Birthmarks of the Infant Church -- Part 3: The Breaking of Bread

6 September 2010

"I am that bread of life." -John 6:48

We have considered the "Apostles' Doctrine", and "The Fellowship of the Saints". The third identifying mark of the infant church was their faithful and steadfast observance of the "breaking of bread". What does this mean? Surely it means more than the eating of bread at mealtime because Luke places the breaking of bread on equal footing with doctrine, prayer, and fellowship. It can only mean the observance of the Lord's table or the time of communion. It refers to that special time when a church comes together as a family to remember their suffering Savior.

Many of these early disciples knew Jesus personally in the days of His earthly ministry. As the infant church gathered together to break the bread, they remembered their friend who walked with them, talked with them, taught them, healed them, and ultimately died for their transgressions. As the bread was crushed and broken, their hearts were upon the body of their Lord whose body was crushed and broken for their sin. Oh, that we might break the bread with such affection today!

A. THE FIRST COMMUNION WAS AT NIGHT "He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night."-John 13:30

The first communion service was a night service. For this reason, many churches observe this service at night. It was a sober ending of a special day. The dark night must have added a degree of solemnity to the words of Jesus. There, Jesus spoke with them, taught them, and warned them of things to come. They sang as they walked away from the upper room and went out into the night. Though we do have some of their dialogue in sacred print, it would be wonderful to have a recording of all that was said that night. Can you see John leaning on the breast of Jesus, and Peter whispering to John to ask Jesus who would betray Him? Though solemn, this was loving fellowship.

B. WHERE IT BEGAN "And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us." -Mark 14:15

The "breaking of bread" was first observed in an "upper room" by Jesus and His apostles. On this occasion, Jesus had commanded His disciples to go into the city where they would find a man bearing a pitcher of water. They followed the man to his abode where they found an upper room furnished, and prepared. It was the time of the Jewish Passover and Jesus, being a Jew, fulfilled the law by observing this feast. But that was not all that was observed that special evening in the upper room. As they observed the Jewish Passover, and remembered the deliverance of natural Israel from the hand of the destroying angel, Jesus instituted an ordinance for His New Testament Church. His instruction led His disciples from the ordinances of the Old Law directly into the New Testament ordinance of remembering not the type and shadow, but the true sacrifice. He showed His disciples the true meaning of the unleavened bread of the Passover, and its significance in the New Testament Church. This ordinance would perpetually stand as a reminder to the New Testament Church of the body of Christ Jesus, the "bread of life".

C. A COMMUNION OF BELIEVERS "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?"- 2 Corinthians 6:14

As we read the account of the first communion service it is clear that the world was not invited. It was a communion of baptized believers. They could have opened the doors and invited the public in for a little bread and wine, to have a larger crowd. But this service was, and is, reserved for members of Christ's church alone. Some may say that only the apostles were invited to this service, and it was a onetime thing, only for the benefit of the apostles. But we must remember that the church was not yet constituted as a body. Christ was teaching these men the proper way to observed His death so they, in turn, would teach the church after Pentecost. This makes it a divine ordinance, instituted by Christ for baptized believers.

The "breaking of bread" should mean something to the partaker. Someone died for them. This death saved them not from a mere loss of life in this word, but more importantly, from the wrath to come. This has no meaning to an unbeliever.

The "breaking of bread" is not a ritual that we perform to make us holy. The performance of this sacred ordinance does not make us anything we are not already. Nor was it intended to do so. The breaking of bread is an outward performance of our inward affections for Jesus. Its purpose is to help us remember Jesus, and His body broken for our sins. It is an expression of the debt that we owe; an expression of our thankfulness for His love and suffering; a testimony of our utter dependence upon His substitutionary death for our sin; an acknowledgement that His body and blood are sufficient payment for our dept. Therefore, the "breaking of the bread" is to be partaken by those who know Jesus and the significance His death; those who agree on His substitutionary death and His accomplishments upon the cross; those who are partakers of the common faith; people who share the same beliefs, and hold the same doctrine. In short, baptized believers, members of His church.

The breaking of bread was not an ordinance open to the public at large. As the apostle has asked, "for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?" (2 Cor. 6:14-16).

Of course, the answer to all of these questions is "none at all". Righteousness should have no fellowship with unrighteousness. Light should not commune with darkness. Would we allow Satan to commune with us? Is the doctrine of Jesus Christ in harmony with the doctrine of Belial or the humanistic doctrines of our day? Should an infidel, an unbeliever, be allowed into the marriage feast? The breaking of bread is a time for baptized believers to assemble together and remember Jesus Christ their savior.

Apart from a public confession of faith and baptism into the body of the New Testament Church it would be impossible for the church to determine who is sincere in their devotions to Jesus Christ. In its very beginning, the "breaking of bread" was a communion of believers, closely observed by the baptized believers of the church of Jesus Christ. It should be observed as such today.

D. ITS PRIMARY PURPOSE "And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me."-Luke 22:19

According to Luke, and the other inspired writers of scripture, the primary purpose for the communion table is to give thanks to God by remembering the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. As I mentioned earlier, the Lord's table does not make us any ting we are not already. There is nothing magical or mysterious about it. It didn't make the apostles anything they were not already. And it surely didn't make Jesus anything He was not already.

