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This Is What We Are

Concerning Sex & the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper

by Mark Horne

copyright © 1998

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the loaf of bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one loaf, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one loaf

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink one Spirit. For the body is not one member but many.

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which 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 as my memorial.” In the same way the cup also after supper, saying “This cup is the New Covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink, as my memorial (1 Cor 10.16-17; 12.12-14, 27, 11.23-26; NASB with slight modifications in the translation).

In instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said for us to “Do this.”

What is this that Jesus established? This is what we are.

According to the Apostle Paul, the Church is one body–the body of the Lord Jesus. This solidarity is so strong that he actually uses the name of Christ when referring to the Church: “Even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” This solidarity is especially strengthened by participation in the Communion meal. What is initiated in baptism is nurtured in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

How does this work?

The answer to such questions is a source of great contention in Christendom, and many a schism has broken out over the issue. The question itself has been broken up into others: What does an individual receive in the Lord’s Supper? What must he do to receive it? What is the minimum necessary requirement for the Lord’s Supper to give something [whatever that something is] to an individual?

All of these questions are, I would contend, excessively individualistic. They force us into choosing between alternatives which are falsely exclusive, prematurely closing off more Biblical lines of thought. In Church history we find two major errors sparring with one another but uniting in keeping all other contenders out of the ring. On the one hand we have the view in which the sacraments are basically a wire through which “grace” runs like an electric current. Grace is an impersonal thing which can be dispensed through a mechanism. On the other hand, the we have the view that the sacraments are basically coded messages which remind a person of something he already knows. Grace is simply the benefit of being properly stimulated to pious thoughts.

Both of these views, incidentally, leave little room for the institutional Church as the entrance to and citadel of the Kingdom formed by Christ’s new covenant. The former view may claim to have a “high view” of the Church, but really there is nothing more to the Church than a class of persons authorized to dispense “grace” to recipients. The idea of the Church as a community and the sacraments as integral to that community is nowhere in view in this theory. The latter view, of course, has no room for the Church other than as an association of like-minded people. Again, the idea of the Church as an institution which confers citizenship on persons who would be her members is entirely lacking. In both cases, the Church is made subservient to the subjective needs of the individual.

Of course, the individual does have needs, but I would say his need is precisely to belong to a community. Specifically, he needs to belong to God’s community in Christ as opposed to being an alien and enemy to that community. What other view could ever be worthy of the name “Covenant Theology”?

Since the latter view–which claims that the sacraments are mnemonic devices which stimulate the mind to proper thoughts–is the predominate one among North American Evangelicals, I want to primarily offer some criticisms of it. When I hear people talk about the benefits of the sacraments, especially the Lord’s Supper, and how one should participate in it, I hear much discussion about the need to understand the symbolism involved in it. One benefits from symbols apparently, by understanding the correspondence involved in the symbolism or what it is that the symbol represents.

I submit that this is fundamentally wrong.

In Genesis 2.23-24 we read:

And the man said,

This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

Now this “one flesh” business has been pretty much universally associated with the symbolism of sexual intercourse. I see no reason to dissent from this. Indeed the Apostle Paul seems to presuppose it when he writes,

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a harlot is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.

Now here is my question: Do a husband and wife, in order to benefit from sexual intercourse with each other, need to understand–let alone meditate upon while performing–the symbolism of the sex act and the reality it represents? To husbands and wives reading this essay: Do you make a point of “discerning the one flesh” while making love to your spouse?

To ask this question is to answer it. Not only is there is no need to go through such cognitive exercises while making love, but an attempt to do so would probably kill the mood and wreck the entire evening.

To look at this from another angle: It is the perverse rationalization of a philanderer to think that, because one does not have sex with the same thoughts and feelings of one flesh union with all the other women whom one fornicates as one does with one’s wife, that one is not “really” committing infidelity. Against this form of sexual Zwinglianism, Paul warns that one becomes one flesh by the very act. Period. What one thinks and feels about the act is irrelevant.

And interestingly, Paul not only had to rebuke Corinthians visiting prostitutes, but those visiting pagan temples:

What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God, and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the up of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Ore do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we? (1 Cor 10.19-22)

Some Corinthians thought they could casually eat at pagan festivals in pagan temples before pagan altars without “really” practicing pagan worship. But Paul reveals such thinking as both rationalization and rationalism. The fact is, we are what we eat. Or, to be more precise, we are what we do. Whether having casual sex on occasion for the allegedly purely physical thrill, or occasionally going to a party in order not to alienate a few pagan friends, these practices shape us. They pull us, body and soul, into a different society than that of our Lord Jesus Christ. A husband who satisfies an allegedly purely sensual urge while away from home cannot fail to wound the “spiritual” bond he is supposed to have with his wife. He is being pulled into a way of life alien to that of his family. A mere biological function can and does constitute a spiritual defection from one’s spouse. The ingestions of a few ounces of meat can and does constitute participation with demons. These things make us what we are.

This is what we are.

But the principle works both ways. Making love to one’s wife, having sex with one’s husband, these are ways men and women shape themselves as members of a family. A couple’s relationship is renewed and strengthened simply in the act. To exhort couples to self-consciously uplift themselves to certain mental affirmations about the symbolism would be pathetic and stupid. We all know that this would be an affront to the whole beauty of the marital act. Real symbols work by themselves without our help, or else not at all. To say otherwise is pure superstition–a form of the the same mythology underlying the recurring belief in psychokineses. We cannot altar reality simply by thinking hard.

But we can explain this in a better way. When a husband and wife make love, they are not engaging in a merely biological function. They are engaging in an act that has been set apart exclusively for the marital relationship. The act is inherently interpreted, which is precisely why no special feat of meditation on symbolism is required. Sex is not a naked biological function requiring some special additional mental or spiritual accomplishment in order to make it clothed and in its right mind. It is the marriage act.

The couple is doing what they are.

The Lord’s Supper similarly, is not simply the ingestion of bread and wine, it is bread and wine given and received as the rite of the Church which manifests and reconstitutes the Church as the body of Christ. It is an inherently social act which reaffirms a social reality. To claim that we must understand the symbolism or meditate upon it during the enactment of the ritual for it to be effective is a fundamental mistake. Like sex, the symbolic action works of itself or not at all. We are changed when we take part in the ceremony.

To despise this social aspect of the Lord’s Supper as a merely “external” matter is a serious error, comparable to the mistake of the philanderer who claims to only “truly” love his wife because his various affairs are “merely physical.” We are physical; we are external creatures. More to the point, the whole meaning of covenant theology is that God Himself, through Jesus Christ, by His Spirit, has become a member with us of a common society. If Christianity has anything at all to do with a personal relationship with God, then we cannot despise the symbolic means by which God establishes and maintains this relationship with each of us without despising God Himself.

“This do as My memorial.”

This is what we are.

copyright © 1998

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