Legality and the Lord’s Supper

Harry Lacey, Cardiff

(The accounts of the Institution of the Lord's Supper should be read, preferably in the Revised Version : Matt. 26. 26/28; Mk. 14 22/24; Lu. 22. 19/20; 1 Cor. 11. 23/25)

Considerable perplexity is created in the minds of Christians by the differing attitudes to the Lord's Supper, which exist not only in Christendom but even amongst assemblies of the Lord's people. Apart from the wider extremes of refusal to celebrate it at all on the one hand and of making of it a dramatic ritual and a sacrifice on the other, one aspect of truth emphasized at the expense of another produces distortion. The wisdom of the law of Deuteronomy 31. 9/13, which calls for periodical restatement, is evident. Uniformity is undesirable, but fresh examination of the circumstances and associations of the institution of the Lord's Supper are profitable from time to time.

The Passover and The Lord's Supper There is a tendency to confuse the Passover with the Lord's Supper, It was at the Passover Meal that the Lord instituted the Lord's Supper, and that altogether unexpectedly. He took the ordinary bread and the ordinary cup of that meal and adapted them to a new use. Yet, careful distinc­tion between the two is established in our records.

Matthew and Mark distinguish between the use of the loaf for the Lord's Supper and its use for the Passover by eulogeo, an element in the meaning of which implies consecration. At the same time the idea of consecration must not be ex­aggerated, because Luke and Paul in parallel accounts say simply that the Lord gave thanks, as He did whenever food was taken (Mk. 8. 6; Matt. 15. 36; Jn. 6. U & 23) or as any devout person would (Acts 27. 35). What is implied occurs when an ordinary loaf is taken for use at the Lord's Supper. Luke distinguishes by showing that it was after the Passover Supper and after the Lord said He would not drink of the fruit of the vine that the Lord's Supper was instituted. No less than five chapters fall between reference to the Pass­over and the Lord's Supper in Corinthians (see ch. 5. 7/8 & 11. 2;>). The feast in ch. 5 is the Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread and its spiritual counterpart now in a life unleavened with evil.

This distinction emphasizes the replacement of the Passover Supper by the Lord's Supper, rather than any perpetuation of it in a modified form. The Passover was prospective, and was superseded by that which is retrospec­tive and distinct in both form and object.

The Lord's Supper and The New Covenant The association between the Lord's Supper and the New Covenant is one, which, though patent in Scripture, is largely missed. Indeed, some go so far as to deny that present-day believers are in covenant relation with God.

Christ's words "this is my blood of the covenant" re­called for the eleven men who sat at that last Passover (Judas probably left before the meal ended, Jn. 13. 31), and who knew the Old Testament Scriptures, the words of Moses at the institution of the Sinai Covenant (see Ex. 24, 8 and Heb. 9. 20). Consequently, the Lord's Supper indicates primarily a new legal bond, which binds Christians to the Lord and Him to them. Such a bond was originally made in the body and blood of a sacrifice (see Gen. 15. 8/10, and 17/18). Hence the Hebrew idiom 'to cut a covenant'. The Lord's Supper symbolizes the fact that it was in the very body and blood of Christ that this covenant was cut.

Paul's statement that he and his fellow servants were ministers of a new covenant is final in evidence that believers now are in covenant relationship with God (see 2 Cor. 3, esp. vv, 5/6). It is this covenant which, as to its better character (7. 22), its surety (7. 22), its mediator (9. 15), its newness (9. 15), its terms (8. 10/12) and its everlastingness 13, 20), is treated of in Hebrews.

This association with this covenant is especially precious and not without its moral effect Those who celebrate [he Lord's Supper simply and regularly, find that it serves to develop a consciousness of the assurance of salvation. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that where it is not observed, or is corrupted, the 'falling away' and other hurtful doctrines obtain. That all four accounts of the institution of the Lord's Supper connect it with the New Covenant demon­strates that it is pre-eminently 'the supper of the covenant'.

The Significance of The Blood) of The Covenant

A tendency to limit the range of contemplation at the Lord's Supper exists and manifests itself in different ways. Some forbid anything but contemplation of Christ in His devotedness to God (the Burnt Offering aspect of His Person and work). Others forbid anything but contemplation of Christ's perfect character evidenced in His life of purity and grace (the Meal Offering aspect of His Person and work). But the many contrasts between the blood of the Old Cove­nant and that of the New show that these restrictions are unwarranted.

