Basics of the Lord’s Supper.

Plymouth Brethren observe the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis as a meeting on its own, usually an hour or so in length. Often this meeting is held Sunday morning before the preaching service, but it is up to each individual assembly to determine how they’ll observe the breaking of the bread.

They observe it weekly because of the pattern the describe being found in Acts 20:7, where it is mentioned in passing, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread…”

The organization of this meeting is often described as having root in the latter portions of 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, respectively, and is typically conducted as follows:

The saints gather together, either in a typical congregational setting of pews, or perhaps in a circle. In either case, the centrality of the room’s focus is on a table where a loaf of unbroken bread and a cup of the fruit of the vine are displayed. There is occasionally discussion over whether the bread should be an unleavened loaf and whether the contents of the cup should be fermented or not, but often these are considered secondary concerns. So long as it is bread and fruit of the vine, they are content.

The meeting usually begins in silent contemplation. Then, as men feel led by the Holy Spirit, they stand up and talk about Christ, pray giving thanks for Christ, read a passage of Scripture that reminds them of Christ, or call out a hymn that speaks of Christ to be sung acapella by the congregation. As you’ve probably picked up on, the entirety of the meeting is concerned with the person of Christ, particularly His death on the cross. This is not considered a time for preaching, exhortation, or sharing of testimonies. All things are expected to focus the believers’ hearts on the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.

Only men are permitted to speak or pray. Women are expected to remain silent, though they are permitted to sing with the rest of the congregation. If two men stand up at once, whoever stood up first is to concede the floor to the other man. If tongues are used (taken by the brethren to strictly mean another language), an interpreter is expected or the person speaking in tongues is expected to remain silent.

When enough time has passed, one of the elders of the assembly will stand up and specifically give thanks for the bread. Then he will go to the table, tear the bread into halves or quarters, and a group of ushers or deacons will pass the bread among the assembly for the people to tear off pieces and eat. After this, another elder will give specific thanks for the cup. Then he will go to the table and either pass the single cup around the congregation, or else pass around trays of individual communion glasses. Directly after this, an offering is taken up. The offering is considered part of the worship meeting, and is typically only taken during the Lord’s Supper to encourage only believers to give and discourage unbelievers from trying to give money.

A hymn of praise is usually sung at this point, and the meeting is concluded in prayer.

In the open assemblies, since they do not have church membership and they recognize the salvation of many denominations and believe that all believers are called to remember the Lord, there are very few regulations for who is permitted to eat the bread and drink the cup (usually called “partaking of the Lord’s Supper”). Typically, the only restrictions are that a person is a Christian “in good fellowship” in a local church, meaning that they are not under church discipline anywhere. Occasionally an additional restriction of having been baptized is expected, but in my experience this is rare.

This meeting is considered the most important meeting of the church, since it was specifically requested by the Lord Himself while on earth (and apparently again after His death via the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23). It is often said that if you are unable to attend any other meeting in a given week, you ought to attend the breaking of bread.

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6 thoughts on “Basics of the Lord’s Supper.

  1. Pretty accurate account of the Brethren practice of the Lord’s table as per my experiences growing up. However, “tongues” at this or any other meeting??? Nonsense, unless you mean simply a foreigner praying in another known language and being interpreted (even that I never saw in 20 years). If you mean tongues in the Pentecostal/Charismatic sense of so-called “angelic” speech, the Brethren universally reject that but believe that such a gift and other sign gifts are no longer operative in this age but relegated to the early apostolic church age.

      • “Tongues” has a particular connotation in today’s religious world. The Brethren would never call what you describe as tongues in any sense. In fact they wouldn’t call it anything. It is simply someone of foreign origin praying in their own language. Of course tongues is another language. That is what it was at Pentecost. That’s true Biblical tongues not the gibberish of so-called “angelic” language which has no Biblical basis at all despite what Pentecostals/Charimatics want to claim. Your use of the word is not necessarily wrong, simply misleading when used in relation to Brethren practices.

