Category Archives: 1 Corinthians

The Check Engine Light of Worship – Part 3

 

In our study of the doctrine of the church, or ecclesiology, we have come to narrow our focus upon the practices that occur when believers gather in the name of Christ, usually referred to as worship.  A specific area of worship towards which we have drawn our attention is the observance of the Lord’s Supper.  This particular practice, because of its universality, but also because of its widespread differences, is a particularly good litmus test for the evidence of Scriptural authority, not only in matters of faith, but in practice as believer’s gather together.

In this particular series we have been looking at the key text often recited during observances of the Lord’s Supper, namely 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.  In the first post, we outlined the passage as follows:

  1. A Statement of the Problem (11:17-22)
  2. An Appeal to Christ’s Institution of the Lord’s Supper (11:23-26)
  3. Rebuke (11:27-32)
  4. Exhortation (11:33-34)

In that post, we noted that the Apostle Paul was addressing a particular error in the practice of observing the Lord’s Supper that the young church (ekklesia) at Corinth had fallen into.  Recall that the context for his rebuke was a meal, a common meal, perhaps the agape or love feasts that had become a frequent occasion in the early Christian gatherings (see Jude 1:12).  However, these meals had become opportunities for gluttony and excess for the haves and further deprivation for the have nots.  Rather than having all things in common and sharing a meal, or waiting on everyone to arrive, some of the believers in Corinth were seeing these love feasts as an opportunity to indulge.

In the second post we noted the context of the inception of the Lord’s Supper by indicating that it occurred on the night that Jesus was betrayed, which coincided with their own observance of Passover.  Additionally, we saw that Jesus commanded that this observance take place, as often as you do this and that this practice was to continue until His return.

In this post, we will begin with an examination of the institution of the Lord’s Supper by returning to the night that it began, and continue the focus of it coinciding with Passover.  In doing so, let’s return to the Gospels, particularly Luke’s account, where  we read the following

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13 And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes. 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.

Above we have the full context for the institution of the Lord’s Supper according to Luke’s account (please read and compare the other Synoptic gospel accounts).  Harmonizing what we read and concluded from 1 Corinthians with our passage here, we indeed find that on the night he was betrayed was also the night of Passover.  There is some debate as to whether this occurred on our current Wednesday night, which using the Jewish day/night schedule would have been their Thursday (14 Nissan), the official day of Passover, or whether this occurred on our current Thursday night, but that discussion for another day.  

That aside, we find that Jesus instructed His disciples to make preparations for Passover; prophesied about the location of Passover; desired to eat the Passover, which was a reference to the meal they were about to share; prophesied yet again of His own suffering, which He linked with the Passover; then declares that He will one day participate in the Passover again, when He comes into His kingdom; and finally, we see a reference to the particular components of the Passover, which the mention of the cup, after, they had eaten supper, and the bread, unleavened as per the instructions in Exodus 12, each providing for us the elements in which they observed the Lord’s Supper as an actual Passover meal. 

That said, it is the last statement of our Lord’s regarding Passover that is significant because it speaks to the perpetuity of Passover.  Not only does He state His desire to celebrate Passover with His disciples, in which He associates His own body and blood with the elements of the bread and fruit of the vine in one of the cups, but He indicates that there will be another day to come when He will partake of Passover again, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God”  The ‘it’ in this verse refers to Passover (it is the nearest antecedent).  

As a noteworthy point here, Jesus doesn’t even refer to this meal as “The Lord’s Supper” but as Passover, the annual Jewish feast of remembrance of the rapid Israelite exodus from Egypt, specifically marked by the Spirit passing over the houses of the firstborn who had placed the shed blood of a lamb on their doorposts.  Passover was to be observed annually when the Israelite’s reached the Promised Land.  It’s institution can be found in Exodus 12:1-28; 43-51.  In addition to serving as a reminder of God’s redemption and salvation, it served as evidence of a present participation in the covenant with the Lord.  One final point is that the Passover was clearly anticipatory, or that it looked forward to the death of Christ and the passing over, by the wrath of God, of those who have been covered by His shed blood (propitiation).  These past, present, and future elements of Passover is not to the neglect of the typological aspects, which sees Christ as the Greater Passover Lamb (John 1 and 1 Cor. 5) and the culmination of the Old Testament priesthood, sacrifices, and covenant practices (see Hebrews).   

Following the order of the Passover, our Lord proceeds into the meal and assigns New Covenant symbolism to the elements of the supper as seen with the reference to the cup filled with the fruit of the vine, and also to the unleavened bread, representing his blood and body respectively.  As a side note, do any of the Gospel accounts refer to the substance in the cup as wine?  Or do they all correspondingly refer to it as the fruit of the vine? The Greek word for wine, oinos, was available and widely used throughout the Gospels, but not here. Though historically a cause for debate and a call-to-arms, it’s an unnecessary point of contention and one that is not focused on the central issue at hand.

