THE LORD'S SUPPER
Putting "Supper" Back in the Lord's Supper
This essay aims to address one of the basics of the faith: our communion. People have often asked such questions as why we celebrate the communion only on Sunday, whether visitors should take part, and whether forgiveness of sins is somehow directly tied with receiving the bread and the wine. Yet there is another question to consider: Are we sure we are right when we partake of tokens instead of an actual meal? Are we really doing as Jesus requested, or do we need to rethink our position? This essay suggests a return to the original Christian practice of a communion meal.1 It is not intended to answer every possible question, only to bring up the question and suggest a format for meaningful discussion from this point on.
Coming to Terms
Each of the several names for communion tells us something of the nature of the meal:
* Communion is the most common term and emphasizes the body life of the church: life in the body of the Lord as well as life in the body of believers. The common meal we participate in shows that the fellowship of the body of Christ transcends ethnic, social, racial, linguistic and other barriers.
* The Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20) suggests a focus on Christ, the command of Christ to celebrate this meal, and the continuity with Jesus' own Last Supper. The natural understanding of the Lord's Supper is a meal, as opposed to a snack or token representation.
* Eucharist (1 Corinthians 10:16) comes from the Greek word for "thanksgiving" and stresses the attitude every Christian should strive to maintain: gratitude to the Lord for salvation. This term is especially common in high-church circles.
* Love feast (Jude 12) was another term for communion. Ancient religions often celebrated meals in honor of their gods and their feasting often led to carousing. By contrast, the Christian meal accentuated the Lordship of Jesus and was a visible and concrete expression of the awesome love of God as well as of the tough love that binds all true Christians together.
* The breaking of bread (Acts 20:7) is another synonym. As Jesus' physical body was broken, so the bread of the communion is physically broken and shared. We all eat of the one loaf. This term underscores the sacrifice of Jesus, as well as our common dependence on the true bread of life, Jesus Christ (John 6:35). We recognize that "breaking of bread" can refer to any meal, but in the Christian context it has special meaning for the communion. Thus, whereas Acts 2:46 probably refers to all meals eaten together, the same phrase in 2:42 and 20:7 refers to the communion.
Understanding these terms will enable us more easily to enter into the discussion of communion, appreciating its history while moving toward an understanding that differs from our current practice.
Getting Specific About Communion
What conclusions about communion can we safely draw from the New Testament? Let's approach the subject asking some questions.
To begin with, exactly who should participate? As you consider the following passages, ask the question "Who took communion?"
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:41-42).
On the first day of the week, we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight (Acts 20:7).
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation [koinonia meaning "communion" or "fellowship"] in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation [koinonia] in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)
And when he had given thanks he broke it and said "This is my body which is for you; do this in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:24).
So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. (1 Corinthians 11:33-34a, emphasis mine)
It was Christians who took the communion. Moreover, there is no evidence from NT times that non-Christians ever took the communion. Probably it would not have been especially meaningful to them, since Jesus wasn't their Lord. But as for the believers, they were devoted to the Lord's Supper.
Were there any meals that soon-to-be Christians were used to celebrating prior to the institution of the Lord s Supper? Yes -- the Old Testament Passover Supper! Understanding the significance of the Passover Supper greatly enhances our appreciation of the Lord's Supper. Obviously, if one could prove that the Lord's Supper was an extension of the Passover meal into the new covenant -- which would be difficult to prove -- we would have a strong case for a communion meal. Even though watertight proof cannot be produced, our thinking can certainly be stimulated theologically as we reflect on the possibility.
Below are a few observations I've made from Exodus 12 regarding the Passover meal:
* It was a family meal (12:3).
* Smaller family groups could be combined (12:4).
* A reasonable amount of food was determined in advance - thus no gluttony (12:4).
* There was a great sense of community: everyone took it at the same time (12:6-8).
* Passover visibly and concretely reminded Israel of redemption by blood (12:7).
* This was no slow, lazy meal; rather there was a Biblical sense of urgency (12:11).
* With Passover, there was no forgiveness of sins; the Passover meal, with the death of the lamb or goat was only a reminder (12:13-26). The people's sins were not borne by the Passover lamb or goat.
* Passover was a perpetual ordinance so the people would never forget (12:14).
* There was an explanation of the meal (12:26-27).
* No "guests" were allowed -- only Jews and those who had become Jews (12:43-45, 48).
