Disorders at the Lord's Table - Part I
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Will you open your Bibles, please, to Paul's first Corinthian letter, chapter 11. We have been thinking with yuou about what the Word of God has to say about the Lord's Supper. From time to time our pure minds need to be stirred up by way of remembrance (II Peter 3:1) with regard to the significance of the ordinance which we observe each Lord's Day. Young people need to know its significance, and parents fail in their responsibilities if they do not instruct their children about the importance of this ordinance.

We want now to consider with you what might be called “Disorders at the Lord's Table.” We will read from I Corinthians, chapter 11:

I Corinthians 11

17Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.
18For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.
19For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.
20When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper.
21For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.
22What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.
23For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
24And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
25After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
26For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.
27Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
28But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
29For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.
30For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
31For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
32But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.
33Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.
34And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.

Notice the last statement of verse 34: “The rest will I set in order when I come.” This indicates that the matter of disorders at the Lord's Table was but one of a number of problems which this Corinthian church was facing as a church young in the faith, just coming out of idolatry, bringing with them many of the trappings of their idolatrous practice without realizing that they were inconsistent with the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Disorders had arisen at the Lord's Table. Some had written to the Apostle Paul, asking him questions. Others had written informing him of certain things which were being done—not asking questions, but indicating that these things did not sound quite right to them. Was this the practice they should follow?

We in this generation would or could hardly be guilty literally of the same disorders at the Lord's Table of which the Corinthian Church was guilty, for the root of these disorders was a practice which is no longer in existence. These disorders grew out of a practice which is called the love feast, or the agape. The love feast, the agap[e, is much spoken about in history, and it might be helpful for us to realize what occurred—not as it is ordered in the Word of God, you will remember, but as it is described in the writings of the early church fathers.

The early church was made up principally of slaves, and their time was not their own, so oftentimes they gathered at the close of the day for worship. When they did so they brought with them food for what we might call today a covered dish supper; everyone brought food according to his ability. The church was made up of some wealthy people as well as slaves, so the wealthy people could bring a good supply of food. The slave might not be able to bring any more than a crust of bread which he had saved from his noon meal. But they brought what they could, and all the food was shared in common.

There was an elder who had charge of this love feast. After the table was spread, the guest washed their hands, more as a ceremonial washing in accordance with Jewish tradition than as a sanitary practice, and then prayer was offered, Scripture was read, and the meal was eaten. After the meal was eaten, a collection was taken for the widows and orphans, and then they all greeted one another with a holy kiss. Today we might shake hands. Then epistles from various churches or from Apostles were read and answered.

You must realize that not all the epistles which were written to the early churches are recorded in our Bible. The Holy Spirit of God was pleased to record those epistles that convey a message for us today. We believe we have the complete revelation of God, but it would be erroneous to say that all of the epistles that were written to the churches are recorded in the Bible.

This was the historical practice of the love feast. Disorders arose from the fact that gradually they became careless in their observance and did not make a break between the agape and the Lord's Supper. They went from the one to the other with such little change of mind and heart that gradually it all began to be called the Lord's Supper, and the disorders that we will think about grew out of that.

You may be saying, “It is interesting to know what history says about this love feast, the agape, but what does the Scripture say about it?” We could answer, dismissing the whole matter very briefly, that it says very little; we will examine what it does say, recognizing first of all that it was not commanded anywhere in the Word of God. The Lord's Supper is an established ordinance. We are commanded to observe it. But the love feast was never commanded anywhere in the Scripture. Reference is made to it in the Epistle of Jude, verse 12, where the name of the feast is actually given. Jude was speaking about false teachers who would creep into the church, and he was suggesting that they would not come from the outside into the church, and he was suggesting that they would not come from the outside with flags flying and trumpets blaring; they would come from within their midst. They would be people

in whom the local assembly had absolute confidence. But God, he said, would look upon them in an entirely different way:

Jude

12These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots;
13Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.

Yes, Beloved, even today in any local assembly there can be those who are denounced by God as “spots in your feasts of charity.” The word charity is agapeyour feast of agape, or your love feast . This is the only place in the Bible where reference is made to the love feast directly by name. However, it is described in practice in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, in the paragraph which begins with verse 42:

Acts 2

42And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Notice the phrase “breaking of bread.” This is a reference primarily to the love feast.

Acts 2

43And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.
44And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
45And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

This was another practice which was not enjoined in the Scripture and which soon fell into disuse because of its impracticality when individuals had everything in common—because all Christians sold their property and put it into a common treasury (Acts 4:31-37).

That is, they still went to the temple for worship; remember that the church at this time was primarily Jewish, following what might be termed a Christian practice of breaking bread from house to house.

Acts 2

46…they did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
47Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved [as were being saved] .

You will notice, please, in verse 46 that they went about from house to house breaking bread, and they did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. This is a reference to the fact that the love feast was held not only on the Lord's Day, but was, along with the Lord's Supper, observed every day in those early hours of church history.

