The Lord's Supper - Feast or Famine?
by Steve Atkerson
The meal is potluck, or as we jokingly say, “pot-providence.” Everyone brings food to share with everyone else. When the weather is nice, all the food is placed on a long folding table outside. A chest full of ice sits beside the drink table. Kids run wildly around. They are having so much fun that they must be rounded up by parents and encouraged to eat. After a prayer of thanksgiving is offered, people line up, talking and laughing as they load their plates with food. In the middle of all the food sits a single loaf of bread next to a large container of the fruit of the vine. Each believer partakes of the bread and juice/wine while going through the serving line.
The smaller kids are encouraged to occupy one of the few places at a table to eat. (They sure can be messy!). Chairs for adults (there are not enough for everyone) are clustered in circles, mainly occupied by the women, who eat while discussing home schooling, child training, sewing, an upcoming church social, the new church we hope to start, etc. Most of the men stand to eat, balancing their plates on top of their cups, grouped into small clusters and solving the world’s problems or pondering some interesting topic of theology. The atmosphere is not unlike that of a wedding banquet. It is a great time of fellowship, encouragement, edification, friendship, caring, catching-up, praying, exhorting, and maturing. The reason for the event? In case you did not recognize it, this is the Lord’s Supper, New Testament style!
Foreign though it may seem to the contemporary church, the first-century church enjoyed the Lord’s Supper as a banquet that foreshadowed the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It was not until after the close of the New Testament era that the Lord’s Supper was altered from its pristine form.
ITS FORM AND FOCUS: A FEAST & THE FUTURE
The very first Lord’s Supper is also called the Last Supper, because it was the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples before His crucifixion. The occasion for the meal was the Passover. At this Passover Feast, Jesus and His disciples reclined at a table that would have been heaped with food (Ex 12, De 16). Jewish tradition tells us that this meal typically lasted for hours. During the course of the meal, “while they were eating” (Mt 26:26), Jesus took a loaf of bread and compared it to his body. He had already taken up a cup and had them all drink from it. Later, “after the supper” (Lk 22:20), Jesus took the cup again and compared it to his blood, which was soon to be poured out for our sins. Thus, the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper were introduced in the context of a full meal, specifically, the Passover meal.
Would the Twelve have somehow concluded that the newly instituted Lord’s Supper was not to be a true meal? Or would they naturally have assumed it to be a feast similar to the Passover? The answers are obvious.
According to one Greek scholar, “The Passover celebrated two events, the deliverance from Egypt and the anticipated coming Messianic deliverance.” 1 Soon after that Last Supper, Jesus became the ultimate sacrificial Passover Lamb, suffering on the cross to deliver His people from their sins. Jesus keenly desired to eat that last Passover with His disciples, saying that He would “not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God” (Lk 22:16). Note that Jesus looked forward to a time when He could eat the Passover again in the kingdom of God. Many believe that the “fulfillment” (Lk 22:16) of this was later written about by John in Revelation 19:7-9. There, John recorded an angel declaring, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” The Last Supper and the early church’s Lord’s Suppers all looked forward to a fulfillment in the wedding supper of the Lamb. What better way to typify a banquet than with a banquet?
His future wedding banquet was much on our Lord’s mind that particular Passover evening. He first mentioned it at the beginning of the Passover feast (“I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God,” Lk 22:16). He mentioned it again when passing the cup, saying, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Lk 22:18). Then, after the supper, He referred to the banquet yet again, saying, “I confer on you a kingdom . . . so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom ” (Lk 22:29-30). R.P. Martin, Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, wrote that there are “eschatological overtones” to the Lord’s Supper “with a forward look to the advent in glory.” 2
Whereas modern Gentiles associate heaven with clouds and harps, first-century Jews thought of heaven as a time of feasting at Messiah’s table. This idea of eating and drinking at the Messiah’s table was common imagery in Jewish thought of the first century. For instance, a Jewish leader once said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Lk 14:15). Jesus Himself said that “many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8:11).
