The Lord’s Supper–(mis)conceptions 2

[In the ARM (American Restoration Movement), we have a lot of conceptions around the Lord’s Supper.  Some of these are only decades old; others are a couple of centuries old, and others may be older than that.  Some, I’ll flatly suggest, are misconceptions.  Please see yesterday’s post, and perhaps this one and this one, for prior, framing material]

I have for years taken exception to those ARMers who try to suggest that the reference to “breaking bread” near the end of Acts 2 refers to what we think of as the Lord’s Supper.  (Please stay with me to the end of this post.)  In verse 42, many of “them” have said, it is the “Lord’s Supper” being referred to, while virtually none of “them” would have said “breaking bread” in v. 46 has the same event as its referent.  That inconsistency is galling.  It’s the same expression, penned by the same writer, in the same book, and in the same immediate context.  How could it possibly mean anything different the second time?  Whatever “breaking bread” means in v. 42 must be what it means in v. 46.

Moreover, the nearly amusing (to us, at least, two millennia later) incident wth Eutychus has shown to some that it was very important to Paul and to the disciples there that they have “the Lord’s Supper” together.  Some, however, have conveniently ignored the second reference to breaking bread after midnight. Without checking other time references in Luke-Acts, I would suspect that Luke reckons time as the Greeks would have, not as the Jews would have; if this assumption is correct, you have these Acts 20 Troas folks meeting on Sunday evening and observing “the Lord’s Supper” on the 2nd day of the week, after midnight. Or, perhaps, you have them meeting to observe the Supper and then having a six-hour sermon and then observing “the supper” again.  I don’t really think either of these expresses full truth.

What if there was a table fellowship that they all looked toward, and there was a special significance on the first day of the week, when they remembered Jesus’ body and blood in a special way?  What if they did this twice at Troas (Acts 20)?  Or what if the ceremonial remembering didn’t actually occur at all that night, because of the near-tragedy with Eutychus?  Had they erred¹ religiously (here I’m intentional with the choice of “religiously” over “spiritually”) and displeased God, simply because they didn’t observe a ceremony?  Isn’t communion more than ritual observance?

At this point, I would formally put forward the notion that the “Lord’s Supper” might never have been conceived by Jesus or by the Father in the way that most of us have conceived of it through the years.

I do absolutely think He wanted us to remember him in a focused way at the table.  But I also think he wanted us to participate in table sharing for its own sake, because of what such sharing of food and conversation can create among us, pausing during the meal to remember his sacrifice especially, through bread and vine juice.  Pardon my bold speculation, but I doubt He particularly prefers the stoic observances that are the rule these days in liturgical and non-liturgical churches alike.  The dis-integrated experience of bread and thimbleful of vine juice, while looking at the backs of others’ heads or at Bibles or while praying silently, whether in silence or with “special music” being offered, has very little to do with the communion practiced by Jesus at the Last Supper or with that He wants for us today.

Alan Knox’s minor flaw, by the way, was semantic and was found in his summary calculations–that certain phrases were used X number of times to refer to “the Lord’s Supper.”  The term “the Lord’s Supper,” I think, throws us off the scent.  It is not what we think of as “the Lord’s Supper” that’s the issue.  Instead, it is the nature of the Christian assembly that deserves a serious look (which is consistent with how I read Alan’s overall thrust).

Let’s eat together more often.  In homes, preferably.  In the church building or in restaurants, if necessary.  But let’s eat together, and let’s be spiritually minded enough not only to bless the food in the name of God, but to remember—specifically and intentionally, during the meal—the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus.  In doing this, the “supper” (or lunch or brunch or whatever) can become “the Lord’s” in a very meaningful way.


Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper–(mis)conceptions 1

In the ARM (American Restoration Movement), we have a lot of conceptions around the Lord’s Supper.  Some of these are only decades old; others are a couple of centuries old, and others may be older than that.  Some, I’ll flatly suggest, are misconceptions.  They are no greater misconceptions than Roman ones in this area, and they don’t use the fabricated term “eucharist” or consider that metaphysics are disturbed by clergified incantations (i.e., “transubstantiation”).  But consider, for example, on a lower level, the ideas that the Lord’s Supper is …

  • to involve a thimbleful of grape juice and a morsel of cracker
  • to be observed in quietude
  • to be observed in the morning (“Supper”? morning?)
  • to be observed no less than one time per week, necessitating evening “mini-communion” with the Sunday morning absentees
  • to be observed no more than one time per week
  • to involve a single cup, or is
  • to involve multiple cups
  • to involve trays (and pews, and people who pass said trays through the people in said pews)
  • called “The Lord’s Supper” when that phrasing is used only once in scripture (and no other phrase is much more prescriptive)

Non-ARM readers may be going, “Huh?” to most of the above.  Dyed-in-the-wool ARM readers may also be going, “Huh?” (but for different, more closed-minded reasons).  We have had such a legalistic view of “the Lord’s Supper” that we’ve manufactured and bought little communion “kits” in which can be packed a little cracker and juice, so shut-ins and convalescing members can eat and drink.  (Talk about a sacramental view!  “If only I can eat a morsel and drink a trickle, I will receive grace!”)

