The Lordís Supper and the Assembly
I suppose there is not a biblical subject concerning which there is not controversy and a myriad of views. The Lordís Supper is certainly no exception. However, the diversity of views is usually the product of man inserting his emotional and often illogical thinking into the mix. At the outset or onset of this material, I remind us all that we are only allowed to think according to what is written (I Cor. 4: 6). My just opinions, emotions, and sense of right and wrong are all irrelevant in the face of divine revelation. Divided thinking relative to the Lordís Supper, its meaning and/or observance, is especially regrettable seeing how the Lordís Supper is meant, ideally, to be reflective of unity and sameness on the part of believers (cp I Cor. 10: 17, be sure to visit the questions and answers at the end of this material).
In this study, we shall briefly consider the biblical presentation of the Lordís Supper; a consideration of the primary text pertaining to the memorial meal; some manifest perversions of the commemorative meal; the act and state of assembling; manís exorbitant views, which encourage some of the error associated with the Lordís Supper; the shut in practice; and the Last Rites.
Concerning Jesus it was said: "And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the Kingdom of God shall come. And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, this is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, this cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you" (Luke 22: 17-20).
Synonyms or words denoting the same memorial are: "Lord's Supper" (I Cor. 11: 20), "communion" (I Cor. 10: 16, 17, some observe that "communion," Greek koinonia, meaning fellowship, is technically not used as a proper noun), "breaking bread" (Acts 2: 42), 20: 7), and Lord's table" (I Cor. 11: 21). The noun "eucharist" is derived from the Greek eucharistia, gave thanks (Matt. 26: 27). However, eucharist was not used for the Lord's Supper until the Second Century (after inspiration ended). The most concentrated teaching pertaining to the Lordís table resides in I Corinthians 11: 23-30:
"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. 30: For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep."
It is apparent from this passage that the Lord's Supper is essentially a proclamation. It proclaims Christ, he did live (vs. 24), he "vicariously" died (vs. 24), and he is coming again (vs. 26). The memorial proclaims the establishment of the Kingdom (Luke 22: 29, 30) and the New Testament (Matt. 26: 28, Heb. 9: 16, 17). In retrospection, we remember Jesus, his suffering, death, and triumph over the grave. In introspection, we examine ourselves (I Cor. 11: 28), and prospectively, we look forward to Jesus' second coming in judgment (I Cor. 11: 24, 25, 26). The Lord's Supper is for Christians, not the world, I might also inject (I Cor. 11: 23-26).
One of the first divisive doctrines regarding the Lordís table was transubstantiation (the bread and blood become the actual body and blood of Jesus) and was first significantly taught in a sermon by Hildebert in 1134 A.D. Transubstantiation, however, was not officially accepted by the Catholic Church until 1215 A.D. It is clear to the serious Bible student, though, that the bread and fruit of the vine, the elements Jesus used, stand for or, better stated, cause us to remember the sacrificial body and blood of Jesus (cf. Gal. 4: 24, 25). It is also clear the fruit of the vine was unfermented, corresponding to the unleavened bread (bread free of impurities, Prov. 23: 31). The one cup doctrine; partaking on another day other than the Lordís Day; the so called no second serving controversy; "close" versus "open" communion, etc. have needlessly troubled Godís people. Another point of friction is whether or not the Lordís Supper is limited to the assembly of the saints or if the supper may be partaken of outside the assembly.
In actuality, whether or not a Christian may partake outside the assembly is not a new controversy. Jesus' memorial is to be observed in the Kingdom (Luke 22: 29, 30, the Kingdom came, Col. 1: 13, Acts 2: 42, 20: 7, I Cor. 11: 23 ff.). The church partakes, not as a collective action, as such, but distributively - the Lord's table is observed in the assembly but on an individual level or manner (I Cor. 11: 28). We sometimes refer to the action as distributive action performed in the aggregate. Such language is born out of necessity due to the fact that all we read about the memorial is in the setting of the assembly of the local church; yet great stress is placed on the individual partaking (I Cor. 11: 28). The individual is to "examine himself," but the individual action is observed in the environs of the assembly. Hence, the Lordís Supper is not purely and exclusively collective action; neither is it technically pure individual action, that is, action performed totally detached from the local church.
