The book The Christian Passover: Agape Feast or Ritual Abuse?, by Stephen Perks, is a good read. Get the free PDF here.
This material from the Kuyper Foundation: Post Office Box 2, Taunton, Somerset, England, TA1 4ZD, www.kuyper.org
The bold within the quotes are mine.
The Real Thing: A Christian Passover Feast
The Lord Jesus Christ is the true Passover sacrifice, of which the Jewish paschal lamb was the type. The Last Supper that Jesus celebrated with his disciples was the culmination of the Jewish Passover, since Christ is the antitype to which the Jewish type pointed. Just as the Jewish Passover pointed forward to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, so the Christian Passover, the Lord’s Supper, points back to the sacrifice that Christ made once and for all time. The true celebration of the Passover, therefore, passed from the Jewish rite to the Christian rite, i.e. the Lord’s Supper, the Christian Church’s celebration of the salvation that Christ accomplished for his people by his life, death and resurrection. The model for the latter, the Lord’s Supper, is the Last Supper, which was the last Jewish Passover7 and the first Christian Passover. Our Eucharist or Lord’s Supper celebrates this salvation by pointing back to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the true paschal sacrifice. The Lord’s Supper (or communion or Eucharist) is therefore the Christian Passover celebration.
7Obviously, the Jews continued to observe the Jewish Passover after Christ’s passion, but in reality it became after this an empty form, devoid of true meaning, since the purpose for which it was instituted, i.e. to typify the sacrifice of Christ for sin, had been fulfilled in Christ’s passion, rendering its observation ineffectual, just as the other sacrificial and ceremonial rituals of the Old Testament became ineffectual after Christ had sacrificed himself on the cross for sin once and for all time because what they pointed to had been fulfilled.
First the milk.
Yes, the pulpits do nothing but feed us milk, which is a kind of poison if used exclusively and for too long. Young boys need meat to grow into grown men, able to lead, to build, to change the world… and to think for themselves, rather than forever follow the lead of the pastorate.
But the fact that all this insipid milk now makes me throw up — it’s as if Israel were forever still eating manna! — does not change the fact that there really is a time and place for the teaching of basic Christian doctrine. There are Christians who really do need milk… for a time.
We were all once children.
But, we just can’t stay there.
There must be bread. meat, wine.
But the first Christian Passover gives us, in fact, a very different model of what should happen at the communion service, indeed a radically different model, from anything I have experienced at the Eucharists or communion services of most Churches. In the original Christian Passover service we have a meal—the archetypal fellowship situation. People are talking to each other, discussing their situation and the meaning of the events of which they are a part. Jesus is speaking to them about the same events. They ask him questions and he teaches them. They eat a meal together. When Jesus breaks the bread and says “This is my body” he does it in this context. The Jewish Passover, on which the Christian Passover is based, is a shared meal, not a service of the type we are accustomed to in church today. The Eucharistic practice of the Church today is a ritual designed by clergymen for clergymen, not a fellowship meal designed to equip the saints for service (Eph. 4:12).
We — laymen and clergy — must repent and change our ways, change our lives and our worship, if we are to gain the blessing of God.
And it starts with the laymen.
Not the clergy, who are almost totally reactive as a group.
Christian men can’t worry about guilds who have crippled the very Kingdom of God for the sake of their own power and security.
We have to obey Christ, and we must expand His Kingdom.
The Church has signally failed to appreciate the importance of the shared meal in Scripture. As a result the quality of Church life has suffered significantly. This emphasis on the mundane act of eating shows how, in Scripture, there is no sacred/secular dichotomy. All of life is religious. Eating a meal together should be just as much a spiritual activity as praising God by singing a hymn; indeed, in Scripture sharing a meal together has a far greater significance and importance than singing of any kind. Many, however, cannot conceive how such a mundane activity as eating can be spiritual. But it is. Not only can eating be a supremely spiritual activity when thanks are given to God, it is part of one of the most important rituals in the life of the institutional Church. Men cannot do anything more spiritual than eating together with others when their attitude is right. But when did your Church last eat together as a Church? I don’t mean when did you last ingest a five millimetre cube of bread—or perhaps it was a stale wafer with the exciting taste of cardboard—and a sip of wine in church; nor do I mean when did your Church last have a social occasion that some members of the Church attended. I mean when did the Church last have a meal in the context of a service, or rather, a worship service in the context of a shared meal, which is what the Christian Passover is? The importance of communal eating, fellowship around the Lord’s table, has been missed by the Church. This is because Christians spend too much time in church doing things that the Bible does not require and too little doing those things it does require.
Fellowship can’t be pushed into an after-service add-on.
If we are to obey God, and so be blessed by Him, we must put fellowship at the very heart of worship.
