The Lord’s Table or a Parody?

“When the finger points to the moon, do not look at the finger” (Popular saying)

The deception of religion

When it comes to modern Christianity, or rather Churchianity, the religion about Jesus that serves as a distraction from the real Jesus, the above saying seems to find perfect application. Why else are there thousands of denominations in Christianity? We allow the superficial, the external appearances, to separate us from our brothers and sisters in God’s kingdom, instead of going deep, into the life, the essence of being a follower of Jesus. This way we remain spiritual babes, who always learn, and we never come to the knowledge of truth (2 Timothy 3:7).

This seems to affect every aspect of our lives, and I could write a book about each one of those aspects. At this point in time, however, I want to focus on something very important, very vital in our walk with the Lord. You see, the devil hates everything that has to do with the Lord, and he will do everything in his power to hinder His plans from being fulfilled. If he cannot succeed in turning us against Him, he uses religion to distract us and take us off the course that God would have us walk. The subject of this article, as seen in the title, is what the Bible calls “the Lord’s table”, or as we call it “communion”, “holy communion”, “breaking of bread”, or other similar names. This activity, which is meant to express God’s love more than anything else, has come down to our times to be a mere tradition, even a ritual that brings shame and condemnation to those who participate. So, without any further delay, let’s take a look at what the Lord had established, what transpired through the ages for us to come to this parody we call “communion”, and how we return to the original plan.

The beginning

In order to really understand the legacy that Jesus left to us to carry on, we need to think outside of the proverbial box. We need to break free from the concepts of religiosity, to be transferred to the scenes that are described in all four gospels, and repeated by Paul in his first letter to the church of Corinth. This is necessary, because a careful look at the contemporary practice of the Lord’s table reveals something rather outdated, outlandish. The practice does not seem to blend smoothly with everyday life, but it looks forced, fake.

We read in three of the gospels (Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-20) that Jesus and His disciples were preparing to celebrate the feast of Passover, and were in search of a place for it. We are not going to go into details about the feast, but rather we will look at the culture and habits of that place in that era, and the atmosphere of the occasion. So, the setting is one of family. The tradition was for each family to celebrate Passover together. It was not one of those feasts that they celebrated as community, but each family was celebrating separately. Jesus, by feasting with His disciples, made a statement, that the real family is one with Him as the head, and those who follow Him together. Don’t we notice that He did not get together with His human parents, or that the disciples did not meet with their blood relatives? This is a very strong and significant statement, which today’s religion has completely missed. And we will see further how much it missed it, and what it has replaced it with.

Secondly, in all Bible references, we see the man who was about to betray the Lord (and who had already sealed the deal by receiving the cash) being present at that meal, and the Lord did not exclude him from that meal. He did not say, “Guys, examine yourselves, check your motives, and if you don’t love me, leave this meal now”, or “those with impure hearts keep your hands off the food”. Instead, after allowing Judas to dine with everyone, He gives him the green light to go ahead with his betrayal! How many pastors or priests today would allow anyone with known malevolent plans to take part in the communion? This is another thing we need to think about.

Another point I would like to make is that of culture. In those times, and even now, in all the Mediterranean countries, bread is a staple with every meal, and so is wine. I grew up in Greece, and I experienced it first-hand. No meal is complete without bread, and the wine is supposed to accompany almost every meal. The types of bread and wine differ from culture to culture, yet their consumption is something commonplace. We know from the context that, in that meal, they used unleavened bread, as it was the Passover custom. Fast forward to today. How many cultures around the world use bread with their meals? What about wine? Not every one, to be sure. For example, the Northern European countries use more potatoes than bread. The Asian countries use rice as their meal staple. In Africa they consume ground provisions (such as yams and other roots). For some cultures, using bread would be something foreign, something unnatural. Yet, there are followers of Jesus from every tongue and race. Did the Lord, with His instructions, force all peoples to use bread for His table? And what about wine? Some cultures use other kinds of alcoholic beverages with their meals, while many people do not consume alcohol at all. Are they to be excluded from His table because of that, or should they pretend to enjoy something alien to their cultures?

