Following recent discussions with dear friends about the breaking of bread in the context of wanting to live free from the customs and traditions of man-made church structures. I have looked into this subject again and want to share some thoughts on it. The following is worth noting by way of introduction:
The whole direction of the New Testament including the life and ministry of Jesus is away from rites and traditions towards inward reality, true simplicity and all pervasive Christian living in the Spirit.
Breaking of bread and drinking wine was involved in a normal meal in Bible times as is evident in Luke 24:28-32 and in Acts 27:33-36.
In his book, ‘Custom & Command’ Stan Firth writes:
“The impression I get from reading the Bible is that, just as worship was ‘in the course of life’ in the early Church, so was remembering the Lord’s death with bread and wine. These were staple food and drink of the first century Mediterranean world (and have remained so). I am by no means convinced that Jesus was commanding a ‘rite,’ a religious performance. That is not in keeping with Jesus at all. I believe He was simply saying that when believers shared a loaf of bread [the host would break it and distribute it [ there was no sliced bread in those days] and when they shared wine together, they were to remember His broken body and poured out blood.”
May I also refer you to further comments on this subject in my book, Revelatory Adventure? pages 77-80.
These things were a normal part of living in New Testament times: (a) Breaking bread, (b) Drinking wine (c) Sharing meals.
THE TEACHING OF JESUS
These are the things that the Lord Jesus introduced to His followers:
Giving thanks – We are encouraged to be a thankful people continuously. We need to be repeatedly deeply grateful for Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on Calvary . There were probably two reasons why the two Emmaus Road followers recognised Jesus during the evening meal. One would be the fragrant intimacy He expressed in addressing His Father with thankfulness. The other is that in their home He assumed the role of host in taking bread and breaking it. His becoming Host in our hearts is a part of the wonderful invitation of Revelation 3:20. With Him as the host I may eagerly anticipate His breaking the bread of life unto me.
Jesus invites us to partake of Himself, the Living Bread. “He who keeps on eating my flesh and drinking my blood, in Me is continually abiding and I in Him.” (John 6:52 Wuest). Surely this parallels eating the bread of our usual meals day by day. As natural food is intended to nourish and provide vitality, strength and glowing good health, so much more should we find the spiritual equivalent of this through ingesting the Bread that came down from heaven. Jesus also invites us to drink His blood, finding cleansing and refreshing in Him.
Remembering Him. There are two aspects to this. We do well never to forget the death, burial and resurrection of our precious Redeemer. How can we be anything but eternally grateful for His amazing provision of so great salvation provided at such supreme cost? Then, in our thankfully partaking of both natural and spiritual food, we do well to remember Him as present with us now through the Holy Spirit. Thus memory of Him will never be in danger of being relegated solely and sentimentally to the historical fact of Calvary . He is alive. He lives in us, and is with us every moment of every day. Praise Him!
Let me mention at this stage that the Greek word for blessing in ‘Cup of blessing’ (as in 1 Corinthians 10:16 ) is ‘eulogia,’ meaning literally ‘Good speaking.’ From the Greek word for ‘Given thanks’ in 1 Corinthians 11:24 comes the word Eucharist. Alas, terms that are meant to indicate our thanking the Lord and blessing His name have widely come to mean a ritual and a sacrament.
LOOKING AT 1 CORINTHIANS 11
Jude 12, Wuest: “These are those individuals who are hidden rocks in your love feasts, sumptuously feasting with you without fear, as shepherds leading themselves to pasture, waterless clouds carried by the winds, autumn trees without fruit, having died twice, rooted up, wild, untamed sea waves, foaming up their own shames, wandering meteors, for whom the blackness of darkness has been reserved forever.”
I will shortly link the above Scripture to 1 Corinthians 11 but first let me refer to the love feasts mentioned in the above Scripture.
