'Remembering His death' – in small groups

With the growing number of small groups now meeting together in much less formal structures and environments there is the need to look again at 'remembering the Lord's death until he comes'.


first published 20/03/2012

Ed preface: The following article focusses on a biblical view of  the Lord's Supper (aka Communion/ the Eucharist / Breaking of Bread / Mass) in the context of whether the common practices today have departed from the bibilical pattern described in the Bible and as practised by the early church.




The Snack We Call Supper

by David Servant


bread and wine2AT the last church that I pastored, I required that our ushers wear a coat and tie on those once-a-month Sundays when we celebrated the Lord's Supper. It seemed to me that those who distributed the elements of Jesus' body and blood should demonstrate at least that much respect in performing their sacred duty.

On one of those Communion Sundays, while an usher was driving his family to the church, his five-year-old son noticed that he was wearing a coat and tie. He innocently asked, "Dad, is this the Sunday that we all eat God's holy snack?"

When his father later recounted that story to me, it was an emperor's-new-clothes moment of revelation. I had stood in front of congregations hundreds of times and said, "Let us prepare our hearts to receive the Lord's Supper," and then proceeded to pass out a miniscule cracker and a thimble-sized sip of grape juice. And nobody ever questioned it! And what we were doing had been done in millions of churches for hundreds of years! A five-year-old boy had exposed centuries of blind tradition - the snack we call supper.

The Way Things Were

Of course, just about everyone knows that the original Lord's Supper was a full meal, a Passover meal, shared by intimate friends who believed in Jesus. And anyone who reads the relevant passages from the New Testament can ascertain in minutes that in the early church, the Lord's Supper was indeed a supper - a full meal - shared by people who loved each other like family. [See Note 1. - Ed.] So when and why did the Lord's Supper become a holy snack? And what difference does it make if we celebrate the Lord's Supper as did the early church?

Before we tackle those questions, let's first take a look at Paul's words to the Corinthian Christians regarding the Lord's Supper. That will help us begin to understand what many of us have been missing.
Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which 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 He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment (1 Cor. 11: 20-34).

From looking at the first and last verses of that passage, one often-overlooked fact stands out. Clearly, eating the Lord's Supper was a primary reason that the early Christians assembled. At least some of their gatherings revolved around a common meal, and that meal they called "the Lord's Supper." Take another look at those first and last verses to see for yourself:
Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first [that is, you say you are gathering to eat the Lord's Supper, but the way you are doing it reveals something else]; and one is hungry and another is drunk... So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat... (1 Cor. 11:20, 34, emphasis added).

Lords tableIt is also obvious from these two verses that the Lord's Supper was an actual meal. Once that is settled, a few other scriptures that describe early church life seem to take on new meaning. For example, Luke describes four activities that characterized the first Christians, one of which was eating common meals:
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42, emphasis added).

And just a few verses later, Luke again highlights those common meals:
Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people (Acts 2:46-47, emphasis added).

Although Luke doesn't specifically refer to these meals as being the Lord's Supper, they certainly are similar to Paul's description of the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:20-34. And we might ask, If the Lord's Supper is a common meal, what would be the major difference between a common meal that is not the Lord's Supper and a common meal that is the Lord's Supper, especially when bread and wine were the most common elements of an average meal in that day? (We might even go further and ask, Because Jesus said "Do this, as often as your drink it, in remembrance of Me," is it possible that He wanted them to remember Him every time they drank the most common beverage of their day?)

Paul and Luke's descriptions of early church life expose the vast difference between what was typical then and now. The Lord's Supper is generally not the reason that we meet today. Rather, the modern version of the Lord's Supper is tagged on near the end of a Sunday service. Moreover, it is not a supper at all, but a little snack.
(Actually, the "pot-luck dinners" that some modern churches occasionally enjoy are closer to what the Lord's Supper looked like in the New Testament.)

The Agapé Meal

Triclinium1It seems safe to conclude that Jude also referred to common Christian meals in his little epistle, calling them "love feasts" (see Jude 1:12). Those common meals were indeed a feast of love, a meal at which those who could brought food to share with the poor among them, which is precisely what Paul described in 1 Corinthians 11:20-23:
Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you (1 Cor. 11:20-23).

Keep in mind that when Paul wrote, "Or do you despise the church of God?," he wasn't talking about despising a building where the Christians went to church. He was talking about the Christians themselves. Getting drunk and hogging all the food at a gathering of the saints is a sure way to expose how lightly one esteems God's children, the church. By so doing, one "despises the church of God." Perhaps those food hogs were the types of people Jude had in mind when he wrote, "These are men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves" (Jude 1:12).

