Cled E. Wallace
During the lifetime of the apostles and the years immediately following there were thousands of churches of Christ scattered throughout the Roman Empire, and these thousands assembled on the first day of the week to break bread or partake of the Lord’s Supper. And, today, after the passage of many centuries, churches patterned after the ancient order, thousands of them, meet on the same day, the first day of the week, and go through the same observance.
What does all this mean? Is there any significance attached to the fact that on a stated day, and often a stated hour, hundreds of thousands of devout people throughout the world taste a bit of unleavened bread and sip some fruit of the vine? Believe as you will concerning its origin and significance, some rational explanation must be made of the fact that such is being done. Who started it, and why was it begun? Is it a vain hope and faith that they entertain who observe the institution? Are they merely dupes of a traditional hoax?
The observance of the Lord’s Supper is so closely related to the facts of the gospel—namely that, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4 ASV)—that no one can consistently partake of the elements of the Supper who does not believe these fundamental facts. Nor could anyone ever do so. It is a matter of fact that from Pentecost on, the thousands of believers who partook of “the cup of the Lord” and “the table of the Lord” (1 Cor. 10:21 ASV) looked on that partaking as “a communion of the blood of Christ” and “a communion of the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16).
The apostles themselves entertained this faith. Saul of Tarsus, the chief persecutor of the church, accepted this faith. They all believed that the blood of Jesus which was shed on the cross was “poured out for many unto remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28 ASV), and that propitiation for sin must be “through faith in his blood” (Rom. 3:25); and they entered into this “communion” of the blood and body of the Lord on the first day of the week because they believed that on that day He really and literally arose from the dead. This was the faith of the Christians we read about in the New Testament.
Were they dishonest? Were they deceived? The very circumstances connected with their faith demand a negative answer to both of these questions. The very first Christians were terribly in earnest—so much so that they would surrender their lives to retain their faith. They could not have been the victims of a hoax. The Lord’s Supper is a standing and imperishable monument, a guarantee that the facts of the gospel are substantial.
This all suggests an interesting deduction. A modernist cannot partake of the Lord’s Supper. He does not believe as the early Christians did, and it is out of place for him to ever touch the bread and wine of the communion service. He does not believe that Jesus came from heaven as the gospel relates it, that there is atoning power in the blood, and that Jesus bodily arose from the dead. He is out of the faith, and should ignore the Lord’s Supper. A construction must be put on the language of the New Testament never intended by the writers thereof to even consider him a Christian in any sense. The Lord’s Supper is for them, all of them, and only them who entertain and hold dear the faith of the gospel.
The Time Of Its Origin
The very nature of the Lord’s Supper rather accurately points to the time of its origin. It is a memorial of the body and blood of the Lord, of His death on Calvary. “This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me…This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24-25 ASV).
It points forward as well as backward. “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26 ASV). It cannot, then look forward any greater distance than the coming of the Lord, and it cannot look back any farther than the cross of Calvary. Its observance must be confined to the period between the death of Christ and His coming to raise the dead and judge the world in righteousness.
If Jesus is to reign 1,000 years, as some contend, and do so in person after He comes again, the Lord’s Supper will not be one of the observances of that reign. The character of the ordinance would have to be changed to fit such a reign, and it would then become a new and different institution. “And I appoint unto you a kingdom, even as my Father appointed unto me, that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and ye shall sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:29-30 ASV). This is what Jesus said to His disciples at the time of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Christians “partake of the table of the Lord” in the kingdom that now is, and apostolic authority is the recognized authority in the true Israel of God.
It was at the close of the last Jewish Passover Supper, before the law was nailed to the cross, that Jesus took the bread and the cup and gave thanks and invited the 12 to eat and drink, and explained to them the meaning of the new institution which was being born. Before this time no holy man, priest, rabbi, or prophet had ever thought of such a thing. Abraham and Moses were as ignorant of such a thing as they were the sprinkling of infants in the name of Jesus.
A memorial institution does not exist and proclaim its monumental meaning before the thing it memorializes takes place among the things of history. It was fitting that Jesus should introduce the disciples to its significance on the night of the betrayal, when the very next day Calvary was to witness the blood of atonement.
For centuries, men had been familiar with sacrifice, the shedding of animal blood, priesthood and ritual, circumcision and Passover and feast days, together with a multitude of “carnal ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.” But before the cross we find no eating and drinking at the table of the Lord in His kingdom. This belonged to the “time of reformation,” the substance of which the former things were only a shadow. The Lord’s Supper is more than a “church ordinance,” making use of a common term. It suggests that we cannot go behind the cross to find the Lord’s church established. The church consists of all Christians, all of them, and they are all entitled to eat at the Lord’s table. It is their birthright, for they were born into the kingdom of the Lord. They remember the Lord, discern His body and His blood, and they eat at His table in His kingdom.
Abraham could not thus remember Him; nor could Moses and the prophets—major or minor. They were not Christians, nor could they be, nor did God expect or demand it of them. They were not members of the church of the Lord, for it had no existence in their day. Had it existed, they would have come into it by baptism and found the Lord’s Supper waiting for their observance. There is no baptism, nor Lord’s day, nor Lord’s Supper in the Old Testament. Even a new word was coined to express the idea of the Lord’s Supper. It was a brand new thing 400 years after the last line of the Old Testament was written. We have a new law and a new priesthood. The church and the Supper pertain to the new (Heb. 7:12).