Worship: The Assembly (the Lord’s Supper, Part 2)

prostrationWe have this tendency to treat the assembly in a pagan way. Rather than seeing the Lord’s Supper as a gift and a blessing to be gratefully received from God, we see it as a magic spell. If we get the words right and if we use the exact right ingredients, God will be pleased by our punctilious obedience and compelled to approve our worship as being decent and in order. That is, to please God, each Sunday we must pass a test.

But the deeper we dig into the history and roots of the Eucharist, the more we see that it’s really about God’s initiative to bless us and not a test at all.

Imagine that it’s Christmas morning and your children are waking up, anticipating a tree surrounded by presents. You tell your children to brush their teeth and come downstairs so we can open presents. Your children respond by worrying themselves sick over whether they have properly brushed their teeth for fear that they’ll receive coal and switches rather than Lincoln Logs and Barbies.

In fact, your kids develop a book of rules about how teeth must be brushed. “Brush” authorizes a toothbrush and so forbids dental floss or a WaterPik. Despite how important brushing the gums are to oral hygiene, “teeth” means teeth and not gums, thereby forbidding any brushing of the gums. Careful attention must be paid so that the bristles never once stroke the gums. And switches and coal will surely follow those who brush morning mouth from their tongues!

The children divide over whether the mouth may be rinsed with water afterwards. “Brush teeth” plainly says nothing about rinsing, some say, but others contend that rinsing is not an act of  brushing and so not regulated. They believe rinsing is permitted as a matter of expedience. The no-rinsing children treat their rinsing brothers and sisters as not a part of the family at all and refuse to open presents with those whose hearts are so rebellious that they rinse their mouths in plain violation of their parents’ commands. Surely, they believe, their parents will be delighted by their refusal to associate with their brothers and sisters on Christmas morning.

The pro-rinsing children call their non-rinsing siblings “antis.” The anti-rinsing children call their brothers and sisters “digressives.” Both groups set up a publishing house to post arguments damning each other on the family bulletin board.

When they finally make it downstairs to open the presents, all the children are terrified that any mistake will ruin Christmas. Remembering that Christmas is to be a celebration, they smile fake smiles in hopes that their parents will reward them for their show of happiness — but deep down they are terrified.

I am describing, of course, a deeply neurotic family. To live in such fear, with no joy in life, no delight in spontaneity, in constant fear of making a mistake — all because their parents want to give them gifts! — would be dreadful and miserable. In fact, these children have taken what was intended as a blessing and an opportunity for joy together as a family and turned it into misery and division. They don’t need a lesson in hermeneutics; they need counseling.

And yet, to many of us, this is the assembly — not a gift to be delighted in but a test to be taken on penalty of damnation. We smile only when we feel commanded to smile. And the least, most trivial decision becomes gut-wrenching agony because, when we have a choice, we are at risk of a damning mistake. We are at risk of angering a temperamental deity that commands obedience to rules that are often only hinted at. The only relief from our misery and fear is the delight we take in damning our brothers and sisters. At least, we figure, someone else is worse off than we are.

Truly, to act in dread of a God who is trying mightily just to get us to accept his gifts is very sad. Christianity does not have to be that way.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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22 Responses to Worship: The Assembly (the Lord’s Supper, Part 2)

  1. Beverly Johnson says:

    This is the way I grew up….. Sadly.

  2. Monty says:

    Then there are the bread “breakers” and the bread “pinchers,” and on and on it goes. Weren’t Christians excommunicated over trans and con, a few centuries ago? The gift no longer becomes the focus, but how we tore open the wrapping paper.

  3. Hank says:

    So then, what’s the best way to go about making sure nobody ever feels like that again? What changes need to be made? Is that how Sunday mornings feel currently, where you worship?

    Surely, we all agree that kids should be able to run on down the stairs Christmas morning without needing to worry about their breath. What part(s) of the way we (you) enjoy the Lord’s Supper feels most like being forced into “brushing your teeth”?

    Are those fair questions?

  4. Hank says:

    Very clever writing, BTW. Made me laugh…

  5. Dwight says:

    I never saw the Lord’s Supper as a test, but I never saw it fully expressed either, but tightly wrapped up in formality. The unleavened bread and fruit of the vine, which back during Jesus day was wine, are staples, they are bread and drink, that each share a representation of something Holy, at least when we approach it that way. But the LS isn’t really a worship service. We as saints are to worship God in our lives, the Lord’s Supper as Jesus states was initated so that we could remember Jesus in food and drink with other saints. It was a communal affair of remembrance. We pray to God and then we share “in Christ” with those in Christ or at least that is the concept.

    I really don’t know of any who argue over the technicalities of the Lord’s Supper in regards to the bread and fruit of the vine. But we do place odd restrictions on how it was done, even when we don’t do it as it was done by Jesus and the apostles. In the passover the Jews recognized everything on the table as having meaning, but we want to tie everything down and focus on just two things, sometimes even making the bread and wine as Holy as the one it was supposed to represent. We forget the unity, we forget the closeness, we forget the meal, etc. and many times purposely leave those things out.

  6. JES says:

    Unfortunately, stuff like this happens every day. Not long ago a fine minister was tasked with “his turn” to prepare communion. So, he did, and found himself being threatened to be fired if he ever used a non-scriptural recipe again. It seems that the “head man” in this congregation believes that God gave a recipe in the Old Testament and, honey was NOT one of the ingredients.