It is of fundamental importance that we mention that some attach to the Lordís Supper meaning and design that is not found in the scriptures and in so doing, arrive at an aberrant view relative to the importance of the Supper. I mention this not wanting to de-emphasize the importance of the Lordís table. Consider the following quotation (taken from, "The Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament"):
"ÖAll you have to do is turn on the news to discover why prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is so desperately needed. Pope John Paul II said in a Eucharistic Congress in 1993, Ďthe surest and the most effective way of establishing peace on the face of the earth is through the great power of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.í Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, ĎIf people spent an hour a week in Eucharistic adoration, abortion would be ended.í ĎThe power of the Eucharist to change hearts is documented around the world in places where the Eucharist is adored" (Darcy Bunn).
There are not a few churches of Christ that have been in a quandary relative to when to have the Lordís Supper, at the beginning or the end of the Sunday service. The problem has been a number ostensibly observe the Supper before the preaching and then immediately remove themselves from the assembly. I have personally questioned a few brethren who thus acted to have them tell me: "The thing that really matters in the Lordís Day worship is the Lordís Supper. If I can partake of the Supper, this is all I need!" I know of some churches that have offered a sort of cantering service in which they take the Supper to "shut ins." Some have a "Lordís Supper Ministry" and take the elements to nursing homes, etc. indiscriminately offering it to all present.
Most laboring under the misguided view of the design of the meal use statements made by Jesus to sanction their exaggerated view. Jesus did make such statements as:
"52: The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? 53: Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. 54: Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. 55: For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56: He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him" (John 6.)
I suggest that Jesus is not directly or peculiarly referring to the Lordís Supper in John chapter six. What Jesus means, I am persuaded, is that His followers must totally imbibe Him without reservation. It is for certain that Jesus is not teaching in John 6 that partaking of the meal exclusively or singularly is of comparative significance.
While I have on a number of occasions heard, "If I can just have the Lordís Supper, this is all that really matters," I have never heard, "If I can just contribute of my means on the Lordís Day or sing reciprocal songs of praise, this is all I need (I am not advocating such). I acknowledge that the Lordís Supper is the hub, if you please, of Lordís Day worship, notwithstanding, the exaggerated view exists (cp. Acts 20: 7). On perhaps a lower gradational scale, the view of shut ins or the sick partaking at home of the meal has been influenced.
I recall a young preacher in the first few months of his first local, full time work being approached by one in charge of the "Lordís Supper Ministry" and told, "You must come with me to take the supper to various people and places, this is part of your work here!" Needless to say, not a scintilla was mentioned of such a duty in the original discussion of the work expected out of the preacher. The young man so wanted "peace" that he reluctantly agreed to go. Upon arriving at the first "shut in" location, the supper was offered and much effort was extended to keep the dogs from the unleavened bread. The preacher then said: "We will now sing some songs, pray, have a sermon, and you can give of your means." The "Lordís Supper Ministry Administrator" looked in astonishment at the brash young preacher and at the same time, the "shut ins" said: "You do not have to come back again." The Lordís Supper Ministry was dropped, never to be resurrected (I was the brash young preacher and I do not advocate what I mentioned to the "shut ins.")
Involved in the inflated view of the Lordís Supper is the Catholic practice called the "Last Rites." The so called "last rites" consists of anointing, penance, and what the Catholics call the Eucharist or "Lordís Supper." It is believed that by offering the "Eucharist" that if the dying person has any unforgiven sins, the "Meal" will result in his forgiveness. How is this so, you ask? "The Eucharist is a special avenue of grace providing special forgiveness opportunities," it is explained.
As heretofore mentioned, the matter of partaking at home, in a nursing home, in a hospital, etc. of the Lordís Supper is not a new controversy.
