Congregational Worship

Congregational Worship as Covenant Remembrance:
An Exegetical Basis from 1 Corinthians 11:25

[Presented at the Evangelical Theological Society's Eastern Regional meeting in Washington D.C. 3/22/02]

Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D.

All Saints' Church, Lancaster, PA, Pastor

Synopsis: The author investigates the meaning of 1 Cor. 11:25, noting the significance of the hosakis ean pinete clause for determining the frequency of the Lord's Supper in worship. It is concluded that the assembly of God's New Covenant People is to know Jesus Christ through the act of consecrated remembering. Worship should be conscious of the covenant relationship between God and man, fulfilled in Christ and remembered in the Lord's Table.

Introduction: The State of Worship

"Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed," said the ancient Greek thinker Heraclitus. The subject of worship commands the attention of many today just because of the endlesschanges. If there were ever days when the Church worshiped with one voice in a unison cadence, those days are gone, for now.

In the American context, it appears to me that there are deeper influences which contribute to an often unhealthy diversity in worship, such as the emphasis on individualism, and the increased role of the psychology of self. We live in a frightfully unique time in the history of the church where the concept of sin is publicly repudiated (even from some pulpits) and big glass churches. The worst sin is to talk of sin. Salvation is dangerously connected to self-esteem. It seems that all the factors that make up the American mind significantly contribute to the modern kaleidoscope of American worship. With the diversity of church traditions, modern technological influences, and fundamental theological and psychological perspectives intersecting on Sunday morning, there is no end to the array of contemporary approaches to worship.

In spite of so many manifestations of worship (or perhaps because of it), it is still true that many believers are unaware of what the Scripture teaches concerning worship. Many have little motivation to go "ad fontes" (to the sources) and see what the Word declares. We must be vigilant for the precepts and relevant applications of Scripture to worship. But might we also engage in this discussion as observers of a historical church? Shall we betabula rasa on how we got here? We cannot be blank slates with respect to tradition. If we do this we will probably imitate the least theologically rich tradition -- which appears to me to be the conservative evangelical church over the last few decades. We must be careful not to hastily "move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set" (Pro 22:28). After all is "new" really better?

A purely biblical view with a clear appraisal of historical practices, is an aim one should not be too confident in claiming to attain. No present thinker has stepped out of a time-capsule, having escaped the myriad of influences in the present. Still, let us all stand on the sure Word of the living God. While we are prisoners of our culture to some extent, no doubt, we have that which we need to "renew our minds" (Rom 12:2). Let us then look to the particulars of the text to find such renewal.

An Exegesis of 1 Cor. 11:25

The Greek Text

1 Corinthians 11:25  25 ?σα?τως κα? τ? ποτ?ριον μετ? τ? δειπν?σαι λ?γων? το?το τ? ποτ?ριον ? καιν? διαθ?κη ?στ?ν ?ν τ? ?μ? α?ματι? το?το ποιε?τε, ?σ?κις ??ν π?νητε, ε?ς τ?ν ?μ?ν ?ν?μνησιν. (1)


In the same way, also, (He held) the cup, after eating-supper saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; Do this (!), when you drink (the cup), unto My remembrance."


Paul addresses the Corinthians in the matter of the Lord's Supper (11:20) in verses 11:17-34. He refers to the content which he transmits to the Corinthians as that which "I received from the Lord" (11:23). Paul has "received" the words of the Supper, just as he "received" the gospel that Christ died and rose according to the Scriptures (15:3). Hence, the Apostle says this content is revealed truth, ultimately, from Christ.

He addresses the Corinthian abuses of the Supper, namely, "schisms among you" ( scismata) (11:18). In restating this severe problem he says, "divisiveness [literally 'heresies'] among you exists" (11:19). This is illustrated in saying, "For each individually in the supper eats ahead (before others), one is hungry and another drunk" (11:21). (2) In rebuking these problems Paul says they are to examine themselves  and so eat and drink in a worthy manner (not unworthily). By continuing in such sin they would not be guilty of "sinning against the body and blood of the Lord" (NIV) (worthy of, guilty of, sinning against, caught in, cf. Matt. 26:66) and thus be judged. The stipulations for such judgment are specified: "because of this, among you many are powerless and sickly and a considerable number sleep [are dead]" (11:30). The entire discussion of "worthy manner" communion, in this context surrounds the divisions in the congregation. The supper is to be a demonstration of unity - not of division. Schism is radically abrasive to the koinoniaenacted in the covenant meal (see 1 Cor. 10:1-7).

