Mile Stones in the Life of a Christian - The Breaking of Bread
The Breaking of Bread
The aim of this booklet is to give some help to young Christians in relation to a subject with which every believer wishing to follow the Lord Jesus will be confronted sooner or later: the Breaking of Bread.
Many Christians over the whole earth break bread every Sunday to remember the Lord Jesus, who accomplished the work on the cross. By answering various questions, the author explains what the Breaking of Bread is about:
- Why, where and when do we break bread?
- What do we actually do there?
- Who takes part?
- In what manner do we break bread?
- Until when shall we continue to break bread?
All the answers are based on scriptural teaching.
The Christian era in which we live is a very special time – and very different from the age of the law: it is characterized by invisible rather than visible things (besides other differences). Typical Christian blessings are of a spiritual nature and do not consist in material values as in the old covenant. We live by faith and not by sight. God certainly grants us blessing in material things, but our proper, typical Christian blessings are spiritual. We are blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1: 3). Spiritual blessings cannot be grasped by our hands or seen by our eyes; they are blessings that the heart can enjoy.
However, God does give us two tangible signs in Christianity: one is baptism, the other the Breaking of Bread. How great God is for giving us things that we can easily understand, water, which is necessary for baptism, and bread and wine, the tokens of remembrance of the Lord’s death, can be found all over the world. So, the sense of these signs is readily understandable throughout the whole earth.
The common factor of these two signs is that they both speak of death. Baptism reminds us of the death of Jesus Christ for us, with which we are identified. The Breaking of Bread also reminds us of the Lord’s death every first day of the week. He gave His life for us, so that we can pass from death unto life. Another thing that both signs have in common is that they have neither a secret nor a mystical power. The actions themselves are and remain outward actions. They do not effect any change in our inner person. We do not become different persons either through baptism or by participating in the Breaking of Bread. No-one will enter heaven simply on the ground of his having been baptized or having taken part in the Breaking of Bread. Both signs are outward signs; however, they have a profound spiritual significance.
Beside these similarities certain distinctions between baptism and the Breaking of Bread are obvious. Two important differences are:
- Baptism is an act that occurs once. It takes place at the beginning of our life of faith in following our Lord and is not repeated. The Breaking of Bread on the other hand is a re-occurring act. Like the early Christians we can participate in it every first day of the week, i.e. Sunday, in remembrance of our Lord.
- Baptism has to do with our personal walk. It concerns our individual discipleship for the Lord Jesus, who is still rejected in this world. The Breaking of Bread has to do with our pathway as children of God together. It certainly has a personal side (cf. 1 Corinthians 11); however, it remains true that we always break the Bread in fellowship with others, never alone. This is why it concerns our corporate pathway, while baptism is something that each one must decide and undergo for himself or herself.
The Breaking of Bread
The Breaking of Bread is the second outwardly visible act that we know as Christians. Believers come together in order to eat of the one loaf and drink from the cup in fellowship with one another according to the teaching of the New Testament. In Christendom, the Breaking of Bread is often designated as Holy Communion or the (Last) Supper. This latter expression is derived from the fact that it was instituted by the Lord Jesus in the evening (cf. Matthew 26: 20) and probably also celebrated in the evening by the early Christians (cf. Acts 20: 11). The New Testament calls it “the Lord’s supper” (cf. 1 Corinthians 11: 20) or generally “the Breaking of Bread” (e.g. Acts 2: 42; 20: 7). Closely connected with it is the thought of the “Lord’s Table” (cf. 1 Corinthians 10: 21).
In order to avoid a widespread error right from the start we should emphasize that eating of the loaf and drinking from the cup is not a sacrament (i.e. a means of grace). By participating in the Breaking of Bread those concerned experience no change in themselves. The Breaking of Bread is neither mystic nor does it bring about any spiritual development in the hearts of those taking part. There is indeed spiritual significance in the act, but the Bible does not teach that people are changed thereby.
The reason for such erroneous thinking might well be the words of the Lord Jesus in John 6, where He says to the Jews: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life” (John 6: 53,54). Nevertheless, the context makes it quite clear that this passage has nothing to do with the Lord’s Supper, which had not yet been instituted. The fact that the Lord mentions His flesh and His blood by no means indicates that He was referring to the tokens of the meal of remembrance known as the Lord’s Supper. The meaning of the Lord’s saying in John 6 is that we humans need to lay claim personally to the work on the cross, which He was about to accomplish (His shed blood and the life He laid down). “Eating His flesh” and “drinking His blood” means first of all receiving eternal life, and then nourishing that life.
The Lord’s words at the institution of the Supper in Matthew 26 might also be misunderstood. “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26: 27,28). If we read the verse carefully, it becomes clear that we do not obtain the forgiveness of sins by drinking from the cup, but through what the cup represents, the Saviour’s blood. Faith in the blood of the Lord Jesus shed on the cross alone brings about a change in a person, giving him or her the forgiveness of sins, salvation, peace and assurance for eternity. This thought agrees with the teaching given by the New Testament in other passages.
The Breaking of Bread in the New Testament
What we have learned when considering the truth of Christian baptism also applies to the truth of the Breaking of Bread. The gospels show us the institution of the Supper, the book of Acts reports how the early Christians came together to break bread, and in the first epistle to the Corinthians the doctrine concerning it is explained.
- The gospels indicate that the Supper was instituted by the Lord Jesus Himself. The first three gospels report this, Luke pointing out the clear distinction between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper. The fact that the Lord Jesus Himself instituted the Supper for His disciples on the night He was delivered up and that, on the other hand, three gospels report it should make us attentive. God obviously wishes to communicate to us something of great importance.
- The Acts of the Apostles shows us that the early Christians came together to break bread. As early as chapter 2 the writer notices that the disciples “persevered” (v.42) therein and did so daily (v.47). Later it clearly became their custom to break bread on the first day of the week (cf. ch. 20: 7).
- In 1 Corinthians the Apostle Paul, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, explains the deeper spiritual meaning of this simple act. It is significant that the Breaking of Bread is dealt with in this of all the epistles. In 1 Corinthians the subject of order in the local church or assembly and our life as Christians, as God has placed us together, is uppermost (cf. 1 Corinthians 1: 2). The Breaking of Bread is inseparably connected with our pathway of fellowship, not our personal pathway of discipleship in following the Lord, as in baptism.
Before we begin to consider the matter further, let us first quote some passages from the Bible that are imminently relevant to our subject:
- Luke 22: 19 – 20: “He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, `This is My body which is given for you: do this in remembrance of Me´. Likewise, He also took the cup after supper, saying, `This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you´.”
- Acts 2: 42: “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and prayers.”
- 1 Corinthians 10: 14 – 22: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
Observe Israel after the flesh: are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?”
- 1 Corinthians 11: 20 – 30: “When you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. ... For I received from the Lord that which also I delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, `Take, eat; this is My body which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me´. In the same manner, He also took the cup after supper, saying, `This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me´. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes.
Therefore, whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. for he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason, many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.”
Two different aspects
That the apostle Paul does not restrict the explanation of the Breaking of Bread to one passage, but mentions it in two, is not without reason. Comparing and considering the two shows us two different sides of one and the same act that we should not overlook. In 1 Corinthians 10 it is a question of the Lord’s Table, while 1 Corinthians 11 deals with the Lord’s Supper. In both passages the subject is the Breaking of Bread, but the Holy Spirit wishes to point out two aspects that we should carefully distinguish without separating them from each other.
Both aspects speak of privileges and blessings, but they also speak of our responsibility. The table is often used in the Word of God to speak of fellowship. People sit together at a table to share a meal, for example. This is what 1 Corinthians 10 sets out. It is a matter of fellowship. As those participating in the Breaking of Bread we have fellowship with our Lord, but we also have fellowship with one another. This is one of the great privileges and blessings
that we can enjoy as Christians. Our fellowship finds expression when we are gathered together at the Lord’s Table to break bread.
The Lord’s Supper also brings our blessings before us, but it is personal blessings that are here in the foreground. That we can eat of the bread and drink from the cup is a personal blessing on a path of fellowship. Whoever does so, remembers and proclaims the Lord’s death. It is done to His memory.
When God blesses His children, he does not do so without reminding them of the responsibility associated with it. We frequently find this principle in the Bible; here, too. Both passages in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 speak of our responsibility. It is intimated in the title “Lord”. It is not Christ’s table or supper, but the Lord’s Table and the Lord’s Supper. When we are occupied with the Breaking of Bread, we do not leave things at the privileges, however glorious they may be, but acknowledge that God connects responsibility with it.
This responsibility has two aspects, like the privilege. In 1 Corinthians 10 fellowship it is a question of fellowship and the fact that all believers together form one body. So, the question arises: with whom do we break bread? The answer to this question is not left to the individual; it involves the responsibility of all. In 1 Corinthians 11 the issue is personal. The question is: in what attitude do I eat the bread? Personal blessings give rise to personal responsibility. Therefore, in this chapter Paul demands of the Corinthians that “each man” should “examine himself” (1 Corinthians 11: 28).
Because of their importance let us again summarize these thoughts: The Breaking of Bread has two aspects that must be seen distinctively, but not separated from each other:
- There is the corporate aspect according to 1 Corinthians 10 (the Lord’s Table). It is our wish to express what we are, namely, one body. This we do when we break bread. We have fellowship one with another. Corporate responsibility is associated with this privilege. We need to ask: with whom can we break bread?
- The personal side is seen in 1 Corinthians 11 (the Lord’s Supper). The individual believer senses the need to think of the Lord’s death. This he does together with others and rejoices that he can. But connected with this personal privilege comes the personal responsibility as to the manner in which I do so: worthily or unworthily.
Strictly speaking, in both cases it is a matter of fellowship on our pathway. There are personal and corporate blessings, but they are associated with personal and corporate responsibility.
