As with anything that is done with regularity, it can be very easy for “familiarity” to “breed contempt” with some, and more likely the thoughtless apathy of neglect with others. Each Sunday, thousands of Christians will break off a piece of unleavened bread and drink a small amount of fruit of the vine…just like last week. For some, there is not much time between their sip of the cup and the time when they know the offering plate will be passed around…and so now’s a great time to get that check ready. Everything’s usually very quiet during this time…what better time to get the kid’s snacks and coloring books ready before the sermon starts? Plus, that cute baby in the row right in front of you is grinning at you…surely it would be harmless fun for you to play “Peek-a-Boo” with her for a bit before the next prayer!
Most or all of us – myself included – have been guilty of offering to God the meaningless worship which consists of doing what he requires of us in praise to him on the surface while our hearts and minds are thousands of miles away (Matt. 15:7-9). We need to remember that God requires and is looking for spiritual worship based in truth (John 4:23-24). Are we really any different from the one who habitually forsakes the assembly (Heb. 10:25) when we are present in body and action but absent in mind and spirit?
For this reason, the abuse of the Lord’s Supper by the church of Corinth (1 Cor. 11:17-33) is a worthy topic for our consideration and study. Paul’s rhetorical question about them having houses to eat and drink in if they were hungry (vs. 22, 34) implies that they were looking at communion in the same way as they would an ordinary meal, something easy to start doing when partaking of it on a weekly basis. Thus, they were “digging in” without even waiting for all of their brethren to assemble (vs. 20-21, 33), leaving nothing…save humiliation…for those who came afterwards (v. 22). In this way there were despising God’s church for which his Son died (v. 22; cf. Acts 20:28) and were not worthy of Paul’s commendation (v. 22).
There was another reason they were despising the church and worship of God, the same reason they had started treating communion like a common meal. They had forgotten the true purpose and meaning behind it. This is why God inspired Paul to remind them by talking first of the circumstances surrounding its institution by Christ, that it had begun on the night Christ was betrayed, the night before he died (v. 23). He then reminded them that the bread represents his body “which is for you” (v. 24), given to go through the horrendous pain and humiliation of scourging and crucifixion so that we would not have to pay the penalty for our sins (Rom. 5:6-11; 6:23; 1 John 2:1-2). The cup represents “the new covenant in my blood” (v. 25), the new covenant which does what the first could not: grant us forgiveness of our sins through the blood Christ freely shed on that cross (Heb. 8:7-12; 9:11-15; Eph. 1:7; cf. Acts 22:16; 1 John 1:7-9).
We are to remember these things – all that Christ accomplished for us by his death – when we partake of communion (v. 25). By doing so, we “proclaim” the great significance of the Lord’s death until he comes again (v. 26). Of course, a failure to remember the eternal significance of the Lord’s sacrifice shows that one considers that sacrifice to be “a common thing” (Heb. 10:27), a mindset that leads to willful sin that makes that sacrifice of no benefit to you (Heb. 10:26-31). This is why God considers those who partake of communion “in an unworthy manner” – i.e., without remembering his death and the significance of it – to be guilty of basically crucifying his Son again (v. 27; cf. Heb. 6:4-6). This is why we are to examine ourselves when we partake (v. 28; cf. 2 Cor. 13:5), in order to discipline ourselves to put our focus where it needs to be (1 Cor. 9:25-27).
Communion is the Lord’s supper, not ours (v. 20). Literally, it “belongs to the Lord.” When we forget that, we forget to discern the sacrifice of his body which that bread represents…and as a result we become spiritually weaker and sicker until God brings the judgment of the second death upon us (vs. 29-30; cf. Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:8). We need to be reminded of this, because oftentimes we do not look at what we do the way God does (v. 31; cf. Is. 59:2). I hope that my comments on these Scriptures will give us the proper discipline and motivation we need in order to no longer neglect the Lord’s Supper so that we will not be among those whom God condemns in the end (v. 32).
