The Weather in Our Neck of the Woods

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Breaking of Bread

The joys of this work are innumerable – the thrill of seeing someone understand that God truly does love them regardless of their past deeds, the delight of watching a child’s eyes as they receive a new pair of shoes or their first Christmas toy, the joyful tears of watching a new brother or sister come up out of the waters of baptism fresh and whole. The list goes on and on, and we feel very blessed to be part of God’s plan here. However, we are also very aware of the huge responsibilities that come with these joys. Each day brings a new question that we are striving to answer with biblical truth, and not with human traditions. We also feel charged with the responsibility to not teach them these truths, but guide them to their own understanding of them. That has proved to be an immense task.

We have spent the past 6 weeks studying the ‘Santa Cena’- the Holy Supper. We have read from Exodus through the New Testament as a church, and individually in our homes, and ask the following questions.
1. What is the origin of the Lord’s Supper?
2. Why did Jesus partake of it?
3. Why did he change it, and how?
4. Who should partake of this sacred practice?
5. Is it a mandate or an example for us?
6. When should we do it?
o What day?
o What time in the gathering?
7. How should we do it?
o What do we use? Why?
o What is involved logistically?
o Individually how do we prepare and partake, spiritually and emotionally?
8. What does it mean for us today?
9. Individually, what is our intention in partaking?

We want to share what this little tradition-ignorant church decided, based on their understanding of Scriptures, but want to first challenge you all to read and pray and answer these questions for yourself. No-one can live by the beliefs of another. You must understand why you do what you do for it to be of any spiritual value to your life. The answers Riverside in El Valle came up with may very well not be yours, and that is ok. We will not judge your understanding, and pray you will not judge ours.

The Lord’s Supper actually began in the time of Moses as the Passover meal. God commanded the Israelites of Egypt to kill an unblemished goat or sheep, pass the blood over the doorposts of their houses, roast the animal and eat it in one night, along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. This was how God would know which houses to pass over as he killed the first-born of each household, God’s final attempt to compel Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. Read in Exodus 11 and 12 for the whole story. It is an amazing account of God’s power and patience! God then commanded that the Israelites to remember this miraculous occasion every 14th day of the first month (Jewish calendar). That is why Jesus, centuries later, took part in the Passover. He was Jewish and it was a commandment to do so.
We are not Jewish and so are not commanded to partake in the Passover annually.

Just before his crucifixion Jesus asked his disciples to prepare a place to commemorate the Passover ( Mark 14:12) and then they gathered to observe this mandated celebration at the appropriate time. However, there were some differences. The gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus took the bread, gave thanks for it, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take it; it is My body”. Later he gave thanks for the cup of ‘fruit of the vine’, and passed it to them saying it was the blood of His covenant, poured out for all. In Corinthians 11:25 the writer tells us it is a new covenant. In the same verse we also read that Jesus said that the disciples should do this (eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine) in remembrance of Him.
We believe that Jesus brought a new covenant with his blood that opened an avenue to God that never existed before his death. We believe that the new covenant covered our sins and purified us in the eyes of God, who is holy and perfect, and cannot abide with sin in his presence. With the new covenant, Jesus became the perfect lamb of sacrifice for us, eternally. This change liberated us from the laws of Moses, and placed us under the law of Love established by Jesus. This is what Jesus commanded us to remember as we ate and drank in fellowship with believers.

In Corinthians we also find a warning: Paul tells us that, should we eat and drink without recognizing the body of the Lord, we eat and drink judgment on ourselves (11:29). This led to much discussion concerning which body, the physical or the spiritual body of Christ. Again in Corinthians (12:27) we are told that the believers are the body of Christ, and we have already discussed the physical body sacrificed for all.
It is the understanding and agreement of the church that Paul was referring to both the physical and the spiritual body. Therefore we should direct our hearts toward the suffering and sacrifice given for our salvation, as well as recognize, or discern the body of believers, which is the church.

Jesus told his disciples that they should ‘do this’ in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19). In 1 Corinthians Paul writes “and so, my brothers…” (11:33).
These two examples, as well as others, lead us to believe that all disciples of Christ ought to participate in this holy meal, commemorating Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul implies that the members of the body of Christ are baptized into that body.
While we believe collectively that all baptized disciples should join in the Lord’s supper, we also believe that this rite is a very personal one, and we are not willing to be, nor should we be, judges as to whether a non-baptized believer should partake, or whether one baptism is more ‘sufficient’ than another. We leave this decision completely in the hands and heart of each individual.

Jesus did not mandate a specific day or time, in fact, he says,”whenever you drink it” (1 Corinthians 11:25). However we have an example from the first church in Acts 20:7 where the writer tells us that they met on the first day of each week “to break bread”.