Bread and Wine
The Lord’s Supper consists of two elements, bread and wine. This is how it was instituted by the Lord, and we find both elements mentioned in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. They are simple symbols, yet they have a profound significance. The Lord Jesus Himself explains what they mean:
- The bread: “This is My body which is given for you” (Luke 22: 19). The loaf thus speaks of the body of the Lord Jesus given into death. He was prepared to suffer death for us in our stead. This is what we think of when we have the loaf before us.
- The wine: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood which is shed for you” (Luke 22: 20). The cup reminds us of the blood of the Lord Jesus that was shed at the cross of Calvary. It is the blood of atonement, by which we are cleansed of our sins and have peace with God. The principle “The life is in the blood” was valid in the Old Testament, so that the cup makes us think of the Lord’s death.
(N.b. Both in Luke 22 and in 1 Corinthians 11 the blood is mentioned in connection with the new covenant. This does not mean that the new covenant has been made with the believers of the age of grace. From Jeremiah 31: 31 we know that the new covenant will be made in the future with the house of Israel. God’s relationship with us is not that of a covenant; Christians know Him as their Father. The basis of the new covenant with Israel is the Saviour’s blood shed at the cross. However, the blessings of the new covenant are also our blessings. What results from the new covenant is, so to speak, “anticipated” for us (cf. 2 Corinthians 3: 6). This explains why the Lord Jesus mentions the new covenant in connection with the cup at the institution of the Supper.)
In 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 we have the confirmation of the meaning of these symbols. The instruction concerning the Lord’s Table in chapter 10 adds a further point to the meaning of the loaf, however. It not only reminds us of the Lord’s body given into death, but at the same time of one of the glorious consequences of the work of the cross: that all believers together form a wonderful unity, which the loaf represents. The believers are “one body”, and Christ is the glorified Head. “For we, though many, are one bread and one body” (1 Corinthians 10: 17). Let us be clear that the bread and wine are symbols. They do not change in themselves when they are eaten and drunk, nor do they change the one who eats and drinks.
When the Lord says, “This is My body” and “This is the new covenant in My blood”, the bread does not become His body, nor the wine His blood; the loaf symbolizes His body and the wine His blood.
The Lord’s Table
Let us now briefly comment on the expression “the Lord’s Table”, which is used in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 10. Of course, we do not understand by this a piece of furniture, (even if, for practical purposes, the bread and the cup are on a table). It is a matter of the principles connected with it: our enjoyment of the privileges and the responsibility that we have corporately.
An example from everyday life makes this clear. In a family with several children there are certain “rules” that have to be observed at the table, e.g. that a prayer is said before and after the meal, and that a passage is read from the Bible or a short time of meditation is held. The children also remain seated until all have finished eating. These principles are valid wherever the meal is taken: at the table in the kitchen, in the dining-room or in the garden. If the family has visitors and the meal is taken simultaneously at several tables, the principles still apply. Transferring this thought to the Lord’s Table, we see that there, too, principles apply wherever believers come together to take the Lord’s Supper.
Let us return to our first example and ask: who in the family lays down the “rules”? The father, the master of the house. No guest would dare to overthrow the rules and replace them with others. So who lays down the principles applying to the Lord’s Table? The answer is simple: the Lord Himself. We do not decide which principles are valid at His Table. And where do we find these principles? In His Word.
To summarize: the Lord Jesus Himself instituted the Supper for His disciples. The bread and wine are symbols of His death and remind us of His body, which he gave into death, and His blood. The Breaking of Bread has two basic aspects. The one is: we proclaim His death (the personal side). The other is: we express our fellowship with Him and with each other (the corporate aspect). Both aspects comprise privileges and responsibility. In the following sections, we should like to examine some of these principles more closely, treating the matter of the Breaking of Bread and its significance in the life of a Christian in the form of seven questions, in order to obtain light as to the character of the Breaking of Bread and the manner of gathering for this purpose.
Question 1: Why do we break Bread?
When people observe the practice of many Christians, the question as to precisely why we break bread arises automatically. In the first place, the question is asked by someone who does not do so himself, but it may also be relevant for those who have been doing so for a long time. Certain things can easily slip into our Christian life without our being aware of their proper reason. So, it is useful for us all to consider carefully with the aid of the Bible why we come together Sunday by Sunday to break Bread.
There are various answers to the question “Why?”
Answer No. 1: An exhortation
We break bread because our Lord and Saviour exhorts us to do so. This answer warms our hearts for His love. It was during the night in which He was so shamefully betrayed and delivered up that He instituted the Supper for His disciples and said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” If we read the report in Luke 22, we see that it was a living Saviour on earth who spoke these words to His disciples. If we take the report in 1 Corinthians 11, it was the risen and glorified Son of Man, living in heaven, who gave the apostle Paul this particular revelation and repeated exactly what He had said to His disciples on that occasion. Paul had not heard it from the apostles, nor was it told Him by a third party; the matter was clearly so important that the Lord Himself as the risen Victor of Calvary gave this special revelation.
Let us imagine the scene in the upper room, where the Lord Jesus was with His disciples at the table. Ahead of Him lies the work of redemption that He is to fulfil. He is well aware of all the suffering connected with it and knows that He is about to lay down His life. Then He takes the loaf, gives thanks for it, breaks it and gives it to His disciples with the words, “This is My body which is given for you.” What love is expressed in these words of the Saviour, and what a proof of that love was He to give at the cross! Then He adds the meaningful words, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Is it not as if He were saying, “Look how much I love you. I am ready to lay down My life for you”? Is He not appealing to His disciples’ love, when He says, “Do this in remembrance of Me”? Should it not be our joy to respond to that love of His? Does it not resemble a holy legacy that He has left us? Do we not wish to give Him joy in remembering Him in this way?
There was a time when ten lepers came to the Lord Jesus with the request to be healed. All ten were cleansed and healed, but only one returned to fall at the feet of his benefactor and thank Him for His loving deed. What joy that brought the Lord Jesus! Yet was there not sadness and disappointment in the Saviour’s searching question: “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?” (Luke 17: 17). To which of these groups do you and I belong? To the nine, who are content to have found salvation and redemption, or to the one who was not satisfied with that alone, but wished to thank His Saviour and Redeemer? The Lord’s question remains for us: “But where are the nine?”
Some people regard the Lord’s words as a command that must be carried out. Others see the Lord’s exhortation, “Do this in remembrance of Me” as His last request. So they speak of fulfilling the Lord’s last request. Neither expression, “last request” or “command”, seems to put the issue satisfactorily. On the one hand, we are not here concerned with a commander giving orders, but with the Saviour who was about to sacrifice His life.
On the other hand, quite apart from the fact that it is questionable whether it really was the Lord’s last request, the expression, “wish” is too weak: it does not seem to imply any obligation. We can fulfil a wish, or ignore it. But that is not what the Lord had in mind. His desire is that we should do His will. It is an exhortation, and the Lord can indeed expect us to adhere to the exhortation, not from compulsion or pressure, but voluntarily out of love towards Him, our Saviour and Redeemer. If our hearts beat for Him, we cannot but obey His exhortation.
Answer No. 2: Fellowship with the Lord
In breaking bread, we wish to show that we have fellowship with the crucified One. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10: 16). It is true that our fellowship with Him rests on the ground of His shed blood and the life He gave, but it is equally true – and this appears to be the primary thought here – that in breaking bread we testify and make it clear that we are associated with Him and have fellowship with Him. When we drink from the cup and eat of the loaf, we express our fellowship with His blood (the cup) and His body (the loaf). We identify ourselves on this earth, so to speak, with the Christ who died. It is undoubtedly a great joy to Him, when he sees those who are not ashamed to testify to their fellowship with Him on this earth, where His cross once stood.
It is important to see that by drinking from the cup and eating of the loaf we witness, or express, our fellowship with Him, but that by the action alone we do not come into this fellowship with Him. Paul writes in 1 Corinthian 1: 9: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” All who have laid claim to the work of the Lord Jesus for themselves by faith have been called into this fellowship by God. The Breaking of Bread has no direct connection with this. We do not come into this fellowship thereby, but we give a public testimony of it when we proclaim the Lord’s death at His Table.
Answer no. 3: Fellowship one with another
We break bread because we thereby express that all believers on earth form one fellowship and unity. This thought, too, is closely bound up with the Lord’s Table. Paul writes: “We, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10: 17). It is a great joy for us to express this unity. The Lord Jesus came to “gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad” (John 11: 52). Even if this unity among the children of God is no longer visible today – through our unfaithfulness and sin – it still exists in God’s sight, and we have a unique opportunity of testifying to it when together we proclaim the Lord’s death at His Table according to the teaching of the Bible. The loaf not only speaks of His body given into death, but also of the unity of the children of God. Together we form the One Body, which is symbolized by the loaf.
By eating of this loaf, we witness that we are one. It is a fact of God’s will that the Church forms this one body (cf. Ephesians 4: 4). We do not need to create this unity: it exists. When the Holy Spirit came down to earth at Pentecost, He not only took possession of individual believers, whose bodies are now a temple of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 6: 19), He also came to dwell in the Church (that is, the sum of all believers on earth) (1 Corinthians 3: 16; Ephesians 2: 22). Pentecost saw the birth of the Church: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12, 13). The unity that we express through the Breaking of Bread is that which the Holy Spirit has produced. We do not create it, but testify to it at the Lord’s Table, and we endeavour to preserve it “in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4: 3).
This unity comprises all believers living at a given point in time on earth. Now it is clearly impossible for all believers to come together so that this unity is visible. So, it is expressed locally, when an assembly of believers meets together at a certain geographical place in order to break bread. Regarding this truth, Paul writes to the Corinthians: “You are [the] body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Corinthians 12: 27). This means that the local assembly (in this case Corinth) is the expression of the whole Church on earth (i.e. world-wide). It is important to understand this: it is of practical significance when it is a matter of the acknowledgement of decisions made by one local gathering in other assemblies.
A single assembly always acts as representing all the others. For this reason, decisions made by a local assembly gathered together in the Name of the Lord find worldwide acceptance.