* After the conquest of Canaan, the Passover was to be eaten in one city, Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:5-6), though the feast for practical reasons was celebrated in separate groups.
* All covenant members were commanded to be present (12:47). This was no optional or trivial observance.
As for the New Testament communion, a possible implication of 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 is that the breaking of bread initiates the meal. Then, after the meal and to conclude it the wine (alcoholic with real C2H5OH) is drunk by all. Of course, this is not to say that the "fruit of the vine" might not be commuted to grape juice in the case of recovering alcoholics (Luke 17:1-3, 1 Corinthians 10:13), pregnant women (Judges 13:4-5), and possibly those who cannot drink alcohol as a matter of conscience (Romans 14:23).
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed took bread and when he had given thanks he broke it and said "This is my body which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way after supper he took the cup saying This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this whenever you drink it in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
Either we can say the communion is the meal or that communion is celebrated at the meal. At any rate, it is a fellowship event. Moreover, this is a meal proclaiming Jesus' death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). What an exciting event! Also, and not insignificantly, most Bible commentators believe the original communion was a meal in every sense of the word. It has been argued that Paul changed the meal into a token observance, based on 1 Corinthians 11:34. But what does the verse actually say?
If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment (1 Corinthians 11:34a).
Paul isn't forbidding a meal; he is just concerned that all things be done in order and with mutual sensitivity. In other words, "if anyone is very hungry / ravenously hungry, he should eat at home..."
While it is possible that the Holy Spirit worked through the Corinthians' selfishness to alter the nature of the Lord's Supper from a full meal to an emblematic observance, it is also possible Paul never meant to eradicate the covenant meal as a literal supper.
Would it not be possible to observe the communion as a fellowship dinner? Would this be less spiritual than the Protestant version of the Eucharist that we have celebrated in good faith for many years? In fact, it is likely that a "real" meal may actually be a deeper experience, since at the table, so to speak there is nowhere to hide. Meals are spiritual! Of course this isn't to say that every time Christians dine they need to drink wine and celebrate the Eucharist. It is clearly a special celebration.
It could even be said the communion meal is a form of discipling, since Christian conversation naturally tends to focus on spiritual things, our personal lives, exciting news in the kingdom, the "ins" and "outs" of daily evangelism, and so forth. The leaders would not have great difficulty sensing, as they looked into the eyes of everyone present, who is doing well spiritually and who needs strengthening, encouragement, warning, or prayers. Think of the communion meal as a sort of "discipleship group." Instead of an extra meeting, it could to some extent replace an existing meeting.
Choosing when to celebrate the Lord's Supper is up to us. Jesus simply said "whenever you drink it" (1 Corinthians 11:25). The tradition of Sunday observance is strong and well attested, but there is no command per se in the Bible to celebrate communion on a Sunday. The closest we get is Acts 20:7:
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight he left (Acts 20:7-8, 11).
The Christians assembled on a Sunday. The question is this: Is an example binding in the absence of a direct command? The onus is on those who would make a command out of an example. Must we eat lamb or goat at the communion meal, eat unleavened bread and bitter herbs just because Jesus and the apostles did? Clearly not. I believe we should opt for freedom.2
Space is probably the major factor in deciding where to have the communion meal. Any place will do, not necessarily a private upper room, though a private residence will likely afford the hospitality most conducive to celebrating the Lord's Supper.
How should we celebrate the Supper? Should we really try to make it Jewish in tone à la Seder Supper? How long should it last? Should we all sit on the same side of the table (for the occasional painter or photographer)? Would we always want a communion talk? Would this be an extra meeting of the body, replace an existing meeting, or be some hybrid arrangement? Clearly there are a few details to be worked out. As in many areas of God's will, the nitty-gritty of implementation is left up to us. The Bible doesn't give us a lot on the How, but it has more to say about the Who, What, When and Why.
Of course communion serves a number of purposes, not just one. It is indeed a remembrance (1 Corinthians 11:24). Naturally this means it is a time of both great sadness and great joy, sometimes at the same time! There is a profound wisdom in the Lord not dictating exactly how we ought to feel. This way our feelings can be genuine, not manufactured. The congregation is a dynamic system, an ever-shifting matrix of relationships disappointments, hopes, feelings, and responses to the Cross.
Bottom line: I am proposing a communion meal because the potential for spiritual strengthening is great. When we focus on Jesus, we will be stronger in the Lord. It will be harder to fall away as individuals or as a movement. And anything that increases our focus on Jesus Christ should be seriously considered.
