Chapter 6: The Local Church and its Commemoration
by James Paterson Jnr., Scotland.
There can be few believers who fail to remember the first occasion of gathering in fellowship with their local assembly to remember the Lord Jesus Christ. The evocative memory of being in the quiet atmosphere, meeting with the full attention of the gathered company centred on the One in the midst, lives on in the minds of most. While each was called out and gathered by an external force as is the meaning of Matt.18.20, "For where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them", all who gather exercise their willingness to be where our blessed Lord would have us be. The great wonder of gathering unto His Name is not the fact that we gather with Him, but that He meets with us, "being assembled together with them" Acts 1.4.
On these hallowed occasions we participate in the Lord’s Supper, and commemorate Him, and as we shall see, we have clear instruction from the Word of God to do so. The adjective "Lord’s" means, as does the reference in Rev. 1.10, "Lord’s day", "pertaining to the Lord", and not "Lordly". The term "The Lord’s Supper" emphasises the Lordship of Christ, therefore the gathering of a local church is the great privilege of those who, removed from the rebellion of the world and the divisions of Christendom, meet to give a united, corporate confession of that Lordship. We do well to keep in mind as we meet to remember the Lord Jesus Christ, that our remembering is a living vital appreciation, and not cold formality. Therefore our remembrance of Him will constitute only a part of assembly life.
As we obey this instruction, given in the first instance to the disciples, "this do in remembrance of me" Lk.22.19, we must ever realise that we are responsible to keep His Word in all things. The danger is that we take the most clear doctrinal position in this matter, and destroy its significance by a hardness that bears no resemblance to the mind of Christ. It is worth mentioning that an assembly meets to participate in the Supper in "remembrance" of Him, not in ‘memory’ of Him. The Greek word for remembrance (anamnesis) denotes bringing to mind and in the context of remembering Him, signifies an active affectionate calling to mind of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we have a realisation of His spiritual presence and what He is by virtue of His sacrificial work. It is not merely the memory of Him, but our minds being spiritually awakened to Him. This causes those who gather to be filled with worship as they consider the intrinsic glories of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Here, O our Lord, we see Thee face to face;
- Here would we touch and handle things unseen;
Like the New Testament ordinance of Baptism (see chapter 2 of this book), the Lord’s Supper follows three distinct means of corroboration.
All the synoptic Gospels give details in varying degrees as to the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and Paul gives confirmation in 1 Cor.11.23-26. In each of the four accounts of the institution, all the main features are included. The accounts of Matthew and Mark have close affinities, and the accounts of both Luke and Paul are similar. However there are no contradictory statements! The main differences between the two groups are that Matthew and Mark omit the words, "This do in remembrance of me", and include "shed for many". In the synoptic Gospels the Lord refers to His reunion with the disciples in the fulfilled kingdom of God; whereas Paul in 1 Cor.11.26 refers to proclaiming the Lord’s death "until He come" in anticipation of a date earlier than the manifestation of the kingdom.
The planning of Deity is clearly seen from all the accounts that reveal the specific actions of the Lord Jesus Christ as being in full control of all the circumstances. These include the upper room being prepared and furnished, the time of the Passover being correct, the people who were present, and all the events being just as were required. He takes, He gives thanks, He breaks, He gives, and so He orchestrates the Supper and in doing so displays His authority. One clear perception in reading the accounts recorded in Scripture is that of simplicity. The actions of the Lord Jesus Christ are completely lacking in opportunity for ritualistic ceremony, and yet men have taken the simple actions and formed rituals and dogmas for which there are no Scriptural foundations. There is always the danger of formality when we engage in something that we have done over time, and we must ever guard against the possibility of making a ritualistic ceremony out of such a simple act. While we must never be informal in the presence of Deity, neither must we ever enter into severe, cold, carnal formality as we see in Christendom, either in language or actions.
In the instruction given by the Lord at the institution of the Supper, Lk.22.19, there is the authority to continue to remember Him throughout the Church age, and Paul confirms in the epistles that the commemoration will continue, "till He come," 1 Cor.11.26. This remembrance has been preserved to us until this very day. We remember Him as we ponder His eternity, His Deity, His condescending stoop into perfect humanity, His unique life of sinless perfection, and His sin-atoning death, His triumph over sin, death, hell and the grave, and His present and future glory. While it is only part of the believer’s life, the remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ is that which lifts our spirits to lofty appreciation of Himself. With Him in our midst, as He was at the beginning, we enjoy the communion of remembering Him.