But let's return to Paul's words. The Corinthian Christians could not rightfully call their common meal the Lord's Supper because selfishness pervaded rather than love. Everyone who was able brought food and wine to the meal, but not all arrived at the same time. The earliest arrivals were eating without waiting for the others, and by the time the rest arrived-who were apparently sometimes so poor that they were unable to bring any food-everything had already been consumed. Some of the earlier arrivals were even inebriated from drinking all the wine, while late-comers left hungrier than when they arrived. Not much of a "love feast"!

This is why Paul admonished the Corinthians in a concluding sentence,
So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home (1 Cor. 11:33-34).

A Unique Gathering

Clearly, the Lord's Supper in the early church was a gathering of Christians from different social and economic classes, something that made it absolutely unique on planet Earth, a veritable foretaste of the marriage feast of the Lamb. Caring for the poor is part and parcel of what Christianity is intended to be, so much so that it was a component of the Lord's sacred Supper that was regularly and frequently enjoyed by the early Christians.

By means of the Lord's Supper, the first believers fulfilled a commandment of Christ that seems to be virtually ignored today:
"When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:12-14).

Surely such a dinner would truly be a "love feast"!

But back to the Corinthians. They were, in part, fulfilling the commandment of Christ that we just read. They invited the poor among them to a common meal. However, before the poor arrived, they were eating all the food! And by so doing, they were setting themselves up for God's judgment:

If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment (1 Cor. 11:34, emphasis added).

Paul elaborated more specifically on that judgment in the preceding verses:
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world (1 Cor. 11:27-32).

The judgment/discipline that some Corinthians were suffering was weakness, sickness, and even premature death. Those judgments fell upon them not simply for the act of hogging all the food or getting drunk at the Lord's Supper. Those were but symptoms of a larger heart-issue, what Paul referred to as "not judging the body rightly" (1 Cor. 11:29).

Perhaps Paul was speaking of the need for each person to properly regard the body of Christ, the body of believers, lest anyone, as he said earlier, "despise the church of God" (11:22) – an attitude that was revealed, for example, when they ignored or mistreated the poor among them at the Lord's Supper. The very act of eating all the bread with no concern for hungry late-comers made a mockery of what is represented by partaking of the single loaf-our unity with Christ and each other (see 1 Cor. 10:16-17).

The only other possibility is that Paul was speaking of each person judging his own selfish fleshy nature, again, something that was revealed by the inconsiderate behaviour of many at the Lord's Supper.

Both interpretations yield the same conclusion: Partaking of the Lord's Supper-what is supposed to be a remembrance of Jesus' amazing love for us and an expression of our love for one another-can be deadly if done in "an unworthy manner" (11:27), that is, selfishly. Selfishness as a tacit denial of everything the Lord's Supper represents. Imagine a few people hogging all the food and drink at the Lord's Supper so that some of the "least of these" among Christ's brethren went home hungrier than when they arrived! When that happens, the sheep look no different than the goats. And we know how God feels about the goats! (If not, see Matt. 25:31-46).

Thus you can then understand why God disciplined such goat-like sheep at Corinth. Amazingly, even that was an act of His mercy, as Paul wrote, "When we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world" (11:32). The world will one day be condemned to hell, but God disciplines us to call us back to the narrow path to eternal life. We can avoid His judgment if we, as Paul wrote, "judged ourselves rightly" (1 Cor. 11:31). That means to confess and forsake our selfishness.

I hope you are beginning to see that the little ritual we rehearse in our churches is a far cry from what the Lord originally intended for His special supper of love. And I hope no one thinks I'm calling for nothing more than a relocation of the Lord's Supper from church buildings to homes, along with an increase in the portion sizes of the food! The greater issue is our love for one another.

Naturally, a joyous meal in a home is a better opportunity to express our love for each other than is a two-minute snack that we swallow while staring at the back of someone else's head.

But more importantly, sharing some of our food with poor believers has a whole lot more to do with loving our neighbors as ourselves (a fairly important commandment) than piously participating in a church ritual that is based mostly on Roman Catholic tradition.
I tend to think that no matter if we partake of the Lord's Supper as a snack in a church or as a full meal in a home, we are just as guilty as the Corinthians if we aren't caring for those in the body of Christ who have little or no food, even if they live in another nation.
What a mockery is made of the Lord's Supper by professing Christians who sanctimoniously sip the wine yet who could care less about their brothers and sisters in Christ who are starving. They, like the Corinthians, are eating and drinking judgment upon themselves, and unless they repent, they too will be condemned along with the world, just as Christ promised in Matthew 25:31-46.

Spontaneous Lord's Suppers

I think it is quite possible that many of us have been enjoying the Lord's Supper to some degree without even knowing it, as we naturally have been drawn to share meals with those with whom we feel our relationships are sacred and spiritual. This occurs naturally when people are born again. As Paul wrote, "Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another" (1 Thes. 4:9). And John wrote, "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14).

