by Al Maxey

Issue #351 ------- June 13, 2008
It is rather difficult to get a man to under-
stand something when his whole salary
depends upon his not understanding it.

Upton Sinclair {1878-1968}

Examining Eucharistic Expectation
What Did Jesus Christ Really Have in Mind
When He Instituted the Lord's Supper?

It was most likely a Thursday evening. Passover was approaching. Gathered in an upper room in the city of Jerusalem were Jesus and His twelve apostles. Jesus was observing this final memorial meal with these men, although He did so quite clearly outside the parameters of the current accepted practice [see: Reflections #138 --- Otherwise Than Prescribed]. During the course of this moving spiritual event, Jesus took some of the bread from the table, and one of the four cups of wine, and using these two elements from among the many that were on the table at this time (the latter of which, by the way, was never commanded by God in Scripture, but was rather an innovation of men --- Reflections #14), He instituted (if I may use that term) what has come to be known variously today as the Lord's Supper, Communion or the Eucharist. During the almost 2000 years that have passed, this event has become sacramentalized, ritualized, and institutionalized to such a great extent [Reflections #114 --- Historical Overview of the Lord's Supper] that I honestly question, quite frankly, if it even remotely resembles, in far too many current applications and expressions, what our Lord Jesus originally intended it to be. And I most assuredly DO NOT believe the Lord's Supper should EVER have become (as it clearly has) the focus of some of the most heated battles among brethren. We have formulated countless tedious rules and regulations governing this event, we've fought, feuded and fragmented the One Body of Christ over our personal perceptions, preferences and practices regarding it, and have elevated our assumptions regarding its implementation to the status of LAW, even to the point of denying fellowship and salvation to those who dare to differ with us on any point of perception or practice.

I have to wonder, brethren -- is this what our Lord Jesus Christ really had in mind that night so many years ago? Did the Messiah actually envision a ritual so rigid and regulated that the slightest slip by a participant in its observance would send him/her hurtling headlong into the fires of hell? Was it really His intent for this event to be rushed through in ten minutes or less as part of an hour-long "worship service" on Sunday mornings? What would He think of the loaf and cup being reduced to a pinch from a wafer and a thimble full of Welch's? Would He appreciate our legalistic wrangling over such "weighty matters" as whether or not a hymn is sung by His people during the passing of the trays? Would Jesus condemn believers to hell over the number of cups, or whether the wine was fermented or not, or if the grain used to make the flour that formed the loaf was processed and refined? We could list literally hundreds more such items of mindless minutiae over which the saints have soiled and shattered the sanctity of the One Body. Did Jesus really intend for this event to become such a highly regulated ritual that even the slightest deviation from The Pattern would result in eternal damnation? And just what exactly is this elusive "pattern" for the Lord's Supper? Ask a dozen people and you'll get a dozen different answers! Let's face it, brethren -- to our eternal shame, far too many among us have completely lost sight of our Lord's original intent on this matter, and the countless "food fights" at His Table are the shameful and painfully obvious result. How our Savior must grieve over our misguided zeal for law and tradition over the simple beauty of what was initially intended. Good grief ... we've even condemned people to hell for remembering Jesus through the partaking of these elements on any day other than Sunday, and some have severed people from fellowship, declaring them "apostates" and casting them from the church, if they dare to refill the cup after it accidentally spills. Brethren, it's time to refocus and cease behaving foolishly before an unbelieving and mocking world!! [By the way, I've dealt extensively with each of the above "issues," and a good many more, in various Reflections articles, all of which are listed in my Topical Index under the heading "Lord's Supper." I would invite you to examine them.]

My intent in this present issue of Reflections is not so much to examine the purpose of the Lord's Supper -- I have already done that in Reflections #55 -- nor to scrutinize the countless legalistic particulars of the practice over which believers have fought and fragmented for centuries (I have done a number of articles on many of these), but rather to reflect upon what I believe our Savior's original expectation was for His disciples, and still is, as He provided for them this unique spiritual experience. The more that discerning disciples contemplate our present practice, and our many motivations behind it, the more they are beginning to question some aspects of it. They are especially coming to question, and even to challenge, whether Christ ever actually intended for the Lord's Supper to become such a highly regulated ritual in which preciseness of practice should be perceived by us as directly impacting both fellowship and salvation. For example, during the past month I received three separate emails from readers in which they detailed their own personal struggle with this very issue. A reader in Pennsylvania wrote, in part, "I have to wonder: does the typical attitude regarding the way we share in the Lord's Supper stem more from God's intentions or from man's perceptions?" This, I believe, is the precise question that needs to be asked ... and addressed ... by each of us as we approach "The Table" of our Lord.

