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        Jesus empowered the ancient church with a strategy for communion designed to create supernatural unity, loving community, and holiness in view of His return. One part of this strategy was to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week. The other was to partake of the elements in the context of an actual meal—a sacred, covenant meal. Since most believers are unaware of this strategy, the last supper has become the lost supper . . .

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Profit

The bread and wine look back to Jesus’ death on the cross to pay for sin. The meal adds a forward look. When celebrated as a meal in a joyful wedding atmosphere, the Lord’s Supper typifies the wedding supper of the Lamb. It is a regular reminder of Jesus’ promise to return and eat it with us. Another major benefit of celebrating the Lord’s Supper as an actual meal is the fellowship and encouragement that is experienced by each member of Christ’s body. This relaxed, unhurried fellowship meal with God’s family is a significant means of edifying the Church, building community, cementing ties of love, and creating supernatural unity.

Professors

        The opinion of scholars is clearly weighted toward the conclusion that the Lord’s Supper was originally eaten as an actual meal:

        Donald Guthrie: In his massive work New Testament Theology, Donald Guthrie stated that the apostle Paul “sets the Lord’s supper in the context of the fellowship meal.

        Gordon Fee: Editor of the notable evangelical commentary series, the New International Commentary on the New Testament, Gordon Fee pointed out “the nearly universal phenomenon of cultic meals as a part of worship in antiquity” and “the fact that in the early church the Lord’s Supper was most likely eaten as, or in conjunction with, such a meal.” Fee further noted: “from the beginning, the Last Supper was for Christians not an annual Christian Passover, but a regularly repeated meal in ‘honor of the Lord,’ hence the Lord’s Supper.”

        G.W. Grogan: Writing for the New Bible Dictionary, G.W. Grogan observed that “the administration of the Eucharist shows it set in the context of a fellowship supper…. The separation of the meal or Agape from the Eucharist lies outside the times of the NT.

        C.K. Barrett: In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, C.K. Barrett made the observation that “the Lord’s Supper was still at Corinth an ordinary meal to which acts of symbolical significance were attached, rather than a purely symbolical meal.

        John Gooch: United Methodist Publishing House editor John Gooch wrote: “In the first century, the Lord’s Supper included not only the bread and the cup but an entire meal.”

        J. J. Pelikan: Yale professor J.J. Pelikan concluded: “often, if not always, it was celebrated in the setting of a common meal.”

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Proof

          The setting of the first Lord’s Supper was the Passover Feast. Jesus and His disciples reclined around a table abounding with food (Ex 12, De 16). During the course of the meal, “while they were eating” (Mt 26:26, italics mine), Jesus took a loaf and compared it to his body. Then, “after the supper” (Lk 22:20, italics mine), He took the cup and compared it to his blood, soon to be poured out for sin. Timing is everything. The bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper were introduced in the context of an actual meal. As with Passover, the Twelve would have understood the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper to also be part of an actual meal. The Greek for “supper”, deipnon, means dinner or banquet, the main meal toward evening. It arguably never refers to anything less than a full meal. That the authors of the New Testament chose deipnon to refer to the Lord’s “Supper” suggests they understood it to be an actual meal.

        At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “I confer on you a kingdom … so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Lk 22:29-30). Why eschatological eating? First-century Jews thought of heaven as a time of feasting at Messiah’s table. For instance, a Jewish leader once said to Jesus: “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (Lk 14:15). Jesus Himself spoke of those who will “take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8:11)

Isaiah described the coming kingdom feast in this way: “the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined … He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken” (Isa 25:6-8). The book of Revelation describes a future time of feasting at the wedding banquet of the Lamb (Re 19:9).

The early church observed the Lord’s Supper as a true meal along with the bread and cup. It is important to appreciate why the Lord’s Supper was originally an actual meal. It is a picture and foretaste of what we will be doing when Jesus returns to eat it again with us. What better way to typify the marriage banquet of the Lamb than with a meal manifesting all of the excitement, fellowship, and love that the heavenly banquet will have?