This eating that is associated with the coming of Christ’s kingdom may also be reflected in the model prayer suggested by Jesus in Luke 11. In reference to the kingdom, Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come” (11:2, KJV). The very next request is “Give us each day our daily bread” (11:3, NIV). However, the Greek underlying Luke 11:3 is difficult to translate. Literally, it reads something akin to, “the bread of us belonging to the coming day, give us today.” Thus the NASV marginal note reads, “bread for the coming day.” Linking together both 11:2 and 11:3, Jesus may well have been teaching us to ask that the bread of the coming Messianic banquet be given to us today. That is, Let your kingdom come — Let the feast begin today! Athanasius explained it as “the bread of the world to come.” 3
The most extensive treatment of the Lord’s Supper is found in chapters ten and eleven of 1 Corinthians. The deep divisions of the Corinthian believers resulted in their Lord’s Supper meetings doing more harm than good (11:17-18). They were partaking of the Supper in an “unworthy manner” (11:27). The wealthier people among them, perhaps not wanting to eat with the lower social classes, evidently came to the gathering so early and remained there so long that some became drunk. Making matters worse, by the time that the working-class believers arrived, delayed perhaps by employment constraints, all the food had been consumed. The poor went home hungry (11:21-22). Some of the Corinthians failed to recognize the Supper as a sacred, covenant meal (11:23-32).
The abuses were so serious that what was supposed to be the Lord’s Supper had instead become their own supper (11:21, NASV). Thus Paul asked, “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in?” If eating their own supper was the entire objective, private dining at home would do. Their sinful selfishness absolutely betrayed the very essence of what the Lord’s Supper is all about.
From the nature of their abuse, it is evident that the Corinthian church regularly partook of the Lord’s Supper as a full meal. In contrast, very few people in modern churches would ever come to a typical Lord’s Supper service expecting to have physical hunger satisfied. Nor could they possibly get drunk from drinking a thimble-sized cup of wine (or much less, grape juice).
The inspired solution to the Corinthian abuse of the Supper was not that the church cease eating it as a full meal. Instead, Paul wrote, “when you come together to eat, wait for each other.” Only those so famished or undisciplined or selfish that they could not wait for the others are instructed to “eat at home” (1Co 11:34). C.K. Barrett cautioned, “On the surface this seems to imply that ordinary non-cultic eating and drinking should be done at home . . . But Paul’s point is that, if the rich wish to eat and drink on their own, enjoying better food than their poorer brothers, they should do this at home; if they cannot wait for others (verse 33), if they must indulge to excess, they can at least keep the church’s common meal free from practices that can only bring discredit upon it . . . Paul simply means that those who are so hungry that they cannot wait for their brothers should satisfy their hunger before they leave home, in order that decency and order may prevail in the assembly.” 4 Keep in mind that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church some twenty years after Jesus turned His Last Supper into our Lord’s Supper. Just as the Last Supper was a full meal, so too the Corinthians understood the Lord’s Supper to be a true meal.
Additionally, the word behind “supper” (1Co 11:20) is deipnon, which means “dinner, the main meal toward evening, banquet.” Arguably, it never refers to anything less than a full meal, such as an appetizer, snack or hors d’oeuvres. What is the possibility that the authors of the New Testament would use deipnon to refer to the Lord’s “Supper” if it were not supposed to be a full meal? The Lord’s Supper originally had numerous forward looking aspects to it. As a full meal, it prefigured the feast of the coming kingdom, the marriage supper of the Lamb.