The answer to the preceding observations is found in the essence of what that meal stood for. As with everything else, religion looks only on the outside, on the surface of things, and seeks to repeat them ritualistically, instead of digging deep into the matter of the issues. We have already established that the setting was one of family, with love being the bond of its members. Here we have something more than just a family gathering: Love was present in person! Jesus, as the Son of God, was love personified. He had already stated that there was no greater love than what He had just told them He was about to do (John 15:13). In that backdrop, He shared bread with them, likening it to His body, and wine, which symbolized His blood. He told them so. He said that they should eat of the bread and drink from the wine. In another instance, He said that, unless they eat His flesh, they would have no life in them (John 6:53). Surely, those words were still ringing in their ears when Jesus gave them to eat bread and drink wine. In other words, He demonstrated practically what He had declared in words. This, therefore, was the true meaning of that action, that they should be filled with life. He is the bread of life, as He had already declared (John 6:35). To eat of the bread, symbolic of His body, means to be filled with life. Simple as that! No “transubstantiation”, no cannibalism, only a material representation of a profound spiritual truth.

But it did not end there. He then proceeds and orders them to “do this in His remembrance (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). He said, “do this”. What was the “this” that they were to do? Ask any Christian today, and the reply will always be, “to break the bread and drink from the cup”. This is where many problems originate. This goes side-by-side with the practice of washing each other’s feet, as mentioned by John (John 13:1-15), where again we see the commandment to “do likewise” (verse 15), which many churches today practice literally.  Did Jesus really care to establish a ritual, where we should share bread and wine, and where we should wash one another’s feet? It seems that this is the understanding of almost all Christians today, which brings me to my opening statement about looking at the finger which points to the moon. For Jesus to establish another kind of ritual would be contrary to His nature and mission. The religious leaders of His time had already too many rituals imposed on the people, and He often chastised them for that, calling them by very strong names. But the Lord was no hypocrite to condemn a practice, only to add another similar one. By telling them to do “this”, He meant the togetherness, the sharing of life, the family expression of love. This is confirmed by His other statement that “where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there, in the midst of them”, as He is love impersonated.

Power in practice

It was no coincidence that, when the disciples continued to share food and drink in His remembrance, they called those meals “loves” or “love feasts” (Jude 1:12). Those meals were not just any meals, like one would have with both believers and unbelievers. In obedience to the Lords command, the believers would gather together, to share food, love, and to remember and proclaim the Lord’s death (Acts 2:46-47; 1 Corinthians 11). The practice has been carried on down to our days, among all peoples and cultures and geographical locations. Everywhere there are followers of Jesus, this getting together is done. Sadly though, the practice has been greatly altered. In the previous quotation from Acts chapter 2, we see certain characteristics of those meals:

  • The believers met daily in some cases, or very often
  • They met at one another’s homes
  • They received the food with gladness
  • They were one in spirit
  • Their sharing led them to praise God
  • They found favor among the other people
  • People were saved and added to their numbers daily

That was the practice as delivered from the Lord, and as carried on in the right spirit. It could rightly be called “the Lord’s table”, because the Lord was there with them, in their midst. Deviations and problems were to start soon, though, which forced Paul to write those things to the Corinthian believers.

The case of the church of Corinth

Speaking of which, I will attempt to address another misconception that religion has created, and which continues to be the norm in today’s Christianity. Anyone who has participated in communion in any church, would be familiar with the scripture used to accompany the “meal”. It is invariably the scripture form 1 Corinthians 11:23-31. This piece of scripture is intentionally taken out of context, in order to create an atmosphere of solemnity and fear. The person presiding on the meal (!!!) reads those verses and emphatically calls the potential participants to examine themselves before taking from the bread and the cup, lest they have any hidden sins or sinful intentions and they suffer the fate mentioned in verses 29 and 30. This can cause no other feeling than fear, as nobody can ever honestly say that they are without sin, which would also contradict the Bible that says “all have sinned and fallen short from the glory of God”. Where is the gladness of the heart? Where is the eagerness to participate? Where is the unity of the spirit, when some are made to sit out of the practice? Contrast this with what I said earlier about Judas being allowed to participate in the meal. Either the Lord has changed His directions to the church, or men have altered the original practice, and nobody can deny that it is the latter and not the former. Why did Paul, then, write those sobering words? What was the cause of that letter?