The most extensive treatment of the Lord’s Supper is found in 1 Corinthians 10-11. The church in Corinth clearly celebrated it as an actual meal. However, class and cultural divisions resulted in their communion meetings doing more harm than good (11:17-18). The upper class, not wanting to dine with those of a lower social class, evidently came to the gathering early to avoid the poor. By the time the working class believers arrived, delayed perhaps by employment constraints, all the food had been eaten. The poor went home hungry (11:21-22). The wealthy failed to esteem their impoverished brethren as equal members of the body of Christ (11:23-32).

The Corinthian abuse was so serious that what was supposed to be the Lord’s Supper had instead become their own suppers: “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal” (11:20-21). If merely eating one’s own supper were the entire objective, then private dining at home would have sufficed. Thus Paul asked the rich, “Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” (11:22). However, from the nature of the abuse, it is evident that the Corinthian church regularly partook of the Lord’s Supper as a true meal.

It has been suggested that abuses in Corinth led Paul to put an end to the meal. For instance, the original commentary in the Geneva Bible of 1599 states: “The Apostle thinketh it good to take away the love feasts, for their abuse, although they had been a long time, and with commendation used in Churches, and were appointed and instituted by the Apostles.” To this we wonder: would Paul single-handedly overturn something established by Jesus Himself that was taught by the other apostles and practiced by all the churches? Though in humble disagreement with those who penned the commentary, their acknowledgment that the Lord’s Supper and the love feast were celebrated together and instituted by the apostles is appreciated.

It has been said that the best antidote to abuse is not disuse, but proper use. Paul’s solution to Corinthian abuse was not to do away with the meal. Instead, Paul wrote: “when you come together to eat, wait for each other” (1Co 11:33). Only those so famished they could not wait for the others are instructed to “eat at home” (11:34). Commentator C.K. Barrett cautioned: “Paul’s point is that, if the rich wish to eat and drink on their own, enjoying better food than their poorer brothers, they should do this at home; if they cannot wait for others (verse 33), if they must indulge to excess, they can at least keep the church’s common meal free from practices that can only bring discredit upon it…. Paul simply means that those who are so hungry that they cannot wait for their brothers should satisfy their hunger before they leave home, in order that decency and order may prevail in the assembly.

In summary, it is clear from Scripture that, in the early church, the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper were eaten of in the context of a an actual meal. Communion occurred not only with the Lord through the elements but also with other believers through the meal. This early church practice builds community and unity, edifies the church, and typifies the coming eschatological feast. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper as an actual meal is like the rehearsal dinner before a great wedding and feast the next day.

Perspective: A Future Focus

        According to Fritz Reinecker: “The Passover celebrated two events, the deliverance from Egypt and the anticipated coming Messianic deliverance.” It had both backward and forward-looking aspects. When Jesus turned the Passover Feast into the Lord’s Supper, He also gave it both backward and forward-looking aspects. It looks back to Jesus’ sacrifice as the ultimate Passover Lamb, delivering His people from their sins. It looks forward to the time Jesus will come and eat it again with us. The Baptist Faith and Message of 2000 thus says: “The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming” (italics mine)

R.P. Martin, Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, wrote that there are “eschatological overtones” to the Lord’s Supper “with a forward look to the advent in glory. The future kingdom of God was much on the Lord’s mind during the Last Supper. Jesus first mentioned the future at the beginning of the Passover: “I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Lk 22:16). “Until” (heos hutou) is a forward-looking word. It indicates when in the future something will happen. Furthermore, Jesus’ use of the word “fulfilled” suggests there is something prophetic about the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus mentioned a future meal when passing the cup: “from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Lk 22:18). Every time we partake of the cup, Jesus’ promise to return and drink it again with us should be brought to mind. After the supper He referred to the future meal yet again, saying, “I confer on you a kingdom … so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Lk 22:29-30).

Thus, we see that Jesus gave the Lord’s Supper numerous forward-looking aspects. As a full meal, it prefigures the marriage supper of the Lamb. When we partake of the cup we should be reminded of His words, “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Lk 22:18). The Encyclopaedia Britannica declared: “early Christianity regarded this institution as a mandate … learning to know, even in this present life, the joys of the heavenly banquet that was to come in the kingdom of God … the past, the present, and the future came together in the Eucharist.

