Are Examples in the New Testament binding on us today?

“You must have authority for everything that you do, otherwise you are spitting in the face of Jesus.” “Whatsoever you do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord” (Col. 3). The conservative “churches of Christ” have traditionally followed the command, example and necessary inference method of establishing authority (sometimes referred to as CENI) for what they do in work, worship and the organization (sometimes referred to as WOW) of the congregation. This is completely baffling to Christians outside of the Restoration Movement.

This method of establishing what congregations can and cannot do is most evident in two rules the Churches of Christ observe:
1. No instrumental music in worship, only singing, thank you very much.
2. Take the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. (Here is a blog between members of the noninstitutional Churches of Christ discussing the use of examples as rules–one person is against, the others for.)
The only rule Jesus gave his disciples concerning the communion he shared with them just before he died, was “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, do so in remembrance of Me” (I Cor. 11). At the time He uttered those words Jesus was celebrating the Jewish feast day of the Passover. Any Jewish person reading this passage would have understood Jesus to be saying: “Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup when you celebrate the Passover, remember Me.”

The only other examples we have of taking the Lord’s Supper are passages that one cannot say are definitely the celebration of communion because of the phrase “breaking bread”:

  1. “breaking bread” from house to house (Acts 2) The term “breaking bread was used for common meals.
  2. Jesus “broke bread” with the disciples in Emmaus after his resurrection. (Luke 24)
  3. Jesus “broke the loaves” when he fed the 5,000 (Matt 14).
  4. The church at Ephesus gathered together after the Passover to see Paul off on his journey and to “break bread” together. (Acts 20)

This last passage  is the only passage that makes reference to the “first day of the week”. And from Acts 20 the churches of Christ have made a steadfast rule: the Lord’s Supper must be taken every first day of every week.  And any church that does not take the Lord’s Supper every first day of every week is not following the Bible, and will face God’s judgment on the last day. (Many say that the “Lord’s Day” [Rev. 1] refers to Sunday or the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead.  The phrase occurs once in the New Testament, in a prophetic book which draws its language from Old Testament prophetic books, which use the term “Day of the Lord” to mean a day of judgment upon a people. But why bother to use Bible words in Bible ways?)

Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper at a Jewish feast day: Passover, on a Thursday (the day before his death on Friday). This apparently does not bother theologians in the Church of Christ because they see a sharp divide between Old and New Testaments. For them it is not illogical for Jesus to institute the Lord’s Supper on a Thursday in the Old Testament era (before the cross), and then to punish anyone for taking the Lord’s Supper on a Thursday after the cross.

How have other believers understood the command to take the Lord’s Supper communion in remembrance of Jesus? The Orthodox and Lutherans offer communion only on Sundays, Catholics and Anglicans almost every day of the year, most others celebrate communion once a month.

The principle of taking a story from the early church (like the breaking of bread in Ephesus on the first day of the week) and making it into a rule for all churches for all time is fraught with problems.

  1. Why this story and not others? What about the example of taking the Lord’s Supper only in an upper room? (Mark 14, Luke 22, Acts 1, Acts 20) In fact whenever the narrative specifies where the Lord’s Supper was taken it is always in an upper room. There are 400% more examples in the New Testament of taking the Lord’s Supper in an upper room than on which day the Lord’s Supper was eaten. (You laugh? There is a division of the Churches of Christ who only take the Lords’ Supper in an upper room.)
  2. Why do we  use these New Testament stories only to restrict worship services and the organization of the congregation? Why don’t we use New Testament stories to make rules about individual behavior? Why is the congregation elevated to such an extent by the Restoration Movement?
  3. Why are rules, and ferreting out unwritten rules, so important to Churches of Christ? Why weren’t other issues that were prevalent at the time of the formation of the Restoration Movement (1801-1820) important to argue about and emphasize? There were a tiny few preachers within the Movement who wanted to talk about slavery and the treatment of fellow human beings. Almost no-one was willing to talk about the treatment of Native Americans and the taking of land (1810-1880). Other people were hotly defending Native American land ownership during this time. Why was arguing and debating about when to take the Lord’s Supper more important?

Arguing about rules that make little sense is a convenient smoke screen. It enables us to go about our  lives without having to examine our selfishness. All we have to do to demonstrate our superiority is to take a piece of bread and drink a little cup of juice every Sunday. We are empowered to be rude to those who disagree with us (“We follow the Bible and you don’t”) and never to even think about our own hostility. (“28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” I Cor 11).   One of the introductory sayings (Col 3) in this blog entry states that we are to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, which in context refers to: singing with forgiveness in our hearts and loving one another, especially in our family relationships (notice that there is no reference to congregational rules here).

Our Restoration Movement ancestors seldom thought about whose land they claimed and plowed and whose blood was sacrificed so they could have what they wanted as they moved westward. This rule about taking the Lord’s Supper every Sunday became more important than Jesus’ Golden Rule to treat others as you would have them treat you.

What confuses current people leaving the Churches of Christ are the warnings from those they are leaving: “Why are you leaving the One True Church that takes the Lord’s Supper according to the Bible?” Our response to them should be: “Why are you involved in a religious body that is so bent on not examining yourselves when you take communion?”

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About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
This entry was posted in Command, Example and Necessary Inference and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Are Examples in the New Testament binding on us today?

  1. Kyle says:

    Interesting take. I don’t disagree, you have presented a good argument. I don’t think the CoC has it right (the weekly inoculation).

    However, my Baptist friends have a debate on salvation by faith, or repentance?

    To both of these I would ask, “Why do the least we should do?” All Christians would agree that Jesus died to wash away our sins, and took on the burden of our sins to do so. Yet, we are debating about the least we can do.

    So have faith, and repent; likewise, take the lord’s supper every sunday, AND when you do, reflect on yourself. And if your conscience dictates taking it on passover, too, I don’t think Jesus is going to be angry that you are taking part in remembering him on passover.

    My $0.2.

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