Who Should Break Bread?
In a former paper. "The Passover and the Lord's Supper", the writer has considered some of the apparent comparisons seen in connection with these two ordinances, the first for Israel, the latter for the Church of God. If the reader will first read that paper, the present one may be seen from a more clear viewpoint.
This question is surely one that is very near to the heart of our adorable Lord; and it is His own answer that should deeply interest us, not what might be our own thoughts naturally, or even our most spiritual thoughts; for there can too easily lead us astray. May our God and Father guide us clearly to a knowledge of what He has Himself told us in His Word.
Of most vital importance is the foundation, or basis, upon which we break bread. I Cor. 10: 16,17 declares this positively: "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 being many are one bread, one body: for we are all partakers of that one Bread." First, in breaking bread, one expresses fellowship with the blood of Christ and the literal body of Christ, a precious association with Him in His death.
But verse 17 shows that the loaf, as well as symbolizing the literal body of Christ, symbolizes also the church, which is His body; and therefore it is the expression of fellowship with the entire body of Christ everywhere. It is not Scriptural to break bread as a member of a certain Group, or as belonging to a denomination, or as an individual. I am to do so as recognizing my association with the complete body of Christ, embracing in my thoughts and affections all saints everywhere. I may not break bread as an individual, merely upon my own responsibility, for this would be a denial of the fellowship involved in the one body.
Independency then has no place here: the assembly has very decided responsibility, and the individual has responsibility toward the assembly, to maintain before God what is true unity. This is true of the assembly, the body of Christ as a whole, and therefore true in a local assembly, which is, properly speaking, simply a local representation of the whole church of God.
The rest of I Cor. 10 shows plainly that fellowship with what is contrary to God would be a contradiction in practice to what is expressed in fellowship in the breaking of bread. "Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of demons. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?" Vs.21,22.
The principle here established is that, though one was not personally engaging in idol worship, by the very fact of his association with what was fundamentally opposed to the proper fellowship of the body of Christ, he was in practice denying this precious fellowship. One did not go along with the other: which would he choose? This immediately shows us that the fact that one is a Christian does not necessarily mean that he should break bread. There are other considerations.
As to these, the New Testament is by no means silent, but generally lays down principles for the willing exercise of faith on the part of the child of God, rather than to give a code of rules. However, the ordinance of the Passover in Ex. 12:43-49 has so striking application here that no subject Christian heart can ignore it. Each of the matters mentioned can be found to compare fully with New Testament principles, so that we have every reason for a sound interpretation.
First, a stranger was not to eat of the Passover. The lesson is clear. A stranger is one not known. If Israel could not allow a stranger to eat the Passover, how much less may the assembly allow a stranger to break bread. Timothy is told, "Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins: keep thyself pure." I Tim.5:22. The laying on of hands is of course expressing fellowship or identification: if one did this with a stranger, he may find himself involved in the other man's sins, because he has not been careful of his associations. This principle of association we have seen in I Cor. 10. One unknown might or might not be a Christian. Some are adept at deception; and we must be sure there is a true basis of mutual understanding before expressing fellowship. Or even a Christian may be living in flagrant sin, and the saints of God must be careful not to be deceived.
Ex.12:44 now tells us, "every man's servant that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof." This is in contrast to a hired servant, who was not to eat the Passover, v.45. The former is completely the property of his master; the latter serving him for wages. This surely has more serious application to ourselves in a typical way than to Israel literally. The hired servant would be one who considers the meritorious works of the law to be the basis of his relationship to God: he does not think of himself as totally God's property, but thinks his works will merit God's approval and blessing.
But Gal.5:4 says, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law: ye are fallen from grace." This legal basis is no ground on which to have fellowship with the Lord Jesus: only the grace of God is able for this. Therefore one redeemed by the blood of Christ, brought back in reality to belong to Him totally, is to rightly partake of the Lord's supper. Such an one can truly and heartily thank the Lord for His abounding grace, His perfect, precious sacrifice, His unchanging love. But a hired servant, if he thanked anyone, would thank himself for his own work done to deserve what blessing he received. This is no spirit of worship toward the Lord Jesus, no delighting in fellowship with Him.
