\o/    The Lord's Supper

Communion in the Early Church

Joseph Shultz

With the presence of the Church everywhere the realization of the price of its "Cornerstone" has faded. The cost of the life of the Head of the Church has been absorbed into institutionalism. As the world became Christianized, the church became secularized, and grace became its common property. The Church has assumed a corner on the market of Christian grace, arid sells it for a price. As the demand declines, the price becomes cheap. The price of Christian grace has declined to the point of "The Protestant Hour" on Sunday morning. The respectable Christian needs only to take one hour out of his secular life to go to Church and be assured that his sin has been forgiven through the cross of Christ. However, the truth of the matter is that the spread of the Gospel doesn't spread the cost. The cost remains, through time and eternity, the single life of the Son of God. The Church is the body of Christ, the living body of the living Savior, who continually gives of Himself in Christian grace.

The meaning and value of God's grace in Holy Communion are determined by the Cross of Christ. If Christ is but the highest example of humanism, or if the Cross is but the supreme expression of martyrdom, then the sacrament of Communion can be redesigned or dismissed without consequence; but if God was in Christ and if the Cross was the crucial action of judgment grace, then the Holy Communion "in remembrance of Him" has

eternal consequence. When we find Him to be our lord and Redeemer, taking away the sin of the world, we will lend as much emphasis in the preparation and practice of Holy Communion as He did in preparing and practicing the Last Supper. We must fully realize that as He approached the Messianic summit, He designed and deliberately instituted the sacred rite that was to be practiced by the Christian community "till He comes again."

The resurrection and Pentecost kindled the disciples with the divine knowledge that the gift of His death conveyed by the supper was eternal life. So convinced was the early Christian community of the essential value of Holy Communion for their life and faith that the records are filled with its practice in Christian martyrdom. At one time in this history the Christians were forced with the decision to say, "I confess," or apostatize. For the "Confessors" who awaited execution in the imperial prisons, the Church Fathers took it for granted that Holy Communion must be smuggled in and practiced insofar as possible. Cyprian arranged such a service for the elder Lucian, lying with his legs wrenched wide apart in the stocks of the prison at Antioch, celebrated Holy Communion for the last time as best he could, with the elements resting on his own beaten breast. He celebrated with his condemned companions lying equally helpless in the dark around him. On the evening of March 6, A.D. 203, at a prison in Charthage, the martyrs of the next day, Perpetua and Felicitas, and their companions, were given a free meal by the authorities. This meal they converted as far as possible into an Agape [love-feast]. Holy Communion was the first consideration of the Christian and the Church in times of persecution and imprisonment. To the early Christians, Holy Communion was more precious than their lives. Holy Communion was their ultimate concern because their hope of eternal life was in remembrance of Him who loved them and gave Himself for them . . . . St. Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, wrote .

"At first they drove us out, and alone we kept our festival [Communion] at that time also, persecuted and put to death by all; and every single spot where we were afflicted became to us a place of assembly for

the feast [Communion] - field, desert, ship, inn, prison; but the brightest of all festivals was kept by the perfect martyrs, when they feasted in heaven."

Just to read these accounts makes one ashamed of our apathy toward the passion of Christ in the celebration of Holy Communion. The Christian who is indifferent to the practice of Holy Communion in complacent twentieth-century churchism has no place beside the first-century Christians and perhaps reveals that he has no place in the Church, nor in the Kingdom of God!

[This excerpt comes from The Soul of the Symbols, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1966, pages 172-174, and is used with permission].

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Acts 2:46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,

Luke 22:19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."

1 Corinthians 11:24-25 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

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