Rediscovering the Lord’s Supper:
One Church’s Journey
by Bob Bryant
In a previous Grace in Focus article1 I touched on a wonderful discovery we have made at Cypress Valley Bible Church. We have discovered a biblical way of celebrating the Lord’s Supper that for us is more refreshing, more meaningful, and more worshipful than anything we could have imagined.
What Is a Supper?
The journey toward our discovery began 25 years ago when we considered the term "The Lord’s Supper" and asked, "What is a supper?" We found that there are 15 uses of the word translated supper in the New Testament, and it is always translated, "banquet," "feast," "dinner," or "supper." It seemed to us that if God intended the Lord’s Supper to consist of only the bread and cup, it’s unlikely that He would have called it the Lord’s Supper. But rather, He would have called it the Savior’s Ceremony or the Savior’s Snacklet or the Nazarene’s Nibble, or something like that. What would you think of me if I invited you to my home for supper, and served you a piece of a cracker and a shot glass of juice? If I say "supper," I ought to mean supper. God said "supper," and it seemed to us that He must have meant supper.
Jesus designed the Lord’s Supper to include a meal when He first modeled it for the disciples. Picture the room arrangement on the night before His death. Jesus and His disciples are gathered around a table eating the Passover Feast as Jesus transitions into the Lord’s Supper. Luke, in his Gospel, and Paul, in First Corinthians, reveal that Jesus designed three components of the Passover Feast to become major components of the Lord’s Supper: the bread, the supper, and the cup. On that night, Jesus was demonstrating to the apostles what He wanted the Lord’s Supper to be. We shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus designed New Testament worship to include a supper since Old Testament worship included the feasts. At the Last Supper, Jesus transitioned Old Testament worship to New Testament worship, both of which involve the worshippers eating a meal together.
The church was born only 53 days after the first Lord’s Supper. Immediately the apostles led the church to do what Jesus had modeled for them. Luke reveals in Acts 2:42, "They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." The expression "breaking of bread" is used a number of times in the New Testament as a synonym for the Lord’s Supper. Just four verses later, in Acts 2:46, Luke further describes the breaking of bread as he says, "breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart." The phrase, "ate their food," tells us that eating meals was part of the Lord’s Supper.
As the church spread beyond Jerusalem, they continued to practice what Jesus modeled at the first Lord’s Supper and what the apostles taught the church from the beginning. The Corinthians were eating a meal when they came together for the Lord’s Supper but many were doing so in an unworthy manner. Some ate and drank too much; others had nothing at all to eat or drink. Paul writes to correct their abuses, not to do away with the meal. He does not charge the whole church to correct these abuses by eating at home, but only any individual who was too hungry to wait for the others.
It’s traditional to refer to the bread and the cup as "the Lord’s Supper." Yet in 1 Corinthians 11:25 Paul states, "He took the cup, after supper..." The cup is not the supper, but it comes after the supper. The Biblical progression, then, is bread…supper…cup. The supper becomes the Lord’s Supper as it is preceded by the bread and followed by the cup.
This discovery that the Lord’s Supper includes a supper led us to ask, "What’s so important about eating a meal together?" As we thought about it, the answer became clear. Eating a meal together is an expression of fellowship.
What if I said to my wife Sherry, "This Thanksgiving, let’s just have the family come over after lunch. We can visit and watch football and they can leave before supper. That way you won’t have to go through all the trouble of preparing dinner for everyone." I’m sure she would say to me, "Forget it!" And rightly so! Eating dinner together is what makes Thanksgiving so special. At our church, we have discovered that eating a meal together is part of what makes the Lord’s Supper so special. We so deeply appreciate the warmth, the fellowship, the closeness, and the family atmosphere of eating together, that if we now took the supper out of the Lord’s Supper it would seem like the "dinner-less" Thanksgiving I just described.
How Often Should We Meet?
Our search led us to ask a second question, "How often should we meet for the Lord’s Supper?" We thought it would be strange if Jesus had not included the answer to this question in His instructions about the Lord’s Supper. We discovered that He does seem to have answered that question through Luke and Paul, and that His answer is, "Every week."
Luke says in Acts 20:7, "Now on the first day of the week, the disciples came together to break bread…" Luke states in a "matter-of-fact way" that breaking bread together on a weekly basis is what disciples do.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:18, "When you come together as a church" as he then launches into instruction concerning the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, Paul and his readers assume that to come together as the church is to come together for the Lord’s Supper. So, to answer the question, "How often should we meet for the Lord’s Supper?" we asked another question, "How often should we meet as a church?" Since we believe that we should meet weekly as a church, then it seemed to us that, according to Paul, we should meet weekly for the Lord’s Supper.
This evidence led us to ponder if there was any New Testament reference to a regular church meeting that didn’t include the Lord’s Supper. And after 25 years we still have found none.
So, the biblical evidence we found led us to begin a weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is one of the greatest things we have ever experienced. I often hear people say, "I sure did miss the Lord’s Supper when I was out of town last week." Or, "I feel like something is missing in my life when I’m absent from the Lord’s Supper even one week." If someone should ask, "Do you have to have the Lord’s Supper every week?" Our response would be "Well, why would we not want to? It is such a meaningful, worshipful, refreshing time, we would feel that something was missing in our lives if we had it less often." As a single mother in her 20’s recently said, "God knows we needed the Lord’s Supper…Without it, I don’t think I would make it through my week."
What about Sunday Morning Services?
This discovery led us to ask a third question, "If the Lord’s Supper is the weekly meeting of the church in which we eat together seated at the table, then what should we consider our Sunday morning services to be?" Since we found nothing in the Bible about Sunday morning services, we felt that we did not have to have them at all. But we have chosen to have them for a purpose distinct from that of the Lord’s Supper.
Our purpose for a Sunday morning service is similar to Jesus’ purpose for the Sermon on the Mount; that is, to teach God’s Word to anybody and everybody, saved and unsaved, in an outreach meeting. Our purpose for the Lord’s Supper is similar to Jesus’ purpose for the Last Supper; that is, to remember Christ with disciples only, in a worship meeting. This distinction is valuable because it helps us to be more effective in accomplishing the distinct and separate purposes for each of these meetings. But of the two meetings, we consider the Lord’s Supper to be more significant since we see it described and defined in the Bible as the meeting of the church. Recently, a woman in our church expressed what is at the cord of our discovery: "If there was only one thing I could do, morning services, Sunday school, Bible study, the Lord’s Supper, etc., I would choose the Lord’s Supper."
Our church has discovered nothing new. We have simply rediscovered timeless truths that are just as wonderful today as they were in the first century. In this article I have related some of these truths. In the next article, I will share more!
1Grace in Focus (March/April 2000), 1, 4.