The Breaking of Bread
W Jackman, Barnstaple
Preceding articles have encouraged stedfast continuance in the Apostles’ doctrine and in fellowship, and now we are given sound reasons for continuing stedfastly in—THE BREAKING OF BREAD
If we are to appreciate what the Breaking of Bread meant to the first Christians we must remember that they were Jews and Jewish proselytes, accustomed to the Old Testament ordinances. The requirements of the Mosaic Economy must have been difficult to satisfy, with its “divers washings and carnal ordinances” to say nothing of the mass of regulations which had been super-imposed by the religionists. There can be no doubt that sometimes religion was a burden. They had been baptised, and baptism for them, far from being merely a figure, had involved a very definite separation from old associations; now they had but one simple ordinance to observe. What must it have meant to them to exchange the bondage of a religion full of ceremony and ritual for the simplicity of Christianity?
Yet although, after baptism, this is the one and only ordinance we are commanded to keep, there are many Christians who fail in this simple command and ignore the observance altogether. By others the simplicity of the Lord’s Supper has been distorted almost beyond recognition, cumbered with pomp and show, and made to mean something quite different from the original intention. With these extremes we need not concern ourselves now, but it is well to enquire whether the significance and value of this ordinance are properly appreciated even by those who regularly observe it. Some in our day seem to feel that it has lost its sense of reality and become something of a formality— and not a particularly impressive formality at that. The early converts, of course, were associated with those who but a few weeks earlier had partaken of the feast in the actual presence of Christ, and to whom all the momentous happenings which followed were still vivid memories. We can be certain that the Apostles made the influence of this felt upon the others, so that the breaking of bread would be a very real and personal act of remembrance in obedience to a command but recently given. Granted—but if it has become less than this to us it bespeaks a low spiritual state which has lost the touch of communion with the Risen Lord.
But we live in a so-called “practical age,” when everything must be brought to the acid-test of utility, and even believers sometimes want to know what is the practical value of the regular breaking of bread. If there were no answer to this, it should be enough for any. believer to know that his Lord had said, “THIS DO,” for we can be certain that He had very good reasons for the command, irrespective of whether those reasons are clear to us or not. Obedience is a valuable discipline and if the believer should observe the Lord’s Supper for no other reason than that his Lord desired it, it would be well worth while. Is it a small privilege to erect a spiritual memorial to One Whom the world has rejected and Whose Name the Devil would like to blot out from earth?
But there are answers which ought to satisfy the most confirmed utilitarian, because there can be no doubt that the regular observance of this feast is a continual portrayal of the fundamental truths of the faith—we do “show the Lord’s death.” At no other gathering are we so consistently reminded, and yet almost unconsciously, of the glories of Christ’s Person and the wonders of His work. The simple elements serve to keep us aware of the main purpose of our gathering and as our thoughts, time and time again, revolve around our Redeemer and His Cross, the truth of His pre-incarnate glory with the Father, and His stupendous stoop to Manhood, become ingrained into our souls. Moreover, the cup reminding us of His blood shed for us constantly recalls our lost estate as sinners, and hence the necessity of Christ’s atoning work—and not only its necessity, but, thank God, its absolute sufficiency. God has always kept before men the basic principle of redemption by blood, and if all the offerings of the Old Testament looked forward to the once-for-all offering of Christ, we look back to the same and learn the lessons of man’s dire need and God’s perfect provision. And it is not only we who are reminded; the people who live around us are often well aware of our practice and the significance of it is not wholly lost on them. Thus we bear constant witness to those very foundation truths which it is the determined effort of the Enemy to undermine.
Moreover, although we “show the Lord’s death” it is “till He come,” so that His Second Coming is kept before our souls.
Who can estimate the value of such influences brought almost unconsciously to bear upon our souls week by week? The professing church is riddled with modernism and there is hardly a cardinal truth which is not denied somewhere. It is a melancholy fact that even communities which, once blessed with stalwart champions, stood solid for the faith, have gradually become infected with error, and earnest people who see the dangerous trend seem powerless to arrest it. Yet it is equally a fact, which has not received the consideration it deserves, that simple communities who regularly obey the Lord’s command, though they are often small and weak, and even ungifted, have been marvellously preserved from the inroads of modernism. No doubt there are other factors which help to explain this remarkable fact, but there can be little doubt that the regular remembrance of the Lord has served so to ingrain these truths which gather around the Lord’s death, into the minds and hearts of these believers, that they would instinctively reject any teaching which cast the slightest doubt upon them. This is no small cause for humble thankfulness and rejoicing and those who are tempted to relegate this observance to the background should ponder this.
Shall Old Testament offerings point consistently forward to the offering of Christ and the stupendous truths associated with it, shall Christ bear His Calvary marks for all eternity with their perpetually fresh witness to His atoning work, and yet we allow this Remembrance Feast to be stripped of its immense influence by reducing it to a piece of ritual? What could please the Adversary better?
Let us consider the matter from the standpoint of the individual believer’s personal spiritual experience. Those of us who have known blessed seasons of worship around the Lord’s Table realise in some measure how much enrichment of our spiritual lives we owe to the rekindling of devotion to Christ in hearts that otherwise would so soon grow cold. In the shadow of the Cross, as hymns, prayers and meditations lead our hearts out, we are taught more of the mysteries of Calvary and the amazing love of Christ, than the most eloquent ministry could impart. This is not to say that an appropriate word before the breaking of bread may not serve to focus our thoughts and direct our hearts, or that suitable ministry afterwards may not fittingly bring home to us the practical bearings of the glorious themes upon which we have been meditating. What could be more “practical” than the effects of this upon our subsequent service?
Centuries have rolled by since those early converts gathered with those who had been present in the Upper Room, and from whom they learnt first-hand of the events of that never-to-be-forgotten night. It is an impressive and stimulating thought that all down through the generations since, the table has been set and now it is our privilege in our day to gather round the same emblems and REMEMBER HIM. We trust enough has been said to encourage us to “continue stedfastly” in this also.