The phrase "The Lord's Supper" is one we have heard countless times. Every time we surround the Lord's Table to observe the Lord's Supper we are reminded anew of His great sacrifice on our behalf. This phrase is used with such frequency among us that it might come as a surprise to some that it was not used with similar frequency during the time of the first century church. In fact, only once in all of the New Testament documents is this memorial feast characterized as the "Lord's Supper." That particular passage is found in Paul's condemnation of the abuses of the Corinthian brethren as they observed this memorial. Paul wrote to these struggling brethren, "I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse .... When you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you .... Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper" (1 Cor. 11:17-20).
Sadly, some of God's people two thousand years later are still surrounding the Table amidst wrangling and division. To do so is a mockery of the very essence and purpose of this memorial meal. It seems we never learn! Let me share with you just a couple of examples of how some today are tarnishing the beauty of this "feast divine" with their efforts to impose upon others their legalistic speculations.
The Anti-Lunch Faction
No, we are not talking about those who oppose eating a meal in the church building. That's another issue. Rather, this anti-lunch faction has arisen over an ultra-legalistic, patternistic perception of the term "supper." A couple of weeks ago a man by the name of John Lueth sent out an email article he had written which began with the following statement in large, bold letters: "Something is amiss in the modern day Church of Christ!" He then proceeded to elaborate.
What is "amiss," it seems, is that we have abandoned the first century church pattern of an evening ONLY observance of the Lord's Supper. The fact that most congregations of the churches of Christ (as well as many other groups) surround the Table on Sunday morning is perceived by this faction to be a soul-damning departure from the NT pattern, and thus an innovation straight from Hell. John Lueth characterizes morning observance of the Lord's Supper as a practice "not consistent with sound Bible doctrine," and therefore constituting "vain worship." In his article he noted, "Luke 14:12 shows that a clear distinction exists between dinner and supper. They knew when supper was, just as well as we do." I should point out that in some parts of our nation "dinner" refers to the evening meal (it is synonymous with "supper") and "lunch" is the term used to refer to the noon meal. Nevertheless, Lueth's point is that the ONLY "authorized" time to observe this memorial meal is during the evening. He went on to write, "When the Lord labeled it 'supper' through inspiration, that met the criteria of commandment, thereby excluding breakfast-time and dinner-time. The criteria for example and necessary inference are also met in the verses of Acts 20. We say that 'we do Bible things in Bible ways' and 'we speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent,' so let us take this step in our restoration of the pure early church and truly become God's peculiar people."
John Lueth asserts that the only way to restore NT Christianity, and to insure our ultimate salvation, is to abandon the "heresy" of Sunday morning observance of the Lord's Supper and obey our Lord's "command" to observe this memorial feast in the evening. Using his CENI hermeneutic, he feels such is demanded by command, example and necessary inference. Using that same argument some have also sought to enforce upper room only observance, one cup observance, and observance of the Lord's Supper in conjunction with a common meal. As a result, there are many factions in the family of God over differing perceptions of what constitutes the official pattern and the desire of these factionists to force their perspective upon the rest of the One Body. Division is the natural result of such a mindset and motivation, for with each new twist on "the pattern" a new schism is fostered and a new sect is formed.
The Greek word that is translated "supper" is deipnon, which has reference to the main meal of the day, or to a more formal meal; a feast or banquet. In first century Palestine these were usually held in the evening when the day's work was completed and the family was all together. There is no inherent meaning as to the specific time of day in the word itself, however. The timing of this "main meal" is largely determined by culture or circumstance. "The early Christian communities assembled in houses to share the main meal of the day (Greek: deipnon, which occurred in the Greco-Roman world later in the day) in honor of the risen Lord" (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 822). Some cultures, have their main meal during the day and a lighter meal in the evening. Other cultures have their family gatherings in the evening. It varies. The emphasis of the Greek word deipnon is not on the timing of the meal, but rather upon the significance of it. It was the main meal, the one in which the family was gathered together. W.E. Vine, in his Expository Dictionary of NT Words, defines deipnon as "the chief meal of the day." Thus, it would not be inaccurate to refer to this memorial feast we observe as "The Lord's Main Meal" or "The Lord's Banquet." We, as His family, come together and surround the Table to remember His sacrifice on our behalf. The timing is insignificant. "Whenever" you do it, Jesus says (1 Cor. 11:25-26), do it "in remembrance of Me." It is not the hour but rather the heart that is of significance to our Lord.
This same Greek word (deipnon) is used in Revelation to describe two great "main meals." In Rev. 19:17-18 we see "an angel standing in the sun," crying out to the birds to "Come, assemble for the great supper of God; in order that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great." Although the invitation is to a "supper," yet we see the angel who issues this invitation standing "in the sun." The slaughter would be for all to witness, and the ensuing major banquet would be a feast for which birds of prey would assemble from afar. The emphasis of this vision is obviously not on the time of day, but rather on the fact this will be a huge feast and banquet for these birds; a main meal.
In Rev. 19:9 John is told to write, "Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." When will this "supper" occur? On that bright and glorious resurrection DAY when our Lord takes us home, and where there is no longer any night. "And in the daytime, for there shall be no night there, its gates shall never be closed" (Rev. 21:25). Thus, the marriage SUPPER of the Lamb will be held in the DAYTIME. Again, the word deipnon does not indicate time, it indicates purpose. It is that MAIN MEAL when the family of God the Father is gathered together for sweet fellowship. So also with the Lord's Supper. WHENEVER this is observed, it is observed together as family, and it is observed in memory of and in relationship with our Lord. To try and create LAW out of the English meaning of a term like "supper," and to discount the actual meaning and intent of the word, is to misunderstand and misapply Scripture. Such only leads to confusion and division.
