By D.R. Ducan
When Should the Church Break the Bread?
The idea is now quite prevalent that there is the largest liberty in this respect; that a church can elect as well concerning this question as the time and place of the prayer meeting; that there was nothing indicated by the Savior when he says: “As often as ye do this, do it in remembrance of me till I come,” as to the time of frequency. Certainly we have no statement of the exact time of their meetings for that purpose, and yet we are not without a guide in the matter. In Acts 20:7 there is a statement that is indicative of the practice of the early church, which must have had not only the sanction but the instruction of the apostles.
Luke has some peculiarities as well as other writers, and in this verse is one of them: the use of the word when. He employs it to indicate an occurrence that was everywhere known, and therefore expected. The passage becomes significant with this explanation: “And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread,” was supposed to be anticipated by every reader. He had just related the fact that they had been there for a whole week, and of course a first day would occur, and on that first day the disciples would be expected to meet together to break bread. He wishes to tell the reader about Paul’s discourse and the miracle that was wrought by him that night, but preceded the account by the announcement that every one would anticipate. Hence he says that this discourse was given “when we were gathered together to break bread.” You will see the use of the word in Acts 8:12; “when they believed.” See again Acts 16:15; “And when she was baptized.” He had just related that her heart was opened, that she attended to the things spoken by Paul, and every one would expect her baptism to follow, and he records it in that way, as a matter of course. But when the custom was not known he announced it as a matter that had not been understood beforehand. Acts 17:1, 2, 3; Luke 4:16, will show the difference in the style between writing things that were known to be the custom and recording something that had not been known before. In these last texts he notices customs that had not been announced and were not supposed to be matters of common knowledge. But in the other places the style is different.
It was not, then, an accident that they met together on a first day of the week at Troas for the purpose of attending to the communion, but a custom was announced, which announcement was anticipated by every one who knew the practices of the church. This is further seen in. the First Corinthian letter (11:17-34), which shows that when they met together it was for the purpose of breaking bread; and in 16:1, 2, we learn that it was their practice to meet together on every first day of the week. It was not simply the custom in the city of Corinth, but in Galatia. Now the recommendations that Paul would give to the churches in Galatia respecting their meetings would come from a knowledge of the time when they were held. Putting these two facts together, we have it that first they met together to break bread; this was the main purpose of their meetings; and second, that they met together on every first day of the week. From this it is the conviction of the most eminent men of the church to-day that it was the custom of the first church during the days of the apostles to be the same. Indeed, they claim such practice as the reason and authority for their custom.
In the Teaching of the Apostles, which is supposed to have been written about A.D. 120, in chapter 14 we find this: “But every Lord’s day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanks after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with this fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: ‘In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice, for I am a great king, saith the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.'”
In the First Apology of Justin, chapter 67, we have the custom described, that of assembling and having the Scriptures read, and remarks made on them, then engaging in prayer and breaking of bread. This they did on the day that was “called Sunday.” Of course, since Justin was writing to an emperor, he used the word Sunday for the first day of the week, instead of the Lord’s day that was nearly always used by the Fathers, he might be understood. In the writings of these men, two things are apparent: first, they are everywhere agreed as to the custom of meeting together on the first day, or Lord’s day, for the purpose of breaking bread; and second, they are agreed that this teaching was from the apostles.
An objection has just been raised against weekly communion on account of the frequency, which it is claimed will render it so common as to hinder the impression that it should make on those who attend upon it. This same objection is urged against prayer being offered daily, so it has been though that it should be only after such intervals as will render it more awe-inspiring. So the priests should have gone occasionally the incense. But, again, it is said that the time is not definitely fixed by a direct statement. As a command, this is true. We learn, however, what was regarded as proper in the days of the apostle’s, when the churches were under the direction of their inspiration, and follow the example, believing that they were right, and that what was right then is right now. If we do as the churches did when under the control of inspired men in the matters of public worship, we will be certainly be safe.
-The Old Faith Restated by J.W. Garrison, pp., 245-249.
Truth Magazine XXII: 1, pp. 29-30
January 5, 1978