- Hush, O our hearts, as in the sacred Name
- We bow in worship and the promise claim-
- Where two or three are gathered there am I,
- Unseen, yet present to faith’s opened eye.
- (Eliza E. Hewitt)
In the New Testament the Lord’s Supper is never observed apart from a permanent assembly testimony. It is never seen as a convenience for travellers, for it is the privilege of a permanently gathered assembly. It is perhaps the greatest expression of fellowship, and gives character to the other meetings and functions of a local assembly. We do not receive to the Lord’s Supper, but receive to the fellowship of an assembly. This assembly fellowship is expressed in all the functions of the local assembly, including the Lord’s Supper.
Gathering for the purpose of "breaking bread" is recorded first in the Acts of the Apostles. Admittedly, to "break bread" in Bible times often referred to the eating of common meals. God once warned His prophet Jeremiah not to "tear (break bread) for the mourner", Jer.16.7. The Lord Jesus Christ "took bread ... and brake it" with the disciples to whom He appeared on the road to Emmaus, Lk.24.30. The early Christians are said to have continued daily "breaking bread from house to house" eating "food with gladness and simplicity of heart" Acts 2.46. Paul once "took bread and ... broke it" and instructed his companions on board a ship to eat it for their "health", Acts 27.34-35. In New Testament times, however, the phrase "to break bread" was also used to describe the partaking of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Supper after celebrating the Feast of the Passover with His disciples shortly before His death, "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;" Matt.26.27-28. As the phrase "to break bread" refers both to common meals and the Lord’s Supper, we must examine the context of passages in order to understand which one is being discussed. For example, since in Acts 2.42 "breaking bread" is listed with other activities carried out by the church such as teaching, praying, and fellowshipping, we may conclude that "the breaking of bread" is a reference to the early believers partaking of the Lord’s Supper. The use of the article in this verse also leaves the impression that a particular event is under consideration, rather than a common meal. Some would argue that as no mention of the church is made at this point then the local assembly has not been formed, but the use of the article seems to point to a particular occasion relating to believers meeting together.
Paul later reminded the Corinthians of the night in which The Lord Jesus first instituted this memorial, saying, "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you: that the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He brake it and said, Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; this do in remembrance of Me" 1 Cor.11.23-24. Because part of this supper that Christians are commanded to keep involves the actual breaking of bread, the expression "to break bread" was used in reference to the Lord’s Supper in the early church. Thus the assembly gathers for the specific purpose of remembering Him in the breaking of bread.
- On that same night, Lord Jesus,
- In which Thou wast betrayed,
- When without cause man’s hatred
- Against Thee was displayed,
- We hear Thy gracious accents-
- This do; remember Me;
- With joyful hearts responding
- We would remember Thee.
The Endorsement and Explanation
As previously stated, in 1 Cor.11.23-26 the Apostle Paul endorses the commandment of the Lord Jesus given in the upper room. He confirms the fact that the Supper should be held regularly, and gives detail as to the manner of its execution, by stating:
The Divine Authority for the Supper - v.23
Paul asserts that he has received from the Lord the account of the Supper that he is about to pass on. As he gives the detail of the ordinance, he claims the direct authority of the Lord Himself. This is typical of Paul’s ministry and his discharge of the doctrine given to him; he claims no indebtedness to any instruction of man, but rather the direct revelation of the Lord. "I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" Gal.1.12. Therefore, Paul brings before the Corinthians the weight of responsibility upon the believer due to the source of instruction with regard to the Supper.
The Detailed Instructions to partake of the Supper - vv.24,25
There is a profound simplicity in the manner in which the Lord Jesus carried out the pattern in the upper room and the subsequent endorsement of the same by the apostle Paul. The materials used and the sequence of events should hardly give opportunity for elaborate ceremonial display, and yet Christendom has introduced various dogmas that have reduced the remembrance to a ‘religious service’. There are no grounds to imitate what men have devised in contradiction of the clear instruction of the Lord Jesus, "this do in remembrance of me" Lk.22.19. We shall look at these instructions and emblems later.
