The Lord’s Supper: John Mark Hicks on the Communion

John Mark Hicks has posted a series of articles on the scriptural roots of communion, and he’s provided some very helpful observations. We begin with his article Breaking Bread in Luke-Acts VI: General Observations.

The church continues the ministry of Jesus. … Jesus sat at table with saint and sinner, insider and outsider. … [They] continued this practice–they broke bread as a community and with outsiders. The church continues to break bread on the ground of what Jesus did, not on the ground of what the church did.

It’s a mistake to view the bread-breaking passage as being all about a Sunday morning ceremony. We best remember Jesus by living as Jesus lived, which includes sharing table fellowship with saints and sinners. This is love.

Hicks’ observation that Luke shows outsiders in Eucharistic settings is at odds with such (not much) later sources as the Didache, which require that unbelievers not be served or even excluded from the room.

The church eats a meal of redemptive hope.  Every “breaking of bread” in Luke-Acts is a redemptive and eschatological in character. … Eating the meal (breaking bread) is a promissory act–God pledges the future to us.

Notice that the bread-breaking passages include many meals that are quite different from the Eucharist. And nearly all these passages unquestionably involve meals. None are unquestionably ceremonial meals such as we conduct.

The church eats in the presence of Jesus. … The church eats a post-resurrection meal with Jesus through the breaking of bread. Eating in the presence of the living Christ is not a funerary act or a sad memorial of his death, but a vibrant declaration of the gospel (good news) that Christ died and rose again for the sake of the world. But more than a declaration–it is, indeed, an experience of the living Christ himself. Thus, joy and celebration encircles the table rather than mourning and sadness. Why would anyone eat a post-resurrection meal with Jesus in sadness?

But when is Jesus with us in our meals? Only at the Lord’s Table? No, he’s with us when “two or three are gathered” in his name. Indeed, he’s with us “always, even to the end of the world.” Therefore, there is a real sense in which every meal taken in the name of Jesus or in service to his mission is Eucharistic.

The church invites “others” to share the meal. When the early church follows Jesus into the world, it is for the sake of the world. … There is no reason to presume that the “breaking of bread” in Acts 2 or Acts 20 only included disciples. … The table is not simply communal but also missional (more on that in the next post).

These are critically important observations — and far removed from our traditional views of communion. After all, even the early (but post-apostolic) church carefully distinguished between who could take communion and could not. The Eucharist was seen as a privilege and mark of the saints — and denied to sinners. But this would be to host a meal and refuse to serve the sinners — a very un-Jesus way to act.

Rather, the presence of Jesus is seen in the congregation’s love — for each other and for visiting unbelievers. The Law of Moses called for visiting Gentiles to share in the Passover. Just so, we miss much of the point when we treat the Lord’s Supper as a means of separating the world from our fellowship. Of course, “fellowship” in this sense is a sharing of our love, symbolized by eating together — not a declaration that the lost are saved. Rather, the idea that we only eat with the saved is precisely the attitude the Jesus came to reverse.

Now, as we ponder these thoughts, we begin to see how very far removed our approach to the Lord’s Supper is from the Biblical teaching.

* Biblical: We eat with sinners. Traditional: We only eat with saints.

* Biblical: The meal is a meal. Traditional: The meal is never a meal.

* Biblical: Jesus is present at all meals taken in his name with others. Tradtional: Jesus is only present in the assembly and only on Sundays.

* Biblical: The meal is sacramental because Jesus has a special presence when we gather in his name, even if not on Sunday. Traditional: The meal is not sacramental but symbolic only.

* Biblical: All meals have the potential to be sacramental — that is, to bring about Jesus’ special presence among us. Traditional: Only the crumb and sip on Sunday have spiritual significance.

* Biblical: Breaking bread with Jesus is a gift celebrated in joy. Traditional: Breaking bread is an ordinance obeyed ritualistically, even mournfully. We certainly shouldn’t sing during the meal!

Do you see the difference?

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27 Responses

  1. Jay

    What a great post. I never say this represents but it is his blood and body.

    We do include all and it is a celebration.

    Bob

  2. I have read HIcks’ series before. I like his thoughts. I think that most people disagree with him (something that Hicks admits). The communion service, as most CoC’s and others practice it today, with bits of crackers and little sips of juice…It just seems so different from what people in the NT did.

    How did we get here?

    I guess a more important question may be
    How do we get out of here?