1 Corinthians 11:26 states that through the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim the Lord’s death “until” He comes. The word “until” normally denotes a time frame. For example, an umbrella is used until it stops raining. Then it is put away. Using the umbrella does not cause the rain to stop. In this case, however, Paul’s statement has more to do with why we proclaim it. The Greek behind “until” is unusual (achri hou). Conservative German theology professor Fritz Rienecker pointed out that as it is used here (with an aorist subjunctive verb), it denotes much more than a mere time frame; grammatically, it can denote a goal or an objective

In The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, it is argued that the Greek underlying “until” (achri hou, 1Co 11:26) is not simply a temporal reference, but functions as a kind of final clause. That is, the meal’s function is as a constant reminder to God to bring about the Second Coming. Paul was instructing the church to partake of the bread and cup as a means of proclaiming the Lord’s death with the goal of His return. Thus, in proclaiming His death through the loaf and cup, the Supper looked forward to and anticipated His return.

According to Professor Herman Ridderbos: “It is not merely a subjective recalling to mind, but an active manifestation of the continuing and actual significance of the death of Christ. ‘Proclaim’ in this respect has a prophetic, declaratory significance…. Everything is directed not only toward the past, but also toward the future. It is the proclamation that in the death of Christ the new and eternal covenant of grace has taken effect, if still in a provisional and not yet consummated sense.

It is interesting that the earliest believers, in Didaché x. 6, used maran atha (“Our Lord, come”) as a prayer in connection with the Lord’s Supper, “a context at once eucharistic and eschatological.” Linking this back to the situation in Corinth, R. P. Martin writes: “Maranatha in 1 Cor. 16:22 may very well be placed in a Eucharistic setting so that the conclusion of the letter ends with the invocation ‘Our Lord, come!’ and prepares the scene for the celebration of the meal after the letter has been read to the congregation.

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Purpose # 1—Community

        In ancient Jewish thought, eating with someone symbolized acceptance and fellowship. Thus, in Revelation 3:20, Jesus offered to “eat” (deipneo) with anyone who heard His voice and opened the door. One of the major blessings of celebrating the Lord’s Supper as an actual meal is the genuine fellowship everyone enjoys. This fellowship in feasting theme is evident in the book of Acts. A casual reading of Acts 2:42 suggests the Church was devoted to four things: the apostles teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. However, a closer examination reveals there were only three things to which they were devoted: teaching, fellowship in the breaking of bread, and prayer. (In Greek the words “fellowship” and “breaking of bread” are linked together as simultaneous activities. It was F.F. Bruce’s position that the fellowship of Acts 2:42 was expressed practically in the breaking of bread. They had fellowship with one another as they broke bread together. Luke further informs us that this eating was done with “glad and sincere hearts” (2:46). Sounds inviting, doesn’t it?

Many churches observe the Lord’s Supper with a funeral atmosphere. An organ softly plays reflective music. Every head is bowed and every eye closed as people quietly and introspectively search their souls for sin needing confession. Down front, the elements are laid out on a narrow rectangular table that is covered with a white cloth, eerily resembling a casket at a funeral. Somber deacons, like pallbearers, distribute the elements. Dutch theologian Karl Deddens noted: “Under the influence of pietism and mysticism, a sense of ‘unworthiness’ is awakened within them, and they become afraid that they may be ‘eating and drinking judgment unto themselves.’ As for those who were still bold enough to go to the table of the Lord, their faces suggest that a funeral is under way rather than a celebration.” Is this in keeping with the tradition of the apostles concerning the Supper?

It was the unworthy manner that Paul criticized (1Co 11:27), not the unworthy people. The unworthy manner consisted of drunkenness at the table of the Lord, of not eating together, and of causing the poor to go home hungry and humiliated. This failure of the rich to recognize the body of the Lord in their poorer brethren resulted in divine judgment: many of them were sick, and a number had even died (1Co 11:27-32). Indeed, every person ought to examine himself before arriving to be sure he is not guilty of the same gross sin—failing to recognize the body of the Lord in one’s fellow believers (1Co 11:28-29). Once we have each judged ourselves in this regard, we can come to the meal without fear of judgment and enjoy the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper as the true wedding banquet it is intended to be.

