Rediscovering the Lord’s Supper:
The Journey Continues
By Bob Bryant
In the July/August issue of Grace in Focus, I related our church’s discovery of some timeless biblical truths about the Lord’s Supper that have helped us greatly in our remembrance of Christ. These truths are:
- The Lord’s Supper is a supper.
- It is to be celebrated weekly.
- It has a purpose distinct from that of a Sunday morning service.
How Should the Bible Be Taught?
Our journey led us to ask a fourth question, "How should the Bible be taught at the Lord’s Supper?" We discovered that there is a pattern in the New Testament of teaching through interaction. For example, at the first Lord’s Supper, while Jesus delivered His Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16), Peter asked two questions and made a comment (13:25, 36-37). In addition, Thomas asked a question (14:5); Philip made a comment (14:8); Judas (not Iscariot) asked a question (14:22); and the disciples in general made a comment (16:24-30). And that’s just what John recorded. There may have been more than just these interactions. This scene in the Upper Room demonstrates that the Lord Jesus designed a teaching format for the Lord’s Supper that encourages others to ask questions and make comments.
Luke reveals in Acts 20:7 that Paul followed this format, "Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul…spoke to them." The word "spoke" is the Greek word dialegomai from which we derive our English word "dialogue." This translation reveals the emphasis on teaching through interaction.
The Bible describes people seated at a table for the Lord’s Supper, eating a meal together. At the same time, someone is teaching God’s Word and encouraging others to ask questions and make comments. I constantly hear people say how much they learn from the Bible because of this format. A mechanical engineer and father of three young children said, "This free, open exchange helps me to better understand God’s Word." A high school senior said, "At the Lord’s Supper, I have learned more about the Bible than I ever thought I could."
What Is the Role Of Women?
Our search led us to discover something else about the Lord’s Supper that we weren’t expecting to find—something that challenged us—and, frankly, made us uncomfortable. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, "Let your women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church."
Now you may be wondering "What does this passage have to do with the Lord’s Supper?"
Paul says that women are to "keep silent in the churches," and that "it is shameful for women to speak in church." But, when are we in church? Are we in church during Sunday morning services? Sunday school? Bible studies? Fellowship groups? It was clear to us that Paul had one specific meeting in mind when, three chapters earlier, he defined church to be the Lord’s Supper (11:18 in context). Therefore, when Paul says, "Let your women keep silent in the churches," he is referring to a role of women at the Lord’s Supper, not to other meetings where women are free to speak and teach.
Paul knew that there would be those who would criticize, disregard, explain away, or simply ignore this restriction concerning women. Paul immediately speaks to these opponents: "If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord" (14:37).
Nevertheless, in direct contradiction to Paul’s statement, some still suggest that these are Paul’s ideas, not the Lord’s commandments. Others insist that Paul’s words were intended only for the Corinthian church, even though Paul says, "Let your women keep silent in the churches" (plural). Some argue that Paul was dealing with a cultural issue relevant only to his day. However, there is nothing whatsoever in the text to support this suggestion. In fact, Paul makes it clear that his instruction has nothing to do with the culture of his day as he appeals to the Scriptures, "just as the Law also says" and to "the Lord’s commandments." Some have suggested that this restriction on women only applies to the gifts of tongues, prophecy, or teaching. Others feel that it only applies to women teaching men. Yet, Paul clearly states that women are not even to ask a question when they are in church.
This new understanding led us to ask, "Why would God command women to be silent at the meeting of the church, the Lord’s Supper?" In 1 Timothy 2 God gives two specific reasons: the order of the creation (Adam, then Eve), and the sequence of the fall (the woman, then the man). It also seems to me that God may have designed women’s silence at the Lord’s Supper because women have a tendency to seek God and to be sensitive to God more readily than men. Of course, that’s a general statement that doesn’t hold true in every case, but my experience has shown me that it is usually a wife who seeks God first and then her husband. However, the Bible teaches that God wants men to be the spiritual leaders in their homes and in the church. Thus it makes sense that God, in His wisdom, designed women’s silence at the Lord’s Supper to encourage men to take steps in spiritual leadership that their families and the church would love to see them take. In addition, as women practice the spiritual discipline of silence, they draw closer to Christ and demonstrate respect toward their husbands. Moreover, when men and women demonstrate their God-given roles established in His order of creation, children are visibly shown God’s design for order in the family. I repeatedly hear people, especially women, say how much they appreciate this practice.
As a single school teacher said, "I like the close intimate sharing of God’s Word by the men of our church. I feel that the Lord’s Supper encourages men to be godly." A married mother of three teens said, "As a woman, I appreciate that through obedience I am required to not ‘give my opinion.’ I find that I learn a whole lot and gain many new perspectives by participating silently." Another woman said, "My husband came for a long time without saying anything. I had to be quiet. Soon, God made him grow in maturity and gave him strength and courage to open up and share. If I’d been talking all that time it might have taken longer or not have happened at all." Another woman said, "It’s been very exciting and encouraging over the years to see the spiritual growth of men in our church as a direct result of their participation in the Lord’s Supper." One mother, whose husband never comes to the Lord’s Supper, or to Sunday morning services said, "Since we never hear a man pray to God or talk about the Bible at home, I’m so thankful that my son and I can hear men pray and talk about the Bible at the Lord’s Supper."
What About Singing?
Our search also led us to ask a sixth question, "What about singing at the Lord’s Supper?" As Paul defines and describes the meeting of the church in First Corinthians, he says, "I will sing with the spirit and I will also sing with the understanding" (14:15). Mark tells us that Jesus sang with His disciples at the first Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:26).
Singing is a biblical, spiritual way to respond to the great works of God, and nowhere should we more seriously consider God’s greatness than at the Lord’s Supper. Think of how the words to a well-known hymn so aptly describe our experience at the Lord’s Supper:
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
As I stated in the last article, 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 more of these truths. In my next article, I’ll share even more!