For many believers, Holy Communion is the most sacred occasion celebrated in the Church. Some have attributed the most fantastic tales to its mystic, even magical powers. The Roman Catholic Church goes so far as to claim that the bread and the wine become the actual flesh and blood of our Lord during the service. This observance is celebrated by nearly every single Christian Church today. As such, we should expect to find a host of scriptures to set forth and lay out this most Holy celebration, but when we search and look we find paltry few mentions of it, if indeed any.
Holy Communion is claimed by Church Tradition to be the observance by the Apostles of a sacrament instituted at the Last Supper by their Lord. Among other names, it is referred to as the Eucharist (the Greek word for thanksgiving), the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament and the Lord's Supper. It is important to note that not one of these phrases are found referring to a Holy Communion service in the Bible. The Greek word Eucharist is of course translated as thanksgiving many times in the Bible while the phrase the Lord's Supper is used once, but the other phrases are no where even to be found, at least in the Bible.
Evidently, the entire institution was invented by the Church hierarchy. They isolated certain phrases from the Bible like the Lord's supper and communion of the blood of Christ to give credence to their new found theology. But the doctrine for the so-called Sacrament, is solely from Church Tradition. It probably began as a spin off from the love feasts of the early Church. These were common and frequent occasions where the early believers came together to break bread.
ACTS 2:42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
ACTS 2:46 And 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 20:7 And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.
ACTS 20:11 When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed.
Breaking bread was nothing more then when a few believers came together to have dinner. Bread was the staple at every meal so breaking bread was simply a reference to eating together. However, eating together was not as insignificant then as it might be considered today. When you ate with someone in that culture, it was a big deal. You were often partaking together of the salt covenant, which meant that you trusted one another, entirely.
Howbeit, breaking bread did not mean that you were sharing Holy Communion with that person or group of persons. Breaking bread and the Holy Communion are two entirely different things. The original disciples often broke bread together but they never participated in a so-called Holy Communion.
The reason they so often came together and broke bread was because that is what Yeshua (Jesus) had commanded them to do at the Last Supper.
LUKE 22:15-19 And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: for I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: for I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. 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.
His command was that they should do this in remembrance of Him. Do what? The Holy Communion service? No, He was telling them that they should dine together and during those meals when they broke bread, they should remember that His great sacrifice was being carried out for them.
After His resurrection very little is said in Scripture about His interactions with His disciples, yet one important theme repeats itself, His breaking of bread with them. In the following record, these two disciples are dumbstruck when they realize with whom they have been dining.
LUKE 24:30-35 And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.
It is quite significant that He was known to them at the precise instant that He broke the bread. And further, that when they returned to Jerusalem and exclaimed the good news that He was risen, they found it necessary to point out to the other disciples that it was indeed during the breaking of the bread that they recognized Him.
And then another appearing is given to us in the fourth Gospel.
JOHN 21:9-13 As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught. Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.
The Evangelist points out that Yeshua instructed them to "come and dine". Yet in all of this breaking of bread there is nothing about any kind of Holy Communion, or Eucharist, or Blessed Sacrament. They are simply eating together. These were very significant meals to be sure, but they were not in the slightest degree what we find celebrated in the Church today as the Holy Communion.
Let us now take an un-tethered look at the verses Church Tradition uses to substantiate this Holy Communion service so that we can know for ourselves just what it is that the Lord desires of us.
1 CORINTHIANS 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
When reading the word communion in this passage, we must be on guard not to just automatically picture the Holy Communion service in our minds. The word means nothing of the sort. The word translated communion is the Greek word koinonia and according to Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon it is defined as participation or intercourse, fellowship, intimacy or a contribution. This intimacy or fellowship that Paul is writing about is no more than the disciples gathering together to break bread in one of their love feasts. There is no Holy Communion service anywhere in this chapter. To leap from this communion in Paul's letter to what we find in the so-called Sacrament of the Altar is beyond reason. The context of this chapter is idolatry, not instructions so as to institute some Holy Communion service.
