The Lord’s Supper

What follows is a written response to a brother who inquired about the “worship meetings” and its Scriptural basis.

I was intrigued by your question as to whether anyone “knew of a description of a worship meeting in the New Testament.” I have assumed that you meant a historical description of an actual worship meeting in the NT. I suppose, as well, that you meant “the” worship meeting (i.e.. the Lord’s Supper), practiced by a local church.

My understanding of the subject of the local church in the NT is based on the Scriptures. The gospels give us a seminal view ofthe assembly. Matthew 18:20, for example, is preparatory. It is an opening statement of principle, not the complete and final word on the local church. The book of the Acts gives the historical view of the assembly; it is a first-hand account of New Testament principles in action, under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The epistles give a doctrinal view of the assembly, explaining the fundamentals, teaching the principles, defining the pattern, guiding the practices of a local church and even correcting the mistakes.

Finally, the Revelation gives us (in the seven letters) another historical view of the churches. In one sense, it is an evaluation of how the risen Lord saw the application of the doctrinal teachings of the Epistles to the assemblies in AD 100. In another sense, it is a view of the course of testimony throughout the Church era.

When we consider the foregoing, I think we are obligated to look in the book of Acts for the answer to your question. To my knowledge the only New Testament description of a local church observing the Lord’s Supper is found in Acts 20:6-12. Of course, there are numerous other references to the fact that the Lord’s Supper was kept, but this one is a unique account of how one was kept.

By the way, are you nervous because we have found only one historical mention? It is good to remember that God only needs to say a thing once for it to be true throughout all the ages.

So let me try to lay out the simple issues that I see in this one, significant reference.

Paul and his associates were traveling on the third missionary journey throughout what is now Turkey and Greece (Acts 18:2321:17). Returning from Macedonia, they stopped in Philippi, and then sailed for Asia Minor from Neapolis. Paul had sent seven fellow-workers ahead to the town of Troas, and then, after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Paul and Luke sailed to meet them. They stayed there seven days, after which they met with the local church to observe the Lord’s supper (Acts 20: 1-6).

Here are the principles I learn from Luke’s description of that meeting:

A. The Lord’s Supper (while L too, use the expression “worship meeting”, I personally prefer the Biblical one) is a matter of primary importance to an exercised believer (Acts 20:6). It seems that the clear point of the verse is that Paul and Luke and the other brethren thought so highly of this event, that they were willing to “lay over ” a significant amount of time so that it would not be missed. The Lord’s words “this do” carried a personal and permanent obligation to those who truly loved Him.

B. The Lord’s Supper is connected with a local church in a specific place (Acts 20:6). In spite of the fact that a significant number of brethren (I count at least nine, including Paul and Luke) were traveling together, they did not attempt to observe the Lord’s Supper on an ad hoc basis, but specifically went to where a local assembly was functioning to observe it with them ; Since there is no record of the Lord’s Supper being observed independent of a local church, it is safe to assume that God only sanctions it in that context.

C. The Lord’s Supper is a regular observance; “on the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7). There was no need to write ahead to see if it was the proper Sunday for the observance. The assumption seems clear: there is a local church here, the first day of the week is here, the breaking of bread will be here. I judge that we should take literally the words Paul received from the Lord; “As often as ye eat this bread…” means as often as we can, i.e. weekly” (and even at times, “weakly” — God knows our failings … ).

D. The Lord’s Supper is open to visitors. That fellowship, however, is a careful one (Acts 20:7). 1 am impressed that the home assemblies of the workers who traveled with Paul are given in detail. I assume that in the case of Tychicus and Trophimus, “the province in Asia” is equivalent to “Ephesus” (see Acts 21:29, for example). Paul and Timothy are not mentioned as being from Antioch and Lystra, but since they were used in the planting of the assembly (Acts 16.8; 2 Cor 2:12), their credentials were the people of Troas themselves (this is the argument of 2 Cor 3:1-3 ). What’s the point of all of this detail? I think that these men were received with a knowledge regarding their home assemblies and all that this implies about their good spiritual standing in them.

As a side note, some try to distinguish between assemblies by segregating them into highly polarized positions of “open” and “closed” based on their reception practices. The Bible describes only one reception – that of “careful” reception; this can readily be seen in a careful review of the New Testament.

E. The Lord’s Supper is to “break bread” (Acts 20:7). Certainly this is a phrase that involves at least two (and likely, three) “physical” activities. These would be the physical distribution and eating of the bread, the actual passing and drinking from the cup and, as I see it from 1 Cor 16:1-2, the collection of an offering.

Beyond the “physical” act of breaing bread, however, is a world of spiritual meaning. We could summarize the purpose of the Lord’s Supper as follows:

  • It is to break bread – Acts 20, 1 Cor 10:16.
  • It is to show the Lord’s death – 1 Cor 11:26.
  • It is a witness to the Rapture – 1 Cor 11:26.
  • It is a recognition of the Lord’s body – 1 Cor 11:29.
  • It is a participation in the body and blood of the Lord – 1 Cor 10:16.
  • It is a remembrance of the Lord – Luke 22:19.

As you know, each of these could be expanded upon to a significant degree, but perhaps the list itself will be thought provoking.

F. The Lord’s Supper is an act in which the Word of God is honored and appreciated (Acts 20:7-9). It is touching that the honored servant of the Lord was able to minister to these dear saints after the breaking of bread and that their appreciation of his ministry was so great that they sat for hours in rapt attention, delaying even their meals (and their normal sleep!) for hours.

G. The Lord’s Supper is an expression of a vital and practical local fellowship (Acts 20:11). When “the” Supper was over, they had “a” supper, enjoying the fellowship of saints. They “talked until daylight”, shows the warm, personal exchange that true Christians prize.

H. Last, I have noticed what was not said. The Lord’s Supper is not defined in terms of starting time, length of the meeting, number or order of prayers, hymns, and readings etc. This important absent statement helps remind us that our primary practice is to be based solely on Divine precepts, spiritual principles and a Biblical pattern, not on a set of rules or code of human regulations. Practices that are observed for the convenience of the saints should never be defended as if they were Bible-based. Rather, they should be respected in a spirit of submission to our spiritual guides, which is a vital Bible principle. “Know them which labour among you and are over you in the Lord” (1 Thess 5:12).