The Lord's Supper, the "Second Serving" Controversy


     We read in Matthew 26: 17-29, Mark 14: 12-25, and Luke 22: 7-30 of the instituting of the greatest memorial the world has ever known, the Lord's Supper. Jesus introduced his spiritual feast at the time of the Jewish Passover. Concerning the Passover we read:

     "The Passover was the annual Hebrew festival on the evening of the 14th day of the month of Nisan, as it was called in later times. It was followed by, and closely connected with, a seven days' festival of…unleavened bread, to which the name Passover was also applied by extension. Both were distinctly connected with the Exodus, which, according to tradition, they commemorate; the Passover being an imitation of the last meal in Egypt, eaten in preparation for the journey, while Jehovah passing over the houses of the Hebrews, was slaying the firstborn of Egypt" (Ex. 12: 12f. 13: 2, 12ff.)" (The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. 4, pg. 2256.)

     Jesus assigned a new spiritual meaning to the "unleavened bread" and "wine" of the Passover. These emblems would come to symbolize his body and blood. When the particulars of Jesus' memorial and the Passover are understood, there is a perfect type and anti-type circumstance. Paul made plain the type/anti-type situation evident when he wrote:

     "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us" (I Cor. 5: 7).

     In the true type/anti-type circumstance, the anti-type is always superior to the type. Hence, Christ is the fulfillment of the sacrificial lamb offered by the Jew. Please consider what the scriptures say about the observance of the Lord's Supper:

     "20: When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. 21: For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. 22: What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. 23: For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25: After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. 26: For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.27: Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28: But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29: For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body" (I Cor. 11).

    The Lord's Memorial for his Kingdom and people. There is absolutely no question regarding the permanent placement of the Lord's table in his Kingdom (Lk. 22: 29, 30). The "breaking of bread," a phrase applied to the Lord's Supper, was a regular and core feature of the assembling of first century Christians on the Lord's Day (Acts 2: 42, 20: 7). One manifest design of the memorial is the centrality of Christ, the essence of Christianity (I Cor. 11: 24). The observance also designedly has the effect of unifying the followers of Jesus. Paul wrote:

     "16: The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?  17: For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread" (I Cor. 10).

     At the time of the writing of the above to the church at Corinth, Paul was approximately 275 miles away in Ephesus, separated by the Aegean Sea (cp. I Cor. 16: 8, 19). Notwithstanding, Paul spoke to the Corinthians in terms of "we bless," "we break," "we being many are one bread," and "and one body." He explained that, "…we are all partakers of that one bread." It is tragic that the very act that is to be unifying has become a source of fragmentation and division. I make this statement in view of all the divergent views regarding the event and meaning of the Lord's Supper. A number of these views have in the past and even presently trouble God's people. Let us briefly mention some of these varying positions.

     The Lord's Supper remits sin. There are members of the body of Christ who believe that the memorial has some efficacy in the remitting of sin. This misconception is based both on Catholic teaching and a misunderstanding of a statement made by the Lord. "If a person approached it (communion, dm), in good faith, forgetting that he was in mortal sin…with attrition, the sacrament would restore him to grace….arousing love of God, it does directly remit venial sins for which one is sorry," write Catholics (New Catholic Ency., Vol. 5, pg. 607). Thus, some are seen thinking, "If I can just have communion Sunday, everything will be just fine." When Jesus speaks of "eating his flesh" and "drinking his blood," Jesus is teaching that we must spiritually imbibe him (Jn. 6: 53-56, see 51). While observing his memorial is part of the imbibing, Jesus' teaching is spiritual and not meant to be understood that Christians actually contact Jesus' sin remitting blood.

     The one cup emphasis. Some believe the language, "And he took the cup…" to in a special way emphasize one container as opposed to multiple containers. Hence, they teach that there must be one container. However, Jesus goes on in the same verse to say, "Drink ye all of it." Hence, the emphasis is on the contained and not the container. Involved in the Passover, there were believed to be as many as five different cups.

     Close communion. The doctrine of "close communion" originated among Baptists. They believed the "Lord's Supper" was only for those in good standing among them and not for those who advocated, practiced, or experienced sprinkling.

     Closed communion. This view limits the Lord's Supper to only those members of the same local church. In this case, a Christian visiting would not be allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper (cp. Acts 20: 6, 7).

     Open communion. The "open communion" controversy began when some advocated allowing those who taught sprinkling to partake with them. Open communion today would be the general practice of encouraging all regardless of doctrinal or moral standing to partake. This teaching extends "unity" where there is no basis for biblical unity (Eph. 4: 3ff., I Jn. 1: 7).

     Transubstantiation. Again, the Catholic Church is responsible for this aberrant and divisive view. It is believed by those who hold the doctrine of transubstantiation that the elements, the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine, are actually changed into the body and blood of Jesus. They fail to appreciate figurative language (cp. Gal. 4: 25, 24).

