The Lord's Supper
A Review Of The Lord’s Supper As Presented in F. LaGard Smith’s,“Radical Restoration”
The apostle Paul said, “there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you” (1 Cor. 10:19). I do not suppose that there has been a time or a place in the history of God’s people when this has not been true –and ours is no exception. As Peter said, “... there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies...” (2 Pet. 2:1). It is our responsibility to “... test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
The purpose of this article is to review a portion of a book written by LaGard Smith entitled, Radical Restoration. Specifically, I want to deal with the contents of chapter seven of that book entitled, In An Unworthy Manner, which sets forth Smith’s position on the Lord’s Supper. I intend to let Smith, in his own words, explain his view of the Lord’s Supper and then show, from the Scriptures, why I believe him to be in error.
LaGard Smith On The Lord’s Supper
Smith affirms that, “...perhaps the most universally-overlooked feature of the Lord’s Supper as practiced in the primitive church is that – from all appearances – it was observed in conjunction with a fellowship meal. That is, a normal, ordinary meal with the usual variety of food. However, unlike normal, ordinary meals, this combined table fellowship and memorial was shared among the disciples for the special purpose of strengthening, not just their physical bodies, but their common bond in the spiritual body of Christ. Hence, Jude’s reference to their ‘love feasts’(verse 12).” (Radical Restoration, p. 128-129, all emphasis should be considered mine - jhd).
He continues, “...on the occasion of its inaugural introduction –there in the upper room on the night Jesus was betrayed – the memorial was part of an actual meal being shared, which included bread, wine, and whatever ‘dish’ it was into which Jesus dipped the bread before handing it to Judas” (John 13:26-27). (p. 129).
Smith describes a Thanksgiving meal at his home in Nashville with its mixture of emotions, devotions, and memories and then said, “In fact, from what we can tell, it’s also very much like the house churches of the first century and their memorial meals on the Lord’s Day. Apparently, their love feasts were a mirror image of our own Thanksgiving celebrations, with home, family, food, love, prayer, and shared memories. Especially the memory of Christ” (Radical Restoration, 146).
Having made his assumptions, using terms like “apparently” and “from all appearances,” Smith argues saying, “From its very inception, therefore, the Lord’s Supper was an integral part of a real meal. That real meal was not unlike the fellowship meals which the larger body of Pentecost disciples shared throughout the week when they ‘broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46). (p. 128-129)
Therefore, Smith’s view of the Lord’s Supper is that of “A Memorial Within A Meal” (Radical Restoration, 128) – A meal with normal table fare – bacon and beans, biscuits and greens, to strengthen our body – with a pause at some point to eat unleavened bread and fruit of the vine in memory of Jesus to strengthen our spirits.
Is this what the Scripture teaches?
A Preliminary Observation
From the beginning to the end of Smith’s book, it is hard to find an old fashioned Scriptural argument where a passage is quoted and a point of application clearly derived. Brother Smith makes several assertions and assumptions then proceeds to make his argument, having assumed the very point to be proven.
For example, he says, “perhaps the most universally-overlooked feature of the Lord’s Supper as practiced in the primitive church is that – from all appearances – it was observed in conjunction with a fellowship meal.” In order to prove that we have overlooked any feature of the Lord’s Supper brother Smith needs to provide the passage that instructs us in that feature. What passage have we overlooked that shows the Lord’s Supper was observed in conjunction with an ordinary meal? Brother Smith assumes the very point he is supposed to prove.
Another example is the fact that Smith refers to Jude’s “love feasts” (Jude 12) and asserts that this is talking about his blend of a common meal and the Lord’s Supper. Where is his proof of this? He doesn’t give it, but merely assumes and asserts that it is so and expects the reader to believe it. The truth is, unless it be the Lord’s Supper itself, neither he nor I have enough information from Jude 12 to know anything about the nature of these “love feasts.”
