Summary: The message is a study of the conduct of the assembly at the Lord's Table

“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.

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” [1]

A grave danger attends casual observance of the Lord’s Table. The immediate danger is that it is easy for a Christian to reduce the observance to a mere ritual, an act that is performed without due thought. Such thoughtless action easily leads to thinking of the act as a means of making oneself acceptable to the Lord. Christians that have slipped into such a mode of thinking see the act as meritorious, as a means of creating credit with the Living God.

Worse still is reducing the act to a meaningless ritual that is tolerated in order to get to “real worship.” Evangelical churches tend to emphasise some aspects of their liturgy to the virtual exclusion of other facets of their liturgy. If someone dissents, arguing that we do not have a liturgy, I will point to how the order of service quickly tends to become fixed. Regular attendees know precisely what is coming next and what to expect. Thus, without thinking of what is taking place, we develop a liturgy.

Consequently, during the past several decades in particular, many of our churches have moved toward a performance, calling that performance “worship.” This movement to performance as worship has been done unconsciously—we did this because we enjoyed what we were doing. We wanted music that reflected who we were rather than music that exalted God in our hearts. We moved from one or two instruments and a song leader to a band and a team of “worshippers.” These worship leaders appear to focus more on their performance than on leading worshippers into the presence of God. So, here we are today.

As we’ve moved into this performance as worship concept, our language has changed. We routinely speak of “worship” as the performance of a worship team or as the music we sing. We focus on what congregants feel rather than Who congregants meet. Let’s firmly establish the truth that worship revolves around the One we meet. If we fail to meet the Risen Son of God, regardless of how ecstatic we may feel, we will not have worshipped.

When we review the events surround the great showdown on Mount Carmel as Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal, we see two differing approaches to worship, not unlike the differences I have described in contemporary Christendom. On the one hand, the prophets of Baal are ecstatic—dancing, shouting and even mutilating themselves in their devotion to what they are doing. Nothing comes of their ecstatic, enthusiastic “worship” except for sore arms, sore throats and a sense of exhaustion. Contrasted to that is the quiet confidence exhibited by Elijah. He prays a simple prayer, confidently seeking the presence of the Living God.

“O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back” [1 KINGS 18:36, 37].

The reader cannot help but be impressed by the response of God to the seeking heart. “Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God’ [1 KINGS 18:38, 39].

It is a picture of what we should expect whenever we come to the Lord’s Table. Approaching in quietness and confidence, the people of God should expect to meet the Risen Son of God. And meeting Him, we should worship as surely as John the Revelator worshipped on Patmos when he met the Risen Christ. “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” [REVELATION 1:17].

THE LORD’S TABLE–CHRISTIAN ORDINANCE? OR CHURCH ORDINANCE? Let me deal with some issues providing background; and though the information is background, it is essential information if we will actually worship. Is the Lord’s Table a Christian Ordinance? Or is it a church ordinance? What I mean is, does the Communion Meal qualify as a sacrament? Or is it an ordinance? Does the Lord’s Table add grace to our life through our participation? If the rite makes us more acceptable to God, then we must encourage people to seek to dine at His Table as often as possible. However, if the Communion Meal is an ordinance, then we must accept that when the Apostle says we do this “in remembrance of [Christ]” and whenever we participate in the Meal we are focusing attention back to His sacrifice, then we understand that our participation does not make us acceptable to Him or even make us more acceptable to Him. Rather, in this instance we are refocusing so that we can recall His love for us in sacrificing Himself because of our weakness; we are refreshing our memory of His sacrifice.

I will now wade into a realm of great sensitivity fraught with the potential for serious overreaction from good people. I have experienced such reaction on several occasions. Some good people hold to the concept that the observance of the Lord’s Table is a family rite. On one occasion, such a family attended the congregation I then pastored. This family held the view that this was a family observance and the father and mother could give the elements of the Table to their children, even their infant children if they so chose. The family had no Scriptural warrant for their actions, but they were adamant that this was their decision and that there could be no dissent from either the elders or the congregation for their choice.