Our fellowship is thus not merely “vertical”, i.e. heavenwards with our Lord, but also “horizontal”, i.e. with one another. We have been brought into complete fellowship. It is a great joy, and at the same time a great privilege to testify to this fellowship at the Lord’s Table, but it brings responsibility with it. If we wish to express this unity, we can do so only when we walk together in unity on one pathway in practice, and acknowledge this unity practically. If we seek to express this fellowship in the Breaking of Bread, we cannot simply and unhesitatingly break bread with all believers. We cannot “commute” between various Christian groups and companies that are not in full fellowship with each other and do not gather on the ground of the unity that the Bible teaches., i.e. those who do not understand their gathering together to be an expression of the unity of the entire Church on earth.
Answer no. 4: Proclaiming His death
We break bread, so as to proclaim the Lord’s death by eating and drinking. This is the thought with regard to the Lord’s Supper, as it is portrayed in 1 Corinthians 11. There Paul writes: “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11: 26). Hence, we come together to announce the Lord’s death. This is a great privilege and yet, for all the joy in our hearts, it gives the gathering a solemn and earnest character. It is all about the Saviour’s death on the cross, which He suffered because of our sins. We do not proclaim primarily His victory and resurrection (although these aspects cannot be separated from His death), but we ponder over His death and make it known by eating of the loaf and drinking the cup. In a world that rejects Him, the Lord finds that there are those, even if but few, who remember Him in this way.
Now the question arises: to whom do we proclaim the Lord’s death? I am fully convinced that, in the first place, we do so before God and our Lord. But we also do so before the world of angels and finally, too, before other people. And this brings one particular thought before us. In our meetings we often remember that here on earth our appreciation of our Lord is far from perfect and that will only be so in heaven in perfection, glory and power. This is true.
However, there is one aspect about our gathering together to break bread that is possible only while we are here on earth: the fact that we do so before the eyes of a world that did not want Him then, and still will not have Him. When we finally reach our goal and surround the throne, we shall render Him thanks and worship eternally. Then we shall do so surrounded by angels. Here and now we do so in the midst of His enemies, people who reject Him. God looks down on the earth from heaven. He sees men’s motives. He notices His creatures coldly and indifferently ignoring the work of His Son. But then He sees the few who meet together among all these many people in order to be occupied with Calvary. Their interest again centres in what happened there and they behold the Lamb of God, who was slain there, in an attitude of worship. Can we imagine what that means to God? We are often so engaged with
wat is useful for us; let us rather turn away from ourselves and think of what it must mean to God when persons are interested in what for Him is so important. What pleasure Calvary brought to God! How He was glorified there! And now He rejoices when He sees people like you and me contemplating Calvary and proclaiming the Lord’s death by means of the Breaking of Bread.
To summarize: we have found four answers to the question “Why?”
1) It is our Lord’s exhortation given to His disciples in face of the suffering about to come upon Him and His approaching death.
2) It is therefore our joy to heed His exhortation. Through the Breaking of Bread we express that we have fellowship with our Lord and are one with Him, the Crucified.
3) Through the Breaking of Bread we express our fellowship one with another. We form the one Body together with all believers on earth.
4) We proclaim the Lord’s death in and before a world that refused Him then and still rejects Him.
Question 2: Where do we break bread?
Maybe we have not yet thought over this question thoroughly. It may possibly seem to us rather trivial at first sight. However, that is not the case. If we consider what the Bible says on the subject more closely and compare it with the practice of many Christians, it is worthwhile examining the question in the light of God’s Word.
The connection with the local assembly
Let us come to the point straightaway. The Breaking of Bread is something that is bound up with the local assembly and according to God’s mind cannot be separated from it. If we read 1 Corinthians 11 attentively and in its context, it must strike us how much the apostle emphasizes the Corinthians’ coming together. In no other passage from the Bible is this thought so often repeated:
- Verse 17: The Corinthians came together (sadly, for the worse, not for the better, but they did come together).
- Verse 18: They came together as an assembly (local assembly). The meaning of this is that they met in the character of an assembly meeting.
- Verse 20: They came together in one place. This applied to the local assembly in Corinth. There may have been divisions and arguments among them, but they still gathered together in one place.
- Verse 33: They came together to eat. This clearly refers to their meeting for the Lord’s Supper, which had just been described in detail. So, it was for this specific purpose that the Corinthians came together.
Someone might ask how we can state so definitely that it was the assembly in Corinth that met in this way. 1 Corinthians 1: 2 gives us some help here: the entire letter is addressed “to the church of God which is in Corinth”, but then we find added: “with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” Thus the question as to whether the instructions for the Corinthians also apply to us is answered immediately. Quite apart from the fundamental fact that all Scripture given by God is for our instruction and our profit (cf. 2 Timothy 3: 16), it is expressly confirmed in this case by the Holy Spirit. That should suffice us.
The fact that the teaching as to the Lord’s Supper is given exclusively in this epistle, in which the general subject in hand is order in the church of God regarding the local assembly, gives us a clear indication that we cannot separate the Breaking of Bread from the local assembly. Instruction concerning baptism we have found in the Epistle to the Romans, and that not without reason. The Roman epistle focuses mainly on our personal pathway, and we saw that baptism is a personal matter. The first epistle to the Corinthians concentrates on our corporate pathway. That is why we here find teaching concerning our pathway together.
The Lord’s teaching in Matthew 18 provides another argument why it is not possible to separate the Breaking of Bread from the local assembly. There we see that the question of discipline (loosing and binding, i.e. receiving and ex-communicating) has to do with the local assembly, which alone has the authority from the Lord to bind and loose. These circumstances also affect participating in the Breaking of Bread, for it is the perfect expression of Christian fellowship. A person whose conduct is not appropriate is excluded from the privilege of the fellowship of the children of God. He is received back when he repents.
The local assembly watches over proceedings in its midst (i.e. over those who comprise it) and deals with evil that comes to light. Outside the local assembly this is not possible.
We cannot break bread together with believers anywhere on holiday independently of a local assembly that gathers to the Name of the Lord. Otherwise the exercise of scriptural discipline, which also concerns participation in the Breaking of Bread, would be impossible. The Breaking of Bread can only take place in unity and in fellowship with the local assembly. Let us not regard or treat these divine principles concerning our coming together lightly. The honour and the rights of the Lord at His Table are at stake.
Help from the Old Testament
On this question, we also obtain help from the Old Testament. Although we naturally do not find mention of the Breaking of Bread there, we can apply the principles that God gave to His earthly people to ourselves. 1 Corinthians 10: 18 gives us the right to find help in the Old Testament on this very question. There Paul writes: “Observe Israel after the flesh.” What was valid for Israel after the flesh (i.e. Israel in their condition by nature), we can transfer to ourselves in a spiritual sense. In this way, the illustrations in the Old Testament help us to understand the New Testament better.
We shall now look at Deuteronomy 16, which involves the place where the Passover offering was to be sacrificed, among other things. Verse 2 shows that God had given precise instructions as to the place: “You shall sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God, from the
flock and the herd, in the place where the LORD chooses to put His name.” Verses 5 and 6 show that God was by no means unconcerned as to where they did so. There was a clear prohibition: “You may not sacrifice the Passover within any of your gates ... but at the place where the LORD chooses to make His name abide, there you shall sacrifice the Passover.” That was unambiguous and indisputable.
God had chosen a place, which was then a geographical location (the temple in Jerusalem) and had forbidden any other. No-one among the people had the authority to say:” I would like to celebrate the Passover, but in a different place.” God had appointed the place, and He had described it: It was where His Name abode. The parallel to the New Testament is obvious. We cannot break Bread just where we want to, but we do so where God desires it, in the local assembly, where the Lord is in the midst of those who are gathered to His Name.
The Passover is a well-known illustration in the Old Testament. In general, we can distinguish three main aspects of the Passover when we apply it to ourselves:
- The Passover speaks of Calvary: “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5: 7).
- The Passover shows us how someone can find refuge under the blood of the Lamb of God (cf. 1 Peter 1: 19, for example).
- The Passover, which was celebrated annually, give us several parallels to the Lord’s Supper.
Of course, the Passover must not be confused with the Lord’s Supper. We do not celebrate the Passover. But in the instructions concerning the Passover we find hints that are applicable. this is not an arbitrary assertion, but one that can be derived from the Bible. There are differences, but there are also clear parallels and associations. We have one such before us.
The Passover was not to be celebrated in one of the gates of Jerusalem but at the place where wished His Name to dwell. We cannot simply break Bread in our family or a domestic circle, with a holiday group or with friends; we must do so where the Lord has promised His presence in the midst: in the local assembly. This is where the Breaking of Bread must take place; it is not a geographical, but a spiritual location. The issue involved is the principles on which we gather together. In Matthew 18: 20, the Lord Jesus promised His disciples that He would be in the midst where two or three are gathered together to His Name. Hence, that is the place where we come together to break Bread.
Help from the New Testament
Incidentally, we find this confirmed in the practice of the early Christians. Nowhere do we read that the apostle Paul, for example, broke Bread on his journeys with those who accompanied him except in a local assembly. On the contrary, the passage that we quoted earlier from Acts 20: 7 shows that although he was in a hurry, he waited at Troas, so as to be able to break Bread with the brethren in the local assembly there. He did not set off before the Sunday and then take the Lord’s Supper somewhere else with his companions.
To summarize: The Breaking of Bread is closely connected with the local assembly. It takes place where we are gathered together to His Name and He is in the midst. To act otherwise
would be contrary to God’s thinking. We have drawn this conclusion from the teaching of the New Testament, the illustrations of the Old Testament and the practice of the early Christians.
Question 3: What do we do at the Breaking of Bread?
In answering this question we shall deal with the proceedings during a meeting of believers to break bread.