Commentators often associate the Lord’s Supper with the phrase “breaking of bread” throughout the book of Acts. For example, F.F. Bruce held that the phrase “breaking of bread” denotes “something more than the ordinary partaking of food together: the regular observance of the Lord’s Supper is no doubt indicated … this observance appears to have formed the part of an ordinary meal. If this conclusion is accurate, it means the early church enjoyed the Lord’s Supper as a time of fellowship and gladness, just like one would enjoy at a wedding banquet: “breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47).

We all desire church relationships that are genuine and meaningful, not just a friendly church but a church where our friends are with us. The Lord’s Supper can help make this a reality. A middle-aged man, new in Christ and to church, sat through a number of traditional Sunday services. Finally he asked: “I see people greet each other just before the service. As soon as it ends they hug good-bye and quickly head home. I’m not getting to know anyone. What is the Christian equivalent of the neighborhood bar?” Celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly as a relaxed fellowship meal is the biblical answer to his question.

To get the most out of the fellowship aspect of the holy meal, it should be celebrated often. Early believers ate the Lord’s Supper weekly as one of the main purposes for their coming together as a church every Lord’s Day. The Encyclopaedia Britannica judged the Lord’s Supper to be “the central rite of Christian worship” and “has been an indispensable component of the Christian service since the earliest days of the church.”

The first evidence of weekly communion is grammatical. To Christians, Sunday is the “Lord’s Day” (Re 1:10), the day Jesus rose from the dead. This translates unique technical wording in Greek (kuriakon hemeran). It is literally “the day belonging to the Lord.” The words “belonging to the Lord” are from kuriakos, found in the New Testament only in Revelation 1:10 and in 1 Corinthians 11:20, where it refers to the Supper “belonging to the Lord” (kuriakon deipnon). The connection between these two identical and unusual grammatical uses must not be missed. The supper belonging to the Lord was eaten every week on the day belonging to the Lord. The Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Supper go together as a package deal once a week.

More evidence for the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper is found in the only clear reason ever given in Scripture for the regular purpose of a church meeting: To eat the Lord’s Supper. In Acts 20:7, Luke informs, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.” The words “to break bread” in Acts 20:7 are known as a telic infinitive denoting a purpose or objective. They met in order to break bread.

Another place where the New Testament states the purpose of a church gathering is 1 Corinthians 11:17-22. Their “meetings” (11:17) were doing more harm than good because when they came “together as a church” (11:18a) they had deep division. Thus, Paul wrote: “when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat” (11:20). From this, it is obvious the reason for their weekly church meetings ostensibly was to eat the Lord’s Supper.

The third and last reference to the explicitly stated reason for an assembly is found in 1 Corinthians 11:33, “When you come together to eat, wait for each other” (italics mine). As before, it states the reason they came together was to eat. No other reason is given in the Scriptures as to the purpose of a regular, weekly church meeting. It is obvious from Scripture that they also had times of worship and teaching each Sunday, but the driving focus of the gathering was communion.

Several early extra-biblical sources indicate the church originally celebrated the Lord’s Supper weekly. One is Justin Martyr’s First Apology, written in the middle of the second century. Another is the Didaché. Around A.D. 200, Hippolytus wrote of a typical worship service in Rome, which included the Lord’s Supper.

It has been said that Protestant churches replaced the altar with the pulpit. However, John Calvin advocated weekly communion. Dutch Reformed theologian Karl Deddens wrote: “If the Lord’s Supper were celebrated more often, we should not view such a change as an accommodation to ‘sacramentalists’ who wish to place less emphasis on the service of the Word; rather, we should view it as an execution of Christ’s command…. The fellowship and encouragement that each member enjoys in such a weekly gathering is tremendous. This aspect of the Church’s Sunday meeting should not be rushed or replaced. It is also important to be devoted to the apostle’s teaching and prayer (Ac 2:42), but not at the expense of the weekly Lord’s Supper. Celebrating the Holy Meal weekly adds a dynamic to church meetings that cannot be equaled.

