Breaking of Bread
The Church’s Mission
For the last three posts we’ve been looking at the Church’s mission and how the early church accomplished it as recorded in the book of Acts. This mission is to preach the gospel message in all the world and to disciple people into becoming more like Christ. So far we’ve seen how the early church did this through the Apostle’s teaching and fellowship. This week we look at how that is done through the breaking of bread.
The Mission in “Breaking of Bread”
This idea of the breaking of bread is primarily referring to the Lord's Supper or Communion. However, there is much evidence that this phrase means not only that, but something more. In the time of the early church eating was not as much of a given as it is today. Eating was a means of survival. An abundance of food was not common for everyone the way that it is in many of our contexts. When people ate together there was a unifying factor as these individuals shared life-giving food with one another.
Breaking of Bread as Communion
This activity is closely tied to the ideas of fellowship previously discussed, but it is important to note that the early church did regularly share meals together. It must be noted that this time of shared sustenance was abused later on in the church’s history. In 1 Corinthians Paul condemns this particular church’s elite for getting drunk and over eating while ignoring the poor who were going hungry.
1 Corinthians 11:17-34:
But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
In this passage it is clear that one of the purposes of taking the Lord’s Supper together is a bond of unity. Not only do we commune with the Godhead as we partake, but we commune with one another. This is why it is so critical that we do not have divisions and secret grudges against others in the body when we come together to take communion.
Breaking of Bread as Hospitality
Hospitality is something that is also emphasized much in the New Testament. When there are greater physical needs (at least visible ones) this practice is much more focused on by the church. Perhaps it is because today’s American church is often so comfortable and without much of these apparent needs that hospitality is neglected. However, there is need around us, and just because someone isn’t starving doesn’t mean that a meal in your home wouldn’t mean a lot to them.
Often in the Epistles the love of God is demonstrated through hospitality not only to the church family, but also to unbelievers.
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.
1 Peter 4:1-2,7-11:
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Take note of what Peter is saying in his letter to the suffering church. Remember that these are persecuted people. Their lives were not filled with abundance that would make it easy to be hospitable. It would have required sacrifice on their part to give like this to others. Yet, they are commanded to love earnestly through the gift of hospitality. Peter even refers to this hospitality as stewardship; God has entrusted us with certain means and we are to use those means to bless others through the gift of hospitality. This means that we don’t have people over to impress them with our cooking, dining set, fine china, or interior decoration but instead out of a Christlike love for them and a humble recognition that everything we have is from God.
Music in the Breaking of Bread
This blog is dedicated to church music. It is helpful to reflect on the mission of the church, because understanding that mission allows us to better know what the church’s music is here for. But, in the study of that mission it is easy to lose sight of music’s role. It is easy to see how music plays a part in the Apostle’s teaching and fellowship, but this one is not quite as easy.
In the way of communion, I know that many churches ask musicians to play or sing during the passing and/ or taking of the elements. This can be a great ministry opportunity for those musicians; however, there are pros and cons to this practice. It can guide the congregation’s thoughts to the cross and help to focus them on the picture of Christ’s broken body, but it can also become a distraction. I find myself distracted as a musician sometimes, because it’s hard to turn my brain off from thinking about the music. If this is a practice that you would like to or do employ, I would advise you to minimize as much spectacle as possible. Often I’ve seen musicians who participate during this time stand off to the side so as not to be a visual distraction and choose softer music. These choices can aid in minimizing distraction. Congregational singing is also something that I’ve seen done well during communion. Sometimes taking the elements can become so very private that the members of the congregation can forget that this is also communing with the body, and congregational singing helps to fight against this tendency.
Music during hospitality is likely a less common occurrence. I have been in some homes in which the hosts and the guests had a time of singing after or before the meal. This can be a great way to fellowship! It is good that we practice what happens on Sunday morning on the other days of the week too. Singing in the home, especially with other believers, is a great way to continue the unity that we experience in the service.
Implementing a Practice
What I originally thought would be one of the shortest posts in this series has turned out to be one of the longest ones! I don’t want to belabor my point, but in conclusion I want to encourage you to put what we’ve learned into practice. The next time your church participates in the Lord’s Supper, remind yourself of the blessing God has given you in both the physical body of Christ and His Body (the Church) that you commune with. Also, have someone to your home, or go to someone’s home. And, if you’re brave, while you’re there sing together.
All Scripture is quoted from the ESV.