Not a liturgy (a prescribed form of public worship)
It is good to remind ourselves at the outset that the Bible does not give us any direct instructions as to the course of such a gathering. We can be thankful for that. God does not wish to restrict us; He grants us the freedom of the Spirit. The Bible knows of no liturgy, so neither should we, not even in an unwritten form. Where the Spirit of God works, there is freedom. Nobody prescribes that such a meeting should begin with a hymn, a prayer or a reading from the Bible. Nor does anyone stipulate how it should end. No-one determines which brothers should take an active part by praying, giving out a hymn or reading from the Bible. Nobody prescribes whether our worship should begin by addressing the Father or the Son. We need to be extremely careful in judging these matters. The Spirit gives us freedom in these things. We can thank God that it is so. Not even the prayer that the Lord spoke when He instituted the Supper with His disciples has been handed down to us. It simply states that He gave thanks; we do not know what He said. If we did, we might succumb to the danger of repeating His prayer thoughtlessly.
Although the meeting for the Breaking of Bread has no rigid form, it has a character to which we Christians like to conform. It is the character of a divine service. We gather together in order to serve God corporately and render to Him rather than receive something. In Christendom generally a church service has another meaning. People say that they go to a service and think of a sermon that they are going to hear. This is, however, incorrect. Listening to a sermon is not a service, in which we offer something to God, but rather one for our own profit. That, too, has its place in the life of a local assembly (cf. 1 Corinthians 14), but it is not our subject here. We can find no indication in the Bible that we should combine the Breaking of Bread with a sermon. The act of breaking Bread itself is a proclamation (we announce, or make known the Lord’s death), not any words that we might like to speak there. Even the original King James version of the Bible uses the expression “show the Lord’s death” (1 Corinthians 11, 26) without mentioning words in any way.
Divine service in its proper sense means that we have something to offer to God, and that is precisely what we do when we come together to break bread. According to 1 Peter 2: 5 we bring God acceptable spiritual sacrifices, i.e. we are occupied with what our Lord accomplished at Calvary. Together with the Father we rejoice over what the Son did there. In connection with this there is also the “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13: 15) which we bring to God. In John 4 we read the well-known words that the Father seeks those who worship Him
in spirit and in truth (John 4: 23). They are persons whose reverence leads them to bring Him homage. When we come together to break bread, we have the Person of the Lord Jesus before us by means of the hymns, readings and prayers. We contemplate Him and His work, and that leads us to worship Him. In this way we do God service, but without hearing a sermon.
In our egoistic society people’s actions are being increasingly dictated by the question: “What do I personally get from what I do?” We Christians are also, unfortunately, inclined to think and wonder similarly. Now if divine service, in its true sense, is our genuine wish, we shall not ask what we get from it; it will be our desire to give the Father what His heart longs for. That God never lets us return home with empty hearts has often been our experience, but that is another matter. What is decisive is that, when we come together to break bread, it is not for our own profit, but to glorify God through our divine service.
The meeting for the Breaking of Bread is characterized by thanksgiving. Luke 22: 19 tells us that the Lord Jesus gave thanks after taking the loaf, and this fact is confirmed in 1 Corinthians 11: 24. We do not come together to express our prayers and requests to God. That, too, has its place in a local assembly, but it is not the purpose of coming together to break bread. There we do not ask the Lord for anything, but thank Him, praise and laud His glorious Name, bringing Him the worship of our hearts. This is expressed by words spoken in prayer, by hymns sung together and by verses read from the Bible; we also sense this attitude in our hearts and thoughts.
Thanksgiving is the essential aspect of the Supper. “The cup of blessing which we bless” (1 Corinthians 10: 16) is in full agreement with this. It means that for us it is a cup of gratitude and joy, for which we give thanks. “Bless” in this verse has the meaning “thank”.
In his gospel Matthew, too, reports that the Lord sang a hymn of praise with His disciples before they proceeded on their way. So thanksgiving is not restricted to prayers that are spoken but includes the hymns we sing together. There are Christian hymns of praise and thanksgiving, which we can join in, singing from the heart to the honour of our Saviour.
The climax of our thanksgiving is unquestionably the breaking of bread itself. The Lord Jesus gave thanks twice, once for the loaf and once for the cup. This is reported in the gospels and confirmed in 1 Corinthians 11. It is surely right for us to do likewise, i.e. one and the same brother gives thanks for the loaf and afterwards for the cup. Even if the New Testament give no express instruction on this point and we can therefore not make a rule of it, it is undoubtedly good for us to stick to this order of things. All the passages that speak of the Lord’s Supper present the bread and the cup as something inseparable. Both speak of the Lord’s death, which we thereby proclaim.
In remembrance of Him
“Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22: 19), were the Lord’s words to His disciples. Thus He Himself is at the centre of our thoughts. We think of Him who voluntarily went to the altar as the sacrificial Lamb, ready to go into death. We do not think so much of our salvation and blessings, even if we are unable and unwilling to disregard them altogether. Our own portion is not the main thing: we are remembering Him.
At this point we notice a marked difference from the celebration of the Passover. For all the parallels that we discover, and with all the applications that we make of it, one thing remains true: at the annual celebration of the Passover the people of Israel remembered their redemption from Egypt. When we come together for the Lord’s Supper, it is not so much our redemption that we remember, but the Redeemer Himself. Our thoughts turn to the Man in the midst, who hung and suffered so terribly for us on the cross of Calvary. We think of what we human beings did to Him. But we remember in particular that in those three hours of darkness He called upon His God and received no answer, because God had to punish Him for the guilt and sin of others. His death stands before our hearts, that death which brought such glory to God and made His enemies to be His children. Does it not make a lasting impression on us, seeing Him in this light?
Proclaiming His death
“As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11. 26). When we come together at His Table as believers, this is the central act. We think of Him and proclaim His death.
What do we proclaim? His death! We do not gather together to proclaim His life, nor His resurrection or His ascension, nor His return or the glorious results of His work. All these things have their place and cannot be separated from His death, but the central theme of a meeting for the Breaking of Bread is Calvary and must remain so. We proclaim his death; that gives the meeting its true character. If we, for example, spend most of the time pondering over His coming down to earth and the life He dedicated to God, regarding His death as something of an appendage, then we have missed out on the proper sense of our coming together.
This is also true if we are predominantly occupied with the results of His work: our salvation and our blessings. And must we not all admit that we find it difficult to concentrate on his death? Do we not find ourselves in a similar situation to the disciples, whom the Lord had to ask, “Could you not watch with Me one hour?” (Matthew 26: 40).
Here again: we do not establish rules. The procedure at such a meeting knows no form of regimentation, but we seek to adhere to the character of such a gathering, as the Bible shows us.
Who are the ones who proclaim His death? Only those who actually eat of the loaf and drink from the cup. Our presence alone at the Breaking of Bread does not mean that we proclaim His death. This happens only by active participation in His Supper. Now there is certainly a special blessing for children who regularly attend the local assembly meetings for the Breaking of Bread. We can only encourage parents to take their children to these meetings as early as possible.
But the time comes when young people must themselves decide to follow the Lord’s exhortation and proclaim His death in remembrance of Him. That is what the Lord is waiting for.
Eating and drinking
Two statements are given as to the bread. One is that the bread is broken, the other that it is eaten (1 Corinthians 10:16; 11: 26). Of the cup it is only said that we drink from it. What is the difference between the act of breaking on the one hand and the eating or drinking on the other? The Lord Jesus took the loaf, He broke it, then gave it to His disciples, telling them to eat of it. Later He handed them the cup to drink from. The Lord’s death is proclaimed by the act of eating or drinking, not by that of breaking the loaf.
1 Corinthians 10: 16 states: “The bread which we break. Of course, it is a brother who gives thanks and then breaks the loaf, but the Word of God says that “we” do so. The brother does so, representing the whole assembly. One brother gives thank and undertakes the act of breaking, then everyone takes of the loaf and eats, then drinks from the cup.
Permit me to make a practical suggestion here. The wording is clearly “eating” and “drinking”. The Corinthians went to one extreme: they turned the Lord’s Supper into a normal meal in order to satisfy their hunger and quench their thirst. Are we not liable to go to the other extreme by not properly eating and drinking, but simply taking a tiny piece of the bread and only a sip from the cup?
Then comes the question of the order of “eating” and “drinking”. In the gospels and in 1 Corinthians 11 the order is: first the bread, then the cup. In 1 Corinthians 10 it is different. Here the cup is named first, then the bread. Which is the correct sequence, or can we vary it at will? Here, too, there is no express rule or prohibition given, but I have no doubt that the historical sequence corresponds to God’s mind, i.e. first the bread, then the cup. That is how the Lord acted, and Paul reports it as he received it from the Lord. Why should we diverge form that? There is no plausible argument in favour. The reason why there is a different order in 1 Corinthians 10 is that this passage deals with the basis of our fellowship with the Lord and with one another; so it is understandable that the blood is mentioned first. The visible procedure we find in 1 Corinthians 11, which is the same as in Luke 22. We can take this order as our guideline.
Not a feast for a celebration
There are some of God’s children who designate the meeting for the Breaking of Bread as a celebration. They say that we celebrate the Lord’s Supper or His feast of remembrance. There may be two reasons for these expressions:
- In 1 Corinthians 5: 8 Paul speaks of “keeping the feast”. Some connect this with the Lord’s Supper with reference to the Passover mentioned above. We should, however, remember that the expression “feast” here does not refer immediately to the Passover. The apostle connects it with the feast of unleavened bread; its application here is to our entire life, which should be a life of separation from evil and of dedication to our Lord to His honour. A direct reference to the Lord’s Supper is not recognizable here.
- In the Old Testament we frequently read that the children of Israel kept (i.e. 7
celebrated) the Passover. When the Passover lamb was killed annually as a memorial to the exodus from Egypt, it was associated with a “feast” at God’s express command. This fact, however, does not justify our transferring the expression to the New Testament.
We do not find the notion of a feast for the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament. It is surely right to stick to the expressions that the Word of God uses, without straining this point too much.
