EXCURSUS: WHEN OBSERVE THE LORD'S SUPPER?
Before we proceed to apply our major premise in detail to the major interpretation problems of the day, we need to study specifically the question of when we are to observe the Lord's Supper, in the light of Bible teaching nd especially in the light of the recent studies on the teach-of examples. We have particularly avoided using the Acts 20:7 context in establishing the "pattern principle" of the major premise of our conclusion; because we anted the principle to be clearly established from other passages, so that when we come to discuss this very important problem, the Acts 20:7 context would be as free from confusion as possible.
Traditionally, we in the Restoration Movement have accepted the teaching of the example of the Christians as Troas in the Acts 20:7 context as establishing definitely and unmistakably a pattern-authority to the effect that the Lord's Supper was to be partaken of every first day of the week, and on that day exclusively! Our acceptance of this teaching has been so positive and absolute that we have dis-fellowshipped those who did not agree with us on the point.
When BRETHREN, however, began to question the practices that we had been following with reference to cooperation and orphan homes, and to claim that there was Biblical pattern limiting how cooperation could scripturally be accomplished, this caused the question of the teaching of examples to be placed under the "microscope" for careful investigation, and as we indicated earlier, some of our very good BRETHREN came to the conclusion that examples do not teach binding matters at all. They could not logically accept the so-called "patterns" claimed by those who oppose the sponsoring-church method of cooperation; and not seeing at the moment just how an example could establish a pattern, they unfortunately accepted the conclusion that examples alone do not establish patterns, and by doing so, "cut themselves loose" from what had been a cardinal tenet of the Restoration Movement. Surely these people have not been happy in reaching such a conclusion - and frankly, most of them at least would not dare to partake of the Lord's Supper on any day other than Sunday. But having concluded that examples do not establish patterns, since they could not see how it could be done, it has seemed to them that they had to accept the full consequences of such a belief; and, although their sympathies were still with their former views, the new conclusion would now cause them to at least feel guilty about disfellowshipping other people on this point of doctrine. In the wake of this new conclusion, those who oppose the sponsoring-church type of cooperation and orphan homes have not really tried to help clarify the matter, but have only ridiculed the new position. They did not offer any real basis for proving how and when examples establish patterns, but have kept on claiming that "uniformity," "unity," et cetera, were the true criteria, which as we have seen above are absolutely impossible - which fact was also seen clearly by the BRETHREN who have concluded against examples establishing binding authority. The ridicule was of course not an acceptable substitute for a good, clear, workable principle to guide in interpreting examples - and so the tensions have increased. We hope and trust that the "pattern principle" outlined in our major premise is clear enough that it will enable all who have concluded against the establishment of patterns by examples to revert to their former view; and we also have the hope that those who have been opposing the sponsoring-church expedient for cooperation will come to realize that there is no pattern for cooperation and thus there is no real basis or justification for continuing BROTHERHOOD tensions.
When these BRETHREN decided against pattern teaching by examples, however, and finally concluded that we have no Biblical authority for partaking of the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week exclusively, they truly did have a problem, which the BRETHREN who oppose the sponsoring-church method have not answered, and that problem is this: There is no information in the Acts 20:7 context alone, that says that the Troas BRETHREN were keeping a required obligation when they partook of the Supper on the first day of the week! Let us illustrate: A church in Texas today has a regular meeting on Wednesday night, and if a visiting preacher should come to town on Monday morning, he might "tarry" three days until the BRETHREN came together on Wednesday night to pray. But the Wednesday night meeting of the Texas church, although regular, is not a service required by God, but is completely optional on the part of the local elders, and they might have chosen some other night, as Thursday. The point is, to see the parallel, there is nothing in the Acts 20:7 context to prove that the first-day-of-the-week meeting was not just an optional meeting, just like the Wednesday night prayer service. And even if churches were required to assemble "sometime" to partake of the Supper, what is there in the Acts 20:7 context to prove that there might not be a permissible "local option" for which day of the week - with Troas using the first day, Ephesus the second, and Thessalonica the fifth, et cetera? In this case the required pattern would not be, "take it on the first day only," but it would be "take it once a week, but you can choose any day desired by the local congregation." There is nothing in the Acts 20:7 context alone that proves that any pattern involved might not be of the latter type.