More pertinent to the purpose of this paper, what is the meaning of the phrase  variously translated, "this do ye, as oft as ye drink it" (KJV); "this do, as often as ye drink it" (ASV); "do this, whenever you drink it" (NIV). In reference to this general temporal clause, the interpreter must inquire about the temporal indication: e.g., when are they to drink of the cup of the Lord or how often are they to eat the Lord's Supper? Lenski refers to this as a "temporal clause of expectancy." He says, "Every time the disciples drink the sacramental cup, this cup itself, just like the eating of the sacramental bread, is to constitute their remembrance of the Lord.." (3) Paul is using the language found in the Lukan account of the Last Supper, including the phrase "tou/to poiei/te eivj th.n evmh.n avna,mnhsinÅ" (Do this in remembrance of Me). The temporal clause is added "as oft as you drink."

Exegetes vary in their interpretation as to whether it simply means "when you drink it" or whether Paul is encouraging a frequent observance: e.g., "To his exposition of the supper Paul adds his own emphasis, 'Do it often.'"(4) Grosheide says, for example, "In its complete form the clause would read; 'Drink frequently the cup of the Lord and do so always in remembrance of Me.'" (5) On the other hand, another interpreter says, "In the ceremony Jesus does not say how often the communion was to be held but indicates that it is to be periodic-'whenever you eat...and drink'. .." (6) There is no clear warrant for deciding this question from mere grammatical considerations of this phrase. Nevertheless, the question may be answered in the way Paul uses the term sune,rcomai - sunerchomai - come together or assemble.

This term ( sune,rcomai) is used no less than seven times in the span of chapters 11-14. (The term is used in thirty verses in the entire NT.) Each time in the Corinthian epistle it is perfectly clear that Paul is referring to the gathering of the church (e.g., 11:18, 22), the assembly of God's called-out ones. This is especially clear in the combined usage of ekklesia  and sunerchomai in verse 18: "when the church assembles." What Paul asserts as a reproof, in a rhetorical form, is very instructive for our purpose: "When therefore ye assemble yourselves together, it is not possible to eat the Lord's supper" (ASV) (11:20). Paul means, removing the rhetorical reverse emphasis, is that when you assemble, you should assemble in order to eat the Lord's Supper. Because of their sinful divisions, they could not assemble to carry out the meaning of the supper (one body, and all partake of one bread, see chapter 10). The unmistakable implication is that they were to sunerchomai (gather together) as an ecclesia to eat the supper!

This accords with another significant passage on the subject: Acts 20:7, "And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and prolonged his speech until midnight" (ASV). Because of the repeated usage of the word "assemble," in reference to the Supper, it is clear that when the church met they ate the bread and drank the cup.

Paul's overall purpose in the passage is to rebuke the Corinthians' sinful divisions and unworthy practice of the Lord's Supper. This could not be more clear. And, their schisms and factions were exceedingly inconsistent with the meaning of the Table. 1 Corinthians 10:17 says, "For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread." The Supper signifies participation in Christ and unity with our brethren. We have a common loaf. We have, though he does not say it, a common cup. Factions of gross proportion in the celebration of the Table are radically incongruent with the purpose of communion in the body and blood (1Cor. 10:16). Therefore the o`sa,kij eva.n pi,nhte clause, given contextual considerations is Paul's reinforcement of the proper intention of the Lord's Table - Do this unto My remembrance. Paul does not need to tell the Corinthians to "Drink frequently the cup of the Lord" (Grosheide) or to "Do it often" (Craig), since their very purpose in meeting always included partaking of the Lord's Table. Certainly Paul's purpose in the larger passage is not limited to encourage or discourage frequency of the Table. It is almost taken for granted that their meeting will include the Lord's Table. One can hardly make sense of the two chapters (10-11)  apart from the obvious: in their meeting they eat and drink the covenant meal. So much so, that he could say with a rhetorical jab: "Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper" (NKJ, 11:20). Paul and the Corinthians know that among other things (14:26), when they assemble, they partake of the Lord's Table. That is not in question. Rather, when you eat and drink, each time you do this, you are to do it for a remembrance of Christ - that is of the Christ who died to redeem you, the one you confess to be Lord. 