The Delightful Purpose of the Supper - v.26
While, as we participate in the Lord’s Supper, we remember and commemorate Him, this also leads us into the attitude of worship. Worship flows from, and is the evidence of, our appreciation of Who He is. While the remembrance of Him will cause thanksgiving, it will also draw from our hearts true worship. For example, when the wise men visited the young Child and His mother, they worshipped because of the realisation of who He was, Matt.2.2,11. Obviously at this stage in the life of the young child Jesus, all His mighty works had still to be fulfilled, as had His death on the cross.
Another aspect of the Supper is the "proclamation" (R.V.). The idea is not to "show forth" (A.V.) as in exhibiting or demonstrating, but more the thought of proclamation. The acts of breaking the loaf and drinking the cup constitute a silent proclamation of the fact, significance and efficacy of the death of the Lord Jesus.
- No gospel like this feast,
- Spread for us Lord by thee;
- No prophet nor evangelist
- Preach the glad news so free.
- (Elizabeth R. Charles)
As we come together we combine in the testimony of His finished work. Each believer, sound in life and doctrine (as we shall see later) participates in the partaking of the emblems. There is nothing in Scripture to substantiate the administration of the emblems by a priest or minister. Such is foreign to the doctrine of Scripture.
We are also instructed as to the attitude expected of those who gather to break bread. The description is given of the emblems required for such an occasion and the simplicity displayed in the remembrance. The examination necessary as we gather to remember Him is highlighted solemnly by the apostle, and the possible judgment on those who engage in this holy act, unworthily. Further explanation of these things will be made as we progress.
Through the New Testament, the Spirit of God lays down principles with regard to the truth relating to our commemoration of the Lord Jesus. There have been attacks on many of these over the years and some have destroyed the simple significance of what was instituted, and so have created erroneous dogmas. Even among some assemblies, there is a turning away from the simplicity of what was first shown in the upper room. There is no need to make our remembrance meeting more ‘ecclesiastical’. Why should we conform to the ceremonious error of Christendom by adding excess words and actions to the supper? While we must act reverentially at all times in the Lord’s presence, there is a danger that by unnecessary sanctimonious deportment we complicate an act that is in itself delightfully simple. A consideration of the actual words of Scripture will elucidate this simplicity.
"Till He Come"
The timing of the institution of the remembrance is significant. While He was "being betrayed" 1 Cor.11.23. While the scheme of the traitor Judas was in progress the Lord Jesus gathers with His own. We should not be indifferent to the fact that this sacred ordinance was instituted on the last night of our blessed Saviour’s life. While He knew everything that would take place on the morrow, He provides through the Supper, the means whereby His people would remember Him, "till He come" 1 Cor.11.26. It is not simply the example of the apostle that would cause us to gather to remember Him, although we do adhere to the instruction given. Rather, it is the example of the Lord Jesus in His celebrating the Lord’s Supper, and His instruction "this do in remembrance of Me" Lk.22.19, which brings before us the significance of the institution. These are the very things that we are commanded to do.
These instructions were given initially to men who did not fully understand the circumstances taking place around them. Their consternation can be seen in the four questions asked in the upper room as the Lord speaks of His departure. Peter asks, "Lord, whither goest Thou?" Jn.13.26; Thomas asks, "how can we know the way?" Jn14.5; Philip asks, "show us the Father" Jn.14.8; and Judas, not Iscariot asks, "how is it that Thou wilt manifest Thyself unto us, and not unto the world?" Jn.14.22. The Lord Jesus understanding their concern institutes the Supper, and from that point until He comes His people will have the privilege of remembering Him. The Supper was designed to keep the hope of His return ever bright before His people from Pentecost until the Rapture. The impending great event of the future is linked with the great event of the past. Therefore the remembrance of the Lord Jesus as we participate in the Lord’s Supper will only last as long as the ‘Church age’. The remembrance will end when the remembered One returns. The great encouragement to every believer is that it will continue until He comes. We look around and see assembly testimony diminishing and even disappearing, but there will be, according to this simple statement, somewhere on this earth, believers gathering to His name and remembering Him in the way that He appointed, until the time of the Rapture.
