by Al Maxey

Issue #394 ------- April 13, 2009
The tradition of all the dead generations weighs
like a nightmare on the brain of the living.

Karl Marx {1818-1883}

The One Loaf Debate
The Breaking of Fellowship
over the Breaking of Bread

There were some serious fellowship problems among the disciples of Christ in the city of Corinth, and the apostle Paul devoted a significant portion of his epistle known as First Corinthians to this very troubling development among the brethren. God had called them into fellowship with His Son [1 Cor. 1:9], yet they were dividing over various human personalities, perceptions and practices. The seeds of sectarianism were being sown among them by the forces of evil, and the unity of the Body of Christ in that location was in jeopardy. Indeed, they were so guilty of factional, sectarian thinking, that they were completely failing to discern the oneness of the Body of Christ, thereby, in effect, dismembering it. Their commemoration of the offering of Christ, which in part proclaims our oneness, had become a mockery, and thus Paul writes, "When you meet together, it is NOT to eat the Lord's Supper" [1 Cor. 11:20]. "You come together NOT for the better but for the worse" [vs. 17]. They were certainly partaking of the elements, but the Lord was far removed from their hearts.

Therefore, the apostle Paul repeatedly stresses to these dysfunctional brethren (as he does to other brethren in other locations through some of his other epistles) the great importance of -- indeed, the essential nature of -- their unity and oneness in Christ Jesus. On the evening prior to His crucifixion, Jesus Christ had actually prayed to the Father that each of His beloved disciples (as well as all who would believe through their testimony) might be ONE, just as He and the Father were one [John 17]. In Eph. 4:2-4, for example, Paul wrote that we must all "show forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling." Most biblical scholars identify the "one body" in this passage as the Lord's church -- that universal body of believers throughout history who have been incorporated into the Family of God by virtue of their visible, vibrant faith in His Son. ALL who are in Christ are thereby a part of this One Body. The challenge, of course, has always been to get the Father's children to recognize this reality and thereby embrace their fellow spiritual siblings. Jesus prayed for this, but thus far in the history of Christendom this longing of our Lord Jesus has not been realized. We have fought and divided over every conceivable personal preference, perception and practice, rather than simply rejoicing in our unity with diverse disciples by reason of our shared union with the Lord.

While addressing the schisms occurring in Corinth, Paul spoke of the common bond that was the basis of their unity (although they had lost sight of this). Focusing on external matters, they had drifted apart, and had actually become combative with one another. Paul sought to redirect their focus to JESUS, who alone can serve as the basis for the unity of the One Body. The aged apostle John sought to do the very same thing when he wrote, "What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" [1 John 1:3]. Or, to put it in Paul's words -- "You were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" [1 Cor. 1:9]. Each of us share in the body and blood of Jesus when in true spiritual union with Him [1 Cor. 10:16]. Thus, we all have a common bond; something shared in common with one another, even though we are all very much different from one another in countless ways. "Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread" [1 Cor. 10:17]. This "one bread," as most scholars agree, is a reference to our Lord Jesus Christ. There is only ONE Bread from Heaven whereby we may find spiritual nourishment and life -- Jesus.

"I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh. ... Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him" [John 6:48-51, 53-56]. In the 1 Cor. 10 passage Paul clearly links his comments about the "one bread" to the sacrifice of the body of our Lord on the cross. "Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?" [vs. 16]. Yes, the loaf and the wine (cup) at the Lord's Table [vs. 21] are physical elements, but they are representative of a greater reality. They are merely the symbolic shadows; the substance itself belongs to Christ Jesus. It is easy for us to want to pass judgment on the various particulars of the shadows, but Paul warns us against such pettiness. "Therefore do not let anyone judge you ... with regard to a religious festival. ... These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ" [Col. 2:16-17]. The bread and the wine (cup) of the Lord's Table are merely representative of the reality, they're not the reality themselves. I think many fail to appreciate this great distinction, which quickly leads to debate and even division over differing methodologies pertaining to the particulars of the symbols themselves, which then, sadly, leads to a severing of relationship with one's fellow siblings and even of relationship with the Substance Himself. Such is the fatal fallacy of legalistic patternism.