  3. I’m with Dwayne—how did we get here? Specifically, where did crumb-and-sip come from?

  4. What would happen if the church prepared a simple meal or pot luck and invited everyone in the town to attend?
    Then had a simple devotional with communion.

    Anyone could attend and there would be no restriction as to race, gender, social standing or religious affiliation. Even trashy people would be welcome.

    I’m sure it would frighten most but I would like to try it sometime. I would include the homeless and all the undesirables. Jesus was a master at that sort of thing.

    I think I could find a few that would vocally condemn that action. We do have Pharisees were we live and we could get them to yell disapproval.

    I think it would work and even the folks tha t were not Christian would see that we really care for them.

    I have for years advocated friendship evangelism without restriction. The lost deserve to be a part of us and it is our responsibilit to show our Love for them as Christ did or does for us.

    There are many more, non traditional, out of the box ways to win souls.

    We huddle up in our cloistered buildings and feel safe from the sinners influence on us as opposed to our influence on them by our friendship and expression of Love

    Bob.

  5. Dwayne,

    I’ll get to solutions — if I can think of any — later.

    I think we got to crumb and sip via Greek/Gnostic influence, as the church moved from its Jewish roots to Platonic thought. Eating a meal was far too material and fleshly for the taste of Greek thinkers — the same people who recommended that married men and women engage in no sex, as sex is too material and fleshly.

    The result was to turn actual food into a spiritual meal.

  6. Bob,

    I think I’ve heard of this idea somewhere, maybe —

    (Luke 14:21-23) “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

    22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

    23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.”

  7. Jay

    Thats what I had in mind.

    I want all the “called out” in my community, regardless of name, to fill their buildings and homes with the so called rejects of the community.

    I want us to obey the Golden Rule. Everything else will fall in line with the Spirit’s help.

    Why can’t we be a community like Bethsaida of Galilee where everyone works together for a common cause.

    I am a student of simplicity. Christianity is simple. You have just pinned it by Luke 14: 21-23.
    My goal in my remaining life is to see our community united in Christ to do simple acts of kindness and faith.

    No more infighting just love.

    Bob

  8. Only for Jewish Christians, only at Passover time. Just an interpretation of the Passover.

  9. “I think we got to crumb and sip via Greek/Gnostic influence, as the church moved from its Jewish roots to Platonic thought. Eating a meal was far too material and fleshly for the taste of Greek thinkers”

    Not Platonism but the gospel of John! No mention of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. It is replaced in John 6 by eating Jesus flesh and drinking his blood by mere belief. The corruption is with those who seek to impose Jewish ritual meals on Gentile believers, not with those who reject having a meal in the worship at all. The so-called Lord’s Supper must be booted, or John’s gospel must be booted, because the two are contrary to one another.

  10. And remember, Paul says “the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” in Romans 14:17. Why then does Paul make a big deal about this food and drink ceremony in Corinthians 11? He doesn’t. Its an addition by the Catholics. Paul was a pneumatic like John, not a psychic.

  11. Rom 14:20 “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.” Its exactly what we’ve been doing and will continue to do until we jetison this irrelevant and divisive Jewish meal and stop having any involvement of food in our worship.

  12. Johnny,

    Do you have any manuscript or Patristic evidence for your redaction of the text? I’m not aware of any scholar who agrees with your view. Is there one?

  13. What “redaction” are you referring to? I’m not using anything but the KJV. Paul does say “the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” in Romans 14:17. And John’s gospel does lack any institution of the Lord’s Supper even though he tells about the last passover. And in John 6 the standard interpretation of this among Protestants is that we eat Jesus’ flesh and blood by believing, since Jesus says in John 6:63 “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” which is taken to mean that physically eating something is of no importance but rather believing his word, and also he says in John 6:47 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” That is the same promise attached to eating his flesh and blood, and therefore the standard Protestant interpretation is that eating his flesh and blood and believing in him are one and the same, i.e. you eat his flesh and blood by believing, not by eating a cracker and a swig of grape juice. I’m sure Randall can confirm that this is the standard interpretation. Or you can look at virtually any non CoC commentary on the chapter.

  14. Sorry. “Redaction” is editing, especially by removing text. You keep saying text in the NT is a Catholic insertion. I want to know whether you have any support for those claims, such as ancient manuscripts or Patristic sources that omit the text you say the Catholics added.