Sunday is a very special day for those in the Lord’s church. It is the first day of the week. It is also the day we assemble together to worship our God in spirit and truth (John 4:24) and encourage each other to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25). However, it is also the day we partake of communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper. The majority of denominations in Christendom have not realized this. This is why many visitors from other religious bodies have seen the observance of communion each Sunday when they visit the Lord’s church and wonder why those in Christ’s church partake of communion every first day of the week, when they choose to partake of it once a month, once every few months, or even once or twice a year. Christians must “always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15). Therefore, it is proper that those in the Lord’s church know exactly why we practice what we do, including our practice of observing the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week.
First of all, God commands us, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” (Col. 3:17). God expects us to have authority from his Son on what we do concerning the Lord’s Supper. Jesus speaks to us today through the inspired writings of the New Testament (Heb. 1:1-2; 2:1-4; 1 Cor. 14:37; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). Therefore, we must go to the New Testament and the New Testament alone in order to find the authority on how and when to partake of communion.
While Instituting The Supper, Jesus Mentioned A Day And A Kingdom
In studying the New Testament, we find that our Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper on the night he was betrayed (1 Cor. 11:23), which was a Thursday night. It needs to be pointed out that the reason Christians don’t partake of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday nights is because the church was not in existence yet at the time Jesus instituted communion.
On that night, Jesus said to the apostles, “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until THAT DAY when I drink it new with you IN MY FATHER’S KINGDOM” (Matt. 26:29; cf. Mark 14:25).
Luke records, “…for I say to you, I shall never again eat it UNTIL IT IS FULFILLED IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD…for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on UNTIL THE KINGDOM OF GOD COMES'” (Luke 22:16, 18).
After instituting the Lord’s Supper, he told them, “…just as my Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that YOU MAY EAT AND DRINK AT MY TABLE IN MY KINGDOM…” (Luke 22:29-30).
Notice that he promised them he would not partake of the Lord’s Supper with them until that day when he drinks it with them in His Father’s kingdom, that it would be fulfilled in the kingdom of God, and that he promised them that they would eat and drink at His tablein His kingdom. Why is this significant?
What Is The Kingdom?
First, we must remember that the Bible teaches that the church of Christ is described in the New Testament as the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of God. To see how this is true, let’s first examine the four gospels. In them, both Jesus and John the Immerser preached that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”and “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15), i.e., that it was coming soon. In teaching the disciples to pray, he told them to pray to God that his kingdom would come (Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2). Later, Christ promised Peter he would build “his church” upon the rock of Peter’s confession, and then promised to give Peter “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:15-19). He told the crowd with his disciples, “there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1). What we can learn from these passages is that the terms church, kingdom of God, and kingdom of heaven are used interchangeably by Christ, thereby proving they are the same thing. All three terms are always talked about in these passages in the future tense, signifying that at the time Christ was living here on earth they were not in existence but would be in existence soon, and that they would come with power.
Keeping this in mind, we should note that he told the disciples before his ascension, “…you will receive POWER when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” (Acts 1:8). That promise was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit came upon his disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), which was also the day three thousand souls were added by the Lord to the church (Acts 2:41, 47). Starting at Acts 2’s record of the conversion of the three thousand on the day of Pentecost, the rest of the New Testament would always interchangeably refer to the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ, and the church of Christ as having already come and presently existing (Rom. 14:17; 16:16; 1 Cor. 1:2; Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:12; Rev. 1:4, 6, 9).
Since we have found that before the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 the church was always described as not having come yet, and afterward Pentecost it is always described as having come and presently existing, then the conclusion is that the church of Christ began its existence on the day of Pentecost. This was a Jewish holiday referred to as the Feast of Weeks in Lev. 23:15-16. From this passage, we learn that the day of Pentecost (a Greek term which means “fiftieth day”) would always be “fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath.”Since sabbathin the Old Testament refers to the day of rest which was commanded on the seventh day, we know that the day after the seventh day would be the first day of the week, the day Pentecost was to be observed. Therefore, we learn that the kingdom of God came on a Sunday. The church Christ promised he would build began on a Sunday.
With this in mind, let us go back to Christ’s promises to his apostles on the night he instituted the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:16, 18). Notice he promised he would not drink it again with them until “that day.” When was “that day”? Taking all of the passages into consideration, “that day” would be the day his disciples would be in his Father’s kingdom, the day it would be fulfilled in God’s kingdom, and the day God’s kingdom came. We have seen that God’s kingdom came and began its existence on a Sunday, the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Therefore, after its institution the Lord’s Supper was first observed by Christ’s disciples on Sunday, the day of Pentecost, the day the kingdom of God came.