This, then, is the reason why some good BRETHREN have concluded against the establishment of pattern authority by examples alone. They at present do not really see any binding authority of any kind for having an exclusive day to partake of the Supper. And those who have been ridiculing them have either not seen the exact problem or else have ignored it, and it calls for an answer.
There is an answer; indeed, it is basically what we have always accepted. The answer is not dependent upon the teachings of the Acts 20:7 context alone, however, but relies on several other teachings in the New Testament. When we outline below the full New Testament basis for partaking of the Lord's Supper every first day of the week, and on that day exclusively, it will be evident that our BRETHREN in the past have really not depended upon the Acts 20:7 context alone, for authority on this point. We have really (maybe subconsciously for some of us) depended upon other texts also and we will no doubt recognize this from the following discussion. The Acts 20:7 context does, however, illustrate the full teaching.
The full authority for the Biblical pattern of the time to partake of the Lord's Supper is based upon four contexts: Hebrews 10:25; I Corinthians 16:1,2; I Corinthians 11:20-26; and Acts 20:7, as the following figure illustrates:
We will need to outline this teaching rather fully, so we print the Biblical text for each passage to be discussed and then give the various points numerically under each.
Hebrews 10:25 - "not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh.”
1. "Not forsaking," means that this requirement is a command, and binds unquestionably.
2. "As the custom of some is," means that what the BRETHREN are not to forsake, is a customary, regular assembly. It is true that the term "custom" can refer in the original language to the "forsaking," rather than the “assembling," but this is not necessarily true. Even so, however, there would have to be a regular, customary assembly involved before there could be regular, customary forsaking; so in either case we have here a command to Christians, and thus pattern authority, requiring them to assemble regularly.
3. The command to assemble regularly was not to one Christian or to one congregation only, but to all to whom the letter of Hebrews is addressed, which means the entire BROTHERHOOD. So we now have a BROTHERHOOD-wide, pattern requirement for all Christians to assemble regularly.
4. The fact that the command here is "incomplete," that is, that the author of Hebrews did not explain in detail the nature of the "custom" of assembling which he had in mind, is a logical implication or a necessary inference that the early Christians of that day knew the details, and were well acquainted with the complete pattern requirement.
For us today, however, Hebrews 10:25 is an "incomplete command," and we will have to have more information from other sources before we can know the full pattern and obey the command. But we do know already that all Christians are required to assemble regularly; and, logically, each set of elders, including those at Troas, are required to provide the "custom," pattern assembly opportunity for their congregation. If they do not, they deprive Christians of the opportunity to obey God's BROTHERHOOD-wide command; but if they do, they first have to know for sure what the complete pattern requirement is. All this means that the Bible must inform us somewhere about this complete pattern, so we will watch for it. It also means that the elders at Troas (of the Acts 20:7 context) had to know about this pattern requirement and to provide for the Christians at Troas the opportunity to obey it.
So far in this study, we do not yet know whether the pattern was daily, weekly, monthly, yearly or whenever. Also, we do not yet know whether, say if the pattern is weekly, the local congregation could choose their own preference for the day within the week, like some churches choose Wednesday for prayer meeting, yet do have regular weekly meetings.
When we learn from the New Testament exactly what this complete pattern is, it will necessarily be the same as the "custom" of Hebrews 10:25!
I Corinthians 16:1, 2 -"Now concerning the collections for the saints, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so also do ye. Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come."
1. In this passage, "as I gave order," and "let each one of you lay by him," makes it command authority and a pattern requirement.
2. Here also a regular assembly is required! This conclusion is a necessary inference from the fact that the statement, "that no collections be made when I come" requires that the collection be made weekly into the church treasury - not at each Christian's residence, as some would say.
