by Bob Bryant
I am fascinated by the opening scene in The Fiddler on the Roof as Tevya sings proudly of his Jewish traditions and then says to his audience, “You may ask, ‘How did this tradition get started?’ I’ll tell you…(thoughtful pause)…I don’t know…but it’s a tradition…and because of our tradition, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” But sadly, Tevya is mistaken. Many traditions are not biblical and actually lead people astray from what God expects them to do.
Just like Tevya, we may assume that our church traditions are what God expects us to do when, in fact, they may not be. We need to evaluate church traditions in light of what God has written in the Bible. This certainly includes traditions concerning the Lord’s Supper.
Most of us have known the Lord’s Supper to be something that happened during, or at the end of, a morning worship service. The bread and the cup were passed from “the altar” to each of us as we sat in pews. We experienced the Lord’s Supper once a week, once a month, or once a quarter, depending on our church’s tradition.
A Wonderful Discovery
Like Tevya, we have assumed that our traditional practice of the Lord’s Supper is what God expects us to do. But if we look in the Bible more carefully and more closely, we make a wonderful discovery that God’s biblical design for the Lord’s Supper is much more refreshing, meaningful, worshipful, and purposeful than our traditional practices. We discover that God designed the format of the Lord’s Supper to be a foundation for worship and evangelism while traditional practices have greatly weakened that foundation. We discover that the biblical practice of the Lord’s Supper is an integral part of fulfilling our Lord’s Great Commission to make disciples while traditional practices fall short of fulfilling that commission.
Picture a crucial moment in a football game. The coach instructs a player on the sideline…the player runs onto the field and relays the coach’s instructions to the waiting team…the team moves to the line of scrimmage and the ball is snapped…the team then does what the coach said to do.
Now picture a crucial moment in history. The Lord Jesus Christ instructs His eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee…the disciples go to Jerusalem and relay His instructions to waiting believers…the Holy Spirit comes and the church is born…the church then does what Jesus said to do.
Great Obedience to the Great Commission
Jesus’ instruction to His disciples on a mountain in Galilee is commonly referred to as the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20). The beginning activities of the church in Jerusalem need to be thought of as the Great Obedience to the Great Commission (Acts 2:41-42). The Great Commission is to “make disciples” by “baptizing them…and teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” Great Obedience to the Great Commission occurred when the disciples baptized new believers (Acts 2:41) and then instructed these believers to observe four specific commandments of Christ: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (2:42, emphasis added). From this we learn that continual devotion to the Lord’s Supper (the breaking of bread) is one of the specific commandments that Jesus had in mind in the Great Commission. It is an essential part of being one of His disciples.
It’s What Disciples Do
Acts 20:7 states this truth as well: “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread…” (emphasis added). From this verse we see that breaking bread together is what disciples do!
Jesus made it clear that His Great Commission is just as relevant today as it was in the first century as He concludes it with these words: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Today, as in the first century, when a church or an individual believer neglects the direction of Christ concerning the Lord’s Supper, this is a great omission from the Great Commission. Devotion to the Lord’s Supper is an integral part of the Great Commission. It’s what disciples do!
How Could They Forget?
It was important to Jesus that His first disciples would continue to remember His death. Yet, it’s hard to imagine that they could ever forget. After all, they were there to witness the events first hand. So how could they forget His agony in Gethsemane? How could they forget the beatings He endured at the hands of the soldiers, the injustice of the trials, or His agonizing walk through the streets of Jerusalem? How could they forget the sound of the nails being driven through their Lord’s hands and feet, or the thump of the cross as it was hoisted upright into the ground? How could they forget His piercing cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”…His words of compassion, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do”…His words of hope, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise”…His words of accomplishment, “It is finished!”…How could they forget?
How Easily We Forget
But Jesus knew that even eyewitnesses would tend to forget. He knew that they would need a continual reminder of what He did for them at the cross. That is why, “The Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me’” (1 Cor 11:23-25, emphasis added).
If the first disciples, who were eyewitnesses, needed the Lord’s Supper as a continual reminder of what Christ did for them on the cross, how much more do we?
What God Expects Us to Do
We need not be like Tevya when it comes to our understanding of the Lord’s Supper. We can evaluate our traditions in light of the Bible. If we do we will be able to say, in contrast to Tevya, “You may ask, how did the Lord’s Supper get started? I’ll tell you. The Bible says it’s an integral part of the Great Commission, and because of what the Bible says, we all can know who we are and what God expects us to do!”
Bob Bryant is the founding pastor of Cypress Valley Bible Church in Marshall, Texas. He, and his wife Sherry, are celebrating 25 years of ministry there this year!
This paper is a foretaste of what Bob will be presenting at this year’s GES conference May 1-3 in Dallas. He will present two messages showing why the Lord’s Supper is a biblical foundation for evangelism. Editor.