Recently in an informal discussion meeting, I gave some simple points about the purpose and functioning of the assembly breaking of bread meeting. Afterward, several young men confided that they had never heard an explanation of these things. I wondered how many other young believers have unspoken questions.
As stewards of God (Titus 1:7 KJV) elders desire to help younger Christians appreciate and participate in the activities of the local church. After all, the church as described in the New Testament is designed for participation, not stagnation. The Lord is seeking worshippers (John 4:23), not spectators.
Let’s think about this unique time in which God’s people gather to break bread. Volumes have been written on the subject, so we’ll just stick to some basics, remembering that details of application differ throughout the world, but the underlying principles are timeless and workable in all cultures.
Lessons in a Name
Did you ever think of all the different names used to describe this meeting of the church? Paul speaks of the Lord’s supper (I Cor. 11:20); Luke refers to the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42); and many people prefer the word “communion” (I Cor. 10:16). Some churches speak of the “eucharist” which is the Greek word for “giving thanks” (I Cor. 11:24) while others prefer terms like “the remembrance meeting” (based on the words of Jesus in Luke 22:19), or “the worship meeting” stressing the inevitable result of “seeing the Lord.” I remember in younger days hearing the older folks talk about the “morning meeting.”
How much can be understood from these expressions! By them we are reminded that Christians gather to remember the Lord Jesus, enjoy fellowship with Him, give thanks, worship and adore Him, and partake of meaningful symbols as He asked.
The Purpose for Meeting
The scriptures disclose a number of different reasons why this is an important time in the life of the church, such as showing the Lord’s death, and being reminded of His return (I Cor. 11:26). But the main point is clearly that it is centered in a Person. This is interesting because from one perspective, we remember things about Him from the long past, and yet He still promises to meet with us when we gather! (Matt. 18:20). This point is unique to the Christian faith. Many religions reminisce about their prophet or founder, but the Christian meets with Him on a regular basis!
Very often when Jesus revealed Himself in some special or unexpected way, the one to whom He revealed Himself responded in humble and simple words of worship and adoration. Worship thus becomes one inevitable result of being in the presence of the Lord.
The Frequency of Meeting
Most Christian assemblies meet to break bread each week following the example of the early church (Acts 20:7). Other churches do so less often. This difference should never be a matter for pride or criticism, as no Scripture commands a certain frequency. The word “As often….”(I Cor. 11:26) allows liberty, and we can be thankful whenever true believers desire to obey the Lord’s command. This is one point in which godly elders can uphold the unity of the body.
According to I Cor. 14:26, there is to be freedom for expression in the gathering of the believers. The actual wording is: “every one of you hath …. [something],” and assemblies have tried to honor this principle by encouraging the free exercise of the priesthood of the believer as regulated by various Scriptures that apply. More about this shortly.
How Can Elders Help?
Without question, a large part of elders’ responsibility, is to lead by example as I Peter 5:3 makes clear: ” Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock.” Elders can set a good example of what it means to worship the Lord “in Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23). But other Scriptures emphasize the active side of leading people. They must “feed the flock…” (Acts 20:28) and withstand false teachers (Titus 1:9f.). The thought of elders being stewards of God as mentioned earlier, reminds us of the strenuous efforts involved in running a household so that order is maintained, supplies are adequate, and workers know and do their parts. This includes insuring that the younger ones receive training to become a vital part of the work. In this way, a sense of ownership is developed in the next generation so that in time they will be committed to the work of the church. Here are some things that elders can build into the thinking of young believers over the years, both by teaching, by example, and by gentle, practical reminders.
1. At the Lord’s Supper, the Lord is present! He does not need to be taught about worship, He wants to be worshipped. It’s not a bad idea to think of Him asking each one present, “What would you like to say to me?” This will go a long way to prevent excessive teaching at the breaking of bread.
2. More than any act or deed, however precious to us, we meet to remember a Person; Someone. If understood, this will keep us from the “what’s in it for me” attitude so characteristic of the world. We are occupied first with One Who is worthy to be honored in His glorious Person.
3. Worship is a result, not a cause. A quick check of the concordance will reveal how few mentions of the word “worship” are found in the epistles. This is partly because worship is the overflow of a full heart, not a program. The wording is precise as to what the Father seeks: “true worshippers;” not as sometimes quoted, “The Father is seeking worship.” Keeping hearts warm and relationships clear will prevent a mechanical, ritualistic tone to the gathering.
4. There will always be quiet brothers in the church. But part of maturing in Christ is learning to participate openly in worship. This is not easy for many men, and may be one reason why sisters are asked to be silent in the gathered church (I Cor. 14:34) as the men learn to speak. Elders should make it clear that God hears silent and audible worship equally well! The vocal part has to do with leading, not the right or ability to worship.
5. The Spirit of God is the ultimate Leader of worship. Different brothers participate in the meeting under His direction. We should not insist on a set “theme” in each meeting, for God is sovereign in His directing. But it is reasonable to think that He will direct the thoughts of the saints to some particular aspect of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus, and it delights us when we sense that focus.
6. Young believers will want to understand how they can contribute meaningfully. Scriptures like Psalms can be read as an act of worship or praise. The reading of a short passage is also helpful in reminding the worshippers of some facet of the Lord’s Person or work. When this is done, it is appropriate to respond to what has been shared collectively by singing a hymn, or by brothers leading in prayer (actually, it is more accurate to describe this as worshipping in prayer and singing).
In a different context, Paul instructs believers to “Tarry one for another” (I Cor. 11:33). The principle applies here. Just as in ordinary conversations among family members, one will wait courteously for others to respond to the subject being discussed before introducing a new subject, so it should be in worship. It can be distracting when someone quickly changes to a new train of thought before the people can respond to what has been offered. For this reason:
7. Silence need not be embarrassing. It can be a time for private meditation and responding to the Lord concerning what has been said. Elders can help people unacquainted with an open format to appreciate this important point.
8. Sometimes things are shared in the meeting which seem out of place, such as personal testimony of daily incidents or words of exhortation. This may simply indicate a need for growth, and all should give thanks that a young believer has brought something to the Lord. But elders may want to consider if other, more suitable times are available for such thoughts to be expressed. Perhaps the Lord’s Supper is the only open time available to the congregation. Some have solved this problem by providing a brief time after the breaking of bread for ministry, exhortations, etc.
A healthy church (and a healthy Christian) will follow the example of the earliest disciples who “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). What a precious gift God has given us in these things! As we hear Him speak through His word (teaching), we are transformed into different people expressed in godly relationships (fellowship). This moves us to pour out our hearts to the One Who loves us (breaking of bread) and seek His help for every aspect of life (prayer). As one asked long ago: “Who is sufficient for these things?” (II Cor. 2:16).