My Thoughts. . .
Monday, December 16, 2019
We live with traditions every day. We even create a few ourselves. The Pharisees had some which caused Jesus to warn, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9).
Paul corrects the church in Corinth because they failed to recognize the differences between partaking at the Lord’s table and doing so at the table of demons (1 Corinthians 10:15-21). He is writing to members who have the gift of prophesy and are inspired by the Holy Spirit but were following the wrong influence. Is it possible for us to walk in their footsteps today? When we accept tradition as the way something must be done because we claim that it is God’s way, we restore the path they took!
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper, it was referred to as “breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42; 20:7). They sat and supped at the table where they were in the process of eating the Passover meal. In that supper, instructions were given by Jesus, questions were asked, and dialogue took place among all who participated. Today, we sit in pews, not around a table. We view the back of someone’s head. Silent prayer, scripture reading, or internal reflection is the unwritten code of respect. In some assemblies a few appointed men, will stand behind what is labeled “the Lord’s Table.” The specific table Jesus and the apostles occupied was never referred to by that expression. Jesus introduced the bread, prayed over it, distributed it to the next man and it was passed around to the rest by his seated neighbor. Our tradition for distributing the communion is totally different from the descriptions of its institution or practice in the first century. How did we move from their way to what we do today?
Most Catholic, Protestant, and Churches of Christ partake upon the first day of the week, but seldom mimic the activities of that first introduced meal. The Catholic tradition had a male priest placing a bread-like wafer upon the participant’s tongue while they stood at the altar before him. The table was to one side or behind the priest. No one was seated at that table. No one partook at that table. It held the bread and wine. Their “table” was the altar. Ours is the pew. Protestantism made some changes, primarily in labeling. The priest became the pastor or minister. Some Protestant churches introduced several men to serve a seated audience. One of that number would preside or lead in offering comments and prayer before the elements were served. Protestantism allowed the participants to drink the fruit of the vine which Catholicism restricted to only the priest. Campbell and other restorationists adopted the Protestant tradition rather than the Catholic procedure. Like the Protestants, we refer to the table holding the bread and fruit of the vine as “the Lord’s Table.” We speak of eating “around that table.” That expression is figurative rather than actual. Protestantism borrowed the church building/sanctuary scenario from Catholicism, which influenced some of the traditions that grew out of that culture and time frame. Sanctuaries have pews rather than tables. The purpose of “the Lord’s Table” evolved into a piece of furniture that held the emblems and we symbolically gathered around that small table by sitting in our pews. Culture has its evolution. Is our way of doing the Lord’s supper sinful? That is not the point. We must understand that the way we do it is not required by scripture. It is our tradition and nothing more. Traditions are not God’s word. Traditions may be changed. They are man-made. To engrave a table with Jesus’ words, “This do in remembrance of me,” does not make that piece of furniture holy, nor its use mandatory. First century saints brought their own bread and fruit of the vine and shared. No special seating arrangement nor specific furniture was mentioned to enhance that participation.
In the first century the Jerusalem church met from house to house. 8,000 plus members were distributed among multiple homes. The bread and fruit of the vine were shared. Nothing is said about an individual presiding in Jesus’ place. Nothing is said about men “serving on the table” nor the distributing of the bread or wine being a “male role only” activity. No rules are outlined describing how each participant must express reverence or respect. Our culture and traditions may have implemented those details, but not scripture. All such rules are based upon human concepts originating from a period’s culture and its changeable human standards. Is a suit wrong if worn on Sunday? No. But neither does God require one to wear a suit and tie in order for that individual to show Yahweh respect. Catholicism and Protestantism may cite the reader to the priestly dress of Aaron and family, but we are not Hebrews nor bound by Levitical standards. To bind that concept builds upon an Old Testament foundation rather than the New covenant’s precepts.
Catholics limited the priesthood to males and those males presided over spiritual functions to validate them. Protestantism borrowed the Catholic idea and redefined it into their clergy/laity system. Churches of Christ borrowed the concept but redefined it as “male role only” activities. First century house assemblies were not validated with such regulations. Traditions created today’s concepts and wrapped them in a “thus saith the Lord” for some. Most of our traditions are built from the foundation of worshiping in a church building. A valid serving of the Lord’s supper depends upon those precepts that originated several hundred years after the first century. No matter how well a modern-day service may proceed under those man-made rules, we must never forget their origin nor claimed them as our authority.
Is there anything wrong with this nineteenth to twenty-first century practice? Yes and No. No, the practice is not wrong within itself. However, if and when a congregation believes that the way they serve the communion is THE way they and all other assemblies of Christ must do it in order to please God, then yes, they have become the meal at Satan’s table.
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8-9 KJV).