      • In my experience, yes, some PB call it tongues. In the view of the brethren I know who call it such, they’re simply calling it what Scripture calls it. I’m not sure why this is something you’re hyper-focused on, when I was explicit in my overview that in this setting, tongues=actual language. Using the word as I did, directly followed by a clarification of what it meant, isn’t misleading at all.

  2. Hi. I find your article biased towards only one “pole” of the Brethren movement. I have a strong Brethren background myself and I am still close to them, even though I now worship in another church.

    On ALL of the points you raised, the Brethren are much more diverse than you seem to believe. I don’t know where you come from; I’m from New Zealand and I’m quite familiar with the Brethren in this country as well as Australia. YES, there are indeed Brethren Assemblies that match your blueprint to a tee! There are also Brethren Assemblies that you probably wouldn’t recognize. Let’s get a few things straight :

    1. The Brethren Assembly closest to where I live employs a full-time Pastor who does most of the preaching. I know of quite a few other assemblies that similarly have pastors.
    2. MANY (not all, but many) Brethren Assemblies in New Zealand and Australia allow women to pray audibly; some (not a huge number, but more than in the past) allow women to preach, and I know of at least three that have woman elders.
    3. The Brethren “universally reject” speaking in tongues? Tell that to the largest Brethren Assembly in Wellington (New Zealand’s capital), which hosted a crusade with Pentecostal evangelist Greg Laurie a couple of years ago. Tell that to my dear friends at Te Atatu Bible Chapel (which, unlike many other assemblies, openly and proudly flaunts the Brethren label). It’s considered a powerhouse of the charismatic movement in Auckland. Having said that, there are still quite a lot of Brethren assemblies which would not encourage speaking in tongues, although VERY FEW would dogmatically say that tongues and other sign gifts are not for believers today. (A generation ago, when I was growing up, however, it was very different: there was only one Brethren Assembly in the whole of New Zealand that was even remotely sympathetic to anything charismatic, and an elder in the assembly where I worshipped told me bluntly that he thought THAT assembly shouldn’t be allowed to call itself “Brethren”. “They should join the AOG’s and be done with it,” he declared. Not so many would agree with him now).
    4. Other points, briefly : Dispensationalism is still widely held among Brethren here (not universally, but it’s still very much the majority view). The breaking of bread remains a very important (many would say the most important) focus of worship for most Brethren. Most would still lean more towards Calvinism than Arminianism, but there are and have always been exceptions (the late Ces Hilton, the best-known Brethren evangelist in New Zealand when I was growing up, proudly declared himself to be an Arminian). I know of NO Brethren Assembly in New Zealand that intentionally isolates itself from other denominations. (There may well be some that do, but I have not personally encountered any in the 49 years of my life).

    One thing the Brethren should be proud of : on all of these points, there have been contentious debates, but unlike other denominations, they have not had any significant schisms over them. The Assembly at Te Atatu (which, as I said, embraces the charismatic movement in a big way) and the one at Northcross (which emphatically does not) have no difficulty supporting the same missions, Bible college, and trusts. (They probably wouldn’t have each other’s speakers, however). Other denominations have had acrimonious splits of these and other issues, which have discredited the gospel. The Brethren have not, and they should be proud of that. Although I no longer worship in a Brethren Assembly (largely because of circumstance), I am proud of my Brethren background and its rich and enduring heritage.

    • Hi, thanks for commenting. I apologize for not responding sooner — I’ve been in quite poor health and swamped with work.

      I’ve explicitly stated repeatedly on this blog that my focus is on the open assemblies. I’m writing from my 20+ years of experience with the open assemblies in the United States — I cannot pretend to have experienced these things elsewhere. However, I’ve sat under many sermons from many preachers condemning the “moral and biblical decline” of assemblies across the pond for just the things you noted: having salaried preaching staff, allowing women to verbally participate in any of the meetings, embracing more charismatic practices such as speaking in tongues or having produced music or other less “restrained” practices. I’m not denying that those assemblies exist and that they do good in the world: I’m saying that by and large, the open assemblies in the United States vehemently disagree with those practices and consider such churches to be unbiblical and not true New Testament assemblies.

      I’m writing for a very particular subset of churches, the subset in which I grew up that is the most prominent type of assembly in the United States. I do not pretend otherwise.

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