The Beacon Commentary says that, “The Early Church apparently shared a common meal on certain occasions which was called a love feast or agape.” The Pulpit Commentary says, “The object of the agape was something higher than mere gratification of appetite. Though it was not sacramental it was intended to be a symbolic and sacred meal.” These commentaries indicate that 1 Corinthians 11:20-22 refers to Agape meals ‘gone wrong’ The Beacon Commentary says that it wasn’t until about AD 150 that churches discontinued eating meals in conjunction with breaking bread, giving thanks and remembering the Lord Jesus.
As in Jude 12, Paul finds much ground to rebuke the Corinthian Christians when he addresses this carnal church. Consider this list of wrongs he names among them:
3:5,6 Followers of various men
5:1,2 Immorality, and proud of it!
6:7 Lawsuits among believers
11:17 Meetings do more harm than good
In this chapter (1 Corinthians 11) Paul several times says, “I am not praising you.” He describes their coming together as though bringing food for a love feast, an actual meal, at which they didn’t share with others what they brought. By their selfishness the more wealthy embarrassed and humiliated the poor among the believers; some of whom weren’t able to bring anything. So some remain hungry and others eat to excess. The adverb ‘unworthy’ in verse 27 refers to a balancing of weights and so means ‘of unequal weight’ or ‘improperly balanced’.
REVELATION FROM THE LORD
In the midst of the unpleasant things Paul ascribes to these believers is the precious record of what he states in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. His “I received from the Lord” elevates what he shares to the highest plane, does it not? There is something extraordinary about it that we need to look at closely. Is Paul describing a rite they should be performing? Surely not! It is too easy for such a rite to have little meaning, or to be partaken of when ones’ heart is not truly in tune with God. It is too easy for superstition to enter in, placing merit upon the doing of it, and believing that physical and spiritual benefits are the result. It is too easy to focus on external and natural things and thus to blind our eyes to the wonders of spiritual reality. It is too easy to allow false and shallow interpretation at a human level to bind us back into bondage of man-made church tradition from which God in His abundant grace has released us.
Note that what the Lord Jesus had shown Paul was His past action, which took place at what has become known as the ‘Last Supper’ To say the least it is most rare for God to reveal something that He has already said and done, let alone explain it, and more especially so since it was ‘in the public domain’ That is, it was obviously known to those who were there, including the Gospel writers, all of who would have shared with others by word of mouth the events of those momentous hours towards the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Or did He see that they were already in danger of subverting dynamic life changing truth into a somewhat empty, distracting, superstitious rite?
Let us ask ourselves, ‘What bread did Jesus use?’ It seems clear that He made use of the Passover bread, which alone was available in the home that evening. What bread did He use with the men from Emmaus (Luke 24:30) Without doubt it was whatever bread was in the house in readiness for the evening meal. What bread did Paul use on the boat soon to be shipwrecked (Acts 27:35)? In all probability it was long lasting or very stale bread that had been on the ship for weeks, made at least prior to the 14 days of terrible storm they had been enduring, and was part of the provender for the 276 people on board.
Look at the kinds of bread used by different ‘churches’ and groups who partake in what is variously named the Mass, Eucharist, Holy Communion, Breaking of Bread, or simply The Table.
My above questions and comments lead me to this: What makes the bread special, when is it special, and when is it not?
The Roman Catholics believe that their ritual invokes transubstantiation so that the bread becomes the actual Body of Christ. Lutherans believe in con-substantiation, which means that the nature of the bread is not changed but that Christ is present with the bread in the communion service. Most Protestants believe that the bread becomes a ‘means of grace’ when it is used in communion. Many in the Protestant, Pentecostal and Charismatic traditions feel that the bread is no longer sacred or special when Breaking of Bread is over, simply eating the left-overs for lunch or feeding the birds.
So when is bread sacred, and when is it not? And what can we learn from this?
Remembering that in a number of situations in the Holy Bible different kinds of bread were used, we can see that the kind of bread was not important. Surely we cannot believe or accept that the nature or value of bread changes because it is used in a special ceremony. What did the Lord reveal to Paul, which he shared with the divided, greedy, selfish carnal Corinthian believers? It was that Jesus had elevated the partaking of natural food (taken to satisfy the needs and appetites of our bodies) to a higher plane, linking it with partaking of spiritual food, provided to meet the much more important needs of our spiritual lives! Nothing else truly fits the broad picture of the whole direction of New Testament emphasis, the balance of revealed truth, and a healthy focus on God’s highest purpose for our lives. We sorely need to be kept aware of the spiritual dimensions of Christian living.