McGarvey's comment here is apropos:
The word "Thesaurizoon," translated "in store," means, literally, "put into the treasury;" and the phrase "par' heauto," translated "by him," may be taken as the neuter reflexive pronoun, and may be rendered with equal correctness "by itself." Macknight thus renders these two words, and this rendering is to be preferred. If each man had laid by in his own house, all these scattered collections would have had to be gathered after Paul's arrival, which was the very thing that he forbade.”
This means that Paul commanded the Galatian churches, as well as the one at Corinth, to put money into the church treasury each first day of the week, and this necessarily infers a required assembly each Sunday. This interpretation is also demanded by the force of the Greek preposition kata which is here used distributively and means "every" first day. The translators of the Revised Standard Version recognized this and translated "On the first day of every week."
3. This required assembly on each first day of the week, since it was made of all the congregations in Galatia and Corinth as well, must necessarily be inferred as bindng upon all Christians everywhere, so here is BROTHERHOOD-wide, pattern authority, requiring a regular asembly of Christians upon the first day of each week.
It may now be noted that this pattern requirement for regular assembly fits every point of the one required by Hebrews 10:25, so that we can say that I Cor. 16:1, 2 helps to complete the pattern of Hebrews 10:25, which is "incomplete" by itself. We also remember that the Bible is required to furnish us information to "complete" the Hebrews 10:25 required pattern, so this pattern authority from I Cor. 16:1, 2 fits naturally into the revelation (see figure 18) and contributes toward the total pattern authority.
4. The first day of the week is now unquestionably the day for the regular, custom, pattern, requirement assembly of Christians all over the world. We have not as yet learned from these passages what was to be done during these first day of the week assemblies, but we do know that they are required. We would also note again that they were required of the Christians at Troas, just the same as everywhere else, and thus when the brethren at Troas assembled on the first day of the week they were not merely doing an optional thing, they were obeying a pattern, binding requirement. Their example, then, is not of an optional thing, but of a required thing; however, we recognize in this case that we do not learn that it is a required thing from the example itself, but from other teachings outside of its context.
I Corinthians 11:20-26 - "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; and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What, have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and put them to shame that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you? In this I praise you not. For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me. In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, This cup is the New covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord's death till he come.
1. "This do," makes the observance of the Supper a pattern requirement. It is not optional.
2. "As often," demands some degree of frequency - the required observance is a repeated one. "Till he come" bows that it is to be repeated until the Second Coming of the Lord.
3. The Lord's Supper is to be observed in an assembly (verse 20) - "When therefore ye assemble." Note also (verse 33) - "When ye come together to eat."
The Hebrews 10:25 reference and the I Corinthians 16:1, 2 reference serve to establish pattern authority for required first day of the week meeting or assembly. This Corinthians 11:20-26 reference establishes a pattern requirement for partaking of the Lord's Supper in an assembly and with some degree of frequency. What we lack to get the complete pattern for "when to partake of the Lord's Supper," is teaching from somewhere in the New Testament that ties the three above passages together. If we can find authoritative teaching that will show conclusively that the purpose of the first day of the week, required assembly is "to partake of the Lord's Supper," the pattern authority will be complete. This needed information is exactly what we find in the example of the Troas Christians in the Acts 20:7 context. When we see clearly that the Bible has not left us wanting for completion of the pattern, we realize definitely that we now have a Box "SP" type, required, binding, pattern authority for "when to partake of the Supper;" and, when we think of this pattern in the light of our Standard Authority Diagram, we at once realize that it automatically excludes any other time! God has given a pattern requirement for taking the Supper on the first day of the week, and pattern authority is always automatically exclusive. But now to study the Acts 20:7 context in detail:
Acts 20:6ff - And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we tarried seven days. And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and prolonged his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber where we were gathered together. . . . But we, going before to the ship, set sail for Assos, there intending to take in Paul: for so had he appointed, intending himself to go by land. And when he met us at Assos, we took him in, and came to Mitylene. . . . For Paul had determined to sail past Ephesus, that he might not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hastening, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.
1. The Troas elders were required to provide an oportunity for the "custom" assembly, in line with the pattern requirement of Hebrews 10:25, which was BROTHRHOOD-wide in scope.