Even in the denominational world, controversy has existed. In the Reformed Churches there has been conflict. Dr. H. Bouwman wrote in Gereformeerd Kerkrecht (Reformed Church Polity), Vol. II, Pp. 394 ff., that Calvin offered the sacrament to the sick at their homes in Straszbourg, but that this was not the custom in Geneva.
Reformed Churches in England, Scotland, Poland and Hungary were on the side of Calvin. But the churches in France and Holland were not. The General Synod of Middelburg, 1581addressed this question whether the Lord's Supper could be administered to the sick at their homes, etc. " The answer was, "No; the sacraments shall not be administered except in the normal gathering, at the place where the congregation ordinarily meets together." (Question 52). As a practicing amateur historian, I understand there was ambivalence and caprice relative to providing the Meal for shut ins and also the Mass concept, I only site these historic instances to illustrate differences relative to the Lordís Supper and the assembly issue.
Dr. F.L. Ruthers, the teacher of Reformed Church Polity in the Reformed Churches of the Doleantie wrote about the "Lordís Supper" and assembly matter in his Kerkelijke Adviezen (Advice for Church Life,, Vol. II, p. 184 ff). He stated "Ö the celebration of the Holy Supper privately at home by the sick is not good and should not happen; neither should this celebration take place at conferences. It belongs in the worship service of the congregation."
Perhaps the most historic cogent of teaching on this Lordís Supper and the assembly controversy and also teaching exemplifying the involved rational is John Calvinís following (again, I do not offer such as "proof," one way or the other, I only reference it to historically illustrate the controversy): "I say that private masses are diametrically opposed to Christ's institution, and are for that reason an impious profaning of the Sacred Supper. For what has the Lord bidden us? Is it not to take and divide among us? Luke 22:17. What kind of observance of the command does Paul teach? Is it not the breaking of bread, which is the communion of body and blood? I Corinthians 10:16. When, therefore, one person receives it without sharing, what similarity is there? But that one man, they say, does it in the name of the whole church. By what command? Is this not openly to mock God, when one person privately seizes for himself what ought to have been done only among many? But because Christ's and Paul's words are clear enough, we may briefly conclude that wherever there is not this breaking of bread for the communion of believers, it is not the Lord's Supper, but a false and preposterous imitation of it. But a false imitation is a corruption" (Book IV, Ch. XVIII, 8, Institutes of the Christian Religion ,Translation of Ford Lewis Battles, edited by John T. McNeill, p. 1436, referenced by Professer J. Geertsema).
In an effort, I believe, to avoid some of the manifest what some term "ecclesiasticism" associated in denominational teaching regarding the "Lordís Supper," some brethren have migrated to the opposite extreme, totally ignoring the assembly setting of the Lordís Supper as seen in the scriptures. To illustrate this extreme, back in the seventies and eighties faithful preachers were battling the impetus of some insisting on having the Lordís Supper in a totally human institution setting, such as a secular school. Some have suggested that the more human institutions we have that are now providing worship and "gospel meetings," it shall be just a matter of time before they will also provide the Lordís Supper.
The thinking of the advocates for "private communion" is alarming. "It is true that the only time we find detailed teaching about the Lordís Supper the Supper is observed in the assembly of the local church. However, no where do the scriptures teach, ĎThou shall not have the Supper outside of the assembly."
By employing the above logic we can justify many practices that brethren have heretofore correctly taught are wrong. For instance, "We know baptism is immersion, but no where do the scriptures say, Ďthou shall not practice pouring." Indeed, baptism is immersion (cp. Rom. 6: 3, 4). When the scriptures specify, all that is of a different nature is immediately excluded (cp. Heb. 7: 14).
