The celebration of the Breaking of Bread has a central place among the meetings of the assemblies. It is normally a weekly remembrance service. This event has an open free format, with a view to allow the Holy Spirit to use any brother present to direct the congregation through prayer, Scriptural readings, songs and comments.
The assemblies resist the growing trend to ‘professionalize’ church meetings and to place the responsibility for their gatherings in the hands of a few. Most assemblies seek to promote quality (both in content and in form) and collective participation while retaining a respectful, healthy, family-friendly atmosphere. Music style and when to use musical instruments are considered local matters.
I grew up in the assembly movement in Colombia, South America and all my life I have been part of the assemblies. This has given me the opportunity to visit assemblies throughout the country and I have had a glimpse of the things that unite us and the things that separate us.
One of the things that distinguish the assemblies in Colombia is the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper. I must admit with all honesty that what for some people was a special time, was for me a monotonous and boring moment during my teenage life.
Some assemblies in Colombia insist on following the same pattern that we all are accustomed to seeing and that follows the same style that they learned from those who were its founders. I remember asking why we did things like that and the answers were always ambiguous and without any solid basis. In some cases the answers that came up were: “We always have done it this way” or “because this was the way the missionaries taught us”.
For me as a young man, such answers were very disappointing.
There are other assemblies that continue to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday but have made changes in the format of the meeting. Some have a special time of songs and reflections accompanied by musical instruments and at the end the symbols are passed.
Some distribute the symbols at the end of the sermon, in some assemblies the participation includes men and women if they have their heads covered.
In my local assembly the time of communion is always very inspiring full of praise and adoration. Although it is solemn we have understood that it is also a time where we celebrate His triumph and victory through the resurrection. It is always accompanied by music (hymns and contemporary songs). In many cases there are people who have the freedom to stand up and raise their hands and express their gratitude to the Lord. Our assembly uses individual cups, and sisters are allowed to ask hymns publicly.
The Lord’s Supper in my assembly is a time of joy, celebration, and expressions of praise. Whenever someone visits our assembly they are infected by the enthusiasm of our time of communion and celebration of the Lord’s supper. We have insisted that it is a time where the center is Him and not us or our traditions.
The Lord’s Supper is about him.
Diversity among assemblies
I really enjoy the diversity that exists in the assemblies in Colombia and I admire those who remain faithful to the mandate without remaining faithful to a tradition or format. Every time I visited a new assembly I always imagined the format of my assembly in my childhood: the table in the center, the bread and the cup, and little enthusiasm when singing. With this I do not say that it is incorrect or that it is not right but we are free to celebrate and remember the Lord without any tradition barriers.
The Biblical model of the local church has a useful structure which adapts very well to different cultures. As the Christian message spread around the world, congregations with their differences proliferated.
The New Testament evidence points to an organic type of relationship between congregations that allowed congregations with differences, even with deficiencies, to benefit from each other and be an encouragement to each other. One reads of real tensions between assemblies in the New Testament, and yet they still found ways to connect.
It is easy to idealize the New Testament assemblies and conclude that fellowship among them was possible because their practice was homogeneous and they had no serious problems. This is far from the truth. The assembly at Corinth was morally slack (1 Corinthians 5). Brothers were polarized in “groups” and many competed with their gifts to such an extent that Paul wrote: “Your meetings do more harm than good” (1 Corinthians 11:17).
The assemblies in Crete lacked teaching or guidance and were running in a deficient manner (Titus 1:5). The assemblies in Galatia contained infiltrated active legalists (Galatians 2:4). The Jerusalem assembly found it difficult to make a complete break with some Jewish traditions (Acts 21:20). The assembly where Gaius fellowshipped had serious leadership problems (3 John 9-10). The assemblies in Asia had practical and doctrinal deficiencies (Revelation 2-3).
Problems and deficiencies were not ignored. In each case we notice that there was activity to help assemblies correct and improve. But the inter-assembly contacts continued to be an encouragement. Some relations were strained and a degree of distancing occurred from problematic and unrepentant assemblies, like with the congregation where Diotrephes ruled (3 John). Visitors who did not act “in line with the truth of the gospel” were opposed face to face locally (Galatians 2:11-14).
But we read of no situation where an assembly is “formally” excluded by others. When an assembly reaches such a low state, Christ himself, as head of the church, says to such assembly: “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lamp from its place” (Revelation 2:5).
Clearly every local church must make practical arrangements in order to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Decisions must be made on type of bread, on wine, grape juice and number of cups, on timing and frequency, instruments, and participation.
The big picture should not be lost in the details of the arrangements. Where practical and possible we should seek to stay as close as possible to Biblical symbolism, but “true worshipers”, “those that worship the Father in spirit and in truth” are the “kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23).
Does He find one in you?