Smith’s Fundamental Affirmation
Smith’s fundamental affirmation comes from the institution of the Lord’s Supper at the last Passover Jesus observed with his disciples (Matt. 26:20-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:1-23). He argues that, because the Lord’s Supper was instituted during the Passover meal, i.e., what he calls a “normal, ordinary” meal, therefore it should be observed today in conjunction with a“normal, ordinary” meal. To which I have several replies.
First, I deny that the Passover meal was a “normal, ordinary”meal. In fact, it was a very unusual meal, observed only once a year, designed itself as a memorial. The meal, strictly regulated (Exo. 12), consisted of roasted lamb (unblemished one year old male), unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and fruit of the vine (Matt. 26:29; Luke 22:18). When Jesus and His disciples sat down to eat the Passover it was anything but a typical meal. I teach, and I think rightfully so, that by necessary inference the Lord’s Supper is limited to unleavened bread and fruit of the vine. If the Lord’s Supper elements are restricted to unleavened bread and fruit of the vine, why are not the contents of Smith’s “normal, ordinary”meal limited to the elements of the Passover feast. If they are not so limited, why not? Further, if the elements of the “common” or Passover meal can be changed to bacon and beans, biscuits and greens, by what logic can I not also change the elements of the Lord’s Supper?
Second, the truth is that Jesus only instituted the Lord’s Supper on that Passover evening, He did not observe it. Why? Because, neither He nor His disciples could memorialize an event that had not yet taken place. I acknowledge, based on 1 Cor. 5:7; John 1:29, et. al. (“For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.” –“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”) that there is a type/anti-type relationship between Jesus and the paschal lamb. However, the Lord’s Supper was not a part of the Passover meal, nor an extension of it, but merely the occasion upon which Jesus instituted His own memorial supper by giving instruction on how His disciples were to observe it after His death, when the church was established, and local congregations gathered across the globe on the first day of every week to worship. Furthermore, Jesus likely gave instruction on other subjects while eating with his disciples. Must we assume that because the instructions were given at mealtime that they must be carried out at a meal? I think not.
Third, in further proof that the Lord’s Supper was distinct from the Passover meal and not a part of it, I offer 1 Cor. 11:25 — the apostle Paul’s description of the institution of the Supper he said,“In the same way He took the cup also after supper...”, indicating a distinction between the Passover meal and his instruction concerning the institution of His memorial. This same distinction is seen in Luke 22:20.
“Gathered Together To Break Bread”
Brother Smith has trouble with the term “gathered together to break bread” in Acts 20:7. He writes, “In the New Testament record, we find three ways to ‘break bread’... (1) “The first...was the literal breaking apart of the bread, as Jesus did that night before he distributed it (Luke 22:19)... (2) “The eating of the meal itself was also referred to as ‘breaking bread’... (Acts 2:46; 27:35 - jhd)... (3) “It appears that, in time, the Lord’s Supper itself was referred to as ‘breaking bread’... (1 Cor. 10:16-17).” (P. 129-130)
In trying to establish his assertion that “On the Lord’s day...their common, ordinary fellowship meals took on an added significance as they came together specifically to celebrate Christ’s memorial,”he then writes, “A much clearer example is found when the disciples in Troas ‘came together to break bread...on the first day of the week’ (Acts 20:7). Because of its association with the ‘first day’ (the day on which the disciples regularly met together), the breaking of bread on that occasion seems to have had the double connotation of both meal and memorial `(Emphasis mine -jhd). Whatever actual form it took, it was a ‘memorial within a meal’ – a time to remember the Bread of Life while ‘breaking bread’ with one another.” (p. 130).
Smith’s “double connotation” argument reminds me of the struggles that a Pentecostal preach I once debated had with Eph. 4:5. I asked the Pentecostal, “Which baptism is the apostle Paul talking about in Eph. 4:5 when he affirms, ‘There is... one baptism?’ Is it water baptism, or Holy Spirit baptism?” He, Jerry, caught up in the dilemma, said “both.”
