I want you to turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 14, you will remember that when we began this study a fortnight ago - that is 'The Practice and Principles of the Lord's Supper' - we took 1 Corinthians 11 for our reading, and there Paul enshrines for us what he received of the Lord, as did all the apostles, concerning the practice of the Lord's Supper and that was on the night on which He was betrayed. So he begins, as we shall see in a moment or two, a section there concerning the meeting of the church, the assembling together of God's people. He's still in that vein in chapter 14, and whilst this chapter deals with things such as the gift of tongues and the gift of prophecy and so on, we'll not be touching on those, those are big issues in and of themselves, we're just looking at this passage as far as it sheds light on what the meeting of the church was like in apostolic days. That's all we are concerned with just now: what the meeting of the church was like in apostolic days.
So chapter 14, and we'll take our reading up at verse 26: "How is it then, brethren? when ye come together", or when you assemble, "every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church", and we'll end our reading there at verse 35.
Now you may not remember that two weeks ago when we began this course, I give you two preliminary remarks. Let me just remind you of them, because I think they're necessary again today. First of all, I emphasised the fact that I believe the pendulum swing in opinion regarding the Lord's Supper has swung from being a great debate concerning how we should do it, and the errors of certain sects and denominations in their practices, to a swing to a greater disinterest in this whole subject in general. So whilst I will obviously - and it's impossible not to touch on practical issues - my objective is not to deal with errors regarding how other folk, and how indeed we ourselves might practice the Lord's Supper, but my objective is to arouse interest in believers to realise - and I emphasised this the last time, I'm not going to do it this morning - it is commanded of the Lord that you as a believer remember Him. It is commanded that you do that regularly, as often as you eat it, weekly was the apostolic practice - that is our, and ought to be our practice today - the big question is, do you do it? Have you any interest in doing it? That's my objective: to get you interested in remembering the Lord, biblically.
Then my second preliminary remark was to show that my objective was also to rediscover, from the New Testament, apostolic practice concerning the Lord's Supper - how we ought to do it. The reason why I want to emphasise that is not primarily to criticise others, but to highlight the fact that we can be as guilty as anyone of imposing our own presuppositions upon God's word, even regarding this particular issue. Therefore I think it's vital that we suspend our assumptions, prejudices, whatever traditions we might hold, and ask - with a clean sheet, if you like - 'What saith the Scriptures regarding the Lord's Supper?'.
Now we have looked this morning at 1 Corinthians 14, and I believe there is no more intimate a glimpse into what first century Christianity, what the church was like when it assembled, than the picture found here particularly between verses 26 and 35. The apostle begins in verse 26: 'How is it then, brethren? when ye come together' - or it could be translated, and is, like this, 'What is the outcome, then, brethren, when you assemble?'. Another translation puts it like this: 'When you assemble together as the church'. Now I've already said to you that this phrase, 'when you assemble', is found in these chapters in particular in Corinthians, and it anticipates the coming together of believers as the church for the meeting together of the church. That's why in chapter 11, where we were in our last study, this verb occurs five times 'when you assemble together', and that of course is in the context of coming together as a church to observe the Lord's Supper.
Now here in chapter 14, verses 26 and 34, we derive several practical features of what that New Testament gathering together for the Lord's Supper was like, what their meeting was like. Now the last time, you will remember, I sought to answer three questions. One: why should we observe the Lord's Supper? Two: when should we observe the Lord's Supper? And we began in the last study looking at, thirdly, how we should observe the Lord's Supper. We want to begin where we left off: how should we observe the Lord's Supper?
Now before we embark upon that, excuse this crude illustration but I think it brings to light how important it is to understand the principles behind the practice of the Lord's Supper. In order to fly a plane - and I stand to be corrected on this, I don't know an awful lot about flying them - but I imagine that you must first study and understand the laws of aerodynamics. You've got to understand principles and laws before you fly the aircraft. It's similar with the Lord's Supper, to observe the Lord's Supper - and, I believe, operate correctly in it - there are certain principles that must be grasped first. So we want to deal with those this morning, because these principles affect how we practice the remembrance of the Lord. I have four, and I'm going to spend a bit of time on each.