Between Catholic and Correct: Historical Overview
Our present day practice is quite an improvement over the practice of the Catholic church. Yet I would argue that, although for many members our interpretation of communion is quite meaningful, we haven't gone far enough in restoring the Biblical Lord's Supper. This is not to say our communion service is meaningless or unhelpful. I believe it meets a need, but not as powerfully as the fellowship meal that Jesus may have originally intended.
This section has a dual purpose: to enable us to understand in historical context the development of modern Catholic and Protestant notions of communion and, more importantly, to gain some insight into the communion meal in the earliest period of Christianity as instituted by Jesus. A glimpse at the first few generations after the passing of the apostles will be helpful. Four phases will be given superficial attention:
* Early second century
* Mid-second century
* Late second century
* From Reformation to Restoration
Early Second Century
Many first century passages dealing with communion allow us to infer that Christians ate an actual meal and celebrated it regularly. In the early church, Christians often met for fellowship meals (so it seems as we read the New Testament), and evidence indicates that this continued in the second century. Consider, for example, the letter of Pliny governor of Bithynia to the emperor Trajan, approximately 112 AD:
The Christians maintained...that it was their habit on a fixed day to assemble before daylight and recite by turns a form of words to Christ as a god... After this was done, their custom was to depart and to meet again to take food. (Pliny, Epp.X. 96.7)
Notice in the passage from Pliny that the meal appears to take place at a separate meeting of the body. The dynamic church organizer Ignatius of Antioch (martyred 110-115 AD) wrote to seven churches and often mentions the communion:
My Desire has been crucified, and there burns in me no passion for material things. There is living water in me, which speaks and says inside me "Come to the Father." I take no delight in corruptible food or in the dainties of this life. What I want is God's bread, which is the flesh of Christ who came from David's line; and for drink I want his blood: an immortal love feast indeed! (Ignatius Romans 7:2b-3)
Try to gather together more frequently to celebrate God's Eucharist and to praise him. For when you meet with frequency, Satan's powers are overthrown and his destructiveness is undone by the unanimity of your faith (Ignatius Ephesians 13:1).
Communion celebrated the right way is powerful! When our focus on Christ is right, God is glorified and the church will be strong.
Pay close attention to those who have wrong notions about the grace of Jesus Christ... and note how at variance they are with God's mind. They care nothing about love: they have no concern for widows or orphans, for the oppressed, for those in prison or released, for the hungry or thirsty. They hold aloof from the Eucharist and from services of prayer because they refuse to admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ... (Ignatius Smyrnaeans 7:1)
Avoid divisions as the beginning of evil. Follow all of you the bishop as Jesus Christ followed the Father; and follow the presbytery as the Apostles... Let that Eucharist be considered valid which is under the bishop or him to whom he commits it... It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a love feast. (Ignatius Smyrnaeans 8:1-2)
Note that in Ignatius' view no communion was valid unless celebrated under the auspices of the bishop (the chief elder and overseer).3
Even as early as the second century we find the seeds of the later medieval Catholic Church. See also Ignatius to the Ephesians 20:2, Trallians 2:3, Philadelphians 4:1. (Regarding early echoes of "transubstantiation" in these citations, see below.)
The Didache or so-called Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, an early second century document, gives instructions on communion, including forms of prayers and who is allowed to partake:
Now about the Eucharist: This is how to give thanks: First in connection with the cup: "We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David your child which you have revealed through Jesus your child. To you be glory forever." Then in connection with the piece (broken off the loaf): "We thank you our Father for the life and knowledge which you have revealed through Jesus your child. To you be glory forever..." You must not let anyone eat or drink of your Eucharist except those baptized in the Lord's name. For in reference to this, the Lord said "Do not give what is sacred to dogs"... (Didache 9:1-5)
The "piece" mentioned above may refer to a Jewish custom whereby the head of the household, after saying a prayer of thanksgiving, distributed to each of the guests a piece of bread broken off a loaf. This is in fact what Jesus did at the Last Supper. (Of course, it could also mean that less than a full meal was consumed.) Note also that only disciples were admitted to the meal. The early church seems to have been quite strict about this.
