What to Do Each Sunday

From Dave Black Online:

5:22 PM While running my errands today I happened upon our local Christian radio station that was airing what appears to be a new series on the church by Chuck Swindoll. Chuck had us looking at Christ’s promise to build His church and then he requested his audience to turn to Acts 2 for a look at the birth of the church. Focusing on Acts 2:42, he emphasized that there are four marks of a local church. There will always be these four marks, he claimed. There may be more but never less. The four marks, as recorded by Luke, are teaching, fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and prayers. Ironically, and sadly in my view, Chuck reinterpreted the third mark to refer to “worship.” Is this, perhaps by metonymy, what doctor Luke meant? I suppose it is possible. Of course, he may have also meant for us to take him quite literally — that when the early church met it observed the Lord’s Supper. I happen to think he meant the latter. The early church was focused on Christ. It fellowshipped around Him. His body and blood were commemorated regularly. Just because many of us no longer do so today is no reason for us to take the breaking of the bread and transform it into what today we call “worship services.” (True worship, of course, is not what we do on Sunday but what we do 24/7. See Rom. 12:1-2. I have commented on this subject in my essay Enter to Serve, Depart to Worship.)

It seems, then, that the earliest church in Jerusalem was marked by an emphasis on the Word of God, genuine relationships, a common meal at which their absent but returning Lord would be preeminent, and times of prayer. Acts 20:7 seems to bear this out: the believers gathered together to break bread (note the telic infinitive), not to listen to the apostle Paul preach a sermon. Such Christocentricity would be a healthy thing, I think, for our churches. It would, I believe, go a long way toward replacing the pulpit-centricity in so many of our fellowships. In their essay The Lord’s Supper: How Often?, D. G. Hart and John R. Muether write:

Most students of Calvin are aware that it was his desire that churches practice weekly communion. Calvin believed that this frequency could be found in both apostolic teaching and example, and that weekly observance was also the practice of the church fathers. Moreover, Calvin saw weekly observance as necessary for uniting the ministry of Word and sacrament. By sealing the promises proclaimed in the preaching of the Word, weekly communion enabled Christians frequently to return in memory to Christ’s work, and “by such remembrance to sustain and strengthen their faith.”

Infrequent communion, Calvin claimed, was a superstitious horror, “a most evident contrivance of the devil,” and he considered it among the worst of the many abuses of worship in medieval Catholicism. For Calvin, weekly communion was no less important than other reforms he sought, such as the use of the cup by the laity and worship in the language of the vernacular. So Calvin came to the conclusion that “the Lord’s Table should have been spread at least once a week for the assembly of Christians, and the promises declared in it should feed us spiritually.”

In fact, the grammar of Acts 2:42 suggests that the common meal (along with mutual prayer) uniquely represents the fellowship (koinonia) of the church. (The last two marks seem to be in apposition to the second one in the Greek.) Elsewhere I have concluded:

Realizing that each Lord’s Day was “Resurrection Sunday” – a day to celebrate Christ’s risen life – and anticipating that each Lord’s Day could also be the day of Christ’s return, the early believers feasted at Christ’s table as in His presence. This fellowship meeting, at the very heart of which was a social meal centered on Christ, represented the communion that existed between all the members of the brotherhood, because all had a personal fellowship with their Lord.

For the earliest followers of Jesus, the Lord’s Supper created an atmosphere of intimate communion between members of Christ’s Body, regardless of their social status, gender, or ethnic group. According to Acts 2:42 and 20:7, this meal was, in fact, the focal point for the gathering of the New Testament church. It was a time of great celebration and joy. And it was at the heart of Christian fellowship – not at the periphery.

Today we have lost the regularity – not to mention the intimacy, the pleasure, the enjoyment – of the Lord’s Supper. The New Testament pattern of the breaking of the bread has become utterly foreign to us.

Howard Marshall also says it well:

In line with what appears to have been the practice of the early church in the New Testament the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated frequently in the church, and there is good reason for doing so on each Lord’s Day.

I praise God for those congregations that do, in fact, place high value on the Lord’s Table. I was in such a church not too long ago in Pensacola, Florida. There, in the ICON service of the First United Methodist Church, communion is served each and every Sunday. I can tell you, it was anything but perfunctory or boring. I have a nagging suspicion that many of our Baptist fellowships could learn a lesson two from them.

(Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm, Christian Archy, and Why Four Gospels?.)