Thursday, July 6, 2017

Serving CommunionIn 1955, Dr. Massengale, the Superintendent of the Ardmore District of the Methodist Church, entered the sanctuary and set up his things on the communion table for that church’s Quarterly Conference.  He had served that District years before and had been brought back to serve it again.  Unknown to him, the Methodists had built a new edifice and sold this one.  It now belonged to the Church of Christ!  Both the Methodists and the churches of Christ have a table at the front of the auditorium with the inscription, “In Remembrance of Me.”  Due to that tradition, Dr. Massengale did not notice anything different as he set things up on the communion table.

The Bible doesn’t illustrate a piece of furniture for the specific purpose of holding fruit of the vine, unleavened bread, and collection plates.  Neither is anything mentioned about men being selected to stand behind that piece of furniture to pass those items.  Those actions are based upon a manmade interpretation called “an expedient.”  A piece of furniture in an assembly labeled “The Lord’s table” was introduced by Catholicism rather than Luke or Paul.  Protestants as well as churches of Christ borrowed and adapted this practice and it has become a well-entrenched tradition.  Since we do not inform each generation of such origins, some believe this arrangement is heavenly produced rather than humanly introduced.

When Jesus and the apostles ate the Passover meal, they dined on lamb shank, a bitter herb, a non-bitter vegetable, a mixture of apples, nuts, and wine, another bitter herb, and unleavened bread.  About two hundred years before Jesus, four cups of wine were added with each having religious significance.  The meal is outline in Exodus 12 and 23.  The four glasses of wine were of human rather than divine origin.  Jesus accepted it without question even though it is from the Mishnah or oral law of Judaism.

Each participant brought his own drinking cup.  These cups were filled four times during the meal.  Luke mentions the last two (Luke 22:14-18: 1st cup, V.19: the bread, and V.20: the second cup).  Matthew and Mark merged the two as if there was only one.  In writing to the Corinthians, Paul corrects a problem that arose over the Lord’s supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34).  He also merges it into the second cup.  Yet, neither he, Matthew, Mark, or Luke mention a special, lone piece of furniture specifically provided to hold the fruit of the vine, the unleavened bread, and the collection plates and designate this as “the Lord’s table.”  Paul mentions “the Lord’s table” in 1 Corinthians 10:21 as well as “the table of demons.”  Jesus instituted the communion at the Passover table.  Tradition focuses upon a piece of furniture and makes it a necessary elements of the communion.  We need to ask ourselves what is “the Lord’s table”?  Is it a piece of furniture or what is being served?

The table, its size, the inscription, its placement in the room, and communion ware are things developed several hundred years after the first century.  Communion ware owes it introduction to Catholicism and Protestantism rather than inspiration.  Such traditions are seldom explained, so generations grow up without that knowledge and assume first century assemblies contained them.  Other traditions have been added to this process as if they also are required as God’s law.

There is nothing in scripture that makes a table necessary.  1 Corinthians 11 shows individuals bringing the wine and unleavened bread, rather than it being supplied by the church’s contribution.  Paul shows that members were to share with those who were without.  Men passing the elements would not be needed, much less, standing at a special table to serve.  Keep in mind that Jesus introduced it while they were in the process of eating a special meal (Matthew 26:17, 19, 26; Mark 14:12, 16, 18, 20, 22; Luke 22:8, 13, 15, 21).  Also notice that they were all sitting or reclined around one table.  They passed items to one another rather than several men waiting on them.  They spoke and even argued during the major meal.  The communion liturgy developed after the first century, not during the inception of the communion.  Some churches take this meal of remembrance and develop an elaborate religious production that has become their tradition.

If we recognize actions as tradition and that they may be changed, no harm is done.  It becomes dangerous when we make manmade tradition into a doctrine and go ballistic if someone suggests a change (Matthew 15:9).  We need to teach each generation the difference between church tradition and God’s word (2 Thessalonians 2:15).  There is a BIG difference!

Is it possible to observe the Lord’s supper without a table being in the room?  If such a table is not present, have those who have partaken, done so at “the Lord’s table”?  If not, then a literal piece of furniture must be in the room for that partaking to be accomplished.  However, if it is in the room, do those who partake, actually partake at the table? NO.  The only ones close to the table are the servers.  Even they do not partake there.  So, if no one partakes at that table, have they partaken of the Lord’s supper?  If they do not have to literally be at that table to partake of the Lord’s supper, then what is “the Lord’s table” which Paul speaks of?  Isn’t it amazing how tradition introduces us to things that we think must be when scripture does not?