  15. If you mean the suggestion that 1 Cor 11 could be a Catholic addition, what difference does it make if any scholar does or does not specifically agree with that? You know that tons of scholars divide Paul’s epistles between the authentic 4 and pseudo-Pauline or deutero-Pauline corpus. And in some scholars, only Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians are considered authentic. In others 1st Corinthians is. There probably is one out there somewhere that accepts 1 Cor but rejects 1 Cor 11 as interpolation but I don’t know. I know that many denominations have no Lord’s Supper, or just have some crackers and grape juice in a back room AFTER the service for those who care to go back there (a minority). Certainly scholars attend such churches. Why don’t they agree with you on the massive importance of Jewish ritual meals? I think you ought to consider why you find such a ritual important. Paul asks those who seek such rituals in Galatians 4:9 “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?”

  16. Johnny,

    Next question:

    When you figure these Catholic interpolations occurred? In the Middle Ages? Second century?

  17. Second century. As part of the or not long before the final redaction of 180 by Irenaeus.

  18. Jay,

    After reading John Mark’s book and talking to him in person when he was out here in Australia, we decided to move to the kind of format he proposed. We had everyone bring potluck lunch every week, and we all sat around a big table (lots of tables joined together in an L-shape), broke bread, served both red and white wine, and celebrated Jesus. It was open to all.

    I really miss that experience in my current church, but I understand that it’s a debatable viewpoint (open versus closed, that is). As JMH argues, if you see a continuity between Jesus’ meals with “sinners” in Luke and the Supper in Acts, then you really need to approach it as a missional opportunity.

  19. Johnny said:
    “I’m sure Randall can confirm that this is the standard interpretation.”

    Randall is not involved in this nonsense and has no desire to become involved. He certainly can not confirm what Johnny claims. Please leave Randall of of it.

    Thanks for the consideration,
    Randall

  20. Randall

    Me too. Debate never won a soul. It only made the hardened harder.
    As an international Petroleum Engineer I found simple solutions to complex problems. The Gospel is simple, so simple than any uneducated person can understand it. That puts us all on common ground.
    People are much the same if you keep it simple and direct.

    Cheers

    Bob

  21. Hi Bob,
    Regarding debate and going beyond the keep it simple (KIS) position regarding theology I think it may be different for different people.

    Responsible debate can be enlightening, edifying and encouraging, Irresponsible debate can be “like a kerosene lantern in that it generates more heat than light.” I have no interest in debating over what I may consider to be an idiosyncratic position for which there is little or no support. It can be like wrestling with a pig – you both get dirty, but the pig doesn’t care. Even when the issue is worthy of a lot of discussion I disappoint myself by the tone of some of my comments.

    Some people do not see value in struggling to understand theology on a deeper level and are turned off by the thought of having to dig that deep and still not knowing or understanding all the answers. For others the deeper they dig the more they are in awe of God; and they are sometimes disappointed that some others leave things at what they consider too shallow a level. Someone has said that the scriptures are “shallow enough for a child to wade in and deep enough for an elephant to drown in.”

    So I think a good discussion where people talk to each other and grapple with trying to understand the other side can be worthwhile, but it may not be for everyone.
    Peace,
    Randall

  22. It’s amazing to me how a good, thought-provoking blog can be turned into such a travesty by dogmatic assertions with no evidence in the comments.

    Jerry

  23. Jerry

    What are you trying to say? That we are the epitome of dogmatic discussions?

    Bob

  24. Mick,

    Thanks for the comment. That’s the first time I’ve heard of someone actually trying the idea. It’s encouraging to hear that it worked so well.

    My son attends a house church that takes communion as part of a common meal. I find that much more meaningful than what we typically do. And yet there are obvious practical problems for a larger church.

  25. I don’t see how pointing out the foolishness of racheting up the fight, nay the war, on the Lord’s Supper is dogmatic. Quite the contrary, your liberal dogmatic beliefs that the Lord’s Supper should be made into some crazy show banquet and the conservative dogmatic beliefs that it should be a stale ritual are dogmatic. My PROGRESSIVE belief that we should just cast it aside and spare ourselves the fighting since it was just for the Jews anyway, just a reinterpretation of Passover for as long as Christian Jews would continue Passoever, with this actual progress will be made. Your plan just makes an already body strewn battlefield all the more bloody.

  26. That was to Jerry.

  27. Jay and Mick, my wife and recently visited a Reformed Church plant that was trying this same sort of model. It was in the church budget to proved a simple meal at which there was a “sacramental” blessing of the meal, and a discussion of the morning’s sermon.

    I too wonder how it would work in a larger church, but in the smaller church, I found it to be a great way for the morning to unfold.

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