Since the days of the infant church there has been much controversy over the essential nature and purpose of the Lord's Supper. Several positions have been taken as to the significance of the ordinance. Some hold the position of "Transubstantiation". These believe that the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, are contained "truly, really, and substantially in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist" (Merrill F. Unger, "The New Unger's Bible Dictionary", "Lord's Supper", p. 784.). In other words, they believe the bread and wine actually and physically become the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ as it is consumed.

Another position is the theory of "Consubstantiation". This position assumes that "the body and blood of Christ are mysteriously and supernaturally united with the bread and wine, so that they are received when the latter are"(Ibid.).

There is also the "Spiritual Presence View". According to this view, "this hallowed food (the bread and wine), through concurrence of divine power, is in verity and truth, unto faithful receivers, instrumentally a cause of that mystical participation whereby I make myself wholly theirs, so I give them in hand an actual possession of all such saving grace as my sacrificial body can yield, and as their souls do presently need, this is to them and in them, my body"(Ibid.).

And finally, there is the "Symbolic View"(Ibid.). By this, the bread and wine are viewed as symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus, and are used to remind the partakers of His body and blood... to call Him to remembrance.

What are we to believe? We are to believe the words of Jesus for they are paramount concerning the proper view of this divine ordinance. After all, Jesus was the one who instituted this ordinance in the first place. Jesus said, "Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me" - 1 Cor. 11:24-25. From the language of Jesus, this bread and wine do not physically become His flesh and blood, nor do they tie the partaker to His divine essence in any way. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. The bread and wine are emblems used to call attention to His body and blood. They are used as a method to remember Him. They also remind us that salvation is all of Christ. It has nothing to do with our works. These symbolic emblems help us to remember the body of Jesus, the very body on which our sins were placed, and His blood which paid the full price for our sin. To one who can say "nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling", this is sufficient.

E. THE BREAD OF LIFE "Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." -John 6:53

When Jesus spoke the words of John 6:53, there was much confusion. Some thought He meant that his physical body and blood must be consumed in order to have fellowship with Him. But Jesus was not referring to actually consuming His physical body. He was referring to the gospel, feasting on the message of His sacrificial death for our sins. When we rejoice and find comfort in Christ crucified for our sins, we are spiritually eating His flesh and drinking His blood. By this the soul is refreshed, enlightened, strengthened, and comforted. When they spoke of the miracle of the manna from heaven given for the nourishment of natural Israel, Jesus turned their minds to Himself, the true bread, which came down from heaven for the life of spiritual Israel (John 6). Jesus said "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" -John 6:51.

Jesus depicted His body as the bread of life over and over again in His sermons. When he fed about five thousand with five barley loaves and two small fishes He warned them to, "Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life"- John 6:27. He again, pointed them away from the natural bread which only sustains the natural body to Himself, the meat which endures. As the manna was ordained only for the life of the Israelites, Jesus is given for the lives of the elect: "the life of the world"-v51. Oh, how difficult it was for them to see Christ as more than a life sustainer (natural bread), and to see Him as the source of life, the life giver (spiritual life). Their hunger for natural bread was evidence of their natural life. Our hunger for spiritual bread I evidence of our spiritual life. Surely, He is "the bread of life".

As Gill has said, "This 'bread of life' will never grow old and the doctrine of Christ crucified is now as strengthening and comforting to a believer as ever it was. As the manna was sweet in taste and sustaining to the natural body so is this "living bread" to the hungry soul. We enjoy the sweetness of his fruits, His word, His doctrine and ordinances, those meats which includes in them all happiness." He is our ever living, everlasting bread, that never molds, nor waxes old.

They looked for this manna daily and so should we for He strengthens our soul and causes us to rejoice. As the infant church met together for the "breaking of bread" these things were upon their hearts and mind. This do in remembrance of me remains a mark of the New Testament Church and I believe shall always be world without end. As we meet together to break the bread let these thought be upon our hearts as well.

F. HOW OFTEN? "After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me"- 1 Corinthians 11:25

It is difficult to tell just how frequently they observed our Lord's body in this way. At Troas, they came together to break bread upon the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). In another place we read where they, "continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart" (Acts 2:46). As we read these passages we find their fellowship so closely knit that it is difficult to tell where the Lord's supper ended and their regular meals began. Therefore, the Bible does not tell us how often we should break the bread and remember our Lord in this way. But one thing is certain concerning the infant church: they could not remember Him enough; they could not forget their Lord's death. They were just as stedfast in the "breaking of bread" as they were in their doctrine.

Much of the time, their circumstance required the early Christians to meet in their own homes to worship together and break the bread. As they brake the bread from "house to house" I can almost hear them say: "I want to observe the master's death at my house". To them, it was a blessed privilege to observe this service in the confines of their personal dwellings. What a testimony it must have been to their immediate family and their neighbors as they worshiped the Lord, brake the bread, and told the story of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Every baptized believer should joyfully anticipate that special time when the saints of God gather together and remember Jesus in that sacred ordinance of "the breaking of bread".

According to Jesus, they could do it as often as they wanted to as long as it was done decently and in order: "This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.