The opinion of most Bible scholars is clearly weighted toward the conclusion that the Lord’s Supper was originally eaten as a full meal. For example, British New Testament scholar Donald Guthrie stated that the apostle Paul “sets the Lord’s supper in the context of the fellowship meal.” 5
Gordon Fee, Professor Emeritus of Regent College, pointed out “the nearly universal phenomenon of cultic meals as a part of worship in antiquity” and “the fact that in the early church the Lord’s Supper was most likely eaten as, or in conjunction with, such a meal.” Fee further noted that, “from the beginning the Last Supper was for Christians not an annual Christian Passover, but a regularly repeated meal in ‘honor of the Lord,’ hence the Lord’s Supper.” 6
G. W. Grogan, principle of the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow, writing for the New Bible Dictionary, observed that “St. Paul’s account (in 1 Cor. 11:17-37) of the administration of the Eucharist shows it set in the context of a fellowship supper . . . The separation of the meal or Agape from the Eucharist lies outside the times of the NT.” 7
In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, C. K. Barrett made the observation that “the Lord’s Supper was still at Corinth an ordinary meal to which acts of symbolical significance were attached, rather than a purely symbolical meal.” 8
Williston Walker, professor of ecclesiastical history at Yale, noted that “Services were held on Sunday, and probably on other days. These had consisted from the Apostles’ time of two kinds: meetings for reading the Scriptures, preaching, song and prayer; and a common evening meal with which the Lord’s Supper was conjoined.” 9
Dr. John Gooch, editor at the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville, Tennessee, wrote, “In the first century, the Lord’s Supper included not only the bread and the cup but an entire meal.” 10
ITS FUNCTIONS: 1) REMINDING JESUSPartaking of the bread and cup as an integral part of the meal originally served several important functions. One of these was to remind Jesus of His promise to return. Reminding God of His covenant promises is a thoroughly scriptural concept. In the covenant God made with Noah, He promised never to destroy the earth by flood again, signified by the rainbow. That sign is certainly designed to remind us of God’s promise, but God also declared, “whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth” (Ge 9:16, emphasis added).
Later on in redemptive history, as a part of His covenant with Abraham, God promised to bring the Israelites out of their coming Egyptian bondage. Accordingly, at the appointed time, “God heard their groaning and He remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them” (Ex 2:24-25, emphasis added).
During the Babylonian captivity, Ezekiel records that God promised Jerusalem, “I will remember the covenant I made with you” (Eze 16:60, emphasis added).
The Lord’s Supper is the sign of the new covenant. As Jesus took the cup He said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). As with any covenant sign, it is to serve as a reminder of the promises of the covenant. Thus Jesus said that we are to partake of the bread “in remembrance of Me” (Lk 22:19). The Greek word translated “remembrance” is anamnesis and means “reminder.” Literally translated, Jesus said, “do this unto my reminder.”
The question before us is whether that reminder is to be primarily for Jesus’ benefit or ours. German theologian Joachim Jeremias understood Jesus to use anamnesis in the sense of a reminder for God, “The Lord’s Supper would thus be an enacted prayer.” 11 In The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, it is argued that the Greek underlying the word “until” (1Co 11:26, achri hou) is not simply a temporal reference, but functions as a kind of final clause. That is, the meal’s function is as a constant reminder to God to bring about the Parousia. 12
The words “of me” in Luke 22:19 are translated from the single Greek word, emou, which grammatically denotes possession (suggesting that the reminder actually belongs to Jesus). More than a mere personal pronoun, it is a possessive pronoun. Thus, the church is to partake of the bread of the Lord’s Supper specifically to remind Jesus of His promise to return and eat the Supper again with us, in person (Lk 22:16, 18). Understood in this light, it is designed to be like a prayer asking Jesus to return (“Thy kingdom come,” Lk 11:2). Just as the rainbow reminds God of His covenant with Noah, just like the groaning reminded God of His covenant with Abraham, so too partaking of the bread of the Lord’s Supper was designed to remind Jesus of His promise to return.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:26, confirms this idea by stating that the early church, in eating the Lord’s Supper, did actually “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” To whom did they proclaim His death, and why? Arguably, they proclaimed it to the Lord Himself, as a reminder for Him to return. It is significant that the Greek behind “until” is achri hou. As it is used here, it grammatically can denote a goal or an objective. 13 According to the English usage, I may use an umbrella “until” it stops raining, merely denoting a time frame. (Using the umbrella has nothing to do with making it stop raining.) However, this is not how the Greek behind “until’ is used in 1 Corinthians 11:26. Instead, Paul was instructing the church to partake of the bread and cup as a means of proclaiming the Lord’s death (as a reminder) with the goal of (“until”) persuading Him to come back! Thus, in proclaiming His death through the loaf and cup, the Supper looked forward to and anticipated His return.
