Spiritual Revival and the Lord's Supper
by David Dunlap
Today, as never before, the biblical practice
of the Lord's Supper stands in jeopardy. There are many who are questioning
its significance. Others are trivializing its importance. Some, who tell us
that "new wineskins" are needed, are now celebrating the Lord's Supper on
Wednesday evenings, or at birthday parties and wedding anniversaries.
Others allege that the regular celebration of the Lord's Supper is an
obstacle to church growth. They contend that Scripture never commands us to
celebrate the Lord's Supper weekly. Long accepted principles of biblical
worship are now being replaced by modern marketing techniques. Clever
numerical growth strategies using sociological and demographic studies are
competing with the standards and the patterns of the Word of God. Saddest of
all, in many assemblies the Word of God is losing this all important battle.
If the pages of Christian history could
speak, they would raise their uncompromising disapproval. Was there ever a
true revival where there was not a return to true worship? Was there ever a
time that the practice of the Lord's Supper was not a mark of genuine revival?
Would we dare neglect to examine our own spiritual condition when worship of
Christ at the Lord's Supper no longer attracts our hearts? Can our hearts
remain unmoved and indifferent when churchgoers crowd in to hear a 10 piece
rock band and drama presentation at the 11:00 service, while there are so few
true worshippers found at the Lord's table? Has the church exchanged holiness
and reverence in worship for the atmosphere and glitter of late night
television? Have we become so busy being happy that we have forgotten to be
holy? Where are the true worshippers? Can it be that the neglect and planned
de-emphasis of the Lord's Supper is simply a sign of our own spiritual poverty?
The Wesleyan Revival and the Lord's Supper
In every great spiritual revival, the renewed
emphasis and interest in the Lord's Supper was God's stamp of approval upon
that movement. Interest in the Lord's Supper was never a detriment to
spiritual growth. Worshipful appreciation of Christ leads to a changed heart
and life. The most powerful spiritual awakenings in history have often been
characterized by a two-fold renewal in worship: firstly a renewal of simplicity
in the practice of the Lord's Supper, then a renewal of spiritual appreciation
for the Lord's Supper.
Simplicity of worship has often been a great
characteristic of true revival down through the centuries. Elaborate ceremony
and arranged worship will, almost without exception, lead to dead ritual,
which neither pleases God nor satisfies the heart of man. A true mark of
spiritual revival time and again has been a return to worship in simplicity and
the rejection of forms and ceremony of the established churches. The Wesleyan
revival in England is a striking example of this practice. The Spirit of God
began to work in the hearts of a small company of believers. As they studied
God's Word, they were convinced that these principles, of worship should be put
into practice. In simplicity they attempted to carry out what they found in
the Scriptures to be true. Soon the power of God began to change the hearts
and lives of these men. As their lives changed, their hearts were burdened.
Soon, to celebrate the Lord's Supper simply as the New Testament instructs,
became their passion. One researcher writes of how the Lord led in their lives,
"In November, 1729, four young gentlemen of Oxford, Mr. John Wesley, Mr.
Charles Wesley, Mr. Morgan, and Mr. Kirkham of Merton College spent some
evenings together in reading chiefly the Greek New Testament. To the original
four, others were added to the Club, one of whom, John Clayton, son of a
Manchester bookseller, led the members in a new direction. In his father's
shop he had read many of the early Christian writers and was constantly
illuminating discussions with references from the same. Soon the group eagerly
embraced the early church practice of the weekly Lord's Supper. The evangelical
revival quickly became a revival of worship as well. Hundreds of eager
converts crowded into their once near-empty parish churches to receive
communion often, to the consternation of the religious leaders who were unused
to such enthusiasm. The evangelical leadership were quick to restore, first
monthly, and then weekly communion services."
The simple way of worship also found its way
into the life of believers in the north of Great Britain. Fifty-eight years
later in Scotland, James and Robert Haldane, ministers of the gospel, traveled
in a carriage and were well supplied with tracts which they themselves wrote,
printed, and distributed. They spoke in churches and schools, but chiefly in
the open air. Hundreds, and sometimes thousands, gathered to hear them; there
was much power in their testimony and many were converted. At the fair at
Kirkwall, three to four thousand listened daily, and on the Lord's day some
6,000 gathered to hear.
Following the principle of the New Testament, they began to take the Lord's
Supper the first day of each week. Robert Haldane recalled,
"I began practising the Lord's Supper monthly. Afterwards I became convinced
that on the principles I held, that I ought to observe it weekly. I met with a
few individuals who erected themselves into a church; and I am convinced that
any group of Christians may act as we did."