"This is My Body"
Before looking at the bread and the cup let us look at a common error on the subject. Many readers of this book are in assemblies planted in villages and towns, which are populated mainly by Roman Catholics, and therefore regularly come into contact with those who practise and propagate error. Some believers are also engaged in personal and public evangelism among such. Keeping in mind that this publication is to help young believers particularly, it will do no harm to use the negative to endorse the positive!
Since 1215, the Church of Rome has propagated the dogma of Transubstantiation that was endorsed in the 16th century by the Council of Trent. Today it is firmly held by those of the Catholic religion, and is taught from childhood. Even school children will argue their belief in this error! They believe that the bread and wine become the actual body, soul and divinity of Christ, and while they eat the wafer they believe that this has become the actual flesh and blood of Christ. This transformation takes place as the priest consecrates the bread when he says the words, "this is my body", and as the priest distributes the bread or wafer, he says to each communicant, "the body of Christ and the blood of Christ".
They take the actual words of the Lord Jesus as absolutely literal in this instance, yet not in so many other occasions! So then after eating they believe that they carry His body, blood, Godhood and manhood shut up in the vessel of their own body. We shall see the true meaning of the emblems as we progress. However, we should state that this false doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood by the consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is absolutely false, not in relation to Scripture alone, but even to common sense. It is really an effort to overthrow Scripture and is in itself the root of many superstitions and much idolatry.
In addition they hold the Mass, and claim that this is a constantly repeated, real, though bloodless, sacrifice atoning for sin and propitiating God. As they partake of the ‘sacrament’ with their ritualistic prayers and incantations, they claim to be carrying out "the greater worship of God and edification of the people by their eating the body of Christ". This belittles the singular, everlasting sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. Scripture is clear that this is wrong. "Nor yet that he should offer Himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation" Heb.9.15,16. Also, "By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that He had said before, this is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin" Heb.10.10-18.
What does the bread convey to us? The bread taken on the night in which the Supper was instituted, was that which was before them on the table after the Passover meal. On that first occasion this would have been unleavened bread, however, later the early believers used the everyday bread that was available. There has been controversy over the years as to what should be used, but we should take note that as no part of the significance of the ordinance depends on the type of bread used, nor is there any precept on the subject, we should therefore take care not to divide on account of personal preference. While the emblems are fundamental to the occasion, occupation with the emblem means that our occupation with the subject, i.e. Christ, is not complete. The Lord took the bread that was conveniently to hand on the occasion; therefore the saints today should do the same without question. The statement made by the Lord Jesus intimated to those gathered that the broken bread which He held in His hands was an emblem of His body. As shown above, this statement has been taken out of context to propagate error. However, He is using the same language as He does, for example, throughout John’s gospel when He likens Himself to various objects. Some are, "I am the true vine", "I am the bread of God", "I am the door". To paraphrase, He says, "This bread which I hold in My hands and give to you represents My body." That is, it is the symbol of His body. The Lord Jesus Christ, becoming incarnate, had taken a physical body so that by His atoning sacrifice He might yield His body up for death by crucifixion. This is seen in the phrase "which is for you", 1 Cor.11.24.
Most manuscripts would omit the word "broken", in 1 Corinthians chapter 11, and so while we break the bread as He did after giving thanks, we must remember the Scripture, "A bone of Him shall not be broken" Jn.19.36. Likewise, Scripture gives no suggestion that the wounds in His hands, feet and side were the breaking of His body. The giving of Himself emphasises the sacrificial nature of His work.
As we gather to remember Him, the brother who breaks the bread is not representing the Lord Jesus, nor taking His place. In dividing the loaf, he is simply acting as a servant of the gathered company. The loaf is broken and each participates in the commemoration by partaking from the same loaf.