Love is part of the salvation package. Yet how many sincere pastors have discovered that many of the people in their churches have no genuine interest in meeting with other Christians in small spiritual groups, much less actually gathering in a home to share a meal together? Such people will attend a Sunday-morning show and even shake a few hands during the "fellowship minute." But they really don't love each other. As soon as they've put in their time, the goats are running for the parking lot.

Meanwhile, for the sheep, church often really begins after the benediction. They stand around for a long time talking, or head out for lunch where the real food is spiritual and the fellowship is filling. And of course, they don't do it because they feel obligated, but because they really want to. The early Christians did not gather for common meals because they read something in the book of Acts about Christians sharing common meals and wanted to "get back to the biblical pattern." They did it because they wanted to do it! This principal is true for so much of what is truly the work of God. Any pastor who tries to motivate the goats to act like sheep is wasting his time. Rather, he needs to proclaim the true gospel until the goats run or repent. Those who repent God will turn into sheep. Then they'll start acting like sheep, naturally (or perhaps I should say, supernaturally).

True Orthodoxy

Christian history indicates that it wasn't until the end of the second century that the bread and wine began to be separated from the meal of the Lord's Supper. By the end of the fourth century, the love feast was actually prohibited by the Council of Carthage. In the centuries that followed, the Lord's Supper evolved into a sombre and mystical ritual during which the bread and wine actually changed into Christ's body and blood-a holy sacrifice that could only be administered by an ordained priest in a sacred spot of a sacred building.

I've asked pastors all over the developing world, "What would be your reaction if you heard that some of your church members were meeting in a private home to celebrate the Lord's Supper, without you or some other ordained minister being present to officiate and to bless and distribute the elements?" Most of them confess that their gut reaction would be one of extreme alarm, because such a thing would seem to be heretical! I then usually chide them that they are really just Roman Catholic priests! They have been blindly following an unbiblical tradition that goes back more than 1,700 years! They may not believe that the bread and juice actually become Christ's literal body and blood, but just about everything else is the same.

The truth is, however, that the Lord's Supper as practiced by the early Christians never occurred in a special church building, but in homes. And it was never a little snack but always a full meal. And there was never an "ordained minister" present to "officiate," because there were no "ordained ministers" and Scripture leads us to believe that ordinary Christians enjoyed the Lord's Supper together. [See Note 2. - Ed.] Moreover, at the Lord's Supper, the poor were fed. And every Bible scholar who has written about the Lord's Supper as it was practiced by the early church will affirm these things (if you don't trust me or the Bible!).
Ed footnotes:
1. The Last Supper was indeed a full communal meal which Christ shared with his disciples the night before his death on the cross. This was not the Passover Seder as that special meal was on the evening of his crucifixion. See article 'Easter: myths and tradtional obscure amazing truths'.

2. As the text above states 'remembering the Lord's death' is, at one level, an ordinary everyday event but with a unique spiritual dynamic; and enjoyed as believers meet together to share a meal. It does not need a 'presiding clergyman'; indeed there were none in those days - nor does the Bible recognise such a role/responsibility. See article: 'The Westminster Confession; past help, present hindrance.'

3. David Shepherd is the founder and director of Heaven's Family with Shepherd Serve as part of that ministry. Having ministered in more than fifty of the world's nations, David has a special burden to equip pastors and Christian leaders in developing nations. To that end, he has authored a 500-page equipping manual titled The Disciple-Making Minister. He also carries a great concern for the purity of the gospel and the understanding of biblical stewardship. Two of his books, namely The Great Gospel Deception and Through the Needle's Eye, passionately address those important issues. The text of both books can also be read on our website.

David Servant, 29/02/2020

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Pawlo (Guest) 22/03/2012 15:06
This is without doubt the least understood yet most important part of the church. No one seems to really get it, hence the state of the church.

Did you write the above John ot is it from another source?
John Miller 22/03/2012 15:42
All my own work, Pawlo
Pawlo (Guest) 22/03/2012 17:29
Then with respect John I think that if everyone stuck to your understanding as you have posted, the church still would not move on.
John Miller 22/03/2012 17:45
Where do you want it to move?
John Miller 22/03/2012 17:50
I do not think that the interpretation of the Lord's Supper as an ordinary meal as suggested in the original article is correct. I think that it completely distorts the Apostle Paul's teaching regarding the Lord's Supper.
Editor 22/03/2012 18:34
John, I wouldn't use the term 'ordinary' on its own to describe the Lord's Supper. The sacrament is both ordinary and highly-spiritual. It is both social and spiritual: it speaks of both the vertical relationship between believers and the Lord the lateral relationship between fellow-believers.

Regarding "There are only two ordinances or sacraments". But surely we need to consider James 5:13 - 15?
See - http://www.christianstogether.net/Articles/297701/Christians_Together_in/Christian_Life/Christian_Survival_Resource/Reformation_Sacraments_Babies.aspx
Pawlo (Guest) 22/03/2012 18:44
"Where do you want it to move?"