    We no longer meet with these fruit cakes.

  7. Monty says:

    Don’t all CfoC congregations have that little room where those who missed it in the morning can partake after evening service? In the little room with one man doing the “presiding?” Talk about your awkward moments.

  8. Monty says:

    Just when you think it couldn’t get any weirder, it does. Where is the book, chapter, and verse for the bread recipe? We don’t go by the O.T. ; oh wait, sometimes we do.

  9. Dwight says:

    Monty, Actually all of the coC I have been to and I have been to a lot offer the Lord’s Supper again in the evening with everyone present, unless they don’t offer it again, which some do. Technically the Passover meal was done in the evening, so if we actually had the Lord’s Supper in the evening too, we would probably catch everybody.

    The traditional unleavened bread is made with just water and flour, but sometimes salt and olive oil, but definitely no leaven, but this is traditional and the scriptures give no recipe instructions past “no leaven”. It was for a meal, but it was just part of the Passover meal, aside from the lamb that had to be roasted, and bitter herbs. Wine was added to the Passover meal, it was not commanded, so like IM it was sinful…Jesus sinned and our LS is built on sin…unless it is not.

  10. JES says:


    They referred to passages where oil & flour were all that was “authorized”; no leaven. Of course, they never kept silent where the bible is silent!!! That would spoil the fun of being the Only Christians.

  11. Monty says:

    Sadly, there seems to be so much riding on the silences from the scripture and the wisdom to figure out what is authorized and what is dispensable. Some have turned it into a “gotcha” religion. God Got-cha-ed Nadab and Abihu and he will gotcha ,you too, if you don’t figure everything out perfectly. The only problem is Nadab aand Abihu knew they were monkeying around with something they had no business doing. A direct command. They willingly and arrogantly violated protocol for the prescribed method of offering. It wasn’t done out of ignorance, or because they didn’t “rightly divide the word.” Where is our protocol today for administering the Supper?

  12. Dwight says:

    Even those hard on others, don’t do the LS exactly like they did in the NT for the reasons they did it. There was purpose in the cup and table they were gathered around, not just happenstance. This is hypocrisy.

  13. laymond says:

    I know that there are not many here that agree with a lot of what I say, but I say it anyway. I see the “supper” as a recognition of Jesus being the “True Manna” from God the spiritual “Bread and wine” Jesus did not come to save the body of man, but the spirit of man. when we eat a meal to restore the body, we should eat for the spirit as well, and we can only do that by remembering the work of God’s Son Jesus Christ. “do this in remembrance of me” Not only when we eat “the supper” but when we eat our daily meals, when we give thanks to God for food for the body, we should give thanks to God for food of the soul.

  14. laymond says:

    No Monty, all churches of Christ do not have a little room, the big room does just fine.

  15. Dwight says:

    Laymond, I agree mostly, but Jesus went to great lengths to make connections, probably knowing that we are fleshly, binding physical actions to spiritual things, because let’s face it we are living in a material world. The Lord’s Supper was a relationary event where saints communed with other saints who are communing with Jesus, through remembrance in his blood and body through food.

    I would agree we often place too much emphazise and focus on the elements, sometimes overshadowing Jesus Himself, because there is a sense of unity that is often left out. And while we should regard Jesus in all our meals, the Lord’s Supper is the only time where the saints are told to come together for one meal together. It is a particular warm and caring meal among meals, but then we disregard it as a meal and elevate it to a cold ceremony.

  16. Monty says:

    So you are saying all churches with a little room are unscriptural? 😉

  17. Dwight says:

    AJ, yes it is strange that those that do not wish to have the LS on the Sunday night actually stop meeting all togeher as if that was the reason for the Sunday night meeting and if this is valid, then they should stop meeting on Wednesday night as well. While agree that meeting once on Sunday to partake of the LS might be the right thing to do, it shouldn’t interfere with meeting at other times even during that same day. We limit our worship instead of opening it up.

  18. Jay Guin says:


    Thanks. 🙂

  19. Jay Guin says:


    So then, what’s the best way to go about making sure nobody ever feels like that again? What changes need to be made? Is that how Sunday mornings feel currently, where you worship?

    Surely, we all agree that kids should be able to run on down the stairs Christmas morning without needing to worry about their breath. What part(s) of the way we (you) enjoy the Lord’s Supper feels most like being forced into “brushing your teeth”?

    Are those fair questions?


    Insofar as my parable is concerned, your questions miss the point. I’m sure the stockings were hung by the chimney with care. The parents bought marvelous presents. They were beautifully wrapped. The tree was garlanded and festooned. Everything was as it should be. The rituals were all followed because they are great rituals.

    And yet the kids made themselves miserable. Not the parents. Not the rituals. Not asking them to brush their teeth. Not telling them that it’s time to come down to open presents. This was entirely self-imposed misery.

    What was it about the kids that made them miserable? Well, they didn’t really know their parents. They assumed their parents were legalistic, judgmental ogres with fetishistic obsessions with trivial concerns. They were wrong.

    The solution would be for them to get to know their parents better.

  20. Jay Guin says:


    PS – It’s not the rules per se. It’s the relationship — which sound cliched and hopelessly subjective until you think about it this way. The problem wasn’t the rules at all. The relationship between the kids and parents was badly confused. The kids had misunderstood something somehow. They’d misread the signals. Badly.

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