"In like manner the cup"
The reference to the "blood of the new testament (covenant)" 1 Cor.11.25; Matt.26.28; Mk.14.24; Lk.22.20, is important, for it stands in contrast to the Old Covenant based on the blood of the Passover lamb. In Jer.31.31 the promise was made of a new covenant with Judah and Israel, "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah." However, no information was provided then as to how this new covenant would be established, nor indeed when. In Hebrews chapters 9 and 10 it is shown that the New Covenant has to be ratified by blood, i.e. death, and that the blood of Christ. It is not until His words in the upper room that the Lord Jesus revealed that His blood allows the provision of the New Covenant to be put into effect. In effect the covenant is still future for Israel, but the blessing of it is present for us, His blood being, "shed for many for the remission of sins" Matt.26.28. There we have the purpose of the shedding of His blood. In Mark’s account we have the persons for whom the blood was shed, i.e. "many" Mk.14.24. Luke, when he records the words of the Lord Jesus, shows how personal the act is, "shed for you", Lk.22.20. These are different forms of expressing the sacrificial character of the death of Christ.
His blood then ratifies the covenant that was made by God. Please note that the four references mentioned above where the word ‘testament’ is used in the A.V. are best translated ‘covenant’. The Old Covenant was ratified by the blood of animals, while the new, by the blood of the eternal Son of God. While God made an unconditional covenant with Abraham, the covenant being considered here was a mutual agreement between two parties, namely God and the nation of Israel. It was an agreement based on obedience. The New Covenant was made essentially with the Jews (see Jer.31.31 above). Believers today are on the ground of God’s grace; no covenant was made with the assembly – it has been called in the eternal purpose of God. Saints of this day enter into their blessings through the blood of Christ in just the same way as the restored Jewish nation will enter into their blessings under the New Covenant. The fact that we are not under covenant does not minimise in any way the great truth of 1 Cor.11.25. We presently enjoy spiritual freedom and promise, peace and prosperity, the reality of which a restored Israel will come into literally at a future date.
The Lord’s Supper is a commemoration of Christ’s person, life, work and death, and so the loaf and the cup are significant symbols of His body given and blood shed. Although the blood of the New Covenant was shed in the death of Christ, it was at the same time, "shed for many" Matt.26.28, not only for the benefit of many, but the specific object being, "for the remission of sins," Matt.26.28. It was therefore a sin offering, which while making expiation for sin, ratifies the covenant of grace.
Without further development of the fact, it should be noted that in every reference, "the cup" is singular. There is no Scriptural basis for the use of multiple cups.
As we have seen, the Lord’s Supper is a Commemoration, an Appreciation, a Proclamation and an Anticipation. However we must never forget that it also involves our Participation.
We take note of the instruction given by the Lord Jesus at the inauguration of the Supper that each person present that night in the upper room was expected to partake of the loaf and the cup, and so participate in the Supper. Matt.26.26, "take eat", v.27, "Drink ye all of it." This is also endorsed by Paul, "this do", 1 Cor.11.24,25. It is therefore the privilege of every believer to exercise themselves and organise their lives to allow them to gather with the local assembly of which they are part, to remember the Lord Jesus. While all gatherings are important there is something unique in gathering on the first of the week to commemorate our Saviour. All other gatherings involve our service and activity, but the Supper is all about Christ and the fragrance is sweet as we extol His worth in remembrance of Him. Yet we do not mean that meeting to remember Him is enough for the rest of the week, and the rest of the assembly gatherings are insignificant and unimportant. The Lord’s Supper is only one part of our assembly fellowship, and we should be involved in all aspects of assembly life, otherwise can we say that we are in ‘fellowship’? In the words of another, "Every meeting is for every saint, and every saint is for every meeting!"
While we look at our attitude in participating, it should be noted that there are no rules and regulations as to the order of the Lord’s Supper. This does not mean that we can do what we like when we gather, but rather indicates that the Lord Jesus should lead all who take part in worship and thanksgiving. The resulting spontaneous expression of personal appreciation has caused comment by unbelievers observing the Lord’s Supper. The Lord Jesus is the only Person Who oversees and orchestrates such a gathering. It may be simple but very necessary to state, that the New Testament shows nothing of clergy or any other licensed person with authority to lead or administer officially within the local assembly.
When and Where do we participate?