     The doctrine of consubstantiation. This Catholic teaching involves a circumstance in which the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine exists along side or with the actual body and blood of Jesus. This is interesting since Christians are forbidden to consume blood (Acts 15: 29).

     The practice of substitution. We have seen that the elements of the Lord's Supper were those used in the Jewish Passover, unleavened bread and fruit of the vine. Jesus explicitly incorporated these emblems in his memorial and shows that for which they stand, his body and blood (Matt. 26: 26-29). Notwithstanding, some arrogantly substitute these elements. "Water is commonly used instead of wine in the Sacramental services of the church," wrote a Mormon authority (Doctrines and Covenants, Sec. 27, pg. 40).

     Fermented juice. I recall as a child in the Baptist Church observing a controversy regarding their use of fermented drink for the "Lord's Supper." There was a member who was an alcoholic and partaking of the fermented juice would excite a drinking bout on his part. They finally agreed to use a less fermented brand of wine. It is apparent, though, that the Jew did not use strong drink for their Passover observance (Prov. 23: 31). Jesus simply refers to the element as the "fruit of the vine."

     Time argument matters. Some insist that the early church observed Hebrew time (sunset to sunset); some Greek (sunrise to sunrise); and not Roman time (midnight to midnight, our time). Hence, if a church partakes of the Lord's Supper on Sunday past sundown, it is said that they have sinned. In view of Acts 20: 7, it appears most Christians were observing the time standard where they lived and that was Roman time.

     The perverted teaching of Radical Restoration. F. LaGard Smith's Radical Restoration doctrine that teaches the Lord's Supper involves a common meal consisting of common food that suddenly turns into the Lord's Supper is a source of division. Smith misunderstood I Corinthians 11: 20ff. and, consequently, profanes the Lord's Supper.

     The "second serving" teaching. Some are contending that if the Lord's Supper is offered Sunday night to any not able to be present at the morning service that this is a "second serving" and wrong. Some hold that it may be offered providing all partake, even those who partook that morning. "The partaking is an act of simultaneity," they explain, and to partake by time separation is unscriptural." It is this last problematic teaching that we especially want to address. The so-called "second serving" doctrine is presently dividing some churches of Christ. Is such division justified and necessary?

     The Passover and the Lord's Supper, a comparison. I do not believe one has a total understanding of the institution Jesus introduced at the last supper without understanding the Passover observance. There are many, I submit, similarities.

     Both the Jewish Passover and the Lord's Supper are God's appointments for the Jew, in the case of the Passover, and the Christian, in the case of the Lord's Supper (Ex. 12: 14; Matt. 26: 29).

     Both the Passover and Jesus' spiritual feast are memorials (Ex. 12: 14; I Cor. 11: 25). The Jew remembered his liberation from bondage and the Christian remembers Jesus, his spiritual liberation.

     The unleavened bread and fruit of the vine were present and served as the key elements for both the Passover and the Lord's table (Ex. 12: 8; Matt. 26: 26, 27).

     These two institutions were designed for God's peculiar people, the Jews and Christians, respectively (Deut. 16: 5; Lk. 22: 29, 30).

     Both feasts stressed the absence of sin and impurity (Num. 9: 6; I Cor. 5: 7).

     Both the Passover and the Lord's Supper depended on the shedding of blood, animal blood and Jesus' own blood, respectively (Ex. 12: 7; Matt. 26: 28).

     The Passover and Jesus' observance both have a specified time for their observance (Ex. 12: 3; Acts 20: 7). The Jew would not have even thought about randomly observing the Passover and the early Christians partook of the Lord's memorial on a designated day (Acts 20: 7).

     Both the Passover and the Lord's Memorial involve a nation, the Jewish and Christians. Upon closer examination, they both generally involve distributive action (Ex. 12: 3, 4; I Cor. 10: 16, 17, 11: 18ff.).

     Regarding the Passover and Jesus spiritual feast, there is, generally speaking, what we call "same time action" (Ex. 12: 3, 4-7; Lk. 22: 17). However, this "same time action" is not truly simultaneity action. One place I preached was a large church that took about ten minutes to serve each element from the first person on the front pew to the last person on the back pew. Hence, there was a time period of ten minutes between the first and last partaker.

     Regarding the Passover, there was specific provision to allow those who were unable to attend the Passover at the regular time to attend one month later. Consider the provision:

     "9: And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 10: Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover unto the LORD. 11: The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs" (Num. 9).

