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Its Observance

As already noted in this series, it was to His apostles that the Lord Jesus first revealed the ordinance of 'the Breaking of the Bread'. As leaders among the nucleus of His New Covenant people they would be responsible to ensure that the ordinance was kept as He desired. In Acts 2:42 the Holy Spirit records steadfast continuance in the Breaking of The Bread by disciples forming the first church of God (Jerusalem). So at the inception of the great spiritual movement at Pentecost we note this observance of the Lord's command to do this in remembrance of Himself.

It is evident that this ordinance became central in the service of God's people in apostolic times. As the work spread out from Jerusalem each newly established church of God would be constituted on the pattern of the first church in Jerusalem (see 1 Thess. 2:14), and would similarly function along the lines of the Lord's expressed will. So disciples were gathered together in Troas to break bread (Acts 20:7), and Paul expressly emphasized to the Corinthians the importance of the ordinance by showing that it had been independently revealed to him by the Lord Himself (1 Cor. 11:23). That the church of God in Corinth was regularly remembering the Lord Jesus in this way is clear from the context of this passage (1 Cor. 11:17-34).

To the Jewish disciple who had formerly been used to the many ordinances of the Mosaic law, the reduction to one simple ordinance must have been striking. Yet enshrined in the simple emblems of loaf and cup were spiritual verities of immense dimension, centred in the Person of Christ and stretching from eternity to eternity. Rightly understood, the ordinance would become a powerful spiritual regulator, drawing the hearts of God's people back to the great Author of their salvation, reminding of His sufferings now past, and the glory into which He had entered, there as High Priest to minister in the Holy Place.

After the initial institution, the New Testament observance of the Breaking of Bread is seen only in the context of assembly activity, not in a private sphere such as the family, the sick bed or among a casually associated group of disciples as distinct from gatherings arranged for the purpose and open to the whole church. There is important practical guidance here. Care is needed to distinguish in some contexts the use of the term "breaking bread" for an ordinary domestic meal (e.g. Acts 2:46). The distinction between this and the formal gathering of a church of God to break bread in remembrance of the Lord Jesus is seen in certain allusions in 1 Cor. 11. For example it was when they were assembled together that they partook of the Lord's supper (v.20), in contrast to having houses to eat and to drink in (v.22): if any was hungry he was to eat at home (v.34). Again in Acts 20:7 they were gathered together to break bread. From such references we are helped to understand the 'church setting' of this observance in our New Testament. Neither is this principle weakened by the fact that in some instances a church of God would use a house rather than another type of building as the venue for its gatherings (see 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15).

It will be helpful to pursue a little further the consideration that as far as scriptural precedent guides us, the breaking of the bread was observed only as a function of a church of God. To begin with, the three thousand disciples in Jerusalem were added to the one hundred and twenty already together before they continued steadfastly in the Breaking of Bread. In 1 Cor. lithe apostle Paul was writing about this ordinance to disciples already associated together in a church of God (1 Cor. 1:2) of which there was a clearly defined "within" and "without" (5:12). The principle that only those who had accepted the responsibilities of discipleship in churches of God were eligible for the highest spiritual privilege of these churches is logical and clear. Having regard to the Lord's instruction in Mat. 28:19,20 it would be expected that only disciples who had submitted to His authority, bringing them together among His New Covenant people, would have part in the ordinance. This is further underlined for us by the Holy Spirit's significant selection of the title 'Lord' in such phrases as "the cup of the Lord", the "table of the Lord" (1 Cor. 10:21), "the Lord's supper" (11:20). It is not 'the cup of the Saviour' or 'the Father's table' or 'Christ's supper'. The Lordship of the One who instructed this remembrance is emphasized, implying the truth that it was not simply those who had received Him as Saviour who were in view, but those who had also become subject to His will as disciples. So there emerges a clear line of principle that the observance of the Breaking of the Bread among New Testament disciples of Christ was after Pentecost confined to those who had been gathered together on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.

