In the last couple of posts, I’ve highlighted a couple of the major points from John Taylor’s intriguing essay on the Lord’s Supper in the early church. Here, my purpose is not so much to critique his work, but to touch on a few general points regarding the Lord’s Supper in the present-day church, with reference to his essay.
First, whether or not a meal is strictly to be considered part of the “Lord’s Supper” as understood in the early church–and I tend to think it was, in line with Taylor’s contention–I think it would be profitable to observe such a practice in our churches. I’ve been a member of a church that has done this (monthly) and visited another that observes the Supper each week and has a meal each week, though the former happens in the service and the latter after the service. I’m not at the point of arguing that such an observance is mandated, but I do share Taylor’s concern that something is lost when the loaf/cup is divorced from what seems to have been its original context of a meal.
Second, from a very practical standpoint, when the church sups together, an outstanding opportunity for conversation, edification, and building relationships is thereby provided. Many churches recognize this and have some sort of meal together as occasion arises; our present church normally has lunch together after the service on the fifth Sunday of a month (the several times a year that occurs) and at other additional times.
Third, Taylor makes the point that in some way or another, “the Lord’s death” is “proclaimed” in the Supper, and argues that this is more fully accomplished in a meal framed by the bread/cup than in the bread/cup alone. I see his point, and even if one were to argue that a meal as such is not necessary for such “proclamation,” a regularly observed meal would seem to provide a prime opportunity to allow unbelievers in attendance to “know that we are [Christ's] disciples, by the love which [we] have for one another” (John 13:35). As a very practical point, a meal also provides an already-scheduled time to which to invite visitors for interaction. We’ve found that when we’ve invited visitors to stay for an after-church meal, they often say they have lunch plans already, but if such a meal were to occur every week (gasp!), visitors who return could be expecting to stay for it.
I think that the symbolism vested in the bread and cup means those items should be limited to baptized believers, and thus having a meal (for all in attendance) in conjunction with the bread and cup (for baptized believers) would pose a potential challenge. Taylor recognizes this as well, and responds:
Churches, including my own, which restrict the consumption of the particular “elements” to those who are baptized, would have to administrate this much as they have always done in the context of a worship service. (12)
It is true, I think, that table fellowship is not as significant now as it was in Paul’s Jewish/Greco-Roman context. All the same, something important is still communicated when believers join in joyful camaraderie to together “eat their food with great joy and simplicity of heart.”