Another passage in the Didache reads: On every Lord's Day -- his special day -- come together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. Anyone at variance with his neighbor must not join you until they are reconciled, lest your sacrifice be defiled. (Didache 14:1-2)
Sunday was considered by many the best day for the Lord's Supper. This document, like many early Christian documents, as well as the entire New Testament, was written in Greek. The Modern Greek word for Sunday is kyriake (from kyrios Lord), directly translated "the Lord's Day" (Revelation 1:10), the day on which Jesus both rose from the dead and returned in the Spirit at Pentecost.
Now we move one or two generations later and take another look at the church. By the mid-second century the Christians' understanding of the communion was becoming mystical, bordering on magical. The elements of bread and wine, having been blessed or consecrated, take on a holiness of their own. Read the testimony of Justin Martyr, a Christian intellectual and apologist, around 150 AD:
We, however, after thus washing / baptizing the one who has been convinced and signified his assent, lead him to those who are called brothers where they are assembled...On finishing the prayers we greet each other with a kiss. Then bread and a cup of water and mixed wine are brought to the president of the brothers... When the president has given thanks and the whole congregation has assented, those whom we call "deacons" give to each of those present a portion of consecrated bread and wine and water and they take it to the absent (Justin First Apology 65).
Water joins bread and wine as a sacred element. (Not to advocate "holy water"!) The elder or bishop who "presides" at the baptism is referred to here as the "president" of the assembly. We see also that communion was the first activity of the newly baptized brother or sister.
This food we call Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true and has received the washing for the forgiveness of sins and for rebirth and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior, being incarnate by God's word, took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the word of prayer which comes from him from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus (Justin First Apology 66).
Once again, only disciples were allowed to share in the Eucharist. Was this Jesus' intention? Did the early church accurately understand their Master's intent? Certainly it's encouraging to see that the brothers were still teaching accurately about baptism. But in the area of communion they were getting derailed. Reading this paragraph, you can see that we are well on the way to a doctrine of transubstantiation. In its full-fledged form, this doctrine holds that the bread and wine change substantially when blessed by a priest so that they mystically become the body and blood of the Lord. Continuing in the passage from Justin:
And on the day called Sunday, there is a meeting in one place of those who live in cities or the country, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits. When the reader has finished, the president in a discourse urges and invites us to the imitation of these noble things. Then we all stand up together and offer prayers. And as said before, when we have finished the prayer, bread is brought and wine and water and the president similarly sends up prayers... The distribution and reception of the consecrated elements takes place and they are sent to the absent by the deacons. Those who prosper and who so wish contribute each one as much as he chooses to. What is collected is deposited with the president and he takes care of orphans and widows and those who are in want on account of sickness or any other cause...(Justin First Apology 65-67).
Once again, notice the Sunday communion administered only to the faithful. It may be that the Christians Justin speaks of held their communion service as a part of the regular Sunday meeting. We detect no hard-and-fast rule on whether communion had to be celebrated separately or not. Yet the devotion of the early Christians to the communion is hard to miss. It was a central element of the Sunday meeting. Finally, we see the Sunday contribution for the poor following the communion.
Late Second Century
Irenaeus, writing around the year 190 AD, teaches an even more developed form of Catholic Eucharist:
For since we are his members and are nourished by his creation... he declares that the cup taken from the creation is his own blood by which he strengthens our blood and he has firmly assured us that the bread taken from the creation is his own body by which our bodies grow. For when the mixed cup and the bread that has been prepared receive the Word of God and become the Eucharist the body and blood of Christ.... (Irenaeus Against Heresies 3:2-3)
It's a miracle! The bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ. (Incidentally, this isn't the only area in which Irenaeus sounds like a modern Catholic. His whole attitude toward tradition and the authority of the church is quite Catholic.)
In later centuries, the Eucharist became more and more a spectator event: the congregation was allowed to watch but was not deemed holy enough to participate. The celebrating priest stood facing the "altar" with his back to the congregation and continued saying "mass" in Latin long after people had ceased to understand that language. Even when the "laity" were allowed to partake again, to spill the wine (the blood of Christ) was sacrilege, so only the bread was offered -- and that only with a carefully held paten under the chin of the church member lest any crumb fall to the ground wasted. So much for the religious hocus-pocus. The amazing thing is that its roots are all the way back in the second century -- in some ways their communion was closer to the plan of Jesus Christ; in others it was farther off than the modern Protestant notion!