Every departure from what is observed in the scriptures is more than a failure to duplicate, if you will, in a given instance; every departure involves a perversion of Bible authority. "Brother Martin," I have been told, "let up on coming down so hard on those who bind the covering on the woman for her salvation. After all, we have agreed to disagree on this issue!" Such thinking regarding the covering matters as well as marriage, divorce, and marriage to another, ad infinitum, have greatly influenced the unity-in-diversity movement among churches of Christ (our version of the Ecumenical Movement).
The Christians at Troas did not just happen to partake on the Lord's Day, it was deliberate and the observance involved the assembly circumstance. The historian thus wrote, "7: And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break breadÖ (Acts 20: 6, 7). "Came together" is from the Greek, sunegmenon, "Öhaving been assembled" or "Öas we were assembled," Marshall in the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament). The first part of sunegmenon "sun," literally means "together" compare I Corinthians 11: 17). The circumstance of the Lordís Supper was, "Öwhen ye come together in the church" (I Cor. 11: 18). It was when, "Öye come together therefore into one placeÖ" (I Cor. 11: 20). Again, this coming together in which circumstance the Lordís Supper was to be observed was not just happenstance, but rather was what they were to do. The "together" has allusion to the church, the church at Corinth, a group of believers with geographic location and a meeting "place," a "together" with a treasury, etc. (I Cor. 1: 2, 11: 20, 16: 1, 2). They were not just a group of detached, free lance, traveling Christians on the Lordís Day, having the fruit of the vine and unleavened bread, who decide to meet to themselves for the Lordís Supper.
Paulís example while at Troas pertaining to the observance of the Lordís Supper lends itself to the assembly observance. After Paul and his company arrived at Troas, "we abode seven days" (Acts 20: 6). Consider the very next verse: "7: And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight."
In closing, consider Paulís teaching to the church at Corinth:
"16: The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion ("fellowship," dm) of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion ("fellowship," dm) 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).
The fellowship (joint participation and acceptance) thus experienced in terms of Christians one with another is especially seen as Christians come together or assemble on the Lordís Day to remember the Lord in His special commemorative meal. This fellowship is de-emphasized, to say the least, as one Christian in private partakes.
Some questions those who advocate the private as opposed to assembly observance of the meal need to ask themselves are, "Is a Christian who is physically unable to engage in the meal in the assembly obligated to privately partake? Is he also under command to privately partake in the other acts of worship such as singing, etc. (Eph. 5: 19)? If a shut in does not privately partake of the meal, should he be viewed as unfaithful and perhaps a subject of church discipline (withdrawal, 2 Thes. 3: 6)? Are those who do not advocate the private partaking false teachers? Does the private partaking position, lastly, rest on the silence of the scriptures as opposed to what is taught and how sound and tenable do we view such a position regarding other subjects such as mechanical music in worship, etc.?
I know from personal observation that the partaking out of the assembly stance has on occasion encouraged minimal effort to attend service. In my view and in all probability, a Christian who is physically unable to attend is in no mental shape to partake of the memorial meal. Emphasis should be placed on attempting to provide the means to be present in the assembly rather than encouraging, even enabling a private partaking. Let me close by saying that we are not insensitive to the Christian who is truly unable to attend. However, God does not hold his people responsible for failing to do what they are physically unable to do, namely, attend (cp. Acts 20: 7, Heb. 10: 25). Also, one who is truly unable to attend and feels they are able to privately partake of the meal, should not create a public issue, respecting the sensitivities, convictions, etc. of others who simply teach what is observed in scripture. Hence, the private partaking controversy should not even exist or become a local church problem.
In an effort to add clarity and more detail, I submit for your consideration the following questions and answers relative to the private partaking situation:
Question: If you contend that necessary inference remains a valid method of establishing Bible authority, must you not agree that the out-of-the-assembly partaking is authorized, based on the journeys of the apostles and them being away from a local church assembly on the Lordís Day?
