“Can any kind of bread and wine be used in the memorial meeting as the emblems?”

This question has been a matter of discussion in our community from the days of John Thomas and Robert Roberts. The words of our Lord as he instituted the memorials of bread and wine seem clear: “Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom”(Matt 26:26–29). When the Apostle Paul confirmed that believers should follow the practice of taking bread and wine to remember Christ’s sacrifice he used very similar terminology in 1 Corinthians 11:23–29.

But what seems clear enough on the surface has nonetheless in the past (and still does today) raised questions in the minds of some as to what exactly we should consume. So some contend in relation to the bread that Christ and the apostles almost certainly used unleavened bread and so then should we. This contention is given more force in the minds of those who press the case by the words of Christ: “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees … [that is] … the doctrine of the Pharisees…” (Matt 16:6,12) and “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). The Apostle Paul weighs in with: “ therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1Cor 5:8). Some brethren and ecclesias feel that these considerations are suffciently important to adopt the use of unleavened bread in their weekly memorials as a matter of policy.

Some too have misgivings about using actual wine as the emblem for the blood of Christ, and substitute something else, usually grape juice in its place. Usually they do so because they have a genuine conscience about using alcohol and this looms so large for them that they feel they must make this substitution. In other cases it seems the substitution might be for reasons of convenience rather than conscience.

So can any clear guidance be given? We might firstly note what seems obvious. The Lord and the Apostle Paul were referring to real bread and real wine. They were not drinking grape juice. We note too, that neither Jesus nor Paul gave any directions at all about the type of bread and the type of wine that should be consumed. Both would have been well aware that the Gospel of the kingdom would spread to virtually every nation under heaven, involving a vast range of societies and peoples. It seems evident (or at the least, very likely) that they were not prescriptive so as to allow for local communities to take bread and wine appropriate and available within each community. The emphasis of the apostle is on remembrance and self examination. We partake in a spirit of “sincerity and truth” and seek to eliminate “malice and wickedness” from our thinking (1Cor 5:8). The principles are far more important than the product.

So those whose preference is for unleavened bread should have their conscience respected but ought themselves to have respect to the conscience of others who do not consider this essential. Thankfully, there does not appear to be any significant conflict over these matters and a wise acceptance of different practices (in conformity with the Apostle Paul’s teaching) generally prevails in our community.

“What is the meaning and period referred to as “the times of the Gentiles”?

The expression is from the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ in the ‘Olivet Prophecy’ recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. But only Luke’s account contains these words of Jesus: “And they [the Jews] shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” It was the Roman conquest of AD 70 that marked the beginning of that period of treading down by the Gentiles, and hence the commencement of “the times of the Gentiles”. The expression “trodden down” used here by Christ picks up the angel’s term “trodden under foot” in Daniel 8:13 and perhaps the similar expression in Isaiah 18:2 and 7 where the nation of Israel is spoken of as “trodden down” and “trodden under foot” prior to the restoration of mount Zion.

We should expect then that the “times of the Gentiles” will conclude when Jerusalem will no longer be “trodden down” or under the dominion of the Gentiles. The signs are there that indicate progression toward that great day. Jewry has returned to their land, and Jerusalem (at least in measure) was liberated from Gentile dominion in the Six Day War of June 1967 ( Joel 3:1). So “the times of the Gentiles” span the years from AD 70 to our own days. Christ was near its beginning, we are near its end. Faithful saints will be alert, as Jesus encouraged: “Watch ye therefore and pray always, that ye may be worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”

The “times of the Gentiles” or nations also defines the period when Gentiles largely were and are being inducted into the purpose of God. Jewish rejection of Jesus Christ could not limit the spread of the Gospel. Though the Apostle Paul on his missionary journeys went first to Jewish synagogues to preach, if his message was opposed (as it so often was), he turned to the Gentiles (Acts 13:45–49). So we might say that the ‘times of the Jews’ or Israelites preceded the coming of Christ; it was a time when the calling of God embraced mainly the natural seed of Abraham, as distinct from “the times of the Gentiles”.

In the Kingdom, however, all nations, Jew and Gentile, will come up to Jerusalem “from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles … for the LORD shall be king over all the earth” (Zech 14:16, 9).