To summarize: the meeting for the Breaking of Bread is not regulated by commandments, but it has a character to which we wish to correspond. We come together to bring God His portion, i.e. thanksgiving and worship. The central point of our thoughts is the work of the Lord on the cross. We do not come together to remember our redemption, but rather the Redeemer. By eating of the loaf and drinking from the cup we proclaim His death. Neither His coming to earth and His life of dedication to God, nor the glorious results of His work are central to our thoughts, but His death on the cross.
Question 4: When do we break bread?
Is there a particular weekday on which God wishes us to break bread? The Bible gives us no clear instruction on this point; it does however give us some spiritual indications that enable us to conclude what God’s thoughts are. In the Old Testament the day on which the Passover, for example, was to be kept was stipulated precisely (cf. Leviticus 23: 4 – 8). In the New Testament we do not find any such direction; yet we are convinced that it is God’s will that we do so on Sunday, the first day of each new week.
The practice of the early Christians
A glance at the practice of the early Christians shows us that at the beginning of the Christian testimony on this earth they broke bread daily, at least in Jerusalem. We can well understand this. Their love of Christ was so great and the expectation of His return so real and imminent in the believers’ hearts that they broke bread every day so as to remember the One who, only a few months previously, had died for them on the cross. But some years later we notice a change in their practice. The incident already mentioned in Acts 20: 7 takes us to Troas, where the apostle Paul arrived in a great hurry, because he wanted to travel to Jerusalem. He had clearly arrived there on the Monday, for he stayed for seven days until the Breaking of Bread on the first day of the week. It was obviously the custom of the Christians there to gather together on the Sunday to break bread. If we continue to do so on the first day of the week, then it is surely in order.
Indications from the epistles
It is not only the practice of the early Christians in connection with the Breaking of Bread that makes us think of Sunday. We also find some indirect indications in the epistles. Let us take 1 Corinthians 16: 1.2. There the question involves the collections, which were not to take place only when needed; Paul orders the Corinthians to put money aside and collect it on each first day of the week. If we associate this thought with Hebrews 13: 15.16 we have a complete picture. The text in the epistle to the Hebrews speaks on the one hand of sacrifices of praise and of doing good and sharing on the other hand. Both (praise and doing good) are called sacrifices that are well-pleasing to God. The writer of the epistle remarks: “for with such sacrifices (plural!) God is well pleased” (v.16b). So here there is a clear connection between thanking and giving. If therefore, according to 1 Peter 2: 5, we appear as holy priests to offer spiritual sacrifices in the sanctuary, and this is closely associated with the Breaking of Bread, we not only open up our hearts in worship, but also our purses to make a gift materially. They are sacrifices that are well-pleasing to God. The gift by which the Philippians made the apostle Paul rejoice when in prison in Rome is called “a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice” (Philippians 4, 18).
For all this we can conclude that if collections are to be taken on Sunday it would appear that it is in accordance with God’s mind that the other part of the sacrifice, praise and thanksgiving, should be brought on Sunday. Moreover, this thought is confirmed in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 26: 10 shows that the Israelite was to fall down before his God and worship Him when he brought the firstfruits of the land.
Why on Sunday?
Now the question arises: why on Sunday? Why not on any other weekday? The question is not difficult to answer. According to the Jewish compilation of time the first day of the Christian week would be the eighth day, the day that, in the symbolical language of the Old Testament is the day of a new beginning. The principle of the law in Israel was that the people first had to do something to be able to enter into the rest of the last day of the week, the Sabbath. Under the Christian economy it is the very opposite. God started something new. Through the Lord’s work at the cross He has granted us redemption and peace without our contributing anything towards it. Is it then not right to proclaim His death and break bread on the first day of the week, the day of the new beginning?
In addition, the first day of the week is the day of the resurrection and victory. On the first day of the week the disciples were assembled in the upper room and heard the words of the risen One: “Peace be with you!” (John 20: 19). The new creation began on the first day of the week, of which Christ is the firstfruits. So the first day of the week is truly the appropriate day on which to come together to remember Him.
Another question is: whether it is right to gather together on Sunday morning, or whether we should not stick to Scripture and do so in the evening. There are undoubtedly arguments in favour of the evening. The Passover in the Old Testament was celebrated in the evening. The Lord’s institution of the Supper itself occurred in the evening, (this probably explains the usual Christian expression “supper”) and the early Christians, too, will have broken bread in the evening (cf. again Acts 20: 7.11).
We need to remember that Sunday was a normal working day in the early Christian era. Jews who had become believers were obliged to keep the Sabbath as an official day of rest and had to work on Sundays. Thus the evening was the only possible time for their meetings. It was not until Christianity was a recognized religion that Sunday was declared a public day of rest. This explains why many Christians break bread on Sunday morning. We are convinced that this is pleasing to the Lord. There is no instruction on this matter, so that we are free to act. But is not the morning particularly suitable for gathering as the expression of the local assembly, to remember Him? In the evening our hearts and minds are full of the day’s activity, and it is more difficult to concentrate on the matter in hand. In the morning our minds are much clearer.
Other questions that are occasionally asked in this connection are: must we do so every Sunday? Is once a month not sufficient? Or: can we not do so every day like the early Christians? Let us repeat: the Bible gives us no clear indication. It depends on our spiritual well-being. Let us however consider this: doing so more frequently is not unscriptural, but would it really correspond to our devotion to Christ and our spiritual state? Would we not run the danger of turning it into a mere formal act? Is our attachment to our Lord so fresh in our hearts that we could support breaking bread daily? But now consider the converse: can we imagine a Sunday when we fail to think of the Lord’s suffering and His victory at the cross? Do we not think that Sunday by Sunday the Lord waits for us to bring Him something?
To summarize: even if the Bible gives us no direct and definite instruction to break Bread on Sunday, we find several indications that make us recognize it as the appropriate day. The practice of the early Christians points to Sunday, the day of the new beginning, the day of the Lord’s resurrection. It is therefore suitable for the proclamation of His death which made this new beginning possible.
Question 5: Who partakes of the Breaking of Bread?
Hardly any question is as topical as this one. What pain it must cause our Lord to see the disunity and division caused by this question! Is this really necessary? Is the Bible so complicated that we must reach differing conclusions and opinions? Impossible! Is the failure not rather on our side, if we do not recognize God’s will clearly? Are we prepared to examine unreservedly and without prejudice what the Word of God stays on the subject? Be it far from me to judge those who have come to a different understanding of Scripture. We love and respect our brothers and sisters. There are many among them from whom we can learn a lot regarding our practical life and devotion to the Lord. Yet we still see it as our responsibility to practise solely what the Word of God states on this subject.
A matter of concern to the Lord
A very simple and transparent answer to our question would be: according to 1 Corinthians 11: 28 each one should judge himself and then eat. That makes it a merely personal matter for the individual to decide whether he participates in the Breaking of Bread or not. To argue thus is to overlook the two sides of the Breaking of Bread, i.e. the supper of remembrance (1 Corinthians 11) and the Lord’s Table (1 Corinthians 10). 1 Corinthians 11 deals not with the fundamental question of participation but with the manner in which we partake. It must strike us that, after examining oneself, the alternative is not either partaking or not, but “so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (v.28). The issue here concerns a believer who should, and indeed must, examine himself carefully as to whether he can do so in a worthy manner, or whether there are things on his pathway that need to be put right.
1 Corinthians 10 makes it clear that there is a corporate as well as a personal
responsibility. It involves setting forth our fellowship with the Lord and with each other. So we cannot be indifferent as to who we break bread with. Twice the apostle admonishes the church in Corinth: “You cannot ...” (v.21). There are certain things that are not compatible with and prove a hindrance to partaking at the Lord’s Table. There are, sadly, situations which prevent believers from enjoying the privilege of breaking bread, because they disqualify themselves through sin. As it concerns the Lord’s honour and glory, we cannot have fellowship with such persons at the Lord’s Table.
Whoever emphasizes personal responsibility exclusively also overlooks the fact that it is the Lord’s prerogative to decide who partakes of the Breaking of Bread and who does not. No ecclesiastical organization, no fellowship of brethren, and no individual can determine or decide this. Further above we have considered that it is the Lord’s Table and the Lord’s Supper. It is not our table or supper, nor that of a church or the brethren, but His Table and His Supper. He is not merely the One of whom we think there, He is also the One who invites as the Host. So it follows that He alone can determine who participates at His Table. He has shown us His mind on this question in His Word.
God’s Word is very impressive and memorable in its illustrative language. It is easy to understand that it is the Lord’s right to decide who can come to His Table and who cannot. A host has the right to invite whom he will. Can I invite someone to a meal at my brother’s or my neighbour’s table? Of course, I can invite whoever I like to my own house or table. No-one has the right to interfere in this. But I cannot invite to someone else’s house or table. So we need to understand that on Sunday we do not go to our table, or our supper, but to the Lord’s Table and His Supper.
Transferring the responsibility
Maybe the question now arises: if it is the Lord’s decision as to who partakes of the Breaking of Bread, how can we speak of “reception at the Lord’s Table by a local assembly”? The expression “reception at the Lord’s Table” is found nowhere in the Bible. We shall now deal with this matter.
Let us first remember that an expression that does not occur in the Bible does not necessarily mean that something is automatically wrong. We use a host of expressions that are not directly biblical, yet they are fundamentally sound, e.g. the Trinity. So the non-occurrence of a concept does not make it erroneous. This is the case with “reception” at the Lord’s Table or for the Breaking of Bread.
Who then receives at the Lord’s Table? The local assembly and no-one else. This statement does not contradict what we have already ascertained: that it is the Lord’s decision who takes part in the Breaking of bread. The local assembly’s task is to watch over whether the reception or refusal is according to the criteria of the Bible or not. The reason for this assertion, which at first sight may appear absolute, is given us by the Lord Jesus Himself. He entrusted the responsibility of receiving to break Bread to the local assembly.
