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The Lord's Supper
and the Service of God:
A Historical Review  –  G. A. Rainbow

The Institution – The Gospels
The Confirmation –
Paul's Ministry
The Distinction –
The Supper and the Table
The Mystifying –
Romanism and Ritualism
The Displacement –
The Reformation
The Sacrifice – The Martyrs
The Revival – The Early Years
The Preparation –
A Spiritual Atmosphere
The Assembly –
The Introduction
The Service of God – The Dawn
The Service of God –
The Development
The Outlook – Till He Comes


The Lord's Supper – or breaking of bread – holds a special place among all those who trace their origin back to that outwardly insignificant yet spiritually momentous beginning in Dublin, c. 1827 – but

This brief review traces the main historical developments, and the gradual emergence of the Scriptural meaning and relationship of the Lord's Supper and the service of God

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The Institution – The Gospels

According to the synoptic gospels, the Lord committed two specific matters to His own before His departure: The details of the institution of the Supper in Matthew and Mark are similar, but certain differences in Luke are significant.

John deals with the effects of the public failure of the assembly.

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The Confirmation – Paul's Ministry

Paul says explicitly of the Lord's Supper: "I received from the Lord, that which I also delivered to you", 1 Corinthians 11: 23-34.

Paul condenses Luke's "which is given for you" – as to the Lord's body – to "which is for you". This transforms it from a revelation of historical fact to a present and continuing commitment.

To adjust the Corinthians, Paul gives the order of the Lord's Supper as "received from the Lord" and therefore as authoritative – "the Lord's commandment", 1 Cor. 14: 37.

The Lord instituted the Supper in seclusion with His own. John 13: 21-30; Luke 22: 15, 28.

1 Corinthians 14: 22-25 refers to "the whole assembly come together in one place", a different occasion to which outsiders might come in.

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The Distinction – The Supper and the Table

Widespread misconception exists as to "the Lord's Supper" and "the Lord's Table". These terms are commonly used interchangeably, and considered by most to have the same meaning.

Some treat the Lord's Table as identical to the table on which the bread and cup are put –

Paul uses "the Lord's Table" to show that Christians cannot have fellowship with idolatry.

The teaching in 1 Corinthians 10: 15-22 is based on the bread and the cup of the Lord's Supper.

Paul reasons from our connection with those items which allude to the sacrificial death of Christ as the peace offering.

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The Mystifying – Romanism and Ritualism

The decline of spirituality and separation, which had already commenced in Paul's day, had spread and increased by the end of the apostolic age, as Revelation 2 – 3 shows.

Under the patronage of the Roman emperor, earthliness and worldliness overwhelmed the public church, leading to its domination by the state.

Clericalism, which had begun developing early, came into the ascendancy after the persecutions and the merging with the world;

In result, the whole outward character of the Lord's Supper was materialized to suit the earthly-worldly mindset of the multitude

Thus the Lord's Supper – witness to a finished and never-to-be-repeated sacrifice – was perverted;

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The Displacement – The Reformation

The Reformation – apart from the recovery of justification by faith – fell short, as the Lord said to Sardis, "I have not found thy works complete before my God", Rev. 3: 2.

Some of Rome's excesses were abolished but things went to the other extreme – and the pulpit replaced the altar.

The situation is unchanged in Protestantism, and among those claiming to be evangelicals.

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The Sacrifice – The Martyrs

The moral and spiritual basis for the subsequent recovery of the truth of the Lord's Supper was laid by the martyrs – especially in England during the struggling years of the Reformation.

A review of the history of that period reveals that the main reason why the English Reformers were burned at the stake was because

Transubstantiation: The main issue was the Romish dogma of transubstantiation –

Various other points were made an issue with some of the English reformers, but belief in the real presence was demanded of all of them.

There were almost 300 martyrs burned at the stake 1555-58 in the reign of "Bloody Mary". Among them were such honoured names as those of John Hooper, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley. The faithfulness and devotion of such is not forgotten by Him who said,

While the Lord can and does act sovereignly, He delights to have a basis in some, at least, of His own on which to act.

Those of us who are committed to the continuation of the Lord's Supper should never forget that the moral and spiritual basis for what we have come into was established

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The Revival – The Early Years

The response to the martyrs' sacrifice was the revival of interest in, and commitment to, the Lord's Supper in Dublin, c. 1827.

