Bible Answer

Are the elements of communion to be considered literal?

Regarding communion, I believe the passage in John 6, is to be taken literally. And the altar in a curch serves the function of the site where we offer the body and blood of Jesus back to God. Can you please explain your view.

When Jesus spoke of eating His body and blood, He was speaking spiritually, not physically. Jesus was not referring to a literal consumption of his physical body. Rather, He was speaking of salvation by faith in His death as payment for our sin. In John 6 Jesus says:

John 6:32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.
John 6:33 “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”
John 6:34 Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”
John 6:35  Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.
John 6:36 “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.
John 6:37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.
John 6:38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
John 6:39 “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.
John 6:40 “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

Notice Jesus explains how a person may be saved. They must behold the Son and believe in HIm. In this way a person is saved and receives eternal life. Nothing else is required. Earlier in v.35 Jesus called Himself the bread of life. Obviously, He’s speaking symbolically. Just as physical bread sustains our physical body, so does Jesus (i.e., our spiritual “bread”) sustain our spiritual life. Notice again that Jesus says in v.36 that salvation was a result of believing (not eating). 

Then later in the chapter Jesus continues using the metaphor of “eating bread" to represent believing in Him :

John 6:51 “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”
John 6:52  Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”
John 6:53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.
John 6:54 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

The crowd took Jesus’ words to be literal (i.e., that He was advocating canabolism), but they failed to notice that Jesus was merely speaking in the same symbolic terms He had established earlier in the conversation. Earlier He made clear that believing in Jesus Christ is “eating His body and drinking His blood.” He was not advocating for any literal act of eating, for this is impossible. 

For example, the thief on the cross never ate anything, yet Jesus declared he would enter Paradise with Jesus on that day. Clearly, eating is not a requirement for Heaven. Believing is the only requirement, and to believe in Jesus Christ is to have “eaten” His body, in the sense that we take Him in spiritually speaking. Remember, salvation is by faith alone in Jesus Christ, not by any work or action that we take.

Later Jesus instituted the communion meal, based on the Passover meal, as a memorial to remember His death and to anticipate His return. That meal uses bread and win as symbols in the same way as Jesus did in John 6. It’s easy to see that Jesus was looking forward to His use of these elements symbolically in the meal, which is why He taught using these metaphors in John 6. 

Regarding altars, the Bible is clear that altars have no place in the life of a born again Christian. To accept Jesus as Messiah means to accept His once-for-all sacrifice for sin. As Hebrews teaches:

Heb. 10:11  Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;
Heb. 10:12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God,
Heb. 10:13 waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.

God has declared in His word that His Son’s sacrifice was sufficient for all sin for all time, and therefore no further sacrifice is required nor even possible. Jesus’ death on the cross paid for our sin forever, and it will never be repeated in any way. Therefore, a place of sacrifice (i.e., an altar) has no purpose or place in the life of any true believer in Jesus Christ. An altar suggests that further sacrifice is needed, which is a false gospel.