Roman Catholicism and The Lord’s Supper – Pt. 2

Jones Deerstand picOne of the best resources on the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the early church is the book by John Mark Hicks, Come to the Table.  It is certainly a must read for anyone who wants to research the topic.  Some of the information in this blog can be credited to that source.

Come-to-the-TableIn the example of the observance of the Lord’s Supper in the gospels, we find the  following: (a) people reclined around one table (Matt 26:20);  (b) it was done in the upper room (Luke 21:12);  (c) it was taken in context with a common meal , the Passover, (Matt 26:21, 26);  (d) it was taken with thanksgiving (Matt. 26:26);   (e) it was observed on a Thursday night (Matt 26:17);  (f) it involved twelve people (Matt 26:20).

In the first century church the Lord’s Supper was celebrated within the context of a common meal,  however this celebration was not without problems.  Some of the Christians did not wait for others to share the meal (1 Cor 11:21, 33) and some drank too much (1 Cor 11:21).  The atmosphere was more celebrative than quiet and reverent. As the Passover celebrated the exodus from Egypt, the early church celebrated the life and ministry of Jesus (Acts 2:42) and their “exodus” from the world of darkness into the kingdom (Col 1:13).

Scripturally our information/instruction about the supper is rather limited and through the centuries religious groups have necessarily ‘filled in the blanks’ according to its practice.   Historically scripture has been interpreted through command, example and necessary inference.  Each of these factors involves human judgment and therefore is a subjective call,  often resulting in division.  Specifically, in researching this topic I conducted a web search for  “One Cup Church of Christ” and clicked on the “Brief History of the One Cup and Non-Sunday School Movement”.  The various factions are numerous including some  who are “bread breakers”  opposed to others, the “bread pinchers.” (The difference lies between whether or not the bread can be broken into many pieces or does it have to stay in one piece.)  The possible questions and interpretations seem endless.  To list a few:

  1. If the one cup and wine (fermented) can be substituted for many cups and grape juice, does this mean biblical examples do not have to be followed?  (Note: Can the gopher wood (KJV) be substituted for other wood (Gen 6:14)? Can strange fire (Lev 10:1) be substituted for other fire?)

  2. Does the use of unleavened bread have to be practiced? (Note: The Greek word for bread includes leavened and unleavened bread.)

  3. Can “individual crackers” be substituted for unleavened bread?

  4. If the change from one cup and wine was influenced by the medical world (discovery of germs) and the Temperance Movement of the early 1900’s, to what extent should outside influences determine the practices of the present church?

As far as the churches of Christ are concerned, the Roman Catholic tradition has heavily influenced our thinking about the Lord’s Supper in at least two areas:

  1. We have come to see the celebration of the Lord’s Supper  as connected to our salvation.  According to scripture the supper is not the ‘insurance’ of our salvation nor is it the ‘channel’ of salvation for the Christian. Therefore the need to be present for the Lord’s Supper even if not for the rest of the worship experience or  any other church activity seems to be paramount. This “salvation” connection with the Lord’s Supper partially explains why it is taken to those physically unable to attend the worship service.

  2. We have come to see the supper more as an ‘altar time’ rather than in connection with a common meal and a celebration of our new life in Christ.  As Hicks points out in his book, we are more prone to consider the supper within the context of the Friday night betrayal rather than within the Sunday morning resurrection.

Not to be misunderstood, even though the churches of Christ have not traditionally practiced the Lord’s Supper in the same way as the early church, it’s conventional format has been beneficial  for many.  In my young Christian years I saw the Lord’s Supper as a time for personal examination in light of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for my sins.  This proved to be a very positive experience for me and provided needed encouragement to be more committed and Christ-centered.

From a pragmatic viewpoint I do not envision nor even suggest that every congregation of the church of Christ change the supper from an “altar” to a “table”.  However in light of scripture, we should be cautious before assuming we practice the supper correctly and our religious neighbors do not.  All groups have made adaptations to the first century model.  While the current format is beneficial to many,  those who desire to rethink the historical viewpoint might consider the following suggestions:

  1. Provide an arrangement of table and chairs so a small group of Christians can gather around and share as they take of the bread and grape juice.

  1. Provide an opportunity for Christians to meet in homes or collectively in the fellowship area of the building once a month (or  once a quarter) and share a meal and the Lord’s supper together—remembering  Jesus.

Comments

  1. I look forward to each blog. And, I share with a wide range of people.

    It is encouraging to read a blog that is thoughtful, non-judgmental, and gives a foundation for further dialogue.

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