The only other reference to the love feast is the one in I Corinthians, chapter 11, where the abuses of the love feast as it was related to the Lord's Supper were rebuked by the Apostle Paul. Let us refresh our minds by rereading verse 20.

I Corinthians 11

20When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper.

What he is saying is, ‘You think you are coming together to eat the Lord's Supper, but when you come together in the manner that has been reported to me, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper; it is sheer mockery.” Then in verse 21 he said:

“Your agape,” he says, “has developed into a horrible abuse, and is not pleasing to the Lord. I cannot and will not praise you for this thing you are doing.” Then notice verse 33:

I Corinthians 11

33Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.

These individuals were gathering together at the love feast, and they were gulping down their food before they had a chance to share it with anybody else. There were instances of rich people living sumptuously at the table while some of the slaves were off in the corner with whatever little crust of bread they might have. It was a misnomer to call it a love feast. It certainly was a misnomer to refer to it as the Lord's Supper, where there was supposed to be harmony; instead, there was division.

Let me emphasize that this all came about because of a practice which I am criticized for taking a stand against, but I have never made any apologies for it:

I Corinthians 11

33Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.
34And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.

Notice verse 22:

Then in verse 34:

Beloved, I do not believe that the House of God is a place to eat. I do not believe that the House of God is a place where people ought to cook and serve food as a gimmick to get people together. The same thing that happened at Corinth happens in any church where this is a practice. Such a church is built upon the appetites of the flesh instead of upon the power of the Spirit of the living God.

Now I have been told by men who feel that they know the Bible much better than I do, “You are taking a passage of Scripture out of context if you say that this passage of Scripture tells you not to eat at church. This passage of Scripture was rebuking evils related to the Lord's Supper.” I am aware of that. But, Beloved, it is the principle that is under discussion. There is no record anywhere in the Word of God that any real good came out of eating at the church. Somebody says, “What do you expect us to do about it?” I suppose that those of you who want to eat in the church will go right ahead and eat in the church. folk usually do what they want to do. Some of you may be able to recognize the truth and realize the importance of what I am saying. All I can say is that I would refuse to minister the Word of God in a church where as much money is spent on the kitchen as its spent on the mission fields.

I know of churches where the chefs are paid as much as are the Pastors. I know of churches where they serve meals at what they call a minimal cost, and people go there to eat—not for the Christian fellowship, but because it is a way to get a good meal without paying a whole lot for it. I say in the manner that Paul said it: “What? have you not houses to eat and to drink in? If any man is hungry, let him eat at home.” I believe this is why errors related to the Lord's Supper arose. Individuals would have done much better to eat at home and not at the church.

I might suggest that there were extenuating circumstances in the early church because of conditions of society that do not exist today. It is interesting to me that nowehere in the Word of God are we told to come together in church to eat, but we are warned of the damage we may do if we do. That in itself is significant; it indicates the mind of the Spirit.

But, we are not here to preach against kitchens, and we are not here to preach against chefs. We are here to discuss the disorders at the Lord's Table. but they are so closely related in our text that they cannot be ignored.

I said that in all probability we would not be guilty of the same disorders at the Lord's Table as were these Corinthian believers, because we do not precede the Lord's Supper with the agape or love feast. But when we examine these disorders, I think you will see that it is prossible for us to be guilty of some of them in principle. The first thing that was recognized by the Apostle Paul as a disorder at the Lord's Table is found in verse 18:

I Corinthians 11

18For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.
19For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

Verse 19 is a much misquoted and misused verse. Some folk read it and say, “You know, you have to have differences of opinion, because that is the only way you can tell who is right.” In some areas that may be true, but that was not the case here. What the apostle Paul was saying here was, “These divisions that I hear about are probably true, because that is the only way you can show who is the big man and who is the little man.” Additional material—look at verse 21—will show that these individuals came together to eat the supper in little cliques. That is, the little clique that was described in chapter 3, verse 4 of the Corinthian letter as being of the Apostle Paul—the little clique that said, “I am of Paul”—would spread their tables, and they would say, “Are you a follower of Paul? If you are, come eat with us.” Somebody would say, “Oh, no. I am a follower of Apollos.” They would say, “Then you go over there. That is where the Apollites are meeting.” Some of them would say, “I am a follower of Peter,” and would be told, “You folk who are followers of Peter, you eat over there.” A meeting that was designed to show, as we have pointed out, the unity of the body of Christ, was portraying divisions within the Church which were horrible; they were recognizing the glory of man instead of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Usually when reference is made to I Corinthians, chapter 4, the first 3 verses, there is a mention of denominations; people rebuke denominations on the basis of this passage of Scripture. Beloved, those divisions were not denominations. They were within the local assembly. Listen carefully: I believe it is possible for us to make the same mistake; I believe that if you have a habit of drawing about yourself one little group of people instead of recognizing the completeness of the body of Christ, then you are guilty of these divisions. Divisions is a translation of the Greek word which is translated schism in chapter 12, verse 25, of I Corinthians. This chapter has to do with the unity of the body of Christ, and you will notice in verse 24 that the Apostle said:

I Corinthians 12

24For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked.

