This past week, while working through the passage from 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 in a small group Bible study, I was struck with the conclusion that the chief error Paul was correcting, though there were several, had to do primarily with the division caused by selfishness from those who had, over those who had not, during the observance of the Lord’s Supper. It was this wedge, driven in by selfish, hard hearts towards their fellow believers, that brought the judgment and discipline directly from the hand of God in the form of weakness, sickness, and death. Conversely, in order to avoid the judgment of God, Paul (under divine inspiration of the Spirit no less) directs the Corinthians to judge themselves which parallels his earlier exhortation to discern the body (1 Corinthians 11:29). I’ve written several posts on the exposition of this passage that I’ll consolidate shortly, and Lord willing will have a future post on additional application, but for now I want to briefly share one of the applications that came to mind at the conclusion of our study.
Me and Jesus; We and Jesus
Our evangelical observances of the Lord’s Supper are generally identical regardless of the church building one enters with the primary difference being frequency – some more often, some less often. While I’m leaving room here for a later discussion on the difference between ordinance and sacrament, for now I want to focus on the individuality of our Lord’s Supper celebrations. Typically, and I have a wide range of experiences I’m drawing from, the “supper” consists of a thimble of juice or wine and a crumb of bread or cracker distributed either by a pastor, deacon, or oneself which is then taken back to your seat. At this point a quiet time of personal reflection and confession of sin is encouraged followed by the reading of the passage from 1 Corinthians 11, most always only verses 23-26 which signals partaking of the elements. Generally, it is a somber occasion with individual reflection in a kind of Me and Jesus moment. In other words, though believers are gathered together, they are somewhat divided into their individual parts as they observe the “supper”.
But is this how it should be? Would this fit the corrective exhortation that Paul provides?
As noted above, the error of the Corinthians was their selfishness which had manifested itself in division and disunity in the body of believers during a practice that should’ve highlighted their union together as a direct byproduct of their union with Christ (1 Corinthians 11:27). This, as we previously mentioned, had brought the judgment of God and the exhortation of self-examination and regard for the body (literally meaning judging between, recognizing, distinguishing). The Corinthian attitude had separated them from the whole body into individual parts and subunits. The correction was to resolve this and come back together. The error of the Corinthians was division and disunity through the sin of selfishness expressed from the well-to-do towards those who lacked, i.e. wealthy vs. poor. Would quiet, prayerful confession of sin remedy and heal this error? Hardly. What was needed was a public healing, a public confession of sin, a remedy to the rift of division towards the rightness of unity.
The Lord’s Supper wasn’t meant to be a Me and Jesus moment; it was meant to be a We and Jesus moment. The very purpose and design of a meal, and specifically this meal, is fellowship, koinonia, not individuality. The Corinthians had neglected this critical component in favor of their own bellies (Phil. 3:19). Therefore, it needed to be publicly rectified, publicly confessed, and publicly forgiven in order to restore the koinonia. For the Corinthians, the divisions needed to be publicly healed and fellowship restored in order to rightly observe the meal. Our modern evangelical practice of the Lord’s Supper should mirror this. Instead of a time of personal reflection, it should be a time of unifying confession of sin, healing of division, and experiencing genuine koinonia in Christ. It should be an opportunity for the practical application of Matthew 5:24. Perhaps I can develop this more in a future post but practicing the Lord’s Supper in this manner is a hedge, indeed a protection, against schism, church splits, and any root of bitterness swelling up inside a church.
Me and Jesus; We and Jesus. Christianity begins for us individually as God calls us by His Spirit to faith in His Son Jesus, but it does not end there. We are called to community with other believers and the event that best displays this visually is the right practice of the Lord’s Supper. The Me and Jesus pledge, made public at baptism, brings the believer into the setting and context of We and Jesus, and it is here that mutual edification, exhortation, and life is experienced.