Out of the trench it's been digging for the last 400 years!

John Miller 22/03/2012 20:00
I wouldn't bracket James 5:13-15 along with Christian Baptism and the Lord's Supper. They are two sacramental ceremonies in which all born-again Christians would normally participate. Scripture does not present them as optional or only to be experienced by a certain percentage of believers, whether large or small. What we have in James is entirely different. I believe that because it is part of the sacred canon of Scripture it is 100% valid but I have to confess I have never come across the practise. I think that I heard of it being done many years ago but I have no recollection of the details. James presents it as a possible manifestation of individual faith but we do not have any record in Scripture of it being done as far as I know. Paul did not take advantage of this remedy for his own bodily affliction.

As far as the use of the word "ordinary" I used it to describe the composition of the actual bread that the Lord would have used and by exrension the bread that we use. I never used it to describe the actual sacrament of the Lord's Supper. What the introductory article suggests is just that and I feel quite horrified that any Christian should describe the Lord's Supper as some kind of snack. I would describe such a comparison as irreverent and betraying a complete lack of understanding of the meaning of this most holy ceremony.

I do not understand Pawlo's last remarks about trench-digging over the last 400 years. It would be better to contribute in an intelligible manner.

I believe that the Lord's Supper was designed by our Lord Jesus in a way that the materially poorest and intellectually simplest saint of God could participate in it by utilising the most basic elements available to mankind in the normal course of events. The church at Corinth had distorted its simplicity, transforming it into a lavish meal that reflected their carnal state. Verses 20-22 show this very clearly and Paul condemns it. He immediately contrasts their fleshly excesses with the simple, basic instruction that he had received from the ascended Christ and had previously delivered to them.
Editor 23/03/2012 08:48
John, regarding the word 'snack' the term is the one used by a child in the story, and the author's use of it is to highlight a point. I don't think that he means any irreverance by it.

As we know the term 'sacrament' or 'ordinance' is a term of convenience which lacks agreed definition.
The article to which my previous post pertained stated:
"The definition of a ‘Sacrament’ (not a word which appears in the Bible) could be argued over. But to expand on the one given above it, a sacrament (sign) is a visible, tangible, physical act which embodies and illustrates an invisible spiritual truth and dynamic."

As far as it being a 'special' meal - in terms of 'frequency', there is a wide range of views and practises regarding how often it should be done: which illustrates the point that the Bible gives no clear direction other than 'as often as you do this'. And for rich and poor alike this makes no distinction.

You write:"They are two sacramental ceremonies in which all born-again Christians would normally participate."

Again the problem is the definition. And while Christians would 'normally' participate; they would also 'normally' participate in a host of other spiritual activities together (whether or not we call them 'sacraments').

Just because the Reformers used the criteria of defining a 'sacrament' to those Jesus spoke of so as tor to correct Roman Catholic abuses, doesn't mean that baptism and the Lord's Supper are the only 'sacraments' (again raising the question of definition).

So we need to look at what is 'biblical' rather than what is 'normal'; and question whether what is 'normal' is indeed biblical.
John Miller 23/03/2012 10:51

The scripture gives clear instruction regarding the necessity of Baptism and the Lord's Supper for all Christians. Quite obviously the observance of both depends on fellowship with at least one other believer. These two sacraments, and I make no apology for using the term, are universally recognised by Bible believing, born-again Christians who seek to walk in fellowship, not only with one another, but also with the Father and the Son. The Church of Rome has added many more. I have not commented on the frequency of the Supper nor upon the mannner in which Baptism is performed. I understand there are sincerely held differences of understanding of these issues.

My definition of sacrament is a specific physical and public act that God, in His word, requires us to do as a sign of our acceptance of His authority over us. In its meaning it must therefore be something that applies to all believers if it is physically possible for them to participate. It is limited to time since it is a reflection of inward faith. That is what I believe based on my understanding of scripture.

Regarding the supper, I am quite clear that there are no clear instructions in the word as to how often it should be celebrated, but the actual ceremony is clearly, simply and most importantly, authoritatively described by Paul in the chapter. Any deviation from his instructions, received from the Ascended Christ takes away from its authenticity.

In Corinth they had departed from the simple formula that Paul had previously set out for them and turned the Lord's Supper into a repast to satisfy physical hunger and glorify themselves by the extravagant provision of food in self-exaltation. He condemns that behaviour and reiterates his original instructions and the authority on which they are based.

I do not think that I can add to this. I will not argue about it and would rather leave the matter at that, except to say that to name an article "The Snack We Call Supper" about this most holy observance of Christian celebration of the love of Christ does not seem to me to accord it its Divinely given importance. I have tried to be very moderate in that last statement.
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