Assembly Characteristics - 10 The Lord's Supper

Chapter 10

The Lord's Supper

1 Corinthians 11:23-34

Paul’s instruction to the assembly in Corinth includes this section that deals with the central feature marking such gatherings,  that is, the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper. In the gospel  accounts we find the institution of the Lord's Supper, but the  teaching concerning the supper is in the epistles, particularly in this  epistle. While there are some other companies of Christians that  carry out this ordinance weekly, we know of very few outside the  assemblies gathered to the Lord's Name alone that practice it in a  Scriptural manner. We could say that this manner of observing the  Lord’s Supper is one of the hallmarks of local assemblies that seek  to faithfully carry out the commands of the Lord Jesus.

Corruptions and Substitutions

Many groups do not observe the Lord's Supper every first  day of the week. They substitute a preaching service for the  Supper, and even when they do observe it, they put it in a  secondary place. However, if we examine with simplicity and care  the record and teaching of our Bibles, we can come to no other  conclusion than that the early saints came together to break bread  on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). There are those who would  try to tell us that they can carry it out as often as desired; there are  those who practice a form of this ordinance on any day of the week,  and there are others who only observe it once a month or every  three months. We have been at wedding ceremonies in  “fundamental churches” where the Lord’s Supper was a part of the  ceremony. All this indicates failure to understand the teaching of the  Holy Scriptures concerning this subject. The mark of an assembly  faithfully seeking to carry out the Lord's will in this matter is that the  saints gather on the first day of every week, the Lord's Day, to  partake of the Lord's Supper. We trust we will never depart from this  scriptural practice for any reason.

Some have converted this simple remembrance supper into  a ceremony embellished with ornate ritual, candles, bells and  incense. Yet the descriptive term used to describe the supper is  “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42; 20:7), indicating the simplicity,  spirituality and unity of it. In the New Testament, we see nothing of  the formal ritual and ceremony that men have introduced into their  present religious activities. The introduction of religious  embellishments only caters to fleshly desires and robs the  remembrance of its spiritual reality.

Others have turned the Lord's Supper into a “sacrament,”  meaning a ceremony through which (supposedly) grace is  imparted. Some teach that it imparts the forgiveness of sins or other  blessings to participants. Such teaching departs from the Word,  which tells us that this is a remembrance of a Person, linked with  appreciation of Him and His Work and providing a means by which  our Lord Jesus is exalted and worshipped by His own.

Some religious systems have gone so far as to teach that  the bread and wine become the literal body and blood of the Lord  Jesus in some mysterious act performed by the priest who officiates  (transubstantiation). Others teach that the literal body and blood of  Christ is present along with the physical emblems  (consubstantiation). These teachings corrupt the basic teaching of  this supper in that they fail to see the simplicity of the emblems that  the Lord chose that night in which Judas betrayed Him.

Bread and wine were present with them at the table, and the  Lord took those common elements, which in Scripture had been  used as emblems of a body (Judges 7:13-14; John 6:33, 35) and  blood (Genesis 49:11; Isaiah 63:2-3) to use them in this higher  sense. We understand that these were elements that would have  been in place at a supper to remember one who had died. He used  them that they might continually remind us of Him, who died for us  and rose again. To miss the simple emblematic meaning of the  bread and wine and to make it a ritualistic ceremony is to make it  into something that the Lord never intended it to be, and thus to mar  its simple, yet spiritual, meaning.

Individual Versus Collective

God's Word teaches two ordinances for the believer today.  Both baptism and the Lord's Supper involve physical elements that  have a purely symbolic meaning. Baptism is the individual act of  obedience (Acts 8:36) and follows salvation, but the Lord's Supper  is a collective function of an assembly. To take it out of the realm of  an assembly gathering and to make it an individual matter has no  support in Scripture. Those who would set up a table wherever and  whenever some Christians are together, regardless of the  existence of local assembly testimony in that place, take a  collective act of an assembly and make it a matter of personal  convenience. There is no record in our Bible of any believers  carrying out the Lord's Supper outside the fellowship of a local  assembly gathering. We note that Paul, arriving at Troas, tarried 7  days until the first day of the week, when the disciples came  together to break bread (Acts 20:6-7). Keeping in mind that he was  hurrying to arrive at Jerusalem (Acts 18:21, 19:21), it is instructive  that he waited until the first day of the week to break bread.