Reformation and Restoration: Halfway to Correct
It is hardly surprising that the Protestant Reformation (sixteenth century onwards) had on its agenda to return the communion to the people. Groups like the Scottish Church of Christ (1690) celebrated weekly communion. Most Protestant groups celebrate some form of communion monthly, annually, bimonthly, or at some other convenient pace. However dry we insist our feet to be, we must realize that we stand in the stream of Protestantism. Though many of us are independents and not technically Protestants, much of our thinking about communion is mainline Protestant. The only real point of difference is that we are accustomed to celebrate communion weekly, whereas many other groups fail to see the importance of such regular observance.
The Protestant Reformation achieved two crucial things in regard to communion, and we should not minimize them:
* The bread and wine were returned to the people. The illegitimate priesthood lost its grip and communion was no longer a spectator event.
* Communion was de-mysticized. It returned to "representation" -- a vivid symbol of Jesus' sacrifice -- not "representation" of the sacrifice of Christ. The Restoration Movement (beginning in the late 1700s), growing out of the Reformation, went further, adding two more accomplishments:
* Communion was celebrated weekly. I am not here arguing that it must be celebrated weekly, but this is certainly more the spirit than the typical bimonthly or monthly Protestant observance.
* In principle, anyone was allowed to preside over communion or to do the communion talk. In keeping with the broad Protestant principle "priesthood of all believers," the false clergy-laity distinction was taken out of communion.
How could we come closer still to the plan of God? I propose two more objectives as we return to the early Christian practice. After this, our communion (and our joy) should be complete:
* Consider celebrating the communion as part of an actual fellowship meal.
* Make the love feast or communion meal a meaningful event for disciples.
Before we close, an important logistical (and Biblical) question needs to be asked: Is it necessary to observe an actual meal or is a token observance sufficient?
As Christians, we gear much of our lives around meals; is another meal really going to cramp our "ministry style"? It would indeed take more time to eat a meal on Sunday evening, for example, than the customary 10-15 minutes devoted to our "communion service." But is this a compelling reason to opt for the quick version? Drive-in church services are real timesavers and quite popular in some parts of America. Obviously we would be shocked if someone suggested such a direction for our movement! Yet maybe the apostles might be equally shocked if they saw the current timesaving quasi-Catholic version of the Lord's "Supper."
In the Old Testament, the people were commanded to take a week out of their normal routine, live in "booths" or tabernacles (Succoth), and focus on God. What if the Jews, instead of living under the shelter envisioned in the Biblical command, simply took some palm fronds, attached them to the ceiling, and claimed that this fulfilled their duty to observe the Feast of Tabernacles? Every time they looked up and saw the twigs the thatch or the token shelter they would be reminded of the Lord along with his command to observe Tabernacles.4
What if we started reading all of our prayers instead of praying spontaneously? This too would save time. The prayers could be written by eloquent and powerful men and women of God. We could become a liturgical movement. And why not? Because we would be sacrificing a bit of the very heart of prayer and the command to pray (Philippians 4:6). Or what if we started singing just one song per service, relying instead on a choir to artfully sing the other songs? We would have fulfilled our obligation to sing, in a way. But what about the heart of God's intention in the command to sing (Colossians 3:16)? One obvious advantage would be that we probably would not have to fool with songbooks anymore, not to mention those poorly-pitched songs! Maybe we could trim our services down to half an hour.
A little sarcasm may help us to see the point: We need to fully implement the commands (both letter and Spirit) of the Lord. Restoration is not a matter of our own convenience. If Jesus had a supper in mind, let us get behind having a real meal. And if not, then we should clarify why not.
The history of the church and Israel is chock full of neglect rationalized by traditions that simplify, circumvent, and even nullify the plain teachings of the Bible. The Jews were not careful to observe Passover Sabbatical and Jubilee years, Tabernacles and other holy days as God intended (2 Kings 23:22, 2 Chronicles 36:20-21, Nehemiah 8:16-17). And as we all know, the Christians in time also let go of their careful observance of the Lord's commands.
So where do we go from here? Having presented the Who, What, When, Where, How and Why of a communion meal, together with a historical overview, let me offer some practical suggestions.
At present in our practice and teaching of the Lord's Supper we are somewhere between "Catholic" and "correct." If I am on the right track we are halfway there! But why not go all the way? Let's restore the New Testament love feast, the real meal at which the Lord's death was remembered and the participants were strengthened in their communion with Jesus each other and God the Father.