While we find no commandment to participate in this sacred observance, we, as a church choose to follow the example of the bible, not only in breaking bread and sharing the cup, but in doing it on the first day of each week. We choose to do this because the first church chose to do so, and because we recognize the need to remember Christ’s body sacrificed, and living in this body of believers. We will not hold this standard up to others as if it were a commandment, but choose to follow for our own personal relationships with God.

We also choose to gather in the morning on the first day, as it is a convenient time, and we find no direct command regarding the time. Also, when we choose, we can partake of this during our shared noon meal.

The accounts of the original Passover speak of using lamb or goat meat, unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The account does not prohibit other foods or drinks, nor include them. However, in the account recorded in the gospels in which Jesus participated, only the unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine are mentioned. Again, added foods are not prohibited, simply not mentioned.
The writer of Mark did specifically mention that “while they were eating…” (14:22ff), implying that it was more than simply bread and fruit of the vine. Also, Paul wrote in Corinthians that the meal should not be eating to fill the belly, but to remember the body of Christ (11:17-29)

As a church we concluded that, in all likelihood there was meat and bitter herbs on the table at Jesus’ Passover feast. However, Jesus only chose to use the bread and the cup as the symbols of his body, so no other foods are necessary. They are also not forbidden. In an effort not to be tempted into the mistakes of the Corinthian church, we have chosen to share only the bread and fruit of the vine.
The bread will be unleavened, and can consist of crackers with or without salt, as we find not mention of salt as part of the bread in either Exodus or the gospels accounts. Acknowledging 1 Corinthians 10:15-17, we believe that Paul’s reference to the ‘one loaf’ probably refers to their being only one loaf that was shared among the believers. Further, that his use of this symbol is significant for the analogy referring to the church. However, we believe that the use of one loaf was not a command, but an example, and one that we believe to be inconsequential regarding our spiritual observance.
The fruit of the vine can be from grapes, maracuya, or any other vine fruit. Because of convenience, normally we will use grape juice. We acknowledge that Jesus probably drank wine because it was most readily available in that place and time, but it was not mandated. Regarding the use of one cup or many, the examples of the Scripture are unclear. We believe that Jesus held one cup, and blessed one cup, however in Luke (22:17) Jesus told them to “divide it among them”, which could imply that the each poured some into their own cups. Again, we believe it not to be of consequence concerning our spiritual rite, so will drink from individual cups, as is our custom outside the Lord’s supper.

1 Corinthians 11:27-29 implies that we ought to examine our hearts, and empty ourselves of all malice, asking forgiveness when necessary, before participating in the Lord’s supper. Later in verses 33 and following Paul reminds us that we should be concerned about the rest of the body, and considering them as we prepare to break bread.

We believe that we should take some moments to prepare ourselves to break bread with our brothers and sisters, seeking God’s purification of our hearts, then forgiveness for any malice we hold toward others in Christ’s body. Then, with pure hearts, participate in remembering Christ’s sacrifice, and his living body, which is the church. It is a solemn occasion, and a very personal one.

We are thrilled and in awe at the choices the individuals made, and the decisions that were made as a group. It has been a major struggle to get them to claim their faith, and not just take what we believe as their own faith. This is a major step for the church. For almost two years we have studies and discussed various topics with them leaving with a paper telling them what we believe. When I would ask for some individual opinion or belief, they would always look back on their notes, or simply not answer until our answer was provided. Our approach to this study of the Lord’s supper has been intense, and very demanding of their time. All contributed to finding the scriptures, but once a list of all pertinent passages was gathered, each person was given the responsibility to read and pray. We gathered weekly to discuss what they had read, and for the first several weeks it was quite unproductive. You must understand, these people have centuries of learned resignation as their model. They have been told what was white and what was black for so long they just repeat what they are told. What an amazing feat of God that they have broken that chain, and are thinking for themselves!

You may wonder why I am so certain that they have made these decisions without simply following our input. I might not have been sure except, I do not personally believe exactly the same as the church! There are one or two areas that I feel differently, but they are areas of preference, and example rather than command, so I am content to live with their decisions. Yes, they are aware that I disagree, and they feel strongly that, unless there is a direct commandment, the majority should rule in these situations.

This is breakthrough church stuff! They actually own their faith regarding the Lord’s Supper! Praise God! He can get his message across despite of us fallible humans!

Now just keep us in our prayers as we move on to speaking in tongues, being ‘slain in the Spirit, and women’s role in the church! God definitely must be in charge of these classes!

Riches blessings!

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