Answer:Necessary implication is involved in arriving at a thus-saith-the-Lord (cp. Matt. 22: 32). However, in the immediately above, a matter is first assumed and then presented as documented fact. How do we dialectically arrive at they had to partake away from the assembly of the local church? We have provided the example of one instance of travel in which Paul and company appeared to have waited seven days until the First Day of the week in order to assemble with the church at Troas and partake of the memorial meal (Acts 20: 6, 7). Rather than confirm the out-of-the-assembly observance, the example tends to further confirm the situation of the assembly.
Question:Do you not understand that the apostles, for instance, as they traveled did worship publicly and they in such a circumstance constituted an assembly (cp. Acts 16: 25).
Answer:As we noticed in the material on the private observance of the meal, the examples present the assembly involving a local church, the church at Corinth and Troas, and these numbers situation involved more than just some Christians loosely assembling outside the confines of a local church (Acts 20; I Cor. 10, 11).
Question: Does not your view of the assembly cause the local church to stand between the Christian and the Lordís Supper?
Answer: Those who would ask the immediately above question are usually the ones who would label men who teach as I do as advocating "ecclesiasticism." Here is an example of a matter some would say constitutes proving too much and, thus, proving nothing at all. For instance, the Christian is taught not to forsake the assembling together and to do so is to sin willfully and forfeit the sacrifice of Jesus for remission of sin (Heb. 10: 25ff.). Using the logic and rational making up this question to disprove the presence of the assembly, I could also reason that to teach the Christian is to be a member of a local church is presenting a doctrine that causes the church to stand between the Christian and salvation.
Question: Do not you honestly think that your view of the Lordís Supper in the assembly amounts to rank Catholicism and their practices, even regarding the Mass, etc.?
Answer: I suppose some may really equate what I have herein taught with Catholicism. However, I view such an association as a far stretch, prejudicial, and invalid.
Question:Does not your teaching necessarily involve a number of Christians such as Aquilla and Priscilla in sin?
Answer:I suppose the above question alludes to Acts 18: 26 and the view that Aquilla and Priscilla were "free lance" Christians, having no connection with a local church. Hence, Aquilla and Priscilla are considered proof of partaking of the meal outside-the-assembly. At the time of Acts 18: 26, Aquilla and Priscilla were located in Ephesus and constituted part of the nucleus of the local church in Ephesus (Acts 18: 18ff., cp. Rom. 16: 5). One concern that I have regarding the out-of-the-assembly doctrine is that it often tends to play down in general involvement with the local church.
Question:Are you really prepared to deny a Christian the Lordís Supper?
Answer:All any of us can do is teach and attempt to practice what is presented and exemplified in scripture. While the following example is not a true parallel with what most advocate, I present it to illustrate a point. I received a call one Sunday afternoon requesting, almost demanding that I meet them at the church building and serve them the Lordís Supper. I told them that we would be meeting or assembling in about an hour and they could make their request known at that time. "We do not want to waste an hour in waiting, we are traveling and have a goal in mind regarding our destination tonight." I replied, "It seems to me, as I understand your situation, that you are not putting the Lord first and perhaps have an exaggerated view of the meal." Their reply was: "Sir, you are denying us the Lordís Supper, woe unto you!" Their final comment was, "We will find a more cooperative preacher down the road!"
Question:Are you ready to cause division over your teaching against the private observance?
Answer:I teach what I believe to be the truth on every subject, including the presence of the assembly in the observance of the meal. If such causes division, then so be it (cp. John 10: 19). However, I believe if I did believe in the private observance, I could also understand and respect the convictions of those who believe in the assembly. As a result, I might partake privately, but I would not publicly push the matter. After all, "private" is private and need not be made public. Some, not all, seem to want this private matter to become a public disturbance. "Brother Martin, you will partake in the private situation (serve and assist) and you will at least not publicly teach against it," I was once told. Again, as a rule division occurs not over what is taught, but over what is not taught or seen in the scriptures. We know Christians partake in the assembly, why cannot we leave it at that?
Question:Are you really opposed to the church serving the Lordís Supper?
