ELDER NEIL PHELAN JR.
In our last two issues of the pastoral letter we observed two distinguishing birthmarks of the New Testament church in its very awakening. We considered the "Apostles' Doctrine" and "The Fellowship of the Saints". But in this verse of scripture we find another identifying mark of the infant church: their faithful and steadfast observance of the "breaking of bread".
Many of these early disciples knew Jesus personally in the days of His earthly ministry. As the infant church gathered together to break the bread, they remembered their friend who walked with them, talked with them, taught them, healed them, and ultimately died for their transgressions. As the bread was crushed and broken in their hands, their minds and hearts were upon the body of their friend whose body was crushed and broken for their sin. Oh, that we might break the bread with such affection today!
It is difficult to tell just how frequently they observed their Lord's body in this way. At Troas, they came together to break bread upon the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). In another place we read where they, "continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of
heart" -Acts 2:46. As we read such passages we find their fellowship so closely knit that it is difficult to tell where the Lord's supper ended and their regular meals began. And even though the Bible does not tell us how often we should break the bread and remember our Lord in this way, one thing is certain concerning the infant church: they could not remember Him enough; they could not forget their Lord's death. They were earnest in the "breaking of bread".
Much of the time, their circumstance required the early Christians to meet in their own homes to worship together and break the bread. As they brake the bread from "house to house" I can almost hear them say: "I want to observe the master's death at my house". To them, it was a blessed privilege to observe such a service in the confines of their personal dwellings. What a testimony it must have been to their immediate family and their neighbors as they worshiped the Lord and brake the bread and told the story of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Every baptized believer should joyfully anticipate that special time when the saints of God gather together and remember Jesus in that sacred ordinance of "the breaking of bread".
WHERE IT BEGAN
The "breaking of bread" was first observed in the "upper room" by Jesus and eleven of His apostles. On this occasion, Jesus had commanded His disciples to go into the city where they would find a man bearing a pitcher of water. They followed the man to his abode where they found an upper room furnished and prepared. It was the time of the Jewish Passover and Jesus, being a Jew, fulfilled the law by observing this feast. But that was not all that was observed that special evening in the upper room. As they observed the Jewish Passover and remembered the deliverance of natural Israel from the hand of the destroying angel Jesus instituted an ordinance for His New Testament Church. His instruction led His disciples from the ordinances of the Old Law directly into the New Testament ordinance of remembering not the type and shadow, but the true sacrifice. He showed His disciples the true meaning of the unleavened bread of the Passover and its significance in the New Testament Church. This ordinance would perpetually stand as a reminder to the New Testament Church of the "bread of life".
THE ORDER OF EVENTS
The reason I say that Jesus first observed the "breaking of bread" with eleven apostles is because of the order of the evening. As we piece the gospel narratives together we find this order: (1) Observance of Jewish Passover; (2) As they did eat the Passover, Jesus declares that one of the apostles will betray Him and they all began to say "is it I" -Mat 26:21-22; (3) John said "Lord, who is it?"-John 13:25; (4) Jesus reveals the traitor by dipping the unleavened bread of the Passover into the bitter herbs with Judas (Mat. 26:23, Mark 14:20, Luke 22:21, John 13:26); (5) Judas, having received the sop went immediately out -John 13:30; (6) As Jesus with the eleven continued their feast, Jesus turns their attention away from the symbolic bread of the Passover to the true bread: Himself. "Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body"-(Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19); (7) Then "he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:23, Luke 22:22); (8) When the supper was ended, Jesus "riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself" and washed the disciples feet (John 13:2-12); (9) Jesus commands His disciples to wash one another's feet (John 13:13-17); (10) After washing the disciples feet, Jesus instructed the eleven concerning things to come. They sang a hymn and departed from the upper room.
I am sure there was much more said and done that evening, but these things are very clear and are recorded for our learning today. We should, to the best of our ability, follow this pattern.
A COMMUNION OF BELIEVERS
As we observe the order of the evening, it becomes very clear that Judas was not there. The traitor had departed before Jesus instituted the New Testament ordinances. What was our Lord's purpose in this order of events? To show us that these ordinances were to be observed by the faithful followers of Jesus Christ; those who loved Him and would endeavor to be faithful to Him.
It becomes obvious that the "breaking of bread" should mean something to the partaker. The "breaking of bread" is not a ritual that we perform to show that we are Holy nor does the observance of this sacred ordinance make us anything we are not already. The breaking of bread is an outward performance of our inward affections for Jesus. Its purpose is to remind us of the body of Jesus, broken for our sins. It is an expression of the debt that we owe; an expression of our thankfulness for His love and suffering; a testimony of our utter dependance upon His substitutionary death for our sin. Yes, as we observe the breaking of bread we are saying that Jesus is everything and we are nothing. By it we testify that without the breaking of His sinless body upon the cross we would spend eternity in darkness, separated from Him forever. Therefore, the "breaking of the bread" is to be partaken by those who know Jesus and the significance His death; those who agree on His substitutionary death and His accomplishments upon the cross; those who are partakers of the common faith; people who share the same beliefs and hold the same doctrine. In short, members of His church.