Purpose #2—Supernatural Unity

Celebrating the Lord’s Supper each week as a fellowship meal goes a long way in building unity. Also important is the visible presentation of the elements. Mention is made in Scripture of the cup of thanksgiving (a single cup, 1Co 10:16) and only one loaf: “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1Co 10:17) If using one cup and one loaf picture our oneness in Christ, then the imagery of pre-broken crackers and multiple tiny cups is one of disunity, division, and individualism.

The one loaf not only pictures our unity in Christ but, according to 1 Corinthians 10:17, partaking of it actually creates unity! Notice carefully the wording of the inspired text.  “Because” there is one loaf, therefore we are one body, “for” we all partake of the one loaf (1Co 10:17). One scholar wrote that the Lord’s Supper was “intended as means of fostering the unity of the church….” Professor Gerd Theissen said: “Because all have eaten portions of the same element, they have become a unity in which they have come as close to one another as members of the same body, as if the bodily boundaries between and among people had been transcended. In their commentary on Corinthians, Robertson and Plummer concluded: “The single loaf is a symbol and an instrument of unity.” Gordon Fee wrote of the “solidarity of the fellowship of believers created by their all sharing ‘the one loaf.’ ”

Some in Corinth were guilty of taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner (1Co 11:27). Shameful class divisions cut at the heart of the unity the Lord’s Supper is designed to symbolize. What was Paul’s solution to the harmful meetings? “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other” (1Co 11:33). Part of the reason the Corinthians were not unified is precisely because they failed to eat the Lord’s Supper together, as an actual meal, centered on the one cup and one loaf.

        In the Lord’s Supper, we practically express our oneness in Christ. Jesus prayed “that they may be one even as we are one.” This fundamental practice reflects the big eternal picture of the Church and Christianity: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ep 4:4-6). Our unity together in Christ is a powerful witness. Jesus prayed that we “may all be one … so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Purpose #3—Jesus’ Return

        In the covenant God made with Noah, He promised to never again destroy the earth by flood. God declared, “whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures” (Ge 9:16, italics mine). Wayne Grudem has pointed out how the Bible “frequently speaks of God ‘remembering’ something and therefore I do not think it inappropriate or inconsistent for us to speak this way when we want to refer to God’s awareness of events that have happened in our past, events he recognizes as already having occurred and therefore as being ‘past.'” It is biblical to say that God remembers covenant promises.

In His covenant with Abraham, God promised to bring the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. Accordingly, at the appointed time, “God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham” (Ex 2:24, italics mine). God remembers covenant promises.

During the Babylonian captivity, God promised the Jews, “I will remember my covenant with you” (the Sinai covenant; Eze 16:60, italics mine). God remembers covenant promises.

In the Lord’s Supper the fruit of the vine represents the “blood of the covenant” (Mt 26:28). The bread symbolizes Jesus body. Jesus said to partake of the bread “in remembrance of Me” (Lk 22:19). The bread and wine bring to remembrance Jesus’ body and blood given for us.

The Greek for “remembrance,” anamnesis, fundamentally means “reminder.” A reminder can remind about something that already happened in the past or that is supposed to happen in the future. Translating ananmesis as “remembrance” leads us to think only of Jesus’ past sacrifice on the cross. However, if anamnesis is translated more simply as “reminder”, it could be understood to refer both to something in the past (Jesus’ death on the cross) and in the future (Jesus’ promise to return).

As we have already seen, God remembers covenant promises. Another very significant function of the Lord’s Supper may be as a reminder to Jesus Himself of His covenant promise to return. Jesus said, “do this unto my reminder.” The word “my” in “my reminder” translates the Greek emou. More than a mere personal pronoun, it is a possessive pronoun. This suggests the reminder is not simply about Jesus; it actually belongs to Jesus. It is His reminder. Theologian Joachim Jeremias understood Jesus to use anamnesis in the sense of a reminder for God: “The Lord’s Supper would thus be an enacted prayer.” Just as seeing the rainbow reminds God of His covenant promise never to flood the world again, so too when Jesus sees us partake of the Lord’s Supper it reminds Him of His promise to return and eat it again with us. Understood in this light, it is designed to be like a prayer asking Jesus to return (“Thy kingdom come,” Lk 11:2). God remembers covenant promises.

