For “fun reading” before the start of the semester, I’ve been reading Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper, edited by John H. Armstrong. So far, I have only read Armstrong’s introduction. I have not read any of the four views yet.
On section of the introduction is called “A Spiritual Remembrance”. In this section, Armstrong discusses 1 Corinthians 11:28-32:
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 Corinthians 11:28-32 ESV)
The context of this counsel, often misunderstood by modern Christians who fear that they have committed a particular sin that must keep them from coming to the Lord’s Table, is about the unity of the church (see 1 Cor. 10:17; 11:21). The great sin in Corinth was the way the church humiliated the poor in their midst. Well-off Corinthians appear to have prevented the less fortunate from celebrating the various feasts. This problem carried over into the Lord’s Supper context. Their behavior was utterly selfish and a scandalous contradiction of the meaning of this meal. This action equates to what Paul calls “despising” the church of God in 1 Corinthians 11:22. What this underscores is not personal sin but actions and attitudes that would keep a person from fellowship with all the members of the congregation. This meal is a fellowship – with Christ and one another. It is a meal of peace; thus, to refuse to be at peace with our brothers and sisters is to eat and drink “judgment” on ourselves. Given the fact that schism and pride plague every congregation on earth, the Lord’s Supper is an appointed time for reconciliation and renewed fellowship. Here God’s grace is given to heal and to unite us again to our Lord and to each other.
Ben Witherington covers many of these same points in his book Making a Meal of It.
I agree with Armstrong and Witherington in this respect. The “examining” related to the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 is an examination of our relationship with other brothers and sisters in Christ. This is not “navel gazing” to determine if there is any sin in us – there is. However, if this sin causes disruptions in fellowship between us and other believers, then we need to correct this – to restore those relationships. This is an opportunity to both ask for forgiveness and to offer grace to others – to reject pride and to demonstrate humility by preferring others above ourselves.
But, it is at this point that we need to be careful. It is easy to assume that the “relationships” that need to be restored are limited to the relationships that we have with our close friends. But, what about our neighbors and coworkers and family members? What about the people who meet together down the street or across town? What about the church that does things a little different than us? What about that group that is more organized or less organized that we are? How are our relationships with them?
Remember that we are brothers and sisters with all of those who are in Christ – not just those who believe and act like us. If we maintain relationships with only those who believe and act like us, then we are guilty of the very sectarianism that Paul rejects. If we refuse to related with or if we ignore those brothers and sisters in Christ who believe or act differently than us, then we are guilty of creating schisms – which Scripture calls heresy.
As we prepare to eat the bread and drink the cup let’s consider the relationships with all brothers and sisters in Christ whom God has brought into our lives – not just those who are sitting around the table with us at that moment. If our brother has something against us, then let’s work to restore that relationship. If we have something against our sister, then let’s work to restore that relationship. And, let’s allow the one loaf and the one cup to be a reminder of the unity that we have in Christ together with all of God’s children.