Summary: We speak of Communion, but what does it mean to participate in the life of the Body?
A CONFESSION OF PARTICIPATION
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
“I want my communion!” This is the pitiful cry frequently heard throughout the years of my service among the churches of our Lord. Perhaps the ones crying don’t use those precise words, but their intent is to demand that I concede the accuracy of their doctrinal view. The snivelling shares much in common with pouting children who demand their own way in a contest of wills with a parent. However, the pouting comes from professed Christians who make no investment in the life of the assembly, but are nevertheless convinced that they should share in every dividend of grace. Unwilling to accept the responsibilities associated with membership in the congregation, they illogically believe they should be full participants at the Lord’s Table. I confess that I have often been tempted to respond to their whining with sarcasm. “Oh, look. Little baby Christians. I wonder if they will ever grow up.”
The pouting saints are often reacting to biblical instruction or demonstrating pique at learning that my understanding of conditions for participation at the Lord’s Table fails to match their presumption. It is not my practise to exclude anyone from the Lord’s Table; rather I take great care to teach accurately what is written, asking that those who choose to participate assume responsibility for their own actions. As result of confronting the Word of God, however, contemporary saints often revert to whimpering rather than thinking. In recent years I have observed what seems to be an increasing number of individuals who react with obvious irritation rather than examining the Word of God to discover whether their personal view finds support. Rather than examining their own beliefs, they pout because their feelings are hurt.
I grieve to note widespread confusion that exists concerning the Lord’s Table. Tragically, much of that confusion is perpetuated by preachers who fail to present scriptural teaching. It is easier to permit deviant liturgy surrounding the Meal to continue than it is to confront error through careful exposition of Scripture. In too many churches, the Lord’s Table is tacked on at the end of a service as though it were an afterthought rather than being the centre of worship that God meant it to be. We who serve at the sacred desk are culpable before the Lord because we have permitted this situation to continue for such a long time. Whether the teaching I present is accepted or whether it is rejected by those listening, I am nevertheless honour bound to provide sound instruction in accordance with the Word as I seek to build strong believers who are thoroughly equipped to apply the truths of God’s Word.
The passage before us does not directly address the doctrine of the Communion Meal—the issue will be addressed shortly here in this first letter to the Corinthian church. However, the Apostle did not shy from employing the Meal in presenting a rebuke to Christians who had become rather casual about the demand for a righteous life. In the text for this day, Paul pointed to the declarations presented within the Meal to compel the Corinthians to bring their conduct into line with their profession. The same need is apparent among Christians in this day, and therefore the teaching Paul provided will benefit us as much as it benefited the Corinthians.
Among the Corinthian saints there were not a few who had reduced the Christian Faith to a personal religion designed to make them feel good about themselves. In other words, their religion was all about them. They went to church, rather than being the Body of Christ. They observed the liturgy rather than worshipping in assembly. The Faith of Christ the Lord had become a series of private acts as an end within themselves rather than private devotion building to a crescendo as the Body assembled in worship. Paul was compelled to address these dangerous deviations resulting from Christians altering the Faith that was once for all delivered to the saints in order to create a novel personal religion. That same teaching is needed again today as the saints reject the revealed will of God in order to invent new forms of religion.
QUESTIONS CONCERNING THE LORD’S TABLE — Though I have provided an explanation of my understanding of the Lord’s Table on other occasions, it will undoubtedly prove beneficial for us to review again what we understand Scripture to teach. The questions that are immediately raised in a church context surround the issue of whether we observe an ordinance or a sacrament, and whether this is a church ordinance or a Christian ordinance. The answers to these two questions will provide a basis for applying the doctrine of the Communion Meal, permitting us to worship in a manner that honours the Lord and fulfils His desire for us as a congregation.