God Put the Lord's Supper
in the Local Church
(not in the suitcase)
by Mark J. Ward
There are many beliefs concerning proper observance of the Lord's Supper. These include mass-like observances in multiple assemblies of the church (e.g. some folks take in one service, other members take at a second or third service), once-a-year observances, quarterly observances, daily observances, Thursday night observances, and the list goes on and on. Some religions even believe you can have elements other than unleavened bread and fruit of the vine (e.g. coke and hamburger, white bread and water) and be right. The Bible states that we are to have divine authority for whatever we do (Col. 3:17; 2 John 9). Certainly all these things cannot be scriptural for many are in conflict with one another!
Some well-meaning brethren, especially those on travel, believe that it is scriptural to take the elements of the Lord's Supper in their suitcase and have a little religious service in their hotel, or at a roadside gathering with just their immediate family members, for example. Is this scriptural? If so, we should be able to point to passages of Scripture to justify such. These family members are not "the church" that meets in a given place, with a treasury and a will to do the Lord's work in a given locality and stand for the truth and do what they can to convert lost souls to Christ. No, this gathering is simply a family that is away from the congregation where they regularly attend and are not worshipping with a church of God on Sunday. Is this right? If so, we will be able to determine that there is Bible authority for such a practice.
Establishing Bible Authority for a given practice involves either finding generic or specific authority in God's Word for it. If specific authority authorizes a practice, we need to be extrememly careful that we do not begin to treat the practice as we would other practices that are authorized by generic authority. This author believes that this is the error that most often occurs in a breakdown of Christians today doing things for which they really have no Bible Authority.
In this article, we are not denying that individuals have the right to worship God away from church assemblies. John 4:24 teaches that God is spirit and we must worship Him in spirit and in truth. There are instances of generic authority for saints to worship God outside of church assemblies in song, prayer and the apostles' doctrine (See Acts 16:25; Acts 18:24-28). Since God has not specified ~when~ or ~how often~ singing, teaching and praying may be done by either individuals OR churches folks may engage in such. We highly endorse more worship outside the assemblies of the local church.
On the other hand, God's Word gives specific instruction about the proper observance of the Lord's Supper. When we look to all God said on the subject, the careful Bible student will conclude that God specified that the Lord's Supper be observed: on the first day of the week, when the disciples come together to break bread, tarry and eat together the Supper. Proper elements should be used and prayer should be made blessing the bread and cup prior to distribution. Since specific authority is used concerning this particular action of worship, this EXCLUDES such activity as being authorized outside assemblies of the local church.
Notice the following chart which shows passages that speak of the Lord's Supper being limited to proper observance in the local church:
The CHURCH Assembles to Partake
vs. 7 "the disciples CAME TOGETHER to break bread"
vs. 8 "They were GATHERED TOGETHER"
I Corinthians 11:
vs. 17 "you COME TOGETHER"
vs. 18 "you COME TOGETHER AS A CHURCH"
vs. 20 "you COME TOGETHER to eat"
vs. 33 "you COME TOGETHER to eat"
vs. 34 "lest you COME TOGETHER for judgment"
God's Word uses specific authority and places the Lord's Supper in the local church.
Making the Application
The proper application of this runs right into the practice of many good-hearted brethren. But good intentions on the part of men and women don't authorize a practice in the sight of God! It is a thus saith the Lord (generic or specific authority from God) that authorizes such. This simply means that it is wrong to take the "Lord's Supper" (its really NOT the Lord's when it is an unscriptural observance, per I Cor. 11:17-34) to folks at a rest home, to a person who is shut-in at their home or hospital, to folks in jail, on a vacation with family members and friends at a roadside stop or hotel room. There are also brethren who go on trips together, like Holy Land tours, who do not seek out churches to meet with while away. Maybe these folks, as well-intentioned as they may be, believe that they "are a church" for the vacation time period spent together. Questions: Is there a treasury for this church? What "work" is this church engaged in? Is this a church established ~for the sake of convenience~? (Note: ALL those who go to the Holy Lands are not necessarily engaged in this practice as I have no way of knowing what everyone does who goes there.)
While we love all our brethren dearly, including those who engage in the unscriptural practices mentioned in the above paragraphs, we still must to speak the truth in love and sound the warning against unscriptural practices (See Acts 20:26,27; Gal. 4:16).
(Albeit Based on Good Intentions)
While we will not be able to entertain all the arguments in favor of observing the "Lord's Supper" outside of the local church, let's look at a few here. We welcome any argument that we have not listed and keep the door of study open for those who may disagree with the position we hold.
