Lord’s Supper – Introduction
This brief article is not a detailed study on the Lord’s Supper (hereafter LS). It only tries to clarify certain issues propagated by some brethren against anyone gathering in homes to observe the LS during this time of lockdown, when all church gatherings are suspended. These over- zealous brethren have accused those who gather at homes with serious violations of fundamental Bible doctrines.
This is a false and baseless charge. Their teachings have confused and misled many people. I felt this to be a totally negative and ungracious attitude without any pastoral concern and sensitivity to the spiritual needs of people as they face the painful challenges of the pandemic situation.
Several concerned brothers have encouraged and requested me to write something to clarify this matter. My intention is to help and encourage those who are confused and seeking some answers, and not to convince others who may not be supportive of my position.
Lord’s Supper – A Basic Clarification
1. All of us wholeheartedly believe and practice the ordinance of the LS in the Scriptural way – in the company of assembled believers in the context of the local church.
We have not abandoned, disregarded, or minimized the importance of this practice. We passionately believe the doctrine of the LS. I do not think there is a need for anyone to teach it as a “new revelation.”
2. I am not aware of anyone promoting the online church among the Brethren as a regular practice. We very well understand the limitations of technology and it can never replace physical gathering.
This is common knowledge. Some believers are gathering in homes to worship and remember the Lord in this present crisis, not because it is quite convenient for them, or because they are too lazy to go to church.
The only reason is their love and devotion to remember the Lord even in these difficult times. This brings lot of spiritual strength and consolation. So, such gatherings deserve our encouragement, not criticism as though they have seriously violated the Word of God.
3. In this exceptional and unprecedented crisis, some assemblies have prayerfully and responsibly decided to make use of the technology available to them to gather in homes to worship the Lord with or without the observance of the LS.
This is not a private decision, carelessly or irreverently made. As far as I know, it is the prayerful and responsible decision of the assembly under the guidance and leadership of the elders.
What authority does anyone have to question it?
If a believer or an assembly does not feel comfortable or convinced to meet in this manner, they don’t have to.
No one propagated a theology among us that all assemblies must meet in this manner. If they do not want to meet, it is their decision before the Lord; well and good. No one should question it.
4. Alarm has been raised by some believers that the use of technology for worship today may become a norm for the future.
If anyone is really concerned about it, let him cast this burden on the Lord and pray that it may not happen. But this alarm seems to be only an excuse to justify their position.
The Most Important Truth – “Do this in remembrance of Me”
What is the most important truth in the Lord’s Supper? The answer is given by the Lord Himself
–“Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19) ; 1 Cor.11:24, 25). The meaning of the Lord’s Supper is summed up in this command of Christ.
Remembering Christ in His redemptive death is the foremost truth in this sacred ordinance. Jesus made the purpose of the LS clear by repeating the phrase “in remembrance of Me.” This should be our primary focus.
The imperative (command) in the present tense (“Do this”) emphasizes the repeated action. The Greek word for “remembrance” indicates a memorial – to call back again into memory a vivid experience.
Let us endeavor to keep the “main thing” as the main thing in our understanding and observance of the Lord’s Supper. If we bear this in mind, we will not slip into the entanglements of the non- essential mechanics of the LS. It is sad to see the whole weight of this ordinance shifted to the incidentals, rather than the essentials.
Is the Concept of Unity Destroyed When We Gather in Homes?
Now in this lockdown situation in the current Covid-19 outbreak, some believers vehemently argue that when we meet in homes, we cannot show the unity in the one body, so we should not meet in homes to remember the Lord.
I wonder, when we meet in assembly halls together, is it always in perfect unity? I do not want to accuse or judge anyone.
But all those who read these lines know about shameful incidents of ongoing quarrels and divisions in many assemblies.
Without any genuine concern to resolve the issues, they come, and worship regularly and sometimes fight in the worship meetings. I have witnessed some situations like this.
I am sure many of you also have. It still happens in some places. But I have never seen evangelists or Bible teachers going and banning those assemblies for lack of unity.
In fact, many of us try to speak sense to them, teach the Word, counsel and try to help them to solve their problems (as and when possible).