Yet it’s our problem more than theirs.  We ambulatory ones are the ones who’ve perpetuated it.  Do those who care for shut-ins in this way eat and drink with them, or do they think, “Wait . . . I can’t do that again . . . I already did that earlier today ‘at church’ . . . I’d better not do it again”?  Do they make it a mini-communal experience of some sort, or do they just shove the cracker toward the bed and tenderly hold the nonagenarian’s head up so she can sip the juice, thinking somehow that the substances are grace-giving?  Wouldn’t it be better to do away with this morsel model and have a small group meeting with the shut-in person as church, experiencing more of the whole of the Christian assembly, and also eating and drinking “at the table,” including the memorial bread and juice.

What about the common ARM practice of having mini-communion on Sunday evenings for those who were sick or traveling or at work on Sunday morning?  Some congregations have the formerly missing congregants come to the front pew while the congregation sits (im)patiently and tries to feel simultaneously devoted, all the while going “umm … did this already in the morning … wasting my time now … uh-oh, bad attitude … back to trying to feel devoted.”  Others have the people stay where they are and raise their hands if they want to be served by people passing the trays.  Even more churches have the folks leave the assembly hall and go to some little room elsewhere.  If they’re off by themselves, they’re certainly not communing with the whole gathered body, and perhaps are feeling more familial with the few … and at least you don’t have the weirdness of having 96% of the people in the sanctuary twiddling their thumbs … which certainly isn’t very communal.

The thinking around one cup has probably had entire books written on it, and Catholics and a small subsect of ARMers agree on that aspect.  I’m not very interested in this scruple, although if germs weren’t part of our world, I’d probably prefer the unifying aspect of the same cup.  As it is, I simply can’t fathom how so many people can be satisfied with a wiping of the rim of a cup with a dirty rag and then drinking after someone else.  Onward….

I’ve greatly appreciated Alan Knox’s writing on this subject.  I have found only one minor flaw in his particular blogpost that probes pretty much all the scriptures that might relate to this topic.  One of his conclusions has been that “When the Lord’s Supper is mentioned in Scripture, it is mentioned in the context of a meal.”  While this appears true from the Last Supper through to Jude, where the plural agapais (usually translated “love feasts”) is found in a single instance, I would take minor exception to the term “the Lord’s Supper,” because it has come to connote, for many, a ceremony that seems worlds apart from the essence of that which on Alan (and Paul and Luke and Jesus) were really discoursing.

Tomorrow:  “breaking bread” in Acts, and a challenge to conceive of “the Supper” anew

Worship–ritual v. relationship

“Relationship.”  An overused word in our time, perhaps.  Yet it can scuff at the root of what life — both temporal and eternal — is about.  When considered in juxtaposition with ritual in the context of worship, relationship may be even more crucial.

Brad Carman, a preacher in Delaware, wrote this for his bulletin recently, springing out of Heb. 9:1-5:

In these opening passages, the author briefly takes his readers into the highly ritualized worship of the Jewish Tabernacle. . . .

. . . Almost everyone still has some rituals in his/her life and worship. (We sit in the same pew, order the same foods, sing the same songs, etc.) But more importantly, these rituals of Tabernacle worship serve a valuable purpose as summary of the first covenant God made with His people. They describe a system in which a Holy God is inaccessible to His people except through a series of sacrifices made by High Priest for himself and the people he represents. Sin has separated us from God and the idea of an intimate relationship with a Holy God is unthinkable under such a system.

That all changed when Christ came and ushered in a new and better covenant with God. This new covenant still involved a blood sacrifice but this offering was the blood of the Son of God, delivered to the eternal dwelling place of God. As our High Priest, he continually dwells in God’s presence providing us an opportunity for an intimate relationship.

In a recent interchange with Alan Knox on his blog, I found a thoughtful person with more time and careful insights than I:  he appropriately, kindly challenged several of my hastily penned comments.  Yet I continue to believe his understanding of the relationship of  worship and service is a trifle flawed.  (I know, I know — whose understanding isn’t flawed?  But this topic is important to me beyond most other things of the Lord, and most of the Christian world has gotten it so wrong.)

Brad’s comments above show something I concur with, believing it is significant:  a fundamental difference between Jewish and Christian worship lies in the difference between the “series of sacrifices” to which Brad refers above on the one hand, and the spiritual attitude of reverence, adoration, and homage on the other.

Under the New System, worship may must not be confined to ritual acts.  Rather, our worship of God is based on a more intimate (can anyone say “Incarnation” and not think there’s a different approach to God now?!) relationship.  Latreuo is the Greek word that appears to refer, more often than not, to the former, Jewish rituals (≈things done) and is found in Romans 12:2; proskuneo is the word that renders the attitude of obeisance, homage, reverential adoration (John 4, Revelation 4-5).  Hebrews 13:15-16 nicely sets these two word-concepts together, simultaneously differentiating and relating the two.

The above paragraph is an oversimplification, but I present it for thought and comment nonetheless.

[Coming soon … I’ve been thinking a lot about worship recently, spurred by Alan’s blog and various other stimuli.  I’m preparing a post on the notion of sacrifice in worship, and if you have any thoughts to contribute in advance, I’d love to see them.]