“giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” —Ephesians 5:20
When Paul directed Christians to give thanks always and for everything, he used the word Eucharist (εὐχαριστέω). The word is used in the New Testament thirty-nine times, and only a handful are used in reference to the Lord’s Supper. It makes sense to use the word as the New Testament uses it, which usually means being demonstratively thankful. No doubt such thankfulness is an aspect of the Lord’s Supper, even the central characteristic of it by believers.
History and tradition have institutionalized the Lord’s Supper by insisting that the Supper be administered in particular ways, according to particular formulas. Every approach to the Lord’s Supper today is formulaic. While the content of the various traditional formulas are different, they all tend to freeze the Lord’s Supper into an established standard. They formalize the Supper, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but over time formalism tends to become increasingly rote and habitual—unconscious, which becomes problematic. The Lord said to Isaiah:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men (Isaiah 29:13).
This is the problem of having an unconscious, rote, habitual relationship with the Lord. Things that move away from intentionality, usually move into personal unimportance. Yet, our contemporary problem with the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, is farther removed than being merely unconscious. It has moved into the realm of petrification. When Paul provided instructions to the Corinthians regarding the Lord’s Supper, following the other Apostles, he said:
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 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 also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
These words are repeated in every Christian communion liturgy, as they should be. But the celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Sunday mornings is only the tip of the Eucharistic iceberg. The Eucharist is not the bread or the wine. The Eucharist is the thankfulness. This means that the Eucharist is celebrated during the Lord’s Supper, but is not limited therein. Thankfulness is another word for love, and while love is no stranger to formalities, rote, habitual unconsciousness stifles it. Active love is bright-eyed, willing, eager, and determined. Active love is awake, conscious, and attentive.
Paul said that all Christians are to give thanks always for everything (v. 20). Thus, Eucharist is a verb not a noun, and it is not under ecclesiastical control or supervision. It is a way of life, an attitude, a set of the jib, an outlook, and a worldview. Eucharist is a spiritual orientation and activity. The reason that the denominations cannot celebrate the Lord’s Supper together is that they diminish it. They conceive of it in unbiblical ways. They are barking up the wrong proverbial tree. They have standardized their churches by creating legalized entities, creatures of law—and human law at that! The problem is that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). By letter (γράμμα) Paul meant legalized, standardized descriptions and procedures that constrain God. We are not to constrain God!
English dictionaries know nothing about any definition of Eucharist other than it being the body and blood or bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. This misunderstanding took hold very early. It appears to have originated in the Didache, which dates to the late first or early second century. The Didache was considered to be part of the New Testament until the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) set the cannon, and excluded it. This means that while the Didache is very important, it is not infallible—though it has too often been treated so.
This is not a contradiction of anything that the Didache says. It is simply the observation that its definition of the word Eucharist and its description of the Lord’s Supper is erroneous because the Bible never uses or defines the word that way. That error has since been compounded a thousandfold. And there is no good reason not to correct it. Nor is there any need to blame this or that denomination or group. All are guilty in one way or another, in that every attempt to correct it has only made it worse.
(from Ephesians—Recovering the Vision of a Sustainable Church In Christ, forthcoming, 2014)