Another family in attendance at that same congregation during that same period insisted that they could invite their adult children, even children that did not attend services anywhere, to join them at the Lord’s Table. This family became aware of my understanding that the Table of the Lord is a church ordinance. Soon after hearing that I held this view because it was discussed at a study they attended, they invited Lynda and I to join them for lunch. During the lunch, the couple asked me to clarify my understanding of the Communion Meal. When I assured that that I personally held that this is a church ordinance, they became agitated, arguing that if they strictly held to such a view, their children could not join them at the Lord’s Table.

The husband and wife spoke of their displeasure with yet another family in attendance at the services of the congregation, and agreeing with their view the husband of that second family came to argue the case—for over four hours! I presented the passages on which I based my convictions, only to have him reject my understanding of those passages. I asked him repeatedly to present his case from the Scriptures. He responded repeatedly that “everyone knew” he was right, though either he could not or would not substantiate his view with Scripture. Consequently, both of those families ceased attendance, but not before causing severe disruption within the assembly. Many leaders within that congregation wanted peace at any price—even at the cost of ignoring what is written in the Word. In their estimate, quiet acquiescence with their view was of greater importance than was honouring Him Who gave us the Word.

If the Lord’s Table is a Christian ordinance, it follows that anyone who is twice-born should be permitted to partake of the Meal. Admittedly, this is the predominate view of most of Christendom as represented in Canada. The only means of debarring an individual from the Meal, if it is a Christian ordinance, would be if Christ Himself intervenes or if the individual should act to remove herself or himself from the Lord’s Table. On the other hand, if this is a church ordinance, of necessity it would mean that the congregation has oversight of the Table; the congregation is to act as Christ’s representative providing oversight of the Table.

The practise of admitting all who are present to the Lord’s Table is a triumph of culture over Christ. It is a tacit admission that we who profess evangelical doctrine are fearful of holding one another accountable as members of the same Body. It is effective testimony that we no longer practise biblical discipline. Embracing the practise of open communion denies biblical ecclesiology, implying that we are unaware of the Body of Christ to which we profess to belong. To fail to practise biblical discernment in this instance is to expose the church to ever more grievous error as we exalt private opinion over the concept of mutual accountability and submission to the written Word of God.

In this 20th VERSE, Paul pointedly speaks of “the Lord’s Supper.” The meal belongs neither to any congregation nor to any denomination; rather, the Table belongs to the Lord. Should it be surprising, then, that the Lord invites whom He wills to the Meal? It is not simply that an individual decides that he or she will partake of the Communion Meal, but rather the individuals sharing are invited to participate. Interjecting oneself into the Meal without consideration of the One who owns it opens participants to divine judgement [see VERSES 27-32]. In the strange theology of the Corinthians, it was no longer the Lord who determined the Celebration, but the individual. Fellowship was cancelled and individualism was exalted.

In light of their egregious error, Paul asks the Corinthians a shocking question in VERSE 22, “Do you despise the church of God?” The Corinthians had forgotten that the church is more than a mere human society. The church is not a political entity; it belongs to God. To show contempt for the church, which is God’s, is to despise what God has made His own, and on which God has set His love, giving it status and honour in His own eyes.

Paul does acknowledge that the Corinthian congregation was a church, though they were not necessarily acting in a very godly manner in their professed worship of the Risen Lord. Worshippers coming into the House of the Lord see the Table set for the sacred meal, and they assume that because it is set before them, it is their “right” to partake. It must be shocking for modern Canadians to hear that none of us has a “right” to partake of the Lord’s Table. So long as we hold such an attitude, it is unlikely that we will actually worship at the Table. What would truly benefit us is an understanding that Christ has invited us, and His invitation is never extended in isolation from the church. He invites His people to confess their “communion,” their “fellowship.” This means that God invites those who accept His Body, the community of Faith, to worship through participation at His Table!

