As a child I can clearly recall my parents and grandparents bemoaning the way the world had changed and become more secular. Of course, this was in the time of the hippie generation and anti-war protests, etc. It seemed like a radical time in many ways.
But I have now lived long enough to probably sound like them to my children, and soon to my grandkids I suppose. But times have changed and become more secular, there is no doubt about it. People attend church far less as a total percentage of the population. And those who call a church their home family of faith … they too attend with far, far less frequency than did church folks of my teen and early adult years.
Witness for example the changes in “blue laws.” Restrictions upon the sale of many items on Sunday, or the disallowance of certain businesses to be open on Sunday, now seem strange even to those of us who grew up in very conservative environs.
Youth sports and travel teams with tournaments, etc. that are so common on Sundays now would have never existed when I was a kid. This is true of a wide range of activities and events.
So, to many people, even many Christians, the notion of prioritizing church attendance above most everything else is an odd values system.
This week our devotionals in this new “Why Church?” series will seek to answer the question, “Why Gather?” It is a good starting place.
The first of five reasons we’ll talk about is that of Remembrance … speaking of the remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ through the elements of the Lord’s Supper, what we commonly call communion.
In the earliest gatherings of the church of Christ in the decades of the Apostles and the writing of the New Testament, the Sunday gatherings of God’s people appear to have been in the context of a meal shared together. Why was this? It’s a bit complicated, and as I related in the sermon on Sunday, this was actually the topic of my master’s thesis at Dallas Seminary.
The sort of illustration I have used over the years is like this: Imagine if Jesus were to come back to earth, meet with us personally for a couple of weeks, encourage us and give us new instructions for life and a new understanding of God’s master plan. Imagine that he told us that in fact he was again going away, that he would return at a later time and then give us our new eternal heaven and kingdom. And suppose he said that until that time he wanted us to meet and remember his visit and his words by gathering on Tuesday evenings. And beyond that, he said we should remember him by sharing Krumpe’s donuts with each other, knowing how much he loved them in his visit with us.
So, when Tuesday night came, what would happen? Well, we would gather, probably with the room set up the same way. The worship team would play and one or two of us would speak. We’d spend time talking with each other and announcing other activities. And along the way, we’d add in a time for eating Krumpe’s donuts together. We would add the new teachings to our familiar past.
And that is what the early church did, being a group largely composed of Jews who had trusted in Christ as the messianic fulfillment of Scripture. All Jews would be familiar with the gathering of the faithful in their local synagogue, which by the way literally means a “gathering of people” … and later came to be the name of the place where those people gathered (just like the use of the word “church” first reference people, and then the place where the people met). The Christians now met on Sunday rather than Saturday, and they added to the familiar synagogue service the additional element of remembrance through communion.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians we see him rebuking the readers for their wrongful way of gathering. Meeting on Sunday, the first day of the week, the wealthier people were arriving first and eating and drinking (even in excess) before the poorer people were likely able to attend. The result was that the meeting was not accomplishing anything as it was supposed to in terms of a remembrance.
1 Corinthians 11:17 – In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!
Oh my, it sounds like a total mess! Paul is telling them that their purpose was not to eat and drink and party and fellowship. There were other places for that to be a priority. No, their purpose in gathering was to participate in the Lord’s Supper — the time of remembrance. And Paul goes on to relate again the last supper story of Christ with the disciples…
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread … you know the story … skip down to his application in verse 33…
33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.
The remembrance was a focal point of their early church gathering. Though there were other purposes (that we will be covering as the week goes on), it could successfully be argued that the coming together for remembrance — the communion — was the first purpose. The early church would have never met without observing this; they would have probably sooner not had any worship or teaching than to not have the Lord’s Supper.
So, should we observe it every week? It would not be a wrong thing to do, though I don’t think it is a specific command for EVERY week. But some do believe this. At a minimum, it should receive high value and importance. Those of you who have been with us for a longer period of time do know that as of the past couple of years, we have been observing it with greater frequency than the once a month pattern of the past.
So take away from this discussion that, indeed, communion is not a tack-on ritual to observe here and there. It is a major focal point and purpose for gathering as God’s people. His sacrifice for us was HUGE. We appropriately should gathering regularly with joyful gratitude for this great grace — the truth that makes all of the difference for both this world and eternity.