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Summary: Worship at the Lord’s Table may either be focused on Christ, or on the individual participating. Paul cautions against trivializing the Lord’s Table to suit oneself.

1 CORINTHIANS 11:17-20

THERE MUST BE FACTIONS

“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.”

The Lord’s Table is meant to be a celebration of unity. To be sure, participation at the Lord’s Table is worship, but it is corporate worship that is stressed in passages presenting the Meal—not personal worship. Nowhere should there be greater harmony than when we are met at the Table of the Lord. If we approach the Meal as taught in the Word, undoubtedly the Table will provide opportunity to declare our unity. However, a subtle transformation had occurred among the professed people of God in Corinth. Likely, the Apostle’s instruction to the Corinthians will prove beneficial to worshippers in this present time.

In Corinth, there was a significant number within the congregation who saw their actions at the Lord’s Table as unrelated to what others were doing. They would have contended that they were worshipping as long as they felt worshipful. In their view, it did not matter what others did at the Meal, so long as they felt good about themselves. These “worshippers” failed to see that this was a congregational meal in which the participants declared their fellowship. They had reduced the Meal to an opportunity for private worship without concern for or attention to the impact of their actions on fellow worshippers. These Christians had decided that the Meal was a declaration of their personal faith—nothing more and nothing less; they were convinced that participation in the Meal was their right. What had been meant to be a congregational observance was reduced to a private rite that only incidentally was hosted by the church.

In far too many instances, churches today have unwittingly transformed the Lord’s Table into private worship. The Meal is frequently, if not usually, seen as an opportunity for every individual to participate whether they are subject to the discipline of the host congregation or not. Those present almost always anticipate that what they are doing is private worship, or perhaps in some instances, family worship. However, there is little sense that it is corporate worship of a most intimate sort. Consequently, we will do well to review the instruction Paul provided, applying it in our own lives.

WORSHIP—PRIVATE OR CORPORATE? The Corinthians were increasingly focused on private worship. The Spirit of God, speaking through the Apostle, thought it necessary to refocus the vision of the Corinthians. The instructions that Paul would provide began with an emphasis upon the corporate nature of the act of worship. The Apostle wrote, “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.”

Though it is certainly possible, and even desirable, for Christians to worship individually, worship at the Lord’s Table is always presented in the context of the congregation met in assembly. There is no warrant to be found for participation at the Lord’s Table other than as part of the congregation in which the Meal is hosted. There is no example to be found in Scripture of a group of Christians getting together and deciding to observe the Communion Meal. There is not a single example of an individual in the New Testament who worshipped by eating bread and drinking wine alone. Always the worship of the Lord’s Supper is a congregation event.

It is difficult to justify through appeal to Scripture the current evangelical fad of Open Communion. Open Communion refers to the practise of inviting everyone present to participate in the Communion Meal. It leaves the decision of whether to participate or to refrain to the conscience of the individual, removing oversight of the Meal from the local congregation. This practise views the Communion Meal as a Christian ordinance rather than a church ordinance, as detailed in the New Testament.

Christ entrusted the Meal to the churches, and not in a general sense to Christians. The Meal is to be observed congregationally, rather than individually. In the New Testament, worship at the Lord’s Table is a corporate act in which those participating are subject to the discipline of the congregation hosting the Meal. Is this not obvious through reading the opening statements of our text? And is it not apparent when we review the examples provided in the Book of Acts, which gives us the most complete history of the actions of the apostolic churches?

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