The first is the one we began with the last time, I don't know whether you can remember it, I'll not test you. It was simply this, the first principle when we are around the Table and met together as the church is: we must acknowledge Christ in the midst. Christ is in the midst of His people.
'Amidst us our Beloved stands,
And bids us view His pierced hands;
Points to the wounded feet and side,
Blest emblems of the Crucified'.
He, and He alone, is the central figure of our gathering, the focus of that meeting. He said Himself in Matthew 18:20: 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst'. Intrinsic within that principle there is the doctrine that Christ is the sole Head of the one body which is the church, and every believer is a member of that body - and we saw that from Ephesians 5 and verse 23. We gather together to His name and to His person:
'Gathered to Thy name, Lord Jesus,
Losing sight of all' - anyone - 'but Thee'.
He is the gathering centre of His people, now that is vitally important. That means that a preacher, whoever he is, however great his abilities may be, a preacher is never the reason for God's people to gather. Can I repeat, please, what I said the last time: it grieves me, when certain preachers are preaching, that some of you will not come. That shows that you're not gathering to the Lord, you're gathering to a preacher. Now there are some preachers, and at times we all would like to absent ourselves - name no names! But if the Lord is here, if He is the gathering centre of His people, that's what should matter. There is something that addresses one-man ministry here as well: a pastor or a minister is not to be the gathering centre of Christ's people. A denomination is not what you're to fly your flag to, you will not find denominations in the word of God - except in a negative light: 'Some say you are of Apollos, some of Cephas, some say 'I am of Christ'', it's the only thing in the Bible that is remotely like a denomination. You are not to gather to a building, and I cannot emphasise this enough: this building is not a house of God, it is not. You are the house of God. Now that doesn't mean we ought to do everything and anything in this building, it may be consecrated to do certain things in in a good sense - but there's nothing holy about bricks and mortar, but there's something is to be holy about you.
So you see how important it is that we emphasise this principle: that Christ and Christ alone is the gathering centre of His people, it is Christ in the midst that is to draw us and attract us. He is to be the fulcrum of all that we do when we are met as a church. How can we be conscious of Christ in our midst? Well, we saw that we ought to appropriate His presence by faith, take Him at His word, practice His presence, and in an act of faith believe that He is there. How seldom do we do that?
Well, let's leave that, for we have spent some time on it already, and go to our second principle - which is simply this, and in a sense it outflows from what we have already said: the second principle that relates to the practice of how we operate the Lord's Table is the priesthood of all believers, the priesthood of all believers. Now turn with me to 1 Peter chapter 2, we'll read two verses, verse 5 and verse 9. First Peter chapter 2 verse 5 reads: 'Ye also, as lively', or as living, 'stones, are built up a spiritual house'. So we're not to be people who are into physical houses, and sanctuaries and cathedrals, etc, but a spiritual house, which is the church, 'an holy priesthood', there you have it, you are a holy priesthood. This is your job as a member of the holy priesthood: 'to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ'. So you are a member of a holy priesthood that offers up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ. Now verse 9: 'But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood', that's a different emphasis, same priesthood, different emphasis, 'an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light'. So not only are you a member of a holy priesthood, but you're a member of a royal priesthood. The holy priesthood offers up sacrifices of worship to God through Jesus Christ, and the royal priesthood are to go out and show forth the praises of the one who has taken them out of darkness into God's marvellous light. In other words, this holy priesthood has got to do with our worship of God through Jesus Christ. This royal priesthood in verse 9 has got to do with our witness of Jesus Christ, particularly to those who are without Him as yet.
