Grace and peace to the Saints in Christ Jesus.
The Last Supper is arguably the most important of all Christian ordinances, as it is the most tangible symbol of the redemptive death of Jesus Christ. For this reason, many have attempted to restore it to its rightful prominence in the Christian church. Unfortunately, most of these attempts have met with failure, mostly because they have been based on incorrect interpretations of 1 Corinthians 11. This has led to some unscriptural practices.
Charismatic faith healer, Ana Mendez Ferrell, for example, reputedly partakes of the Lord’s Supper every day. This is an obvious misinterpretation of the word “often” in verses 25-26 when Jesus said,
“[T]his do ye as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come.”
Pastor W.A. Criswell in his book, Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors, writes that special emphasis should be placed on the accouterments of the ceremony as well as the position of the pastor, deacons, and the congregation. This he bases on his misunderstanding of the word “worthily” in 1 Corinthians 11:29 to mean “in a worthy, spiritually effective manner” (p. 206).
It is important that we gain a perfect understanding of the Lord’s Supper, since Paul says that an incorrect observance of this ordinance is a heresy; one for which many in the church at Corinth were sick and dying (1 Corinthians 11:30).
To get a proper idea of how Jesus intended for us to eat the Lord’s Supper, we should not depend solely on the interpretation of a particular word in merely one passage of Scripture. We should rather consider all the scriptures dealing with the ordinance, as each has important information necessary for a complete understanding.
God’s mind on the Lord’s Supper is presented to us through the words and actions of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and the disciples. Jesus shows us how and why the Lord’s Supper should be eaten, Paul explains under what circumstances it should not be eaten, and the disciples show us who may eat it as well as when, how, and how often it should be eaten. Combined, these examples present a complete picture of this ordinance, and prove that the contemporary observance of the Lord’s Supper has changed considerably from the first-century model.
As many churches today have a false or limited understanding of Paul’s mind on the Lord’s Supper, let us begin this discussion with 1 Corinthians 11, as this is the scripture that pastors most often quote with regard to the ordinance. Paul speaks:
“For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you…For there must be also heresies among you…” (v.v. 18-19).
Paul begins by telling the Corinthians that the manner in which they ate the Lord’s Supper was a heresy and had been the cause of division in the church. Paul next explains the heresy by first telling them what they should not do:
“When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.
“For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.
“What? Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not?” (v.v. 20-22).
In this context, the Greek word for “come together” means to “resort” in the sense of gathering for recreation or entertainment. Paul is making a clear distinction between gathering for worship and socializing; the latter being an inappropriate time to eat the Lord’s Supper.
Paul goes on to explain why the Lord’s Supper should not be eaten at social gatherings. He notes how it was customary for the disciples to bring their own food and drink to these gatherings and that those who couldn’t bring their own food would go hungry. Paul saw that this disparity between the “haves” and “have nots” showed a lack of charity that damaged the testimony of the church. Moreover, it was inevitable that someone would get drunk.
Paul next explains in verses 23-26 why a hungry or drunk person should not eat the Lord’s Supper. Using Jesus’ own words, Paul reminds them that the bread is Jesus’ body and the wine is His blood. He then reminds them that Christians eat the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice, and in so doing, we “show the Lord’s death till He come.”
This is what Paul meant by “worthily” in verses 27 and 29: regarding the bread and wine as food and not the body and blood of Jesus. One who does so is “not discerning the Lord’s body” and is, therefore, “eating and drinking damnation to himself” (v. 29). One who eats the Lord’s Supper to satisfy his hunger and thirst and not in honor of Jesus’ sacrifice is guilty of the body and blood of Jesus (v. 27). This is why Paul says in verse 34, “If any man hunger, let him eat at home.”
So, while it is wise to stress that only believers should eat the Lord’s Supper, pastors should also make it clear that it should only be eaten at church and then, not on an empty stomach. The Lord’s Supper is a solemn privilege and should not be regarded as food, but as symbolic of the body and blood of our Lord.
