Worship (IV): The Lord's Supper (1)
Every religion with which I am acquainted which claims to be a Christian religion, with the exception of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and Christian Scientists, observe something which they call the Lord's Supper. The Friends practice a religion which does away with all the externals and, therefore, they have done away with water baptism and the Lord's Supper. The Christian Scientists prefer to commemorate the breakfast which Jesus ate with his disciples which is recorded in Jn. 21 rather than to observe the Lord's Supper which He instituted and commanded that we observe.
However, all other religions professing to be Christian religions observe something which is known to them as the Lord's Supper. One would think that the religious world would have this as common ground for the attainment of unity inasmuch as all of the churches practice something which they call the Lord's Supper. Such is not the case, however. The churches differ` from each other regarding the items to be used, the frequency, and the purpose of observing the Lord's Supper. Hence, the observance of the Lord's Supper, rather than being common ground for all Christian religions, is another item over which Christian religion is divided. Let us study anew the biblical teachings regarding the Lord's Supper in order that we might understand the nature of this divinely revealed memorial. (I am assuming that we understand that Bible authority can be established by command, example, and necessary inference in the course of this article.)
Institution of the Lord's Supper
Jesus is the one who personally instituted the Lord's Supper. The Supper was instituted on the night in which He was betrayed (1 Cor. 11:23) during the meal which He ate with His disciples in observance of the Passover (Mt. 26:17). Here is Matthew's account of the institution of the Lord's Supper:
"And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body.' And He took a cup and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is to be shed on behalf of many for forgiveness of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom"' (26:26-29).
This account is also recorded in Mark 14:22-25 and Luke 22:17-20. Paul gave an independent account of the institution of the Lord's Supper in 1 Cor. 11:23f. Hence, there can be no doubt that Jesus personally instituted the Lord's Supper as a memorial to Himself.
When Jesus promised to drink of the fruit of the vine again in the kingdom of God, He revealed that this memorial supper would be a part of the kingdom of God. Indeed, Paul spoke of it as a communion (1 Cor. 10:16). It is, indeed, a communion - a communion with Christ and with all others who share in the blood of Christ. Consequently, the Lord's Supper has meaning only to those who are in the kingdom of God. It was .never intended to be observed by those who are outside of Christ. It was instituted by Jesus with the intention that it be observed by His disciples as a memorial to Him. Non-Christians have no reason to partake of the Lord's Supper.
Items On The Lord's Table
Most everyone knows the items to be used on the table of the Lord and would be repulsed by any alteration of items to be used on the table. However, many know the items used on the table without knowing why those items are used. If such is the case, the items we use in the observance of the Supper are used as a matter of tradition rather than as an act of faith. It is insufficient that any of the things which we do in obedience to God should spring from tradition rather than from faith. Hence, we need to know why we use the items which we use.
1. The Fruit of the Vine. Jesus used the fruit of the vine as a memorial to His shed blood (Mt. 26:29; Mk. 14:23, 25; Lk. 22:20). In the New Testament era, the words "fruit of the vine" referred to the fruit of the grape vine. I say that because I was asked in one congregation whether the fruit of any vine would suffice for the observance of the Lord's Supper. When the Scriptures say that Jesus took "the fruit of the vine," we must understand that He took the fruit of the grape vine - grape juice. There is no evidence to my knowledge which would indicate that "fruit of the vine" was ever used to refer to fruit of the tomato vines, watermelon vine, berry vine, etc. If we are going to use what Jesus used in the observance of the Lord's Supper, we must use the fruit of the grape vine.
2. Unleavened Bread. We know that Jesus also used unleavened bread when He instituted the Lord's Supper. We learn this through necessary inference in the following manner: (1) The Lord's Supper was instituted during the Passover Feast which was also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Mt. 26:17). (2) The Mosaical Law legislated that leavening be put out of one's house during the seven day observance of the Feast of Passover. Here is the ordinance:
"Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel . . . . Seven days there shall be no leaven found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened, that person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is an alien or a native of the land" (Ex. 12:15, 19).
(3) We also know that Jesus committed no sin (Heb. 4:15). If he had used leavened bread during that week, He would have been guilty of sin and not been qualified to be the perfect sacrifice for sin. Hence, we necessarily infer that unleavened bread was used during the institution of the Lord's Supper. If we are going to do as Jesus did, we will use unleavened bread in observance of the Lord's Supper.
Not all groups follow the directions of the word of God in the usage of the proper items for the Lord's Supper. The Mormons, for example, have this verse as a part of their "inspired" revelation:
"For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory - remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins" (Doctrine and Covenants 27:2).
Consequently, the Mormons use leavened bread and water to observe the Lord's Supper. Some of the modernist groups have also discarded the revealed pattern of items to used in the observance of the Lord's Supper and have used hamburgers and coke in their stead.
Those who deny that Bible authority can be established by necessary inference or example are in the precarious position of using the right items of worship for traditional reasons. The only legitimate reason that such brethren can cite for using unleavened bread and fruit of the vine is "this is the way that we have always done it." They cannot give Bible authority inasmuch as they have renounced the usage of necessary inference and examples as a means of establishing Bible authority.
Frequency of Observance
The religious world is divided as to the frequence with which the Lord's Supper should be observed. I have visited denominations which observed the Lord's Supper weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, and annually. Is there a pattern as to when the Lord's Supper should be observed? Let us examine the divine record to see how the early church observed the Lord's Supper.
1. Acts 2:42. This verse records the example of the early church in Jerusalem. It records, "And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." The statement that they were "continually devoting themselves" ("continued steadfastly" -KJV) to the breaking of bread indicates that the early church observed the Lord's Supper frequently. The passage does not tell us how frequently; we must learn that from other passages. We do learn, however, that they did not observe the Lord's Supper sporadically in a hit-and-miss fashion.
2. Acts 20: 7. This passage reveals to us the day on which the early church observed the Lord's Supper. The context of the passage was this: Paul was on his third preaching journey. He had collected funds to relieve the needs of the poor among the saints in Jerusalem from Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia. With a group of brethren, he was taking these funds to Jerusalem. The text states:
"And we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas within five days; and there we stayed seven days. And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intended to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight" (Acts 20:6-7).
This passage is instructive inasmuch as it shows us the day on which the Lord's Supper was regularly observed by the early Christians. Notice that though Paul was hastening to Jerusalem, he tarried seven days at Troas in order to have the opportunity to assemble with the saints in that city. He apparently knew that it was the custom of the church in Troas to worship on the first day of the week. The construction of the sentence shows that it was their purpose to come together on the first day of the week to observe the Lord's Supper (break bread). Hence, we have a New Testament example of the early church assembling on the first day of the week to break bread.
3. The church at Corinth. We also know that the church at Corinth assembled on the first day of every week to break bread. As Paul wrote the church in that city, he found it necessary to correct the abuses that were occurring there. Among the abuses was their perversion of the Lord's Supper. They had changed that memorial of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ into a common meal. In addition to that, this common meal was observed with class distinctions so that the rich would not eat with the poor. In rebuking the Corinthians, Paul wrote, "Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk" (1 Cor. 11:20-21). In the process of rebuking the Corinthians, Paul revealed that the church at Corinth assembled to partake of the Lord's Supper. His sentence, "Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper," is comparable to that of a teacher who is rebuking a class of youngsters who are creating confusion in the classroom by saying, "Therefore when you meet together, it is not possible to learn." This is a method of stating what one's purpose should be for coming together. Just as these sentences indicate that the purpose for the children assembling together was to learn, Paul's statement in 1 Cor. 11:20 indicates that the purpose for which the early church assembled was to observe the Lord's Supper. But, do we know how often they assembled together for this purpose?
