Most of the religious systems in Christendom, although not every one, include in their ceremonies some action which is intended to resemble the Lord’s Supper.
The variations in their ceremonies, the diversities of the meanings and methods in keeping the ordinance, and the frequency or infrequency of their ceremonies, are somewhat confusing. This we may expect as there are so many beliefs and practices introduced in the denominations for which there is no scriptural warrant. Some changes have now been introduced in some of the focal churches which require that we examine our practices in the light of God’s clearly defined pattern.
The title ‘The Lord’s Supper’ appears only once in scripture and ‘the breaking of bread’ in the church, indicating the ordinance as opposed to eating one’s daily food, is referred to on only a few occasions. The title ‘communion’ sometimes used, is most likely taken from 1 Cor. 10, and is the same word in the original translated ‘fellowship’ elsewhere. As is well known, on the occasion of what has aptly been described as ‘the Last Supper’, when the Passover which had been introduced by God for His earthly people, was brought to an end by the Lord Jesus, the Lord then introduced something completely new. He used the simple things to hand and declared them to be symbols of His body and His blood. There are four direct accounts of the introduction of this ordinance, i.e. Matt. 26. 26, Mark 14. 22, Luke 22. 19 and 1 Cor. 11. 23 (1 Cor. 10 refers, but the reference is symbolic of fellowship). Disregarding the chronological order of the Gospels, it is noteworthy that the accounts in Matthew and Mark give no indication that this is an ordinance to be continued. It is not until we read the account in Luke that we have the request of the Lord, ‘This do in remembrance of me’. If we had any question of the relevance of this ordinance today, we are left in no doubt when we read the account given by the apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 11. 23, being, as he declares, a direct revelation from the Lord Himself. It is obvious that the apostle had given verbal instructions to the church at Corinth, as it was their unseemly behaviour and failure to appreciate the significance of the ordinance, which had called for a rebuke and confirmed for us that we should continue it until the Lord’s return. Incidentally, the accounts in the Gospels, as translated in the Authorised version, omit the word ‘broken’ which is supplied in the account in 1 Cor. 11. 24. Others translate ‘which is for you’, e.g. the RV and JND. This inclusion of the word ‘broken’ has caused some to consider that Christ’s body was broken, but the scripture is careful to point out in John 19. 36 ‘a bone of Him shall not be broken’, a fulfilment of the prophecy of Exodus 12. 46. When Jesus appeared to His disciples, after His resurrection, John 20. 27, His body was not broken, although He still had the wounds of Calvary, and He still will have the marks of His suffering when He returns to save the remnant of His earthly people, Zech. 13. 6.
If we bear in mind that this ordinance was instituted by the Lord Himself, and the four accounts we have in scripture are clear and concise, I feel we would wish to obey meticulously the wish of our Lord, without being charged with legality. But unless we know what the scripture says, we are liable to add to or vary the ordinance and its meaning. Confining ourselves to scriptural references, we may find out: Who should keep the ordinance; Where it should be kept; When it should be kept; and How it should be kept.
Who should keep the ordinance
In Acts 2 we read, ‘Then they that gladly received his word were baptised … and they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship and in breaking of bread and prayers’. In 1 Corinthians 1. 2 the apostle addresses his epistle ‘unto the church of God which is at Corinth’ and in chapter 11 verse 18 he says ,‘when ye come together in (the) church’, and he goes on to speak of the Lord’s Supper. It is therefore clear that it is those who have believed on Christ for salvation, have been baptized and have gathered together to break bread. The account in Acts 2 was the commencement of the church period and it would appear that the converts conformed without question to the divine pattern. But it was not long before changes began to take place which caused the apostle to write to different churches rebuking them, and requiring them to exercise discipline which restricted the complete liberty that was at first enjoyed. Initially, it appears there was what is sometimes nowadays called ‘an open table’, but as we read in several of the epistles, this was no longer possible for various reasons. We read in Romans 16. 17, ‘Mark them that cause divisions … and avoid them’. Titus 3. 10, ‘A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject’. 2 Thess. 3. 6, ‘now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us’, and verse 14, ‘And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother’. 1 Tim. 6. 3, ‘If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness’, verse 5 ‘from such withdraw thyself (this excerpt from verse 5 is omitted from the RV and is not in other MSS, but it would be difficult to have fellowship with such an one). 1 Cor. 5. 11, ‘But I have written unto you not to keep company if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator … with such an one no not to eat’. These selections from the scriptures show several reasons why full fellowship cannot be accorded to all believers and these prohibitions still apply today. Some would brush aside the principles contained in these scriptures and would assert that we must be gracious, and of course we must be, but let us not set aside lightly the authority that is invoked, viz. 2 Thess. 3. 6, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We would be unwise to ignore or disregard the scripture in this matter, and anyone who presents himself or herself for fellowship in the breaking of bread should have commendation as to their moral and doctrinal position.