Now we could spend the whole morning on those two aspects to the priesthood of all believers, we don't have time, but let me just say that we derive from this that the idea of one particular group of men, or for that matter women, to be priests is inherently unscriptural. You don't find that, you find it in the Old Testament, you find it in Judaism, you find it in Catholicism, and in many other sects even of Protestantism - but you don't find it in the Bible. We are all, who have trusted Christ, we are all priests, men and women. We have all responsibility to offer up spiritual sacrifices of praise to God, we have all got the responsibility to go out and gossip the Gospel - and that also affects ministers. There's no idea here of a particular class called 'clergymen', while there are many godly clergymen, godlier than I will ever be perhaps, that idea - that's what we're talking about, not persons or people - that idea is foreign to the New Testament. What we find here is that we are all the body of Christ, and we are all equal before God - and that implies that all rank that might be found out in that world from Monday to Friday, all rank is to be left outside. So if you are a professor or a doctor, or a banker or some other professional person, or if you are a person - I don't know what the technical name is - that collect the bins, I have to be careful. Whatever you are, if you sweep the streets, or clean toilets, when we come together as God's people we are equal before God, there's nobody better than anyone else. That, incidentally, also has an aspect of reference to what position you might operate in the assembly. Just because you're an elder or a deacon, doesn't mean you're any different to the rest. This cuts both ways.
One day when the Duke of Wellington was at the Communion Table, an old and extremely poor man took his place beside him. The usher was about to ask him to leave, but the Duke, sensing what was going on, grabbed the elderly gentleman's hand and whispered: 'Do not move friend, we are all equal here'. That's it! I don't know whether he was saved, the Duke of Wellington, but he got that truth right. At the Lord's Table we are all equal - and it's more than just equality of worth, this is particularly what I want you to see: it is equality in worship. All believers are priests, listen to what I'm saying now: even male and female are priests around the Lord's Table, and male and female are to offer up worship there. Sometimes you women feel, rightly or wrongly, that you're downtrodden when it comes to exposition from the pulpit - well, here's a responsibility you have, and you are to function as a priest around the Lord's Table. Now, of course, let's not take this further than the scriptures give us warrant. Of course, in verses 34 to 35, Paul prescribes, inspired of the Holy Spirit, that in this church meeting women are to be silent, and not to exercise their gifts or their worship publicly. This is to be done privately by women, but it is to be done privately!
Therefore, what is being said here related to the priesthood of all believers is that everyone who is saved, when we are meeting together as a church, particularly at the Lord's Table, we are all to be worshipping, all of us. The men have the privilege - and we haven't got time to go into why, but it's got to do with creation and the fall - they have the privilege to worship audibly, the women have the privilege and responsibility to worship silently, but we have all got to worship! Every man is free to contribute a hymn, or a prayer, or reading of scripture, a word of teaching or exhortation, and a giving of thanks - that's clear from 1 Corinthians 14, and we'll look at that in a moment or two. Have you got it now? One, the first principle that relates to the practice of how we operate the Lord's Table: Christ is in our midst, He is the gathering centre of His people. Two: the priesthood of all believers, not a select few, we're all to be there to worship.
Thirdly: there is no officiating ministry, no officiating ministry. Now what does that mean? Well, you see here in verse 26 of 1 Corinthians 14 that 'every one of you', 'every one of you hath a psalm, a doctrine, a tongue, a revelation, an interpretation', each one has. So there was no one person officiating, no one man presiding over this gathering - this is vitally important, and I think we have lost it in these days, particularly in Protestantism. Ephesians 4, turn with me to it, the New Testament clearly tells us that the responsibility for ministry is to every believer, Ephesians 4 verses 11 and 12 - the Holy Spirit, God through the Holy Spirit, and through the resurrection gifts of Christ: 'gave some, apostles; and some, prophets', now those are the foundation gifts of the church, 'and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers', and we have those in operation today, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Why were they given to the church, these gifts? 'For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry', now in your English the Authorised has a comma there at 'saints', you could read right through, 'For the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry', that's the sense. These men were given to the church to perfect the saints to do the work of ministry. These were not the ministerial characters!