The collective worship of the LS is a glorious testimony to the unity of believers; no doubt about it. The loaf of bread which we all partake picture the unity and fellowship as the members of the one body of Christ (1 Cor.10:16 -17).
Lack of unity adversely affects the blessing of our worship. But unfortunately, this happens regularly in many assemblies. Why pick on home gatherings which started within the last 2-3 weeks just as a temporary arrangement?
The limitation of the visible demonstration of unity in this exceptional situation is beyond our control. But when we meet together, through video conferencing and similar methods, we are brought together with fellow-believers with a great sense of unity, though it has practical limitations. Everyone acknowledges it. But is it a serious spiritual crime?
In the present crisis with more panic and stress, many believers are willing to come in the spirit of repentance and unity even in a home setting. I find a better attitude and understanding of unity in this situation. We all know about the limitations of the home gatherings, but I see more
earnestness and genuineness among believers. Physical distancing definitely creates some hindrance for demonstrating our unity, but to a great extent we are able to be united in spirit and in the faith even with all the limitations.
Those who are opposed to meetings like this will never be able to understand or measure the sense of unity of those who meet. Yes, it is the genuine unity of being in the body of Christ. Meeting in one place is not the deciding factor in this spiritual unity created by the Holy Spirit. To think contrary is poor theology.
Is Unity Defined Solely by Being Physically Together in One Place?
What about unity of spirit, faith and practices? Is it limited to one place? Paul wrote First Corinthians from Ephesus (1 Cor.16:8). Even when he was 350 miles away from the physical presence of the Corinthian believers, he could write about the “bread which we break” (10:16) and ‘we judging ourselves’ (11:31, 32).
These words really reflect spiritual unity between Paul and the believers in Corinth. He wrote from Rome to the Colossians, 1200 miles away, “For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless, I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ” (Col.2:5).
Though not physically with them, he felt his spiritual oneness with them and rejoiced in the firmness of their faith. So we, believers in Christ, are blessed with the spiritual dynamic of the unity of the Spirit though we may be physically distanced. Too much emphasis on the place is a kind of sacramental theology. Beware of it!
Yes, the LS gives us a great occasion to demonstrate our unity in the body of Christ. But that is not the end of it. We are also exhorted to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph.4:3).
The bond that preserves unity is peace. Paul calls love, “the perfect bond of unity” (Col.3:14). Paul descried this unity in Philippians as “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (2:2).
“Unity” in the LS is very important; but the demonstration of that unity in daily life as a witness to the world is even more important. Let us strive to give prominence to this truth also in our faith and practice.
In the unique, exceptional situation at present, when we meet in different homes, we are still meeting as an assembly to remember the Lord, though we are not able to be physically together and break bread. Does that mean we should not be observing the LS?
Is there a specific commandment or prohibition given to us that we should not break bread under any circumstance other than in the assembly gathering in a designated place?
What about the broad principle in the promise (though given in a different context) in Matt.18:20: “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.” Is our faith so legalistically oriented that we totally forget the spirit of the law and adhere to the letter of the law?
If an assembly or a believer do not feel comfortable to worship or break bread in this lock down situation, let them not do it. But others who are exercised to do it, have the liberty to do it in good conscience knowing fully well the Lord understands our situation.
Yes, we are responsible for our decisions. We should exhibit more caring and loving attitude to each other in good conscience as we differ on matters like this (Rom.14:1-12). “Why do you judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls” (Romans 14:4).
Is Technology So Abominable?
I know of some assemblies meeting at homes on the Lord’s Day without the celebration of the LS. That is their decision.
But sad to say, some believers are propagating the idea that we should not meet at all in this manner through technology.
Myriads of ideas are floating. To them, even legitimate use of technology is so abominable in relation to the church or worship in this situation. But in their personal life, all the comforts of expensive and luxurious technology are perfectly fine.
Then it becomes sacred. I did not know about the secular and sacred distinction of technology. In the gatherings of the assemblies in most places we make use of technology – audio, video, power-point, microphone, projector etc. to facilitate the teaching and preaching the Word of God.