This concept of seeking to persuade the Lord to return is not unlike the plea of the martyrs of Revelation 6 who called out, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Re 6:10). And what did Peter have in mind when he wrote that his readers should look forward to the day of God and “speed its coming?” (2Pe 3:12). If it were futile to seek to persuade Jesus to return, then why did He instruct us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done?” (Mt 6:10). It is interesting that the earliest believers (in Didache x. 6) used maran atha (“Our Lord, come”) as a prayer in connection with the Lord’s Supper, “a context at once eucharistic and eschatological.” 14 With regard to the use of the word maranatha in 1 Corinthians 16:22, Dr. R.P. Martin writes, “Maranatha in 1 Cor. 16:22 may very well be placed in a eucharistic setting so that the conclusion of the letter ends with the invocation ‘Our Lord, come!’ and prepares the scene for the celebration of the meal after the letter has been read to the congregation.” 15
ITS FUNCTIONS: 2) CREATING UNITYAll this emphasis on the Supper as a true meal is not to say that we should jettison the loaf and cup, representative of the body and blood of our Lord. To the contrary, they remain a vital part of the Supper (1Co 11:23-26). The bread and the wine serve as representations of the body and blood of our Lord. His propitiatory death on the cross is the very foundation of the Lord’s Supper.
Just as the form of the Lord’s Supper is important (a full fellowship meal that prefigured the wedding banquet of the Lamb), also important are the form of the bread and cup. Mention is made in Scripture of the cup of thanksgiving (singular) and of only one loaf: “Because there is one loaf, we who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1Co 10:16-17). The one loaf not only pictures our unity in Christ, but according to 1 Corinthians 10:17 even creates unity! Notice carefully the wording of the inspired text. “Because” there is one loaf, therefore we are one body, “for” we all partake of the one loaf (1Co 10:17). Partaking of a pile of broken cracker crumbs and multiple cups of juice is a picture of disunity, division, and individuality. At the very least, it completely misses the imagery of unity. At worse, it would prohibit the Lord from using the one loaf to create unity in a body of believers.
Some in Corinth were guilty of partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner” (1Co 11:27). The wealthy refused to eat the Supper with the poor. Thus, the rich arrived at the place of meeting so early that when the poor got there later, some of the rich had become drunk and all the food had been eaten. The poor went home hungry. These shameful class divisions cut at the heart of the unity the Lord’s Supper is designed to achieve. The Corinthian abuses were so bad that it had ceased being the Lord’s Supper and had instead become their “own” supper (1Co 11:21, NASV). This failure of the rich to recognize the body of the Lord in their poorer brethren resulted in divine judgment: many of them were sick, and a number had even died (1Co 11:27-32). Paul’s solution to the harmful meetings? “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other” (1Co 11:33). Anyone so hungry he could not wait was instructed to “eat at home” (1Co 11:34). Part of the reason the Corinthians were not unified is precisely because they failed to eat the Lord’s Supper together as a full meal, centered around the one cup and loaf.
ITS FUNCTIONS: 3) FELLOWSHIPIn speaking to the church at Laodicea, our resurrected Lord offered to come in and eat (deipneo) with anyone who heard His voice and opened the door, a picture of fellowship and communion (Re 3:20). The idea that fellowship and acceptance is epitomized by eating together was derived not only from the Hebrew culture of Jesus’ day, but also from the earliest Hebrew Scriptures. Exodus 18:12 reveals that Jethro, Moses, Aaron, and all the elders of Israel came to eat bread in the presence of God. More divine dining occurred at the cutting of the Sinai covenant, when Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and the seventy elders of Israel when up on Mount Sinai where they “saw God, and they ate and drank” (Ex 24:9-11). It is significant that “God did not raise his hand against these leaders” (Ex 24:11a). They were accepted by Him, as evidenced in the holy meal they ate in His presence.