Now we must consider the fuller Biblical ramifications of such a remembrance.

Do This in Remembrance of Me

Many matters were considered "memorials" in the Old Testament, e.g., Passover (Ex. 12:14), the pot of manna (Ex. 16:32-34), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:43). The term used in 1 Cor. 11:25 is not the exact word for "memorial" (mnemosunon, so translated in the LXX) - but related; rather, it is avnamimnesko. This specific term is used only 4 times in the NT, two in the our context (1 Cor. 11:24, 25), once in the Lukan account of the Last Supper (Lk. 22:19) and then in Hebrews 10:3. Hebrews 10:3 says, "But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance made of sins year by year." From this and the usages in the LXX (Lev. 24:7, Num. 10:10, Ps. 38:1, 70:1, and in [the apocryphal] Wisdom of Sirach 16:6), it appears that the difference between the two terms is that of active recollection, rather than a permanent reminder. The use of the term avnamimnesko implies an active recollection of the subject in classical Greek usage, "a calling to mind," "recollection". (7)

Stones in a river are a permanent reminder (Josh. 4:7), but it is not necessarily an active calling to mind. The original purpose of the Ebenezer was for remembrance and instruction. In the case of Joshua and the Jordan, "that this [stones in the river] may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, 'What do these stones mean to you?'" (Josh. 4:6). Certainly, the institution of the Lord's Supper is a memorial and the institution of Passover or Tabernacles is a memorial in the sense of stones in a river. Yet, Paul (and Luke) enjoin the church to recollect, to remember in their eating and drinking.

Thus, Paul is not saying when you eat and drink the Supper you are creating or setting in place a memorial to Christ, rather when you eat and drink you are to do so in a manner that recalls to mind Christ. We are, in our assembly, during the Lord's Supper, to recollect all the redemptive work of Jesus in this act of eating and drinking. We are to remember that Jesus' body and blood were sacrificed for us so that we might be nourished in partaking of His body and blood in unity with our brethren in the assembly.

Broader Biblical Theological Foundations

Covenant Remembrance and Worship

Mary, the mother of our Lord said that Christ's coming was in "remembrance..." (mimnoskomai) -- "He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his offspring forever" (Luke 1:54-55). Moreover, Zacharias the priest says this fulfillment is precisely the promise which was manifest to Abraham, "to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham" (Lk 1:72-73). (Pleae observe also, the Benedictus of Zacharias is in a chiastic structure which makes clear that the covenant is the central theme.) Christ's says of the covenantal wine, "for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins" (Mat 26:28). Christ's blood is "the blood of the eternal covenant" (Heb 13:20).

Worship should be cognizant of covenant fulfillment in Christ and through the Lord's Supper, enact the remembrance of that reality. Worship services must therefore represent the Christ-centered view of Scripture. As such it must acknowledge the supremacy of God, the sinfulness of human beings, the redemption we have in Christ, and the means of the application of that redemption. Since we are the new covenant people of God, covenantal recapitulation is the primary action of worship. We are indeed the renewed covenant people.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. (NAS, 2 Pt. 2:9-10).

Because we are His redeemed priesthood, we must rehearse the transcendence of God, the terms of the covenant relationship, including the redemption of Christ and His commands and blessings, and have communion with Him and His people.

