Simple Papers on the Church of God: Part 15, the Breaking of Bread

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Of the five apostles who wrote epistles three refer to the breaking of bread; viz., Peter, Jude, and Paul. Four of them were present at its institution. Paul was not; but he alone of the five gives us teaching in connection with it. Thus we learn that there is more instruction which flows from it than at first sight might appear, and that it is in part closely connected with the special revelation made known to Paul concerning the Church of God. As sitting at the Lord's-table the question of communion and association is necessarily raised: eating of the supper the spirit in which we should partake of it is not by the Lord overlooked. The first of these questions is taken up in 1 Cor. 10; the other is dealt with in the chapter that follows.
Having just emerged from idolatry, as was the case with the Corinthian Christians, some had seen the inanity of the idol, but had not apprehended the character of their new associations. In this they were not singular. There is often an interval of time, from whatever cause we need not here inquire, between the discovery of the evil from which we may have separated, and the clear apprehension of the position, and its attendant responsibilities, into which we have been brought. As long as such a state continues, it is clear that steadiness of walk need not be expected. Hence the mistake of simply occupying souls with protesting against that which is evil. More is wanted than this, without however in the least undervaluing it; for there is the ceasing to do evil, and the learning to do well, with both of which a Christian, to be " throughly furnished unto all good works," must become acquainted.
Now some of the Corinthians knew that an idol was nothing in the world, and that there was none other God but one (1 Cor. 8:44As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. (1 Corinthians 8:4)); yet they thought, if they discerned that, they might sit at meat in an idol's temple. In this they were wrong; and the apostle corrects their mistake. Care for their weaker brethren should have made them keep aloof from all participation, even only externally, in idolatrous rites. (8: 10-12) But more than this, they had no business to be there at all. The liberty for which some might plead, on the ground that they had discernment about the idol, should have been held in check by consideration for the weak brother's conscience. The question of being there at all was, however, settled forever by their having a place at the Lord's-table, and participating in the Lord's Supper. Granted that the idol was nothing, yet behind it were demons, and by sitting at meat at the idol's festival they would be having communion with demons. Was that a fitting thing for those who bore the name of Christ? " I would not," said the apostle, " that ye should have fellowship with demons." (10: 20) To drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons was impossible. To be partakers of the Lord's-table and the table of demons was equally impossible. "Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord," wrote Paul, "and the cup of demons: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's-table, and the table of demons." (10: 21) The question put in that way was obviously clear. The Lord and demons were antagonistic. A man could not have fellowship with both. Those in danger of outward conformity to heathen rites had never viewed the question in this light. How much light a word may cast upon a point The Lord and demons! Between these there was no communion. Between them no man could form a connecting-link; yet a Christian, if unwatchful, might have fellowship with demons. (v. 20) Solemn thought! How has it been in Christendom sadly exemplified!
But he sets other considerations before them. " 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?" What could the cup of demons give them? Nothing good. Of what did the cup of the Lord witness? Blessing purchased by His blood for those who had sinned against God, but who now believed on His name. With what had they communion at the Lord's Supper but with the body and blood of Christ? Speaking as to wise men, this should have been enough to open their eyes to the incongruity and the sinfulness of sitting at meat in an idol's temple. Observe, he here mentions the blood before the body of Christ, an inversion of the natural and the historical order in which they were first mentioned. Now since those to whom he wrote had once been worshipping idols, and had been mixed up with all the vileness and the debasing habits that idolatry encouraged, from all which they had been set free, and all their sins had been blotted out by the blood of Christ, how could they, remembering whose blood had been shed for them, and at what a cost they had been redeemed-how could they turn back to that from which they had been delivered? We can see then in the circumstances of the case a reason for giving precedence on this occasion to the mention of the blood.
Besides this, he reminds them of that which the partaking of the one loaf really set forth; viz., that all Christians are one body. We become members of this one body by the baptism of the Holy Ghos0 We give practical expression to it by partaking of the one loaf. Independent action therefore must be judged. If they belonged to one body, as they declared they did, how could they be identified with that which certainly was alien to it?
Several important principles are set forth then in these few verses. First, that one who has a place at the table must keep aloof from participation in that which God abhors. It is not a question, " What am I free to do?" but " What are the associations in which I have part? " Communion of the blood and body of Christ; is this what we profess, and, if Christians in truth, can really enjoy? Then association with that which is opposed to God must not be an open question, nor a matter of indifference. From all idolatrous associations we must keep aloof; and keeping before us the principle thus illustrated, we must surely abstain from having communion with such evils as the Lord's word declares disqualifies those having part in them from being in the company of His people.
Secondly, breaking bread together we confess, however little we may be aware of the character of our action, that we are part of one body with all other Christians; " for we being many are one body and one bread (or loaf), for we are all partakers of that one bread (or loaf)." Not that a body is thereby formed, but its existence is acknowledged, and its oneness practically confessed; for there is but one Lord's table, how many soever may be the places in which saints are gathered unto Christ's name. The apostle at Ephesus and the saints at Corinth were members of one' body. They owned it in doctrine, and confessed it week after week, as they broke bread in remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ. From this body we cannot get free, nor by any declaration of independence discharge ourselves from responsibility in connection with it. Denominational ground is thereby condemned, for there is but one body, and in breaking bread together we declare it. But there is another side to this question. If we are all one body, we cannot be indifferent to the walk and the doctrine of those with whom we thus declare our oneness; for are we, as Christians having communion with His body and His blood, to be identified with acts and tenets which the Lord abhors? Care, and if need be discipline, becomes imperative when this truth of the one body is understood; for no choice is left us as to whether we will have this doctrine as an article of our creed or not. We cannot break bread together without confessing it.
Thirdly, as those at the Lord's table professedly participate in the result of the atoning work of Christ, none but Christians in truth have a place at it; for the Lord's supper does not give life, but it is for all who have everlasting life, unless for the time being under the exercise of church discipline. Eating Christ's flesh and drinking Christ's blood (John 6:53,5453Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. 54Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:53‑54)) gives life; eating of the supper does not. As the Bread from heaven, the Lord presents Himself to the world (John 6:33,5133For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. (John 6:33)
51I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (John 6:51)
); but the supper was instituted only for disciples. If the supper could give life, those of whom Peter (2 Peter 2:1313And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; (2 Peter 2:13)) and Jude (12) wrote would have had it. None however should eat of the supper, who have not first eaten of His flesh, and drunk of His blood; for who have part now in the blessed results of His death, but those who believe on Him? To the Lord's table then baptism by water can give no admittance, though none unbaptized ought to be seated thereat. For an unconverted person to sit there and partake of the bread and of the wine is a solemn thing, since he professes by his act that which is not true of his condition.
Further, as the table is the Lord's, all those at it are responsible to own and to serve Him. Hence too the assembly should be watchful that it admits not, through inadvertence or carelessness, those who, as far as discernment can be exercised, are not Christians in truth; for admission to the table is the act of the assembly, and not that of an individual or individuals. On the other hand, to put away is also the act of the assembly, and for that proof should be adduced about the person dealt with, that he ought not to sit down with the saints. Surmise or suspicion will not be sufficient. Judas was reckoned with the twelve, till his own act showed what he was.
Lastly, all class distinction for the administering of the elements is seen to be foreign to the word of God. " The cup of blessing which we bless," writes the apostle. " The bread which we break." The blessing and the breaking are acts in common, though done by one as the mouthpiece and agent of the rest. Clericalism has no place at this table. To the Lord it belongs, and He is present where two or three are gathered unto His name. Who of men would dream of presiding where the Lord Himself is present? At His table we are all guests. (To be continued)