The Sinai Covenant was instituted in the blood of Burnt Offerings and Peace Offerings (Ex. 24. 5), bur Christ stated that His blood of this covenant was shed for many for the remission of sins (Matt. 26. 28). It was Trespass Offering blood (see Lev. 5. 14 to 6. 7, and note that this sacrifice was devoted to the removal of sins). And the shortened account of Christ's words in Mark with the omission of 'unto re­mission of sins' and the consequent reading "for many" (Mk. 14. 24), which heightens the idea of persons, shows that the blood of the covenant is Sin Offering blood (see Lev. 4. t ,'35, and observe that this sacrifice was that by which forgiveness of persons was secured).

The blood of this New Covenant therefore is not only that of Christ in contrast to that of beasts, but it is Trespass Offering and Sin Offering blood in contrast to the blood of the Old Covenant. To prohibit contemplation of Christ's sufferings for sins during the celebration of the Lord's Supper is opposed to the very words of Christ.

Profound contemplation of Christ's suffering for sins will produce not only thankfulness for their removal and forgiveness, but will surely develop that love for righteousness and hatred of iniquity which is characteristic of Him Him­self (Psa. 45. 7).

Students of the Offerings will observe that priests were to eat Sin and Trespass Offerings in the Holy Place (see Lev, 7. 6 and 6. 29). It is noteworthy that failure to do so was one of the first recorded of priests (Lev. 10. 16/20).

Progress of Doctrine in the Accounts of the Supper

That it would be as wrong to limit thoughts at the celebration of the Lord's Supper to the Trespass and Sin Offering aspects of Christ's Person and Work, on the one hand, as to the Burnt and Meal Offering aspects on the other, will be seen from the progress of doctrine which is evident in the four accounts of the institution of the Lord s Supper.

The accounts in Matthew and Mark stress the establish­ment of a covenant and emphasize the foundation thereof in atonement. That in Luke stresses the character and the beneficents of that covenant. He transposes the words blood and co­venant, putting the covenant first and adding the adjective new'. Thus he heightens the idea of the covenant itself and the newness of its character. By omitting mention of sins and bringing in the word you', with its more personal touch than the word 'many' of the former accounts, acceptance is suggested. The distinctive feature of the Pauline account is remembrance. This is not mentioned in Matthew or Mark; in Luke of the cup only, but in the Pauline passage of both loaf and cup. The development of ideas appears to be:-

Matthew - the covenant and the Trespass Offering
Mark - the covenant and the Sin Offering

Luke - the newness of the covenant and its blessings
Corinthians    – the new covenant and the Lord Himself.

Early Celebrations of The Lord's Supper

There is profit in reviewing the early celebrations of the Lord's Supper. These were less formal and less ecclesiastical than latterly. It was celebrated in Jerusalem in a household way (Acts 2. 46). When partaking of an ordinary house­hold meal, in the same way as the Lord Himself did, they took an ordinary loaf and ordinary cup to remember their Lord in the sweetness of their first love and under the unction of the Holy Spirit freshly imparted by the Exalted Christ. As the new era developed, the celebration seems to pass from the household to the churches. It appears (as Acts 20. 6/12 describes) that a weekly gathering took place, and, whilst this served primarily for the breaking of bread (w. 7 and 11), it did so also for preaching and for conversation (dialego v. 7 and bomileo v. 11). Evidence that there were meetings for the breaking of bread exclusively, others for payer exclusively, and yet others for preaching exclusively, hardly seems apparent in our records. The impression that a fresh unbiased reading of 1 Cor. J1 to 14 creates is that the same meeting is in mind throughout. It must not be supposed, therefore, that Spirit-led attention to the Scriptures on subjects appropriate to the Lord's Supper is out of place. The meal at which the Supper was celebrated seems to have been transferred to the churches also (see 1 Cor. 11. 21, 22 and Jude 12), Undisciplined behaviour thereat violated the sanctity of the Lord's Supper. Restraint as to eating, drinking (11. 21), speaking in tongues (14. 23), teaching, prophesying, singing (14. 26), and the proper conduct of women (14. 3-4/35) was cast off at Corinth. This section of the Epistle (1 Cor. 11 to 14) was written to regulate these matters, and the regulation of them seems to amount to a prohibition of the meal (1 Cor. 11. 22), thus making the Lord's Supper a sacred and central feature of church gathering.

The emphasis upon the Lordship of Christ in this passage is very considerable and should be allowed its solemnising effect.

