Stephen Baker, Manchester
The Breaking of Bread – When and where?
Most of us live busy lives and it is good at times to be able to get away and relax. When we are away does it really matter if we ‘remember the Lord’ on our own, or with a group of friends, or should we make sure that we can meet with a local assembly of believers to do this? A similar question might be, ‘If we take away a group of people for a week of Bible teaching or gospel preaching would it all right to “break bread” where we are staying as this would certainly be more convenient, or should we make a point of being somewhere where we can meet with a local assembly to “break bread”’? Interesting and important questions!
What do the Gospels say?
When the Lord Jesus first taught His disciples to remember Him on the special occasion that we are discussing he did not indicate when the act of remembrance should take place. In Matthew’s Gospel the Lord is recorded as explaining the significance of the symbols, bread and wine, and as stating that all the disciples should partake. I think that we can correctly assume from the statements of John chapter 13 verse 30 and from the order of events in Matthew chapter 26, that Judas had left the upper room before the Lord’s Supper was instituted. Therefore, only believers should participate in the ‘breaking of bread’. So, in the Gospels, we are introduced to ‘the fact of remembering the Lord’ and to ‘the significance of the act of remembering’.
What about the Acts of the Apostles?
I am sure that most readers would agree that the book of Acts is not essentially a book of doctrine but an historical record. Having said that, we find many great truths about God and His ways are to be discovered in it. Principles that we see in historical books are usually reiterated and supported by other scriptures. In the book of Acts there are a number of direct references to ‘breaking bread’. Sometimes the reference is to the sharing of a meal, Acts 2. 46, and at other times a more direct term is used, i.e., ‘the breaking of bread’. The ‘breaking of bread’ is a term that is clearly linked to the local assembly in Jerusalem. When we look at further references in 1 Corinthians we shall see evidence that ‘the breaking of bread’ is a local church activity and not just something believers can do on an ad-hoc basis.
Before we leave the Acts we should consider the day of the week on which the Christians met. When the Holy Spirit came down in Acts 2 it was the ‘day of Pentecost’. From Leviticus 23 verses 15 and 16 we know that this was the day after the Sabbath, i.e., the first day of the week. This day is what we often call Sunday, or the Lord’s Day. It is the day that the Lord Jesus rose from among the dead, Luke 24. 1. In 1 Corinthians 16 verse 2 we learn that the local church in Corinth met on the first day of the week. Luke’s account of Paul’s journeys records him waiting in Troas for seven days so that he could ‘break bread’ with the disciples before leaving the next day to continue his journey, Acts 20. 6, 7. This indicates that this day was the one on which the believers met in order to break bread in remembrance of the Lord.
In light of these facts, would it be stretching our imaginations to suggest that when Paul waited for seven days it was because he did not feel free to ‘break bread’ anywhere but only with a local assembly of disciples (believers) and that their practice was to ‘break bread’ on the first day of the week? It may also be significant that in Acts 21 verse 4 Paul also waited seven days to meet with the disciples but we are not told specifically in this case why he did.
The Breaking of Bread in 1 Corinthians
There are two passages in 1 Corinthians that deal with this subject; they are in chapters10 and 11. In chapter 10 the underlying teaching is about fellowship. The symbolic nature of the wine is taught as representing the blood of Christ as the foundation of our fellowship established through Christ’s death, 1 Cor. 10. 16. The symbol of the bread is explained in a two-fold way. Firstly, it represents Christ Himself and as we share in Christ the partaking of the bread symbolizes this, 1 Cor. 10. 16. Secondly, the bread is seen as a symbol of the local church, ‘for we being many are one bread’, 1 Cor.10. 17, and a symbol of the fellowship we demonstrate.
In chapter 11 the ‘breaking of bread’ is seen as an activity that a local church is participating in. Paul says in verse 18, ‘when ye come together in the church’ and in verse 20, ‘when ye come together therefore into one place’. Paul describes both the bad practice of the church in Corinth and the correct teaching about the subject. He teaches clearly that the ‘breaking of bread’ is part of the activities of the local church and believers can come under the judgement of God if they abuse it.
We can conclude from scripture then that we should only ‘break bread’ in remembrance of Christ in the context of a local church gathering and that to do otherwise is to move outside the teaching of scripture.