For the effectiveness of our communication and presentation, we depend on technology. We also regularly make use of media ministry to present the gospel and teach the Word. In the gatherings in the assembly buildings it can be used. But if we meet at homes and then use technology, it is wrong! Can you believe what is being propagated?
We know of believers without the advantage of technology. Let them prayerfully wait on the Lord and the Lord will guide them in relation to their situation. We don’t have to worry about them.
Some are overly concerned that the use of technology for worship today may become an acceptable norm for worship tomorrow. Some say, if we meet on Sundays at homes, we should have the LS; otherwise we should not meet.
Others say we should not meet at all. Ideas and opinions all in the name of “doctrine.” But what happened to the distinctive doctrine of the Brethren on the autonomy and independence of local assemblies?
Nobody cares about that! What a mess in the so-called New Testament pattern!
Lord’s Supper Outside the Assembly Context
The place of gathering has no special significance in the New Testament. The LS is to be observed by the church as it is met together.
It is the communion of the assembled believers in the body of Christ. Its normal celebration as seen in the New Testament is for the assembled church.
We all believe and subscribe to this truth. But there is no command given to us that this should always be the only way without any exceptions.
The ideal and normal pattern (without a specific prescribed prohibition) does not seem to preclude its observance under other conditions.
A. P. Gibbs, one of the well-respected Bible teachers of the Assemblies, who has written extensively on worship and the LS, has ably defended this position in his book, The Lord’s Supper, 134-135.
In one of my books written years ago (Reexamining Biblical Worship, Chapter 6), I have dealt with this issue. But if you do not support this view, be blessed in your conviction.
But I have some concerns and questions in relation to this issue of the assembly as the only place to break bread.
Those who promote this view also constantly violate it. They break bread on Sunday in conferences and conventions arranged by committees and para-church ministries.
This is not the context of a local church, but several churches coming together to break bread. Where do we find that in the New Testament? These conferences are a joint effort of assembly believers, but not under the responsibility of any one assembly.
Do we find such gatherings in the New Testament? Then why do we break bread there?
Are we promoting a theology of convenience? The Indian believers are used to this practice all their life. It happens here in USA and in other parts of the world also.
Parachurch organizations among the assemblies have camps and conferences, and on Sundays I have broken bread in such places with hundreds of believers and eminent preachers and teachers.
Nobody brought any allegations in those meetings about any doctrinal violation. May be there were a few who had a different conviction about it, and they might not have participated in these meetings.
I have seen elders of some assemblies arranging for the LS to bed-ridden believers who have expressed their desire to partake of the elements and remember the Lord. Is it wrong?
What about believers totally confined to nursing homes? Consider the situations of pioneering mission fields before an assembly is formed.
The missionaries or evangelists should not break bread and wait until an assembly is formed?
What about believers serving in the armed forces and not able to meet with an assembly?
There are several unique situations like this. How can we make a blanket rule for all these scenarios?
Think for a moment about the beginning of the Brethren Movement – the little flock of the Brethren. In 1826, Edward Cronin and Edward Wilson began meeting together each Lord’s Day morning for the breaking of bread and study of the Word in E. Wilson’s house in Dublin. There was no assembly. It was purely a private gathering under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, claiming the promise of Matt.18:20.
J.N. Darby and A.N. Groves followed the same pattern in the early years. Later others also joined with them. We are greatly indebted to this mighty revival movement. I am greatly appalled by the modern Brethren and their strange views!
Students of the history of Kerala (India) Assembly Movement very well know the inspiring story of four of our fathers meeting together to break bread that led to a mighty revival in the following years.
They met together to break bread with the simple light they had, apart from any ecclesial associations, just claiming the promise of Matt.18:20. Many of us are products of that glorious spiritual heritage.
This is how the assembly movement originated in many countries. Similar things happen now in several mission fields. A sense of history is a valuable educational tool.
If assembly is the only place to gather, who gave us the authority and permission to close the halls and cancel all services? Which verse allows us to do this?
Does the Bible tell us to cancel all our meetings during pandemic or persecutions? Where does it say we have to wait patiently until the crisis is over? Is it because we are afraid of sickness and death that we don’t meet?