The notable Baptist divine, Dr. B. H. Carroll, emphasised that the Table belongs to the Lord when he wrote in his magnum opus, “An Interpretation of the English Bible,” “It is the Lord’s table, the Lord’s cup. A man comes and says, ‘May I come to your table? I am perfectly willing for you to come to mine.’

“I say, ‘Yes, come on in.’

“He says, ‘Not that table; I am referring to the Lord’s table.’

“‘It was not to the Lord’s table that I invited you.’

“‘Well, won’t you take a sup with me?’

“‘Certainly! Come over to my well and I will let you have cool, delicious, clear water.’

“‘I mean drink with me out of the same communion cup.’

“‘Ah, that is Christ’s cup; I have no jurisdiction over that.’” [2]

I emphasise, the Communion Meal is a church ordinance. If it is not a church ordinance, then the instruction provided by the Apostle becomes meaningless. It was precisely because those participating treated the Meal as a Christian ordinance—in effect, a private affair—that the congregation in Corinth had become dysfunctional. It did not matter what others did or did not do, many of the “worshippers” were lost in their own private worship which had no room for others. However, the Apostle’s instruction insists that the local assembly is charged with guarding the Lord’s Table, an action that is impossible if it is a Christian ordinance.

Let’s think this through. Obviously, non-Christians should not expect to share in the Lord’s Table. Since they do not receive Christ as Master of life, why would they want to worship Him? It is unconscionable that outsiders would imagine they can worship One whom they neither own nor desire to serve. The unbaptised should not participate at the Lord’s Table. Since they are disobedient to the first ordinance, why would they want to participate in the continuing ordinance? These are not inconsequential issues. Rather, they are issues that must be addressed within contemporary church practise.

The Apostle rebuked the Corinthian assembly when he wrote, “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” [1 CORINTHIANS 11:17, 18]. “When you come together as a church,” or more literally, “When you come together in assembly.” Paul is focused on the Corinthians in assembly, meeting as a congregation of the Lord. Thus, the emphasis is not on private worship; rather, the emphasis is on worship as a Community of Faith. The Communion Meal is a communal act of worship as the congregation meets with the Lord present and observing.

This understanding flows naturally from what the Apostle had written earlier. “Because there is one loaf, our many-ness becomes one-ness—Christ doesn’t become fragmented in us. Rather, we become unified in him. We don’t reduce Christ to what we are; he raises us to what he is” [1 CORINTHIANS 10:17 THE MESSAGE]. [3] Thus, properly understood and rightly conducted, the Lord’s Table is a declaration of unity, an affirmation that those participating agree on Christ and on their relationship to Him; and because they are in a living relationship with Him, they are declaring that they are in communion with one another.

The word translated “participation” and “partake” in 1 CORINTHIANS 10:16, 17, was translated “communion” in older translations of the Bible. Of course, this is where we obtain the term “Communion” that is frequently used to designate the ordinance we know as the Lord’s Table. In Communion, we confess that we are sharing Christ’s redemption. Therefore, the Meal is not for confession of sin, but for confession of fellowship. Universal communion is possible only as an ideal to be realised after the Rapture.

Good Christians will sometimes argue that any Christian is to be welcomed to the Table. Individuals espousing this view hold that the Meal is a Christian observance; in their view, the sole qualification for admission to the Lord’s Table is confession of faith in Christ. The practical consequence of this view is that whether one is baptised or whether one is unbaptised is immaterial. Likewise, whether one is under discipline by another congregation or whether one is subject to discipline by the congregation with whom that one wishes to share the Meal is of no importance. All that matters, according to this view, is that the individual professes Christ at least privately. However, until quite recently in the life of the churches, most scholars recognised that the fellowship anticipated at the Lord’s Table was congregational and not universal. In part, this was because only those subject to discipline by the congregation could truly participate. This is the implication of Paul’s teaching in this first Corinthian letter.