All of this was brought to my attention anew this week when I received the following email from a reader living in the beautiful state of Missouri (we will actually be spending an entire week in this reader's hometown the last week of May when we go on vacation to visit our middle son, David, and his family, who just happen to live in that same community). This reader wrote, "Dear Brother Al, I was raised up within the Churches of Christ beginning back in the 1950's. Most of my church rearing was in an extremely patternistic, legalistic congregation. Church history (other than what is found in the book of Acts) was never discussed in this congregation. When I was in my late forties, I began to question some of my teachings. As a result, we began to attend a One Cup congregation that was even more legalistic and patternistic than the congregation we had been attending previously. One Sunday we just happened to visit a congregation where we had worshipped years before when our kids were younger. I was surprised to find that this congregation had begun using 'multi-loaves' for the Communion. Amazingly, no one there seemed to remember using just one loaf for the Communion, as I remember from decades earlier. I remember it quite distinctly, however, because I used to help prepare the Communion elements on Sunday mornings as a young teenager. Anyway, am I guilty of being 'legalistic and patternistic' by expecting one loaf to be used to represent the one body that Jesus sacrificed for our sins?! I don't see a problem with 'multi-cups,' but I am really struggling with the 'multi-loaves.' I would really like to hear your view on this, and thank you in advance."

I have to say that I can appreciate the concern of this reader. Certainly, there is spiritual significance to the fact that there is only ONE Bread ... just as there is only ONE Chief Shepherd of the One flock. There is one faith, one body, one hope, etc. (Eph. 4:4-6]. It is essential to recognize these great eternal Truths. However, it is also essential not to confuse the symbols of these realities with the reality itself. Shadows serve a purpose, but they are not the substance. The book of Hebrews makes this abundantly clear time and again. When we confuse the former with the latter, too often our focus becomes fixated upon preciseness of performance of particulars, when Jesus simply sought to convey a spiritual reality to our hearts and minds that would enable and ennoble us for our journey through life. In short, too many disciples have spent so much time seeking to bind their own personal and party patternistic preferences upon all others the world over that they have only succeeded in breaking fellowship over the matter of breaking bread. Oh, how these family food fights at the Table of our loving Father must pain Him! We ought to be ashamed of ourselves!

When Paul spoke of the "one bread," of which they all partook, he was speaking of the Lord. Yes, there was literal bread that represented this great reality, just as there was wine that truly represented His shed blood of the covenant. The blessing comes to us by our union with Him, however, NOT by the preciseness of our performance of some legalistic pattern with respect to the emblems, particulars which, by the way, are never, ever commanded in Scripture. Men over the centuries have assumed these patternistic particulars, and they have bound them as law, but they are never once commanded in Scripture. That in itself ought to tell us where our Lord's focus is when we assemble around His Table in sweet Communion with Him and our spiritual siblings. God's focus is not on what kind of grain is used in the making of the bread, or whether it is processed or not [Reflections #142] ... His focus has nothing whatsoever to do with the frequency of our observance of this memorial meal [Reflections #30] ... it has nothing to do with the size of the portions consumed [Reflections #147] ... it has nothing to do with whether or not a hymn is sung during the passing and partaking of the elements [Reflections #199] ... it has nothing to do with grapes [Reflections #280] ... it has nothing to do with number of cups [Reflections #330]. What it DOES have to do with is one's HEART as he/she partakes of these emblems. Does one break the bread before the prayer or after the prayer? Does the one "officiating" at the Table break the bread, or do the individual participants break off a portion as it is passed unto them? And just who may do the passing? Must there only be one loaf, or are multiple loaves permissible? Just how big a bite should one take? What happens if you spill some of the contents of the cup? Do you have to start over [Reflections #313]? Believe it or not, God's children have fought and fragmented the One Family over every one of these ... and hundreds more such "weighty matters of LAW."

Yes, I believe there is some symbolic beauty in observing the Lord's Supper with one loaf and one cup of wine. However, in a congregation of 3000 members this might pose a logistical problem. Just how, practically speaking, does one go about facilitating this so that ALL may partake together of the ONE loaf and ONE cup? Did Jesus really intend for us to bake the world's largest loaf of bread each week, and use a forklift to haul around a massive cup to serve all those in a large congregation? If we all met in homes, as they did primarily in the first century church, then the logistics would be more manageable. However, that is not the nature of our culture today. Times change, and so do the specifics and particulars of our worshipful expression. The realities themselves, however, are timeless, and can thus be celebrated in any culture at any time. Regardless of whether there is one loaf or many, regardless of how large a bite each person takes, regardless of what grains or fruits may or may not be available in any given area, the spiritual significance of our Lord's sacrifice can still be celebrated by devoted disciples. When the HEART is the focus, rather than the patternistic particulars, then LOVE becomes the dominant theme, not LAW.

