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Dave Black’s essay on “The Lord’s Supper”

Posted by on Feb 10, 2011 in blog links, community, fellowship, ordinances/sacraments | 13 comments

Dave Black’s essay on “The Lord’s Supper”

In response to a new book about the Lord’s Supper, Dave Black has written a short essay called “The Lord’s Supper, Then and Now.”

Did you know that the way you partake of “The Supper” demonstrates what you believe about God, Jesus, and the church? It’s true.

In his essay, Black spells out several aspects of modern practices of the Lord’s Supper that are radically different (perhaps even contradictory) to the way the church ate a common meal together as described by the NT authors.

This paragraph is my favorite:

Is it too much to hope that our churches today might return to this biblical model? How can we start to overcome our lethargy? We can only do this, as I have said, when we return to a commitment to obedience. Wherever the church honestly faces its task to be scriptural in all its dealings, believers will discover new ways and means of restoring modern practices to their ancient models. Acts 20:7 underscores this point. Here Luke speaks of a meeting of the church in which the focal point was not a sermon but a common meal. This was apparently the common practice of the early church whenever they gathered on “the Lord’s Day.” Today we gather for “worship” and occasionally tack on the Lord’s Supper almost as an addendum. I imagine this would have appeared very strange to New Testament eyes! The early church knew nothing of worship services or worship centers or worship teams or worship folders. Nor were the earliest gatherings of Christians “top heavy,” leaving the ministry to a handful of selected professionals. Theirs was a one-class society – all saints, all priests, all members of the Christian brotherhood with Christ as their only Head. This is why, I surmise, the Lord’s Supper was so important to them. The Supper offers us an occasion to focus on our Great High Priest, the church’s only Senior Pastor (see 1 Pet. 5:4). Moreover, it seems that the Lord’s Supper was a full meal in New Testament times. Indeed, if we ask ourselves what the word “supper” means, we find that the Greek word used is deipnon, which generally refers to the chief meal of the day. Such is its meaning consistently in the pages of the New Testament. Would it be too radical to suggest that the way in which the Lord’s Supper was observed in the early church – as a full meal – could also be replicated today?

I’ve found that, yes, it is possible for churches today to begin eating the Lord’s Supper as a full meal. But, it is radical, because several things had to change (things mentioned by Black above) before this was possible.


13 Comments

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  1. 2-10-2011

    Alan,

    How do you see this fitting together with Paul’s response to the problem of “private suppers” (1 Cor 11), which was not to share all things, but for the hungry to eat at home before coming to the assembly?

  2. 2-10-2011

    Rick,

    Is Paul telling all of the Corinthians to eat at home? Or is he only telling those rich who were eating so much food that the poor had none? I think it’s the latter, especially given 1 Corinthians 11:33-34, where Paul says to wait for one another to eat, but if you’re hungry, then eat at home.

    By the way, did you know that every time the Lord’s Supper is mentioned in Scripture, it’s in the context of a full meal?

    -Alan

  3. 2-10-2011

    Alan,

    Alan,

    Or is he only telling those rich who were eating so much food that the poor had none?

    I don’t think this fits very well with v. 18-22:

    In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?

    Paul says that (a) there are divisions; (b) these divisions foolishly suggest that only some members have God’s approval; (c) the offenders are holding “private suppers,” presumably excluding the others; (d) the public supper leaves some brothers hungry, while the private supper leaves its participants filled (and drunk!); (e) this arrangement humiliates those who are not included in the private supper and have nothing of their own.

    What’s remarkable to me is Paul’s instruction–not “share with those who have nothing” but “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Don’t come to the assembly hungry–eat at home!”

  4. 2-10-2011

    Rick,

    I think you may be putting too much emphasis on the translation “private supper.” The word there is simply “dinner” or “supper.” They were going ahead eating their own meal without regard to others (who had nothing to eat).

    -Alan

  5. 2-10-2011

    Alan,

    Even if I rephrase, I still think my point stands:

    Paul says that (a) there are divisions; (b) these divisions foolishly suggest that only some members have God’s approval; (c) the offenders are eating their own suppers, presumably not sharing with the others; (d) the shared supper leaves some brothers hungry, while some are eating suppers large enough to fill them and leave them drunk; (e) this arrangement humiliates those who do not have the resources to bring their own supper.

    And again, Paul remarkably does not tell them to solve the problem by sharing with those less materially blessed, but to eat their sumptuous suppers at home, then come to the assembly where the “supper” is apparently meager enough to leave a hungry person hungry.

  6. 2-10-2011

    Rick,

    You’re leaving out the “wait for one another” at the end of the passage. Specifically, when they eat, they are to wait for one another. They are not to go ahead and eat whatever they want, but they are to wait. To me, that means some were eating too much or were eating before others arrived. In other words, they were not sharing. In response, Paul says, “If you can’t wait, then eat something before you meet with the others.” (1 Corinthians 11:33-34)

    Throughout the passage, Paul never condemns their “eating and drinking”. Instead, he condemns the way some are treating others while they are eating and drinking.

    You didn’t comment on the fact that the Lord’s Supper (“Meal”) is always in the context of a meal in Scripture.