The Unprocessed, Whole Grain Faction
Some might think the above teaching that the Lord's Supper may only be acceptably observed at night to be somewhat extreme and legalistic, however there are those who will go even beyond this in their quest to bind their assumptions upon the rest of mankind. In the November 3, 1995 issue of Gospel Minutes, a person wrote in and asked some questions about the Lord's Supper. Notice the following excerpt: "I am into whole grain foods the way the Lord created them. I don't feel I am eating all of the Lord's Supper since man has processed the flour and left things out of it."
Is processed flour unfit for use in preparing the bread of the Lord's Supper? Must the bread be only whole grain to be acceptable unto God? Does the use of anything less than unprocessed, whole grain bread constitute sin? We might carry this even farther and inquire as to which grain God will accept. Must it be wheat only, or will God accept any other grain? If we are going to leave the grain 100% unprocessed, should we even remove the chaff? Isn't that also an act of processing?
How complex, complicated and confusing we humans often make that which was divinely designed to be so simple. We spend so much time worrying over the inconsequential aspects of this commemorative meal that we often completely fail to see its spiritual significance. We fuss, fight, and fragment into warring factions over time, place, frequency, whether a song can be sung during the meal, how many cups to have, whether the fruit of the vine is fermented or not, and even whether or not the grain for the bread is processed. How frustrated and saddened our Lord must be when our thoughts turn to such trivialities. How tragic that a feast designed, in part, to celebrate our oneness (1 Cor. 10:16-17) has been reduced to a "food fight" at the Lord's Table. May God help us all to put aside our wretched wrangling over personal perceptions, and may we cease seeking to elevate our preferences to the status of precepts. Our unity depends on it.
From a Reader in Mississippi:
I've been saving your Reflections, since they require more attention than a brief read. I appreciate you, brother! Though I do not "always" agree with you, I do in substance, and I always appreciate people who force me to think. I appreciate your thoroughness and your style.
I know very well that detractors are a pain in the neck, but then, everyone who has ever tried to do something worthwhile for the Lord (including the Lord) has had to deal with them. I just want to encourage you, if I can, to hang in there. I hope you've got some good folks close at hand who can hold your hands up, and give you some in-person support.
From a Reader in Missouri:
I'm within the most conservative branch of the Church of Christ. It is one cup, non-class, no instrumental music, fruit of the vine only. I don't like to represent myself as such because I'm a Christian only and don't want to be labeled. However, that's the traditional upbringing that I've been exposed to. Keep writing brother Al, because if we are not saved by grace we are all lost. Al, I think you still need to do more writing about law. Many in the Church of Christ attempt to be justified by law. We will surely fall from Grace! Al, you have to show us that not only was the Law of Moses under consideration by Paul, but also a "law mentality." Take care my brother!
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear Brother Maxey, First I want to tell you that I am W.T. Hines' granddaughter. As you will probably recall, W.T. Hines was a well-known Church of Christ minister of the 1920s-1950s. So, what I have to say to you may be a surprise to you.
I think what you are doing is wonderful. I like your Reflections articles as you quote Scripture behind everything you say. You don't write about opinion without saying this is "my" opinion or this is "my" philosophy. Even though my grandfather might not agree with everything you write, today is a different era. Plus, there hasn't been any era that has had all the answers.
I stand behind you and what you are attempting to accomplish via the Internet. If as a reader I can ever be of help to you, please do not hesitate to email me. Please keep up the good work!
From a Reader in Missouri:
I appreciate you, Al ... I don't care what anyone else says about you -- you are alright with me. You get people to think. And you cause people to see things that they didn't want to admit was there and suppressed because they had embraced something else in the way of doctrine. I prayed to find someone to study with so I could learn Truth and know God and our Lord Jesus. I also wanted to study with someone who is more concerned about Truth based on what is in harmony with Scripture. When I move to Los Angeles, not later than March 2004, Lord willing, I want to perhaps plan to come and visit with you there in New Mexico, and study with you. My plan is to hopefully build congregations in the Los Angeles area. I am aware that I need training in Truth, not CofC theology. I believe that you are on the right track. God Speed.
From a Reader in Canada:
Dear Al, You write more excellent material than anyone I read on the Internet. The quality and depth of your material is just too good to be true. I don't know how you can write with such flair and meaningfulness on such a "fast track" pace. I have developed a love for you and your work like no other I have ever known. No, I am not "converted to Al," but if I were to want to find someone to put my trust in you would be at the top of the list. You have shed light in areas I have been afriad to even think about, let alone try to deal with.
You and Edward Fudge have opened my spiritual eyes to flaws in my understanding. I beg you to not stop writing. You have a creative ability when teaching God's Word that may be the key to helping me really find the Master and really surrender to Him. Please Al, keep on keeping on. I need your writings in my life. You and Edward have given me hope and showed me the light at the tunnel's end. "Let go and let God" sounds so easy, but seems so impossible at times. Al, please keep writing. God bless you!
From a Reader in Missouri:
I really appreciate your thoughts. Everything appears so logical. I am thrilled that all questions can be entertained and nothing is a "sacred cow" that can not be honestly questioned. I also want to say that you are a breath of fresh air. So much of what I have read of your writings seems to answer so much! Thanks again for the enlightenment.
From a Reader in Texas:
Your Reflections 46 -- "An Overview of the End" -- was a masterful job on a tough subject.
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