Summary: A message to remind worshippers that the Lord’s Table demands that we treat one another with respect.
COURTESY AT THE LORD’S TABLE
“My brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.”
“Love one another with brotherly affection,” wrote the Apostle. “Outdo one another in showing honour” [ROMANS 12:10]. This is a principle that should guide every activity in the local church; we should always endeavour to express our love for one another through courtesy. The Corinthians acted nothing like brothers, and yet the Apostle addressed them as such. In fact, the Corinthian Christians were not even as courteous or generous toward their fellow members as we would expect any service club that gathered for a meal to be.
Listen to the Apostle’s rebuke of the Corinthians. “In the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not” [1 CORINTHIANS 11:17-22].
In one denomination within which I pastored, it was the common practise to observe the Communion Meal at the conclusion of almost every convocation sponsored by the denomination. The ecclesiology of that group had evolved, recreating the denomination as the church rather than the local congregation being the church—the model presented in the New Testament. Consequently, the leadership of the denomination felt no hesitation in organising the Communion Meal for all the participants at the various assemblies.
However, I knew many of the pastors at these meetings. Let me tell you a secret: pastors are human. Pastors can be petty, mean-spirited, spiteful—they can reflect a sinful heart just as surely as can any other member of a congregation. Though I believe most pastors work hard to honour God, there are nevertheless pastors who have bought into the philosophy of this fallen world, seeing their ministry as an opportunity for personal advancement rather than an opportunity to serve the people of God and to advance the cause of Christ.
I witnessed at various assemblies individuals who privately castigated others in, and yet solemnly joined in faux fellowship at the Lord’s Table. Why not? There was no accountability. So long as one led his (or her in some strange instances) congregation to send money to the hindquarters, no attempt at accountability for Christian character and conduct was made. I am aware of pastors who had been disciplined for moral failure who joined in the Communion Meal. After all, they had been “cured.” However, the people whose lives they had destroyed had yet to hear a confession or to witness repentance. The denomination had become the church, and discipline was a foreign, uncharitable concept. Moreover, no one was teaching the people what the Word of God said. I never participated in such service, believing them to be unbiblical.
We have observed the Lord’s Table today, and I trust that none of us have fallen into such a trap as just described. However, slipping into such error is distressingly easy. It begins when we assume the Lord’s Table is an designed for private worship. Whenever we fail to keep before us the biblical basis for what we are doing and the scriptural reasons for why we are doing it, we are moving toward a grave distortion of the Meal. Moreover, once an individual, or a congregation, has embraced such fallacy, the error insinuates itself into every facet of Christian life, enervating spiritual vigour and creating moral inertia.
I know the teaching is by now familiar to you, but the message is sufficiently important that I am compelled to review once again the instruction we have received through the Apostle. Join me, then, by turning to the closing words of the eleventh chapter of the First Corinthian Letter. There, the Apostle provides his final words concerning the Corinthian error.
THE MEAL IS AN ACT OF CORPORATE WORSHIP — “When you come together to eat, wait for one another.” I really shouldn’t need to say anything on this point, but because errant assumptions have become so pervasive throughout Canadian Christendom it would be irresponsible for me not to remind you of what is communicated through the text.