I am not changing the subject when I say discipline is the forgotten element of modern church life. I am not speaking of punishment; rather, I am speaking of the need for discipleship imposed by the congregation. Though seldom exercised among contemporary churches, exclusion from the Lord’s Table is the most serious means of judgement that a church can impose. Undoubtedly, ignorance of the teaching about the Lord’s Supper underlies the failure of modern churches to exercise discipline. The Apostle makes it clear in this letter that the congregation is a Body, and as individual members we bear responsibility for one another.

A congregation is responsible for holding one another accountable for living righteous and godly lives. Should a member sin flagrantly, persisting in that sin, the membership of the congregation is charged with caring enough for that person to hold him or her responsible for his or her actions. We don’t like that; we imagine that we are accountable to no one. Actually, we are responsible neither to dishonour the Saviour nor to disgrace the Community of Faith to which we belong. This is the reason for the various instructions concerning discipline.

The member engaged in sexual immorality was to be held accountable by being excluded from the privileges of membership; the man in Corinth was to be “delivered over to Satan,” when the assembly met [see 1 CORINTHIANS 5:1-5]. The member that will not listen to the church when specific sin is addressed is to be treated as though he were an outsider [MATTHEW 18:17]. The undisciplined are to be admonished [1 THESSALONIANS 5:14 NET BIBLE] and the unruly are to be avoided [2 THESSALONIANS 3:6 NASB]. Divisive individuals are to be removed [TITUS 3:10]. Paul instructs the church to hold sinning saints accountable. The principle is that there are to be physical consequences to spiritual failings.

In a practical sense, the people of God can only exclude the unrepentant sinner—no other recourse is prescribed for the congregation except for this action. Moreover, exclusion, when it is called for, is not to be a capricious act; rather it must be a solemn action because events have compelled the assembly to draw the conclusion that there can be neither repentance nor reconciliation. Exclusion from the Lord’s Table must always be a deliberate act taken when no other recourse for restoration is available. This will be a final step in which the church reluctantly acknowledges that the deliberate and persistent sin of a fellow member has ruptured the fellowship, and the congregation therefore acknowledges that they can do nothing other than recognise the breech in fellowship.

An individual under discipline is not to be proscribed from hearing the teaching of the Word, nor is one under judgement to be treated harshly. She must not, however, be permitted to partake of the Lord’s Table. There is no discipline entrusted to a church except exclusion from the Table of the Lord. How can a person who is not a member of the church be held accountable when the congregation truly knows nothing of them and has no authority over them? In other words, only those who are members can be held accountable through admission to the Lord’s Table. This is a truth with which we must come to grips!

Failure to guard the Lord’s Table resulted in a generalised lack of discernment [VERSE 29], physical and spiritual weakness, illness, and even death [VERSE 30]. Because the Corinthian congregation was not guarding the Lord’s Table, they brought judgement on themselves. In a similar fashion, the congregation that becomes casual in conduct of the Lord’s Table invites judgement on themselves as individuals and as a congregation.

I am not advocating that we act harshly at the Lord’s Table—certainly, I have no warrant to debar anyone from the Meal. I am, however, stating openly that we must be united in our understanding of what we are doing at the Communion Meal. We can go with the flow and try to avoid offending anyone by saying nothing concerning the teaching of the Word, in which case we will continue drifting into the precise error that infected the Corinthian saints. Or, we can graciously and gently explain the teaching of the Word when guests are present, explaining that we take seriously the instruction of the Word, inviting them to respect that same Word and either uniting with the congregation or accepting responsibility for congregational scrutiny.

Paul had already instructed the Corinthians of the need for policing themselves. He said, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one” [1 CORINTHIANS 5:9-11]. The actions of each member of the assembly reflects on the whole. As surely as Achan’s sin brought all Israel under divine judgement [see JOSHUA 7:10-26], sin that is left unaddressed brings judgement upon the congregation that fails to hold itself accountable.