Is it wrong for a group of disciples to use only one loaf in their observance of the Lord's Supper? Of course not. Indeed, in my view, there is a certain beauty and simplicity in such. Frankly, if our goal is to be just like the early disciples, then that might be something we would want to bind. However, our goal is not to be like them, rather our goal is to be like Him (Jesus Christ). It is HE that we are to "pattern" our lives after, not a particular congregation of disciples in a particular city in the first century (as if we could ever know precisely the specific particulars of their daily practice). The practice of our faith is not frozen in the cultural particulars of first century Troas, or Antioch, or Jerusalem, or Rome. The expression of our faith and devotion is governed by love for the Lord, and this allows a freedom of expression that is truly liberating. We need to cease formulating law where our Lord has prescribed none. Seeking to bind law upon others in a dispensation of grace is a sure way to find oneself severed from Christ [Gal. 5]. Yes, by all means, observe the Lord's Supper with one loaf and one cup, if that is your preference and conviction. Indeed, the symbolism of such a practice is stunning. But, be aware that the reality transcends the ritual; the substance is greater than the shadow. Allow others the freedom to embrace the reality without necessarily being enslaved to the ritualistic particulars of your own personal preference in the matter. As long as the substance is perceived and honored by our observance, I have no doubt that our Lord is pleased with our efforts to glorify Him and edify one another.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Publisher: (301) 695-1707

With Deepest Sympathy --- I was saddened to learn of the passing of one of the most devoted supporters of my Reflections ministry -- Julian "Tex" Dendy of Alvarado, Texas. Brother Tex was one of my original subscribers, and I would hear from him several times a month. He wrote to me just the other day, on the occasion of my 60th birthday (March 2nd), to inform me that sixty was nothing ... he had just turned 91 the month before! He was a graduate of Abilene Christian College and chose a career in the Air Force, retiring after 22 years with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Tex was a skilled pilot, highly decorated by our nation, and flew numerous combat missions in the B-29 bomber, among other aircraft. His grandfather was Dr. T. H. Dabney, one of the men responsible for what would later become Abilene Christian University. One of my readers in Alvarado, Texas informed me of his passing, writing, "Tex turned me on to your work, and I have been a subscriber to your Reflections for a few years now. He talked highly of you and I know that he often wrote you with his 2 cents worth. He had really wanted to come and visit your congregation and you!" Tex Dendy passed away this past Saturday evening (April 4th). He will be greatly missed (as will his encouraging words: "Soldier On!"). My deepest sympathies go out to his wife Katherine, and to the whole family. May God greatly comfort them with the knowledge that we will see this wonderful man again one day!!

Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in California:

Dear Brother Maxey, I was raised in the Churches of Christ -- my grandfather was a song leader and an elder, and my father was a preacher for nearly 40 years. I have been a Bible teacher and song leader, and pretty much knew "book, chapter and verse" for just about all our positions. However, following my father's death a couple of years ago I went through a period of questioning almost everything, and began to harbor resentment toward the leaders in the church for their imposing of tradition upon us. But then, this past fall, my cousin told me about you and your Reflections. So, I began to read them, and, brother, I can't thank you enough for all these brilliant articles!! Especially the ones about instrumental music (our arguments against this practice I had long ago found to be very weak Scripturally). My cousin and I now have weekly discussions over the phone based upon your Reflections, and he sometimes uses your ideas in a class he teaches at his congregation. I cannot even begin to tell you how much I am growing from reading your Reflections!! Thank you so much for adding me to your list back then. What a difference you are making in my life, and in the lives of so many others!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Dear Brother Al, I have 7 hours of reel-to-reel tapes of K. C. Moser teaching a class on the book of Romans. I would be glad to convert these tapes to CDs and send them to you, if you would like to have them. You are in my prayers every night, and I hope that you will always teach God's grace and continue helping people understand that they can NOT earn their way to heaven.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Bro. Al, "Faith's Work, Love's Labor" was a great article! I really didn't expect a full issue of Reflections devoted to my question! Thanks! I think it is interesting that James wrote, "I will show you my faith by my works," and not, "I will show you my salvation by my works." BIG difference! My various works point to my faith, and it is my faith that receives salvation. Never do works receive salvation ... only faith does that.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, Excellent study on faith and works. Thank you so much for your work in researching and putting these articles together!

From a D.Min./Author in Alabama:

Dear Brother Al, I pray that God will continue to give you the gift of writing! You have a talent for removing the underbrush and focusing upon the real intent of the authors of Holy Scripture.

From a Minister/Author in Tennessee:

Dear Brother Al, We cannot do anything to earn salvation. It is a gift, however we do have to accept/receive this gift. With reference to James 2, in the 1998-99 Gospel Advocate Companion I wrote that James was not discussing works of merit that earn salvation, but rather good works that are evidences that our faith is genuine. The illustration I use is that good works, such as James describes, are like breath to the body: they give life to our faith and prove to others that our faith is real. By the way, I leave Saturday for a mission trip to Panama and Peru. Please keep us in your prayers!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, What can I say? Your article "Faith's Work, Love's Labor" is Truth, and it really edified and enlightened me! My sincerest thanks goes out to you for this issue of Reflections. If the Lord ever allows me to travel to your area, I will make a point of visiting your congregation. Mere words cannot capture the extent of gladness I feel in my heart for you and for the positive influence you are having on those who listen to and learn from you. I will also pray for you because I know you are about to endure suffering from the legalists; undoubtedly suffering the same unrighteous indignation that Bro. K. C. Moser and Bro. G. C. Brewer did. Thus, I will always remember to uphold you in my prayers.