Again, a foreigner was not to eat of the Passover. A foreigner (a word in this case denoting a resident alien) was one not of Israel, and therefore typical of one unsaved, not of the company of God's people. In the New Testament the believer is warned solemnly against any yoke with an unbeliever (I Cor. 6:14-18). A yoke is anything that would bind them together for a common purpose. Then certainly the unbeliever is to have no part in the breaking of bread, which is the fellowship only of the body of Christ. Indeed, how could he "remember" the Lord, when he has never known Him?
A stranger (or sojourner) however might sojourn with Israel, and express his desire to keep the Passover. In this case, being a guest, he would become known, no longer actually a stranger. Then he and all his males were to be circumcised before keeping the Passover. Notice that this was also essential for the servant bought for money, and in fact for every male who kept the Passover. "No uncircumcised person shall eat thereof." Vs.48.
The spiritual lesson here is most important. Phil.3:3 tells us, "We are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." It speaks of the cutting off of the flesh, that all glory should be given to God through our Lord Jesus Christ. This involves one's direct relationship with the Lord Jesus by virtue of the cross. This then is a positive characteristic which the assembly should expect in anyone desiring to break bread. Any spirit of self-confidence or self-assertion is contrary to circumcision. We should look rather for a quiet spirit of faith and submission to the Lord. One ought never to think of it as his right to break bread, but as the precious privilege of grace in which he desires to see the Lord's rights paramount.
Necessarily, it would require a little time at least for the assembly to be assured of such character; and if the saints are not clear as to a certain case, they may desire to wait until things are more clear. This if course is not the refusal of a person, but concern for the person himself, and for the consciences of saints. In such a case, there should be kindest consideration in explaining this to the applicant, who, if he has the Lord's interests at heart, will appreciate this evident care on the part of the assembly, and be willing to wait- Not that we are to look for advanced knowledge, but for a spirit of faith that gives the Lord Jesus supreme honour. Are we not responsible to encourage every individual to act simply and honestly in faith before God? How good if we see genuine faith then in exercise as the motive for one's desire to break bread. This is surely involved typically in the requirement of circumcision before keeping the Passover.
When the stranger sojourned, and was circumcised, he was then "as one born in the land," for it is insisted in Ex. 12:49 that "one law shall be to him that is home born, and unto the stranger that sojourneth with you." There was to be no double standard. The sojourner was brought into the same privileges, and under the same responsibilities as one home born. No differing principles could be allowed in either case. Similarly, as to reception to the breaking of bread, whether it be a person locally established or one visiting, sufficient time is to be allowed for the assembly to be assured of the rightness an before God of receiving each individual; and both are accorded the same privileges of fellowship, both responsible too as under the same discipline of the assembly. One could not rightly come with the intention of using the assembly once for his convenience, breaking bread as an individual with no intention of being subject to assembly discipline. This is neither godly unity, nor faith, that is the faith that God has led one to such fellowship.
Two further matters are spoken of in Ex. 12:46. The Passover was to be eaten in one house: nothing of the sacrifice was to be carried elsewhere. Does not this speak of the breaking of bread as connected with the church, the house of God? As we have seen in I Cor. 10: 17, no independency is to be allowed: there is only one body, and on this basis alone we Scripturally break bread. As the body of Christ the church is seen in the preciousness of the unity of its members: as the "one house" unity is still emphasized in connection with questions of order and administration. There can be no independent order.
Secondly, they were not to break a bone of the Passover lamb. The bones are the framework of the body. Thus, the fundamental truths of the Person and work of Christ must be maintained in unbroken fidelity. One who in any way denies these, certainly has no place in the breaking of bread. Notice that these two points are closely linked together in this verse: both are vitally important.
