Regarding Responsible Reformation
by Al Maxey -------
Issue #50 ------- June 30, 2003
Before you take anything away, you must
have something better to put in its place.

--- Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

Substitution In The Supper
May We Replace The Elements?

In Reflections #48 I responded to questions raised by two readers who wanted to know if it would be sinful to have other food items on the Lord's Table during the observance of the Lord's Supper. As some of the readers reflected on the thoughts contained in my response it led them to raise another question deserving of consideration. Notice the following remarks from two of the readers of these Reflections:

  1. "The question in my mind is not whether it is sinful to have hamburgers and Coke ON the Lord's Table, but would it be proper to use those substances AS the elements for the memorial feast? I baptized a young woman some years ago who had been at a Methodist church where they served potato chips and Coke for the Lord's Supper. They said it was more contemporary, and therefore more meaningful. If a congregation agreed to this, would it be acceptable?"

  2. "I grew up in the Church of Christ. I have been a member for years. I have seen a lot of changes. In my home congregation as a boy, we had those who argued for one cup in opposition to the many cups (one for each person). Yet, this congregation had actually used, from its inception in the early 1900's, TWO cups -- one for each side of the congregation. It never seemed to enter the heads of those one cup persons who opposed individual cups that they had been disobeying the very thing they argued for all this time. But, getting back to hamburgers and Coca-Cola on the Lord's Table -- every time that I have heard that argument brought up it was not meaning that it was wrong to have those items literally on the table with the bread and the wine, but rather it was wrong to substitute them for the bread and the wine."

On the evening of His betrayal and arrest, as He was observing a Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus "took some BREAD, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body.' And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this FRUIT OF THE VINE from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom'" (Matthew 26:26-29). See also Mark 14:22-25 and Luke 22:17-20 where both "bread" and "fruit of the vine" are mentioned in the context of the institution of the Lord's Supper. The apostle Paul spoke of the "bread" and the "cup" in his discussion of this memorial meal in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:23-29), and also in his discussion of our unity and oneness (1 Cor. 10:16-21 ... in which reference is also made to the Lord's "table"). In the book of Acts this meal is at least twice characterized as a breaking of bread (Acts 2:42; 20:7).

These passages make it clear that the early disciples employed the same elements used by Jesus in His establishment of this memorial feast -- "bread" and "fruit of the vine." We know from our study of the Passover meal that the bread would have been unleavened. We also know from Jewish tradition that the contents of the cup, the "fruit of the vine," would have been wine made from grapes. These were the emblems used by Jesus, and we know both biblically and historically that these were the emblems used by the disciples of Christ for centuries afterward.

We further see, from the statements made by both Jesus and Paul, that these emblems were intended to be representative of greater spiritual realities, and that they were specifically chosen as fitting figures of these realities. The bread represented the body of Jesus. The wine represented His blood. The wine was often referred to by ancient Jews as the "blood of the grape." Thus, this liquid easily portrayed the blood of Jesus which was shed on our behalf. Jesus had also declared, "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" (John 6:51). "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 6:53-56).

Obviously, much is being taught by Jesus in these statements, and we won't try to examine all the spiritual truths conveyed therein. However, once again we see the concept of eating and drinking His flesh and blood, which He informed us are represented by the bread and wine. These were emblems chosen by Jesus Himself, and ones which He undoubtedly felt aptly and accurately represented the realities He sought to convey. The early disciples apparently agreed, as there is virtually no indication in either the biblical or extra-biblical records that any other emblems were ever employed. There have been debates over the years as to various aspects of these elements (should the bread be leavened or unleavened, purchased or prepared at home, whole grain or processed; should it be already broken into small portions, or should it be a loaf that is broken by those serving; should the fruit of the vine be fermented or unfermented, should it be mixed with water or unmixed, should there be one cup or many; etc.), but almost unanimous acceptance that the elements themselves should literally be bread and fruit of the vine.

Some wonder if it would be wrong to substitute other items for those chosen by Jesus Himself and employed almost universally by His disciples for centuries. My response would simply be: Why would they want to?! Does a potato chip somehow better represent the spiritual reality of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ? Does cornbread? Beans? How about a tossed salad or chili dog? Does Coca-cola better represent His shed blood than the element chosen by God's Son? Would buttermilk be more fitting? What about hot chocolate or Dr. Pepper? If one is looking for change simply for the sake of change, or if one is seeking to shock his/her fellow saints, then I suppose any of these substitutions would do the job. I'm left wondering about the motivation, however.