The next chapter of 1CORINTHIANS is the primary and final source for the Church's doctrine for the Holy Communion service. As such, we will need to go through many of the verses line by line to arrive at the confident conclusion that Paul had no such idea in his mind of the Holy Communion service when he penned this letter.
The section begins with verse 17 and runs through to the end of the chapter. As such, let us read the first two verses and then the last two verses to get an overall view of what Paul is trying to communicate.
17-18 Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions [schisms] among you; and I partly believe it.
33-34 Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.
I think it will become obvious that Paul is writing here about the manner in which the believers were coming together to break bread. These "Suppers" were called love feasts or feasts of love (JUDE 12). The believers would meet together in somebody's home where they would listen to the apostle's doctrine, then fellowship, dine together and pray (ACTS 2:42). The meals were evidently Pot Luck and each attendee would bring that which they could afford. In this way the wealthy members were able to give from their abundance and the poorer brethren were able to have there needs met. The whole affair was about love for the body of believers, hence the name love feasts.
Reading Paul's whole epistle to the Corinthians we can get a pretty good idea about what was transpiring at these Corinthian feasts. In the early chapters of this letter, Paul has repeatedly scolded them for their carnal ways (3:3). There were schisms among them (1:11) with envying, strife and divisions (3:3). In the previous chapter Paul had just reminded them that their idolatrous ancestors had "sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play" (10:7). He warned them that their liberty to eat whatever they chose could become a stumbling block to a weaker brother (8:9), and that knowledge puffs up but love builds up (8:1). Twice he told them that although all things were legal, not all things were expedient or profitable (6:12 and 10:23). He wrote "that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another" (12:25). He warned them that a little leaven leavens the whole lump (5:6) and finally, that evil companionships corrupt good morals (15:33).
Clearly many in the Corinthian Church were living anything but a Christian lifestyle and this was manifested, indeed magnified when they came together in the love feasts. And so in the eleventh chapter Paul gets into the meat of what was going on there.
RSV 11:20-22 When you meet together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. 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.
The entire church came together to break bread but some of the more wealthy participants divided themselves off into their own cliques and had a romp roaring time while their poorer brethren went hungry. Paul wondered why they couldn't leave their party at home and when they came together they should be more dignified. Then he reminded them of the heart behind these love feasts and how far removed they had become from the Lord's instructions.
ASV 11:23-26 For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me. In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord's death till he come.
Notice that nothing is put forward here about a peculiar ceremony in the Church where members line up to receive their biscuits and perhaps a sip of grape juice from a communal mug. That is all an invention of later times. Here Paul reminds the Corinthians of the Lord's instruction that whenever they come together to break bread and/or drink wine they are to remember His sacrifice for them. Why limit this memorial to once a year, or even once a week? Why limit it to the Church? They were instructed to remember in this way His great sacrifice for them every time they broke bread together.
I think the last phrase of verse 26 is most revealing, till He come. As often as they shared together the bread and the wine they were proclaiming His death, till He come. We are confident, and I think a good case is made for the fact that He has already returned (see Whatever Happened to Timothy). If that is so, then what is up with all those different Holy Communal Services carried on in today's Church? Is there any genuine purpose for them if indeed He has already returned? I think not.
Religion does its best to convince us that just going through the motions of some ritual will make us clean or approved before GOD. In this case, they try to fool us into thinking that we are renewed or clean or forgiven just because we partake of their Communal service. The truth is all the other way. Yeshua always condemned such hypocrisy as vain and dead. Speaking specifically about Church Traditions He charged, "In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (MATTHEW 15:9).
Paul continues in his letter to the Corinthians.
11:27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and [or] blood of the Lord.
Paul writes of the cup of the Lord, but is there any reason to suppose that he is referring here to some kind of Holy Communion service? I think not. The cup of the Lord here is no doubt set in contrast to the cup of devils in 10:21, the only two places the phrase is found in the Bible. The pagans came together at their own feasts to pay homage to their idols. Here, the believers were coming together to pay homage to their Lord Yeshua. As such, the memorial was referred to as the cup of the Lord.