In summary, when we partake of the bread and wine, we are reminded of Jesus’ body and blood, given for the remission of sin. Along with Jesus, we should also be reminded of His promise to come back and eat it again with us. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper is an acted-out prayer reminding Jesus to return. This weekly reminder of the imminence of our Lord’s return can be a motivation to holy living: “we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1Jn 3:2-3).  Maranatha

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Proposition

        As was demonstrated above, there is general agreement within scholarly circles that the early church celebrated the Lord’s Supper as a genuine meal. However, the post-apostolic church has had little use for this practice. According to Williston Walker, well-respected professor of church history at Yale: “by the time Justin Martyr wrote his Apology in Rome (153), the common meal had disappeared, and the Supper was joined with the assembly for preaching, as a concluding sacrament.”

The church of history has, at various points and for a time, deviated from New Testament patterns. For instance, credo baptism was essentially unheard of within Christendom for well over a millennia. Yet, since the time of the Reformation, this long-neglected apostolic tradition has again been widely practiced. Another example can be found in the separation of church and state, a New Testament example that was disregarded in European church history when the sword of the state was welded to the cross. Today, however, most believers again hold to the separation of the two. The church may be missing a tremendous blessing in neglecting the practice of the early church regarding the Lord’s Supper. Since this was the practice of the early church, should we not follow their example?

Prescription

For many church leaders, the New Testament example of the Lord’s Supper as a weekly fellowship meal is a precious historical memory, but no compulsion is felt to follow it. However, Scripture indicates that the practices of the early church should serve as more than a historical, academic record.

For example, 1 Corinthians 11-14 concerns church practice. The section begins with praise for the Corinthian church because it followed Paul’s traditions for church practice: “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (11:2). The Greek for tradition, paradosis, means “that which is passed on.” This same Greek word in verb form was used in 1 Corinthians 11:23 with regard to the practice of the Lord’s Supper (that it was passed on from Jesus to Paul to the Corinthians). Do we really want to disregard a tradition for the Lord’s Supper that was handed down by Jesus Himself? It would seem to be a commendable practice.

An interesting paradox can be observed about tradition (paradosis). The same word used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:2 was also used by Jesus when He asked the Pharisees: “Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Mt 15:3). Whereas Jesus criticized the tradition of the Pharisees, Paul commended the Corinthians for following his traditions. Pharisaical tradition essentially broke God’s commands. Apostolic tradition is consistent with the teachings of Christ. Holding to the traditions of the apostles is thus praiseworthy, as seen in Paul’s praise for the Corinthian church (11:2).

It is also noteworthy that the word “traditions” in 1 Corinthians 11:2 is plural. Paul had in mind more than the one tradition dealt with in 1 Corinthians 11a. Mosaic legislation was paradigmatic in nature; it was case law. Only a few legal examples were recorded by Moses. The Old Covenant believer was expected to apply those case studies to those areas of life not specifically mentioned. Our attitude toward apostolic tradition should also be paradigmatic in nature. If we observe that the apostles were pleased when a church followed one specific tradition (such as in 1 Corinthians 11a), then we are expected to apply that approval to following other traditions we see modeled by the apostles in their establishment of churches.

It is often mistakenly thought that following tradition is never commanded. However, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 specifically commands: “stand firm and hold to the traditions”. Thus, it is not just apostolic teachings to which we should adhere, but also apostolic traditions.

The overall context of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 refers to the apostles’ teaching tradition of end-time events, not church practice per se. However, the word “traditions” (2:15) is plural yet again. The author had more traditions in view than merely the one teaching tradition about the second coming. Would it not also apply in principle to his traditions regarding church order, as patterned in the New Testament?  We are to follow the traditions of the apostles, not only in their theology, but also in their practice.

Early Southern Baptist theologian J. L. Dagg believed that the apostles: “have taught us by example how to organize and govern churches. We have no right to reject their instruction and captiously insist that nothing but positive command shall bind us.  Instead of choosing to walk in a way of our own devising, we should take pleasure to walk in the footsteps of those holy men from whom we have received the word of life … respect for the Spirit by which they were led should induce us to prefer their modes of organization and government to such as our inferior wisdom might suggest.” The question is not: Must we do things the way they were done in the New Testament? Rather, the question is: Why would we want to do things any other way?