First, I find absolutely nothing whatsoever in the New Covenant record that even remotely suggests this time of Communion was ever intended by Jesus to become any kind of formal, institutionalized ceremony regulated by law. And yet, that is precisely what it has become in far too many places. Based on assumptions drawn solely from a single verse in the NT documents, some patternistic disciples have formulated church LAW regulating the frequency of this event. It can only be on Sunday, no other day ... and it must be every Sunday. Remember Jesus through the partaking of the elements of the Lord's Supper on a Tuesday, for example, and God will cast you headlong into hell. It doesn't matter how filled with love for the Lord your heart may be at the time of observance; that's irrelevant. You violated LAW, and therefore you are LOST. Was this our Lord's intent for this event?! Ritualism and ceremonialism were large parts of the Jewish religion; formalities were evident throughout their worship. This was destined to change, however, under the covenant enacted by Christ.

The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, for example, speaks of "regulations of divine worship" associated with the old covenant system (Hebrews 9:1). The Greek word dikaioma refers to a "legal norm, a legislative determination." Dr. Thayer, in his lexicon, defines it as "an ordinance or precept concerning the public worship of God." Under the first covenant God regulated worship! Where, when, and in what manner one expressed his devotion to God was specifically addressed by law. Although there was some latitude permitted, such as in the practice of freewill offerings, it was nevertheless a system largely characterized by strict legislation. Law, not liberty, was the primary watchword of worship.

However, the performing of such worship never really accomplished the spiritual maturing of God's people. Regulated worship is inherently flawed: It restricts the full and free expression of the devotion of the worshiper's heart. To legislate worship is truly to limit worship. That's not to suggest that this regulation didn't serve a legitimate purpose during the infancy and adolescent stages of Israel's development. But, with the coming of a change in relationship between God and His people also came the need for changes in the expression of that relationship. Just as rightful restrictions governing the expression of a couple's love during their courtship no longer apply once a covenant of marriage is entered into, so also is the restrictive nature of the old covenant with regard to worshipful expression far too limiting now that a new covenant has been effected. With a change in covenant must also come a change in the manner in which the covenantal parties express themselves to one another.

This is the point the Hebrew writer seeks to convey to his readers when he informs them that the "regulations of divine worship" were imposed only "until a time of reformation" (Hebrews 9:10). The restrictions upon worshipful expression were temporary, and thus they would be removed. This would occur at a specified time determined by the covenant maker: a time of reformation, or "the time of the new order" (according to several translations, such as the NIV). The writer used a very rare Greek word, diorthosis --- a word which appears only here within all the New Testament writings --- to express this thought. This word signifies a complete rectification, a setting right once again. This time of reformation, this implementation of a "new order," would occur when the Messiah instituted God's new covenant with mankind. Dr. F.F. Bruce observes, "The coming of Christ involved a complete reshaping of the structure of Israel's religion. The old covenant was now to give way unto the new, the shadow to the substance, the outward and earthly copy to the inward and heavenly reality" (The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 197-198).

During God's dispensation of grace, of which you and I are now an integral part, our worshipful expression has been liberated from legislative determination. Jesus nailed such limiting decrees to the cross, and He freed us to show forth our worship unto the Father with a newfound, heartfelt liberty. A system of rigid regulation of every aspect of our devotion to God has been forever terminated. We are free!! Thus, it is utterly out of character with the nature of this new covenant to insist that Jesus bound a ritualistic ceremony upon His people for all time; a ritual rigidly regulated by hundreds of limiting laws that must be followed to the letter if one would be saved. Indeed, to suggest such is to completely fail to perceive what our Lord accomplished for us by His sacrifice. It is, in point of fact, nothing less than a return to "a yoke of slavery" [Gal. 5:1], which severs us from Christ and causes us to fall from grace [Gal. 5:4]. How ironic, and sad, that those who are the most vocal and vicious in their condemnation of others who dare to differ with their personal and party preferences and practices are the very ones the Lord condemns!! Diversity of perception and practice in matters of personal conviction, if such is done with genuine love for the Lord, is neither a salvation nor fellowship issue in the sight of our heavenly Father. It is only such in the sight of those who have lost sight of the true nature of the Father and His grace, and who have thus abandoned their freedom in Christ for a return to the slavery of legalistic regulation of worshipful expression as the pathway to divine acceptance.