This fits with Luke’s account of the very first activities of the newly converted three thousand on that day of Pentecost, a Sunday: “So then, those who had received his word were baptized, and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:41-42). “The breaking of bread” is a reference to the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:16-17; cf. 11:23-25). Therefore, we see that the apostles directed the Jerusalem church to observe communion on the day the church began, which was the first day of the week. The fact that they were “continually” doing so suggests by definition that it was a fixed habit. Further evidence that this is so is found in Luke’s account of the church at Troas (Acts 20:7). As with the Jerusalem church, these Christians gathered together for the purpose to partake of communion on Sunday, and did so with the apostle Paul’s approval. More evidence that it was a fixed habit of the early church is found in Paul’s directions to both the churches of Galatia and the church at Corinth to take up collections every first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2), implying that he knew they had the habit of assembling together every Sunday. Since he taught the same thing at every congregation (1 Cor. 4:17; cf. 1 Cor. 16:1), we can be confident that all the early churches gathered together to observe communion on Sundays under his direction. And just as the Jews under the Old Law knew that God’s command to observe the Sabbath applied to every Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11; Num. 15:32-36), we can learn from their example (1 Cor. 10:11) and know that the New Testament teaching concerning communion applies to every Sunday.
As a sidenote, extra-biblical history proves this to be true also. Around the close of the first century A.D., at about the same time Revelation was being written, some Jewish Christians put together a book which was kind of a descriptive manual about Christianity. They called it the Didache (Greek for “teaching.”) The Didache says, “But every Lord’s day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure” (14:1). As mentioned earlier, the term “breaking bread” is a scriptural reference to communion (1 Cor. 10:16-17). The term “Lord’s Day” is also mentioned in Scripture (Rev. 1:10), and extra-biblical writings from that time period confirm it to refer to Sundays.
Around fifty years after Revelation was written, a Christian by the name of Justin Martyr wrote a defense of Christianity to the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, appealing to the emperor to repeal laws which prescribed the death penalty for being a Christian. While doing so, he described Christian worship to the emperor in order to assure him that the rumors of there being evil orgies in Christian worship were false. In chapter 67 of his letter, he wrote: “The day of the Sun is the day on which we all gather together in a common meeting, because it is the first day, the day on which God, changing darkness and matter, created the world, and it is the day on which Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead.” The “day of the Sun” is where the English term “Sunday” comes from, and this Christian who lived very close to biblical times clearly referred to it both as the first day of the week and the day in which Christians gathered together to worship.
Thus, historical accounts from the time period in which the New Testament was written back up the scriptural evidence that the early Christians assembled together to worship and partake of communion on the first day of every week.
To review, Christians are to have authority from Christ on everything we do. We find that authority in the New Testament, which records Jesus promising not to partake of communion with his disciples after instituting it until the day the kingdom came, which was on a Sunday. The New Testament records the early Christians observing the Lord’s Supper only on Sunday. Since the New Testament is the only place we find authority from Christ, then we must follow the example of those in the New Testament in order to observe communion in the name of Jesus. Therefore, we must observe the Lord’s Supper every Sunday in the name of Christ, and we can be confident that Jesus is with us when we do so, just as he promised (Matt. 18:20; 26:29; cf. Heb. 2:11-12). Many profess to be followers of Christ and observe communion only a few times a year, or during special occasions like weddings. They do so undoubtedly out of sincerity, but their practices nonetheless are traditions of men (Matt. 15:7-9). May all of us go back to the Bible and do things the way God said, without adding to it or taking away from it! (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; 1 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19)