Is it because we obey the government? “But we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). In some countries of the world, people violated the government order, conducted church services and even got arrested.
Down through the history of the church, in persecuted countries, believers have boldly come together to worship the Lord risking their lives.
Due to other legal restrictions, sometimes an assembly spits into groups and meets in different homes. Is this a violation of fundamentals of worship/LS in the Bible?
It seems that it is perfectly all right for us to cancel meetings at crisis situation at our discretion (nobody searches for a verse to justify it), but it is a serious violation of Scripture to gather at home to worship the Lord in the same crisis situation. What logic! Strange theology indeed!
I have come across some assemblies who will never cancel their meetings on Sundays to join a combined worship meeting of the assemblies in a locality or will not join in a worship in a conference of the believers.
They have their own reasons for it. One reason is that assembly halls should not be locked down on Sundays even if it is only one or two attending.
It is a local testimony to the Lord and hence it cannot be closed. If that is their conviction, I respect it. But I am just wondering, how it can be shut down now?
Lord’s Supper – One Body
The metaphor of the “body” always refers to the universal church (Colo.1:18, 24; Eph.1:23; 2:16; 4:4, 12, 16). The body is composed of all believers united to Christ through the baptism of the Spirit (1 Cor.12:12-13).
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “You are the body of Christ” (1 Cor.12:27), the original text does not include the article, “the”– it only reads, “you are body of Christ,” and not “THE body of Christ,” or “a body of Christ” (New American Standard Bible translates this verse as “You are Christ’s body”).
They are of the body of Christ. A local assembly is a representation or a miniature pattern of the universal church. Each local assembly is NOT “the body,” or a body of Christ. If that is the case, then there are multiple bodies. Christ has no multitude of bodies.
When we receive a believer from another assembly to our assembly, we are not receiving him/her from one body to another one. When a believer is under discipline in a local church, he is not out of the body of Christ.
The body is always; only one, and that is the universal church. It is with this understanding that we should emphasize the concept of the one body.
When we observe the LS in our local assemblies, the deeper significance of the one body transcends the local dimension.
All believers, though many, are one body in the universal church. We have all been saved through the offering of His body on the cross. It is this sharing (fellowship) we enjoy in the LS (1 Cor.10:16-17).
This is the profound truth we declare when we observe the LS in our local assemblies. It is about a broader and wider relationship in the body of Christ.
The LS is an occasion when the gathered assembly declares their unity with one another and also with all believers in the body of Christ.
Many believers seldom think about the broader truth in the observance of the LS. If we take this Scriptural truth seriously, it will condemn our sectarian spirit.
One bread, one body is not just about “us,” but about all believers united to Christ in the body of Christ, though we are able to demonstrate it only in a local dimension.
The bread is the symbol of Christ’s body given for all who believe. Since we partake of that body, we are one with all believers in the body of Christ.
“One bread” indicates the unity that has been created and is expressed in the LS. United participation in the LS in the local assembly points to the united fellowship we have in the body of Christ.
Lord’s Supper – Conclusion
We debate, argue, and fight over many things among ourselves thinking that these are important doctrinal matters (a good example is the current issue we are discussing.
Numerous examples can be seen in our history also). But most of the time, they are non-essentials, or peripheral issues.
This trend creates unnecessary confusion and sometimes leads to disunity among immature believers.
Sorry to say that “Majoring on minors” has always been a specialty of the Brethren as amply proved by the schisms in the history of the Brethren movement. May the Lord deliver us from this peril in the future.
I hope and pray that we may encourage and strengthen each other in our common faith during these days of unprecedented crisis in our lives.
Let us be careful to avoid extremism and maintain balance in the understanding and application of the truth.
We are called upon to witness to His truth and to His grace; not to truth alone (John 1:14, 17).
Let us strive to keep our focus on the crucial matters in the doctrine of the LS and not on the mechanics of it.
May we follow the policy: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials, freedom, but in everything charity.”
I believe this brief article will bring clarification and illumination in the minds of many and refresh their spirit.