This “fellowship in feasting” theme is continued on in the book of Acts, where we learn that the early church devoted themselves to “fellowship in the breaking of bread” (2:42, literal translation). In many English versions, in Acts 2:42 there is an “and” between “teaching” and “fellowship,” and between “bread” and “prayer,” but not between “fellowship” and “bread.” In the Greek, the words “fellowship” and “breaking of bread” are linked together as simultaneous activities. They had fellowship with one another as they broke bread together. Luke further informs us that this eating was done with “glad and sincere hearts” (2:46). Sounds inviting, doesn’t it?
Many commentaries associate the phrase “breaking of bread” throughout the books of Acts with the Lord’s Supper. This is because Luke, who wrote Acts, recorded in his gospel that Jesus took bread and “broke it” at the last supper (Lk 22:19). If this conclusion is accurate, then the early church enjoyed the Lord’s Supper as a time of fellowship and gladness, just like one would enjoy at a wedding banquet. It was also the opinion of F.F. Bruce that in Acts 2, the fellowship enjoyed was expressed practically in the breaking of bread. Bruce further held that the phrase “breaking of bread” denotes “something more than the ordinary partaking of food together: the regular observance of the Lord’s Supper is no doubt indicated . . . this observance appears to have formed the part of an ordinary meal.” 16
In contrast, many modern churches partake of the Lord’s Supper with more of a funeral atmosphere. An organ softly plays reflective music. Every head is bowed, every eye is closed, as people quietly and introspectively search their souls for unconfessed sin. The cup and loaf are laid out on a small table, covered over by a white cloth, almost like a corpse would be during a funeral. Deacons somberly, like pall bearers, pass out the elements. Is this really in keeping with the tradition of the apostles concerning the Supper? Remember that it was the unworthy manner that Paul criticized (1Co 11:27), not the unworthy people. That unworthy manner consisted in drunkenness at the table of the Lord, in not eating together, and in the poor going home hungry and humiliated. Indeed, every person ought to examine himself before arriving for the meal, to be sure he is not guilty of the same gross sin that the Corinthians were guilty of: failing to recognize the body of the Lord in his fellow believers (1Co 11:28-29). Once we have each judged ourselves, we can come to the meal without fear of judgment and enjoy the fellowship of Lord’s Supper as the true wedding banquet it is intended to be.
ITS FREQUENCY: WEEKLYHow often did the New Testament church partake of the Supper? Early believers ate the Lord’s Supper weekly, and it was the main purpose for their coming together each Lord’s Day.
The first evidence for this is grammatical. The technical term, “Lord’s Day” is from a unique phrase in the Greek, kuriakon hemeran, which literally reads, “the day belonging to the Lord.” The words “belonging to the Lord” are from kuriakos, which occurs in the New Testament only in Revelation 1:10 and in 1 Corinthians 11:20, where Paul uses it to refer to the “Lord’s Supper” or the “Supper belonging to the Lord” (kuriakon deipnon). The connection between these two uses must not be missed! If the purpose of the weekly church meeting is to observe the Lord’s Supper, it only makes sense that this supper belonging to the Lord would be eaten on the day belonging to the Lord (the first day of the week). John’s revelation (Re 1:10) evidently thus occurred on the first day of the week, the day in which Jesus rose from the dead and the day on which the early church met to eat the Supper belonging to the Lord. The resurrection, the day, and the supper go together as a package deal!
Second, the only reason ever given in the New Testament for the regular purpose of a church meeting is to eat the Lord’s Supper. In Acts 20:7, Luke informs us that, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.” The words “to eat” in Ac 20:7 reflect what is known as a telic infinitive. It denotes a purpose or objective. Their meeting was a meating!
Another place in the New Testament that the purpose for a church gathering is stated is found in 1 Corinthians 11:17-22. Their “meetings” (11:17) were doing more harm than good because when they came “together as a church” (11:18a) they had divisions so deep that Paul wrote, “when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat” (11:20). From this ii is obvious that the primary reason for their church meetings was to eat the Lord’s Supper. Sadly, their abuses of the Supper were so gross that it had ceased being the Lord’s Supper, but officially they were gathering each week to celebrate the Supper.
