During COVID-19 lock down, is breaking bread at home (or virtually) an option?

During COVID-19 lock down, is breaking bread at home (or virtually) an option?

Should we just have the Breaking of Bread at home?

by Alasdair G. Baijal (Cape Town, South Africa)

2nd May 2020

Believers around the world are experiencing severe restrictions on their physical gatherings. Many assemblies of believers have realised that technology can be put to good use, to ensure that believers receive teaching and encouragement. Some have even found a benefit in meeting for prayer via video and telephone links. We give God thanks for the technology He has provided.

One thing that believers cannot do virtually is break bread in a scriptural manner. Those who love the breaking of bread are understandably upset by this. On a Sunday morning many believers are having a quiet time alone in the home with the family, singing a few hymns, and presenting worship to God. This is a poor substitute for the ordinance the Lord gave but it is better than nothing. Unfortunately, this situation has caused some believers to query established principles, and to pursue their modification. In particular, some believers feel that couples and families at home should proceed with setting out emblems and host a Breaking of Bread.

There are several factors that should be considered when deciding whether or not this is appropriate. When these factors are taken into account, it can be seen that this idea is unscriptural and not to be recommended.

  1. The Setting of the Feast

In the upper room, before the Lord died, He said, “this do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). We are not left in the dark over how the apostles understood the Lord’s command. In the New Testament we have three occasions when the observance of the breaking of bread is mentioned (Acts 2:41-42; 20:6-7; 1 Cor 11:17-34). You will see that it is always observed in the context of a church. It is never observed anywhere in the New Testament by a family alone or by a husband and wife alone. Neither is it observed by a random collection of believers who happen to be physically together at any given point in time.

Not only that but the emphasis in 1 Cor 11:17-34 is also that it was only observed when the believers were physically together. The reasons for God arranging it in this way are many. One of those reasons is that only observing in a church setting ensures that there is always accountability for what is done. Shepherds in the assembly can listen to contributions and watch the manner of observance and ensure things are done scripturally. Whatever the actual reasons, it is clear that God’s pattern is for churches to observe the Breaking of Bread. Not individuals or families. Any attempt to depart from this is a departure from the New Testament pattern.

Some believers suggest that due to the fact we cannot observe the New Testament pattern by breaking bread as an assembly, there is nothing wrong with breaking bread at home instead. This is strange logic. When one part of the pattern becomes impossible, it would be surprising if departing further was the answer. In any case, we have an answer from the scriptures, as will be seen below.

  1. The Symbolism of the Emblems

We already know from Luke 22:19-20 that the emblems utilised at the Breaking of Bread are symbols of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are vivid depictions of who He is and what He has done for us. In addition to that, in 1 Cor 10:16, we learn that there is a secondary symbolism involved with these emblems. They also express the unity of the local church that is observing the feast. Not only do they express the local church’s unity with each other, but also their union in Christ. Any attempt to fragment the Breaking of Bread into individual families is an attack on the unity of the local church in question. The secondary symbolism of the feast is to say that though we are diverse and naturally would have no connection, in Christ we are united. That secondary symbolism of the emblems is destroyed by a Breaking of Bread alone at home.

  1. The Significance of the Observance

In 1 Cor 11:26, we learn a further aim and purpose of the Breaking of Bread. It states, “For as often as ye eat this bread…ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” The word, “shew” means to lift up the voice and proclaim as a herald. It is often utilised as a word to describe the public declaration of the Gospel. The point Paul makes is that when believers break bread in a scriptural manner, they are preaching the Gospel through the observance. It is clear from scriptures like this, and also 1 Cor 14:23, that the Breaking of Bread gathering was open for public observance. Paul envisages that there may have been unbelievers and believers not yet part of the church who need the Gospel to be proclaimed to them. It was designed for the benefit of more than just believers. It is suggested that by making this an individual matter which can be carried out in my home, I am cutting off one of the major reasons for the observance of the feast, namely, the declaration of the Gospel pictorially to unbelievers.

  1. The Scripture on the Issue

Even if we had none of the teaching above, we would still be in a position to form a view about this matter. We do have direct examples of a parallel situation. We are not the only believers who have ever faced restrictions and obstacles concerning the observance of the Breaking of Bread. Paul was often imprisoned and unable to attend the gatherings of the church. In all his imprisonment there is no record of him attempting or supporting an individual or family-style Breaking of Bread. God knew that one day we would face these restrictions and it would have been easy for Him to give us scriptural precedent. He did not.

The one piece of guidance we have teaches us the opposite. In Acts 20:6-7 we read of Paul facing restrictions. Not government-enforced restrictions but rather practical restrictions. He was on a ship sailing to Troas. He was on that ship on the first day of the week. There were several believers with him. All baptised and doctrinally sound. However, there is no record of him observing the Breaking of Bread. Luke tells us that when he arrived in Troas, he waited there until the first day of the week so that he could gather with the believers from Troas at their usual Breaking of Bread gathering.

You can see from this that for Paul, the Breaking of Bread was not an individual matter or a question of what was practical at the time. It was a command to be obeyed by churches gathering together on the first day of the week.

  1. The Sacramental Error

The final and most concerning factor relates to the issue of motivation. Why do believers want to break bread at home? It could be from genuine sorrow at missing the collective gatherings for the Breaking of Bread and worship. That is understandable. It could be from a misunderstanding of the command and not realising that the command was obeyed by churches, not individuals, in New Testament times. This has been dealt with above. It could just be that they miss the opportunity to obey the Lord and they feel sad that they cannot obey his command. It should be remembered that the God who gave this command is the God who allowed believers to face these restrictions temporarily.

One more concerning motivation would be believers feeling they are missing out on an impartation of grace by missing out on the Breaking of Bread. That somehow, by missing the emblems, their spiritual standing is diminished. That is a version of the sacramental error. The idea that the Breaking of Bread is a sacrament. The Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist churches all hold that the Breaking of Bread is a sacrament. What they believe is that the emblems in some way impart divine grace to the soul. In the Catholic tradition, this sacrament is necessary for salvation. It is easy to see that if you have this view of the sacrament, you would feel the need to receive it, even at home. Otherwise, your spiritual life and standing before God are in jeopardy. This is an addition to scripture. Through the symbols, believers simply call the Lord to remembrance and publicly display their link with Him. Of course, the ordinance is a command, so in no way should it be understood to be optional when we are free to observe it. It does not however impart grace or favour from God. When this is understood, believers will be content to await God’s time for the restoration of the feast, rather than embracing unscriptural practices.

In summary, the scriptures do not leave us free to do as we feel like in this strange situation. When the principles of scripture are considered it can be seen that to break bread at home, alone, would be a substantial deviation from the New Testament pattern. Of course, not every believer cares about the New Testament pattern. For those that do, these principles should weigh heavily on their decision-making.