    -Alan

  7. 2-10-2011

    Alan,

    To me, that means some were eating too much or were eating before others arrived. In other words, they were not sharing.

    I’ve been to potlucks where this has happened to those of us at the end of the line. I wasn’t happy about it, but I would not say that those in front of the line were “humiliating those who had nothing.” That is done by flaunting what one has before those who don’t have.

    And I still think the natural reading of v.18-22 is that folks are bringing their own suppers, which they aren’t sharing. The NASB says “For in your eating each one takes his own supper first, and one is hungry and (D)another is drunk.” The ESV says “Each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry,(D) another gets drunk.”

    If the problem was a lack of sharing, why didn’t Paul tell the Corinthians to share?

    You didn’t comment on the fact that the Lord’s Supper (“Meal”) is always in the context of a meal in Scripture.

    There are meals, and there are meals. I tend to think that the meal was a real meal, not a ceremonial one–although the longer I look at this passage the more I wonder! The other possibility here, I think, is that the meal was a meager one, a meal that would have been common fare for the poorest of the brothers–and Paul was telling the more affluent ones to set aside their pride and comfort and honor those with little or nothing by eating a meager but sufficient meal.

    Those of us with plenty need to be careful that we are not simply “sharing” with those in want so that we won’t have to go without our customary bounty. We don’t honor the poor by making them honorary rich people for the duration of the meeting. We honor them by humbling ourselves and meeting them at their own level, acknowledging that earthly treasures are meaningless and do not signal God’s approval in any way.

  8. 2-10-2011

    Rick,

    Or we honor them by providing for them while we go without – or with less.

    I appreciate the comments.

    -Alan

  9. 2-11-2011

    We agree that the Lord’s supper is a full meal. I’m struggling with a couple of practical issues as we live this out. A couple questions:

    1) Do you include bread and wine at each meal? Is the bread unleavened?

    2) Do you think the “don’t you have homes to eat in” verse is making a case that they were not eating these meals in one another’s homes?

  10. 2-11-2011

    Heather,

    Those are good questions. I don’t know the answers, but I can offer my opinion…

    1) We do not always specifically include bread and wine when we eat together. (In fact, because of several reasons from our cultural context, we do not include wine at all.) Sometimes we use unleavened bread, but not usually. I’m not sure if the bread/cup were actual “elements” of the meal, or if they represented the entire meal. What do I mean? Well, it was common to start a meal by breaking bread. This symbolized the hospitality of the meal’s host, i.e. that the guests were welcome at the table. The wine was taken at the end of the meal as a toast of sorts, a wish or prayer for good health. (The Jewish equivalent was little different, but very similar.) So, does the bread/cup represent actual bread/cup or the entire meal? I’m not sure.

    2) I think “Don’t you have homes to eat in” is an exhortation to eat before you meet with others if you can’t wait for them to arrive. Apparently, some were eating so much food that others had nothing to eat. I think they were doing this because they didn’t care for the others like they should have; they didn’t consider the other, but only their only wants and desires. So, Paul headed off an argument (“But, I was soooo hungry”) by saying, “If you’re so hungry that you can’t wait for everyone else, then eat before you meet together.”

    I hope that helps.

    -Alan

  11. 2-11-2011

    I really like what you have to say about the Lord’s Supper as a meal. But I think Paul would have a thing or two to say if he heard, “We do not always specifically include bread and wine when we eat together.”

    Paul is obviously speaking to the unity of the body in 1 Corinthians, but he never excludes the very elements that Christ himself ordained, namely the bread and the cup.

    The bread and the cup are the vital elements because they represent the gospel. Christ’s body broken for his people and Christ’s blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins.

    So while I believe it is good for us to discuss and even bring back this fuller aspect of our biblical worship and fellowship, we cannot throw the baby out with the bath water.

    So I would simply encourage you to continue eating an actual meal, but to emphasize and include the elements of bread and the fruit of the vine as both Christ and Paul did.

  12. 2-11-2011

    Rich,

    First, thank you for the comment. You may be surprised to hear this, but I agree with you. In fact, when we eat together, we don’t always use the bread/cup. However, when we call it “the Lord’s Supper” we use the bread/cup as part of the meal. So, we’ve decided that the bread/cup should be part of the Lord’s Supper.

    Now, I honestly don’t know (with certainty) if this is necessary. (This is what I was trying to get across to Heather, but I did not explain myself well enough.) In passages that most scholars agree are about “the Lord’s Supper”, the bread/cup are only mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11. The other passages typically only say “break bread” which is probably a euphemism for eating a meal (see Acts 2:42 and Acts 20:7 for example). So were these considered the Lord’s Supper? Were they the Lord’s Supper without the bread/cup elements? Were they the Lord’s Supper with the bread/cup elements even though they weren’t specifically mentioned? I’m not sure we can answer these questions.

    But, like I said earlier, we’ve decided that when we eat the Lord’s Supper together, we include the bread/cup as part of the meal. When we eat together, we do not always include the bread/cup, but then we don’t call it “the Lord’s Supper”. Should we? I’m not certain, but we’ve decided not to.

    -Alan

  13. 2-12-2011

    Alan-
    Thanks for clarifying. That makes much more sense! Thanks.