In like manner, if I were to ask brother Smith, “For what purpose did the disciples gather on the first day of the week in Troas? Was it to have a common meal, or to observe the Lord’s Supper?” Knowing he has a similar dilemma, brother Smith has already answered the question. He says, “both.” The truth is, when Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, that appears to have been exactly what they were doing. They were gathering for both a common meal and to partake of the Lord’s Supper – abusing the Lord’s Supper in the process – and Paul rebuked them for it! Saying: “What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God...” (1 Cor. 11:22). And again... “If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment” (1 Cor. 11:34).
Problems With 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Brother Smith realizes he has problems with 1 Cor. 11 and admits, “I am aware that most of us have traditionally understood this passage to condemn the eating of a common, ordinary meal at a time when Christ’s memorial is being observed... So bear with me as I attempt to show the passage in an altogether different light”(p. 130). And this is exactly what he attempts to do by taking apart the passage, ignoring its simple, most obvious meaning and reconstructing it to fit the presuppositions he brings to the passage.
He asserts, “Far from prohibiting a fellowship meal in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper, it is clear that Paul is saying (in current vernacular): If the reason you are participating in the fellowship meal is to feed your stomach, then you’d do better to stay home and pig out!” (p. 131). Paul, Smith to the contrary not withstanding, says again simply, “What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God...”(1 Cor. 11:22). And again, “If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment” (1 Cor. 11:34).
The apostle, in contradiction to brother Smith, is saying in my parody of Smith’s words, If you have come together for the purpose of partaking of a common meal, then you’d do better to stay at home and pig out! Personally, I think Paul’s words are so clear and plain, that it takes a lawyer to confuse it!
The Consequences of Smith’s Position
The consequences of Smith’s position need to be clearly understood. He would have us believe that Matt. 26, Acts 20:7, and 1 Cor. 11 teaches that the Lord’s Supper “was observed in conjunction with a fellowship meal. That is, a normal, ordinary meal with the usual variety of food” (p. 128). If this is indeed the case then I ask, “Where, then, is the passage that teaches that we may observe the Lord’s Supper without a fellowship meal?” Brother Smith can’t cite Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 11:23-26, Matt. 26:26-29 for he has already used them to show the opposite. The truth is that our brother, according to his reasoning, can’t cite a single passage to show that he has the authority to partake of the Lord’s Supper without a fellowship meal. Therefore, according to his own logic, we MUST have a common meal when we observe the Lord’s Supper, and to observe the Lord’s Supper without it would be sinful. I find it difficult to believe that even he would accept the consequences of his argument.
We live in troubled times. While I acknowledge that there seems to be a spirit of stagnation among some churches, the answer to that stagnation is not to be found in novel gimmicks in an effort to find a closer vertical relationship with God and a warmer horizontal relationship with one another. It is true that we need a closer relationship with God and a warmer relationship with one another. But I maintain that such can only truly be found by following the instructions of the ancient prophets of God, “Thus says the Lord, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you shall find rest for your souls...” (Jer. 6:16). And again, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set” (Pro. 22:28).
After all I have said it may be surprising to some that I say that there are actually many things in Smith’s Radical Restoration with which I agree. For instance, chapter 11 of the book entitled, A Youth-Driven Church, begins with Smith quoting Bertand Russell as saying, “I was born in the wrong generation. When I was a young man, no one had any respect for youth. Now I am an old man and no one has any respect for age.” I don’t consider myself an old man at all, but I am old enough to sympathize with that statement. It seems that the spirit of our age is, if it is old, it needs to be discarded. Little thought is given to the possibility that some things that are old are so because they are divinely revealed by a God who knows us better than we know ourselves. Little thought is given to the possibility that the reason some things are old is because they have been tried and tested and proven reliable. I am convinced that these things will stand when this world is on fire and false doctrine and the men who promote them are long gone. May God give us the wisdom to both recognize and preserve the “ancient landmarks.”