The significance of this institution of the Lord’s Supper occurring on Passover is not trivial.  Our Lord takes all of the history, meaning, symbolism, even typology of the Old Covenant, which reaches its zenith with the Passover celebration, and brings it to the threshold of the New Covenant.  In this sense, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a touchstone of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants.  Has that point been brought out during modern observances of the Lord’s Supper?  Hardly, if ever, because we completely ignore that this occurred on Passover and disconnect the New Covenant meal from the Old Covenant meal.  The practical ramifications of this are that it makes us as best, modern Dispensationalists and at worst, guilty of a Marcionite view of the Lord’s Supper (one that disregards the Old in favor of the New), not to mention the danger of falling into the same category error as the first century Corinthians, that of failing to correctly observe the meal and assign it the historical significance that it demands.  We will re-examine this again in a subsequent post.

Returning to our questions raised from earlier, how would first century believers have observed the Lord’s Supper and interpreted the phrase, as often (1 Cor. 11:25)?  Would they have maintained the association with Passover, or would they have deviated from the established pattern and done what seemed good and expedient to them?  Regardless of the answer, it’s clear that a deviation of the practice had taken place by the time the Apostle penned the letter to Corinth, a sobering reminder of the danger of slipping away or losing sight of Scripture’s authority.

The Check Engine Light of Worship – Part 2

 

In this Series:

Part 1

Recently, we introduced a somewhat familiar passage, at least in how often it’s quoted, from 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.  On a personal level, the motivation for this particular study, from the Apostle’s first letter to the ekklesia at Corinth, stems out of a desire to engage in meaningful discussions on ‘the the sufficiency of God’s Word, Sola Scriptura, and how the authority of God’s Word not only influences how we live, but likewise how we worship.’

In that previous post, we outlined this passage as follows:

  1. A Statement of the Problem (11:17-22)
  2. An Appeal to Christ’s Institution of the Lord’s Supper (11:23-26)
  3. A Rebuke (11:27-32)
  4. An Exhortation (11:33-34)

Having already looked at the Statement of the Problem in 11:17-22, we now turn our attention to an exposition of 11:23-26, with a goal to further unpack the passage by setting the context.  In this passage, the Apostle recounts for us the institution of the Lord’s Supper, as it has become known (from 1 Cor. 11:20).  This event is also recorded for us in Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-38.  The setting for the Lord’s Supper may also be found in John’s gospel chapters 13-17.

Below is the passage from 1 Corinthians

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Working through this passage, we need to note that the Apostle is communicating to the Corinthians what he had himself received.  It is difficult to determine whether he had received this from the Lord, by means of the apostles who had experienced this supper firsthand, or whether it was communicated directly to Paul from the Lord (Gal. 1:12).  Regardless, it is clear that the source is directly attributed to our Lord Jesus Christ, not from human wisdom or preference, and that the Apostle is laying down the pattern as delivered from the Lord.

With this in mind we come to our first observation and the phrase on the night when he was betrayed.  This oft-overlooked expression is how the Apostle introduces the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  Here we need to ask, is this a throw away phrase?  Is it simply inserted to call our minds to that night?  Or is it significant for reestablishing the pattern?  We’ll dig into this more in a subsequent post when we examine the heart of this institution, but for now we must simply observe that the initiation of the Lord’s Supper was on the night of Christ’s betrayal establishing for us a time context.  

Turning to the Gospel accounts, we are informed of an additional time indicator, namely that the night of Christ’s betrayal was also the night that the Lord and His disciples celebrated Passover.  So, here is the setting: The Lord’s Supper was instituted on the night of our Lord’s betrayal, in which He and His disciples were also celebrating the Old Covenant Feast of Passover.  

Our second observation is the tiny phrase, as often, which is used twice in the passage cited above and only one other time in the entire New Testament (Rev. 11:6).  The first occurrence in our passage,as often as you drink it”, is included in the quotation from our Lord’s institution.  The second usage is in the closing summary from the Apostle, “for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup….”  Of our brief contextual observations that we’ll make in this post, this seems to be the one that has attracted all of the attention and usually causes the most disagreements.  As often has been used as a license to observe the Lord’s Supper daily, weekly, monthly, even quarterly.  Read into this tiny little phrase, used only 3 times in the New Testament, has been a wide range of Christian liberty.   How can there be such wide discrepancies in the observance of this covenant meal?  Why do some congregations celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week, while others one a month, and still others less frequently?

Which brings us to an important question, what would have been the frequency of observance for the early congregations?  Would they have understood what as often was referring to?  Would they have recognized any inherent pattern from our Lord’s institution of this practice for them to follow?  Or would as often had been left open to interpretation as it is now?

Our final observation, is another time reference, until he comes.  Here we are given a time-frame for the continual observance of it, namely until Christ returns.  When we look at the Gospel accounts of the inception of the Lord’s Supper, this ongoing time reference will be significant again.  The occurrence of this covenant meal, which as we’ve seen was on the night our Lord was betrayed, coincided with the annual Passover observance, and was to be continued until the coming again of Christ.  