Change simply for the sake of change is, in my estimation, irresponsible. When our Lord Himself chose certain objects as fitting representations of the spiritual realities He sought to convey to His disciples, then one must have an extremely good reason for seeking a substitution, especially one that is radically different. Frankly, I can think of absolutely NO valid reason for replacing bread and fruit of the vine with something entirely different. That's just my perception of the matter, but I think it is at least rational and reasoned.

Let's look at this from another angle, however. What if, for example, a particular group of people do not have access to grape juice? Will another fruit of the vine suffice, or must the contents of the cup always and only be the "blood of the grape?" I had a missionary to a primitive island people tell me some years ago (when I was living and preaching in Hawaii) that the little village where he converted several people did not have access to grape juice. There were no grapes on that island, and they had little contact with the outside world. They did have other fruit which grew on a vine, however, whose edible portions were a dark red. These people, therefore, chose to use the juice of this particular "fruit of the vine" in the Lord's Supper. After all, it was red in color, thus a fitting representation of blood, and it was a fruit from a vine. They also did not have wheat or grains, but they made flat breads from certain roots that grew in abundance on the island. Would their flat, unleavened "bread" and their red "fruit of the vine" be acceptable? In my opinion they would. Not having the elements used by Jesus readily available, and attempting to replicate them as accurately as possible given one's circumstances, is far different than those who do have those elements available and simply decide to replace them with something of their own choosing.

To sum up, my own personal conviction is that we should employ the elements used by Jesus if they are available to us. If they are not, then we should seek to replicate them as closely as possible. After all, Jesus chose bread and the fruit of the vine for a reason; He had a purpose for doing so. He regarded them as fitting figures to convey the spiritual realities He sought to convey. It seems to me that for us to make a substitution in His choice would require a most compelling reason. I have yet to hear of one sufficiently compelling to set aside our Lord's choice of emblems for our own!!

Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Your latest -- Reflections #49 -- is a hoot! How true you are on this point! It is so important that every Christian take the responsibility to study and find the Truth, believe the Truth, and do the Truth! If one relies only on Sunday rituals, he will find his religion gathering dust in a museum! Keep those Reflections coming! By the way .... do you get a lot of hate mail from the ultra-legalists?

From a Reader in Michigan:

Another extraordinarily good article, Al, except for Josh McDowell's comments on fossilization. I think I disagree here. It seems to me that most people want answers, and, after getting them, tend not to want to give them up or rethink them, even if they were merely handed down to them. This, as Dr. Crichton points out, happens all the time, and so, I think, must be considered normative, albeit counterproductive, behavior, not abnormal deposition, as McDowell thinks. As nature abhors a vacuum so mankind abhors not having answers, even poor ones!

Rather, it takes extraordinary (abnormal?) courage to shake off the shackles of our forefathers' conclusions and come to our own, especially if they differ radically with the past. Those who do so will surely suffer at the hands of those uncomfortable with change. But the rewards of Truth far outweigh any suffering. You, brother, are one of those who isn't afraid of Truth, or the self-proclaimed guardians of Truth, and your willingness to share your insights with the rest of us who are still seeking is truly courageous! By my reckoning you are abnormal (as am I) and I thank God for that!

From a Reader in Nova Scotia:

Al, There is no need for you to use valuable time in responding. I just wanted to say how pleased I am that you are getting the recognition that you deserve and have earned. You have a wonderful gift and I pray it will bless my reading daily for the remaining years of my life!

From a Reader in West Virginia:

Al, On the same day I received your Fossilization essay, I also received an essay from Fred Peatross who e-mails short thoughts under the title Grace Awakenings. I think you and Fred have a handle on it. How pointless it is to oppose the winds of change, especially in cultural thought. Better to study and adapt a timeless message to the current times. We must be "Anchored to the Rock, but Geared to the Times." My God is larger than any temporary cultural mindset, and I plan on being "elastic" so as to be of use to Him as times change. Keep writing, Bro!

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