Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Why hold the Lord's Supper every week?

I wrote a leaflet for the people coming to our church, to answer the question in the title: "Why do we hold the Lord's Supper every week?"


Ned Kelly said...

I find the frequency of the Lord’s Supper interesting, and wonder whether Christians have misinterpreted it. I would not be dogmatic on the subject, but I have the sense that rather than being a new celebration, it was a renewal of the Passover celebration with new meaning. The original Passover, marked in blood, celebrated rescue from captivity by the Egyptians, the new, sealed with Christ’s blood, celebrated the rescue from captivity of sin. A new covenant, a new rescue, a new Passover. Jesus said that He wanted to eat the Passover with His disciples before He suffered (Luke), and then did so, telling His disciples of the new significance of the bread and wine. I am not suggesting that this limits the frequency of the celebration, simply that the significance is Passover, sealing the new covenant, just as the original Passover sealed the covenant of rescue from Egypt. To my mind, it better fits the continuity of God’s plan for our redemption.
Incidentally, I think it a mistake to equate Acts 20:7 with Exodus 20:8. Paul was a Torah observant Pharisee to the end, as Acts clearly attests, and he would have observed Shabbat. To conclude from the text that in this instance, the disciples met on the first day of the week as the Lord’s Day is to read more into the text than is really there. Though Sunday did become the meeting day, the evidence is that at that stage of the development of the Church, it was still primarily Jewish in influence. According to Ecclesiastical History, Socrates states that the Sabbath was observed as late as into the 5th century, and it was only in Alexandria and Rome that they refused to observe Shabbat. Other historians have the Sabbath as late as the 3rd century, and later is the Eastern Churches, so the idea of the Lord’s Day replacing the Sabbath early in Christian history is highly debatable, and on the evidence I have found, probably false. The Sabbath was decreed holy by God (Gen 2:3), it is not up to Man to change that, just as you quote Proverbs 30:5.
Blessings on your ministry.

David Anderson said...

Hi Ned,

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, as ever. A few bits in response:

Passover/Lord's Supper; surely all Christians must at least be vaguely aware of the Passover basis for the Lord's Supper / "New Exodus" theme to the gospel? I don't think you said anything controversial here.

I don't think I "equated" Acts 20:7 with Exodus 20:8, that's going too far.

Paul observing the Torah completely to the end - I can't agree that the Bible teaches this. 1) In Galatians 2 we find it clearly stated that Peter ceased obeying the Jewish food laws, and then returned to them - and Paul severely and publicly rebuked him for doing so. 2) In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul explicitly states that he obeyed the Jewish laws when amongst Jews, and disregarded them when amongst Gentiles. To him they were a matter of indifference; he did whatever was necessary to not distract his hearers, whether Jew or Gentile, from the gospel. 3) In Ephesians 2, he says that these laws were abolished in the flesh of Christ and that Christ made the two men (Jew + Gentile) into one, removing the middle law of partition, the commands and ordinances. 4) If Paul continued to observe a seventh day Sabbath *as a matter of principle* until the end of his life, then it's impossible to explain the meaning of Colossians 2:17, where he says it was a shadow of things to come, namely Christ.

I think you got confused about Socrates; he lived in the 5th century BC, not AD!

I would not use the word "replace" to describe the relationship between the Lord's Day and the Jewish Sabbath, as that is too simplistic.

Ned Kelly said...

Hi David,
I disagree with your interpretation of Galatians 2. Verse 11 says he changed through fear. V.13-14 speaks of hypocrisy. Paul did not criticise Peter for returning to Jewish law, but for his hypocrisy in the way he responded to the Jews. I think you draw a long bow in saying that Paul was indifferent to the law. That is not in the text, which simply says that he was prepared to observe the customs of those to whom he was preaching. Verse 28 counters your argument – here Paul is confirming what was decided in Acts regarding what Jewish laws were to be observed by Gentiles. In Ephesians 2, the law referred to is the Jewish laws that prohibited Jews and Gentiles from worshipping together – the middle wall, well known to people of the time, and a cause of enmity between the two cultures. God made no such commandment. The enmity (v15) that was abolished by Jesus was the grafting in of the Gentiles, and the abolition of the man-made laws that previously disallowed it. To argue that it was God’s laws that were abolished, you would need to show which law, that God commanded, that created the wall in the first place
Colossians 2:17 is an intriguing verse, but again the interpretation will vary depending on your worldview of who Paul was. Certainly the God ordained feasts were a shadow of things to come, but given the fact that Jesus had already come, why does Paul use the future tense? It does seem from a plain reading that even though Jesus is the substance that casts the shadow, His coming (past) cannot have fulfilled things yet to come. Since fulfilment remains in the future, the shadow remains. As Paul says in verse 16, judge neither Jew nor Gentile in their observances, continuing in their respective cultures, circumcised or uncircumcised, when they were called.
As for Socrates, it was not an uncommon name, and this one was a 5th century Greek historian who followed Eusebius in writing the Ecclesiastical History.
I have sent you an email with two chapters of an upcoming book; hopefully you will find them interesting, and even more importantly, historically accurate.

David Anderson said...


Did Paul criticise Peter for returning to observance the Jewish food laws, or only for his manner in doing so? Though I'm convinced it's the former (and think this is clear in Galatians 2), this seems like a moot question as regards the point you were making. Your point seemed to be, if I understood rightly, that the Jewish laws never ceased (or never should have ceased) to be observed by the apostles in the early church. If Peter *returned* to obeying them, then at some point he stopped obeying them. Is it your position that he was mistaken when he stopped obeying the Jewish food laws?

"a shadow of things to come" - why is this using a future tense? Here you're making a simple grammatical fallacy; you're implying that a future tense always implies a future time point to the writer.

"he was prepared to observe the customs of those to whom he was preaching." - doesn't this undermine your whole point? If Paul was prepared to suspend observance of Jewish laws when with Gentiles, then the authority of those laws was not absolute to him. Which is my point, which I understood you are denying. Were you intending to suggest that when Paul says (1 Cor 9:22) that he became as one "outside the law", he didn't actually mean that he ceased observance of the law? If so, what did it mean?

I'll stop there to keep it brief(ish)!