We can easily find out by reading the entire chapter, including the verses which are singled out. We understand from the context that, when those Corinthian believers gathered together to have the Lord’s table, some would not wait until everyone arrived, but they would start eating and drinking, getting full with food and drunk with wine, while others who arrived later found nothing; they could not participate for the lack of food and drink. That went against the spirit of the get togethers. The perpetrators acted without love for their fellow believers, thus cancelling out the purpose of the meal. Those unruly believers perceived the meals as an opportunity to “pig out” and get drunk, something that could very well do at their own homes, as Paul puts it (verse 22). The church is the body of Christ, and by doing those loveless actions, those individuals could not see that, but considered those meals as something common. This is why Paul speaks of “not discerning the body of Christ” (verse 29). That was the reason that caused Paul to urge them to examine themselves, that is, to check their motives for taking part at the Lord’s table. It is reasonable, then, to avoid participation if the motive is not love but gluttony. It was that gluttonous display that caused some to fall ill and some to die; that was God’s judgment to keep His body clean and pure, and the blessings to keep passing on to the church and to the world. This makes perfect sense as seen in this context, and absolutely no sense as seen in today’s practice of sharing a small bite of bread and a shot glass of wine or juice.

The great apostasy

Now that we have clarified the context and meaning of those scriptures, let us examine how we got from those joyful, simple, loving meals that were done in unity of spirit to today’s solemn, religious rituals that many want to just do it once a month and get it over with. How did we reach from those love banquets that lasted for hours to a brief insert to a Sunday’s service that seems often to be the necessary “evil”? The change happened, just as the case is with the entire Christian experience and life, around the year 330 A.D. That was when the Roman emperor Constantine established his own version of church, called “Babylon” in the book of Revelation. That was when religion took over the simple relationship people had with the Lord, thus ending Christianity’s rapid expansion over the entire then known world. The priesthood of all believers was replaced by an elite class of a few “anointed” ones, thus creating two classes of people in the church, the class of the clergy, and that of the laity. The clergy, or priests, were the only ones authorized with administering God’s things to the underprivileged laity, and naturally the Lord’s table was not unaffected by that. The state church took the bread and the cup out of its natural environment, the love meals, turned them into “symbols” and the entire experience to a “sacrament”, which means something secret, mystical. The bread was said to transform to the actual body of Christ and the wine to His actual blood, once received by the participants, thus making them cannibals. The “phenomenon” was called transubstantiation, which means transformation of the substance of the elements. The joy of participating was turned to gloom and awe, the frequency of the meals diminished significantly, as ordered by the clergy, the unity of the spirit gave way to the division between clergy and laity, and the forgiveness of sins that the act signified became a trading tool in the hands of the clergy. That was when the priests introduced the indulgences, a paper offering forgiveness of sins to those who “deserved” it, or in other words, those who, for various reasons, enjoyed the favor of the clergy.

It was those indulgences, among other things, that brought Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic priest, to protest and expose the state church for her many discrepancies. That was the beginning of the Reformation, that looked promising in bringing Christianity back to her former simplicity and glory. It wasn’t meant to happen like that, though. The leaders of the Reformation themselves failed to deal with the root problem of the harlot “church”, and succeeded only in bringing about some cosmetic changes in the church. The power remained in the hands of some few “elect”, the priest was replaced by the pastor, the Catholic temples by simpler “places of worship”, and the “sacraments” remaining unchanged. The Catholic church provided a little round piece of bread, while the Protestant churches used an ordinary piece of bread. The wine, instead of being administered by the priest with a spoon, now was shared among the believers, always presided by the pastor or an authorized elder. The tables of the old love feasts were replaced by the pews, where people sit and stare at the back of the head of someone else, and that remained unchanged by the Reformation. All of those traditions came unchanged down to us today, and even the “house church” movement has not dealt with that problem. I have witnessed cases where believers who were not baptized in water were made to sit out of the sharing of the elements, as they still had to prove, according to the church’s rules, the genuineness of their conversion. Before coming to the knowledge of the truth, I myself had a hard time participating, as after “examining myself” I found myself unworthy, as having committed sins. But this is exactly the point of the act as established by the Lord, that we all have sins, and that His blood that ran on the cross cleans our conscience from all sin (Hebrews 9:14). This is exactly the point we proclaim by partaking in the act, in the Lord’s table.

So what now?

