Thursday, October 18, 2018
Have you ever been asked to preside at the Lord’s table? If so, were you concerned about what you should say? I’ve heard people complain because the one presiding did not read nor mention passages on the communion such as Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:17-20, or 1 Corinthians 11:23-34. Yet, the complainers are not as familiar with the Bible as they might believe! Sadly, we are more familiar with tradition than scripture! It is a malady infecting us all.
If a person serving on “the Lord’s table” is required to use a certain dialogue or read specific scriptures to validate what is being done, then John must not have received that instruction! The modern criticism would be directed to John just as much at it is to each Tom, Dick, and Harry’s presiding today. He wrote about Jesus and the disciples eating the Passover meal, as did the others, but covered Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, rather that the communion (John 13:4-5). Wasn’t he there? Did he not know about our modern traditions and dialogue? Do we practice the communion part because three, who were present, mentioned it? Is that why we refuse to wash one another’s feet because three didn’t refer to it? Why not denounce John for his substitution? Does truth reside in a 3 to 1 ratio? Again, aren’t the demands for a specific dialogue based more on tradition than scripture?
First, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul, Jesus is the only one who ever “presided.” When Paul corrected the Corinthians, he began by saying, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you” (1 Corinthians 11:23). In that delivery, did Paul mention the necessity of having someone preside and confine his remarks to Jesus’ statements in those passages? If not, is it permissible for us to require what inspiration never did? Should we fault Paul for not introducing someone who presided over the communion? Should Paul be disciplined for not mentioning that detail? Is Luke remiss in the Troas assembly, for not mentioning the one who presided, those who served, and the essential dialogue needed on that occasion? (Acts 20:7-11)? If those items were essential, would those details not be revealed? When did the practice of requiring one person to preside and several others to serve with a specific dialogue being required? If you are not familiar with the dialogue and actions of a Catholic priest engaged in the communion, one might see embedded in his actions some of the traditions we have borrowed and adopted.
Second, there is no command from our Lord nor any of the apostles demanding that one is to preside over the table and use biblical phrases to introduce what is taking place. That may be our tradition to inform the audience, but not something expressed by the Holy Spirit as a pattern or a command.
Third, there is no dialogue given and required prior to partaking. When the Catholic Church made the communion into a sacrament, a priest presided, but such is from man rather than God. I’m not sure when this practice began, but it certainly wasn’t in the first century. Justin Martyr, around 153 to 155, wrote the following,
“Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to ge’noito [so be it].
“And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.” (All emphasis mine, RH)
Notice Justin Martyr informs us about a “president” who gives “praise” and offers “thanks,” but even he doesn’t give a specific required dialogue. Justin is describing the communion 75 to 80 years later. By that time the use of a president has been developed, but not in the New Testament period.
Is it wrong for someone to make a few remarks about partaking? No. But it has never been a requirement. Some have taken this tradition and made it into a command from God. Their view is that if someone doesn’t follow that tradition, he must be attempting to leave the old paths. Since such is not required by God Himself, wouldn’t such demands rob worship of its “in spirit and in truth” label by those making such demands?
Fourth, when Jesus introduced his memorial, it was during the Passover feast. While eating that meal, Jesus took two items from it and used them to establish his memorial. The disciples were eating while Jesus made his introduction (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:15-16). During that meal Jesus also got up and prepared to wash their feet (John 13:4). The introduction of the communion was worked into this Passover meal. John doesn’t tell us whether the “washing” took place prior to nor after the introduction of the communion. Neither do any of the writers inform us if all stopped chewing, swallowing, or taking another bite of the Passover meal when Jesus took the bread and introduced his memorial. Although the order of actions is not fully known, one thing is clear, Jesus did not assign anyone to introduce and explain the supper, nor assign a specific dialogue for it.
It was assumed that someone was needed to fill Jesus’ shoes to introduce the communion each time it was offered. Since scripture is absolutely void of such instruction, men assumed that it was expedient to have an introduction using a specific dialogue to accompany it. Tradition is often accepted as Biblical teaching.
Fifth, when Paul wrote to the Corinthians he mentioned several things which we often overlook or ignore. These items were not peculiar to the Corinthians, nor are they things being condemned. Was the unleavened bread made from wheat or barley? Scripture doesn’t say. What flour was used for unleavened bread under the Old Testament?
1) Individuals brought the items to be partaken (1 Corinthians 11:21). Supplying the bread and wine were not in the church’s budget.
2) Those without the needed items depended upon those who had them to share with them. Missing from Paul’s instruction is a command giving the specific dialogue that must be used to validate it as communion.
3) The amount brought was enough to make the one who brought it full while those they refused to share with went hungry. When shared, both were filled and neither went away hungry. So the amount consumed was an actual meal.
4) Those who refused to share the wine they brought, were getting drunk from consuming too much. That indicates more was consumed, even when shared, than what we consume today. The Jews brought their own drinking vessel which was usually filled 4 times during the Passover meal. Jesus used the fourth cup to establish communion.
5) Enough bread and wine were being brought that if they refused to share, Paul told them to stay home to eat and drink it.
6) Neither a physical nor a symbolic piece of furniture, which we refer to as “the Lord’s table,” is mentioned in the 1 Corinthians 11 or Acts 20:7-11 assembly.
7) No dialogue is demanded from those who partook.
8) A collection is not mentioned by any of the communion accounts being in sequence with it. Nor is there a dialogue required to show it isn’t part of the communion.
9) Many things we do today are based upon church tradition which we are “comfortable” with. With time, those comforts become so dear and embedded that they are considered God’s Holy Word.
There is nothing wrong with a congregation practicing “church traditions” that have been handed down IF those traditions don’t become religious law. When they are pushed as “the way things must be done,” that insistence transforms into an unholy monster that devours unity. Such digression negates the claim that “we preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” As we walk through the jungle of life, let us be cautious of the Genesis 3 serpent which attempts to encircle and squeezes the truth out of us!
The fault with today’s Bible student is that we read scripture, fail to see what it says, and substitute our traditional practices to supplement it. Sometimes tradition is so comfortable that it kills all desire to “search the scriptures” (John 5:39).