Where it should be kept
The place is where the church of God meets. Nowadays, many names have been adopted. The church is so often misinterpreted as a building. The titles Chapel, Gospel Hall and recently various combinations of Evangelical Church and Chapel, etc., are in use. The ‘where’ in scripture is where the church of God meets, and in the early days of the church the places of meeting varied according to local circumstances (as in many cases today) and the apostle writing in Rom. 16. 3 and 5 sends greetings to Priscilla and Aquilla and also, ‘Greet the church which is in their house’. Also in Col. 4. 15 we read, ‘Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church which is in his house’. In 1 Cor. 11 and elsewhere where the ordinance of the breaking of bread is mentioned it is always associated with the church as a church activity. A practice has developed in some areas where bread and wine are taken to patients in hospital or saints who cannot gather in church for some reason. While doubtless every saint would wish to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread, and however gracious the motive of those who have introduced this practice, there is no warrant in scripture for it. Indeed, this practice has similar characteristics to the Roman Church. Some have also introduced ad hoc ‘breaking of bread meetings’ where a number of believers (and possibly others) happen to be together, some of whom may hold erroneous doctrines as previously mentioned. For example, at holiday camps or hotels. This is also without scriptural warrant and it would seem to be more appropriate for believers in fellowship to join with those in the nearest local church (assembly) to remember the Lord. Rev. 2. 5 indicates that each local church is a candlestick which the Lord has put there, and only He has the authority to retain or remove it.
When it should be kept
In Acts 2. 46 we read, ‘breaking bread from house to house did eat their meat with gladness’. This has been taken by some to mean that the ordinance of ‘breaking of bread’ was being held daily but the whole context suggests that they were eating their daily food and this view seems more reasonable, as, four verses before, verse 42, it states ‘they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and breaking of bread and prayers’. Whether or not this was so at the beginning of the Christian era, by the time a number of churches had been established some years later, we learn the divine pattern and practice. In Acts 20 the apostle and others when returning to Jerusalem came to Troas, and we read in verses 6 and 7, ‘where we abode seven days. And upon the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread’. This shows that the church met together to break bread on the first day of the week (the inference is – regularly) – not on any day or, surely, the apostle and his companions would not have waited seven days. He, in fact, was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem as stated in verse. 16, ‘for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost’. The fact that Paul preached until midnight has led some to the conclusion that the ordinance should take place in the evening, but we should remember that the days then commenced in the evening and this was the first meeting of the day, with which the timing of our breaking of bread on a Lord’s Day morning conforms. It may be of interest to recall that when God wrought in creation, we read in Genesis, ‘The evening and the morning was the first (second etc.) day’, and in Israel even now their day commences in the evening. Some have also concluded that the apostle preached until midnight before the breaking of bread but a careful reading rather suggests that the disciples fulfilled the purpose for which they had come, verse 7, ‘come together to break bread’ and Paul preached at length thereafter. When we read in verse 11, ‘When he therefore was come up again and had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed’. The coming up was after dealing with the young man, and the breaking and eating appears to be the taking of food for the journey which he commenced apparently without having had any sleep during the night. In some of the assemblies, there seems to be a tendency for a good deal of ministry and possibly less thanksgiving, with the breaking of bread taking place just before the conclusion of the meeting. Some advocate the breaking of bread at the beginning but some have preference for thanksgiving before and after the breaking of bread. Whatever method we adopt (and there does not appear to be any clear guidance in scripture on this matter) alf our thoughts and actions should be concerned with fulfilling the purpose for which the ordinance was instituted – remembering the Lord in His Person.
How it should be kept
This should present no difficulty if we read carefully the accounts in Luke and 1 Cor. 11, and do as the Lord did. Indeed, this is precisely what He said, ‘This do in remembrance of me’. No brother should hesitate to do so because of a feeling of inadequacy to take the Lord’s place, but we are not asked to do so. The brother who acts does so as requested by the Lord and on behalf of the company. While, traditionally, the same brother also gives thanks for the cup, it can equally well be done by another brother, with the Spirit’s guidance, bearing in mind that he is acting for the company. The scripture refers to the cup (singular) as it does to the bread, and while for convenience a number of cups are sometimes used, some may consider a decanter more appropriate with the cups, as there is or should be only one loaf representing Christ’s body. The practice of having individual cups, being considered from time to time by some assemblies, seems to be quite a departure from the scriptural pattern.
This is not an exhaustive study of the subject, but it is hoped that it may serve to prevent further departure from the divine pattern which the scripture gives, and any endeavour we may make to do His will cannot but bring pleasure to God who gave so much and asks so little in return.
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