Church Gatherings - Part 3 - The Breaking of Bread
John Scarsbrook, Killamarsh, England
The law from Sinai was intrinsically ‘holy, and just, and good’, Rom. 7. 12. It did, however, make rigorous demands upon those living under its jurisdiction, with penalties imposed for failure to meet its requirements. Because of man’s weakness, the claims of the law were met by the altar, and his only standing before God was on account of the gracious provision of atonement. ‘The Lord’s death’, however, provided something far more substantial. Instead of the covering for sin granted by animal sacrifice, a complete cleansing was made possible by faith in the One who ‘was de-livered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification’, Rom 4. 25. This gracious provision was not accompanied by onerous legal demands engraved in stone, but with the challenge of a life of obedience founded on love for the Lord Jesus and love for others, John 13. 34-35; 14. 15, 23.
It began with a simple command to His own in the upper room. In anticipation of the ‘much fruit’ to be brought forth as a consequence of His death, the Lord Jesus wrote it upon their hearts in the form of a request. Taking the everyday objects to hand, as so often He did to illustrate His teaching, He lifted bread and a cup of wine from the supper table and gave thanks. The eleven disciples, familiar with the ritual of Passover, would no doubt have been puzzled by this departure from the well known customs. Then, referring to the bread as representative of His body, and the wine of His blood, He passed it to those at the table that each might partake; as they did so they heard His brief words of explanation, ‘My body . . . my blood . . . for you . . . this do in remembrance of me’, Luke 22. 19-20; so unpretentious, so humble, so profound!
The analogy he used was not entirely new to the disciples. Earlier in His ministry, on a hillside in Galilee, the Lord had said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven’, John 6. 41. He spoke on that occasion of the need to eat His flesh and drink His blood as a means of eternal life. John chapter 6, however, has absolutely nothing to do with the symbolic events seen in the upper room. Set in the context of eating and drinking food to sustain life, He had fed the multitude and drawn lessons from the manna, He taught that He himself must become an integral part of the one who would know and enjoy eternal life. Confused understanding of this chapter has led to the wholly erroneous Romish doctrine of transubstantiation and to the Lutheran teaching of consubstantiation. Monastic Christendom has derived words like ‘Eucharist’ and ‘Holy Communion’ to describe their rituals involving bread and wine. The ‘bread’ has become a form of wafer known as ‘the Host’, from the Latin hostia meaning a victim, thus supporting the false doctrine of transubstantiation, which teaches that it becomes the actual body of the Lord when blessed by the officiating priest! In the practice of giving ‘Last Rites’ to those close to death, the ‘sacraments’ are often administered in the vain hope of ensuring eternal life!
All this is far removed from the simplicity of the Lord’s words and actions just hours before He went to Calvary. The whole experience would have taken no more than a few minutes and doubtless would have been temporarily forgotten by the disciples as the events of the night unfolded. When, however, the Spirit was given at Pentecost, the meaning of the Lord’s words in John chapter 14 verse 26 became clear, as remembrance was made of those things taught by Him. Among these was undoubtedly the instruction for what the scriptures refer to as ‘The Lord’s Supper’, 1 Cor. 11. 20, or ‘The Breaking of Bread’, Acts 2. 42; 20. 7.
That which the Lord initiated in the gospel records was clearly practised by the early church, Acts 2. 42; 20. 7, and given doctrinal substance by the Spirit of God through the apostle Paul, 1 Cor. 11, 23-30. Most readers of this magazine will be familiar with the form and structure of this church gathering as, ‘upon the first day of the week, the disciples came together to break bread’, Acts 20. 7. In the New Testament, the expression ‘breaking bread’ does not refer exclusively to this time of remembrance, but also to the eating of a meal, Acts 2. 46; 27. 35, the context determines the meaning. From the apostle’s stern rebuke to the Corinthian church, it would appear that they had confused the two, resulting in disorder, 1 Cor. 11. 20-22, 34.
Much has been written and taught to good effect regarding both the privilege and responsibility associated with the believer’s obedience to the Lord’s desire that we should remember Him. A recent article written for Young Precious Seed by Daniel Rudge is worth reading in this connection. This can be found in the February 2011 magazine (Volume 8, issue 2) or at, www.youngpreciousseed.org/magazine_detail.cfm?articleID=101, and clearly teaches that our attendance at and participation in the Lord’s Supper is not to be taken lightly or without due consideration, but valued as an opportunity to express, whether silently or audibly, our appreciation of the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. It is somewhat disappointing that, in certain companies of the Lord’s people, this simple expression of obedience has been relegated to a far less frequent gathering than ‘the first day of the week’ indicated in scripture; or even consigned as a form of addendum to another meeting!
At the expense of repeating things which have been well documented, it may be timely to remind our hearts of the purpose of this familiar church gathering. It is primarily an act of obedience in remembrance of the Lord. It should be characterized by simplicity, dignity and humility. Remember that the Lord has promised us His presence and, as we focus our minds and hearts on His blessed Person, the inevitable progression will be worship. Worship is defined as having or expressing feelings of profound adoration. Worship is not a matter of gift. The simplest believer can worship, but, by the same token, eloquence is not necessarily an evidence of spirituality. Neither is worship the product of emotions stirred up by rhythmic sound or visual attractions that appeal to the natural or aesthetic senses. Bearing in mind the intrinsic character of the One we worship, there should, of necessity, be a reverence and dignity in every approach to our sovereign Lord; He alone truly estimates the value and reality of our worship as He weighs it in the balance of the sanctuary.
The apostle Paul made it clear that the familiar words recorded in verses 23-30 of 1 Corinthians chapter 11, were given to him as a direct revelation from the Lord. He, of course, had not been in the upper room that night, but he clearly sets out the details and the purpose of the Lord’s request to His own, which by the time the apostle wrote had evidently become an established practice in the New Testament churches. Often, when these verses are read, we stop at verse 26 with the blessed anticipation that the remembrance is only ‘‘til he come’, words which lift and cheer our hearts. The verses which follow, however, remind us that the first Corinthian Epistle is corrective in its teaching in view of the behaviour, or rather misbehaviour, of the believers!
In verse 27, ‘wherefore’ links our thoughts to the dignity of this occasion. Our participation should never be trivialised or treated in a flippant way. The apostle raises the possibility of one partaking of the bread and wine in an ‘unworthy’ manner. ‘Unworthily’ is an adverb which qualifies the manner of partaking, not the person; it places the emphasis on our state, not our standing. None should consider themselves worthy of any privilege as far as our nature is concerned. However, as the apostle reminds the Corinthians, ‘but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God’, 1 Cor. 6. 11. Yet if we harbour un-judged sin in our hearts, or hold a grievance against a fellow saint, our participation could be deemed ‘unworthy’; our attitude is not consistent with the solemn significance of the occasion. By so doing we are ‘not discerning the Lord’s body’, failing in the very purpose of our gathering, the remembrance of One who gave His all to put away our sins. Consistent behaviour after this manner can only expect the chastening hand of the Lord, as the Corinthians had learned to their cost, 1 Cor. 11. 30.
In verse 28 the apostle advocates self-examination before participation in the Lord’s Supper. Some have taken this verse as a licence to any and all who profess salvation to have free access to the privileges enjoyed by the Lord’s people when they ‘come together’, placing the onus of responsibility on the individual. On the contrary, however, the exhortation is for those believers already in fellowship to ensure that nothing in their lives, hidden or known, would preclude their full participation in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus.
According to Thy gracious Word,
In meek humility
This would I do, O Christ my Lord,
I would remember Thee.