This is so important: every believer, therefore, is in the ministry. There's no one type of person to administer the Lord's Supper or baptism, any believer ought to be able to break the bread, pass the cup, and put someone down under the water - any believer. There is no one person with all the gifts needed to build up the body that is the church, that's why Christ never appointed one man over it all, because no one man has all the gifts - but the one body has been promised all the gifts! So all who have gifts - and all have some gifts, one sort or another - all are free to exercise them according to their priesthood before God. There are certain principles by which we have to exercise them, but the main one is found, if you go back to 1 Corinthians 14 and verse 26 at the very end, 'Let all things be done unto edifying'.
OK, Christ is the centre that we gather to, we are all as males and females to worship and offer up sacrifices of worship to God. The women do it silently, the men do it audibly. We each have different types of gifts, and therefore those who are gifted in certain ways ought to use those gifts in that gathering to edification. The use of your gift ought to only be to edify the people of God, now we'll spend a bit of time on that in a moment or two, but that's important - because everyone should go away edified. Let me repeat that: everyone should go away edified, and less and less that is happening. Sometimes it's a struggle to be edified, it's a great problem, particularly around the Table - now one way that could be addressed would be more contributions from the male species, that would vary things a great deal, wouldn't it? By the way, you don't need a spiritual gift to pray, that's not a spiritual gift. You don't need a spiritual gift to read the Scriptures, if all you're doing is reading them. You don't need a spiritual gift to raise a hymn, all men may do this, and how it would add to the meeting if all men at some time or another did. Wouldn't it?
Now another point that I need to make along this vein: if every man is able to add something to this gathering, an important point is that whatever they add - whether it's a prayer or ministry - it should be simple, and yet spiritual. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. You can be spiritual and simple at the same time - I'm not talking about simplistic ministry, I'm talking about easy to understand ministry, it's always better. Why? Because if people don't understand, they're not going to be edified. That's why many in the Corinth church weren't edified by the tongue speaking, because they didn't understand what was being said - because at times this was going on without interpreters, which was unbiblical. Look at verse 19 for a moment: 'In the church', Paul says, 'I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue'. Why? Because the goal was edification, and if people didn't understand they didn't get any good out of it. Now you don't have to speak in tongues for people not to understand what you're saying, you can speak in the King's English! People must understand.
Now another reason why it is important to be simple and spiritual is because it encourages younger men, and less experienced older men, to take part. Now let me say to the young men for a moment: don't be intimidated by, perhaps, how others pray and others speak, because I believe there's nothing more delightful to God than a few words spoken out of the heart. Yet to the older men, and the more experienced, I would say: there needs to be more understanding, and more cultivating of the activity around the Lord's Table by some of you. You need to encourage some of these younger men, there needs to be more tolerance, more understanding - and when they get up and maybe say something that isn't exactly right, that you don't pounce on them right away. We need to remember that we all had to start off somewhere, even you. Now what I'm calling for here is more of a parental heart than a judgemental or critical one.
Let me give you an illustration, and I read this one. You imagine an athletic trainer, and he's out on the track every day, wind, hail and snow. A very experienced runner whom he is training, he stumbles at every hurdle, and he realises that he's slipping up, he has let his discipline fall, and he gets really irate with that man. Then he goes home, and his little one-year-old boy has been learning to take some steps. He goes home and the little boy comes running to greet him, and he stumbles two or three times - now does he gulder at the wee lad? Of course he doesn't, because now his heart is not one of a trainer, his heart is one of a father - that's what we need. You remember that that was the spirit of Paul and the apostles among the Thessalonians: 'We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children'. Now, that being said, we need young people that have a liberality because the atmosphere is welcoming for them to take part; and we need an older, more experienced, mature crowd who are understanding and tolerant to those younger men. I think if we had those things, because we have no officiating clergy at this church meeting, things would be a lot better.