Missionary Revivals and the Lord's Supper
An accompanying hallmark to the simplicity in
worship has been a great heartfelt appreciation of the Lord's Supper. A
leading feature of spiritual revival has been the tenderhearted affection
present in remembering the Lord Jesus Christ in His death. In America the
gospel went forth to the Indians in New Jersey through the missionary David
Brainerd. Here as in other places, as the Spirit of God mightily moved in the
hearts of men, the spiritual revival was accompanied by a sincere appreciation
of the Lord's Supper. David Brainerd wrote in his journal on July 13, 1746,
"There appeared tender affection in the assembly under divine truth; my soul
was also somewhat refreshed. I administered the Lord's Supper to 31 of the
Indians. God seemed to be real and present among us. The worshippers were
sweetly melted and refreshed. Oh, how they melted when the elements were first
uncovered. There was scarcely a dry eye among them when I took off the linen,
and showed them the symbols of Christ's body."
This renewed appreciation of the Lord's
Supper was not unique to North America or Great Britain, but was also present
in the mission fields of South America. After a number of months of preaching
the gospel to Indians in the Ecuadorian jungle, missionary Jim Elliot had seen
a small band of believers gather together as a New Testament church. As they
began to grow in grace and spiritual maturity, the desire to remember the Lord
in His death began to burn in their hearts. Jim Elliot wrote in his journal
on January 16, 1955,
"With a small nucleus of baptized believers we began having a simple meeting
for the breaking of bread, where Christ was exalted and worshiped. No one
taught; the words of men were few. Hymns of adoration were sung, prayer was
offered, and gradually the new believers began to understand the meaning of
worship--offering to the Lord the love of their hearts, with simplicity and
sincerity. Others began to observe this gathering from the outside. There was
not much to watch. The room where we met was the schoolroom--bamboo walls and
floors, thatched roof, backless benches. A small table stood in the center of
the circle with a loaf of bread and a cup of wine. The Indians gathered
quietly, and sat barefooted and reverent around the symbols which spoke to them
of the death of their Lord Jesus, whom they had so recently come to know and
love. One by one the young men would take part, suggesting a hymn, or
praying, while all joined in lifting their hearts to Christ. Reminded of His
death, they also thought of His coming again, and frequently ended the meeting
singing 'Be happy, believers--Christ is coming'."
It is refreshing to see Christ-centered worship at the forefront of the
gathering together of the New Testament church. It pleases the heart of God
and redirects the focus of our faith.
Worship, the True Mark of Spiritual Vitality
Throughout the centuries the weekly practice
and the genuine appreciation of the Lord's Supper was an indication of the
spiritual strength of the Christian church. The past is the great interpreter
of the present and a safeguard of the future. A worshipping assembly is always
a spiritually robust assembly. Biblical orthodoxy leads to worshipful
doxology. Where there is no vision the people perish, and likewise true, where
there is no worship believers languish. When the assembly gathers together,
the Lord Jesus Christ must have the first place in all things. He is the Lord
of our lives and Head over the church, His body. Unfortunately, today we are
beginning to see a marked departure from this essential truth. May the church
of the 1990's soon realize that the sincere appreciation and the regular
practice of the Lord's Supper is a measure of her spiritual strength.The
pattern is plain throughout history; when the church began to forget the Lord
in worship, very soon thereafter she also forgot her calling in the world.
When we ignore the voice and testimony of history we do so at our peril
(1) Bruce McNichol,
Interest Magazine, (November 1991) : p. 3
(2) Donald Bridge and David Phypers,
Communion: The Meal That Unites,
(Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1981), 124
(3) E. H. Broadbent,
The Pilgrim Church,
(London: Pickering and Inglis, Ltd, 1931), p. 298, 301
(4) Jonathan Edwards,
The Life Of David Brainerd,
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 280
(5) Elisabeth Elliot,
Shadow Of The Almighty,
(New York, NY: Harper and Row Publishers, 1956), p. 222
"Our Lord Jesus Christ hath knit together a company of new people by the Lord's
supper, most easy to be kept, most excellent in significance."
"The blessed Master knew well the tendency of our hearts to slip away from him.
To meet this tendency was one of his objectives in the institution of the
Lord's supper. He would gather His people around his own blessed person. There
they might see the love of God for them and the blood of Christ which has made
them fit to be there."
C. H. Macintosh
A Poem to My Sisters
Concerning why she worshiped in the assembly at Barnstable, England.
We worship not 'neath the fretted dome,
Or organ's feeling sound,
Nor where the dim light streams
The long aisle's sculptured round;
But simply, as of old they came,
According to the Word
They met in Jesus sacred Name,
And called upon the Lord.
No priests adorned with priestly pride,
No altar railed around,
No multitude of mixed(unsaved) race
Are meeting on the ground;
But worshippers sincere are there,
And there the wine and bread,
Symbolic emblems of their Lord
Who for them groaned and bled.
All-glorious! for by faith we look
Beyond the outward sign
To Him, who now will come again
In glory all divine;
To Him, who said, Take this and eat,
Drink and remember Me--
We do it, Lord, for Thy dear sake,
And long Thy face to see:
My Lord, my life, always.
BIBLE & LIFE
A non-profit ministry of Bible and Life Ministry, Inc.
Bible & Life Newsletter is published periodically and sent out free of charge
and is supported entirely by the free will offerings of the Lord's people.
To join our mailing list, correspond, or to receive details of where to send cheques, please email us
at the following address: