History of Apostasy in Observing the Lord's Supper

Luther W. Martin
Rolla, Missouri

The institution of the Lord's supper, the memorial sacrifice of Christ' body and blood, which is kept by Christians each first day of the week, is recorded in Matthew 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-26, and Luke 22:19-20.

Some years later, the history recorded by Luke in Acts 20:6-7 authenticates the practice of the disciples in partaking of the supper of the Lord on the first day of the week. Paul, accompanied by Luke, arrived at Troas, and waited seven days for the arrival of the first day of the week, upon which day they assembled with the disciples at Troas and participated with them in "breaking bread." Still later, the Apostle Paul provided an inspired record of Christ's having instituted the Lord's supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

Expressions such as "My body" and "My blood of the new covenant" were quoted from the lips of Christ by Matthew, Mark and Luke. Each of these three witnesses quote Christ as no longer participating in the Passover feast, until it would be "fulfilled in the kingdom of God." Then Paul's testimony places the Lord's table in the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 10:21), thereby confirming the Lord's kingdom and the Lord's church as being one and the same.

The foregoing passages of Scripture provide the inspired authorization for the subsequent observance and practice of the Lord's people, which prevailed for many centuries. Now, in the 20th century, there are yet congregations of Christian's who gather together and worship each Lord's day, after the New Testament order.

Unfortunately, over the centuries, men have presumptuously taken the Lord's authority into their own hands, and have introduced changes in the observance of the Lord's supper. Let us consider some of the innovations.

The Bread and the Fruit of the Vine

The unleavened bread, as used in the Passover observance, became the bread that served as a memorial of Christ's body, "For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us" (1 Cor. 5:7). Also the "fruit of the vine" (Matt. 26:29; Mk. 14:25; Lk. 22:18), was the scarlet liquid used in symbolizing Christ's blood. Thus, inspiration authorized two substances in memorializing Christ's sacrifice.

The "Eastern church" continued to observe the Lord's supper by using the two substances in its Eucharist. Eucharist is an anglicized Greek word, eucharisteo, which means "to thank, or to be thankful." It is used in Matthew 26:27, Mark 14:23, Luke 22:17,19 and 1 Corinthians 11:24, as well as in other passages. Early in its history, the Eastern church resorted to leavened bread in its observance. For a time in the East, a spoon was used in taking the fruit of the vine, thereby rendering it unnecessary for the faithful to even touch the container(s). Some assemblies had a container for the priest, and another for the communicants. Later, the wafer or bit of bread was dipped into the wine, and thus both the bread and the fruit of the vine were taken by the communicant simultaneously. This was called "intinction."

The Western Congregations Influenced by Rome

Even the congregations known as the "Western church" continued for many centuries to use the two substances (they termed it "two species") when they observed the Eucharist in their place of worship. However, one of the earliest departures from the New Testament pattern for the Lord's supper occurred when they determined to carry the bread and fruit of the vine to some Christian who was sick or in prison (see Worship, Vol. XXXVII, No. 8, August-September 1963, p. 527). Frequently the liquid was spilled, and so they began to take only the bread to the communicant on his sickbed. They further rationalized that the bread (the body), had the blood in it, anyway, so why not with regularity, just use the bread in observance.

The church in the West, introduced the use of a gold or silver tube (like a drinking straw), and called a fistula, through which the wine was sipped. The Pope still makes use of the fistula, in taking the fruit of the vine.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, the Roman church condemned the practice of "intinction." This dipping of the "Host," the wafer of bread into the wine, contributed to the ultimate omission of the use of the fruit of the vine, as a separate symbol of Christ's blood. Partaking of the Lord's supper was so poorly practiced in the early 13th century, that the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) had to command its annual reception. This meant that about twice per year, there would be droves of communicants (not through faith in Christ, but in obedience to the decree!), while the rest of the year, there were almost none. Consequently, at these congested times, the priests were only too happy to have their task simplified by the distribution of the bread only, without having to also distribute the wine. Coincidentally, it was about a century earlier (1088), that Beregarius of Tours gave the Western church substantial opposition to the subject of Transubstantiation, wherein "the entire substance of the bread and the wine is (supposedly - lwm) changed into the Body and Blood of Christ" (The Catholic Encyclopedia Dictionary, p. 345, published by the Gilmary Society, 1941). Opposition to Transubstantiation would again arise with the beginning of the Reformation. Due to the attacks of John Huss, the matter of Communion under one species, had to be addressed by the Council of Constance (1415).

Later, the Council of Trent (1546-1564) defined Transubstantiation (sess. Xiii, can. 2, A Catholic Dictionary, p. 499, edited by Donald Attwater, published by the Macmillan Co., 1952). With such a definition, it was no longer required that the Catholic communicant partake of two 6ispecies" in observing the Eucharist. The chalice or cup was denied to the "laity" but the members of the hierarchy who served at the altar continue to partake of both "species." The doctrine that "the whole Christ is present under either species" is called "concomitance" (see Worship, December, 1062, Vol. XXXVII, No. 1, p. 52).

The decree which forbade Communion under the two species was passed by a vote of 87 "for" and 79 "against." The ballots of these 87 men do not invalidate the instructions of Christ or Paul; or, the example of the Christians at Troas!

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 12, pp. 364-365
June 18, 1992