This article is part of a series responding to an article titled "THE BIBLE VERSUS THE CHURCH OF CHRIST" by James L. Melton. The original article is no longer available at av1611.org as it once was. Reading a response without access to the original writing can be frustrating. Having the context of quotes is important. You can download Mr. Melton's article here.
by William J. Stewart
“The Church of Christ places far too much emphasis on the Lord’s Supper.” That is Melton’s opening statement on this topic. I disagree with his statement, but I congratulate him on finding the most over-the-top quote he could to support his statement. He cites a Fred Gardner pamphlet which basically makes a linear relationship between “fidelity to” the Lord’s Supper and a Christian’s focus on our first love and doing the first works (Revelation 2:4-5). Melton retorts, “Revelation 2:4-5 say nothing—ABSOLUTELY NOTHING—about the Lord’s Supper.” He’s right. But, may I also point out, Revelation 2:4-5 also say nothing—ABSOLUTELY NOTHING—about prayer, praise, reading the Bible, kindness, compassion, etc.. Are such things also unimportant and unrelated to faithfulness as a Christian? What proves too much proves nothing at all.
Is there a connection between observing the Lord’s Supper and faithfulness to the Lord? Certainly. Is it a linear connection? No. As Melton says, “…you can observe the Lord’s Supper fifty-two weeks a year, but if you haven’t been born again then your lost and going to Hell, and if your sins aren’t being confessed to the Lord regularly, then you are OUT of fellowship with Him, in spite of your faithfulness to the Lord’s Supper.” Amen! But that doesn’t make the Lord’s Supper unimportant. It is a memorial of the death of our Lord. By participating in it, Paul says, “you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Each year on November 11, there are events throughout Canada honouring the memory of the armed forces members who died in the line of duty. Why do we do this? Lest we forget. The degree of reflection one gives is far greater if the effort is made to attend a Remembrance Day ceremony over simply pausing for a minute wherever you are at 11:00 a.m.. The ceremony is designed to stress remembrance. The same is true of the Lord’s Supper. It is an occasion specifically designed to provoke contemplation and reflection. Does partaking of the Lord’s Supper guarantee salvation? Of course not. Does it help focus our minds upon the Christ and the price paid for our salvation? Absolutely.
Melton misrepresents Gardner’s statement, inferring that the latter said we must visualize the body and blood of Christ “in order to stay in fellowship with Him” (p. 3). The Gardner quote may exaggerate the relationship of the Lord’s Supper with faithfulness, but he certainly did not say “our fellowship with Christ is based on visualizing His body and blood.”
How often should we observe the Lord’s Supper? Melton is right, neither Matthew 26:26-28 nor 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 say how often. He states we are free to choose how often we partake of the Lord’s Supper based on Paul’s saying “as often as” in 1 Corinthians 11:26.
A George Baily quote identifies Acts 20:7 as the basis for the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper. Melton accuses Baily and any who agree with him of “perverting the scriptures.” He adamantly states of Acts 20:7, “He said that they came together to BREAK BREAD, not to observe the Lord’s Supper. Mr. Baily wants you to think the two are the same, but they are NOT the same.” Breaking bread can certainly refer to a common meal (Acts 2:46; 20:11), but Paul used the same terminology in 1 Corinthians 11 to speak about Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper. Notice, “…the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ’Take eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this is remembrance of Me.’” Breaking bread can be a common meal, but it is not exclusively so. It is likely in Acts 20 that the Christians both partook of the Lord’s Supper (v 7) and shared a common meal (v 11). Lest it be thought that
only “Church of Christ people” think this is a reference to the Lord’s Supper, several commentators (Adam Clarke, Albert Barnes, John Wesley, Matthew Henry, B.W. Johnson, A.T. Robertson, etc.) also conclude Acts 20:7 is about the Lord’s Supper. In fact, Johnson claims “…the early church writers from Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, to Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Cyprian, all with one consent, declare that the church observed the first day of the week. They are equally agreed that the Lord’s Supper was observed weekly, on the first day of the week” (People’s New Testament Commentary).
Regarding frequency, a parallel can be made between Luke’s statement in Acts 20:7 and the command to the Hebrews about the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8). The Law didn’t say “Remember every Sabbath day…” It didn’t need to. Every Sabbath is necessarily implied, for every week has a Sabbath (7th day). The Jews understood that. When Acts 20:7 speaks about the practice of breaking bread (cf. Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24), it does not have to state “every first day,” since every week has a first day. Can we not see the necessary implication? But, whether someone is convinced that Acts 20:7 speaks of a weekly observation of the Lord’s Supper or not, on what basis would someone oppose a weekly remembrance of the Lord’s death surely keeping before our minds what the Lord has done for us cannot be characterized as bad. Does Melton contend that it is unscriptural to observe the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis? If not, I fail to understand his hostility over the issue.