Whereas Paul shows us under what circumstances the Lord’s Supper should not be eaten, the disciples show us who should eat it as well as when, how, and how often it should be eaten.
“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread…” (Acts 20: 7).
There are three very important things we may glean from this verse:
First, the disciples came together on the first day of the week, Sunday. It was on Sunday that Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John came to the sepulchre and found it empty. Jesus was Risen. Christians worship on Sunday to commemorate this momentous event. The Lord’s Supper should also be eaten on Sunday because, as the broken bread and wine represent Christ’s crucifixion, eating the bread and drinking the wine on the day of His resurrection is a depiction of both Jesus’s death and resurrection.
Second, these were disciples of Jesus: believing Christians. Only a believer should eat the Lord’s Supper. I believe that just as God punishes believers with sickness and death because they dishonor the Lord’s Supper, so does He likewise punish unbelievers who eat the Lord’s Supper. They are not saved and so do not really believe that Jesus died and shed His blood for the sins of the world. They should not eat the Lord’s Supper.
Third, it is vitally important to understand that the disciples came together “to break bread.” The breaking of bread was specifically associated with Jesus. Recall that in Luke 24, after Jesus’ resurrection, two disciples encountered Him on their way to Emmaus, but they did not know it was the Lord (Luke 24:13:35). They invited Jesus to come home with them, and as they sat at meat, Jesus broke the bread. At that moment, their eyes were opened, and they knew that it was Jesus. He then disappeared, and they hurried back to Jerusalem and told the others what had happened:
“And they told what things were done in the way, and how He (Jesus) was known of them in breaking of bread” (v. 35).
This passage confirms that the breaking of bread was uniquely identified with the Lord Jesus. The disciples continued this tradition in remembrance of Him:
“And they continued daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house…” (Act. 2:46).
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
This last verse is very important. The disciples continued:
1. in the Apostles’ doctrine
2. in fellowship
3. in breaking of bread
4. in prayers
Fellowship, teaching of doctrine, and praying is essentially a definition of church. This proves that eating the Lord’s Supper was a regular part of the worship service. That means it was eaten every Sunday, not just on the first Sunday of the month, as in most churches today.
Not only is the breaking of bread important to the Lord’s Supper, but so is the sharing of the broken bread. We are supposed to give the other half to a brother or sister in Christ. Jesus perfectly illustrates this point at the Last Supper:
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat (it); [it] is my body.
“And he took the cup (that He was drinking from), and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all [from] it.” (Matthew 26:26-27). [Parentheses and brackets mine.]
Jesus and the disciples show that the bread and wine should be shared among the brethren. It is a token of our unity in Christ Jesus and of our shared hope in His Coming. It shows that, though we are separate persons, we are one in Christ. Now, it is perfectly understandable that some would be reluctant to drink from the same cup as another, but it would not be unreasonable for the bread to be broken and shared between brethren. If it was good enough for the early church, it should be good enough for us.
The contemporary observance of the Lord’s Supper is arguably the greatest evidence of the devastating effect the Roman Catholic Ecumenical Movement has had on the Christian Church. In many churches, the bread has been replaced by a small, wafer-shaped disc similar to the Roman Catholic communion wafer. In others, it has been reduced to a bite-sized morsel of a cracker—impossible to break any further, and thus, impossible to share with another.
The failure of the brethren to break and share bread together is the greatest evidence of the success of Satan’s efforts to destroy the Christian church. Divide and conquer is one of Satan’s favorite tactics, and there is no more effective way to divide the church than in the one ordinance that most represents the body of Christ. This ought not to be.
We scream for a revival, but that revival will not come until the Christian Church properly exalts Jesus. We can begin by properly “showing the Lord’s death till He come” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Then He will bless us and the Spirit can begin to move in our churches. But we are so far down the road of apostasy that I cannot see this happening.
Think about this very carefully. Obedience is better than sacrifice. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
Be encouraged and look up; your redemption draweth nigh.
The Still Man