Subsequent Ideas of Celebration

From the coarse encroachments upon (he Lord's Supper the pendulum swung over to ecclesiastic ism. The mingled formality and meticulous ness of Ephesus indicates a tendency (Rev. 2. 2/4), which developed into prescriptions of form and order in the second century. Soon the spirit of sacerdotalism resulted in the theory of t ran substantiation, which claims that the bread and wine when consecrated become the actual body and blood of Christ, It also claims that in (he act of dissolving the bread in the mouth of the communicant death takes place. Thus the Supper is changed to a sacrifice and, instead of proclaiming the Lord's Death {1 Cor. 11. 26, R.V,), parodies its once-for-all character by professing to repeat it interminably. The Priesthood of Believers and The Lord's Supper

It is sometimes said that it is distinctively as priests, or as a priesthood, that believers celebrate the Lord's Supper. This statement should be off-set by the fact that the Epistles which deal with priesthood (1 Pet. and Heb.) do not deal with church order, and the Epistles which deal with church order especially (1 Cor. and 1 Tim.) do not directly mention priest­hood. It should also be remembered that Gospel service (Rom. 15. 16, R.V.), the aggregate activities of a Christian community (Phil. 2. 17), the sharing of goods (Heb, 13. 16 and Phil. 4. 18) and the offering of praise (Heb. 13. 16), are ail shown to be spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. It is therefore hardly with propriety that (he priest­hood of believers is limited to celebration of the Lord's Supper. Rather is it that because Christian priesthood em­braces all else of genuine Christian life it also embraces the Lord's Supper.

Though it appears from 1 Pet. 5. 1/6 that organized Church life was contemplated by Peter when he wrote, it was not to churches as such that he addressed himself. It was to believers scattered throughout an area at least as large as Great Britain. The one priesthood that he contemplates as functioning must therefore have been, as he says, a spiritual house.

Sometimes the word coming is given an ecclesiastical sense, but its use in Hebrews indicates a wider idea and hardly countenances this narrowed sense (see Heb. 7, 25; 10. 1; 11. 6),

A very real difficulty exists in attempting to envisage the functioning of the royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2. 9, which is the same priesthood in another aspect) in a way in which its members are associated with one another tangibly. The same difficulty appears when attempt is made to envisage believers throughout five Roman provinces meeting together tangibly as a holy priesthood. But when the conception is allowed to be an abstract idea rather than a concrete one the difficulty melts, as it does when it is seen that members of a nation (one of Peter's co-extensive figures of Christians) can exercise the privileges of citizenship though as far apart as Land's End and John o' Groats.

Of the priesthood of believers it has tightly been written “Tho' sundered far, by faith they meet, Around one common mercy-seat."

Although believers in each locality should meet in tangible fashion to break bread and enjoy the privileges of Christian fellowship and priesthood, yet it is not by so meeting that they become a priesthood nor that then only are they a priesthood. They are a priesthood then simply because they are always a priesthood.

It follows therefore also that neither is it only those who

so meet that form part of this holy and royal priesthood. To

exclude genuine believers from the spiritual house and holy

priesthood involves denial that they are the people of God.

Modus of Address at The Lord's Slipper

As a development of the association of priesthood with the celebration of the Lord's Supper, it is sometimes maintained that priesthood has to do with God as God, and that it is therefore wrong to address Him as the Father. It must be remembered that priesthood could not in the Old Tes­tament be associated with the Father, because He is not re­vealed therein as such. Nor could it, in the very nature of the case, be in the Epistle to the Hebrews, because those lo whom it was written had not yet realized that this present era is distinctively the era of the revelation of the Father. However, the book of the Revelation shows unmistakably that all those loosed from their sins are made priests to His God and father (see ch, 1. 6 in R.V. and New Translation). Indeed, since the advent of the Son, worship is characteristi­cally worship of the Father. It is as such that He seeks worshippers. Consequently, address to God as Father may not be forbidden without direct collision with die words of Christ (Jn. A. 21/24).

Another development of this conception of priesthood is that address to the Lord Jesus Himself is discountenanced. Although it must be remembered that one aspect of truth is that our approach to God is by the meditorial offices of Christ, it must also be remembered that, at the close of the three greatest writings of John, the Lord Jesus Himself is given significant prominence. When believers were together in a meeting with the Lord in their midst, He was worshipped personally. The record of this fact is intended to be instruc­tive (Jn. 20. 26/28). Almost the last words of the Bible are addressed to Him (Rev. 22. 20). The close of the first Epistle of John speaks of the Son as the 'true God and eternal life'. Moreover, the oneness of the Father and the Son excludes setting aside the Father when the Son is addressed. To see the Son is to see the Father (Jn. 14. 9), And it seems implied also that to honour the Son is to honour the Father (Jn, 5. 2O/23). Furthermore, it is clear that be­lievers will be priests of Christ in the future (Rev. 20. 6). The approach of the saints to the Lord is so sacred that legal prohibitions and regulations of address seem profane. Piety and acquaintance with the Scriptures will cultivate spiritual taste and lead to becoming modes of address as occasion requires.