The third and last location of a reference to the reason for an assembly is found in 1 Corinthians 11:33, “When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” As before, it shows that the reason they came together was to “eat.” Lest this appear to be making a mountain out of a mole hill, it must be realized that no other reason is ever given in the Scriptures as to the purpose of a regular, weekly church meeting.
The fellowship and encouragement that each member enjoys in such a gathering is tremendous. It is the Christian equivalent of the neighborhood pub. It is the true happy meal or happy hour. It is a time that God uses to create unity in a body of believers. This aspect of the church’s meeting should not be rushed or replaced. Certainly it is appropriate to also have a “1 Corinthians 14 phase” of the gathering (an interactive time of teaching, worship, singing, testimony, prayer, etc.), but not at the expense of the weekly Lord’s Supper.
PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONSPracticing the Lord’s Supper as a full meal today can be a means of great blessing to the church. Here are some practical considerations concerning its implementation.
Attitude. Be sure the church understands that the Lord’s Supper is the main purpose for the weekly gathering. It is neither optional nor secondary to some type of “worship service.” Even if all a church does on a given Sunday is celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it has fulfilled one of its primary reasons for having a meeting that week.
Food. If at all possible, make the meal one that is shared and purpose to eat whatever is brought. This makes the administration of the food much easier. Trust God’s sovereignty! Over-planning the meal can take a lot of the fun out and make it burdensome. The one thing that should be pre-planned is who supplies the one loaf and the fruit of the vine. (In our church, the family that is hosting the meeting always supplies these things.)
Giving. Since celebrating the meal is a New Testament pattern and something important to the life of a properly functioning church, time and money spent by individual families on food to bring is truly a part of their giving unto the Lord. Rather than merely dropping an offering in a plate each week, go to the food store and buy the best food you can afford. Bring it to the Supper as a sacrificial offering!
Clean Up. To facilitate clean up, you may want to consider using paper plates and napkins along with plastic forks and cups. Also, since folks sometimes carelessly throw away their utensils along with the rest of their trash, it is better to accidentally throw away a plastic fork than a metal one! To help avoid spills the host family supplies wicker plate holders, which can be reused and don’t usually need to be washed.
Logistics. In warm weather it may be appropriate to eat outside. Spilled food and drink is inevitable, and clean up is much easier. A large folding table can be placed where necessary and stored away after the meeting. In cold weather, when eating indoors is necessary, consider covering any nicely upholstered furniture with a layer of plastic and then cloth. Since children make the most mess, reserve any available seating at a table for them and insist they use it!
One Cup and Loaf. Some have found that taking the cup and loaf prior to the meal separates it from the meal too much as a separate act. It is as if the Lord’s Supper is the cup and loaf, and everything else is just lunch. To overcome this false dichotomy, try placing the cup and loaf on the table with the rest of the food of the Lord’s Supper. The cup and loaf can be pointed out in advance of the meeting and mentioned in the prayer prior to the meal, but then placed on the buffet table with everything else. This way, believers can partake of it as they pass through the serving line.
Should the loaf be unleavened and the fruit of the vine alcoholic? The Jews ate unleavened bread in the Passover meal to symbolize the quickness with which God brought them out of Egypt. Jesus used unleavened bread in the original Last Supper. Nothing is said in the New Testament, however, about Gentile churches using unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper. Though sometimes in the New Testament yeast is associated with evil (1Co 5:6-8), it is also used to represent God’s kingdom (Mt 13:33)! As we see it, this is a matter of freedom. Regarding wine, it is clear from 1 Corinthians 11 that wine was used in the Lord’s Supper, because some had become drunk. No clear theological reason is ever given in Scripture, however, for using wine (but consider Ge 27:28, Isa 25:6-9, and Ro 14:21). As with the unleavened bread, it would seem to be a matter of freedom for each church to decide.
