Why an article on something with which we are so familiar? May I suggest just a few reasons?
The Breaking of Bread is central to our gatherings, and lends character to everything else we do. Luke’s account of the supper displays this perfectly. He is concerned with the moral effect it has upon the believer. In Luke 22, the Supper finds out the evil in our hearts (vv21-23), forbids rivalry (vv23-27), focuses us on the future (vv28-30), fortifies us for trial (vv31-34), and furthers our service (vv35-38). We can scarce measure its value to assembly testimony. Given its value and importance, there is little question that it will be something which Satan will attack, seeking to rob God of worship and believers of their privilege and the spiritual benefit of the gathering.
Questions frequently arise concerning many aspects of the Supper. Is what we do just tradition? Why do we sit in a circle? Is having one cup unsanitary? What Scripture do we have for remembering the Lord every Sunday? Others do it monthly or on special occasions; other “fellowships” do it spontaneously. Do we, as well, have Scripture for men rising to give thanks and for hymns being sung? These and other questions are valid, and must be answered from Scripture if we are to ensure the integrity of what the Lord has commanded us to carry out.
The answers and discussion of these matters will be divided over three articles dealing with the Commemoration of, Observation of, and Participation in the Lord’s Supper
Academics doing research seek for “source documents;” these are the original documents from which others quote and which are cited in research findings by others. We have three major areas of “source documents” to give us an understanding of the Lord’s Supper. These include the Institution in the Gospel records, the Implementation in the Acts; and the Instructions concerning it in 1 Corinthians. So we are not left to tradition or expediency to arrive at what ought to be done and how it should be observed.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all provide us with details of the Lord Jesus instituting the Supper in the upper room. The details vary, but do not clash or contradict each other.
We read in Acts 2 of those who remembered the Lord in the Breaking of Bread. We read in Acts 20:7 of not only who, but when they came together to remember the Lord.
Teaching concerning the Lord’ Supper is provided in three different chapters in 1 Corinthians: chapters 10, 11, and 14 will all afford us some insights, and provide answers for us concerning the observation of the Supper.
With these three portions of Scripture as our “source documents,” we are now prepared to begin to answer some important questions.
What is the Lord’s Supper?
“This do in remembrance of Me” is the main focus of the Breaking of Bread. While we are deeply conscious of our blessings, we are to be occupied with the One Who is the source of our blessings. While we will necessarily make mention of the forgiveness of sins, we are to remember the One who died to forgive us. “This do in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). We remember Him, not ourselves.
We do not gather to spend most of our time thanking the Lord that we have been “gathered out” and are not among the “sects and systems” of men. We gather to thank Him for His Son. Some rise to their feet waxing eloquent about the high and lofty privilege of being here at the Lord’s supper who, sadly, may have little to draw the hearts of the saints to the person and work of Christ. Far better to be occupied with Him. The redeemed in heaven will thank Him for being washed from their sins (Rev 1:5,6), but will ascribe to Him “glory and dominion forever and ever” (v6).
The Lord’s Supper is when an assembly of believers gathers together to remember the Lord Jesus Christ and to proclaim to all His death, until He comes. It is marked by upmost simplicity and a minimum of any ecclesiastical regulations (1Cor 11:17-34). That does not mean, as we shall see, that it is disorganized and open to any type of contribution. If we are gathered to remember Him, then every hymn, every Scripture read, and every brother rising in prayer should have Christ, His person and work, as the theme.
Who is responsible to observe the Lord’s Supper?
Acts 2:41-42 shows a moral and necessary progression: people received the Word of God (were saved), were baptized (giving public confession to their salvation), continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching, expressed their agreement by fellowship together, expressed that fellowship by the Breaking of Bread, and sustained that fellowship by prayer.
Thus we have what is elemental to assembly fellowship (salvation witnessed to by baptism), what is essential to fellowship (the doctrine), what expresses that fellowship (the Breaking of Bread), and what energizes that fellowship (the prayers of the saints). So at least in Acts 2, those who remembered the Lord were part of a fellowship based on doctrine.
Acts 20 is another example of an assembly gathering to remember the Lord. It is an assembly function. The teaching concerning it was given to an assembly – Corinth. So on each occasion, it is linked with a functioning assembly.
Some will counter and say that it is the responsibility of every believer to obey the Word of God and thus to remember the Lord. Point well taken! But it is the responsibility of every believer to obey all the “apostles’ doctrine” and as a result to be in a local assembly and able to remember the Lord. Assembly fellowship is open to all; the breaking of bread is for those in fellowship. The teaching of 1 Corinthians 10 makes this abundantly clear.
In the partaking of the loaf, we are not only giving testimony to our “relationship” with the body of Christ which was given for us; we are also saying that we are in fellowship (Acts 2:41, 42) with everyone else who is taking from that loaf of bread (1Cor 10:16, 17). We are expressing our fellowship with all who are partaking of that particular loaf together.
When is it to be observed?
In approaching Scripture for an answer to this question, we must readily own that there is not a command (precept) which states that the assembly must remember the Lord on the first day of the week. However, Scripture guides us on three different levels: precept, principle, and pattern.
There is a principle which runs throughout Scripture which is relevant here. When God called His people together in the Old Testament, they were called together at “set festivals” which were marked by the calendar. Nothing was left to be haphazard and “spontaneous” in that sense. Free-will offerings were allowed at the exercise of the individual Israelite, but for congregational worship, time and place were always specified.
There is also a precept which, while not as specific as some would desire, is nevertheless helpful. “As often as ye …” (1Cor 11:26) suggests something done frequently, not rarely. We only have Scriptural precedent for remembering the Lord on the first day of the week; so we do not do so more often than weekly. With no further guidance, can we do less than weekly?
It is the pattern which emerges as we trace the implementation in the book of the Acts which is the most helpful to our consideration. “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread … ” (Acts 20:7). As is frequently pointed out, they did not do it on the 7th day for Paul’s convenience, so he could have an earlier departure. Nor did they cancel it because of Paul’s anticipated sermon. Nor was it the first of the month! They came together on the first day of the week to remember the Lord.
Some suggest that the above is still not a binding command; but we simply ask, “Why be reluctant to remember Him weekly? Is it not our privilege to proclaim to the entire onlooking universe in this unique way each first day of the week, ‘the ground on which we hope to stand’?”
– To be continued