Let me emphasise this truth, since I fear it is neglected among the churches in this day. Members who have embraced heresies, or those whose Christian walk is unbecoming to godliness—the sexually immoral, the greedy, idolaters, revilers, drunkards and swindlers—with such people the faithful are not even to eat [see 1 CORINTHIANS 5:9-13]. The church of God at Corinth was peremptorily commanded, to prohibit the table to everyone she did not know—so far as she had the ability to learn—was free from leaven. The Apostle had only commanded these saints, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened” [1 CORINTHIANS 5:7]. The design of the Meal argues for Closed Communion.

The Pastor is not called to determine who may come to the Table; it is his responsibility to point those who listen to Christ, teaching them God’s will. Some perhaps will be offended at what I have taught this day. However, I did not make the restrictions which I find in God’s Word; Christ Himself gave the restrictions concerning participants; after all, it is His Supper.

To iterate, though seldom exercised among contemporary churches, exclusion from the Lord’s Table is the most serious judgement a church can impose. Undoubtedly, ignorance of the teaching about the Lord’s Supper underlies the failure of modern churches to exercise discipline. The sole disciplinary act entrusted to the congregation of the Lord is debarment from the Lord’s Table. When Paul says that the unrepentant brother who is caught in a sin is to be treated as though he was an idolater, a reviler, a drunkard or a swindler, emphasising the action by saying that we are “not even to eat with such a one,” surely it is evident that he is pointing to the Communion Meal. How can actually worship with one who is unrepentant? We cannot!

Of necessity, this compels us to consider the matter of baptism, the initial ordinance. If we will properly observe the Lord’s Table, it is necessary for us to ensure that we are first clear on the matter of baptism. I do note that baptism was placed before the Supper in the Great Commission [MATTHEW 28:19, 20; cf. MARK 16:16]. It is significant that the Apostles followed that same order when defining the life of the earliest congregation [ACTS 2:41, 42]. Throughout their writings, the Apostles gave instruction that this order should be maintained. The people to whom Paul was writing in 1 CORINTHIANS 11, were the same ones spoken of in ACTS 18:1-11. The impact of this knowledge is that those who are unbaptised should not partake of the Communion Meal!

When I make this assertion, it is not meant to startle. Rather, it harkens back to the earliest churches. Listen to this ancient writing that was well-known among the early churches. “Now this is how you should engage in giving thanks, bless God in this way. First, at the cup, say: ‘We give thanks to you, our Father, for the holy vine of David, your servant, which you have made known to us. Through Jesus, your servant, to you be glory for ever.’ Then when it comes to the broken loaf say: ‘We give thanks to you, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you have made known to us. Through Jesus, your servant, to you be glory for ever. For as the broken loaf was once scattered over the mountains and then was gathered in and became one, so may your church be gathered together into your kingdom from the very ends of the earth. Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.’ Only let those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord eat and drink at your Eucharists. And remember what the Lord has said about this: ‘do not give to dogs what is holy.’” [4] These early saints took the matter of the Lord’s Table as a serious matter, indeed!

THE LORD’S TABLE–A PLACE OF WORSHIP — I realise that I have spent more time on what might be considered preliminary matters than is customary. I believed it to be necessary because the teaching is generally neglected within evangelical Christendom. Also, I am convinced that if we treat the Lord’s Table in a casual fashion, we will not worship. Performing a ritual is not worship, no matter how good we may feel about our performance. Worship is the spontaneous response of an individual when they have encountered the Risen Son of God. Worship centres around Who we meet, and not what we do. If we have attempted to compel God to join us through puerile efforts at ritual, or if we are focused on a feeling as evidence that we have worshipped, we will inevitably be disappointed.

Above all else, the Communion Meal is to be an act of worship. I have often mentioned as we prepare to partake of the Lord’s Table, this Meal compels us as worshippers to ensure that we are aware of the eternal nature of the Saviour’s love. We look back to the sacrifice of our Master, recalling His love for us as He gave Himself because of our broken, sinful condition. Just as the Lord spoke through Jeremiah, saying “I have loved you with an everlasting love” [JEREMIAH 31:3], so we know that “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” And, “In love, He predestined us for adoption to Himself as Sons through Jesus Christ” [EPHESIANS 1:4, 5].