At that time several Christians voluntarily separated from the institutional churches – others were forced out –

A few of these believers met together, first in a private home and later in a public meeting room. They had meetings for prayer and Scripture reading,

This weekly commemoration of the Lord marked them from the beginning –

There does not appear to have been any sense at that time, or for many decades, that the Lord's Supper was anything beyond an occasion for thanksgiving and remembrance.

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The Preparation – A Spiritual Atmosphere

The Spirit's service through the ministry of the early decades – 1827-1900 – was of a preparatory nature, in which

  1. an extended inquiry into prophetic subjects, and the recovery of the truth of our Lord's return for His saints prior to the tribulation, had the effect of separating the saints from earthly and worldly hopes,

  2. the opening up of the headship of Christ in heaven to His body on earth awoke the saints to their heavenly blessings and privileges,

  3. the exposure of the "notion of a clergyman" and conviction as to the public ruin of the church clearly defined the need for a thorough separation from all ecclesiastical systems – great and small,

  4. the recognition of the operations of the Spirit in the assembly established the foundation for the functioning of the local assembly,

  5. the early refusal of evil teaching and compromise with indifference as to it, and the later defections of many who held truths formally, made way for a ministry of a moral and spiritual character.

All this worked together to produce a spiritual atmosphere in which the service of God could be introduced and developed.

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The Assembly – The Introduction

For many years the meeting for the breaking of bread continued largely unchanged from its early form in Dublin –

Such meetings are spiritually unstructured – an unordered series of hymns, Scriptures, prayers, mainly of an individual character and all concentrated on thanksgiving for forgiveness of sins and blessings received –

Some indeed speak of their "morning meeting" as the "worship meeting" but manifest little, if any, appreciation of the true nature of the service of God.

The bread and cup, representing the Lord's body and blood as separate, symbolize a dead Christ, but there is no such Christ now.

To have the breaking of bread at the end of a meeting just means ending with what symbolizes His death.

A prerequisite to the orderly development of the service of God was the opening up, in FER's ministry in the 1880-90's, of the proper place of

We then, as assembled and having first broken bread, are to pass over – spiritually – to Christ's side of things and come under His headship in the service of God.

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The Service of God – The Dawn

The first sign of the dawn of the service of God, as we know it, was JND's concern as to the dearth of worshipful hymns to the Father, when working on the 1881 revision of Hymns and Spiritual Songs for the Little Flock.

That the exercise should have arisen first in relation to the Father is in accord with His place of supremacy in the economy.

The answer to increasing light as to response to the Father and, subsequently, to the Son and to the Spirit – and Their various relationships to the saints – is evident in the exercises in the ongoing revisions of the hymn book.

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The Service of God – The Development

A Scriptural and spiritual pattern is apparent in the various features, and the order in which they have been opened up, in JT's ministry from c. 1900-53,

  1. the Lord's Supper as the Lord's, not the Father's or the Spirit's,

  2. the clarification of Christ's Person, and His Sonship in Manhood,

  3. His relationship with His own, both as His brethren and as His bride,

  4. His uniqueness as the Son, and our place as of the "many sons",

  5. recognition of the Spirit viewed objectively, and thus as One to be addressed in prayer and in worship,

  6. the place that Divine Persons have taken in the economy, leading to intelligent worship to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

All these great truths, and many blessed details connected with them, have contributed to the enrichment of the service (worship) of God.

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The Outlook – Till He Comes

From the beginning of the revival, the enemy has relentlessly attacked those who have sought to answer to the increasing light as to the Lord's Supper and the service of God –

In more recent times, even those who had the most light from God and – for almost fifty years – had been largely preserved by good leadership from serious divisions, have since been torn apart.

The continuance of the Lord's Supper and the service of God in devotion and freshness – in the closing years of assembly testimony –

"Do not be discouraged, go on, go on, go on. The Spirit of God is always ready by our side, to help in our weakness; all things are in our favour", Ministry by J. Taylor, 66: 336 – 1950.

No earth-bound prospect would we know,
But stand expectant, while we show,
Thy death as years roll on.
Thy perfect love our strength shall be
To hold in faith and constancy
The ground that Thou hast won.

Miss Frances J. Elwood (1830-1927).
No. 192: 3 – 1973 Hymn Book.


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