Saturday, February 12, 2011

An important essay on the Supper

Dave Black writes a combo book review/essay on the Lord’s Supper that is an excellent read on a subject that we assume a lot about but that we are, I believe, completely missing the boat on. I like that Dr. Black points to Acts 20:7. What a great picture into the life of the church we find in verses 7 through 11. It is worthwhile to reproduce what is written here:

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted. (Acts 20:7-12)

I copied the above from the ESV Study Bible online and got a chuckle from the study note on verse 7: On the first day of the week. The first reference in Acts to worship on Sunday. Um, yeah except that what is being described looks almost nothing like what we associate with a “worship service”. So what is going on?

The church is meeting together, they are blessed to have Paul in their midst and they meet for a very long time. What transpires should be highly instructive to us today: they were sharing a meal (at least one, perhaps more?) and conversing with one another in fellowship. I would imagine Paul led the conversation but what is written clearly indicates that this was a dialogue between believers. They were not engaged in some sort of ritualistic symbol consisting of oyster crackers and a grape drink in plastic cups all served from an expensive "communion service". They were eating a meal together as the church in the sort of fellowship that can only be experienced in that sort of intimate setting. Eating is a messy business and it is one of those times we are at our most real. I think that by largely abandoning communal meals in favor of a ritualistic passing of the platter, we have lost a Biblical and wonderful opportunity to be in fellowship with one another. Passing a plate to your neighbor in silence simply cannot replace a joyful meal with fellow believers. I for one am praying for a recovery of the Lord’s Supper as a meal instead of a once-a-quarter ritual! Here is Dr. Black's conclusion and it warrants serious consideration:

This is the heart and center of the matter – the exaltation of Jesus Christ as Savior and Head of the Body. It sounds so simple; but when we are honest with ourselves it is surprising how we have failed to give Christ the “preeminence in all things” (Col. 1:18). I know of no reason why we should not follow the Scriptures in these matters except for inertia and fear – fear that it might be too radical, fear that our sacred traditions might get trampled upon. But such fears are absolutely groundless.

Amen, why do we fear what Scripture tells us and remain stuck in our traditions?

Check out The Lord’s Supper, Then and Now


James said...

John Mark Hicks has some great things to say in his book, Come to the table> as well as Ben Witherington'sMaking a meal of it.

I found both these books extremely helpful in discerning the severe disconnect between what we now see and what the Scripture describes as the "Breaking of Bread.

I might be also coming down the line that Vernard Eller has drawn, and that the "altar/sacrament" ideal is not even close. You can find a lengthy treatise from him here.

Aussie John said...


You are so right!

Dave's article was much appreciated, and caused me to smile as I remembered the reactions of some members during times I tried to introduce similar thoughts to congregations I was seeking to serve.

One very revealing comment when the whole service was centered around teaching about, and celebrating the Lord's Supper was, "Fancy spending a whole hour on the subject".

Another, equally revealing, because I had shifted some "sacred" furniture, an elderly lady said in a very loud stage whisper, "Look what he's done to the church!"