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Home The Light Articles from 1999 The Importance of the Lord's Supper

The Importance of the Lord's Supper

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The Importance of the Lord's Supper

What is the central focus of the Lord's Day assembly? Surprisingly the NT has much to say about this. On one level the focus is to participate in mutual edification (Heb. 10:25; 1 Cor 14:26). Yet even here the focus is a secondary one. The texts cited do not explicitly give this as the purpose for the assembly (although it is an important objective), but rather merely state that this must take place during the assembly.

The central focus of the meeting is accompanied by a purpose clause in the NT. In Acts 20:7 Luke says, "upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread..." The thing that distinguishes this purpose for gathering together from any other purpose is the presence of the telic infinitive "to break bread," which really means "in order to break bread." Hence, the expressed purpose for coming together as the local church in the NT was to observe the Lord's Supper.

One might object that Luke is merely recording what happened in this instance and his narrative cannot be used to determine what is normative for the church. In response to this objection, neither then have we any ground for meeting on the first day of the week, since this is the only Scripture in the NT that explicitly says this is what the early church did. Moreover, the view that any narrative in the NT is written solely to record historical events and cannot therefore be used to determine normative church practice is naive and is rejected by all NT scholarship. Granted, Luke did record historical events; but he did not record all historical events. Instead, he selectively recorded those events which would best instruct the early churches.

Paul says the same thing as Luke in 1 Corinthians 11. First Corinthians 11 is often overlooked in discussions pertaining to the central focus of the church meeting. Yet this passage twice states the purpose of coming together as a church. That Paul is concerned with the church meeting is clear from v. 18; "first of all, when you come together as a church I hear there are divisions among you." He repeats this in v. 20; "Therefore, when you come together in the same place [i.e., as a church], it is not to eat the Lord's Supper."

One might think it strange that someone arguing for the centrality of the Lord's Supper would want to mention this verse at all. After all, how can one contend that the Lord's Supper is central to the church meeting when Paul so clearly says "when you come together it is not to eat the Lord's Supper"? This is no problem, however, since Paul explains what he means in the next verse ("for each one takes his own supper," v. 21). Paul is not telling the Corinthians not to eat the Lord's Supper when they gather together. Quite the contrary—he's telling them that's what should be taking place at their meetings, but because of their disunity and other violations, it can no longer be viewed as the Lord's Supper; instead, it has become their own supper (v. 21). The direct implication of Paul's statement is that when the church comes together it should be "to eat the Lord's Supper" (again, the telic infinitive is used, "in order to eat"). Paul makes this even more clear in v. 33; "so then, brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another." That this is not merely an occasional observance of the Lord's Supper observed ever so often is clear from his previous statement in v. 18; "when you come together as a church." This leads us to our next point.

The Frequency of the Lord's Supper

One other direct implication of Paul's statements is that the Lord's Supper is to be observed whenever the church "comes together" (vv. 18,20). It seems clear that Paul has in mind the weekly gathering on the Lord's Day. This means then that Paul expects the Lord's Supper to be observed every week, as an integral part of the Lord's Day meeting. This same conclusion may be inferred from the text of Acts 20:7 as well; "Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread..." In many churches today the Lord's Supper is observed monthly or quarterly. The rationale for this is stan-dard: "Won't the Lord's Supper become common and lose its meaning if we observe it weekly?" But this standard is rarely applied to other practices of the church. Why not apply it, say, to prayer, or sermons, or collections, or the singing of hymns? Why not meet together as a church once per quarter? Moreover, this kind of reasoning betrays a misunderstanding of the full significance of the Lord's Memorial. —Adapted

 

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