Now we've got to move on: Christ is in our midst, the priesthood of all believers, no officiating ministry - and fourthly and finally: the presidency of the Holy Spirit. This fits into what we've already said, but it's another aspect: the presidency of the Holy Spirit. That means that the church meeting in the New Testament was superintended not by a man or even men, but by the Holy Spirit of God. Verse 26 seems to indicate that, and other verses, and while Christ is the Head of the church, the Holy Spirit is the Vicar of Christ on the earth today. No pope, no archbishop, no pastor, no minister, the Holy Spirit is Christ's Minister on the earth. In verse 30 we see a feature of this: 'If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace'. So while one man was giving a word from the Lord, and something was revealed to another man by the Holy Spirit - not by his own ingenuity, but by the Holy Spirit - in these apostolic days that man standing up was to sit down, and the other man was to get up. Now we could enter into the logistics of all that, but we haven't time to - but this is the point I want you to see: what was superintending the meeting was not a man's will over another man, but the Holy Spirit's will. That's what's important.
Now practically this means there is no set format to this particular meeting - of course there are things you can do, and things you ought not to do, but what I'm trying to say is that in general this is an open meeting. Even John Calvin admitted that the meeting of the New Testament Church was spontaneous in its features. So what we're saying is that there is no biblical structure, there's no order of service that's laid down for us in the New Testament as to how we do a church meeting, there's no liturgy - that is all we have, that the Holy Spirit superintends this, and we are to trust the Holy Spirit as to how this meeting takes place, and how He uses and exercises the gifts He has given to the people in the church to edify the church. You might have a different tradition, and that's all right, but we are talking here about what Scripture says.
Now, here's the problems, and people will freely say these: that type of open meeting, whether it was New Testament or not, it lends itself to abuse - and I agree with you. This is the irony of the open meeting of the early church, its strength, its greatest strength is its greatest weakness. Its greatest strength, being opened to the superintendency and presidency of the Holy Spirit, is its greatest weakness - but in fact, let me rephrase that, its greatest strength is our greatest weakness. What do I mean? Well, what I mean is that the weakness, if there is any weakness, is in us. You see, this openness should create variety, but often it is characterised by monotony. You get the same men constantly ministering, sometimes along the same lines constantly, and sometimes you get men ministering who are not gifted to minister. I don't always point the finger at those men, because often it is because those who are gifted by the Holy Spirit to minister don't minister. We've got to look at this: sometimes a gift can be stifled. We have a promise in the New Testament that the Holy Spirit gives these gifts to the church, so if they're not manifesting themselves it's not because the Holy Spirit hasn't given them, but we are stifling them in some way. Maybe it's because the Holy Spirit does not have free reign in our lives or in our assemblies.
The problem of a meeting like this is often relayed as being long pauses - now I am never afraid of silences, that can be a great blessing, and is a discipline at times. However, I suspect that generally the long silences around the Lord's Table are not reflecting meditation, but a lack of spiritual exercise. That often can come from a lack of preparedness. What did Paul say in 1 Corinthians 11? 'Examine yourselves before you eat', and as priests, as 1 Peter 2 tells us in verse 5, we are to come with spiritual sacrifices. So we are to examine ourselves, and we are to come to offer up something to God - not just to get, but to give something. You're right, there are problems with this meeting, but the problem is not with the meeting as set down in the New Testament, the problem is with us.
You see, what we perceive as a weakness is actually another strength of this particular meeting, a strength that exposes our weaknesses. Actually, it's a good thing - and I'll tell you, there's times when I'm sitting around the Table when I don't think it's a good thing - but in the long-term it is a good thing, because this particular meeting, as it was envisaged by the Holy Spirit, can be a perfect gauge to the spiritual temperature of any church. You see it would be very easy to cover it all up, the fact that the Holy Spirit's not allowed to control a meeting, by putting man-made structures in place that make us all feel a wee bit more comfortable, and feel that we are going away with something a bit more substantial - but that would only be cosmetic, as far as my understanding of the New Testament is concerned. Yes, this type of format of a meeting that is given here, it lends itself to abuse - yes, when we abuse it, when we misuse it. It was abused in the New Testament, it was abused here, that's why Paul is writing - but is that the reason why we should reject it? Of course not, it is the very reason we should maintain it, even when it doesn't seem to be working - God knows best, and God knows it is for our best. God wants us to sit up, overseers and members, wants us to sit up and ask the question: why is it not working the way it ought to work? The problem comes when we don't ask that question.