Yes, we do. From the instructions given concerning the collection, we learn that it was the custom of the church all over the world to assemble on the first day of the week. Notice that Paul's instructions do not say, "Come together in order to give" but "while you are come together, give of your means." Here are the verses:
"Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come." (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
Notice the following points from these verses:
a. The application of the principle laid down at Corinth applied with equal force to the churches of Galatia. Hence, we are dealing with a general law for all churches and not with incidental matters pertaining to a specific situation.
b. The church at Corinth assembled on the first day of the week. The collection was to be taken while they were together. The church was together on the first day of the week.
c. The church so assembled on the first day of every week. The Greek construction kata mian sabbatou uses the kata distributively. Macknight correctly observed, "And as kata polin signifies every city; and kata mina, every month; and, Acts xiv. 23, kat' ekkiesian, in every church: So kata mian sabbaton signifies the first day of every week." Consequently, the New American Standard Bible in its translation "on the first day of every week" is more correct than the King James Version "on the first day of the week."
Let us put our evidences together from the church at Corinth. (1) The church at Corinth assembled for the purpose of observing the Lord's Supper (11:20). (2) They assembled on the first day of the week (16:1-2). (3) They assembled on the first day of every week (16:2). Hence, we have another example of a New Testament church assembling on the first day of every week to observe the Lord's Supper.
It is interesting to note that the historical evidences from the first century corroborate the conclusions which I have drawn from the text. Though it must be recognized that historical evidence does not authorize anything as having divine authority, it confirms the conviction of our duty of things divinely established. "According to the Didache (14:1) Christians are to meet 'on the Lord's day of the Lord' (kata kyriaken de kyriou) in order to break bread and offer thanksgiving" (Robert M. Grant, The Apostolic Fathers, p. 174). Other evidences from the "apostolic Fathers" could be offered which are equally confirming as this one from the Didache.
1. "It does not say every first day of the week. " This is the usual reply given when the evidence of Acts 10:7 is cited. I think that this is one reason that the Corinthian evidence is so valuable; it shows that the early church did assemble on the first day of every week to break bread. It is also interesting to notice the inconsistency of those who make this argument. These very same people will use the same passages which I have used to show that Christians are to worship on the first day of every week rather than on the Sabbath. These passages are somehow conclusive in establishing that the first century church worshiped on the first day of every week but are not conclusive to prove that they partook of the Lord's Supper on that day, although these passages show that to be one of the primary purposes for such an assembly. Do these passages prove the first day of the week worship assembly or not? If not, we have no authority for the observance of the first day of
the week; if they do, we have authority for the observance of the Lord's Supper every first day of the week.
2. "1 Cor. 11:26 says 'as often as you eat this bread . . .' leaving man free to partake of the Lord's Supper as often as he chooses. "The context of this passage shows that this is not so. Verse 26 was speaking concerning the purpose for which the Lord's Supper was being observed in Corinth. Paul was not discussing the frequency of the observance in v. 26; he was discussing the purpose for which the Corinthians were observing the Lord's Supper. His point was that every time the Corinthians partook of the Lord's Supper they proclaimed the Lord's death until He returns. This verse has nothing to do with the frequency with which the Supper was to be served.
3. "If we partake of the Lord's Supper every week, it loses its significance. " I suppose, therefore, that the conclusion should be that the less frequently we observe it, the more hallowed it will become. Therefore, let us partake of it only once in our lifetime. Then, too, it seems strange to me that the Lord's Supper is the only item of worship which loses significance the more frequently it is observed. Does giving lose its significance when done frequently? Does prayer lose its significance when practiced daily? My friends, this is an argument based on man's testimony rather than on God's word!
Let it be remembered that there is not one particle of evidence which implies that any New Testament church ever observed the Lord's Supper monthly, quarterly, semiannually or annually. The evidence of the Scriptures is that the New Testament church observed the Lord's Supper on the first day of every week. Those who seek to worship God according to the divine pattern which he has revealed to us will worship with a group which observes the Lord's Supper on the first day of every week.
Questions - Lesson IV
Truth Magazine XXIII: 43, pp. 697-699