Remembrance and the Assembly

Some biblical foundations to this view of worship rest in the concepts of Sabbath and Exodus. Noting the significance of the sabbath for biblical thought, even the land was to be given "sabbaths" (Lev 25:4). The cycle of restitution, the Jubilee, is a sabbath (Lev 25:8-10). Even the time of the Babylonian exile is measured as a sabbath (2Ch 36:21). Moreover, the very paradigm of time structure leading to the "fulness of time" (Gal 4:4, coming of Messiah ) is in sabbatical pattern (seventy sevens, Dan 9:24). With this level of Old Testament biblical theology on the Sabbath, the typological and Christological qualities of the seventh day rest should come as no surprise (Heb 4:3, 9-10, Col 2:16-17).

In the second giving of the Ten Commandments, we see that the Sabbath was a memorial occasion to remember the release from bondage by the power of God, which was the night of Passover (Dt. 5:15).

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (NKJ, Dt. 5:13-15)

Just as passover was memorialized on the sabbath (Dt. 5:15), Jesus required His disciples to memorialize His work of redemption, the antitype of the Exodus in the Supper (Lk. 22:19). However, His work of redemption was not complete until the first day of the week. And of course, only after His cross-resurrection work was complete, did He met with His disciples. And His disciples continued to do this: "on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread . . ." (Act 20:7). Only in gathering on the day of Resurrection can the church celebrated the true Exodus and deliverance bought by the blood of the Lamb, commemorated in His body and blood.

Theological Foundation for Worship as Covenant Remembrance

Turning to the larger picture, painted in systematices, the Westminster Confession creedalizes over one hundred years of formally developed covenant theology when it states in chapter 7:

The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

The biblical foundations of this statement are numerous, though I will not rehearse them here. The theological foundation is the creator-creature distinction. The Worship of God's covenant people, therefore, is based upon our relationship and our relationship is through His gracious, condescending covenant.

Worship originally was precipitated by the covenant instituted by God. The need for salvation itself arises from the transgression of the creation covenant. "But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant" (Hos 6:7). Beginning with Abraham the fundamental revelation to him was a covenant promise unfolded throughout the pages of Scripture.

Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. " (Genesis 12:1-3)

Abraham was justified by faith, by faith in this covenant promise, later ratified with blood (Gen 15; ultimately in Christ). It was more than a promise of a land, seed, and blessing. It was a promise of righteousness through the Seed. "Then he [Abraham] believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness" (Gen 15:16; cf Rom 4:3ff).

As we have seen, then, the content of worship must be ever mindful of the covenantal unfolding fulfillments. The chief among these is Christ's coming and redemptive work. And of course if worship is a rehearsal of the covenant relationship of God and His people, the covenant signs and seals are a requisite part. If this is so, are there historical precedents on this?

Historical Considerations

Many in the Reformed tradition have suggested that the structure of the worship service should follow the Gospel: the declaration of God's authority, the expression of repentance and faith, and the means of salvation, including the Supper. From this structure we would expect worship to begin by declaring the greatness, holiness, mercy, and sovereignty of God. The response to this would follow in the confession of sin and exulting in the grace of God in the work of Christ. From this gospel kernel, the balm of Gilead is applied in the means of grace, namely prayers, the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, and finally the benedictory blessing of God to send the people of the Lord into the world for service.

James Jordan, in Theses on Worship, argues similarly that there is a definitive five-fold liturgy of worship: call, confession/pardon, word, table, and commission. (8) He argues on the basis of OT type from the Levitical sacrifice pattern that this is the direct intention of Scripture. What is true in current liturgical writers is supported in the historical practice of the church.

It is clear that the exegesis of 1 Cor 11:25 presented here is consistent with the (rather) uniform view presented by Early Church Fathers. For example, the International Standard Biblical Encyclopedia states that, "The glimpses given us in the earlier Fathers of the Eucharist are in entire accord with the more articulate expression of the church's corporate eucharistic worship, which we find in the liturgical documents and writings of the Nicene era." We can see that in accepting worship as a covenant remembrance which includes the Lord's Table we are in full accord with the early church. [The following is from the ISBE.]

