Thursday, January 4, 2018
The expression “Lord’s supper” is found once (1 Corinthians 11:20). Early Catholic and Protestant scholars informed us that “breaking of bread,” and “break bread” are that communion, whereas the expressions “breaking bread” and “broken bread” in their contexts are a “common meal” (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11). This explanation was accepted with little debate. Outside of Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, and Luke 22:19-20, details on the Lord’s supper are less than we would like. Luke mentions the Jerusalem assembly’s activity in Acts 2 and the Troas gathering in Acts 20 of bread breaking. Yet, there is no new covenant explanation to explain that “breaking of bread” and “break bread” is the same as the “Lord’s supper.” Neither is there an explanation of why it is impossible for the statements, “breaking bread” and “broken bread” to be the “Lord’s supper.” In 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 and 11:18-34, Paul addressed the Corinthian problem about the communion. From those passages man has formulated varied beliefs on the subject. Is the reason for that variety due to the limited information on the subject?
Paul addressed Corinth’s error with, “I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good” (1 Corinthians 11:17 NIV). The four divisions, introduced in the first four chapters, were destroying their fellowship (1:10-13). It affected their participation in the Lord’s supper, moving Paul to charge, “When you gather together, you are not eating the Lord’s Supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20 IEB). How could they not be partaking of that communion if they are using unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine? Some believe they were bringing a common meal rather than the items for the Lord’s supper. That is not the reason Paul said they were not eating it. The reason given is that in that four-way divided group, some refused to wait on the others or to share with them. Division is an ugly beast defending its rights while neglecting the rights of others! Division drove those who brought bread and wine, to gorge themselves rather than wait or share with others. Have you ever observed “spite” exercising its perverted rights? God illustrates it through Corinth! How many modern churches have cloned their thinking?
Paul asked, “Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!” (11:22b). Division seeks to flow within its narrow banks, and each clique was going with their flow! You see this kind of attitude when one individual or family refuses to speak with another. There is usually no fellowship between them. They are under the same roof, but not “together.” That was the case with Corinth.
Paul explained why they had no interest in the communion. He also outlined the condemnation they brought upon themselves with their divisive attitude when they ate the unleavened bread and drank the fruit of the vine (11:27-29).
As previously mentioned, some believe Paul is correcting the membership for bringing a common meal to the assembly rather than the Lord’s supper. They believe Paul is telling them it is a sin, as the Sunday assembly, to eat a common meal in the church building. If what they brought is a common meal, rather than the Lord’s supper, wouldn’t it be right for them to continue to eat what they brought if they 1) waited on one another and 2) shared! The abuse is not in what they brought, nor where it is eaten, or what they are eating, but a failure to carry out numbers 1) and 2) in the eating of it. If some are bringing unleavened bread, wine, lamb, a salad, and a green vegetable (a replica of the Passover meal), it would be in harmony with the meal Jesus instituted his supper from. Although Jesus used the unleavened bread of the Passover meal, and the forth cup of wine to institute his special supper, no restrictions are given to separate it from the meal it was introduced from. We often forget that this is a Jewish assembly that also continues to be zealous for the Law of Moses (Acts 21:18-26)! If that is what is being done, Paul does not condemn the bringing, nor the eating, as part of their assembly, only the divisive spirit that negates that eating through a refusal to wait and share while consuming it. That spirit also was hindering them in correctly partaking of the Lord’s supper. That kind of spirit needs to “eat at home” (1 Corinthians 11:20-22)! That spirit is condemned and caused them to eat and drink damnation for themselves by not “discerning the Lord’s body” (v.29b). The “Lord’s body” which their division kept them from discerning, is the membership, not the bread and cup. Their divisive spirit kept them from a proper attitude toward one another and turned their eating into this deplorable practice. That spirit did not die with the Corinthian church! Division continues to promote it today.
Some who brought the bread and wine were bringing enough, that if they shared, those they shared with would not go away hungry (v.21). If they selfishly drank all of the fruit of the vine themselves, rather than sharing, were described as “drunken” (v.21). What was to be consumed by all members together was called “the Lord’s supper.” Very different from what we describe as a “supper” today! We still rush to Cracker Barrel afterwards because that “supper” doesn’t ease anyone’s hunger! Neither do our pews resemble tables, nor does the small singular table, with Luke 22:19 inscription, allow anyone to eat off it. In our culture, we symbolize rather than copy the actual setting Time constraint invents expedients that contribute more to our twenty-first century lifestyle than the practicality engaged in by first century saints. Can you imagine an assembly today filled with tables, ready for a supper, rather than pews which limit our direction of sight? Church buildings are not recorded until the fourth century, and auditorium floor plans were borrowed from Protestantism. The house assemblies of Acts 2:46; 5:42; 12:12; 20:20; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; and Colossians 4:15, were not furnished with auditorium decor.
Since Paul does not specifically condemn what was being brought, nor eaten, perhaps the activity in Acts 2:46 makes more sense? Some have the idea that the 3,000-strong church met each first day in the Temple courtyard for their Sunday assembly. They believe the Lord’s supper, singing, praying, giving, and preaching “continued stedfastly” there each Lord’s day, not in the house to house meetings (Acts 2:42)! It may have been possible to get the multitude’s attention on Pentecost with a dozen men addressing thousands of folks in their own language, but getting a work day crowd to be quiet, while partaking of the Lord’s supper, is grabbing at straws. Don’t forget that Peter and John were arrested for preaching at the Temple! Having a service in the Temple courtyards would be parallel to holding a Sunday assembly in the middle of Walmart on Saturday! Keep in mind what was going on in those courtyards. Also, women could occupy only the one specifically for them. Animals were being sold there (Matthew 21:12 NIV). Bargaining was in progress. The sounds of sacrificial animals would be heard. There would have been people entering with their animals to sacrifice. Multitudes were there to pay a priest to sacrifice for them (Acts 21:24 NKJV). People would be greeting one another. Discussions would take place. If a few babies crying during communion disturb you today, their outcries would be nothing compared to the din of noise at the Temple! Luke states they met in the temple and from house to house (v.46). Notice where Peter went to find praying Christians (Acts 12:5, 12, 17). He and John used the Temple courtyards for evangelizing until persecution arose (Acts 3:1, 12; 4:1, 23; 5:12, 42). They met from house to house for edification, pray, and break bread (Acts 2:42, 46-47; 12:5, 12, 17b)!
Perhaps few would recognize the church of the first century since their practices and culture would not harmonize with theirs. Some refuse to recognize the first century assemblies as they were, but read our American culture and church traditions into the Bible, assuming we are identical twins. If Paul and companions came into our Lord’s day assembly this Sunday, would they believe they were in the right place?