Now, our responsibility therefore is to build according to the pattern of the New Testament, not to try and improve upon it, but strive for it and it alone. Now here are some practical issues regarding this presidency of the Holy Spirit - and let me address the men for a moment. Worship is to be Spirit-led, Spirit-led - the Holy Spirit is in control. Now whilst I'm advocating here, from your priesthood, that you are to come prepared - and that's essential to the variety of this particular gathering - there are some who come prepared and determined, that's not what we're looking for. You see, if you're truly prepared before God, you're as much prepared not to speak as you are prepared to speak. To be determined to speak, do you know what that is? That's the flesh. Indeed, we have here in chapter 14 verses 32 and 33, how spirits, the spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet - God is not the author of confusion. Men were to give way to other men when the Holy Spirit moved them, so there is balance here. The same in verse 29: 'Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge'. Now I think it follows that in the light of the Lord's Table meeting, that there shouldn't be a whole load of people speaking - and therefore you've got to be Spirit-led. The problem comes when someone has arrived determined to share, and they do not read what the Spirit is doing in the meeting.
Let me be as practical as I can: if what you have with you to offer to the Lord would detract from something that's already been said, or would distract from the main reason why we're there, keep it to yourself! If it is edifying, it might not be appropriate to that particular morning. What you can do is, and what you should do is, offer it in silence to the Lord. The problem comes when men come prepared and determined. Problems also come when you allow your emotions or your hobby horses to dictate your contribution, and that can add to an unedifying, unsatisfying atmosphere - but generally the problem is that this meeting can be so led by the flesh, and not by the Spirit.
Now I'm finished, but I want to remind you of the church I left with you on Monday night - Sardis. You have a name that you live and are dead, and this was the Christ with the seven Spirits who was telling them, the Christ who had all power to give them everything they needed through the perfect and complete work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. The reason why their church was not administered by the Spirit was that their lives were not filled with the Spirit. Now listen: if there's a problem with the meeting of the church here in Iron Hall, the problem is with you, the problem is with me. Our practice can have a name, but it can be dead.
In Texas there was a school burnt down before the war, killing 263 children. After the war they built a new school, and they installed within it the finest sprinkler system in existence, and they even brought tours to the school to show people around the mastery of its technology. After seven years of post-war boom, they decided to expand the school again. They found that the sprinkler system had never been connected to the source - they had it, but they weren't using it. We can have a form of godliness, but deny the power - and the form without the power is useless.
Let's get the form right, but let's have the power operating. Now we're going to dispense with our final hymn for the sake of time, but let me say to you that I have another message on this - and I'll give it to you next week if I feel I can, if I feel it's appropriate for me to give, and I feel you would be able to receive it. If you've any questions regarding anything I've mentioned thus far, I'll try and answer those as well if we have time. I think this is vitally important, and do pray for my guidance, whether I should give it or not next Lord's Day morning.
There we leave it, let us pray: Father, whenever we gather as the church, we want to always be conscious that the Lord Jesus is with us. May we operate as priests, male and female, before You. May the men rise to their public responsibility, according to whatever gifts the Holy Spirit has given them. May we all be aware of the presidency and superintendency of the Vicar of Christ on earth, the Holy Spirit of the Living God. May each of us be continually being filled with the Holy Spirit, and it will make such a difference to this church and to all our lives. To the glory of Christ we pray, Amen.
Don't miss Part 3 of "The Practice And Principles Of The Lord's Supper"...
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "The Principles and Practice of The Lord's Supper - Part 2" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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