In This Issue
LORD'S SUPPER: A WEEKLY COMMUNION
One thing that distinguishes churches of Christ from other religious groups is their practice of weekly communion - observing the Lord's supper each first day of the week. We are frequently asked our reasons for this practice. In keeping with 1 Peter 3:15, we are glad to give an answer.
Our practice harmonizes with that of the church in the first century under inspired leadership, and thus, we are convinced, is the will of God. We will consider three areas of evidence: (1) the testimony of the theologians, (2) the evidence of history, and (3) the teachings of the Scriptures.
TESTIMONY OF THE THEOLOGIANS
The first line of evidence we want to examine is the testimony of some well known theologians and scholars from a number of different religious denominations and backgrounds.
Methodist scholar Adam Clarke says of the first century church, "They were accustomed to receive the Holy Sacrament on each Lord's day."
Anglican bishop A. C. Hervey in The Pulpit Commentary wrote of Acts 20:7, "This is also an important example of weekly communion as the practice of the first Christians."
E. H. Trenchard of the Brethren Church referred to the same passage, saying "We understand v. 7 to indicate that the Breaking of Bread on the first day of the week was customary during the apostolic period." F. F. Bruce, another Brethren scholar, in the book, Answers to Questions, agrees that a "weekly celebration is probably indicated."
Greek scholar W. E. Vine, author of An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, writes in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, "as to the time indicated by 'as oft as' [1 Corinthians 11:25], there is sufficiently clear intimation in Scripture that the first day of the week (while not the subject of command) was the regular day upon which the Lord's people met for this purpose. The observance was certainly not less frequent."
Several Presbyterian scholars have recognized the importance of weekly communion in the early church. Reformer John Calvin believed that this practice of the early church should continue to prevail. Andrew W. Blackwood writes, "Ideally, many think with Calvin, we should follow the apostolic church in observing Communion every Lord's day." Albert Barnes recognizes, "It is probable that the apostles and early Christians celebrated the Lord's Supper every Lord's day." Finally, Clarence Edward Macartney, author of over 30 books of sermons and one-time moderator of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., wrote in one of his sermons on the Lord's supper, "Nineteen centuries have passed since then, and yet never a week has passed in all those years that his follows have not remembered him in the Lord's Supper."
To these testimonies, many more could be added.
THE EVIDENCE OF HISTORY
The second line of reasoning we want to pursue is that of history. Religious writers of the early days of Christianity and those who have studied their writings agree with what we have learned from the pens of the theologians.
Oscar Hardman in A History of Christian Worship writes, "By the end of first century, however, the first day of the week had come to be generally observed as the Lord's day, and to be invariably marked by the Passion, which had taken to itself as the commonest of its titles the name Eucharist ... "
"The Didache," an early treatise dating from about 120 A. D. admonishes, "On Sunday, the Lord's own day, come together, break bread, and give thanks ..."
Justin Martyr, who wrote about 140 A. D., recorded, "On the day which is called Sunday, all who dwell either in town or country come together to one place. The memories of the apostles are read for a certain time ... And then the distribution of the bread and wine over which the thanksgiving has been offered, is made to all present, and all partake of it."
Additional evidence from history could be gathered, but this is sufficient for our purposes.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
Let us now examine the most important witness of all - the word of God. When Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper, He commanded His disciples to observe it in His memory, Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25. His wording indicates that He intended them to observe it often. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26).
It is evident that the church in Jerusalem observed the memorial supper frequently, for the Scripture "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). Since the same doctrine, worship and practice was taught in every congregation, we may be assured that this practice prevailed in all the early congregations, 1 Corinthians 4:17; 7:17; 14:33.
Also we might note that all the memorial feasts God ordained in the Old Testament had a set time to be observed. There were such memorials as Passover, Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the weekly Sabbath. Each of these had a specific time, ordained by God for their observance, and they were observed regularly at that time. See Leviticus 23. For instance, when God said, "Six days shall work by done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest ..." the Jews correctly understood that He meant every seventh day (Saturday) was a Sabbath. We no longer live under the Old Testament law, nor do we observe its memorials, but we have a memorial commanded us by Christ, and a careful study of the Scriptures tells us that it should be observed on a certain day. When he instituted His supper, the Lord spoke of "that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14:25; Matthew 26:29). Once the kingdom or church of God came into existence, there would be a set day when Christians would eat the bread and drink the cup in memory of Jesus, and Jesus Himself would commune with them in a new manner on that day.
Perhaps the clearest Scripture with regard to the appointed time for observance of the Lord's supper is Acts 20:7. "Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them ..."
The practice of the church in Corinth is also significant. They were supposedly observing the Lord's supper on a regular basis, but the division within the congregation caused them to abuse it to the extent that Paul wrote to them: "When, therefore ye assemble yourselves together, it is not possible to eat the Lord's supper: for in your eating each one taketh before other his own supper." (1 Cor. 11:20-21, A.S.V.). Though he rebuked them for their abuses, he taught that they should come together to one place, examine themselves to see that their minds did not stray from the significance of the memorial supper, and then eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord, vs. 17-18, 20, 28, 31.
Note carefully that they were to come together in one place to eat the Lord's supper. To learn the time of their gathering, we need only to turn to 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. Like the churches throughout the Roman province of Galatia, the Corinthians assembled on the first day of the week.
Thus we conclude that the church in Corinth and the churches in the province of Galatia had been taught to do what the church in Troas had been taught to do: come together on the first day of the week to break bread, Acts 20:7. This was the universal practice of the congregations we read of in the New Testament under inspired leadership.
History records that this was the practice of the early church for several centuries. Scholars from many denominations agree that this is so. Can you think of any good reason Christians should not do the same today, and until the Lord returns?
"For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes." (1 Corinthians 11:26).
-- Clarence R. Johnson
"ARE YOU MERCIFUL?"
The Bible says in Matthew 5:7, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." The words "merciful" and "mercy' come from the same root word from which we get eleemosynary. That word defined means "of, relating to, or dependent on charity, or benevolence" So, one who is merciful or
full of mercy, is one who does charitable works or is benevolent.
He is concerned about the welfare of others. He is the blessed one we read about in Matthew 25: "I was hungry, you fed me; I was thirsty, you gave me drink; naked, you clothed me; sick, you visited me." He is the one whom Paul exhorts to be concerned about the needy in Ephesians 4.28: "... let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth."
This is what is being discussed in James 1:27; "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." Bear in mind that, first of all, these verses pertain to individual action. Personal responsibility such as we find stated in I Timothy 5:16: "If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed."
These verses are not talking about making a donation; they are talking about personal contact with misery. However, there are times when we hear of a situation about which we can do nothing more than make a donation such as the recent flood and hurricane disasters. In such cases, be merciful. You may need mercy someday.
--Bob Craig, Toward a Greater Faith, 9/15/2002
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Clarence R. Johnson
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