The Lord’s Supper was the primary purpose for which the New Testament church gathered each Lord’s Day. It was celebrated as a feast, in a joyful, wedding atmosphere rather than in a somber, funeral atmosphere. A major benefit of the Supper as an actual meal is the fellowship and encouragement each member experiences. Eaten as a meal, the Supper typifies the marriage supper of the Lamb and has a forward-looking component. Within the context of this actual meal, there is to be one cup and one loaf to both symbolize and create unity in a body of believers. The bread and wine symbolize Jesus’ body and blood. They also serve as reminders of Jesus’ promise to return and eat it again with us (Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!).

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Practicum

The Elements: One cup and one loaf should be visible to the congregation, symbolic of our unity in Christ. The picture presented by pile of pre-broken crackers and pre-poured tiny cups is division and individualism. The entire congregation should partake of the one cup and one loaf. Anglicans have done this for centuries without obvious harm to their health. Another option is to pour from one large decanter into smaller cups, or to dip one’s bread into the common cup.

Starting Out: Church planters can easily make the weekly celebration of the Holy Meal an integral part of the Sunday meetings from a church’s inception. Existing churches might consider beginning with a gradual phase-in of the Lord’s Supper as a literal meal. Perhaps make the meal optional at first; serve the elements as usual followed by a meal in the fellowship hall for those who wish to participate. Go slowly. Allow people to get excited about it and tell others. Moreover, unless people are thoroughly persuaded of the Scriptural basis for celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly as a fellowship meal, there will be resistance to having to go to the trouble to prepare and bring food each week. Be sure people understand the holy nature of the meal. It is not just an inconvenient lunch. It is a sacred, covenant meal before the Lord and with His children.

The Weakness of Wednesday-Night Suppers: Many churches offer Wednesday-night fellowship meals. Although it may be good to introduce the Lord’s Supper as a meal in conjunction with the existing Wednesday-night meal, this should be seen merely as a transitional step. Two thousand years of Christian history in the West have rightly ingrained into believers the notion that what happens on Sundays is what is really important. Because the Lord’s Supper/Agapé was the main reason the early church gathered each Lord’s Day, the goal should be to celebrate it only Sunday, giving it the same prominence the apostles gave it. Grace unto unity comes as the entire congregation partakes of the cup and loaf, not just the minority who come on Wednesday night. The entire congregation needs to experience the weekly fellowship of the Agapé.

Integration: The bread and wine were given in the context of a literal dinner. Be careful not to separate the elements from the meal too much, as if the Lord’s Supper is the cup and loaf and everything else is just lunch. Get the meal completely ready first and then distribute the elements to mark the beginning of the meal. One approach is to point out the significance of the elements and lead in prayer as usual. Then, ask all the heads of each household to come up and take the elements back for their families. As each family finishes, it can go ahead through the serving line to enjoy the banquet aspect of the holy meal. This is a freedom issue; do what works best for your church.

Leaven: Should the bread be unleavened and the fruit of the vine alcoholic? The Jews ate unleavened bread in the Passover to symbolize the quickness with which God brought them out of Egypt. No doubt Jesus used unleavened bread in the original Last Supper. However, nothing is said in the New Testament about Gentile churches using unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper. Though sometimes in the New Testament yeast is associated with evil (1Co 5:6-8), it is also used to represent God’s kingdom (Mt 13:33). The real symbolism lies with the bread as a representation of Jesus’ body, leavened or not.

Regarding the cup, it is clear from 1 Corinthians 11 that actual wine was used in the Lord’s Supper, because some had become drunk. However, no clear theological reason is ever given in the New Testament for it being alcoholic (but consider Genesis 27:28, Isaiah 25:6-9, and Romans 14:21). Jesus simply called it the fruit of the vine. The object lesson is that red wine looks like blood. As with leavened or unleavened bread, the use of wine or grape juice would seem to be a matter of freedom for each local church to decide with spiritual sensitivity for one another.

