Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
It is this cue from Paul which will lead us to Deuteronomy 12, in which YWHW commands Israel to abolish everything connected to idol worship upon entering the Promised Land. For Israel, the narrative fills out the commandment of God in the Torah to not take the name of the Lord God in vain. Further, in the Levitical standard of holiness, God’s name is reserved and considered something holy within itself:
“Speak to Aaron and his sons, that they separate themselves from the holy things of the children of Israel, and that they do not profane My holy name by what they dedicate to Me: I am the LORD. Say to them: “Whoever of all your descendants throughout your generations, who goes near the holy things which the children of Israel dedicate to the LORD, while he has uncleanness upon him, that person shall be cut off from My presence: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 22:2-3 NKJV)
The Levitical Priesthood had to be a holy people among holy people, first among equals, in bringing sacrifices to God, and making sure what they brought was not common or unclean in any way. What they brought to the name of the Lord, or perhaps in the name of the Lord, could have dire consequences for them.
I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
The Apostle Paul expressed a deep commonality here – individual Christians are but one body and all partake of one bread which is Christ. There was a time in the life of the early Church in which Communion was practiced daily.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42 NKJV)
This started on the Day of Pentecost, but as a tradition soon ended, as we know that when Paul wrote to the Corinthians there was a time to gather for the Communion. The Church in Acts was given unity and power because the daily devotion to the doctrine of the Apostles and the breaking of the bread in the homes of the Saints. For these men, the eleven – now – who had first communed with the Lord, this had to be something of a daily reminder of the One who was no longer with them in the flesh. For the others, this was a method of meeting with the Apostles and disciples, building the Church, and strengthening the bonds of unity through the gospel which is the body and blood of Christ.
This is no mere observance for the early Church, but something sanctified, something hollowed, something that united not only the individuals in the Church together, but united the Church to Christ. It was something not to be profaned by anything so trivial as hunger or so political as factionalism.
Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you. (1 Corinthians 11:17-22 NKJV)
Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come. (1 Corinthians 11:27-34 NKJV)
The harshness of Paul’s emotions during his writing remains fresh even now. Paul condemn every idle thought that would profane the alter of the Lord. He even states the very fact that the Church is weak because of the misuse of the cup of Christ. He despises factionalism and individuality to even the personal degree.
The Church is not alone, birthed fresh without example, but given many times to the example, as it is natural in doing so, the example Israel ‘after the flesh’.
Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?
Israel was given a certain alter and a certain place for that altar. It is here where we turn to Deuteronomy 12:
“These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship the LORD your God with such things. (Deuteronomy 12:1-4 NKJV)
Moses was delivering his final messages from the Lord to the Children of Israel – instructions upon cleansing the land before them. Canaan was no doubt filled with paganism and a plurality of gods and lord to worship. These places did not stand before God and were not to be converted to serve Him.
The divine jealously was already seen,
And He said: “Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you. Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I am driving out from before you the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it be a snare in your midst. But you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they play the harlot with their gods and make sacrifice to their gods, and one of them invites you and you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters play the harlot with their gods and make your sons play the harlot with their gods. (Exodus 34:10-16 NKJV)
The Jealous God knew of the dangers of pollution with false idols. It was not enough to have Israel not worship at these places, but they had to further destroy them of they might be drawn into them. If they were drawn to them, they would sacrifice to them. With sacrifice came the absolution of the Covenant.
God was demanding in the exactness of His worship by His people, so exact that God would only allow one place for His worship:
“But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the LORD your God has blessed you. (Deuteronomy 12:5-7 NKJV)
We know that the first place was the Tabernacle in the wilderness followed by the succession of Temples. This place was the only place that was allowed by this God with His jealously.
Throughout the chapter, God commands Israel to only offer sacrifices in a manner that would not profane His holy name, that is to destroy all those things given to other idols, who had names on their alters and their high places.
“When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, “How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. (Deuteronomy 12:29-32 NKJV)
How would they be ensnared but by allowing this idols, even in minute form, to remain in the land of Israel? Exactly how did these nations serve their gods? Did they keep their names holy? Hardly, as we know from a quick survey in ancient paganism, that the names changed, sometimes in cultures, but the gods and goddesses generally remained the same.
Returning to Paul, he draws to us the argument that an idol is nothing so no worry should be attached to it or the things of it.
What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He? (1 Corinthians 10:14-22 NKJV)
Paul was clear – if we sacrifice at the table of demons, on the altar of their names, we have severed ourselves from the body of Christ. In the ancient sacrifices of Israel, those who took part of the offering entered into fellowship with the altar upon which the offering was laid, and so, through the name associated with that alter, God. If it was Baal’s altar, it was Baal which they consorted with, although they have directed their heart to YWHW. This is the distinction found not merely in Leviticus and Deuteronomy but in Paul as well – it is the Lord’s table, His cup and His bread which we partake or it is the demons.
The sacrament of the Eucharist is a visible reality of the invisible (Augustine, De Civ. Dei x), and a rite in which God is uniquely active. It was to be observed with the utmost respect and dignity without pollution. Under the Law, by the command of God, communion with God – sacrifice, whether of flesh or material – had to be done properly to be accepted. it could not be done in the presence of idols or where idols and idolatrous names once stood. Everything but God must be wiped out in the observance of the sacraments.
“And in all that I have said to you, be circumspect and make no mention of the name of other gods, nor let it be heard from your mouth. (Exodus 23:13 NKJV)
For the Eucharist, political division, fleshly division, and individuality must be wiped out to drink the cup and eat the bread. It was not for Paul, or the early church, and mere expression to be ritually observed on special occasions, but something to be considered holy and kept free from pollution – just as the sacrifices by Israel in the place which held the name of God.
But the question remains – is our worship sacramental? Should it be? Or is it better asked, ‘Do we worship through our sacraments?’
I believe that certain things are indeed sacramental, and may look ceremonial (ritualizing anything, however, should be avoided). Further, I believe that we must worship God in the way which He desires and in the methods given to us through the holy Apostles and Prophets.
“It is impossible to keep men together in one religious denomination, whether true or false, except they be united by means of visible signs or sacraments.” (Contra Faust xix)
It is through the Eucharist, the Communion of the Lord’s Supper, which the individuals are united to each other, partaking of one bread which is Christ.
Through Christ, there is the abolition of the sacrificial system and we know as well that foods were declared common, with creation being blessed by the cross; however, God never allowed for His name to now be profaned, or the let down of holiness associated with His commands.
A few years ago, the ruins of an ancient church was found near the valley of Megiddo dating from the late 3rd century (275?). It contained several inscriptions, one of which is important to our present discussion. The second inscription was made by a woman named Akeptous. She “offered a table”, it says, “as a remembrance, to God Jesus Christ”. It is likely that the so-called table was in use as the place where the Eucharist took place. (This is the same language employed by Ignatius)