Return to Blogging + Review of De France, One Loaf and One Cup

Readers, hello and welcome back to the blog! Quite a bit has happened since my last post back in June, so before I get into today’s content, let me first update you on life and my tentative blogging schedule going forward.

As many of you know, I recently went through something of a career transition, having graduated with my PhD in history and having started in a new full-time teaching position back in May. Too, I stepped down from my college/young professionals ministry position at the end of July, though Candace and I remain (and intend to remain) active members of our congregation.

At any rate, it has been a particularly hectic last few months, and so I needed to take some time away from this blog during that moment of transition. (I likewise took a semi-permanent break from my “Church of Christ Celebrities” blog back at the end of 2019 when I was finishing up my dissertation.) Now that I am settling into my new rhythms and routines, such as they are, I am ready to get back to a regular blogging schedule. On that note, my plan is to write one new post for this general interest blog and one new post for “Church of Christ Celebrities” each month. New posts here will go up on the first Thursday afternoon of the month, with new “celebs” posts following two weeks later on the third Thursday afternoon of the month. I believe this will be a healthy balance that will open up these sites as outlets for my writing without crowding out my other research, teaching, and service opportunities and obligations.

Moving into our actual post for the day, much of my research focuses on the smaller fellowships and minority positions within the Stone-Campbell/Restoration Movement. For instance, my dissertation focused on the Christadelphians, the non-institutional Churches of Christ, and the International Churches of Christ. Recently, I purchased and read Clinton De France’s One Loaf and One Cup: A Scriptural and Historical Survey, now in its second (revised) printing, and I want to share my thoughts on the book from the perspective of a movement historian here. Although in the final analysis I find myself unconvinced of the book’s central doctrinal thesis–helpfully defined on page 1 as “When a congregation assembles to eat the Lord’s Supper, all communicants must share one, undivided loaf of unleavened bread and drink together from one vessel containing the unfermented fruit of the vine”–De France’s book does still stand as the new standard introduction to the OLOC fellowship within Churches of Christ and merits careful consideration by movement historians and other interested readers.

After a brief introduction and the above definition of the OLOC position, the first of three major sections in the book commences on page three. Across nine short chapters, totaling just shy of sixty pages, De France traces the history of the OLOC position through the ages, ranging from the era of the early church down through the Stone-Campbell/Restoration Movement in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Of particular note here to movement historians will be chapter 9, “The Formation of a Fellowship,” which focuses on the development of the three primary OLOC positions within Churches of Christ. These include those who hold the stance defined above and two smaller groups which differ in their views on “whether the bread should be broken in two before it is eaten or whether it should remain whole, and the question of whether fermented wine or grape juice should be used as the drink element.” (55)

The second major section of the book–four chapters of about thirty-five total pages–identifies and analyzes three key texts cited in support of the OLOC position. First is 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 which, De France argues, roots proper observance of the Lord’s Supper in the example of Jesus and the disciples at Passover, a “pattern [that] included the sharing of a single loaf and a single cup by those who participated in the observance.” (67) Next comes a passage from the preceding chapter of 1 Corinthians (10:16-17); here, De France argues that “one loaf” is a more persuasive and more accurate translation than “one bread” in part because it fits better with the surrounding discussion of believers’ fellowship as “one body.” Finally, De France discusses the symbolic and covenantal aspects of the Lord’s Supper (especially, though not entirely, as it is described in Luke 22 and 1 Corinthians 11) before concluding that “scriptural teaching coupled with historical support makes a strong case for the antiquity and originality of congregations sharing one loaf and one cup in the Lord’s Supper.” (91)

The remainder of One Loaf and One Cup is split between a very short third section of only two pages–essentially, a conclusion–and a set of ten appendices which dive into other matters related to the Lord’s Supper. The two pages of section three are two of the most crucial within the book. There, De France laments the generally poor relationships between OLOC and other fellowships and acknowledges that in light of the situation, “Perhaps the best we can hope for at the present is to cultivate a deeper sense of respect and kindness between brethren who disagree, so all sides can have a place at the table, not simply to argue and berate, but to pursue truth, the unity of the Spirit, and the bond of peace.” (98)

Readers, whether ultimately convinced of the book’s core doctrinal position or not, will find that De France’s work offers precisely this kind of thoughtful discussion. One Loaf and One Cup is the product of a significant amount of labor and reflects De France’s deep-seated desire for Churches of Christ to be united not only in the example, but also in the spirit, of the early church. The above summary does not fully do justice to the book’s contents, and given the relatively low cost of entry ($20 for the second printing of the book in hardback), readers would be well advised to acquire a copy and read it for themselves–after finishing this review, of course!

Having said this, I do believe that certain sections of the book work better than others and that addressing a couple of issues could make future editions more effective. (I will confine my remarks here to the historical aspects of the book, since those are what I am most qualified to speak on.)

First, swapping the order of sections one and two would give readers a clearer sense of the relative importance of the underlying issue, and of the reasons for which one might hold the OLOC position, prior to exploring how that position has shaped and been shaped by Christian history. While the definition on page one does clearly stake out the book’s persuasive end goal, readers who approach the book without already viewing this topic as a matter of significance may find themselves wondering why the historical discussion matters as anything other than a mere curiosity until they reach chapter ten.

Second, while De France does generally include lengthy quotations from his primary historical sources, some of the quotations as they are given in the book do not necessarily support or undermine his overall contentions. On that front, Ambrose is quoted on page 13, “Wine is put into the cup…” (ellipses in the original). While the implication is that this snippet refers to the use of one cup in communion, a skeptical reader might point out that, by itself, it could also just as easily describe a meal, a party, or another event where wine was served. Nor is the significance of the historical authors and their works always spelled out in sufficient detail. While this would not be an issue for readers with a knowledge of church history, such familiarity cannot always be assumed of one’s audience–doubly so given that this book is aimed at a general readership and not just an audience of historians and theologians. Providing more thorough in-document context for certain quotations and more thoroughly contextualizing the documents themselves would go a long way toward resolving these issues and, in turn, making the historical discussion more unified and therefore more persuasive.

These shortcomings aside, One Loaf and One Cup is a worthwhile read for members of Churches of Christ of all persuasions on the topic, and my hope is that it will do much good in building bridges between fellowships and bringing us all to a deeper, richer, more thoughtful observance of the Lord’s Supper.

Link to purchase the book: http://www.bspoftulsa.com/bookstore.html

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