Let us turn to Matthew 18, where the Lord Jesus says to His disciples: “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (v.18). Without going into the details of this very important verse in the Bible, let us be reminded of the reason why the Lord gave this instruction. It was a matter of a disagreement between brethren. “If your brother sins against you ...” (v.15). Such a condition between believers was to be settled. If that proved impossible the matter had to be put to the church. Let us point out here that in Matthew 18 it can only be the local assembly that is in question (albeit representative of the whole church), for it would be a sheer impossibility to place the matter before the church over the whole earth. So the local assembly had to take a decision. If the person concerned would not hear the church, then it had to act. The Lord Himself gave it the authority to bind and loose. Binding here means binding (or laying) the sin on the brother. 1 Corinthians 5: 6 – 8 shows us that this act of “binding” signifies “putting out of fellowship”, i.e. the person concerned can have no share in the privileges of believers, including the Breaking of Bread. In 1 Corinthians 5 an appeal is made to the responsibility of the church in Corinth. The man pronounced a fornicator there might examine himself as he would; the church was called on to act. This is in accordance with God’s mind.
We have a further example in Revelation 2. In the seven letters to the churches it is local assemblyes that are addressed, and it is their responsibility that is appealed to. For all the criticism that the Lord made of the church at Ephesus (the believers there had left their first love), He could approve of this: “I know your works ..., and that you cannot bear those who are evil” (Revelation 2: 2). There were clearly some in Ephesus who, having proved to be wicked, could not be endured by the rest. It was not a question of wicked things, but of evil persons. The church at Ephesus had the responsibility to keep a close watch on such persons, and this responsibility was taken seriously.
Help from the Old Testament
The principle that we have just found as laid down in the New Testament is confirmed in the divine “picture book”, the Old Testament. Let us take the example of the gatekeepers, whose duty it was to see who entered and who left the city or the temple. Their function as gatekeepers is described especially in connection with the city of God, Jerusalem, the place where God, in keeping with His promise, wished His Name to dwell. There the temple was situated. There God was worshipped. Thus Jerusalem and the temple, as the house of God, are apt illustrations of the church. The following quotations of two verses show us clearly the responsibility of the local assembly to open the gates, i.e. to receive a person who expresses the desire to break bread, or to close the gates, i.e. to refuse a person’s request to break bread. In the one case the response is positive, in the other negative.
- Isaiah 26: 1-2: “We have a strong city; God will appoint salvation for walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation ... may enter in.”
- 2 Chronicles 23: 19: “He set gatekeepers at the gates of the house of the LORD, so that no-one who was in any way unclean should enter.”
These are the principles according to which we wish to act. We open the gates, when the Lord opens them and shut them, when He shuts them.
The question that now arises is: what are the criteria to be fulfilled for reception at the Lord’s Table? To put it differently: what standards does the Lord set for someone to partake of the Breaking of Bread? There are certain conditions to fulfil, but there are also hindrances that make reception impossible. Once again: it is the Lord who establishes the criteria, not ourselves.
First requirement: new life
The first condition laid down in the Bible is that whoever partakes of the Breaking of Bread is a member of the Body of Christ. We have already seen that in breaking bread we testify to our fellowship with the Lord Jesus and with each other. How could an unbeliever possibly do this, if he has not been brought into this fellowship? Never! “We, though many, are one bread and one body” writes Paul (1 Corinthians 10: 17). By “we” he must mean believers living on earth. The “many” are unquestionably the members of the Body of Christ. That makes it obvious that only a believer can participate in the Breaking of Bread. We can only break bread with a born-again Christian who possesses life from God and has become a member of Christ’s Body through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Breaking bread with unbelievers, as is sadly practised in many Christian churches, clearly contradicts God’s Word. Being a “member” (or: limb) of the Body of Christ is not the same as membership of a church, a fellowship or organization. The Bible does not recognize such membership. Making membership of such a denomination a condition for breaking bread is contrary to God’s mind. The important thing is possessing life from God.
It is certainly not without significance that, when the Lord instituted the Supper for His disciples, the traitor Judas, who did not possess new life, had already gone out into the night. If we compare the reports in the different gospels carefully we cannot come to any other conclusion. The Lord’s exhortation, “Do this in remembrance of Me” was addressed solely to the disciples who had life from God.
A local assembly will therefore first put the question to anyone asking to break bread whether they possess life from God. We can naturally not see into a person’s heart, but God gives us a sure means of verifying: we can judge the fruits that new life produces (Matthew 7: 20). One fruit of eternal life is our love towards God, shown in our obedience to Him; the second is our love of our fellow believers. (1 John 5: 2). These are two pillars that support our new life. Now we cannot know whether someone is telling the truth or not, but we can judge whether a person wishes to be obedient to the Word of God, loves God and enjoys being among His children. If we notice, for example, that somebody who claims to be born of God and yet shows no concern for His Word and feels most at home with friends who are unbelievers, we begin to wonder whether he is genuinely born again. It is true that the Lord alone knows those who are His own, but whether someone abstains from unrighteousness can be seen (cf. 2 Timothy 2: 19). This we recognize by their fruits and can make our judgment accordingly.
Second requirement: moral purity
The second demand that God’s Word makes is that anyone wishing to partake of the Breaking of Bread must be free from moral evil. This can be seen clearly from the teaching of
1 Corinthians 5. In the church at Corinth there was a man who had taken his father’s wife. The Bible designates such sins unmistakably as fornication and adultery. What is more: this was a form of fornication that did not even occur among the heathen nations. The people of the world who surrounded the Corinthians had obviously taken note of this. Yet the believers had ignored this wickedness. “You ... have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you” (v.2). Paul had expected two things. In the first place, the Corinthians should have sensed what dishonour had been done to the Lord with such a person partaking of the Breaking of Bread. Secondly, they had not taken the necessary consequence and put the one concerned from their midst, i.e. they should have put him out of fellowship.
The reason that follows confirms the important principle that it is not immaterial with whom we break bread. Paul writes: “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened” (vv. 6.7). Positionally they were unleavened. In practice they were defiled through the fact that a fornicator was participating at the Lord’s Table. The evil of that is compared with leaven which affects and thus defiles the entire mass, i.e. the church in Corinth. Contact with evil defiles – this principle becomes clear in this case. In the New Testament leaven is an illustration of unjudged evil. This cannot be tolerated at the Lord’s Table, since all others who partake of the Breaking of Bread are equally defiled by it.
Verse 9 exhorts us not to keep company with sexually immoral persons. This, of course, applies first of all to our general social sphere (according to v. 11 we should not even eat with such a person); but how much more it applies to fellowship at the Lord’s Table! Verse 11 then explains distinctly that evil is not restricted solely to sexual immorality, but also to other moral sins in which a believer may be living. Sins listed are, for example, covetousness, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness and extortion or robbery. This list is clearly not complete; it simply gives examples. The principle, however, is obvious: we cannot have fellowship at the Lord’s Table with those who are living in moral wickedness, i.e. they prove to be people living in moral sin. This is something that must be carefully investigated before anyone is received into fellowship at the Lord’s Table.
Third requirement: doctrinal soundness
A further condition that God reveals in His Word concerns the doctrine. An absolute necessity for taking part in the Breaking of Bread is that the participants are free from false doctrine, i.e. they neither themselves believe nor propagate heresy. This can be seen from Galatians 5. In the churches in Galatia men had appeared who taught false doctrine with the purpose of convincing believers that they should be circumcised. That put a question mark on the efficacy of the work of the Lord Jesus. Paul branded this heresy with very plain words, warning the Galatians against it. Verse 9 is especially noteworthy in this connection: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 5, where we found a very similar statement referring to moral evil. Whether the evil is doctrinal or moral, so long as it is public and tolerated by the local assembly, it leads to the defilement of all who take part in the Breaking of Bread. Whoever offends the fundamentals of Christianity through evil and false doctrine has no place at the Lord’s Table.
In this connection we also need to heed the teaching of the second epistle of John. There he writes of people who come, not bringing the doctrine of Christ (v.9). Here it specifically refers to heresy concerning the Person of our Lord and Saviour and His work on the cross. We are exhorted neither to greet such persons nor to receive them in our house (v.10). The reason given is noteworthy: “He who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (v.11). So whoever greets or welcomes a heretic identifies himself with his evil works. Let us remember that eating the bread together is the highest expression of our fellowship with each other. It is utterly inconceivable that someone whose thinking concerning our Lord and His work is erroneous and who teaches his false doctrine can have any part in that fellowship.
Such false teaching can have many facets that are widespread in Christendom today. There are, for example, those who deny that the Lord Jesus is the eternal Son of God, others cast doubt on His true humanity. Then there are those who teach that the Lord came “into sinful flesh” and could Himself have sinned.
Even holding fast the efficacy of His work of redemption accomplished at the cross is part of the “doctrine of Christ”. If anyone asserts, for example, that alongside the work of Christ we must do good works to be saved, that is fundamentally false teaching. Nor does the teaching of those who assert that all will finally be saved correspond to “the doctrine of Christ”. The same applies to the reprehensible teaching that a believer can possibly be lost. The toleration of such doctrine in a local assembly works like leaven in the whole lump. Such persons, even if they are born again, cannot possibly be received at the Lord’s Table for the Breaking of Bread.
Fourth requirement: freedom from defilement through association
This fourth requirement, which the Lord shows us in His Word, concerns our association in our service for God, the connections those believers have who partake in the Breaking of Bread. The question is asked whether a Christian who is personally morally and doctrinally sound, can nevertheless be defiled through associations in the service of God. The answer the Bible gives is an un mistakable “Yes!” Harmful association, i.e. carrying out a service for God together with unbelievers, or with morally or doctrinally evil persons, defiles both the person involved and the assembly in which such a person breaks bread. Association with evil defiles. This is a clear principle taught in the Bible.