Answer:Perhaps this question is generated by my reference to a church having a "Lordís Supper Ministry" and taking it to nursing homes, etc. and indiscrimately serving it (Christians and non-Christians). Yes, I am opposed to such based on the lack of authority for its practice and the misunderstanding of the design and nature of the meal. I suppose out of this answer could come the anticipated charge, "You believe in policing the supper!" Based on I Corinthians 11, I do not believe it is the responsibility of the local church to police the meal, but at the same time we should not go out of our way to abuse and misuse the meal.
Question:Why did you mention a human institution serving the Lordís Supper, is not such prejudicial on your part?
Answer:It is contended that when the Christian partakes of the Lordís table, all else is irrelevant, there is obliviousness pertaining to the external circumstances. If such is so, then why cannot a human institution provide the meal? You see, arguing for the private observance scenario opens the door to many other practices.
Question:Does not your teaching about the assembly present in the event of the Lordís Supper contradict Jesusí teaching in John 4?
Answer:Jesus does teach that the matter of place in the case of the Samaritan and Jewish designations for public worship are inconsequential in the case of public worship in this final dispensation (John 4: 21ff.). However, Jesus does stipulate that the worship must be in "spirit and in truth" (John 4: 24). It seems to me to be a considerable leap in logic to reason that based on Jesusí specific teaching about place, that all place or location considerations are non-existant. The assembly is static in the examples seen in the scriptures, there is also involved teaching relative to the commemorative meal that appears to have special application to the assembly aspect (I Cor. 10, 11, Acts 20: 6, 7). We are prohibited adding or taking away from scripture and the silence of the scriptures is also prohibitive (Heb. 7: 14, nothing is said about any place other than the assembly). Therefore, I do not believe we are allowed to take teaching that, in the first place, is not directly pertaining to the Lordís Supper and use the teaching to authorize privately partaking of the meal.
Question:Other than the reasons you have provided, why do you think the Lordís Supper would be limited to the assembly?
Answer:When it comes to reasons on my part as to why a matter is thus or so, I am at a disadvantage. It would seem to me, though, that a factor would be atmosphere. Taking the meal to shut ins can present all sort of environmental conditions, less than ideal, I might add. There is a certain soleminity normally characteristic of the assembly, which is needed for the reverent partaking.
Question:How would you class a local church that has a Lordís Supper Ministry, sound or unsound?
Answer:The "Lordís Supper Ministry" as I have seen it is an unscriptural practice. As a rule, when a church disrespects authority in one area, they will also disregard it in other areas. If I had a chance to work with such a church, I would attempt to teach them while avoiding direct participation, as I have done in the past. However, I am sure that the "time" element would at some point come into play.
Question:Would you advocate a church withdrawing from a member who privately partakes of the meal?
Answer:In order to definitively answer this question, I would need more information. If a member stays home when they are able to attend, such could, if they do not repent, eventuate in their withdrawal (2 Thes. 3: 6).
Question:How about a family that privately partakes of the Lordís table?
Answer:Again, I would need more information to comment. Perhaps, for instance, the family meeting in their house constitutes a local church, intent, treasury, etc. In this case, partaking would be the assembly situation.
Question:What are your thoughts regarding a group of brethren going on a hunting trip or members getting together and organizing a ten day cruse, taking unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine with them?
Answer: I have moved to more than one work where such was common. I preached on the practice and, as far as I recall and know, all such practices ceased. I recall while doing local work in East Texas, a well known preacher clan planned on meeting a few miles from where I preached. "Brother Martin, we forgot to bring the makings for the Lordís Supper, how about us swinging by and borrowing some from the church?" My answer was, "We meet atÖand you are welcome to be present Sunday and partake with us in the assembly." I later learned that these preachers had been doing this for years and we were the first to refuse to have a part in such a practice. Some of these same men later became arch enemies as they now advocate private institutions serving collectively (own oversight, treasury, etc.) for the preaching of the gospel and gospel meetings. Perhaps their view of the Lordís Supper in a setting other than the local church was just the beginning of their now full grown institutional view.