You can get yourself into a mess of trouble when you can no longer discern what you know from what you don’t.
For example, we know from Acts 20:7 that the intention of the mission party was to break bread on the first day of the week.
What we don’t know is a lot.
- Was the term “breaking bread” used exclusively of the Lord’s Supper? Or was it simply indicative of a common meal? Or both?
- Was the first day of the week the only day that this was done?
- Was it done every week? (They did stay there seven days, v. 6. Did they also do this on the day they arrived? Does that exclude every other day of the week but the first?)
- Had the practice become less frequent since the early, daily practice of church gathering in Jerusalem (Acts 2:42ff)?
- If this was a weekly observance, was this practice unique to Troas?
- Did they actually break bread on the first day of the week, or was it delayed until after Paul spoke and Eutychus fell from the window (vs. 8-12)? Or was it done both before and after?
- Was this an example that was intended to be binding as law on the gathered church everywhere forever afterward? Or just a mention of an intention?
When we start saying that this passage of scripture says more than what we know, we’ve drawn a conclusion (or two. Or more). A conclusion may be a possibility, but it is not a certainty. And it is of human origin.
When we start saying that our conclusion is doctrine, God’s doctrine, and therefore law, we’ve gone beyond what the scripture says and have made our worship vain. (Matthew 15:9 and Mark 7:7, where Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13)
That means we’ve gotten ourselves into a mess of trouble.
It really doesn’t matter how skillfully and scholarly we defend our conclusion; it remains a conclusion we’ve drawn. A theory. An idea.
No matter how conscientiously we observe our conclusion, nor how long — even to the point of it becoming a tradition — it remains a conclusion.
And if we start judging each other based on our conclusions, we’ve gotten ourselves into a bigger mess of trouble.
There are so many passages of scripture which make this principle so clear, I hardly know where to begin. Let’s settle for now with this one, from Paul who was given quite a bit more than just the ability to draw conclusions:
This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? ~ 1 Corinthians 4:1-7
As conclusions (or, if you wish to call them something else: interpretations, traditions, issues, disputable matters, whatever) we are free to observe them ourselves in good conscience — to the Lord — by the advice in Romans 14. But the same chapter forbids us from judging another believer, treating him or her with contempt, and putting an obstacle before them over this conclusion we’ve drawn regarding one day being holier than another.
I really don’t think that’s a conclusion I’ve drawn.
I think that’s literally what it says.
Personally — and this IS a conclusion — I don’t believe there is such a thing as celebrating the Lord’s Supper too frequently. If that is indeed what’s described in Acts 2 and Acts 20, then in the former chapter it seems to be done daily and devotedly; in public and in private; in generosity and hospitality; in the good pleasure of both God and man.
This early gathering of saints was heady with the joy of salvation, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the blessing of fellowship together. If our goal as believers is to be like a first-century church, why not Jerusalem at the beginning? If our goal is to be like Christ, how much more like Him could we be in this? What benefits and blessings yet unknown to us might accrue from remembering Him in this unique way at the table?
Every single day.
12 thoughts on “What We Know and What We Don’t”
You make a point that I wish more in the Restoration Movement would grasp. Many of our “traditional conclusions” are based upon a single perspective and it is practically heresy to point out that there are other plausible interpretations of passages such as Acts 20:7.
I’d like to suggest one more bullet point: can we prove that the assembly in Acts 20 was even a meeting of the church? Please allow me to quote from an article on this very topic from http://creedrehearsal.com/the-lords-supper-what-day-how-often.
“Conjecture: Verse 7 records a meeting of the church in the city of Troas.
Fact: There is nothing in the passage which says this was a meeting of the church in Troas. Who was present? We can factually state that it was Paul and his traveling companions who are named in verse 4; Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, Trophimus and Luke (vs 5 & 6 says “us” and “we” so we know that Luke, who was the author of the book of Acts, was with Paul as well). These were all traveling on their way to Jerusalem (vs 16) and had arrived in Troas a week earlier. The only other person named is Eutychus. We know little, if anything, about him. It is certainly reasonable to assume he was a resident of Troas. There was at least one other person present which we shall prove later. Beyond this, we can prove nothing about who else might have been in the upper room that night. If we can’t prove who was there, we can’t factually claim this was a meeting of the church.”
If there are other plausible interpretations of passages such as these, lets acknowledge that and stop binding a single perspective on one another.
