My prediction–your milage may vary.
As we read the book of Acts and the Pauline epistles, one of the things that becomes clear is that the Lord’s Supper seems to have been both pivotal and problematic for the health of the early church’s life together. It also seems to have been far different than almost all contemporary practice in the local churches of any tradition. The images below hint at a major difference between then and now.
The Bread and the Wine Remembering the Lord’s Supper —
This is not meant as an attack on current practice. That is, that is not my motive. My purpose is to look at first century practice and suggest that if we went backward in time and looked at all the texts surrounding the mentions of the Lord’s Supper and analyzed them closely, we will . . .
Desire to amend our present practice.
Amending our practice will change the shape of our corporate life together.
As we learn to practice mission and church life together according to a retro-freshed New Testament pattern, we will rediscover how hard and beautiful the one-another passages of the New Testament are.
Our passion for more of our brothers and sisters in Christ to experience what we are experiencing will drive a passion for multiplying communities with a similar understanding.
The end result will be an expansion of house churches whether independent of traditional churches or as a part of them with a renewed and transformed Home Group ministry.
So what are the relevant texts:
Well, we have to start with the gospels and Acts 2:42-47, but also 1 Corinthians 11:18-34 and then there are the scattered snippets in the epistles like Jude 1:12 and others. The first mention of the early practice of the church was that “breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.” Coupling this passage with the correction Paul gives to the Corinthians, it is clear that first century practice included an actual supper, just like the night in which it was instituted by Christ (cf. Matthew 26:26-29; Mark14:22-25; and Luke 22:14ff).
“Some have called the wine and bread itself, or a ceremony around the wine and bread, ‘the Eucharist,’ taken from the Greek word for ‘giving of thanks,’ since Jesus had offered thanks at his last Passover meal. This, however, is not stated as a designation for the meal, but rather an action within Christ’s Last Supper (“And when he had given thanks, he broke it and said . . .” 1 Corinthians 11:24). ‘Communion,’ meaning ‘fellowship’ or ‘participation,’ is another term sometimes used for a ceremony around the two elements (see 1 Corinthians 10:14-21), but this is what we are to experience in the Supper and not a scriptural term to designate it. The term given to the experience by Paul in the New Testament is found 1 Corinthians 11:20 where it is called ‘the Lord’s Supper.”
The Lord’s Supper is a Meal,
Jim Elliff, p. 13-14
In other words, NO ONE in the first century would understand the most normative practices of “the Lord’s Supper” currently practiced in Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox congregations. I was raised Catholic, my Protestant experience and practice has almost exclusively been in the grape juice and wafer tradition as a short part of a weekly or monthly part of a Sunday morning worship service. But for many years, I have been not exactly uncomfortable so much as unsatisfied with the received tradition of my age. What we do, what I have perpetuated is NOT a supper. It is hardly a snack! I don’t mean to be flippant, only to draw a contrast that is stark. What we do is NOT what they (first century Christians) did.
My sense of current practice is not so much that it is wrong as it is not enough. It’s like eating a weak soup with almost all of the life-building vegetables, meats, vitamins, salts and spices removed, leaving behind a flavored but unsatisfying broth to the soul.
So, my purpose here is threefold:
- To recommend a resource that will help us think together from the Scripture out to practice. That resource is the one I quoted above.
- To suggest that an amendment of our current practice will move the Lord’s Supper to a time that can accommodate an actual meal. Perhaps a Sunday brunch or a Sunday Evening or perhaps into small groups (“house to house”).
- To begin a discussion that will lead to fruitful reformation of current practice while avoiding needless disparagement of brothers and sisters for whom current practice is not as unsatisfying as I personally find it.
And finally, as a bonus, I think if we do this, one the results will be an expansion of house churches.