As one of the aforementioned readers (this one from the state of Texas) noted in his email to me, "I do not believe that it was Jesus' intention to invent a ceremony with specific rules about how it should be performed. I do not see a ceremony in the words which Jesus spoke, nor do I see a ceremony anywhere in the actions and writings of the apostles." Nor do I, brother! To my knowledge, the only direction our Lord Himself gave with regard to this event was that as often as we do it, we should do it in remembrance of Him. The apostle Paul rebuked those who had lost sight of this, but as far as specific legislation and regulation of the specifics of this event ... there is nothing from either the Lord Jesus or His inspired writers. I am personally convicted that a rigid religious ritual is the LAST thing our Savior intended for the Lord's Supper to become. Indeed, such, in my estimation, defeats the whole purpose of it. In fact, it is my firm belief that the NT writings strongly suggest that the observance in the early church was both daily and in association with a meal in the homes of the disciples. Simply stated, it was a family occasion, not a religious occasion. Frankly, it was never intended to be the latter, although, sadly, that is largely what we have made it.

What did Jesus initially intend? What exactly was His expectation? I believe He simply gave us something to remember Him by. It's as if He said, "Whenever you come together for a meal, whenever you sit down as family at the table, whenever you gather together in love and sweet fellowship let Me be there with you. As you eat together, pause and take some of the bread and remember that I am the Bread of Life come down out of heaven for you. As you drink some of the wine, remember My blood that was poured out on your behalf. In so doing, you will be celebrating the very One who has brought you together as One Family, and you will experience the joy of the unity of the Spirit for which I am laying down My life." There is no "rule book" that must be followed to make sure the cups are of the right size and number, or that the wheat is processed a certain way. There is no LAW that dictates when and where this takes place. Wherever and whenever His people come together, He asks that they remember Him and what He has done for them. The elements are simply aids to that remembrance, nothing more. Thus, it is what happens within our hearts that truly determines if we are in fact "observing the Lord's Supper" or just going through the motions of a religious, or maybe even an irreligious, ritualistic exercise. Paul told the Corinthian brethren, "When you meet together, it is NOT to eat the Lord's Supper" [1 Cor. 11:20]. You mean they were not following the proper pattern? They didn't have the right number of cups? The bread wasn't processed correctly? It was the wrong day? They sang a hymn while "passing the trays," thus "mixing acts of worship"? No ... it had absolutely nothing to do with the particulars of some ritual. It had to do with what was amiss in their hearts. It's not about the externals, it's about the internals.

There is really nothing very complex or mysterious about the sharing of the bread and wine. They were common elements available at virtually any common meal. But when they were taken up and shared by those with a common love for the Lord and one another, and in remembrance of the One who made their union in One Body a reality by His life, death and resurrection, these elements took on special spiritual significance to those who shared in this time of remembrance. Jesus never intended it to become a ceremony or a ritual. He never intended for His disciples to write hundreds of regulations governing every aspect of the observance, severing fellowship with those who dared to differ with their perceptions on some minute particular of practice. His expectation was very simple -- when you come together as family, when you break bread together, remember Me. As visuals aiding us in that remembrance we have common elements on the table -- bread and wine, one representing His body, the other representing His blood of the covenant. Brethren, may we strip away the accumulated layers of religious clutter that have all but buried this blessed event, and may we come to perceive and experience once again the simple beauty of a family gathered together at the Father's table remembering His beloved Son. It will be a transforming experience!!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Bro. Al, I've just returned from a week's vacation at the beach with my family. I spent many days simply sitting under an umbrella reading. One of the books I read was your book -- Down, But Not Out. What a blessing it was!! I have had it for some time, but finally made it one of my priorities to read. Now, I would like to order three or four more copies of your book to give to others. Please remind me of how much they are and how I can order them. Thank you for all that you do.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Bro. Al, I am so glad you and Shelly had a great trip. Tears came to my eyes and heart when I read how you were treated by those kind and sensitive folk at Silver Dollar City. Al, I have purchased three copies of your book Down, But Not Out, and I am sharing them with friends and family. I would like for you to sign mine. Would you do so if I mail it to you?