2. The Troas elders were required to provide first day of the week assembly, in line with the pattern requirement of I Corinthians 16:1, 2, which also is BROTHERHOOD-wide in scope.
3. The Troas elders were required to provide opporunity for their members to partake of the Lord's Supper "in an assembly," on "repeated occasions of some frequency," in line with the pattern requirement of I Corinhians 11:20-26, since the church at Corinth is in logically parallel circumstances with all churches of that day, as well as all churches today.
4. The example of the Troas Christians of the Acts 20:7 context MUST be interpreted, then, in light of the information in the above points, 1, 2, 3, and it should be kept in mind that all this information was well understood by them, and we should consider this information fully before we begin to interpret the passage. When we do this, we see that the assembly of the Acts 20:7 example is not, therefore, an example of an arbitrary day, or a time chosen merely by the option of the local congregation, but it was the assembly which met the pattern which was required of all Christians everywhere to assemble on the first day of the week.
5. The Acts 20:7 context tells us by express statement that the purpose of the first day of the week assembly was "to break bread." Since their circumstances in this matter are logically parallel to those of today, we NECESSARILY INFER that the primary purpose of our first day of the week meeting today is to observe the Lord's Supper. Their example fulfills every demand of the above three passages; it fits the pattern of the regular "custom" assembly of Hebrews 10:25; it fits the pattern of the regular first day of the week assembly of I Corinthians 16:1, 2; and it fulfills the requirement pattern of I Corinthians 11:20-26 in that it takes care of the command for the repeated observing of the Supper with a certain frequency. Since the example of the Acts 20:7 context is the only Biblical passage that could possibly "complete" the command or pattern authority for the time of observing the Lord’s Supper, which "completion" the Bible was under obligation to furnish us, this example does furnish the information necessary to complete the pattern and so this example is a binding one and aids the related passages in establishing the pattern.
6. To employ here the "pattern principle" of our major premise -- the example of Acts 20:7 is an example of the Christians at Troas doing what they were required to do, and especially do we see this when we take into consideration the background requirements furnished by the Hebrews and Corinthians passages.
The latter passages commanded them to assemble on the first day of the week and to partake of the Lord's Supper repeatedly in an assembly - but the Acts 20:7 EXAMPLE shows WHEN the Lord's Supper is to be observed - namely, on the first day of the week. Their coming together "to break bread" shows us clearly what we have been watching for - the teaching that "completes the commands" given by the related passages. What they did they were obviously required to do. Their EXAMPLE, alone, teaches us that primary purpose of the first day of the week assembly, which fact the context logically implies was binding and required of them, and according to our “pattern principle," is therefore binding upon us. The pattern which their example completes and thus "establishes" is, like all patterns, exclusive; and therefore any other specific action (to the same generic) is excluded and sinful. Note the following diagram:
7. The pattern for partaking of the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week exclusively, which these four contexts have established is also confirmed by:
(a) Revelation 1:10 - "I was in the spirit on the Lord's day."
(b) Colossians 2:16, 17 - "Let no man judge you in respect of... a sabbath day: which are a shadow of things to come.”
The point of this latter passage is that the Jewish Sabbath, like other things of the law, was to have its Chrisian anti-type - namely, a specific worship day, and which would be different from the seventh day.
(c) The unanimous testimony of early church history.
Thus not only is there a clear Biblical pattern authority for partaking of the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week, exclusively; but this authority has been recogized in all ages of Church History. The Acts 20:7 context alone does not establish the pattern, but it does so in conjunction with the related passages which we noted. They supply the basic factor, that "the Troas elders were required to provide such an opportunity" for the Christians here. Then the example supplies the rest of the pattern.
Probably our BRETHREN in the past have depended more, in their thinking, upon the Hebrews and Corinthians passages than we have recently realized. The pattern of first day observance exclusively is perfectly defensible, but not on the basis of the Acts 20:7 context alone! Some have claimed that Acts 20:7 is the "only" basis upon which the exclusive pattern is established, but that is incorrect. Acts 20:7 "completes" the pattern.