We need to take seriously the importance of fellowship and eating together in the Bible. Eating together is inherently fellowship oriented. That’s why people go out for a meal together, or have people round to their homes for a meal. And that is why Christ has made eating together the context of one of the most important rituals in the life of his Church. Because the Church has failed to listen to the Bible at this point she has seriously underestimated the importance of fellowship and has substituted singing, ritual and the spiritual mood for true fellowship. This failure has blighted the life of the Church.
In the first Christian Passover, as with the Jewish Passover, fellowship together in the context of a social meal was a vitally important element. It is in the context of fellowship that the Lord’s Supper finds its meaning, and this is why the shared meal is so important. To strip away the fellowship is to strip away at least half of the meaning of the rite. Yet this is precisely what the Church has done by instituting clergy-designed communion services instead of communion services based on Christ’s design. Some reassertion of balance is called for in our corporate worship. The first Christian Passover (communion) gives us much food for thought.
Thinking, especially thinking grounded in the Bible, is good.
But, after due thought, there must be action.
First, as mentioned already, the context of the communion should be fellowship over a shared meal, not a clergy-oriented performance. Fellowship is not an afterthought; it is at the heart of the rite; indeed it is the entire context. This means that talking, discussion, interaction, communication is essential, just as teaching is essential. This is why a meal is so important in Scripture, and should be to us. Breaking bread together does not mean “having a communion service” in the modern sense, where everyone remains quiet and isolated from each other, maintaining their own personal piety or spiritual mood. It means, on the contrary, hav- ing fellowship, having a meal together. This is so important to the practice of the Christian faith that the Lord Jesus Christ made the remembrance and celebration of the salvation he accomplished for his followers part of a shared fellowship meal. We celebrate our deliverance from sin around his table at a feast. This is what Scripture teaches about the Lord’s Supper.
Second, singing hymns and choruses is not stressed in the Bible as an important part of the Lord’s Supper (though music and sing- ing are stressed in other contexts8). In fact at the first Christian Passover it is singing that has the place of an afterthought at the end of the meal. “And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives” (Mt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26). Please observe the word in italics. They sang an hymn at the end. No mention of getting into the right mood and all that. They sang an hymn at the end. In other words, at the first Christian Passover, singing had the place that coffee after the service has in most of our churches today. It seems the clergy-designed communion service with its emphasis on “spirituality” has got a number of its priorities upside down here.
Third, in the early Church this emphasis—i.e. the biblical emphasis on the context of the Lord’s Supper—continued after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The Lord’s Supper of the early Church was celebrated in the context of the agape feast (cf. Jude 12).9 This was the antithesis of what happens in church today. Communion is a feast at the Lord’s table, a communal celebration of Christ’s victory over sin and death and of our deliverance from the same. Without this feast around the Lord’s table communion loses much of its significance and resembles a funeral service more than a feast of celebration.
Fourth, at Corinth, the New Testament’s archetype of what can go wrong in the life of the Church, the agape feasts were being abused—i.e. the members of the Church, the body of Christ, were abusing each other. They turned the agape feast into drunken revelry and disregarded each other, thinking only of themselves10 (1 Cor. 11:20ff. The pagan religious background of the Corinthian culture may have had an influence in this. The cult of Dionysus— the Roman Bacchus—was celebrated at wild riotous festivals in ancient Greece). In doing this they failed to discern the body, i.e. they failed to appreciate that in treating each other in this way they were abusing Christ himself (Mt. 25:40, 45). Paul dealt with this by applying some discipline to their gatherings. He tells them to eat at home, thereby separating the agape feast from the covenant signs of bread and wine and putting a stop to the former. Why? Because of the abuse. He did this in order to restore order and compassion in their meetings, which had become a disgrace and abusive. He did not do it to established a new paradigm for the Church universal to follow, and there is no hint of such in 1 Cor. 11:20–34. This was a disciplinary measure. The New Testament does not institute this disciplinary measure as a new practice to be followed by the whole Church. If we read the New Testament in context we should see this more clearly. Paul does not lay down a disciplinary measure intended for one Church as a paradigm to be followed in Churches where such abuse was not present. If such an interpretation were valid we should have to conclude logically that excommunication, a disciplinary measure for those who have apostatised, should also be practised as a matter of course in all church services regardless of whether there is apostasy. Such reasoning would be absurd. And it is just as absurd to apply Paul’s disciplinary measure aimed at an abusive situation in Corinth to all church services regardless of whether there is any abuse. Excommunication is not part of the normal life of the Church, it is a remedy used in extreme cases of apostasy. Likewise, the separation of the agape feast from the covenant signs of bread and wine was an extreme disciplinary measure aimed at a Church that had abused the agape feast.
8 On the use of music in church see further my essay “Some Thoughts on the Use of Music in Church” in Christianity & Society, Vol. XiX, No. 1 (Summer, 2009), pp. 54–57.