From a Reader in Canada:

Dear Brother Al, Welcome Home. When I was living in Nova Scotia I would always attend all the military events and parades. These parades were a highlight of my summers for years. I have always tried to shake the hand of every veteran I met and tell them that I am free today because of the price they paid. Almost every time I have thanked them they have cried. These men hold inside of themselves memories and experiences that most of us are not strong enough to even know. So, to you, Al, I say thanks and welcome home. You fought in a war that most didn't understand. Everyone has a right to express their feelings about any war, but no one has the right to disrespect the men and women who answered the call of their country. I'm sure that you have strong feelings from having been in war. You did what your country asked of you, and for that you deserve the respect of every member of your country. What a horrible loss we all would have had if you had not returned!! God knew your future, and the value you would be to His church. He spared you for the call you have again answered. I thank you for the path you are on, and I truly respect you for your views and the fight you fight. You are a treasure to be preserved and protected by our daily prayers. God bless you, your wife, your ministry and the priceless value of all your writings. By the way, your book -- Down, But Not Out -- is fabulous, and holds out the Truth better than most I have read on the subject. It is a joy to see the hope of redemption in print.

From a Minister in Oklahoma:

Dear Brother Al, Welcome back to the Internet ... you were really missed. When you told us of the folks in Branson, MO welcoming you home and giving you the veteran's ribbon, I felt a large swelling in my chest, as I also had to "sneak back in at night" after service over there in order to avoid the protestors. So, I have made it a habit since, when we are out in public and see a person in uniform, to go up to that person and personally thank them for their service to our country and to offer them a smile and a handshake. My wife and I have also made it a habit, whenever we are eating out, to have the waitress bring us the check for any service person sitting near us. I have vowed never to pass up an opportunity to personally thank those in uniform for their service!!

From a Minister in California:

Bro. Al, It was great to see a new Reflections in my inbox. I'm glad your vacation was a time of personal renewal. Thanks for sharing your worship experience in Springfield, Missouri. When the shackles of "doing things the way we have always done them" are removed, it's like a whole new mind. I am sure the East Grand congregation, and others like them, find as much joy in their freedom to love God in fresh, new ways, as they do in the new ways themselves. East Grand is living proof that you, and others like you, are making an incredible difference. Welcome home, brother! By the way, I was in Michigan just a couple of weeks ago ... at the Rochester Church of Christ. This congregation is moving very rapidly away from legalism, with instrumental components to their services, increased roles for women, etc. Yes, they lost some families, but the church is now growing rapidly, with well over 1000 per week in attendance. What a joy it is to be living in these days and seeing walls broken down and brethren united in love. Carry on, Al, and keep preaching the Truth.

From a Minister/Counselor in Mississippi:

Brother Al, Welcome back. Glad you're revived. Like you, I think a very large part of our problems in Churches of Christ comes from the lack of recognition that traditions are just that ... and NOT God's Word. Al, as discouraging as things may be from time to time, you need to know that lots of people are benefiting from your ministry!! God bless you.

From a Minister in Illinois:

Brother Maxey, I was raised as an "old school ultra-conservative/Anti" since I was three years old. For the past two years I have been the minister for a small Non-Institutional congregation. My problem now is, I sit here today asking myself: Who do we think we are to insist that the whole of Christianity come to a complete agreement with US? I feel a heavy burden to teach "the Truth in love" ... and ONLY that, not the many opinions we have claimed to be "mandatory for salvation." I am a tired soldier ... HELP!! I hold your honesty, conviction, commitment to the Truth, and persistence in keeping the faith in very high regard, and so I seek your advice. By the way, your writings and those of Cecil Hook -- Freedom's Ring -- are two of my most used web sites for insight into the Truth over tradition. May God bless you, Bro. Maxey, as you speak the TRUTH in love.

