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The Danger of Privatized Communion


Copyright © 2004

I have recently written on justification as a covenant status and justification and adoption, understood as joining with Christ and his family at the Lord’s Supper. I write about things like this because it seems quite common in America to denigrate the need for community in one’s commitment to Jesus Christ. It is quite common to hear people claim to be Christians who never darken the door of a place of public worship, are unaccountable to brothers and sisters in Christ, and who live without reference to belonging to a congregation of Christians.

Of course, there are many reasons why a Christian or a Christian family might be between churches, and whether their reasons or good or bad, they are not who I am worried about.

This week I learned more about how the church has been denigrated. Apparently, an evangelist of some sort is promoting the idea that the key to health and other aspects of a good life is to take communion daily. The only problem with this view is that the communion he recommends is no communion at all. Each person is supposed to drink “the fruit of the vine” and a piece of bread by themselves.

This is entirely wrong. Communion means fellowship. The point of the Lord’s Supper is to be strengthened in one’s participation in the body of Christ, and that body is the Church, manifested in the local congregation. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (First Corinthians 12.12, 13). Paul is quite clear that being made a part of the body of Christ means being brought into a fellowship-a communion of the saints.

And Paul specifically ties this to the Lord’s Supper. “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” (First Corinthians 10.16, 17).

In fact, Paul gives the Corinthians a severe warning about being too “private” in how they participate in the Lord’s Supper. It seems that each person was expected to bring his own food and the poor were going without anything while the rich gorged themselves.

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 (First Corinthians 11.20-22).

According to Paul, if one eats or drinks in such a selfish way he is “guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (v. 27) because he is partaking “without discerning the body” (v. 29), that is, the body of Christ, the Church. He should be recognizing fellow members of the body by sharing with them and fellowshipping with them. This sin was so serious that God was actually plaguing the Corinthian church and some had even died. “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.” Obviously, going off and having communion by oneself is not in line with these Biblical principles.

Ironically, this text calling for Christians to commune with one another has been used as a basis for excluding one another. Due to debates about the nature of the Lord’s Supper, theologians interpreted the command to “discern the body” as “know what the bread really is or means.” This was a sad mistake. Christians are called to recognize their brothers and sisters in Christ by eating at one table of the Lord. In so doing we show that we discern the body of Christ.

Copyright © 2004

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