Granted, it is likely that if he desired to speak to the believers in that  assembly, he had to wait, since that was likely the only day they  were free to gather. However, his waiting also was another  expression of his continual practice; we have no record of Paul and  his associates ever having the Lord’s Supper on any other day of  the week, and they only did so with an established assembly of  saints. In addition, only those who were in the fellowship of a local  assembly had the privilege of participating in the Lord's Supper. We  should be very careful never to depart from this pattern. One could  see this same principle expressed in the practices of Israel's  history, where the feasts and ceremonies under the old economy  were linked with collective gatherings on set occasions; they never  were events carried out individually as random occurrences. They  were to gather to a determined place at set times in fellowship with  all Israel as the Lord had appointed for them.

Precious Aspects of The Supper

The Lord's Supper expresses many solemn truths, and thus  it is the high point of an assembly gathering. It is the focus of our  worship centered on the Lord Jesus. That is not to say that other  gatherings of the assembly do not involve worship, but the Supper  is the highest point and expression of that worship. It is truly a  privilege that accompanies assembly fellowship when we are able  to sit down with saints in this precious act of remembering Him. It  should be our exercise to come prepared to express some form of  worship to the Lord so as to exalt His Name. The Lord's Supper  “shows” or proclaims the Lord's death until He comes. We proclaim  the value of His death to those who observe, to unseen hosts, and  to the Father in heaven. Thus, it is a continual reminder to our  hearts and to those around who observe, of the enduring  importance and value of His sacrificial death for sinners. It is an  expression to God of the deepest gratitude for what Christ is to His  people. It is an act that looks back to the cross, but it anticipates the  future, when the emblems of this present day will give way to the  reality of His own Person.

The Lord's Supper is especially, (but not exclusively)  expressive of the Presence of the Lord Himself in the midst of His  people. We believe He is present in every assembly gathering, but  as we sit quietly with our attention directed toward Him alone, we  are more conscious of His presence in the midst than at any other  time. This precious truth demands holiness on the part of each one,  and we should express our reverence in our attitudes and actions.  It is no place for social visiting and conversation that often mars the  time spent waiting for the actual commencement of the meeting.  We would restrain our casual actions if we were more conscious of  the Lord's presence. Chatter or whispering before the  commencement of this meeting grieves the spirits of exercised  believers at the Lord’s Supper. If this is so, what must the Lord think  of such behavior?

The Supper is the expression of the fellowship of the  assembly. The one loaf (and may we never come to the point of  using individual wafers) speaks plainly of the precious body of the  Lord Jesus given for our salvation. It also suggests the unity of the  Body of Christ and in a secondary way the fellowship of the local  assembly (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). Paul teaches that “we (the  many) are one bread and one body for we are all partakers of that  one bread.” Who are “the many” who partake of that one bread if  not the local assembly that he is addressing? He uses a similar  expression in 1 Corinthians 12:12, 20. The saints of Corinth, keeping this  Supper under the conditions of their divisions, were failing to realize  the significance of their activity.

Also significant is the one cup. Never do we read any  suggestion of the modern practice of having individual cups. It  would be contrary to Scriptural principle to depart from the simple  and accurate pattern of having one loaf and one cup. The  singularity of the cup points to the single sacrifice into which  blessing Christ has brought us and with which we are linked. Only  ONE sacrifice accomplished our salvation and we have, as a result,  only one source of all blessing. May this simple consideration of  such an important ordinance in relation to the local assembly  stimulate in each one an added appreciation for its beauty and  importance!

There are, and always will be, objections on various  grounds to using one cup. However, we have a pattern and  principle in Scripture for this practice and it is outside the realm of  any person to set it aside. Faithfulness to the Word of God is  essential in our day as well as in the past, and assemblies are  required to uphold the truth of God’s Word. However, in practical  terms, brethren handling these emblems after the meeting is  concluded should not pour the unused wine from the cup back into  the bottle to be used for another time. This violates all principles of  sanitation and should not be done. The small cost of new wine for  each remembrance of the Lord is small compared to the objections  that could properly be made against doing this, if it is ever practiced.  The glass should be properly washed and cleansed, and not simply  wiped out for the next use. Some brethren think that wine is a  disinfectant and will kill all germs, but this is far from the truth. Any  believer in assembly fellowship who has some contagious disease  or the possibility of one should arrange to receive the cup last out  of consideration for the others. We must use common sense along  with our desire to uphold the truth of God’s Word.

May this simple consideration of such an important  ordinance in relation to the local assembly stimulate in each one of  us an added appreciation for its beauty and importance! We trust  that the Lord will help us in these days to preserve the scriptural  simplicity and holy character of the remembrance of our Lord Jesus  Christ.