1 Cor.11.26, "For as often as", means every time that it is done. However, the frequency of the remembrance is not left to individual discretion. In Acts chapter 20 Paul arrived in Troas en route for Jerusalem. There he waited seven days so that he could gather with them to break bread. There was no special observance of the Supper held so that Paul and his travelling companions could participate, thus facilitating their journey. Nor did Paul continue on his journey and break bread with his companions either on board ship or at some convenient spot along the way. The remembrance of the Lord Jesus is always associated with a local assembly. On each of the occasions that the breaking of bread is recorded in the New Testament, this is the case, and there is no record in Scripture of any observance other than this. It is therefore a collective exercise of a local assembly. So we remember the Lord Jesus where His people gather locally, and where He gathers with His people. While it has always been the purpose of God to gather in the midst of His people, there is still a thrill in the hearts of His own, that He gathers with us! Matt 18.20, "there am I in the midst". The day for gathering is as was recorded at Troas, "upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread," Acts 20.7. This speaks of the first exercise of the week. While most in the Western world would break bread in the morning we should take into consideration the circumstances of believers in other countries, who for a variety of reasons cannot gather collectively in the morning. The present writer, when on business in Middle Eastern Islamic countries, broke bread with the local assemblies later in the day due to local constraints. This in no way lessened the significance of the Supper.
The fact that the gathering to remember the Lord Jesus is a fixed part of assembly life, means every effort should be made to be present at the Lord’s Supper. Regular participation in the Supper is essential for the spiritual health of the believer. While there will always be occasions when due to exceptional circumstances some cannot gather, it would be wrong to habitually miss this occasion. Not only does it mean that the person who misses remembering the Lord Jesus is losing out, but it also means that there is a lack of appreciation of Christ and that God is denied His portion. We should also remember that as we travel and are on vacation, we are still responsible to remember the Lord Jesus. As already stated this can only be in fellowship with a local assembly in the area visited. Therefore, decisions regarding holiday destinations should be made in relation to the availability of an assembly. Apart from the blessing of remembering the Lord Jesus, there is the added joy of enjoying fellowship with believers of other nationalities who are seeking to follow the instruction of the Word of God. In John chapter 20, Thomas missed the blessing due to his absence, and while this occasion was not an assembly gathering, nor the Lord’s Supper, the principle applies. It would be difficult for any to argue their interest in the person of Christ while habitually failing to remember Him.
As already stated, the gathering to remember the Lord Jesus is the sole privilege of a local assembly gathered to His Name. The assembly is blessedly unique in every aspect, whether in its announcement and description in the New Testament, or its order and function locally. Therefore, those who are part of any local assembly must meet the criteria as laid down in Scripture.
The basic requirement for gathering and any further service is that of salvation. While it is impossible for unbelievers to be part of the "church which is His body" Eph.1.22,23, it is possible for unbelievers to be part of a local church. While this is wrong and will lead to trouble within, it is very possible. However, those who claim to be in fellowship with the Lord Jesus at the remembrance should be saved. This may sound simple, but we need to be realistic. All saved people should be baptised which, as has been stated, is a New Testament ordinance and a commandment of the Lord Jesus. Is it possible that one could claim the Lordship of Christ without being obedient? It does sound incongruous, but so many are failing to obey.
So then, if a person is saved and baptised, is that enough to allow them to come and gather with a local assembly and take their place at the Lord’s Supper? We have already seen that the Lord’s Supper is commemorated by those who are part of a local assembly and are gathering on a continuing basis. As the meaning of Matt.18.20, "For where two or three are [having been, and are being] gathered together in My name", shows, the remembrance is not a place of casual gathering. The reading of 1 Corinthians chapter 11, shows the regularity of the assembly at Corinth gathering together. Therefore, the privilege of participating in the Lord’s Supper is for those who form the local assembly.
The assembly is a fellowship based on Scriptural doctrine, and so those who gather must be committed to the doctrine and subject to its administration. In some places there is that which is called an ‘open table’. This is foreign to the Word of God. Some would open the Lord’s Supper to all who, as they say, ‘love the Lord Jesus’, and welcome all, regardless of their spiritual beliefs or their manner of life. This too is wrong, and it is the responsibility of overseers to ensure that those who practise strange doctrines foreign to Scripture or those who are living in sin, are not permitted to participate in the fellowship of the assembly, including the Lord’s Supper. In the present day the question of sin in the life must be addressed and if necessary investigated, as there is an acceptance of sinful practices in society which if allowed to prevail in assembly life will lead to the destruction of spiritual values and most likely the destruction of the assembly. "Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?" 1 Cor 5.6. Significantly, in the record of the upper room institution of the Supper, Judas the "son of perdition" Jn.17.12, had gone out into the night. To allow such to remember the Lord Jesus brings the gathering into disrepute, demeans the person of the Lord Jesus, and opens the door to many dangers to those who are in fellowship, particularly, but not exclusively, to the young. Some would also make a convenience of the local assembly and ask for occasional fellowship, they gather in Christendom, but would like to gather in the assembly when visiting in the area. The fact that they do not gather in a local assembly in their home area would point to the fact that they have no perception of the truth of the local assembly nor have they an interest in the doctrine held by the assembly as taught in the Word of God.