Unworthily means that when they participated in these love feats, they were to do it in a worthy manner. It was to be done in a just, fair and balanced way. If not, then the participator would be guilty of the body or blood of the Lord. This is a sobering warning. Paul had already cautioned them, "when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ" (8:12). Thus when they offended one another in their love feasts, they were offending the Lord.
Paul had previously warned them that any man who defiled the temple of GOD him would GOD destroy (3:17), and further he had even instructed them to turn over one of their prominent members (who had grievously sinned) to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (5:5). Then after outlining many of the sins of their fathers in the wilderness, and the resulting consequences, he wrote "Now these things happened unto them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come" (RSV 10:11).
This whole theme is most significant. Mistakes have consequences. This is how we learn to avoid the pitfalls of life. Likewise, sins have consequences. The consequences of our sins are intended to goad us back to the right way. This is what it means to turn one over to Satan. The Corinthians were to cut him loose, so to speak, and let the consequences of his sins wreak havoc on him, if necessary. Paul's hope was not for his destruction, but for his salvation, which evidently was accomplished according to 2 CORINTHIANS 2:3-8.
We return to chapter eleven.
RSV 11:28-29 Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.
In other words, look in the mirror and make sure your heart is right before coming together to break bread with your brethren. It is of paramount importance how we treat our brethren. Yeshua had instructed His disciples that all men would know that they were indeed His disciples, "if ye have love one to another" (JOHN 13:35). This is why having and knowing the Scriptures are so important. They give us a way to measure ourselves, to gauge whether or not we "measure up" (2 TIMOTHY 3:16-17). But if and when we do fail the test, the Scriptures also give us the necessary guidance to find our way back to fellowship, to communion with our Lord.
ASV 11:30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
This is quite an alarming verse. Paul reveals that many of these Corinthian believers were weak and ill, some even died because they had failed to examine themselves. They failed to evaluate their lifestyle as to whether or not it was right on with GOD's word. Every man is right in his own eyes, but are we right in GOD's eyes? That is the question we must continually ask ourselves. We must seriously consider and ponder our ways and be willing to repent, to change whatever is necessary so as to correct our course.
As our loving Father, GOD desires to guide us along HIS righteous path, but if we are not willing to hear HIS words, we may be hearing from HIM in other ways. If we are running headlong towards self destruction HE is quite able to initiate something which will stop us in our tracks. If the body falls ill or is indeed destroyed, it may be for the purpose of saving the spirit. On the other hand, if we habitually take deep personal inventory of our lives and repent and change when necessary, many personal calamities can be avoided.
RSV 11:31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged.
Others paraphrase it, "If we would do it the Lord would not need to do it", or "If we had judged ourselves rightly, which we did not, then we should not be judged, which we are". GOD desires to return us to the narrow way into HIS kingdom. Thus HE has given us HIS word. But if we neglect that instruction and fail to heed HIS warnings, HE has other ways to get our attention. But it is always with the intention of returning us to the right way.
RSV 11:32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
Another has it, "But, in being judged by the Lord (by these temporal sufferings) we are under training, that we may not be condemned with the world".
This is an unparalleled chapter with volumes to teach us about the crucial importance of how we should interact with our fellow believers. We need to routinely take a deep personal inventory of our own lives. If we maintain this necessary personal evaluation, who knows what calamities might be avoided. If we touch a hot stove we are going to be burned. That is the consequence for our mistake. Thus, if we fail to heed GOD's doctrine, reproof and correction we are also bound to suffer the consequences.
GOD no doubt desires for us to live more abundantly. But that desire is only realized to the degree that we receive and obey HIS word. Our course is beset with many pitfalls and distractions. We are hopelessly lost and wandering aimlessly, when we are without the guidance of the light of HIS word.
RSV JAMES 1:21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.