The teaching of the New Testament
Let us return for a moment to 1 Corinthians 10. The Corinthians had been converted to God from idols. Yet they thought they still had the freedom to eat from the sacrifices that were made to demons without impeding their fellowship at the Lord’s Table. It was not their intention to have fellowship with the demons themselves, but they imagined that within the scope of their Christian liberty they could be present when the heathen cult was being practised. The central point of Paul’s teaching is to convince them that through outward participation in the ritual of the sacrifice they came into communion with the demons who were behind it.
Outward participation in an activity means identification with the thing itself. That was what the Corinthians had overlooked. Having “fellowship with demons” (v.20) and at the same time testifying to “the communion of the body of Christ” (v. 16) through the Breaking of Bread are two things that are incompatible. The words “fellowship” and “communion” express that by means of an outward act we have an intimate, inner association with the thing itself.
This leads us to the passage already quoted from John’s second epistle. Greeting and welcoming a heretic results in our partaking of his evil deeds, i.e. we have fellowship with them. It does not mean that we accept them or approve of them. It may be that we are not at all in agreement with them, but we still have fellowship with them by greeting them or playing host to them. Ultimately, we show that we are indifferent to the Person of our Lord, whose glory is assailed thereby.
The only conclusion to be drawn from this is that by having fellowship with a false teacher, I am defiled even if I myself reject his heresy.
We receive further help on this matter in Revelation 18. There it is admittedly not a question of believers in the age of grace, but the principle can be applied. God warns His people in days to come against fellowship with the wickedness in Babylon and says: “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (v.4). If they failed to do so, they would be in fellowship with the wickedness being practised there. Both in 2 John v.11 and in Revelation 18: 4 the same Greek verb is used for “share”. The noun from the same root is used for “communion” in 1 Corinthians 10: 16 and for “fellowship” in 1 John 1: 3, where we read that: “our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ”. These words all have the sense of “sharing” or “being a partner in”; they express a joint relationship.
2 Timothy 2 casts more light on the subject. There Paul compares Christendom with a great house that contains vessels to honour and to dishonour. Both believers and unbelievers can be vessels to dishonour. But what is the exhortation given? “If anyone cleanses himself from the latter (i.e. by separating from vessels to dishonour), he will be a vessel for honour” (v.21). However hard it may be for us, we must separate from vessels to dishonour so as not to be defiled by them.
We thus reach the following conclusion: If a believer partakes of any table in Christendom, where he knows that things practised or merely tolerated (i.e. not judged) there are contrary to the Word of God, he makes himself one with them, even if he is not in agreement with them. This is defilement through association, which the Word of God rejects and condemns.
The teaching of the Old Testament
The principle of defilement through association set out in the New Testament is confirmed in the Old Testament. The dispensation may have changed, but God’s thoughts and principles regarding His house remain the same. The overriding principle is: “Holiness adorns your house, o LORD, for ever” (Psalm 93: 5).
We have a clear illustration of this in Joshua 7, even if it is in a more general sense. Achan had sinned by disobeying the commandment of God, who had forbidden taking any booty from Jericho. But what does the Scripture say? “The children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things” (v.1). To Joshua God said: “Israel has sinned” (v.11). The sin of the individual became the sin of the entire people, and indeed it remained so until they had banished the evil from their midst. It is the same today: if someone sins, and it becomes known publicly, the church must act, otherwise it becomes guilty itself.
The treatment of the subject in hand becomes specific in Leviticus 7 which deals with the law of the peace offering (v.11), an apt illustration of what we do at the Lord’s Table. The peace offering is an indication of the fellowship we express at the Breaking of Bread (1 Corinthians 10: 18). Who was permitted to eat of the peace offering? In principle every pure Israelite was allowed to eat of it (v.19), but there were exceptions. “The person who eats the flesh of the sacrifice of the peace offering that belongs to the LORD, while he is unclean, that person shall be cut off from his people. Moreover the person who touches any unclean thing, such as human uncleanness, an unclean animal, or any abominable unclean thing, and who eats the flesh of the sacrifice of the peace offering that belongs to the LORD; that person shall be cut off from his people.” Such language is clear enough.
In verse 20 we have to do with someone’s personal uncleanness. This is what we have found in 1 Corinthians 5 and Galatians 5. Anyone who is morally evil or doctrinally unsound cannot take part in the Breaking of Bread. In v. 21, however, “touching” is mentioned. That reminds us of defilement through association. An Israelite might have been clean in himself. Should he have contact with anything unclean, he could not eat of the peace offering. That is precisely what we have found in the New Testament.
Let us now quote a verse from the prophecy of Haggai, who was commissioned by God to put the following question to the remnant of the people: “If one carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the edge he touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will it become holy? Then the priests answered and said, No. And Haggai said, If one who is unclean because of a dead body touches any of these, will it be unclean? So the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean.” (Haggai 2: 12.13). Put a rotten apple among nine sound apples. Will the rotten one become sound? Never! the nine sound ones will turn rotten.
We see then that the Lord makes demands as to who can and who cannot partake at His Table. The church has the responsibility to watch over this matter, so that His demands are adhered to. What is important is that we do not add a single one to these demands, and so do not exceed the limits the Word of God prescribes. But neither should we take anything away. One thing is clear: we need much wisdom and the leading of the Holy Spirit in dealing with individual cases.
Two further practical questions
1) Is baptism a requirement for participating in the Breaking of Bread?
In our consideration of Christian baptism we saw that it had to do with our personal walk, whereas the matter of breaking bread affects our corporate walk. The two things are not directly connected. In no passage of the New Testament are the two acts linked. Consequently we find no direct command that it is imperative for someone who participates in the Breaking of Bread to be baptized.
There is, however, a practical matter that we should consider. How can anyone who, in his responsibility on his personal pathway in following the Lord, is inconsistent as to baptism nevertheless partake of the privileges of the believer at the Lord’s Table? One should be able to expect of those who desire to take part in the Breaking of Bread that they also wish to follow the Lord personally and take a stand on His side. There may be exceptions under certain circumstances, but as a rule anyone who is received by a local assembly will have been baptized. Normally baptism will always precede participation in the Breaking Bread.
Conversely, the Bible knows of no automatic procedure that someone who has been baptized is simultaneously received for the Breaking of Bread. Baptism, on the one hand, and the Breaking of Bread, on the other, are distinct spheres of Christian life. In the normal process of the growth of a believer someone who has been baptized will have the wish to partake of the Breaking of Bread.
2) How old must one be to be received for the Breaking of Bread?
The Bible gives no direct answer to this question either. There is, however, a hint given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10: 15. Paul introduces his thoughts concerning the Lord’s Table by addressing those among the Corinthians whom he calls “wise men”. Those are wise in the sense intended here who show understanding and the ability to judge matters. That must make it clear that younger children, who do not possess such understanding and judgment, cannot take part in the Breaking of Bread. Now it would be going beyond the teaching of the Bible if we were to make intelligence as to all God’s mind a condition for breaking bread, but the ability to recognize just what we do there must be present.
We have also seen that the whole local assembly bears responsibility. Anyone who participates at the Lord’s Table must be aware of the consequences of this responsibility and prepared to share it with all others. It is thus impossible to state a definite age. This can vary according to the upbringing and personal development of the individual.
It is the Lord who determines who can and who cannot partake in the Breaking of Bread. The responsibility for this He has given over to the local assembly, which receives solely according to the criteria of the Bible, which are:
- Each person taking part must possess life from God. It is not possible to receive unbelievers at the Lord ‘s Table.
- Whoever participates in the Breaking of Bread must not live immorally, because the assembly will be defiled as a result.
- Whoever participates in the Breaking of Bread must not teach anything detrimental to the Person and work of the Lord Jesus.
- Harmful association, i.e. service for God together with unbelievers or with those affected by moral or doctrinal evil, is unacceptable.
We will not omit one of these criteria; on the other hand, we must not make any demands that go further than what God has recorded in His Word.
Question 6: How do we break Bread?
Having obtained clarity as to who can break bread, we now come to the question of the manner in which we carry out this privilege.
The answer to this important question is based particularly on the passage 1 Corinthians 11: 17 – 34, which does not deal primarily with the question of who takes part in the Breaking of Bread but of the way in which we do so.
Here it is a matter of the personal responsibility of each individual believer as to how he partakes of the Breaking of Bread. If a local assembly has met its corporate responsibility in receiving a person, it is now the personal responsibility of the one breaking bread that occupies us.
This personal responsibility affects each believer; we cannot evade it. 1 Corinthians 11: 28 tells us clearly that each one must examine himself and then eat.
The sense of the word “worthy”
The question as to how a believer should participate in the Breaking of Bread can be answered very briefly: in a worthy manner! The Corinthians had to be reproached for eating and drinking “in an unworthy manner”. The apostle Paul reprimands this lapse of conduct, because it did not correspond to what is expressed by the Breaking of Bread. Eating and drinking in an unsuitable manner can result in our being guilty of the body and blood of the Lord and thus bringing His governmental judgment upon us in this present age.
First of all we shall be occupied with the question: what makes us worthy to participate in the Breaking of Bread? This is an important question. From our birth we are anything but worthy. However, we must recognize that a leading a good life does not make us worthy, but solely the blood of the Lamb of God shed at Calvary. We are made worthy by the work of the Lord on the cross. Calvary is the basis of our worthiness before God. A servant of the Lord once expressed it as follows: “We uphold God’s righteousness and holiness and envelop ourselves in the grace revealed at Calvary. That is how we become worthy.” This is a principle of great significance. It gives us security regarding our acceptance with God. We need not live all the week from Monday to Sunday morning in fear, worrying whether we are worthy enough to partake of the Lord’s Supper or not. Our worthiness is founded on our Redeemer. The work accomplished on the cross made us worthy in principle.
