Assembly Truth: Proclamation & Portrayal of Truth by Symbols & Symbolic Acts (2)

We noticed in looking at baptism that it stands uniquely at the beginning of the believer’s spiritual experience. The symbols we will now look at relate to our ongoing Christian testimony and are to be practiced in our collective worship and service. 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 deals with head covering and hair, and verses 17-34 with the Lord’s Supper. While we may instinctively place greater significance upon the last part of the chapter, it is vital for us to grasp the glory and importance of the truth portrayed in both sections.

Head-covering and Hair 

There is actually a double symbolism here, of headship and submission, in both the natural and spiritual spheres. The primary emphasis is the present Headship and glory of the risen Man, Christ Jesus, displayed by the uncovered head of the man, and the covered head of the woman, in collective worship and service.

This is shown to be consistent with, and based upon, a creatorial order and design of the man as the image and glory of God, while the woman is the glory of the man (v 7). Thus in the natural spheres of life, the man’s short hair and the woman’s long hair are suitable and intentionally display a Divine order and design. This is highlighted by the fact that the opposite is a natural disgrace in each case (vv 6, 14).

Headship of Christ 

This is our only hope. The relationship is not directly Christ and the Church which is His body (Eph 1:22, 23), as displayed by the husband and wife relationship (Eph 5:22-33), but the similarities are evident. The particular order of headship stated points to an individual aspect of headship. “The head of every man is Christ. The head of the woman is the man…” (v 3). While Christ is head of the whole Church, men and women included, here He is presented as raised from the dead and made the New Head (replacing Adam) with authority over all flesh. Redemption restores man’s headship in Christ. This is to be displayed in the assembly.

Why is this emphasized? Proper relationships must first be established. The denial of headship was the beginning of sin, disorder, and rebellion in the universe, and on earth. Where there is no authority, or a subverted authority, there is chaos and confusion.

What does the local assembly display? What is the significance of the man’s uncovered head, and the woman’s covered head, in the assembly?

The man’s uncovered head signifies:

a) that we believe that Jesus is the Christ, raised from the dead to be our glorious Head.

b) in His present absence, physically, Christian men represent Him visibly on earth.

c) acknowledgement of man’s headship responsibility as the image and glory of God.

The woman’s covered head signifies:

a) acknowledgement that her head is the man.

b) the assembly’s subjection to Christ’s authority.

c) a declaration that His glory, not human glory, is to be manifested in the assembly.

The Lord’s Supper; The Bread and the Cup 

1 Cor 10:14-22; 11:17-34

The Lord Himself instituted it, and it represents His provision for us by the sacrifice of Himself. There could not have been a more fitting occasion in which to institute the Lord’s supper than after the Passover meal. First of all, He is Himself the fulfilment of the Passover: “Christ our Passover (lamb) was sacrificed for us” (1 Cor 5:7). The parallels are striking, and with the significance of the Passover remembrance feast fresh in their minds, little explanation would be needed. The Passover feast was to be a repeated, perpetual remembrance of God’s mighty deliverance. Now, just after disclosing that He was to be betrayed into the hands of His enemies, He puts it into its true perspective: He was going to die, His body was to be given in sacrifice for them and His blood would be shed for the forgiveness of sins. This was the basis of a New Covenant.

What is the purpose of the Supper? The repeated expressions, “In remembrance of Me,” and, ” … show the Lord’s death,” reveal the focus of this symbolic supper: the Lord Jesus Himself, and the great work of Redemption which He accomplished. While the emphasis here is His sacrificial death, all that He is and has done contributes to the value and meaning of that great atonement. So it seems most suitable to make this feast of remembrance the focal point of assembly worship.

What is the significance of “one loaf” and “one cup” shared by all? In 1 Corinthians 10, the emphasis is on the results of Calvary, rather than its remembrance, as in chapter 11. Because of this, “the cup of blessing” is mentioned first. It is through the blood of Christ we receive New Covenant blessings of cleansing and forgiveness of all sin, in order that we may have fellowship with God, as expressed in “the bread which we break.” A further result of the giving of His body in sacrifice is emphasized in the expression, “For we being many, are one bread (loaf), one body” – we have become one body in Christ, and share a deep fellowship together in Him. To have individual cups misses the precious significance of the one great sacrifice whose blood alone avails. It also muddles the significance of fellowship expressed by partaking of the same cup.

Is there any pattern in the New Testament for the time and frequency of the Lord’s Supper? While there is not a direct command for the day or frequency of the act, Acts 20:7 indicates the custom of breaking bread on the first day of the week.

Is the Lord’s Supper an individual, or assembly privilege? It seems clear from 1 Corinthians 11, as well as Acts 20:7, that from the beginning the Lord’s Supper was considered the collective act of an assembly. While there is individual exercise and examination expected, it is in view of a collective participation “when ye come together.” The meaning of the supper would be marred if it were allowed to be carried out at whim, individually.

Perhaps the most relevant question we should be pondering is: what value does God put on symbols? It may be almost shocking to realize that in the midst of all the failures among the assembly at Corinth, the one sin that provoked direct intervention and judgment from heaven was the careless misuse of the emblems of the Lord’s Supper! Are they not merely bread and wine? Yet at the Lord’s Supper they are used to “show (or proclaim) the Lord’s death till” He Himself returns (v 26)! May we consciously examine ourselves before Him, and reverently remember and worship our Sovereign and Savior.