Unbelievers. Should unbelievers be allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper? The Lord’s Supper, as a sacred, covenant meal, has significance only to believers. To nonbelievers, it is merely food for the belly. It is implied from 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 that unbelievers will occasionally attend church meetings. Unbelievers get hungry just like believers do, so invite them to eat too. Love them to Jesus! The danger in taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner applies only to believers (1Co 11:27-32).
Regarding the one cup and loaf, if an unbelieving child desires to drink the grape juice just because he likes grape juice, that is fine. However, if the parents purposely give it to an unbelieving child as a religious act, then that might be a violation of what the Lord’s Supper is all about. It would be closely akin to the concept of infant baptism.
Ordained Clergy. Some believe that only an ordained clergyman can officiate at the Lord’s table. The New Testament makes no so such requirement.
CONCLUSIONNow that the New Testament form of the Supper has been duly established, the next question facing believers today concerns our Lord’s intent for modern churches. Does Jesus desire for His people to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in the same way it was eaten in the New Testament? Or could it be a matter of indifference to Him? Do we have the freedom to deviate from the Supper’s original form as a true banquet? Certainly not. Why would anyone want to depart from the way Christ and His apostles practiced the Lord’s Supper? The apostles clearly were pleased when churches held to their traditions (1Co 11:2) and even commanded that they do so (2Th 2:15). We have no authorization to deviate from it.
In summary, the Lord’s Supper is the primary purpose for which the church is to gather each Lord’s Day. Eaten as a full meal, the Supper typifies the wedding supper of the Lamb and is thus forward looking. It is to be partaken of as a feast, in a joyful, wedding atmosphere rather than in a somber, funeral atmosphere. A major benefit of the Supper as a banquet is the fellowship and encouragement each member experiences. Within the context of this full meal, there is to be one cup and one loaf from which all partake. These are symbolic of Jesus’ body and blood and serve to remind Jesus of His promise to return. One whole loaf is to be used, not only to symbolize the unity of a body of believers, but also because God will use it to create unity within a body of believers.
— Steve Atkerson
1 Fritz Reinecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980), 207.
2 R. P. Martin, “The Lord’s Supper,” The New Bible Dictionary, ed. J. D. Douglas (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1982), 709.
3 Frederick Godet, Commentary on Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1981), 314.
4 C. K. Barrett, Black’s New Testament Commentary, The Fist Epistle to The Corinthians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1968), 263 & 277.
5 Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1981), 758.
6 Gordon Fee, New International Commentary on the New Testament, The First Epistle to The Corinthians ( Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 532, 555.
7 G. W. Grogan, “Love Feast,” The New Bible Dictionary, ed. J. D. Douglas (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1982), 712.
8 Barrett, 276.
9 Williston Walker, A History of The Christian Church, 3rd Ed. (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970), 38.
10 John Gooch, Christian History & Biography, Issue 37 (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today) 3.
11 Colin Brown, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. III (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981) 244.
12 Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1966), 252-254.
13 Reinecker, 34.
14 Barrett, 397.
15 Martin, 709.
16 F. F. Bruce, Acts of The Apostles (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981) 79.
Want help teaching this topic? To aid you in leading others to the truths of New Testament church life, teaching notes have been prepared for this subject. They will give you ideas on how to lead an interactive (Socratic) group discussion. The idea is to guide people to discover for themselves what the New Testament says about this topic. At the end of the guide there are study questions to pass (or e-mail) out in advance.Just click here!
Steve resides in north Georgia with his wife, Sandra, and their three home-schooled children. Steve graduated from Georgia Tech and worked in industrial electronics before heading off to seminary. After receiving a Master of Divinity degree from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, served on the pastoral staff of a Southern Baptist Church. After seven years in the traditional pastorate, he resigned to begin working with churches that desire to follow apostolic traditions in their church practice. He travels and teach as the Lord opens doors of opportunity. Steve is an elder at the home church he helped start in 1990, is president of the NTRF, edited Toward A House Church Theology, is author of both The Practice of the Early Church: A Theological Workbook and The Equipping Manual, and is editor of and a contributing author to Ekklesia: To The Roots of Biblical House Church Life.