The “sacrament” or “mystery” of communion has absolutely no relevance to the sharing of love and the proclamation of the Lord’s death, as He established it. It is only a parody, a distraction from the truth. Regardless of who performs it or where and how it is done, when it forms a separate part from the real love feast, it cannot be acceptable to God. Those who claim blessings from participating in it, simply lie, or are ignorant of the truth. God blesses whom He wants to bless, and it does not depend on our doing of anything. Jesus’ command to carry on the practice has nothing to do with the elements used, or any “traditional” way of performance. His desire is for His followers to frequently get together, share meals and love, and bless Him for that ultimate act of love that sent Him on the cross. So simple and yet so profound. To miss this is to arrive to such huge errors as we have today, to the point that we can’t even tell what is the truth regarding the Lord’s table.

As it goes with everything spiritual, no pattern can be established for life. To try to put patterns is an effort to frame the Holy Spirit and limit Him in His work. How, then, many ask, should we celebrate this? The answer simply calls for a look at the essence of its original application. It needs to be intentional, yet not ritualized. The believers need to agree on it, yet not to make a “service” out of it. As we saw earlier, not even the “elements” bear any significance. If in your culture no bread is used, then you don’t need to adopt foreign elements and habits. It doesn’t need to be like Hinduism or Islam, where there are rigid rules concerning the dressing, the language used, even the most trivial details. For far too long the issue of using leavened or unleavened bread, wine or plain grape juice, has divided believers, and that needs not be so. Naturally, not every meal we take part in can be called “the Lord’s table”, as often we get together with non-followers of Christ, who have no idea or intention about sharing His love or proclaiming His death. There are, however, ample opportunities for believers, regardless of the place or the setting, to simply enjoy a meal together, as they are gathered with the purpose of enjoying the Lord’s love and blessings, and express their love for Him and one another in many ways, as the Spirit gives. Let us not forget what Jesus said: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). It is that love shared that attracted many to Him; it is that same love, as expressed by the Lord’s body, that brought healing and blessings to them and to many others; and it is that love that will last forever (1 Corinthians 13:8). We need to realize that we are the Lord’s family, and as often as we can get together, we can also share in His love and magnify Him.

The “sacrament” or “mystery” of communion has absolutely no relevance to the sharing of love and the proclamation of the Lord’s death, as He established it. It is only a parody, a distraction from the truth. Regardless of who performs it or where and how it is done, when it forms a separate part from the real love feast, it cannot be acceptable to God. Those who claim blessings from participating in it, simply lie, or are ignorant of the truth. God blesses whom He wants to bless, and it does not depend on our doing of anything. Jesus’ command to carry on the practice has nothing to do with the elements used, or any “traditional” way of performance. His desire is for His followers to frequently get together, share meals and love, and bless Him for that ultimate act of love that sent Him on the cross. So simple and yet so profound. To miss this is to arrive to such huge errors as we have today, to the point that we can’t even tell what is the truth regarding the Lord’s table.

As it goes with everything spiritual, no pattern can be established for life. To try to put patterns is an effort to frame the Holy Spirit and limit Him in His work. How, then, many ask, should we celebrate this? The answer simply calls for a look at the essence of its original application. It needs to be intentional, yet not ritualized. The believers need to agree on it, yet not to make a “service” out of it. As we saw earlier, not even the “elements” bear any significance. If in your culture no bread is used, then you don’t need to adopt foreign elements and habits. It doesn’t need to be like Hinduism or Islam, where there are rigid rules concerning the dressing, the language used, even the most trivial details. For far too long the issue of using leavened or unleavened bread, wine or plain grape juice, has divided believers, and that needs not be so. Naturally, not every meal we take part in can be called “the Lord’s table”, as often we get together with non-followers of Christ, who have no idea or intention about sharing His love or proclaiming His death. There are, however, ample opportunities for believers, regardless of the place or the setting, to simply enjoy a meal together, as they are gathered with the purpose of enjoying the Lord’s love and blessings, and express their love for Him and one another in many ways, as the Spirit gives. Let us not forget what Jesus said: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). It is that love shared that attracted many to Him; it is that same love, as expressed by the Lord’s body, that brought healing and blessings to them and to many others; and it is that love that will last forever (1 Corinthians 13:8). We need to realize that we are the Lord’s family, and as often as we can get together, we can also share in His love and magnify Him.

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty with which Christ has made us free, and do not again be held with the yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1)

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