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Dear Brother Al, Your last article, "The Value of Renewal," once again put in writing the thoughts in my head. I was raised in a very conservative Church of Christ atmosphere. The atmosphere in some places around here is not simply "very conservative," but rather belligerent and arrogant to the point that the church is really looked down upon in the community. I personally feel I am in a spiritual twilight zone right now, and searching to find my way out. Anyway, I wanted you to know that your Reflections always say to me just what I need to hear and know. Thank you!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, We are so thankful you and Shelly are back safe and sound. I just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed your reflection on your vacation. It brought tears of joy to my eyes as you spoke of your experience at East Grand Church of Christ and their break from the traditional "order of worship" still practiced by so many congregations across the country. Here, we have installed lots of electronics, and we use them to great advantage in spreading the Word of God. It is truly a blessing to see this congregation move ahead. The church here is growing, maybe a little slowly, but none the less moving ahead. Again, it is so good to know that you are back and ready to "get with the program" again (i.e., your weekly Reflections). You are sorely missed when you are absent from your post. Soldier On. I love you, brother!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Bro. Al, Glad you and your wife were able to get away and get some R&R. We too took a few days off. It is good to see your Reflections again on my computer. This one ("The Value of Renewal") is a winner, but so are all the rest you send out!

From a Minister in New Jersey:

Welcome home, Al. Coincidentally, my wife and I just returned from our vacation. While it was not a relaxing one, it was one of great spiritual renewal. We were challenged and uplifted and spiritually exercised (as well as physically exercised) on a ten day study tour of Israel under the tutelage of Dr. Evertt Huffard, who is President of Harding Graduate School. I am now trying to deal with information overload. It will take me months to mentally unpack. We were privileged to have a devotional on the Sea of Galilee and then to join the Church of Christ in the city of Nazareth for the Sunday morning assembly. We even practiced on Saturday evening to sing two songs in Arabic so we could worship with them. They were cordial enough to sing a verse of a song in English. The lesson by Dr. Huffard was in English (for our benefit) and then translated into Arabic, although he could have spoken in Arabic. It was an experience of a lifetime! We saw two sites that claim to be the burial place of Jesus, but I am pleased to inform you that both were empty! I look forward to receiving your Reflections again now that you are "back in the saddle."

From an Elder in Connecticut:

Brother Al, I'm glad you and Shelly are back and that the vacation was refreshing. We are still looking forward to ours -- we'll be returning to Italy, where, as you know, we used to serve as missionaries. Thanks for all that you do, Al. Though I don't seem to find time to tell you, you bring so much encouragement to those of us trying to be simply Christians.

From an Elder in Missouri:

Bro. Al, Welcome back from your vacation. I know the value of such rejuvenation, and am thankful that the brethren there where you serve take good care of you by providing that time off for you. It is truly sad that some congregations do not do the same for the spiritual soldiers who labor with them. I look forward to your new thoughts this coming year in your weekly Reflections.

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, The church where I am a member just recently hired a new minister. He teaches that clapping your hands during the worship service is wrong. He says it is a distraction; it is adding to the Word of God; it started from young people; that it is a "strange doctrine." This is the first minister I've ever personally encountered who teaches this. He teaches that we take our focus off God and put it on ourselves when we clap our hands. He also says that we cannot let emotion overtake us. Last but not least, he says that if clapping is right, then everyone needs to clap, not just some people. The people who are not clapping, this preacher says, would not be worshipping God, if clapping is a "right practice." Bro. Al, can you give me the scriptures that either prove or refute this theory? Thank you in advance.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, You are right about the direction of our "movement." If we (as congregations) don't figure out how to connect with this new world of ours, we'll be done. Too many are already at the point where they have very little to NO impact on their communities. At Richland Hills, we're trying to move our focus to the external community --- "Doing good in the neighborhood." We are certainly having a great impact through our grief, divorce, and substance abuse programs, as well as our English as a second language program.

From a Reader in Colorado:

Bro. Al, One of our deacons was scheduled to "do the talk" at the Lord's Table. He's a younger man of few words; one who owns his own construction company. He got up behind the Table, reached under it, took out a towel that was folded several times, and then a thick square of wood. He placed the wood on the towel. Then he took out a huge spike and maul. He centered the spike on the wood and hit it as hard as he could with the maul. He then said, "Let us pray!" I don't know how many people, myself included, felt they had never seen/heard anything more effective!! A lot of people stood in line to tell him so afterward ... although I guess he would have been "churched" in a lot of places!!

From a Reader in Ohio:

Dear Brother Al, I am a life-long subscriber to your Reflections, which are extremely important to me. I need them like my body needs water. They have become a spiritual foundation for me, replacing that ultra-conservative, dogmatic religion that binds so many these days. I'm looking forward to continuing my spiritual progress with you, and even stepping up my walk. Your fellowship has been, and IS, so important to me! Thank you!

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