Then comes the teaching of 1 Corinthians 11. The manner in which we eat the Lord’s Supper should correspond to this principle of worthiness. The text indicates that the Corinthians clearly confused the Lord’s Supper with an ordinary meal or placed it on a par with such a meal. Some came who were hungry and ate their fill. Others were thirsty and drank too much. The more prosperous among them showed their status all too clearly and ate more than the others. Moreover, it appears that each one came when it suited him. So we notice that disorder reigned among the Corinthians regarding the outward aspect of their gathering. They failed to distinguish between the Lord’s Supper and a normal meal; this Paul describes as eating and drinking unworthily.
Perhaps we think that this problem does not apply to us, since we separate the Lord’s Supper from a normal meal. That is undoubtedly so, but we learn nevertheless that the outward aspect of a meeting for the Breaking of Bread should correspond to the dignity of the occasion. This does not mean that our coming together should be stiff, artificial or formal, on the contrary. But it should be dignified. The external form, our clothing, the way we sit, our behaviour etc. – all affects this worthiness. Elsewhere Paul writes: “God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” and “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14, 33.40). God does not wish to restrict us, but gives us a framework in which we can act freely under the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Let each one examine himself
Another sphere of personal responsibility is shown us. The Corinthians had obviously neglected to examine themselves in Personal matters that had not been put in order. They came into the Lord’s presence to proclaim His death with unjudged sins and things that were out of order. This is of great importance for us, too. It is our duty to stand in God’s light continually and examine in that light whether our personal life is free from unjudged guilt. If not, we must judge it and confess it. Only in this way can we take part in the Breaking of Bread in a worthy manner. If we attend the Lord’s Table with unjudged matters, we make ourselves guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, of which the loaf and the cup speak. This is an earnest matter.
It is a matter of constant self-judgment, scrutinizing our deeds, words, thoughts and motives. We have seen the corporate responsibility of the whole assembly in connection with 1 Corinthians 10, which consists in examining with whom they break bread. The assembly keeps a watch, so that the associations of individual believers remain wholesome. Such care by the assembly can only concern cases that are clear and public. The church (or assembly) cannot see, deal with and judge sin in the life of a believer, so long as it is kept secret. The church does not judge motives and thoughts that are not expressed in deeds and words. When it is a question of who breaks bread in 1 Corinthians 10, the church judges according to what is seen and heard.
In 1 Corinthians 11, however, it is a different matter. When the manner of my breaking bread is in question, it involves things that no-one else knows and that may have to do with me personally. I must examine, recognize and, if necessary judge my innermost being in the light of the Word of God. Then I can come to eat of the loaf and drink from the cup. That is a worthy manner.
Self-judgment is a process that digs deep; it is not a matter of a few minutes. It does not mean that on Sunday morning, on the way to the meeting (or perhaps in the meeting itself), we quickly tell the Lord what was not in order during the week and confess it before Him. There may be instances when we might act in this way, but done regularly it is purely superficial. We need to ponder before the Lord what we have done and sense deep in our hearts what each sin that we have committed as God’s children meant for our Lord, when He suffered and died on the cross of Calvary for our sins. Peter reminds us that Christ “bore” our sins (1 Peter 2: 24). For Him every sin was a burden that He had to bear. Every sin increased His suffering at Calvary. This is the thought before us when we examine our pathway in the light of His Word. Such self-examination can never be an irresponsible, superficial matter, but rather a deeply felt exercise of heart. For every sin that I commit my Saviour had to endure immense suffering. A profound consciousness of this fact keeps us from sinning and makes us careful.
Self-judgment, understood in this way, is a deeply felt exercise of heart that cannot happen in a hurry. It is an exercise to which we need to submit daily, not merely on Sunday morning.
If we recognize the distinction between what is from our new, divine nature and what comes out of our old nature, then He forgives us and we can come and eat in joyful communion with Him. The teaching of 1 Corinthians 11: 28 states unmistakably: “so let him eat”. Our examination should not result in our staying away from the Breaking of Bread, but in putting things in order and then coming. This kind of conduct agrees with the Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5: 23.24).
Personal self- examination is a thoroughly earnest issue. If we neglect it, we must reckon with consequences. Paul shows the consequences to the Corinthians. Some of the believers were sick, some were no longer alive. God had intervened with discipline and present judgment. That can happen today, too. The Breaking of Bread is a sublime privilege, but at the same time it is a holy matter that we cannot treat lightly. God must deal with us according to His governmental ways, if we do not adhere to the holiness of the occasion. This does not mean, however, that a believer could be lost. In every case of this kind it is judgment for the present time.
It is not our wish to unsettle anyone. The Lord sees our hearts and knows our motives. He judges us and knows in what frame of mind we appear in His presence. The thought of our personal responsibility should not deter us; on the contrary, it should spur us on to live a life of practical holiness with and for our Lord.
To summarize: Alongside the corporate responsibility of an assembly there is the personal responsibility of each one as to the manner in which he participates in the Breaking of Bread. It should be in a worthy manner. By means of constant self-judgment we examine ourselves and put things right that are not in agreement with His holiness. This self-judgment is a permanent process that cannot be restricted to Sunday morning.
In addition the visible aspect of a meeting for the Breaking of bread and the conduct of all present should correspond to the dignity of the occasion. God gives us certain limits, within which we can act freely under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Question 7: Until when shall we continue to break bread?
The answer to this question is very simple: “until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11: 26). We may not be proclaiming His return when breaking bread, but we do so with the knowledge of His soon return. A brother once said that we should break bread every Sunday as if we were doing so on the first occasion, but at the same time in the consciousness that it might be the last occasion. What a freshness, on the one hand, and what dignity, on the other, would this afford our meetings!
When He has come again, and we are with Him in glory, there will no longer be any visible tokens. These tokens are given us as a reminder; we shall then need no reminder, for all will be reality. We shall see Him, our Lord and Saviour, as He is and not need the tokens that remind us of Him.
The Breaking of Bread is a part of our pathway on earth. When God gave the children of Israel the Passover, they were to eat it with their sandals on their feet and their staff in their hand. If we transfer this thought to ourselves, we think of our pilgrim character. This earth is not our home. Nor are the rooms, in which we come together, however much we may feel at home in them. Our home is glory, but until we are there, we come together to proclaim His death. The day is not far off when our Lord will come to take us to Himself. Then we shall hear the voice that the seer, the apostle John, heard almost 2,000 years ago when in exile on the island of Patmos: “Come up here” (Revelation 4: 1).
The scene described there is impressionable. It is about a scroll written on both sides and sealed with seven seals. The question is asked: “Who is worthy to open the book and to loose its seals?” (Revelation 5: 2). No-one was found either in heaven or on earth. No-one was worthy even to look upon the book, so that John began to weep. Then he heard the astonishing words: “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah ... has prevailed” (Revelation 5: 5). And what did John see then? A lion? No, he saw a Lamb, as if it had been slain.
That is what we shall see. The glorified Man at the right hand of God, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Victor of Calvary. The memory that He suffered and died at the cross will never fade away. We shall surround the throne of the Lamb. Here on earth, during the time of our pilgrimage, we can be occupied with what we shall do unceasingly in eternity: praising the Lamb of God and bringing Him the worship of our hearts. At present we have visible tokens; then we shall no longer need them.
Here on earth we miss many a one when we come together to proclaim the Lord’s death. Of the ten lepers, whom the Lord healed, only one returned to thank Him, and the Lord’s pained question remains: “Where are the nine?” (Luke 17: 17). That question will not be asked in heaven. Then none will be missing. Then there will be no more disunity, no disagreement, no division. We shall all praise our Lord together. Eternity alone will suffice to thank Him worthily for what He accomplished at Calvary by glorifying God and obtaining our salvation in the bitterest of sufferings.
A final question
By answering seven questions we have now considered the thoughts that the Bible associates with the Breaking of Bread, the second visible act alongside baptism. Maybe some things have become somewhat clearer for us. But the decisive question that must be asked finally of us all is this:
What does the Lord’s Supper mean to me? What is my response to my Saviour’s exhortation: “Do this in remembrance of Me.”?
Let us not evade this question. Perhaps you do not yet break bread. Ask yourself the reason before the Lord. You are saved, you know what happened at the cross for you, but as yet you have not been able to decide to follow the Lord’s exhortation. The Saviour is waiting for you. Sunday by Sunday. Or are there things in your life that you know are not consistent with a place at the Lord’s Table, things that you do not want to abandon? Put those things on one side of the scales and the Lord’s love and His exhortation on the other. Which has more weight?
It is possible that you took your place at the Lord’s Table a long time ago, but you have become negligent in your attendance at the meetings. What is hindering you? Speak to your Lord about it.
Let us not forget under what circumstances the Lord instituted the Supper for His disciples and spoke the words: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” It was the night in which He was betrayed. It was the night when Calvary with all its horror was before Him, and He prepared to walk the hardest path that any person has ever taken. What must the Saviour have felt when He spoke to His disciples? He was about to lay down His life for them. And what has He done for us? He gave Himself for us, too. “Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us” (Ephesians 5: 2). His sacrifice on the cross was the greatest proof of His love. Do we not wish to give Him our response to that love?
 Translator’s note: The original German text quotes verses from the revised “Elberfelder Bibel” published by CSV, Hückeswagen, in 2003. The equivalent in English would be J.N. Darby’s so-called “New Translation” of 1881, which, though accurate in its literal rendering of the Greek text, does not use language current among the readership of the 21st century. Since many readers will be young believers, a version of the Bible in language which for them is more natural has been preferred. The English translation of the book follows the German text as faithfully as possible, diverting from it in a few instances, when comments on Bible texts relating to German vocabulary or usage are not relevant to the English version.
 The church (or assembly, Greek ‘ekklesia’, the called out one) of God is composed of all believers (sometimes as at one point in time and sometimes seen as including all believers from Pentecost to the rapture). The local church or assembly consists of all believers in a given locality. It is part of the whole church of God (not a ‘different’ church). When we speak about the gatherings or meetings of the local church we use the term ‘local assembly’ or ‘assembly meetings’.
 There is no article in the Greek text. They were not ‘the’ body of Christ, but they were part of it and bore its character.