Unbelievers: Most churches restrict access to the elements in some way. For example, the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000 holds baptism to be the prerequisite for the privileges of the Lord’s Supper. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper as it was celebrated in the New Testament as a literal meal may change one’s perspective somewhat on the presence of unbelievers. Point out that the bread and wine are for believers only. The Lord’s Supper, as a sacred, covenant meal, has spiritual significance only to believers. Yet, to nonbelievers present, it is merely another meal. Unbelieving adults and children too young to believe get hungry just like believers do; invite them to enjoy the meal along with you. Love them to the Lord! The danger in taking the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner” applies only to believers (1Co 11:27-32). In short: elements no, meal yes.

Where’d It Go? According to Greg Mamula: “The transition from full meal to symbolic rite appears to have been gradual, taking place sometime during the mid-second century in some places to mid-third century in other places. The key to transition was connected to the size of the congregation. The larger ones transitioned earlier. They needed a more efficient way to gather people and distribute the most significant symbols of the meal…. The smaller congregations continued to use meals until the mid-third century when the standard practice became the more recognizable Eucharist officiated by key leaders such as bishops and their approved leaders.… Researchers have difficulty precisely understanding why this transition took place. By the fourth century it is clear the traditions of full meals held in homes is gone. The Eucharistic rite inside of a basilica or other large church becomes the new norm.”

Eusebius, as bishop, consecrated a church building in Tyre. At the dedication, he praised the most holy altar as the center of the building. Then, in the late 300s, the Synod of Laodicea forbade the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in private homes. Davids and Grossman offer this comment: “Once you have an altar with ‘holy food’, mixing it with the common food of a communal meal appears profane. Thus the focus on the table as altar brings about the forbidding of celebrating the Lord’s Supper in houses. The irony is that in the tabernacle and temple the central act of worship was a family meal in the presence of the deity, the temple being part slaughterhouse and part bar-b-que, as well as being the place where animal fat was burned and incense was offered.”

Logistics: Sandra Atkerson offered the following practical ideas on logistics: “Ask each family to prepare food at home and bring it to share with everyone else. Many churches have had great success with the pot luck (or pot providence) method. The Lord’s Supper is a feast of good and bountiful food with fellowship centered around Christ, a picture of the marriage banquet of the Lamb. It is a time to give and share liberally with our brothers and sisters in Christ. As for how much to bring, if you were having one more family over for dinner with your family, how much of one dish would you prepare? If church were cancelled for some reason, could you satisfy your own family with what you prepared to take to the Lord’s Supper? Encourage each family to bring a main dish and a side dish. Desserts should be considered optional and brought as a third dish but never as the only dish by a family. At least enough food should be brought by every family to feed themselves and have more left over to share with others. The singles, especially those not inclined to cook, might bring drinks, peanuts, dessert, chips and dip, or a prepared deli item such as potato salad or rotisserie chicken. The congregation should see this as a giving expense, a ministry, an offering to the Lord.

Confusion is minimized at the time of serving if your dish is ready when you arrive. Cook it before you come. Consider investing in a Pyrex Portables insulated hot/cold carrier that will keep your food at the temperature at which it was prepared. Hot plates can be plugged in to keep dishes warm. Others could bring crock pots. The oven can be put on warm and dishes stored there. Wool blankets or beach towels work well for hot/cold insulation during transport. Coolers in the summer months are great for icing down cold dishes.

The main point to remember for food safety is to keep hot foods hot at 150 degrees and cold foods cold at 40 degrees. Once the food is out for serving, it should sit out no longer than 2-3 hours before it is refrigerated. Dispose of any food left out longer than four hours.

Parents should consider helping their children prepare plates. Little ones often have eyes bigger than their stomachs and much food can go to waste. Many churches prefer to buy smaller 12 or 16 ounce cups. Most folks tend to fill their cups full, often not drinking it all. Smaller cups make less waste. It is better to go back for refills than to throw away unwanted drink.

A word about hygiene might be appropriate—there can never be enough hand washing among friends! Be sensitive to germs. All folks going through the serving line should wash before touching serving utensils. Put out a pump jar of hand sanitizer right by the plates at the beginning of the line. To help with cleanup, consider using paper plates and plastic cups and forks.”

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