From a Minister in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, I so appreciate your reasonable and balanced View of the Versions. I recently had a young man in our congregation (a new convert) write me a disturbing note in which he said some of the "older men" here had been telling him that the NIV was not the Word of God, and that, if used, it would lead people away from the Truth. He and I have talked a great deal since then, and I think that I've helped him (with a whole lot of help from some good resources like yours) to gain a healthier perspective on this whole subject. And then some wonder why our congregations are not growing as they should, or why we've run so many of our own young people away from the church! Thanks again for your good work in trying to counter this trend!

From a Minister in Indiana:

Brother Al, Yesterday I received a call from a lady I know who attends an ultra-conservative sister congregation in the area. She saw on our marquee that we were having a "Good Friday" service. She said she was excited about possibly attending, but she had a question/concern. She wanted to know whether or not we would be serving the Lord's Supper. She wanted me to know that she "couldn't attend if we were going to observe Communion, as that would be unbiblical and wrong." I informed her that we would not be serving the Lord's Supper, and she expressed how pleased she was, again reiterating her belief that it would be sinful to observe it that day. As I hung up the phone it occurred to me -- almost everything about this service that she was so excited about was, by her definition, "unbiblical." There is no mention in the NT of "Good Friday," as such. Nor is there any "apostolic precedent" for commemorating the day on which Jesus was crucified. There weren't even any church buildings back then! And yet this woman was only concerned about remembering Jesus, through the Lord's Supper, on the "wrong day," as that would have been "unscriptural." Ahhh, consistency, thou art a jewel.

From a Reader in Ohio:

Dear Bro. Al, In response to your recent question about enhancing Sunday evening services, our congregation in northeastern Ohio has developed a program that we call Sunday Night Live (SNL). It consists of a variety of worship and fellowship activities such as singing, personal testimonies, teen led services, fellowship meals, special sermon topics, reaching out to new members, and the list goes on. It represents a real change of pace and emphasis. We have even had some skits by members. Generally, we hold these services in our recently expanded fellowship area. Our results? Well, comparing the 29 weeks before SNL began to the 20 weeks since SNL has been in effect, there's been a 33% increase in attendance! And this does not even factor in the increased spiritual growth and blessings that many have experienced. Such changes can occur if people are committed to making Sunday evenings more meaningful, spiritual opportunities.

From an Elder in Missouri:

Bro. Al, Once again, Well Done! Only someone who is deceived can read 1 Thess. 1:3 and take from that text that faith is a work. Even without an understanding of the genitive form within the Greek language, just a simple read of the English (in most reputable translations, anyway) will show that it is their work of faith (i.e., a work that is brought about because of faith). Only someone who was trying to pervert the simple message of God's love and mercy would promote otherwise. I checked a few of my old notes (just to keep myself honest), and even back during my old very legalistic days I taught this verse the very same way you described it. When we do good works in the name of our Lord, it is because we have faith, and, thus, these are works OF faith. Works themselves can never save us. If they could, then it is clear from all Scriptures about Jesus and His perfect sacrifice that He would NOT have had to die for our sins. We would just DO the list of right good works and all go to heaven. Keep up the good work, brother. By the way, I really enjoyed your article on K. C. Moser. We had to read his book The Way of Salvation as required reading in preaching school. I had a copy of it once, but loaned it out ... and, as often happens, it never found its way back to my shelves. I really enjoy your looks into history and biography, Al. Great character can be modeled by reading about such great men. Thank you.

Free Book Offer -- There is a very high quality, scholarly, 260 page book written by one of my Reflections readers in Virginia that is being offered free of charge to any person who requests it (the only condition is that you pay shipping -- $2.70 per book at "book rate" and $5.30 per book if sent by "priority mail"). The author sent me two copies, and it is an excellent, thoughtful study of the whole instrumental issue that has divided our movement for far too long. The title of the book is: Sing Ye to Jehovah ... the Song of Moses ... and the Song of the Lamb. The author is Kenneth J. Wells. Although this brother assembles with an a cappella congregation of the Churches of Christ, he nevertheless has written this powerful book "to challenge this traditional, but overly literal, Church of Christ interpretation" that "the NT command/word 'sing' means 'only sing.'" Bro. Wells also "asks Christians to reconsider a formula for Christian unity once promoted by Thomas Campbell; a Scriptural approach for Christian unity that proved successful in the past when consistently followed between 1809 and 1849." If you would like a copy of this book, send a request (with appropriate payment for shipping) to:

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