* Make the meal awesome! If your congregation opts for an actual meal, frame the meal by the Lord's Supper so that the breaking of bread and prayer begin the meal and taking of wine and prayer end it. If an emblematic observance is preferred, take care to make the meal awesome. As with any other event in the kingdom, planning and effort make the difference between the magnificent and the mediocre.
* Emphasize quality fellowship at the meal, not superficial talk nor excessive silence.
* Don't rush the meal. The goal isn't to be finished in fifteen minutes. Celebrate in relatively small groups, especially in homes -- by family group, Bible Talk group, discipleship group, or neighborhood fellowship.
* Study out the subject. Do your own study and come to your own conclusions about the Lord's Supper -- for example, who should be allowed to partake; and whether the meal was emblematic or a full supper. Recommended: John Mark Hicks, Come to the Table: Revisioning the Lord's Supper.
* Overhaul our thinking. Reconsider everything in a Biblical perspective. A "communion talk" is okay, certainly helpful, maybe essential. We should feel free to experiment and find what works best in our situation, our nation, our culture. (We might even dispense with ushers, golden trays, and the micro-cups!)
* Remove the current "communion service" from the Sunday meeting. Get rid of the "old yeast"! It will probably be logistically simpler if we meet for communion separate from our main service. If some disciples prefer a more reverent part of the service, maybe add a few worshipful majestic songs or sing psalms or reserve a moment for silent prayer.
* A Sunday evening meal will likely be convenient for most Christians. Unless we prefer to celebrate it right after the Sunday church meeting.
* Celebrate the meal often. Weekly? Well, certainly more often than annually as in the case of the Passover! Weekly is the implication of Acts 20:7.
* Should we allow visitors? My recommendation would be that these small groups exclude visitors. There is no biblical evidence that guests took the communion, though admittedly there is also no proof they were categorically excluded from the meal. Even Judas seems to have been allowed to take part in the Last Supper, though perhaps not the entire meal. (See also 2 Peter 2:13.) Maybe guests who are nearing their decision for Christ could be allowed to sit in and observe what happens when disciples "break bread" together.5
* What about unleavened bread? No doubt the Last Supper had unleavened bread -- since it was a Passover meal. Yet the case for unleavened bread from 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 is hardly convincing. (Does God have an opinion on this?) At any rate, if we keep using unleavened bread we won't go wrong.
While one cannot prove that the Lord's Supper was invariably an actual meal, still a case can be made for a communion meal more on the analogy of the Passover meal than the standard Protestant practice. Yet in the final analysis, devotion to the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42) is not the same to devotion to mere eating. Whether the supper is a table loaded with foods or only emblems loaded with meaning, we are under obligation to remember the Lord. Let us do so.
1. The original version was distributed in 1994. Perhaps I overstated the evidence for an actual "sit-down" meal. Though this is still my leaning, there is a case to be made for the emblematic celebration of the Lord s Supper.
2. Ironically, it seems in the instance above the communion proper was taken on Monday since the meal was eaten sometime between midnight and daybreak. Yet we must be careful how we interpret Acts 20:7. Sunday is the best-attested day (especially from second century writings), yet Monday communion may also have had apostolic approval. Each congregation should be fully convinced in its own mind.
3. It may concern us to read of "bishops" so soon after the birth of the church. The "bishop" (an anglicized version of episkopos, overseer) did not brandish staff and miter nor swing censers and perform "confirmations." Ignatius' "bishop" is only a slight modification of the NT plan, not the Roman Catholic innovation, familiar from high church all the way down to chess set. By the middle of the second century, the "bishop" became the head elder/overseer in each congregation. Later, the ruling or preeminent bishops ("archbishops") ruled over a whole district of congregations (the area later called the "diocese"). A flexible plan for elders and evangelists had been laid down in the NT writings, yet only eighty years after the resurrection men changed the plan. So soon? From our perspective nineteen centuries later we say "So soon?" But from another perspective, eighty years is a long time indeed! So, rather than see swift apostasy in the early church, we should be more positive and see their fidelity for many generations after Jesus Christ's life on earth.
4. Interestingly, enough modern Jews have given up living in shelters; instead they construct a token structure under which they may spend a few thoughtful moments!
5. Aren't they drinking judgment on themselves (according to 1 Corinthians 11:29)? Frankly I don't see how someone who is already lost can become more lost. Still, I would advise that the meal be special -- only for Christians.
This article is copyrighted and is for private use and study only. © 1994, 2003. Reprints or public distribution is prohibited without the express consent of Douglas Jacoby.