As a side note, it’s important to remember that the date for the institution of the Lord’s Supper was either 30 or 33 A.D., depending on when the birth of our Lord is dated.  The Apostle Paul visited Corinth, laboring to establish a community of believers around 51 A.D.  It’s likely that he penned his letter to Corinth while he was in Ephesus, around 55 A.D. (possibly as early as 53 A.D.). If at best we assume that there were believers in Corinth who had been taught the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper, then we arrive at around 20 years for the correction to come at the pen of the Apostle.  If we allow that they learned the observance of the supper originally from Paul, then we arrive at around 4 years, and as little as 2 years, for it to become a distortion worthy of Apostolic rebuke.  May that be a stark warning to us who stand 2 millennia after Christ’s institution of this covenant meal!!

Let’s summarize the questions and conclusions that we have seen in this post concerning the context of the Lord’s Supper inception,

  • When was the Lord’s supper instituted? On the night Jesus was betrayed.  This coincided with His observance of the Passover meal.
  • How frequent was this observance?  As often as you drink it.  Debate surrounds whether this means freedom for frequency or whether as often is connected to the night of the Passover.
  • How long was this commemoration to continue?  Until He comes.  A reference to the second coming of Christ.

In our next post, we will look more closely at the details of the institution of the Lord’s Supper and draw more upon the significance and connection with Passover.     

The Check Engine Light of Worship

 

In the past few months I’ve had two separate conversations on the sufficiency of God’s Word, Sola Scriptura, and how the authority of God’s Word not only influences how we live, but likewise how we worship.  Unintentionally, each conversation has migrated to a discussion on the Lord’s Supper, in reference to what God has written as a pattern or example practice in comparison with how easily our modern practice of worship is either influenced by preference, tradition, or philosophy (see this post on Will Worship).

I suppose the reason why these conversations turn towards the Lord’s Supper is because it is universally practiced (generally speaking), though the practice of it has been the subject of debate for nearly 2000 years.  Bear in mind, this isn’t a matter of salvation or even the basis for disunity, however, it does speak to the larger issue of what governs our practices: Scripture, tradition, preference, or some combination.

In 1 Corinthians, we have a troubled ekklesia that is corrected for the widespread problems that they had allowed to creep in, one of which was their practice of observing the Lord’s Supper.  While the Apostle’s instruction on the order of worship begins in 11:2 through then end of chapter fourteen, the introduction of the Lord’s Supper actually begins in chapter 10, with reference to eating food offered to idols,

21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” 1 Corinthians 10:21-22

The summary of this particular correction is the familiar, 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Transitioning to the subject of worship in chapter 11, we find first a discourse on head covering for women (an oft-overlooked and neglected passage) before the Apostle turns his attention more fully to the Lord’s Supper.  This section is broken down into

  1. A Statement of the Problem (11:17-22)
  2. An Appeal to Christ’s Institution of the Lord’s Supper (11:23-26)
  3. Rebuke (11:27-32)
  4. Exhortation (11:33-34)

First, the statement of the problem

17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

Two key phrases set the background for us

  • when you come together 
  • when you come together as a church (ekklesia)

These inform us that the context for this particular correction is the assembly of God’s people, particularly the division and disunity that was taking place at these gatherings.  A third use of coming together, synerchomai, is used again in verse 20 just prior to introduction of the Lord’s Supper, the apparent cause for the divisions.  It’s important to note the negative statement that introduces this subject, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat.

This statement most naturally infers that whatever they were coming together to do, they were ascribing to it a celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  The Apostle places his finger on the pulse of the problem in the verse that follows, 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk,” further illumined by the latter part of verse 22, humiliate those who have nothing.”  

Here then is the situation, the Corinthian ekklesia  was gathering together, having a meal in which it was likely those who were wealthy were bringing and consuming their own food, while those who were poor had very little to bring and consume, thus their humiliation.  Instead of believers coming together and having all things in common (Acts 2:44) and practicing the unity of sharing all their possessions (Acts 4:32), including food, they were selfishly hording their own food while those less fortunate were going without.  Verse 21 highlights this dichotomy, “one goes hungry, another gets drunk“.  The well-to-do were indulging in their own food, perhaps even over-indulging, while the poor were leaving these meetings hungry.  This situation was incurring the displeasure of Paul and the rebuke of, “don’t you have your own houses to indulge in!”  To make matters worse, they were using this entire event as a celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

In order to correct the errant practices, the Apostle appeals to the very words of Christ at the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  Paul does not appeal to tradition, nor does he defer to the preferences of the ekklesia, but to the very Word of God.

The Apostle’s appeal to Scripture goes to the heart of the matter described in the introduction above.  He doesn’t allow the Corinthians to celebrate the Lord’s Supper however they may like, but he appeals to the very words of Christ, in detail, thereby laying a foundational pattern for them to follow.  What governs our practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper?  We would do well to heed this pattern as well.  In the next post, we’ll look at Paul’s review of this initial supper of the Lord.