Notice:

Schismata is translated divisions in one portion and schism in another.

If you have anything in your heart when you come to the Lord's Table which would divide you from another brother in the body of Christ, then you are coming to the Lord's Table in an unworthy fashion. It may not be so much that you want to start a little clique all your own, but it could very well be that you feel just a shade better than someone else, or just a shade different in quality from someone else. Beloved, if you feel that way when you come to the Table of the Lord, you are manifesting a division in the body of Christ. This was a disorder at the Table at Corinth which the Apostle found it necessary to rebuke.

Unless you are willing to believe that all Believers who have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour, that all who are trusting in the shed blood of Christ, are one in Christ, then you have no right to come to the Lord's Table, for you are not coming in the right spirit. If you fail to remember that the ground is level at the foot of the Cross, and no one is better than anyone else, then you have no right to come to the Lord's Table.

Another error that the Apostle Paul rebuked is described in verse 21, where he said that the individuals who partook of the agape were in such a condition before it was over that one was hungry and another was drunken. It seems almost impossible for us to comprehend that people could come to the Lord's Table in a drunken condition. Well, they could if they had been observing the agape, because they did not drink Welch's grape juice at the love feast; they drank wine. It was very possible for them to take more than they should take and to become drunk, and in that drunken condition to come to the Lord's Table. I suppose on a rare occasion it may be that someone would come to the Lord's Table in a church after having imbibed intoxicating beverages; if that should happen, he is dishonoring the Lord.

Drunkenness is listed as one of the works of the flesh in Galatians, chapter 5, verse 21, along with a number of other things. If you would take the time to study carefully Galatians, chapter 5, you would find that the works of the flesh are the result of walking in the flesh. So I want to make an application and say that if you come to the Lord's Table walking in the flesh instead of walking in the Spirit, you are coming in an unworthy manner. You may not be walking in the flesh because you are drunk, but you may be walking in the flesh for any of the reasons that are given in Galatians, chapter 5. Or, if you want to express it another way: If you are coming to the Lord's Table when you are out of fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, you are coming in an unworthy manner. You are not doing honor to the body and the blood of the Lord. the applications which can be made on that point are very wide, but we do not have time to make them.

Another disorder that was called to the attention of these Corinthians by the Apostle Paul I would call disrespect . Reference is made to it in verse 22:

I Corinthians 11

22What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or [notice] despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

Notice the question, “Do you despise the Church of God?” The phrase “the Church of God” does not refer to the building. It refers to the body of Christ, for remember, these early Believers were not meeting in any church building such as we meet in today. They were meeting in caves and holes in the ground—any place they could meet where there was a sense of safety. The Church of God refers to the body of Christ. Paul says, “Do you people despise the Church of God when you do what you do at your love feast—eating food selfishly while other people go hungry?” It might be wise for us to remember that the word despise is a translation of a Greek word which literally means to think down upon . In this sense I believe that in this day we can come to the Table of the Lord in an unworthy fashion. I believe that if we come to the Lord's Table looking down our noses, as we might express it today, at some other Believer, we are coming in an unworthy manner. If we come to the Lord's Table critical in spirit of some other Believer, then we are coming to the Lord's Table in an unworthy manner.

This last statement, Beloved, should cause all of us to think. I will not ask you to confess it to me, but I will ask you to face up to a reality. Is there someone who has a critical spirit? Is there someone who has spoken unkindly and not in love about some other Believer? Perhaps that Believer does not know as much of the truth as you know, and you speak disparagingly of him. You have not confessed to him nor to the Lord, yet you come to the Lord's Table. You are coming in an unworthy manner. Have you spoken cruelly of someone, perhaps laughed at him because of his mannerisms? Maybe he does not know enough about the grace of God to be other than legalistic, and you have ridiculed his legalism and criticized him for it.

Perhaps you who do not know enough of the Word of God to be other than legalistic have in almost a bitter fashion talked about the liberties that these people take who believe in the grace of God. Instead of speaking kindly of them, you speak in a spirit of condemnation; you have even made the statement, “I don't see how they coud be saved if they could do a thing like that. No Christian would do a thing like that.” You see what you are doing? You are condemning them to Hell, yet you have never gone to them and said, “Look, the other day I saw you do something. The way I see it, I don't think a Christian could do it. At least I couldn't But I saw you do it, and I told somebody I don't think you are a Christian. I haven't confessed it to you or to the Lord, but here I am at the Lord's Table.”

I don't want to put more on you than you can bear at this time, Beloved. The subject we are discussing is a weighty one, and every person ought to search his heart before the Lord. I wonder how many of us, because we have the Lord's Supper each Lord's Day, I wonder how many of us have sat down, figuratively speaking, at the Lord's Table and partaken of the fruit of the vine and the bread, and not even considered whether we were guilty of a divisive spirit, not even considered whether we were walking in the flesh even as we held the cup and the bread in our hands, not even considered whether we were looking down upon, showing disrespect for, despising other members of the Church of God. May God forgive us.


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