     There are certain known and static matters involving the Lord's Supper concerning which man has no say or choice. For instance, the day has been stipulated as the Lord's Day, thus, this is the only day on which Christians may assemble to break bread (Acts 20: 7). The elements have been settled by God, unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine or grape juice (Matt. 26: 26ff.). The place has also been determined, the assembly of the saints (I Cor. 11: 18ff.). The Lord's Supper is in the assembly, but the action is distributive and individual. Many churches of Christ have elected to make the most use out of the Lord's Day and meet twice for worship. It is in this instance that the matter of the church making provision for those who were unable to be present that morning to partake of the Lord's table becomes an issue to some. The common heard objections are:

     "The scriptures do not teach a second serving." In the first place, who said this is a "second serving"? In most churches those present Sunday night who were hampered Sunday morning only partake and it is their only partaking, not a "second serving." The church is simply making provision for these Christians to comply with Acts 20: 7.

     "If one partakes Sunday night, all must partake at the same time." This argument is based on required simultaneity. As seen, however, the action for the Lord's Supper is not true simultaneity action. True same time action would involve each and all Christians at the precise same point in time partaking. Contributing into the treasury is also distributive action that takes place in the assembly (I Cor. 16: 1, 2). Yet, those who are saying that all Christians must partake of the Lord's Supper Sunday night, even those who partook Sunday morning do not say that all Christians must give into the treasury, even those who gave Sunday morning. Such action would constitute a second serving and giving. While I do not experience any need to partake twice or give twice on the Lord's Day, I would not create an issue over any who did desire to do this. By the same token, I should not be told that I must partake twice.

     "The church that is providing for those unable to attend the morning service to partake of the Lord's Supper Sunday night is engaging in a questionable practice." Let us admit that the ideal circumstance is for each and every member to be present at the same assembly. However, we must face reality. In forty years of preaching for churches, I have seen very few times when each and every member was present at the morning service. Are we prepared to say, "If you are unable to partake at the morning service, then you have just missed out"? I am not.

     "You are binding the Old Testament if you use the Numbers 9 provision relative to the Jewish Passover." The point is, since the Lord's Supper having had its inception in the Passover, the many attendant similarities between the Passover and the Lord's Memorial, and especially in view of the express provision to allow those who could not partake of the Passover at the regular time to be able to partake at another time, why is it so unreasonable to use this information regarding assembled Christians in a second assembly on the Lord's Day making provision for their brethren who were unable to be present that morning? They, those desiring to partake Sunday night, are observing the right day, the correct elements, and the designated place, the assembly. No, there is no simultaneity action in the provision circumstance, but neither is there simultaneity action in the morning assembly.

     Remember Paul's statement to the Christians at Corinth regarding how they (he and they) partook of the Lord's blood and body (I Cor. 10: 16, 17)? They partook together even though there was a distance of about 275 miles and the Aegean Sea physically separating them.

     Many of the problems and division surrounding the Lord's Memorial are introduced and experienced when we journey to areas in addition to the known static truths seen above. When man starts to focus and bind regarding the number of containers, whether or not those serving the bread break it before it is passed out; or insisting on "simultaneity action" in addition to distributive, individual action in the assembly, the wrong emphasis surfaces. Our attention is not to be on such exacting matters, I am convinced, but on Him who loved us and died for us. It is in the assembly setting that each Christian remembers Jesus' suffering and anticipates the Second Advent. Wrangling over matters of the policing of the Supper and Jewish as oppose to Roman time distract from the deep spiritual meaning of the Memorial.

     I would prefer the ideal setting where all Christians come together at the same time to partake of this special remembrance of Jesus (cp. I Cor. 14: 23). If there is one who is simply "laying out" Sunday morning and then attends Sunday night for the Supper, the elders need to rebuke him. Care should be taken to not provide a wrong impression regarding encouraging those who are not Christians to partake and the solemnity of the feast must always be maintained. Based on what we have seen, however, I deem it sad and unwarranted when emphasis is taken away from this Great Memorial and even division is effected in a local church because the church is providing the Supper setting for those unable to attend the morning service. Do I think I have all the answers for those partaking Sunday night? No, I do not. Notwithstanding, I have more concern with telling those legitimately hindered that they cannot partake Sunday night. "Just meet once on Sunday and eliminate the problem," some say. I, again, have more problems with not making use of the opportunity to meet Sunday night just so the "second serving" issue does not arise than I do with seeing a local church provide the circumstance for partaking during the evening service. Besides, having the arrangement for morning or evening observance means that more Christians have the ability to partake on the Lord's Day. The attitude, "I made it Sunday morning and I resent having to wait on others to partake Sunday night," is not a proper attitude.

     Regarding the day, elements, place, and individual manner of observance, we must not yield to any other practice. However, regarding providing the means for those unable to attend the morning service, we need to exercise love, consideration, and patience.  (Related reading would be, "The Lord's Supper , "Questions and Answers Relative to the 'Second Serving' Issue"  Be sure to also read, "Acts 20: 7, an Important Verse")  (Another pertinent article is, "I Corinthians 11: 20-22, 33, 34, What Were They Doing?")