9 For the historical evidence on this see Part Two infra.
10 See further the quotation from Godet at note 21 on p. 32f. infra.
I loathe this endless “majoring on the minors”, as opposed to actually doing what God commands us to do.
The Church has now almost universally normalised an extreme disciplinary measure as the abiding practice for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. This means that the Christian Passover has become for many primarily a means of discipline; indeed some Churches and clergymen will argue that the Eucharist is primarily a means of discipline, which really means, if the matter is to be stated honestly, that it is a means of maintaining their own power and authority. And of course we have the problem of restriction, i.e. who can come to the Lord’s Supper, since despite the fact that all who love the Lord are invited to the “table” in most churches children are usually forbidden from partaking (i.e. they are automatically excommunicated for being children, and this contrary to the specific command of the Lord Jesus Christ himself—Mk 10:14; Lk. 18:16). We observe the Lord’s Supper in a disciplinary form, i.e. a form designed for a disobedient Church that cannot be trusted to practise the faith properly. Now, if our Churches are disobedient and abusive when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we need to repent. If not, we need to rehabilitate the normal biblical procedure for the celebration of our deliverance from sin at the Eucharist—the Christian Passover feast. The feast, and therefore the fellowship, should be part of the celebration of our deliverance together around the Lord’s table, not an added extra tagged on at the end or after the service has finished. The Eucharist should be the feast. Until we restore this biblical emphasis I suspect that many of our Churches will continue to fall short of being a Christian community, much less a social order, and remain a collection of individuals who attend some of the same church rituals.
A bunch of individuals — not even families, just individuals — attending church rituals will not change the world.
The Lord’s Supper is the Christian Passover, a celebration of our deliverance from sin through the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ. In some Churches, however, communion has become a form of discipline (e.g. Presbyterianism). To others it has become a magical rite and a substitute for adherence to the covenant (e.g. Episcopalianism). In other Churches it is like a fu- neral service where people beat their chests to atone for their own sin (e.g. Brethren and assorted Free Churches). All these practices are abuses of the original institution. There is no wonder people are deserting the Church in droves. What they get when they go to church is often a perversion of the biblical message and the biblical emphasis to which the Church should aspire.
The Church is not an attractive community to many non-believers. The Church is not an attractive community to many believers. And this is because usually the Church is not a community at all, but rather a mere venue for a series of ritual acts that people do at the same time in the same place. In other words, in church so often what we have is not corporate worship but people worshipping individually in the same building at the same time. The Church often does not function as a community at all.
When Christian assemblies start working like a community, then things will change.
Community needs a goal to achieve in this life, and rules to uphold, and love to bind together.
Until the Church is prepared to address this issue I fear she will merely continue to manage her own decline nicely, oblivious of the remedy that is set forth in the Bible. I suggest that the first thing we need to do is to stop numbing our minds with more of those choruses and hymns and start thinking seriously in church, in the worship service, about what it means, not to go to church, but to be the Church—i.e. a Christian society, indeed a Christian social order— and therefore about what it means to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together.
We will have to drop the (often hypnotic and trance-inducing, and therefore escapist and mind-numbing) singing, and get to eating and thinking and talking together.
Food for labour and fellowship, talking for thought and planning – and prayer and teaching!
The Church seems to live on a different planet, a planet where God does not speak the message of the gospel in the way that he spoke it in the Bible. On the Church planet there is no relevant relationship between what goes on in church and what goes on in the world God has put us in or the nation we are commissioned to disciple.12 When we go into church we enter a different world, a world that is secluded from the world that God made and that he addresses so uncompromisingly in the Scriptures. And yet, when we get round to discussing anything that is not directly related to the Church’s ritual activities it turns out that precisely the same range of opinions and attitudes that characterises the world-view of non-believers is to be found among believers. The sacred/secular dichotomy has come home to roost! So, we are supposed to get ourselves psyched up into a “spiritual” mood for Sunday worship so that we can appreciate the “mystery and wonder of the transcendent God” but this has no relationship to the real world in which we live, does not affect how we think about the issues that face us as members of society, sent out into that society by the Lord Jesus Christ with a commission to bring it into subjection to his will. We continue as before with the same set of worldly opinions about education, politics, welfare, economics, crime, etc., all of which remain largely untouched by our encounter with the transcendent God. This just does not make sense biblically.
I am not saying that reformation of the worship service and restoration of the Christian Passover is all we need to do. Far from it. But it is essential because I believe that without it the body of Christ as a whole will continue to fall short of being the community of faith, the social order, that the Bible shows she should be and therefore devoid of the spiritual renewal, moral strength, and religious vision she needs to go out into the world and bring it into subjection to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Worship that is focused on gratifying the needs of men (and women, who dominate church membership) is a very different thing from worship that focuses on God, expanding His Kingdom, and upholding His enduring commandments.