First, the sacraments are given to the church, and are under the authority of the local church. We ought not, if we are shut in, arrange a private communion ceremony on our own. Neither should a non-elder, except perhaps in the most dire circumstances, serve communion to a shut in.

Some object to communion for shut-ins, usually for two reasons. First, they rightly affirm that we should never separate the sacraments from the Word. We don’t want either to treat the sacrament as a hollow sign, nor as spiritual magic. We don’t do this for fear the shut-in will be beyond the reach of God’s grace without the sacrament. Neither, however, do we shrug our shoulders, believing it is no big deal for the shut-in to go without. It has always been my practice with shut-ins to include an exposition of the Word, before serving the bread and the wine. It need not be a full forty minute sermon, but of course I want to bring the Word of God to bear in the life of the suffering saint. Word and sacrament belong together.

Others object that communion is a corporate event. It’s not something we should be doing alone. “Communion for one” is an oxymoron. And again, they are as right as profoundly right rain. Which is why it has always been my practice to celebrate the table of our Lord with other saints. I eat and drink. The shut-in eats and drinks. Other believers that are present eat and drink. It may not be the full local body, but it is two or three gathered in His name.

The process then is simple enough. We pray for the shut-in. We usually sing a hymn or two. I preach briefly from God’s Word. Sometimes I, along with other elders, anoint the head of the sick with oil (in accordance with James 5:14). Then we celebrate His feast.

But why? For the same reasons we celebrate the Lord’s Supper each and every Lord’s Day. It is a blessed opportunity to draw near to our Lord, to feast upon Him, and to be drawn closer together, one with another. It is an opportunity to remember that it was we who crucified the Lord of Glory, and an opportunity to remember that not just despite this, but through this, He has made us His own children. It is an opportunity to sit at the table of our heavenly Father and give Him the delight of seeing us as olive plants around Him (Psalm 128).

Though, of course, shut-ins can be honored in other ways, what a delight to them to know, when we celebrate the coming together in unity, that the church body still sees the shut-in as part of the body. It reminds them that they are not cut off, not forgotten, not beyond the reach of His grace. Please, bring the means of grace to those who need the means of grace.

R.C. Sproul Jr. is rector and chair of philosophy and theology at Reformation Bible College. Originally published at