“On Saturday, when we were gathered together to have a picnic in the park, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.”
No one in their right mind would dare claim that the above statement says that all Christians everywhere are to have picnics every Saturday and only on Saturday till Jesus returns.
However, change the day of the week and the action, and VOILA!….
“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.”
Suddenly that says every Christian everywhere is obligated to ritualistically “break bread” every Sunday and only on Sunday, and only once per Sunday, for the remainder of the history of this world.
It’s proposterous how people not only ADD TO this scripture, but they even go so far as to fundamentally CHANGE IT into a context and sentence type that it is clearly not. It’s a narrative, a telling of a timeline and description of events that occurred in one relatively tiny place at one moment in time with one relatively tiny group of people. The context of the scripture does not include any obvious intent to create a binding “law” that will determine one’s worthiness for salvation for all people in all places for all time.
Thanks for your post. It does an excellent job of drawing our attention to the obvious flaw of adding to and even fundamentally changing the context of scriptures to fit our narcissistic need to make other Christ-followers conform to OUR image. Pretty arrogant to think that someone who was made in HIS image should conform to OUR image to be acceptable to Him.
But sadly, like many others, I lapped it up and spread it to others blindly for too long without even considering the possibility that it could be a lie. I repent!
Thanks for reading, Randall!
In 1 Cor. 11:17-23, Paul was not pleased, because they had not followed his instructions concerning the Lord’s supper. He points out that their coming together as a body was not to partake of a common meal, verse 22. Next we must ask the question, when did they come together? Act 20. If we desire to be truth seekers, learning from 1 Cor 11, that coming together for a common meal was not what Paul had instructed, we must reconize the reason for their coming together. Acts 20 gives us the answer to when. Our example is they came together on the first day of the week to break bread. Are we to believe that they waited 7 days to partake of a common meal on the the first day of the week? Or did Paul understand the purpose of coming together on the first day of the week? They assembled as a body for a specific reason, to proclaim Christ death until He comes again. We can understand from these two passages the purpose of coming together and when they did so. Some may say, well, it doesn’t say every first day of the week? I would say yes it does and here is why. For those who go to work every day ay some point your going to expect a paycheck. If your told payday is Friday, would you expect a paycheck every Friday or not? Would you expect one only the last Friday of the month? Once a quarter? twice a year on Friday? So what do we know for sure, we know the purpose of coming together on each and every Lord’s day.(ie, the first day of the week)
My payday is Thursday, Jeff.
Every other Thursday.
You wrote, “He points out that their coming together as a body was not to partake of a common meal, verse 22.” That is an interpretation of what verse 22 says. He doesn’t say not to. He asks them to eat together in verse 33.
People going hungry or being drunk at a gathered meal among believers is unacceptable.
So another interpretation is that those who were so abusing this common meal should eat their dinners at home — if they’re going to get drunk or not share their food with the hungry. (For that is what happened in Acts 2.)
You wrote, “Are we to believe that they waited 7 days to partake of a common meal on the the first day of the week?” If that was the agreed-upon time to have that common meal, I would think that is reasonable. Of course Paul understood the purpose for that meal together. The Holy Spirit could have easily nudged him (or Luke, or any other NT writer) to specify that the meal was just bread and a cup; that it was not also a common meal; that it only took place once a week, every week, and only on the first day of the week. If that had been His purpose, I believe He would have.
There are just a lot of things we don’t know in order to draw immutable conclusions. You have reasons for yours; I have reasons for mine. But the text only says what the text only says.
Perhaps the purpose of the Spirit in inspiring these words the way they are written is to emphasize the purpose rather than the details; to encourage us to see Christ in the bread and the cup and to provide for some flexibility. Have believers in Fiji or Siberia or Africa always had immediate access to the fruit of the vine? Is their commemoration of Christ invalidated if not celebrated such? Should churches offer this supper 24 hours on Sundays for those who must work shifts that prevent them from attending gathered worship?
Are we right to judge others whose circumstances are different from our own in these matters and conclude without any hint of arrogance that we are right in our interpretation and they are wrong in theirs, so God doesn’t accept what they say and do? The God who puts people in different circumstances, nations and situations?
In 1 Cor 11:20 Paul informs them what they are doing, which is against his instructions, they are coming together not for the purpose of the Lord’s supper. Verse 22 don’t you have houses to eat in. Its clear as to what they were doing, they were gathering as a body for another purpose. In verses 23-26 he reminds them of the instructions that he had given them, the purpose of gathering on the the first day. Verse 33 is talking about eating the Lord’s supper verse 34 But if anyone is hungry let them eat at home, lest you come together for judgement.