(1) Ignatian Epistles: The Ignatian Epistles show us the Eucharist as the focus of the church's life and order, the source of unity and fellowship. The Eucharist consecrated by the prayer of the bishop and church is the Bread of God, the Flesh and Blood of Christ, the communication of love incorruptible and life eternal (compare Ephesians, 5,13,10; Trallians, 7,8; Romans, 7; Philadelphians, 4; Smyrnaeans, 7,8; Magnesians, 7).

(2) Justin Martyr: Justin Martyr tells us that the Eucharist was celebrated on the Lord's Day, the day associated with creation and with Christ's resurrection. To the celebrant were brought bread and wine mixed with water, who then put up to God, over them, solemn thanksgiving for His lovingkindness in the gifts of food and health and for the redemption wrought by Christ. The oblations of bread and wine are presented to God in memorial of Christ's passion, and become Christ's body and blood through prayer. The Eucharist is a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving commemorative of Christ's death; and the consecrated elements the communion of Christ's body and blood, by reason of the sacramental character bestowed upon them by the invocation of the Divine blessing (compare 1 Apol., 13,15, 66, 67; Dial. with Trypho, 41,70, 117).

(3) Irenaeus: Irenaeus, also, emphasizes the fact that Christ taught His disciples to offer the new oblation of the New Covenant, to present in thank offering the first-fruits of God's creatures--bread and wine--the pure sacrifice prophesied before by Malachi. The Eucharist consecrated by the church, through the invocation of God's blessing, is the communion of the body and blood of Christ, just as He pronounced the elements to be at the institution (compare Against Heresies, i.13,1; iv.17,5; 18,1-6; 33,1; v.22,3).

(4) Cyprian: Cyprian, too, gives evidence of the same eucharistic belief, and alludes very plainly to the "Lift up your hearts," to the great thanksgiving, and to the prayer of consecration. This last included the rehearsal of what Christ did and said at the institution, the commemoration of His passion, and the invocation of the Holy Spirit (compare Epistle to Caecilius, sections 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 14, 17; Epistle to Epictetus, sections 2, 4; On the Unity of the Church, I, 17; On the Lord's Prayer, section 31; Firmilian to Cyprian, sections 10, 17).


Exegetical insights, biblical reflection, theological systematization, and the practice of the fathers concur: the Table of the Lord should be set and partaken of by God's covenant people in recollection of the redemptive work of Jesus on each Lord's Day. The thoughtless objection of many is that a weekly observation of the Lord's Supper would not be "special." Just consider this objection applied to any other aspect of worship. The preaching of the Word is much more in danger of becoming "old hat." But try and find a command that says there must be sermon when the ecclesia  synagogues together. This is not to minimize the Word, since the Word permeates each worship action: prayer, praise, the Supper, baptism, etc. Rather, it is to reclaim that which all Old Testament sacrifices, meals, and biblical imagery allude to - that which the Gospels, Acts, and the Pauline apostolic instruction command for the meeting of believers. The Supper is the repeatable and tangible Gospel: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes" (NKJ, 11:26). It truly appears very distorted that it would become a ten minute irregular event tacked onto the "normal" service.

To reserve its celebration to only a handful of times a year really denies the significance and the fullest and true nature of the sacrament, that it is a koinonia, a fellowship in the body and blood and with each other (1 Cor. 10:16). Moreover, it is inconsistent with what we may apprehend about the apostolic and early church. When the priority of congregational worship on the Lord's Day is coupled with the covenantal realities underneath worship, a weekly covenant meal seems quite requisite for a robust biblical worship theology and practice.

1. UBS4/Nestle-Aland 27th Ed. Greek New Testament.

2. Clearly then, the Biblical substance in the cup is fermented wine.

3. R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's First and Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1937), 472-473.

4. Clarence Tucker Craig, [Exegesis] The Interpreter's Bible (New York: Abingdon, 1953), 139.

5. F.W. Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 272.

6. W. Harold Mare, The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 259.

7. Cf. The Abridged Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon.

8. Available from (Niceville, FL: Biblical Horizons).