We look about us, recognising Christ’s continuing love as witnessed in fellowship of the assembly of the righteous. Here, we lend our spiritual gifts to build up others, just as we are being built up through the exercise of their gifts. Together, we build one another, we encourage one another and we comfort one another [see 1 CORINTHIANS 14:3].

Then, we look forward to the return of the Master and our being gathered to His side. Christ our Saviour to coming “to be glorified in all His saints, and to be marvelled at among all who have believed” [see 2 THESSALONIANS 1:10]. This is an evidence of His eternal love for those whom He redeemed.

Establish in your mind the vital truth that the Communion Meal is designed to be an act of corporate worship. This means that it cannot be sacerdotal; neither can the Meal be a sacrament. I have introduced two terms that are not commonly used outside of a theological setting. These two words are related, sharing the same root. Nevertheless, the terms demand clarification, if for no other reason than they are tossed about casually by people who should know better when referring to the Communion Meal.

The first word to be defined is “sacerdotal,” an adjective that implies something quite different from the reality of biblical practise. To speak of an act as being sacerdotal is to indicate that the particular act is restricted to being performed by a priest or a priesthood. Scripture teaches that the Communion Meal was given to the churches as an act of worship to be performed by the members of the churches. In practical terms, this means that the congregation of the Lord may designate whom it wills to preside over distribution of the elements. Though we look to the Word for guidance, the assembly functions as guardian of the rite in question.

Though I am confident that we are responsible to maintain the dignity of the institutions of the Faith, nowhere are we commanded to formalise the acts in such a way that every move is choreographed and precisely defined. When I speak of maintaining the “dignity” of the institutions of the Faith, I do not want you to imagine that I intend to introduce stiffness into worship. I speak of honouring the One who instituted the traditions through holding the acts in their proper place. I want worship to be fruitful, meaningful, an action by which Christ Jesus our Lord who receives glory and honour as His people thoughtfully participate.

Though sacerdotalism is prevalent throughout much of Christendom, it really has no place among churches that profess to adhere to the Word of God as the sole rule for faith and practise. There is no function within the church that cannot be performed by any member of the Faith Community designated to perform that action by the congregation of the Lord.

The other word that is frequently used when describing the Lord’s Table is “sacrament.” Though many evangelicals speak of the Meal as a “sacrament,” Scripture teaches that it is an ordinance. To speak of the Communion Meal as a sacrament implies that the Meal confers grace in some manner to those participating. The sacramental view holds that participants are made more holy or perhaps they are made more acceptable to the Lord of the Table. To speak of the Meal as an ordinance admits that it is instituted by the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.

Professor Tom Nettles, in a discussion of a document that excited great interest in the church world several years ago, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” reviewed early efforts to bring Catholics and Protestants together following the publication of Luther’s ninety-five theses. Focusing on the colloquy at Regensburg in 1541. Influenced by the publication of Calvin’s Institutes, participants came close to closing the fissure introduced by the Reformation. However, both Lutheran princes and Rome rejected the effort as demanding too great a compromise for either group.

Of particular interest to Baptists is another point of disagreement that arose during these discussions. Dr. Nettles writes, “[T]he Anabaptist view of baptism as an ordinance for believers, symbolic and non-sacramental in character was rejected as heretical [by the Reformers and by the Catholics]. Baptists are much further from Rome than other evangelicals on ecclesiology and the character of the ordinances. Paedobaptists of all sorts will come closer to Rome more quickly than historic Baptists; the gravitational pull of paedobaptism always is toward sacramental efficacy. Like Bilbo Baggins’s ring, it is restless till it reunites with its owner.” [5] In other words, it is only through jettisoning a biblical view of the ordinances that evangelicals can hope to find theological rapprochement with errant doctrine.

What had happened in the millennium following the Resurrection of our Lord is that the churches were being transformed. From Apostolic simplicity and purity the communities of Faith were changed into something quite different from what the Master established. The universal and common understanding of the traditions delivered to the churches changed rapidly following the passing of the Apostles.