We may also usefully note the Spirit's inclusion of a brief but illuminating statement in Acts 20:7: "Upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread". If we enquire for scriptural guidance as to when the ordinance was carried out, we have here a lucid word from the Lord. This scripture points to the first day of the week, doubtless because it was the day on which He rose again from the dead. Looking also to 1 Cor. 16:2 we are strengthened in the view that disciples n New Testament churches of God gathered together regularly on that day. It seems appropriate that Lord's day by Lord's day His disciples should so gather and "proclaim the Lord's death till He come" (1 Cor. 11:26). This would promote a rhythm in spiritual experience. There was a recurring cycle by which the Lord was brought before the hearts of His people in this special way on the first day of each week. After first yielding to God His portion in worship, they would pursue their service in other aspects until once more gathered to remember the Lord.

Precisely at what time on the first day of the week New Testament disciples observed the Breaking of the Bread is perhaps more debatable and less important. Did those accustomed to the Jewish day from 6pm to 6pm remember their Lord on what would be to us Saturday evening? Is this what took place at Troas (Acts 20:7-12)? It may also well have been that in areas where the Lord's day was not publicly recognized, some of the early churches of God could not gather to remember the Lord until the evening of that day (our Sunday evening). In any case we may at least deduce the principle that the Breaking of the Bread was given priority over other activities on the Lord's day, being observed by the assemblies at their earliest convenient opportunity.

There would seem to be no doubt that unleavened bread was used at the initial institution of the Lord's supper, for the Law of Moses forbade the use of leaven in Israel at the time of the Passover and the Feast of unleavened bread: "There shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee, in all thy borders" (Exod. 13:7). Yet it would seem from 1 Cor. 11:23,26 that as churches of God were established in Gentile areas the use of unleavened bread was not mandatory. For the apostle uses the Greek word artos, which indicates a loaf or bread in general, as distinct from the specialized term azumos, used to describe unleavened bread. This would be in harmony with God's plan for the multiplication of disciples among all nations, with minimum continuance of restrictive ordinances (see Acts 15:28,29; Col. 2:16,17).

The importance and solemnity with which the observance of the Breaking of Bread was regarded is impressed on us from a special viewpoint in 1 Cor. 11. For the subject was introduced into this letter mainly to correct certain irregularities which had crept in. There was a factious party spirit (v.18) which led to "each one taking before other his own supper" (v.21), 50 destroying unity and fellowship. Spiritual carelessness had also resulted in some partaking of the bread and drinking of the cup of the Lord unworthily, without self-examination, and failing to discern beneath the emblems the Person of Christ (w.27-29). Consequently the disciples had known the Lord's chastening, some by sickness and others by death. So the observance of the ordinance in this church of God had been sadly marred, and through the apostle's corrective ministry there comes down to us instruction of abiding relevance and value.

The apostle also used the holiness of the ordinance to show how inappropriate it was for disciples to be associated with unholy things. "ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons" (1 Cor. 10:21 RVM). For "the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ?" Those who drank of the cup by faith appreciated afresh all that the shedding of His blood implied. This hallowed association demanded a corresponding holiness of life, and the avoidance of fellowship with anything of contrary principle.

We conclude then that the Breaking of Bread was a focal point in the experience of Christian disciples in New Testament churches of God. Their weekly gathering together for this purpose replaced the various and complex ordinances which had been prescribed for Israel in a previous age. Wonderfully appropriate to the spread of the kingdom of God to all nations, was the introduction of an ordinance which could be universally practised. In consummate divine wisdom the simple emblems of bread and wine would enshrine for disciples everywhere vast truths concerning Christ's incarnation and redemptive work. In apostolic times the disciples in this way "proclaimed the Lord's death", their practice pointing the way for all disciples in churches of God "till He come".

Feast after feast thus comes and passes by,

Yet passing points to the glad feast above,

Giving sweet foretastes of the festal joy

The Lamb's great bridal feast of bliss and love.