I don’t think I can argue with you, Jeff. You’ve read so much into these verses that isn’t there and made so many assumptions, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
Jeff – I appreciate that we have different viewpoints. I would like to address my concerns with your statements:
Wait, why MUST we ask the question “when”? If “when” was of importance, God would’ve specified when. But Jesus himself only said “as often as”, and Paul never specified that “when” mattered. So when you see in the Acts 20 STORY/TIMELINE that these particular people took the Lord’s Supper on this one particular day in this one particular place, and you immediately assume there MUST be a rule about exactly when to take it and when not to, you are making a jump based on *your assumption*. One would only jump to “when” based on Acts 20 if they were looking for something they want to find that isn’t already there.
I don’t believe in adding to the scriptures, and since there is no place ever where a rule is made about the timing of the supper, then I’m not going to go adding a rule where He didn’t make one. And “when” was clearly specified as simply “as often as” you do it, with no restrictions placed on timing, so creating a new rule on the extrascriptural subject of “when” is adding to the scriptures.
I also don’t believe in an accidental Bible – that God MEANT to specify things He didn’t specify, but He just forgot, and you are still condemned to eternal torment for not seeing what He MEANT to put in there but forgot. If you think restricting the timing of the Lord’s Supper for all Christians everywhere for all time was something He meant to do but just forgot to do, then you must also think that His grace alone is not sufficient for salvation – because it takes His grace PLUS someone with godly decoding skills for Bible interpretation to seek out the hidden “trap” rules in the Bible under that scenario. I don’t accept that. The Bible is not an accident, and God specified exactly the rules He meant to specify. He didn’t hide Secret Rules of Salvation to be interpreted by uberChristians with super-interpretation gifts.
Right. This particular small group of Christians in this one particular place (Troas) came together for this purpose (breaking bread) this one particular Sunday. If you’re going to take one small example of one group on one day in one place, add facts unknown (like that they supposedly did it every Sunday and only on Sunday) and make a new binding example for all people everywhere in perpetuity, I think you would have to at least know the answer to the following questions:
Did this particular group in Troas do this EVERY Sunday?
Did all Christians everywhere at that time do this EVERY Sunday?
Did this particular group in Troas do this ONLY on Sundays?
Did other Christians in other places do this ONLY on Sundays?
When did “as often as” and Jesus’ Thursday evening supper, plus the Acts 2 NT Church’s daily taking of the supper become a sin?
Why did God not tell them they were sinning?
If the policy changed on “when” and “how often”, why didn’t God mention to His followers that it changed?
How does a JUST God change rules mid-game and not tell anyone, then hide it as a secret clue in a random time narrative in one verse and base their salvation on their ability to 1) know the rules changed and 2) interpret the new hidden rule?
Unfortunately you don’t have the answers to these questions in the scriptures. We have to be OK with not knowing, and accept grace as it is given instead of attempting to create Entry Rules for Heaven where they don’t exist. The Bible isn’t an entry form for a Heaven Sweepstakes with secret decoder game-pieces hidden in scripture clues, it’s a story of the free gift of grace and mercy from a loving and just God.
If it says it, you should be able to quote it. If you can’t quote it, it doesn’t say it. If you have to “interpret” it using hypothetical unrelated test questions, then that is not the same thing as “it says”, it’s “I think”. There are simply too many of us who think for others’ salvation to be dependent on what any one of us thinks.
That may be the worst argument for anything I’ve ever heard. It appears that the difference between “when” and “how often” is a hard concept for many in our brotherhood to grasp. If I get paid the first Friday of every month, and I ask at work today (1/5) when payday is, the answer will be “Friday”. Because Friday (tomorrow) IS payday. If I paid it all out to creditors and stores immediately based on assuming I would get a new check in the same amount EVERY Friday ,then pitched a fit and claimed that they SAID it was EVERY Friday, I wouldn’t have a job anymore. There is a huge difference between “when is payday” and “how often do we get paid”.
Paul and his crew got to Troas on Monday. They stayed seven days. They assembled with the disciples there in Troas to “break bread” on Sunday. If one assumes that, based on this one statement, the disciples in Troas assembled to take the Lord’s Supper EVERY Sunday then one must also assume that Paul and his crew arrived in Troas EVERY Monday. And stayed seven days EVERY week. You can’t pick and choose where you add words (every) that aren’t there. Not only is the word not there, the implication is not there either.
