Tue October 24th, 2017
The Eucharist or the breaking of bread or communion or the Lord’s Table are different names for the same thing. Throughout history the church has always accepted that Jesus inaugurated a covenant meal at which his death was to be remembered and whatever denomination or experience of church you have had, it is usually at the centre of it. Of course, the Salvation Army don’t usually break bread, but that is because they were initially part of the temperance movement and would not encourage the drinking of wine. The Methodists followed a different path, that of non- alcoholic wine, which has been followed by many other groups, like ourselves.
A Matter of Perspective
There remains however a difference in perspective between some groups, perhaps most notable between the Pentecostals like ourselves and the Roman Catholics or High Church Anglicans that goes deeper than the wafer and the wine and comes down to these two words – ‘ordinance’ or ‘sacrament’.
A sacrament is an outward sign or action that in some way conveys grace to the person taking part or validates their faith. An ordinance is simply a command that we should follow.
Roman Catholics have always taught that the eucharist is a place where grace is imparted and that it is very important to celebrate ‘mass’ for that reason. Whereas Pentecostals have always taught that it is simply a symbolic act of obedience that we take part in because Paul says:
1 Cor 11:17-34
17 Now in giving the following instruction I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, to begin with, I hear that when you come together as a church there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 There must, indeed, be factions among you, so that the approved among you may be recognized. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not really to eat the Lord's Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others, and one person is hungry while another is drunk! 22 Don't you have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you look down on the church of God and embarrass those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I praise you? I do not praise you for this!
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: on the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, 24 gave thanks, broke it, and said, "This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me."
25 In the same way He also took the cup, after supper, and said, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.
27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 So a man should examine himself; in this way he should eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep. 31 If we were properly evaluating ourselves, we would not be judged, 32 but when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord, so that we may not be condemned with the world.
33 Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that you can come together and not cause judgment. And I will give instructions about the other matters whenever I come.
There is some case to say that Pentecostals just picked up this attitude from the reformists as a sort of extreme protestant position. Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli taught that the bread and wine were ‘just symbols’ that help us ‘remember’ something that happened a long time ago, and that idea has been propagated ever since. The Pentecostals and New Church groups wanted to put a distance between themselves and the idea that just taking part in the Lord’s supper had some sort of saving value, that the Catholics held. In doing so they (and we) have to some extent thrown the baby out with the bathwater. It is not that we do believe people can receive God’s grace by simply eating and drinking, but that there is surely room for a true spiritual experience at the Lord’s Table.
How many times at the start of a service or at some point during it will we say “Holy Spirit come”? Is It not also reasonable that we might do that during the breaking of bread? Recent catholic writers have written about speaking in tongues during mass and how the experience is enriched by it – something which Pentecostals have said for years.
Can we not receive something special at the Lord’s table – something that we might call grace, and therefore a sacrament? How many times do we pray for the sick at the Lord’s table – isn’t healing a grace (a gift of God, a grace gift ‘charismata’)? The idea in the Catholic liturgy that the bread becomes the body of Christ is an idea that has scared Pentecostals and Protestants for years, but if you talk to Catholic priest and indeed read modern catholic writers you will see no mention of transubstantiation (the literal transforming of the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Jesus) but rather a ‘spiritual transformation’ that takes place. I have to be honest and say that the ringing of the bell during mass still rattles me (as it indicates the time of the transformation), but of all the Catholics I know, not one of them believes that they are eating flesh and blood – an accusation put on them by protestants.
Can God’s grace be experienced at the Lord’s table? If you speak in tongues, prophecy or minister healing at the Lord’s table they are all charismata – ‘grace gift’s and so you do experience a sacrament! Can we go further and say that God will meet with us at the Lord’s table? Why should we have a problem with that? Whereas we are not likely to so change our teaching that we are going to all wear frock coats or ring bells or even use Beaujolais – what would be wrong in us saying “Holy Spirit come” at the start of our breaking bread?
Sometimes the language we use about liturgies, services or doctrines can be ‘loaded’ with historical pain or even misunderstanding. Sometimes there is much to learn by talking to those who understand what they believe but practice things quite differently to us. Whereas most of the church growth world-wide has been amongst Pentecostals in the last 50 years, the next most significant has been amongst Catholics and in places like South America it has been side by side. Many Catholics are actually Pentecostal in experience, especially outside of Europe, and often we can find like-minded people to pray with and even work with for the kingdom’s sake. I am not suggesting for one moment that there aren’t significant areas of disagreement but perhaps we can learn a little from them on this one area of grace at the Lord’s table?