Thursday, April 30, 2009

When Shall We Partake?

In our ongoing drive to know God and to make him known, we as a church are currently giving sustained consideration to the Lord's Supper. I have previously posted here on the meaning of the Lord's Supper (see Feed upon All the Benefits of Christ's Death, Meditating on the Meaning of the Lord's Supper, and Why Partake?), and now I would like to post a little bit on the practice of the Lord's Supper. Or to put it in other words, having dealt with the "why" of the Lord's Supper, I want to touch on the "when" of the Lord's Supper.

The New Testament does not give us any direct commands about when to partake of the Lord's Supper. However, it does give us the role model of the early church. Acts 2:42-27 gives us a packed summary of the life of the church after it was formed on the day of Pentecost. The text says that these believers "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42, ESV). There is dynamite in this description. They devoted themselves to these activities. They persisted in doing these things and busied themselves in doing these things, just like ants gather food and bees gather pollen. These activities tell us what early Christian gatherings consisted of. The third activity mentioned is "the breaking of bread," which in Acts does not mean chopping bread loaves into pieces. It includes the Lord's Supper. It was characteristic of the new church, basking in the resurrected Christ's outpouring of the Spirit, to constantly partake of the Lord's Supper.

The next clear example of the practice of the early church, this time in Troas, comes in Acts 20:7. Here the believers met on the first day of the week (the Lord's Day), and the purpose of their gathering is said to be to break bread. It is striking that these Christians regularly met on the first day of the week specifically so they could share the Lord's Supper together.

1 Corinthians 11:17-34 gives the most direct instruction about the Lord's Supper in the NT. It also provides indirect evidence of the continued association of church meetings with the Lord's Supper. Paul basically assumes that when they assembled as a church they would eat the Lord's Supper (11:17-20). His phrase in v. 25, "as often as you drink" implies a frequently repeated action. Sadly, in the church of Corinth there were factions which undermined the significance of the Lord's Supper. But for our purposes here, I primarily want to draw your attention to the fact that the early church regularly and frequently shared the Lord's Supper together.

As you can see, everything we know about the pattern of the early church suggests that the Lord's Supper was a regular and at least weekly practice. This should create in our minds at least a predisposition toward frequent and regular participation in the Lord's Supper. But this predisposition is strengthened into an intense desire and delight when we combine this primitive church pattern with the powerful meaning of the Lord's Supper. If the Supper truly is participation in Christ, feeding on all the benefits of his death, and an invitation to commune with him by faith, then what believer would not want to do this when we meet together on the first day of the week?

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