Feel free to come to my house Saturday to watch the Bengals’ playoff game with me and my son. Did I somehow just imply that the Bengals play a playoff game every Saturday and only on Saturday forever and ever? No, my statement included “when” but did not allude to or imply “how often”….
(I hope this didn’t come across “snarky” – it’s hard to communicate in writing without accidentally conveying some emotion or intention that wasn’t meant).
In Acts 20, did they or did they not meet on the first day of the week to break bread? (ie Lord’s supper) It is no assumption to say they did, the text clearly says they did. We know that on the first day of the week they gathered together to observe the Lord’s supper. It would be an assumption to add not every lord’s day. When does the first day come? It comes once a week. The example God has given us says they gathered on the first day of the week. Were the Jews told to keep the Sabboth? Was this each Sabboth or whatever Sabboth they Chose? why can’t we just gather on the first day of the week as a body and observe the supper? You ask, when did it become sin to observe the supper every day? When was anyone ever told to observe the supper daily? If you are told payday is the last day of the week, what last day of the week would you expect tp be paid? Answer, you would expect to be paid once a week. If we desire to be the church Jesus built, we must look at what has been said in scripture. We look for examples, direct commands and yes, what has been infered. What has been infered is, they assembled on the first day of the week as a body is observe the supper. Either this is an example for us to follow or there are no examples in scripture for us to follow.
Jeff, you said: “Either this is an example for us to follow or there are no examples in scripture for us to follow.”
Or this is not an either-or; you have exaggerated; you have abandoned logic in favor of what you choose to believe; and you refuse to see or address any other possibilities.
Correct me if I am wrong, but did the meeting at Troas not happen on what we call Saturday night?
Did the Jews not call this the first day of the week?
Wasn’t the name for the first day of the week “Sun Day” , named for the pagan worship of the sun or Sun God? Did not the Emperor of Rome (Constantine) ordain what we call Sunday and make it the official day of worship?
I have met with Christians on Sunday and took the Lord’s Supper since age 11. And, nothing is wrong with that. But, further study certainly has me believing that is not the only time and place for the L.S. And making rules where there are none is against what I was taught, ie, Speak where the Bible speaks, and be SILENT where the Bible is silent.
We should at least heed our own teaching and STAY SILENT.
Acts 20 tells us that “they” (the disciples in TROAS) met ONE time on ONE Sunday to “break bread”. It does not say what those same people did ANY OTHER Sunday. Not even the day before Luke and his crew arrived on Monday. We don’t know what they did that day. The first Sunday after the travelers left? Nope, doesn’t tell us what they did that day either. It does not say what any other Christians in any other place in the world did that day.
Again, it says that ONE GROUP of people in that ONE COMMUNITY met together to break bread on that ONE SUNDAY. That’s all it says. To think you knew what they did any other Sunday requires a huge assumption and adding to the scriptures.
Wow again, yes, that one first day of the week in that one place that one group did.
It’s an assumption to point out that somethign is not there? What ? That’s literally insane.
You really don’t seem to get the simple difference between “when” and “how often”. The text never tells us anything about how often they did it. It does tell us when they did it that one time. That is all..
The real question is why people feel the need to rearrange God’s priorities to fit their own whim? God never made a priority out of the frequency or day of the communion. He made the purpose of it the priority, not the timing. He even went so far as to inspire the use of the phrase “as often as” TWICE. He never inspired a written rule about frequency, so when you INFER a rule about frequency you are actually violating what God has SPECIFIED.
The Sabbath Day was DEFINED as a DAY OF THE WEEK that happened EVERY WEEK. The frequency was in the definition and the frequency was clearly SPECIFIED by God in the giving of the COMMAND. Communion is completely 100% different than the Sabbath, in that frequency was not part of the definition or establishment of the event, frequency was clearly specified by God as only “as often as you take of it”, and you have to make an INFERENCE to even be able to address frequency. So an item that is defined and commanded is NOT the same as an item that is not in the definition and not specified.
Frankly, since God specified TWICE that the frequency of the LS was to be “as often as you do it” then to allegedly infer (add) a command that would require weekly observation or limit observation to one particular day would directly violate and contradict what God has specified.