"The Lord's Supper is an individual act of worship based on the passage that reads 'Let a MAN examine HIMSELF'."
Reply to Objection #1:
Let's try to make the point clear: IF the Lord's Supper is scripturally engaged in the local church to the exclusion of individuals taking it outside the local church, THEN the "supper" is NOT the "Lord's" when folks take the elements of the Supper outside the church. The burden of proof remains for scriptural observance outside the local church.
Similar to each individual singing with grace in his or her heart to the Lord in the act of congregational singing, the saint is to examine himself or herself in the scriptural partaking of the Lord's Supper in the collective action of the disciples eating the Supper together in the same assembly. The saint also puts the bread in his or her mouth when partaking. These facts do nothing to negate the truth that God put the Lord's Supper in the local church. When you take the "sum of God's Word" on the subject of the Lord's Supper (See Psalms 119:160), we rightly conclude that the Lord's Supper is exclusively to be engaged in when the disciples come together to break bread upon the first day of the week, tarry one for another and eat together the Supper (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 11:17-34). There is no argument with the idea that the self-examination is done by the individual, but scriptural observances in the New Testament were in the assembly on the first day of the week when the disciples came together (as a church) to break bread (Acts 20:7).
"If you don't take it to the sick folks and the ones in jail, they will never be able to eat the Lord's Supper."
Reply to Objection #2:
Bible authority authorizes a given practice, not the statement above (Col. 3:17). The sick folks also missed the songs sung in church assemblies, the prayers that were offered and the studying of God's Word. When one is truly sick and cannot assemble with the saints, there is no need to take them the elements of the Supper. There is no medicinal value (spiritually speaking) in engaging in an item of worship that is exclusively limited to a church assembly by trying to take it outside the assembly of the local church. God understands why the person is not in attendance when they are too sick to be there. We need to properly understand God's Word to the extent that we realize someone in this situation simply misses the Supper that week.
"Who am I to deny someone who requests the Supper to be brought to their hospital room?"
Reply to Objection #3:
We are discussing what is authorized. We should not want to engage in any unauthorized activity, including any perversion of the Lord's Supper. If someone could not take the Supper on Sunday and wanted it on the second day of the week (another example of unauthorized eating), could you take them the elements of the Supper scripturally? Certainly not! Could you offer prayer blessing the bread and the fruit of the vine scripturally? By what authority? Would this even be the "Lord's" Supper if the elements were eaten on the second day of the week?
So, in this case would you be denying them a scriptural observance of the Lord's Supper? No. That is the point. I would not want to deny anyone a scriptural observance. The practice should first be proven to be scriptural by those who wish to engage in it. I cannot participate in that which is wrong, therefore I cannot serve, pray or assist in unscriptural observances.
"What am I supposed to do if I go to an area where there is no church? I have to take the Lord's Supper! It's better than not taking it at all."
Reply to Objection #4:
If there is no authority for a practice, we can't justify it with situation ethics. Bible authority authorizes action, not hypothetical examples that tug at our heartstrings. It is NOT ~better to take the elements outside the assembly of the local church than to not take them at all~! Where is the passage that would authorize such an approach?
Why would a Christian put themself in a situation like this in the first place? The objection implies something like a "job" would take them there (to a place where no church is located). Remember the words of our Lord in Luke 14?
"16 Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and
17 And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were
bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.
18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first
said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go
and see it: I pray thee have me excused.
19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to
prove them: I pray thee have me excused.
20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot
The principles taught in the above passage include teaching us that we are to put God FIRST, as Matthew 6:33 points out. I would hate to be at work instead of assembling with the saints if the Lord should come on those occasions when some folks put work ahead of worshipping with the saints. Why not simply assemble with the saints, worship God as He has authorized and not practice things as individuals that God ordained be done congregationally? How can we obey God's will for us to provoke one another to love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as Hebrews 10:23-25 teach, if we are not going to assemble with the church?
The Traveler's Delimma
The best solution that I know of is to plan ahead. If someone is about to go on a trip, the question should be asked, "Where will we worship while we are gone?" While we would not think of going on vacation without some thought to physical food, we need to remember that we should make plans for our spiritual activity while we are going to be away. Find a sound church to worship with while you are going to be away. Make plans and call ahead to get directions and times of services. You'll be glad you did.
Thanks for reading. - Mark J. Ward
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