The breaking of bread was not an ordinance open to the public at large "for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?" - 2 Cor. 6:14-16. Of course, the answer to all of these questions is "none at all". Righteousness should have no fellowship with unrighteousness. In this one area alone, many of God's people have been ensnared thinking they can associate with the ungodly and not become involved. Light should not commune with darkness. Would we allow Satan to commune with us? Is the doctrine of Jesus Christ in harmony with the doctrine of Belial or the humanistic doctrines of our day? Should an infidel, an unbeliever, be allowed into the marriage feast? No, the breaking of bread is a time for baptized believers to assemble together and remember Jesus Christ; those who have made a public confession of their faith.
Baptized believers were the only ones present that night in the upper room. I am sure that others would have come if they had been invited. But not even the man who owned the house was present upon this sacred occasion. Why? Apart from a public confession of faith and baptism into the body of the New Testament Church it would be impossible for the church to determine who is sincere in their devotions to Jesus Christ. In its very beginning, the "breaking of bread" was a communion of believers, closely observed by the baptized believers of the church of Jesus Christ. It should be observed as such today.
DO IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME
Since the days of the infant church there has been much controversy over the essential nature of the Lord's Supper. Several positions have been taken as to the significance of the ordinance. Some hold the position of "Transubstantiation". That is, they believe that the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, are contained "truly, really, and substantially in the sacrament of the most holy eucharist"(Merrill F. Unger, "The New Unger's Bible Dictionary", "Lord's Supper", p. 784.). In other words, they believe the bread and wine actually and physically become the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ as it is partaken.
Another position is the theory of "Consubstantiation". This position assumes that "the body and blood of Christ are mysteriously and supernaturally united with the bread and wine, so that they are received when the latter are"(Ibid.).
There is also the "Spiritual Presence View". According to this view, "this hallowed food (the bread and wine), through concurrence of divine power, is in verity and truth, unto faithful receivers, instrumentally a cause of that mystical participation whereby I make myself wholly theirs, so I give them in hand an actual possession of all such saving grace as my sacrificial body can yield, and as their souls do presently need, this is to them and in them, my body"(Ibid.).
And finally, there is the "Symbolic View"(Ibid.). By this, the bread and wine are viewed as symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus and are used to remind the partakers of His body and blood; to call Him to remembrance.
What are we to believe? We are to believe the words of Jesus for they are paramount concerning the proper view of this divine ordinance. After all, Jesus was the one who instituted this ordinance in the first place. Jesus said "Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me" - 1 Cor. 11:24-25. From the language of Jesus, this bread and wine do not physically become His flesh and blood nor do they tie the partaker to His divine essence. They are emblems used to call attention to His body and blood; as a method to remember Him. These symbolic emblems help us to remember the body of Jesus, the very body on which our sins were placed and His blood which paid the price for our sin. To one who can say "nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling", this is sufficient.
THE BREAD OF LIFE
The Bible also gives us a symbolic glimpse of the bread of life before it was broken for our sins. As Jesus fed about five thousand with five barley loaves and two small fishes He warned them to "Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life"- John 6:27. He again, pointed them away from the natural bread which only sustains the natural body to Himself: the meat which endures. As they spoke of the miracle of the manna from heaven given for the nourishment of natural Israel, Jesus spoke of Himself, the true bread, which came down from heaven for the life of spiritual Israel (John 6). Jesus said "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" -John 6:51. Jesus was telling them that the manna that their fathers ate was a dead thing which nourishes not but the faculties of a living body and only sustains natural life; and that for a short time for "Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead" -v49. If kept but one night, the manna putrefied and bred worms. But Christ is himself living bread who gives spiritual and eternal life and nourishes this life by his own power. He is our ever living, everlasting bread, that never molds, nor waxes old. As the manna was ordained only for the life of the Israelites, Jesus is given for the lives of the elect: "the life of the world"-v51. Oh, how difficult it was for them to see Christ as more than a life sustainer and to see Him as the source of life: the life giver, "the bread of life". Our hunger for this bread will not give us life but rather is evidence of the life we already possess.
This "bread of life" will never grow old and the doctrine of Christ crucified is now as strengthening and comforting to a believer as ever it was. As the manna was sweet in taste and sustaining to the natural body so is this "living bread" to the hungry soul. We enjoy the sweetness of his fruits, His word, His doctrine and ordinances; those meats which includes in them all happiness. They looked for this manna daily and so should we for He strengthens our soul and causes us to rejoice. As the infant church met together for the "breaking of bread" these things were upon their hearts and mind. This do in remembrance of me remains a mark of the New Testament Church and I believe shall always be world without end. As we meet together to break the bread let these thought be upon our hearts as well.