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Can We Talk About The Lord’s Supper?
I ask us to reexamine our traditions concerning the Lord’s Supper.

How Should We Worship

One thing stands out about worship in the New Testament, there is worship that is acceptable to God, and that which is not. Romans 12:1 speaks of an acceptable sacrifice. To say there is an acceptable sacrifice implies there also is an unacceptable sacrifice. If we conceive the substance of worship to consist of things like liturgy filled with ritual, or with praise by word and by music, and outward activities, we approach the verge of worship that is not acceptable to God. All those things have a place in our worship, but they are not the substance of worship. On the other hand, spiritual and true worship, the substance of worship, is our relationship to God. It consists of faith, obedience, and conformity to Christ Jesus, presenting ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) to Him.

It is important to temper this by saying that we are all sinners, recipients of God’s grace, His unmerited favor toward us. Our standing before God is on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to us. We have no other standing. To gain this standing we must approach Him in faith, believing the good news that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, according to the Scriptures. And that He was buried and rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures. From there, being born again, God works in us to bring us to conformity to the likeness of His Son, and we have standing to worship in spirit and in truth. It means that that worship is not merely words of praise.

Just a note for those who may be struggling with faith, our source of faith is God's Word. Read Romans Chapter Ten, there Paul offers a line of reasoning that concludes in verse 17 which says,

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)

This is the idea behind Christ’s rebuke to the Pharisees, the condition of the heart and mind must be acceptable to God before the outward worship that may be offered is acceptable. The disciples at one time violated the Pharisees’ concept of proper worship, Jesus rebuked and corrected the Pharisees,

But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day. But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day. (Matthew 12:2-8)

Jesus was quoting the Old Testament prophet Hosea. That prophet rebuked Israel for idolatry, which is false and evil worship. Yet Israel retained also the worship of the Temple with its sacrifices, thinking to also please the God of Israel with outward worship. But Israel’s heart was not right before God. Along with the rebukes was also the correction, in essence Hosea instructed Israel how to worship in spirit and in truth:

For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)

Isaiah also prophesied about the same issues to Israel. A deep failing was to that they concieved of worship as being outward activities that could please, and thus placate, God. But the truth Jesus spoke plainly to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) has always been the truth of worship. Isaiah was inspired by the Holy Spirit to tell Israel that it was not the sacrifices brought to the Temple that pleased God, rather it was the sacrifice Paul declared in Romans 12:1 that pleased God. The passage below sums up the rebuke and the last verse declares the truth of what God wants:

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:11-17)

The prophet Micah, most likely a contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah, offers the same rebuke and correction. The Lord through the prophets of the Old Testament declared over and over again the same lessons about what it was that pleased Him. Yes, the Law disposed of proper worship and must be adhered to, but underlying obedience to the Law was the absolute need of a right heart toward God:

Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:6-8)

These things from the Old Testament were written for our admonition:

Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)

Paul was instructing the Corinthian believers, and through them us, about right conduct before God. He was giving them the examples of the judgements God brought upon journeying Israel in the wilderness to correct them. He tells the Corinthians that those Old Testament Scriptures held a message for the Church. And the Church has consistently held this attitude toward the Old Testament: it was written not only to Israel, but to reveal God for all ages. That is what is meant by saying it was written for our admonition. Given this then, we see in the prophets quoted above, the revelation of worship that is in spirit and in truth, and the revelation that outward worship by itself is not acceptable to God. The outward has been disposed of by God, He has given the acceptable forms of it. The outward is acceptable to God only when the inward is acceptable. But God knows us and is patient with us, leading us to our destination which is for us both to be with, and to be like, His Son Jesus Christ.

Therefore keeping this in mind, we must know that worship in spirit and in truth (John 4) begins within ourselves. We are born again, hearing and believing God’s word, which is recorded and kept in the Scriptures, and preached by the other members of the body of Christ, which is the Church. Think about this. The Bible contains the written record of God’s word; we must understand that God used people, the Prophets and the Apostles, to bring the Bible into existence. In particular in the New Testament the Bible is exactly the words of the Apostles and the Evangelists as inspired by the Holy Spirit. Consider carefully the verse in John 17:20, we have heard through the words of the Apostles (and the Prophets of the Old Testament); the Apostles heard the Lord’s words directly and passed them on to us, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, down through generations of Christians. We are built up in Christ by gifts given to the Church (this means things like preaching and teaching by other Christians) by God for just that purpose. As we individually grow in grace and in knowledge of the Lord, we worship in our own spirits, we become a “living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God”, and then we are able to bring uplifting worship into our assemblies that will then build up others in Christ. This is a dynamic relationship.