Ladies, have you ever been invited to dinner at a friend’s house, and been served a dish you knew you just had to have the recipe to because it tasted so good? When you ask the host or hostess for the recipe, they gladly comply and give it to you. Your husband gets excited at the prospect of having this delicious dish at home without having to sneak over to the Joneses from now on to get it. A week or two goes by, and you decide to try fixing it yourself. You’re a health nut, however, and so when the dish calls for milk, you substitute half & half. When it calls for sugar, you put in artificial sweetener instead. When it calls for vanilla, you put in artificial vanilla instead. You mix it all together and proudly serve it to your husband, who dives right in with gusto…for the first bite. You notice that he takes his time with the second bite…and appears to suddenly have a great desire to eat it out on the balcony by himself with the third bite. He comes back in ten seconds later, claiming a big bird swooped right in and snatched it right off his plate…but “Honestly, honey, I really enjoyed the three bites I had. However, I did notice that it tastes a little different than it did at the Joneses. Did you follow the recipe?” You think it sweet of him to try to butter you up so he doesn’t spend the entire night on the couch, and so you explain to him that, in the interests of eating healthy, you substituted the less healthier items on the recipe for healthier items. Being male, he then tries to explain to you that eating tastefully, not healthy, is what really matters to him, and urges you to follow the recipe fully next time so that it will be exactly like it was at the Joneses. You thank him for his advice, and tell him that you’ll ponder it all night long while he’s sleeping on the couch…
It is interesting how many of us think substitutions can be made and still be the same. It should be apparent that one cannot make substitutions and have the “real thing.” It is that way with recipes, and it is also that way with the church of our Lord Jesus. Sadly, denominationalism has brought about many substitutions and changes. Why is it that people think they have the real thing when so many substitutions have been made?
Some don’t realize it, but there are all kinds of differences between denominations and the church you read about in the New Testament. In most denominations there is a clergy system with priests, pastors, and/or “Reverends” and “Fathers.” Often times there is a national, and sometimes an international, governing body. Some denominations have deacons, but a “Pastor” rather than elders. Others have elders who are bachelors, or women serving as elders.
Yet, the Bible teaches that Christ is the only head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18), and therefore there is no authority in the New Testament for a church hierarchy. Every member of the Lord’s church is a priest (1 Pet. 2:9), so there is no authority in the New Testament for a clergy system. The church is overseen by a plurality of elders (Acts 20:17) and served by deacons (Phil. 1:1), so there is no authority in the New Testament for a lone man being an elder. Elders are to be married and have believing children (1 Tim. 3:2,4; Tit. 1:6), so there is no authority for bachelor elders. Women are not to exercise authority over men in the church (1 Tim. 2:12; 3:14-15), and elders are required to be the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2), which negates the idea of a female elder.
Denominationalism is different than what is taught in the Bible. How different depends upon which denomination. Many denominations teach that one becomes a Christian, a child of God, merely by “asking Jesus to come into one’s heart.” One is then accepted into the denomination based upon a testimony of conversion. Sometimes one is voted into the denomination. In other cases, one is sprinkled (not baptized) as a non-believing infant. Years later, after taking instruction, one is “confirmed.” One then is a member of the denomination. Other denominations have even different requirements.
However, the Bible teaches that one enters the body of Christ which is the church through baptism (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:22-23). When one who has confessed his faith in Christ as the Son of God and has repented of sins is baptized into Christ for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:35-38), God adds that person to the church (Acts 2:47). It is not a matter of “joining” the church or a denomination. It is also at that point that one becomes a child of God (Gal. 3:26-27) and has his or her sins washed away (Acts 22:16).
Substitutions and changes have been made in denominations. Many denominational worship services center around entertainment, having bands, concerts, skits, drama presentations, and even aerobatic acts. Musical instruments have been added, and the Lord’s Supper has been taken away, being served only at certain times. In other denominations, burning of incense and the counting of beads have been added, along with statue worship. Saturday worship has replaced or been added to the first day of the week.
Friends, we all should realize and teach others that the same principle that applies to recipes applies to Christianity. If you want the real thing, there can be no substitutions and/or changes. Deuteronomy 4:2 says, “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”Proverbs 30:5-6 says, “Every word of God is tested…Do not add to his words or he will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.” Paul warned the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 4:6 to “learn not to exceed what is written…” The Bible closes with the warning of Revelation 22:18-19: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.”
If you want the church of the Bible, the church of God’s choice, it must be according to his instructions found in his Word alone. Otherwise, you have a man-made substitute, not the real thing. If you don’t have the real thing, then salvation is not yours because Jesus is the Savior of those who are in his body, the church (Eph. 5:23). It’s something to think about.