How should a person Participate?
While it the responsibility of every believer to gather to remember the Lord Jesus, and we have seen the criteria necessary for partaking of the Supper, the solemn requirement of every believer is to be worthy to participate. In 1 Cor.11.27-32, Paul shows the need for self-examination before partaking of the Supper. Rigorous self-examination is required so that we eat worthily. Sin must be confessed, repentance displayed, and restitution made. "Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" Matt.5.24. While this may only be one aspect of self-examination, all examination is with the purpose of being in a condition to partake of the Lord’s Supper, and not with a view to staying away. If we do not participate in this examination, and continue in the condition of carnality with sin in our life, an unforgiving spirit, or refuse to be reconciled, we put ourselves in the condition of acting "unworthily" 1 Cor 11.27,29. We have therefore failed to understand the correct nature and design of the ordinance, and that our attitude to the emblems reflects our attitude to the One of whom they speak. To partake of the Supper unworthily, is to dishonour the Lord, and to be guilty of indifference to His person. To be "guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" 1 Cor.11.27, is extremely solemn as it looks beyond the emblems to the very person of our Lord Jesus. Interestingly, the weight of this "guilt" is seen in the word that is used with force in Matt.26.66, "He is guilty of death", and in Jms.2.10 "he is guilty of all".
We must ever remember that cold, carnal, formalism will ruin the exercise of the assembly, and each must take care to be in a spiritual condition when meeting to remember the Lord Jesus. The example is Corinth where there were many practising things not conducive to worthy remembrance, and yet they continued to break bread. It is possible to break bread and not remember the Lord. There is no blessing in going through the formality of gathering out of habit, without a holy life or the correct attitude essential for the remembrance. Some people may refuse to eat because of their failure to examine themselves. This is wrong; there is no licence for this in Scripture. The current trend of "withdrawing from fellowship," because of personal sin, is unscriptural! The process is self-examination and then, "so let him eat", 1 Cor.11.28. (Gross sin will be judged by the assembly and the necessary Scriptural action taken - see chapter 11.)
While we cannot judge the discipline of God in the life of a believer, Paul does state that "he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself" 1 Cor.11.29, that is, they come under the judgment of God. There were those who were weak and sickly among the Corinthians and many had fallen asleep (death), because of their failure to discern the Lord’s body. These expressions used by Paul are not used figuratively and should be taken in their literal sense. Paul knew that the prevailing illness and frequent deaths among the Christians in Corinth were a judgment from God on account of the irreverent manner in which they had partaken of the Lord’s Supper. If this was the case in Corinth, we must take care that when we gather we do so with the correct attitude, and with self-judgment. Even with all our knowledge and privilege we are not beyond acting like the Corinthians. God’s ways of temporal judgment can be very severe! This is further developed in Galatians chapter 6 where, although there is a broader application, the warning is given against carnality, v.8, "For he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption".
It is the privilege of every believer in local assembly fellowship, to partake of the Lord’s Supper. While it is also our responsibility to do so in the correct spiritual and moral state, it will never cease be a privilege. To gather in simplicity as instructed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and to remember Him, is an experience far beyond anything that Christendom can offer. To engage in commemoration in fellowship with Him and with other believers is something to be savoured by each saint. To participate in an ordinance which is as permanent as the Church age, which causes us to look back, look up, and look forward to His coming for His own, is a joy to the believing heart.
- Backward look we, drawn to Calvary,
- Musing while we sing;
- Forward haste we to Thy coming,
- Lord and King.
- (Douglas Russell)