Having said this, we remain physical beings. We have bodies. Our worship, especially when we assemble as the Church, must of practical necessity also be expressed in physical things like liturgy, ritual, praise by word and by music, and the like. But we are not left without God’s disposition for these things. He has given us the preaching of the Gospel, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper as the means for expressing our worship. These are His inventions, not our own. Just as the Gospel was His plan purposed in His determinate counsel and foreknowledge, so also these three companions were devised for us to use to declare His Gospel. They are God’s work, and we should prefer nothing to them.

We have several examples of what those living in New Testament times did when they were gathered together. In Acts 2 we find they “continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers.” (Acts 2:42) This passage doesn’t describe a liturgy. This is not a list of individual liturgic acts. This passage describes their overall relationship together and what they were doing. But this does inform us and point us in the direction of imitating the same. In another place we read that Paul preached after the breaking of bread, on a Sunday (Acts 20:7). In 1 Corinthians 16:2 Paul instructs those believers to take up their collection of money at their Sunday gathering. In 1 Corinthians 14:26 we have a passage that likely shows the influence of the synagog on early Christian gatherings. Paul describes what seems to be an open ministry and worship service,

How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. (1 Corinthians 14:26)

And in 1 Corinthians 11 we find Paul’s criticism, and refinement of the breaking of bread, known then and now as the Lord’s Supper. Paul extracted the Lord’s Supper from the common meal. In effect Paul told them to cancel the common meal and eat at home instead because of disorder, but to retain the Lord’s Supper. This places things in perspective, it tells us what is important and indispensable and what isn’t so important. Historically that has shaped the public worship of the Church.

We take Paul’s explanation, instructions, and warnings as normative for us today. So there we have it. Worship of the assembled Church, manifested in activities portrayed in the New Testament. Out of these precedents have arisen all of our modern worship practices, Catholic and Protestant alike.

We can see in the history of the Church how things have changed from New Testament times in that they have become formalized. The openness of ministry and worship that seemed to be present in the New Testament is for the most part gone, replaced by more restricted ministry and worship performed by an ordained clergy. There are only a few types of gatherings today where ministry and worship is open to the body outside of a clergy. But there is a recognition that traditional clergy led services, and formal liturgies may need amendment. This is expressed in the development of the modern praise format for worship. It is more open but still under the control of worship leaders and not left to the congregation. Things have changed, and then changed again, and our modern worship services though developed out of New Testament examples, are very different in many ways.

Don’t think that I am advocating for a return to some idealized primitive worship practice that was delivered to the Church in the New Testament and must be rigidly followed. But I do advocate taking a much closer look at those New Testament practices, and that by doing so we may well benefit by imitating them. One aspect that I think it is particularly important to examine is the concept of open ministry and worship services. The immediate objection is that great disorder would result, and loss of control is feared. That objection can be answered in several ways. Participation in the worship gatherings of the New Testament generation was limited to established Christians. It seems that unbelievers and novices were often excluded from even being present at the breaking of bread. This is not a suggestion that we do likewise. Our worship should be open to public view. But what it does suggest is the need for proper teaching. In our churches today are we teaching believers how to worship together in public? The body needs to be prepared for that. As part of that preparation, limits must be taught and enforced. Services must have that mix of leadership displayed in led worship and congregational singing, formal sermons, times of prayer, announcements, and all the other necessary things. But a time of open worship and ministry can be (ought to be) incorporated into the services. And of course, the egregious breech of Scripture so common today: the merely occasional celebration of the Lord’s Supper, must be corrected. The breaking of bread ought to be the central controlling activity around which our services are organized. In a way that preaching and prayer alone cannot, it focuses our attention upon the Lord, so that He may have the preeminence. In fact, it is the Lord’s Supper which superlatively directs our attention to the Lord to the exclusion of other things. And that is just exactly God’s purpose which He purposed for it in His determinate counsel and foreknowledge.

What we must not loose sight of is that worship is to be in spirit and in truth. And the character of our lives is to be living sacrifices acceptable to God. All these other activities are outward, yet necessary, expressions of our spiritual and true worship. As regards the Lord’s Supper, we must not make too much of it. But neither ought we make too little of it. And that goes for everything else too, things like open ministry and worship, liturgy, all those things, they all have a reason and a season but are not the thing itself. What the “thing” is, is that the Lord Jesus Christ truly have the preeminence among us, together as the Church, and individually as Christians. The Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath day.

©FH 2012

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