June 1, 2015

"The breaking of bread"

This is now part 3 in a series of five articles on that marvelous summary of early church commitments, found in Acts 2:42:

“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Now I realize that, by writing about “the breaking of bread,” I am taking Luke’s four bullet points out of order. I do so because this coming Sunday is the day when we, at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, break the bread of the Lord’s Supper – and I wanted the article to correspond to the event!

And this is, I believe, what Luke has in mind with that phrase “the breaking of bread” – he is informing us that the Lord’s Supper was a big deal in the Jerusalem Church! The church family, of course, broke bread in other ways as well – “taking their meals together” in one another’s homes (v.46). But, since v.42 also notes the church’s commitment to “fellowship” (which likely includes such daily meal times), it seems likely that, when Luke says that the Jerusalem church committed itself to “the breaking of bread,” he is now thinking of the communion table, and not just the daily dinner table.

So the Jerusalem church was committed to remembering the broken body and shed blood of Jesus by means of the Lord’s Supper. How often? Luke doesn’t tell us exactly. The word “continually” in Acts 2:42 leads me to think that communion was celebrated quite frequently in Jerusalem. And yet churches today vary, one from another, on the frequency of their own local practice … without, I think, being unfaithful to the spirit of the early church practice. I have known of churches that meaningfully celebrate the supper weekly, monthly, quarterly, and twice yearly. And, so long as the frequency is purposeful and meaningful, all is well. Both the weekly or monthly incorporation of the Supper into the regular rhythm of church life, and the more spread out remembrances which become the focus of an entire service (or even of an entire weekend in some corners of the Christian world) can fit quite well under the description of devotion.

But the big question, in my mind, is why. Why was the church at Jerusalem so serious about the Lord’s Supper? Were they simply lovers of rite and ritual? The other descriptions we have of New Testament church life would not lead us to that conclusion. And so I conclude, rather, that the believers in Jerusalem were so into the Lord’s Supper because they never wanted to forget what Jesus had done for them! They never wanted to forget the cross, and the atonement, and the price of their redemption! They never wanted to forget, in the words of the popular hymn by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend that it is “in Christ alone” that our “hope is found.” In fact, this was one of their key commitments as a church – what we today might call gospel-centeredness!

And, oh, how we in the 21st century church must learn from them! At the very core of our faith is the person and work of Jesus Christ – and particularly His work on the cross! And everything that we do must be flavored with this central reality! Of course that means that we ought to devote ourselves to the meaningful remembrance of His death by means of the communion bread and cup. But the central and simple truths of the gospel must also permeate every service, every sermon, every season of corporate prayer, and even (as my friend Gary Wilkins taught me) every set of songs. Can we gather together as a church – to sing, pray, and preach – and not find some place for singing, praying, and preaching about Jesus and His cross? “This is all my hope and peace” wrote Robert Lowry! And the early church understood that – and worked the regular remembrance of Jesus’ broken body and shed blood into the warp and woof of their church. And, oh, how we will benefit and rejoice if we do the same; if we will be purposefully, devotedly, continually gospel-centered!

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