Speaking of the transformation that took place in the ordinances of the Faith and the organisation of the churches, Professor James Stitzinger writes, “The ordinance of believer’s baptism rapidly turned to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. The Lord’s Supper shifted from being a memorial for believers to being viewed widely as a sacrament conveying saving grace. Christian leadership rapidly changed from the offices of elder and deacon to sacerdotalism with the rise of the ‘bishop’ along with his ‘apostolic succession.’ One of the major causes of deterioration was the importation of Greek philosophy into Christian thinking by the Church Fathers. This attempted ‘integration’ resulted in a complete erosion of biblical theology in the perspectives of many of the Fathers.” [6] What had been no longer was.

I don’t ask anyone to memorise all the points made in the message to this point. I do plead with the people of God to determine that the Lord’s Table will always be a place where we worship. If we meet the Risen Saviour here, we will worship. We won’t have to work it up or pray it down, we will worship because we meet the Living Saviour. Just as Thomas exclaimed when the Risen Saviour revealed Himself [see JOHN 20:26-28], we also will worship when we meet Him. And we should always anticipate meeting Him here.

THE LORD’S TABLE–PENALTIES AND PRAISE — Paul wrote, “Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” [1 CORINTHIANS 11:29-32].

Eating the bread or drinking the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner brings guilt upon the one doing such a deed [see 1 CORINTHIANS 11:27]. To be guilty of someone’s blood is to be responsible for the dead of that person. To drink in an unworthy manner is explained in the TWENTY-NINTH VERSE. The obvious meaning of what Paul wrote is that an individual brings judgement upon himself or herself when they treat the Meal as one’s own supper. To take it upon oneself to appropriate the Meal for any purpose other than to worship is to invite divine judgement. Failure to realise the declaration of unity within the Body is the grave sin that invites Christ to judge the individual. The judgement in view is physical—bodily weakness, disease and even death, as Paul says, “That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead” [1 CORINTHIANS 11:30 NET BIBLE]. [7]

Understand that the issue is not so much punishment as it is discipline. Again, this becomes clear when we read, “When we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” [1 CORINTHIANS 11:32]. The Apostle envisions God’s severe mercy in which He holds His child to account so that the child will not suffer the ultimate judgement with unbelievers.

The suffering a saint might endure resulting from divine judgement is not necessary. The Apostle pleads with the Corinthians, and therefore, he is pleading with contemporary Christians, “If we were properly judging ourselves, we would not be judged” [1 CORINTHIANS 11:31 CSB]. [8] The Lord’s Table is not meant to be specifically introspective for us as we participate; the Meal is designed as a means of ensuring that we worship. We honour the Christ the Lord as we memorialise His sacrifice and recall all that He accomplished through offering Himself. We glorify Him by affirming unity within the Body of Christ, the congregation with whom we share the Meal. As we partake of the Meal, we are rejoicing in the unity of the Body and the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ the Lord because we are working in concert with Him.

If we keep in mind what we are doing, we need not fear judgement; rather, because we will worship, we will receive praise from the Master who is present with us in this ordinance. We must commit ourselves afresh and anew to seek Him, especially as we share in the Table of the Lord. This is the heritage of the child of god. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] B. H. Carroll, An Interpretation of the English Bible: James, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, MI 1948) 180

[3] Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The New Testament in Contemporary English (NavPress, ? 1993) pg.353

[4] Thomas O’Loughlin, The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; Baker Academic, London; Grand Rapids, MI 2010) 166–167

[5] Thomas J. Nettles, “The SBJT Forum: Key Points in the ECT Debate,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Vol. 5, Winter 2001, pg. 99

[6] James F. Stitzinger, “The History of Expository Preaching,” The Master’s Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring, 1992, pg. 12

[7] NET Bible First Edition (Biblical Studies Press, 2005)

[8] Christian Standard Bible (Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, TN 2017)