So Paul adds that with this attitude and practice we may enjoy daily spiritual nourishment and refreshing as well as be announcing the wonders of Calvary (by our transformed, selfless, godly living) until the Lord Jesus returns.
Let me urge you ever so strongly to do away with the paltry, shallow substitute of a human tradition and religious rite so that you may lay hold more strongly to God’s pure, precious and delightful life provided for us all in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
There are two further matters relating to ‘Breaking of Bread’ that I have pondered before the Lord. One is whether there was something new and different in what the Lord revealed to Paul as stated in 1 Corinthians 11 compared with what He shared with the disciples in the ‘Upper Room’ The other is, where did the early church get the idea of ‘Love Feasts’ or Agape?
The King James Bible (which I do not normally use) says, “As often as ye do this “..” The ‘ye’ is a plural ‘you’ and ‘thou’ is singular. In the English language we simply use ‘you’ for either singular or plural.
Surely the Lord was making very clear to Paul that what He had asked of the disciples in the Upper Room He desires of all believers. He anticipates that His followers corporately (that is, in the plural) will frequently share meals with one another. This would normally be in someone’s home, probably more often than not be in ‘twos and threes’ but on many occasions be a somewhat larger number. These would be occasions for them all to focus their minds and hearts on Him and to share together in His life.
Commentaries indicate that the ‘Love Feast’ was more than an ordinary meal, but not a sacramental rite. It was a ‘bring and share’ meal involving a body of believers, where love for each other and for the Lord was the predominant factor. No doubt in those early days of the Church they understood how to especially remember the Lord Jesus on such an occasion, keeping Him central to the event and partaking together of that particular portion of His life to which the Holy Spirit drew their attention. Would it not be sad if believers came together to share a meal and spent virtually all of their time discussing natural things of weather, family, government and so on until issues of higher, spiritual dimensions were squeezed out of the event? I do not deny the enjoyment and value of chatting about all kinds of things of mutual interest, but simply want to stress the great value of learning to partake together of Christ’s life as we eat and fellowship together.
Let me restate my conviction that the heart of what the Lord Jesus revealed through Paul, and wants us to be well aware of today, as much as ever, is that it is good for His people to share meals together frequently. When they do so it can be a special occasion for remembering His presence and provision and a special opportunity to remind and encourage one another to be partaking (together as well as alone) of the Bread of Life, so that we all grow spiritually into full maturity in Christ.
Let us be encouraged to move in the following:
Acknowledge that our deepest desire and need is living Bread.
Gladly allow the Lord Jesus Christ to be Host in our hearts, breaking the bread of His own life for our personal assimilation, to the betterment of every aspect of our lives.
Firmly link in our minds the taking of natural food with the taking of spiritual nourishment so that we repeatedly turn to Him with thoughtfulness and thanksgiving, remembering with deep gratitude His provision and presence.
Stay alert for opportunities to share meals with other believers and learn how to make these an occasion for sharing Christ’s love and life with one another. This may be an opportunity for Matthew 18:19,20 to ‘come alive’ with fresh newness. “Again I tell you that if two of you agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in My Name, there I am with them.” We dare not ignore His Presence!
Seek grace and wisdom from the God of all grace that we may not only be kept fully free in Him, but that we may be exceedingly sensitive to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, so that He may lead us in all the ways of God.
“On this account I bow my knees to the Father?that He would grant to you according to the wealth of His glory, with the power to be strengthened through the Spirit in the inward man, that the Christ might finally settle down and feel completely at home in your hearts through your faith; in love having been firmly rooted and grounded in order that you may be able to grasp with all the saints what is the breadth and width and height and depth, and to know experientially the love of Christ which surpasses experiential knowledge in order that you may be filled up to the measure of all the fullness of God”