Not mentioned at the end of Ex. 12, but earlier in the chapter, is another matter most important. Leaven must be thoroughly excluded from the Passover feast (vs. 15). This is applied in I Cor.5 to the case of a man who was guilty of living in gross moral evil: though he was a Christian, he was put away from the company of the saints, and of course this included his expulsion from the breaking of bread. When later this had been judged, and the evil was no longer at work, he was restored: the leaven had been purged out. Of course it is evident that if one in this state must be put away, then none in such a state should be received.
There is another reason also for which one could not keep the Passover at a given time. This is seen in Numbers 9:6. Those who were ceremonially unclean because of contact with a dead body were prohibited from keeping the Passover until they were cleansed. For this reason a provision was made of God whereby they might keep the Passover the second month of the year (after being cleansed), rather than the first month, when it was properly kept. (Vs.9-11)
It is plain these people were not themselves dead, but were in contact with the corruption of death. Just the association was enough to defile them. It would answer to what we have seen in I Cor. 10: 18-24. There are many corrupt religious bodies today. One may not engage in the same corrupt practices, or hold the same corrupt doctrines as they do; yet if he associated himself with them, he can not but be affected by this: it is an association contrary to the fellowship of the body of Christ, which is expressed in the breaking of bread. The body of Christ is a living body, in contrast to men's dead organizations and denominations. In these latter there may be many true believers; and they of course are not dead, through linked with a dead body. Some of these may be fine Christians in many respects, and gladly to be received if cleansed from such an association. 2 Tim.2:21 tells us that if a man would purge himself from the mixture of vessels, some to honour and some to dishonour, he would be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and fit for the Master's use, prepared unto every good work. If we love souls, let us put such truth before them, that they may be disentangled from such associations, and find the joy rather of gathering with the saints of God on the simple ground of the one body.
It is very clear that in all these cases, if one wanted to keep the Passover, the matter was not left to his own individual judgment or conscience. The congregation of Israel must consider and judge of each case as instructed by the Word of God. And certainly in the church of God the matter of one breaking bread is not left to the individual; the assembly is responsible to exercise proper care and discernment on God's behalf, as guided also by Scripture.
There is yet another case to be considered, and one that deeply pains the heart of the child of God who cares for His honour. Among the many sad divisions of Christendom, there are doubtless those who do desire truly to gather on the basis God has set down, that is the truth of the one body of Christ; and yet have been separated from others whose desire is the same. While we might be deeply desirous of receiving these, yet we must be steadied by the reminder that something evil (whatever it may have been) has caused the separation; and we must all be humbled before God on this account, with desire that any such causes may be honourably faced and judged, in order that fellowship may be restored on a basis of truth and mutual understanding. In this case, while we could not refuse such souls on any basis of bad practice or bad doctrine, or such associations; yet as a matter of godly wisdom it would not be becoming to intermingle in the breaking of bread, apart from the matters being faced and judged which have occasioned the separation. Again we say that true fellowship is on the basis of a mutual understanding, and if confidence has been broken, the causes must be honestly judged as before God, or any resuming of fellowship will not be true fellowship. Some may say that the separations took place before our day, so how can we be responsible. Matt.23:35 answers us as to this principle. Zacharias had been killed hundreds of years before the Lord spoke, yet He tells the Pharisees, "whom ye slew." They were presently linked with the guilty nation Israel, therefore they were presently responsible. I, too, am to accept the responsibility of the failures of that with which I am associated, even if the failure was before my birth. This is a serious, yet healthy principle, for it makes for a balanced, sober walk with God, in unfeigned faith and love toward all saints; and will help us to act wisely in our relationships with others.
May all these things deeply speak to the hearts of God's beloved saints, and encourage every heart to act in true, individual faith, and yet in a spirit of unity and peace that evidences unfeigned love for the entire body of Christ, the Church, every member of which is precious to our God and Father, and entitled to our faithful consideration.
Leslie M. Grant, 18 December 1979
- Reception for Fellowship in the Breaking of Bread by F. Wallace
- The Matter of Reception by W R Dronsfield